Category Archives: Commentary

Trump Finally Tells the Truth

According to fact-checkers at multiple credible sources, Donald Trump has set a world record for lies, deflections, mis-directions and related phantasmagorical utterances since he started his run for president and during his time in office. Mercifully, his time in office is about to end. Yet, in the midst of overt attempts to undermine the election, Trump has, at long last, told the truth about one thing.

During a roughly hour-long call by Trump, his Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, some of his lawyers, including Cleta Mitchell (a recent appearance) with Brad Raffensperger, the Georgia Secretary of State, and his attorneys, Trump in an endless stream of world-class whoppers, said on at least two occasions: “what a schmuck I was.”

Beyond that small victory for humanity, the rest of the call is almost beyond comprehension. I listened to the entire tape. What follows is my approximate “transcript” of the call, which, like the attack on Pearl Harbor, will live in infamy. It’s a bit herky-jerky but that reflects the nature of the “conversation.”

Throughout the call, Trump insists that “data” such as the size of his rallies in Georgia and the opinions of Republican governors from surrounding states prove beyond doubt that he won the election in Georgia by “hundreds of thousands” of votes, a “half million votes,” and 400,000 votes in his final plea for relief. Trump’s concept of truth is thus, essentially, that everyone knows if you have big rallies, you win the election. Also, if other politicians say, as Trump claims, ”there is no way” he lost Georgia, then, of course and obviously, he didn’t lose Georgia — he won it by huge margins.

On the rare occasions when they could get a word in, the representatives of Georgia contradicted every claim Trump made. The claims were the usual, most of which have been asserted in court cases that were thrown out but Trump claims the courts are against him so that doesn’t count. When Cleta Mitchell tried to chime into the conversation, Trump mostly just talked over her and said that whatever she was saying wasn’t important, because he only needed 11,780 votes to change the result and while he had “hundreds of thousands” more than he needed, he wasn’t really interested in going into all that as long as the GA officials “found” the 11, 780 he needed to be declared the winner (despite the fact that the vote count in Biden’s favor has been certified and confirmed in the Electoral College). Trump made clear he will never give up.

Trump has a very long list of “wrongs” perpetrated by the Georgia vote counters, including (1) video that the GA folks noted had been manipulated to show false results. The grievances also (2) include drop boxes that were mishandled, (3) dead people by the thousands who somehow voted, (4) “fake ballots” that were voted, (5) ballots that were shredded and are being shredded right now, (6) provisional ballots given to voters who were turned away because they allegedly had already voted but then their provisional votes weren’t counted, (7) people who moved out of state but still voted, (8) corrupt voting machines, (9) machines being removed, (10) parts of machines being removed ….

All of that either has been or will be “certified” in the near future by unnamed “experts” in Trump’s employ.

And it’s not just Georgia: “other states will be flipping to us shortly.” Some 200,000 more people voted in Pennsylvania than people voting. [That’s what I heard him say. I am not making this up]. In Michigan a “tremendous number of dead people voted.­­­­­” [These statements imply that Trump has reached out to Republican officials in other states he lost to urge them to somehow recount the votes and award him the victory]

The Georgia folks, trying very hard to maintain their composure and to be respectful to their Republican president asking them to violate the Constitution, federal law and Georgia law, noted that they simply did not agree with Trump’s claim that he won the vote in Georgia and that they had gone over his points one-by-one with the state legislature and Republican congressmen for hours.

Trump was having none of that, insisting that it was simply “not possible” he lost Georgia and that “they dropped a lot of votes in there at night.”

The Georgia people repeated that “the data you have is wrong.” “Only two dead people voted.” Cleta Mitchell, one of Trump’s lawyers, referred to a group of people with the same names as people who died but claimed they didn’t have the records they needed. Trump wasn’t interested in hearing from his lawyer; he interjected that “they stuffed the ballot boxes like nobody has ever seen before.”

The Georgia people noted, as politely as possible, that the video produced by Rudy Giuliani  to show that ballots were counted three times was “spliced and diced “by Giuliani to give a false impression of what actually occurred, that audits had been conducted and there was no evidence of ballots being input three times. When it was noted that during an absence of the vote counters, law enforcement people were present, Trump declared those people were either “incompetent or dishonest.”

Trump launched a personal attack on Stacey Abrams. Then he made the “give away” claim:  “we’ll find hundreds of thousands if you let us do it.”  More ranting followed: claims of many unsigned ballots and many forgeries in Fulton County. They’re “totally corrupt. They’re laughing at you. They cheated like nobody has ever cheated before. They are shredding ballots. The ballots are corrupt.”

Trump then asserted that there were crimes being committed and that the Georgia officials were not reporting it. “That’s a criminal offense. That’s a big risk to you and your lawyers. They’re moving machines and you’re letting them do it.” [It is a good measure of Trump’s desperation that, needing the complicity of the Georgia officials, he chose to accuse and threaten them].

Trump said they have “thousands of people who will testify they were denied right to vote because they were told they had already voted.” Trump’s ranting became louder and more forceful as it become clearer that he was going to get no joy from the Georgia authorities.

The first mention of “compromise and settlement” by a Trump attorney occurred at 53 minutes into the call. This was too late even if such an arrangement would have sufficed to cloak the discussion with privilege. [Even if these were in fact settlement talks regarding pending litigation, the solicitation of crimes of election fraud would almost certainly have defeated any claim of privilege. It’s reported Trump has sued someone over the release of the tape, but that is likely to meet the same fate as Trump’s other lawsuits (he’s 1 for 61 by my count).

As the call wound down, Trump pressed for immediate resolution, claiming the Senate run-off election was going to be affected because angry Republicans were being deterred from voting. The Georgia people reiterated that Trump’s data was wrong but indicated a willingness to sit down for talks. Trump became practically hysterical at this point, stating again that the governors in the surrounding states had said “there’s no way you lost GA.”

Meadows urged the lawyers to work out a plan to address some of the data issues, saying he can “promise you” there were more than two dead people who voted.

Trump brings up Abrams again: “I beat her.”  “What a schmuck I was.” “Let the truth come out.” “I won by at least 400,000 votes. That’s the truth.” Uh huh.

Sammies – A Better Oscar

Some years ago, when my wife worked for a union representing federal employees, I attended a Sammies award ceremony. Sammies is the shorthand for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America medal. You may not have heard of them, but this is the deal:

The Sammies, known as the “Oscars” of government service, are a highly respected honor with a rigorous selection process. Named for the Partnership for Public Service’s late founder who was inspired by President Kennedy’s call to serve in 1963, these awards align with his vision of a dynamic and innovative federal workforce that meets the needs of the American people.

The Partnership is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to help make our government more effective, and the Sammies honorees represent the many exceptional federal workers who are doing just that—breaking down barriers, overcoming huge challenges and getting results. Whether they’re defending the homeland, protecting the environment, ensuring public safety, making scientific and medical discoveries, or responding to natural and man-made disasters, these men and women put service before self and make a lasting difference. [https://servicetoamericamedals.org/about/]

Like the annual Oscars, I frankly don’t recall much of the detail of the ceremony which was, like the movie Oscars, long with speeches explaining each award and with thank you statements from recipients. What I do clearly remember, however, is how impressed I was with the nature of the achievements being honored.

I was reminded of this by today’s editorial in the New York Times entitled “The Wreckage Betsy DeVos Leaves Behind.” https://nyti.ms/3hFswo7 It’s a condemnation of the terrible legacy in one of the nation’s most important components (education of our children). It summarizes what happens when the philosophy of “less government” is turned over to incompetent ideologues who simply produce “bad government” and believe it’s the same result. This is the story of agency after agency, function after function under the morally and substantively bankrupt management of the Trump administration’s gang of grifters.

Yet, under it all, persevering and achieving, were federal employees accomplishing amazing feats, largely without awareness by the general public. This is the true “deep state” that was so often vilified by Trump’s lieutenants in service to his fevered imaginings. Here are just two excerpts, among thousands of their achievements:

LINA ALATHARI, PH.D. – 2020 Finalist in Safety, Security & International Affairs

As head of the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, Lina Alathari has expanded the agency’s traditional role by supporting state and local governments, law enforcement and school districts nationwide in the fight against targeted violence.

… Alathari and her team have delivered more than 1,200 training sessions to more than 83,000 law enforcement officers, educators, mental health providers, government officials, faith-based leaders and other private organizations across 50 states. Hundreds of schools and communities have adopted Alathari’s behavior-based threat prevention protocols.

“The 2019 Secret Service research report analyzed 41 attacks and found that many could have been prevented by using Alathari’s threat assessment model,” Murray [Director of the Secret Service] said. “There are people doing active shooter response research, but no one is doing prevention intervention research like her.”

Rory Cooper – 2017 Winner in Science & Environment

In the years following … [a] 1980 accident [while serving in the Army that left him paralyzed & confined to a wheelchair], Cooper founded the nation’s leading assistive technology research laboratory and has been the driving force behind game-changing innovations in the design of manual and power wheelchairs, adaptive sports and recreational equipment, and rehabilitation instrumentation.

“Rory Cooper’s inventions are used by over one-quarter million people with disabilities, and research equipment he designed is being used in nearly 100 laboratories and training facilities around the world,”

Cooper and his team are credited with 25 patents that have advanced wheelchair technology. He has spearheaded such innovations as a wheelchair with robotic arms that features hands that can grasp, and he has improved motorized wheelchairs by taking advantage of new capabilities in electronics, safety and controls, and by making changes to steering mechanisms and seating functions.

I could go on and on with this, but you get the idea. Just take a cursory look at the website if you dare to have your preconceptions about the federal workforce changed.  https://bit.ly/2LaXNDb And the next time you hear someone make a crack about federal workers, or government workers at any level for that matter, challenge them to do some self-education. Throughout the past four years, Donald Trump, his family and his enablers in the White House, Congress and elsewhere have done everything they can to undermine the effectiveness of the United States government, to weaken it, and with it the entire country, in the eyes of the world. It’s time now to reverse that disgusting, ill-informed and self-defeating legacy of shame with recognition and honor for those laboring largely in the shadows to make the world safer for everyone.

 

Republican Traitors Last Try to Subvert the Constitution

I am sorry to start the New Year 2021 on this note, but I am unable to escape the news that Republicans, led by a senator Hawley from Missouri, will attempt yet again to undermine the constitutional system for electing national leaders by urging Congress to reject the 2020 election result. https://bit.ly/34YJecO This move, reportedly to be endorsed by at least 140 House Republicans, is, of course, doomed to failure.

It could be seen, indeed has been seen even by a handful of Republicans, as just an act of political theater to appeal to Donald Trump’s political following and to serve as the “first hat in the ring for 2024” in case Trump himself is unwilling or unable (in prison?) to run again. It could be seen that way and thus dismissed as just another act in the political play the Republicans have been staging since Trump first declared the election was going to be rigged against him. It could be seen that way even as Trump himself took steps, through the Postal Service and with the help of compliant Republican governors, to suppress Democratic votes around the country. It could be seen that way even though no complaints of election-rigging have been presented as to the down-ticket Republicans who won elections in states Biden won.

One could go on and on about what “could be seen” as harmless politicking by a group of people with no principles other than winning-at-all-costs, a group who readily align themselves with looney conspiracy theories propounded by QAnon, whatever that is. Harmless politicking by a group of unprincipled politicians who brought dozens of lawsuits around the country claiming, without evidence, that electoral fraud was responsible for Trump’s defeat and who lost all but one (insignificant) such case. Harmless politicking by a president who continues to claim that he won the popular vote, that he won states where multiple recounts found that he lost, and on and on. Harmless politicking by a group of spineless sycophants indifferent to or, more likely, intent upon inspiring acts of violence against, for example, the Governor of Michigan and others.

But, in my opinion, that is not the right way to see this. The correct way is to recognize and, in due course, to act upon this reality: a large group of elected officials from across the United States have chosen to adhere to the blatantly false, phantasmagorical ravings of a desperate and, possibly, mentally impaired, president and are threatening to overturn the lawful and proper election of that president’s opponent. These acts are, I submit, acts of treason against the United States.

To be clear, I use “treason” here in the colloquial sense, not the strict legal meaning that we are often reminded is extremely narrow and almost impossible to prove. https://nbcnews.to/3o6Uyvc Treason as defined in the Constitution, Article III, section 3 is only this: “… levying war against [he United States], or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” The U.S. Code [18 U.S. Code § 2381] implements that provision this way:

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

I use “treason” instead to refer to overt acts designed to, and with the potential to actually, subvert the Constitution, leading inevitably to regime after regime refusing to recognize “elections” and continuing in power with the support of the military and police despite the actual desires of the population, until, eventually, power is determined solely by who has the support of the military. Then, of course, the United States will have ceased to exist in any meaningful political or cultural sense. It will join the legions of other failed countries where the people do not get to choose their leaders. Democracy will be finished, here and, very likely, everywhere. This version of “treason” is good enough.

Political theater and political stunts are commonplace in our past. We understand that a senator standing alone with the dictionary, encyclopedia or recipe book and blathering on and on to prevent legislation from being voted upon is “just filibustering,” something permitted in some circumstances by Senate rules that enables a single senator to halt the progress of legislation even if everyone else in the United States wants it to pass. Nothing like political theater or “stuntery” is going on here. No, the president of the United States and a large group of elected Republican congressmen and senators are trying to use blunt force to simply discard the results of the 2020 election and declare Donald Trump the winner (and possibly president for life).

This action has been labeled, correctly in my view, as a “threat to the republic.” See Michael Gerson’s piece in the Washington Post (https://wapo.st/3oaRmi4),

In the cause of his own advancement, the senator from Missouri is willing to endorse the disenfranchisement of millions of Americans — particularly voters of color — and justify the attempted theft of an election. He is willing to credit malicious lies that will poison our democracy for generations. The fulfillment of Hawley’s intention — the ultimate overturning of the election — would be the collapse of U.S. self-government. The attempt should be a source of shame

Gerson goes on to note that Donald Trump,

rose to prominence in the GOP by spreading racist lies about President Barack Obama’s birthplace. Now, he is making the acceptance of conspiratorial myths about Biden’s legitimacy into a test of GOP fidelity. And Trump has made room in his party for even more extreme versions of his method, involving the accusations that Democratic leaders are pedophiles: “Stop the steal” and QAnon are on the same spectrum of vile lunacy. This is the type of politics that Hawley is enabling — a form of politics that abolishes politics. A contest of policy visions can result in compromise. The attempt to delegitimize your opponent requires their political annihilation. And a fight to the political death is always conducted in the shadow of possible violence.

I part company with Mr. Gerson regarding what should be done about this. Certainly, he is right in calling for rejection of Hawley’s self-serving treachery. Maybe, though I doubt it, he is right in suggesting we praise the handful of Republicans who, as of today anyway, indicate dissent from the Trump-at-all-costs version of politics that Hawley promotes. Republicans, like Trump himself, are all too transactional in their support, so that the likes of Romney, Murkowski and some others still vote with Trump/McConnell almost all the time. They should get no reward in public or political acclaim for doing the self-evidently right thing now.

In my view, what I have chosen to call treason should become a standard label associated with those who have made their choice of Trump over the country, over democracy and over commitment to freedom and opportunity for all Americans. It should be part of their identification in the media along with party and geographical affiliation. Their names should reside in history alongside Benedict Arnold. They should be reminded regularly in the House and Senate chambers that their traitorous conduct has been noted and will never be forgiven. And, of course, every available resource should be devoted to removing them from office as soon as possible, through election and, in appropriate cases, criminal investigation and prosecution.

The time for politics-as-usual is over. To be clear, I am not suggesting a Democratic political vendetta but an aggressive and definitive legal response to overt acts plainly intended to overturn an election judged fair by all 50 states and multiple courts (including judges appointed by Trump). The fact that the effort is being executed in the halls of Congress does not excuse it. There is no excuse. Brute force politics must be met with a brute force legal response. I leave the details to others with the skill and knowledge to do it. Enough was enough long ago.

 

 

 

Me & My Manuals

Subtitle: More Than You Want to Know About My Technology Skills

Subtitle: Why We Are Doomed

Modern life is complicated. Much more so than when I was growing up (some people say I was never actually young – not so, but I won’t argue). I am, however, astounded that anything actually works any more.

Growing up, I was a tinkerer/investigator. I would skulk around the neighborhood and remove broken radios/lamps/vacuums, anything electrical, from neighbors’ trash  to disassemble and study how they were built and what made them work. I didn’t learn much but it was something to do.

I was a “technology leader” in my profession. While still a young associate back in the 1970s, I introduced my law firm to its first electronic calculator. It cost me $125, grudgingly reimbursed by the partnership that saw it as wasteful and pointless, an enormous sum at the time for a lowly associate lawyer. It had only four functions. It was the junior model to the first Bowmar breakthrough product, as reported at www.bowmarllc.com:

One of the company’s biggest defining moments came in 1971 when it produced the world’s first hand-held calculator. The Bowmar Brain sold for $240 and ushered in a new frontier of global technological advances. However, since its inception, Bowmar’s primary market has remained aerospace and defense.

While I couldn’t afford a Bowmar Brain, I bought the next best thing and thus it was Bowmar and me on the frontier of technological innovation. The firm resisted but I persisted and soon the partners were secreting the device in their desks to prevent others from secreting it in their desks.

Leaping from Memory Lane to almost-today, I once again faced the technological frontier.

I had owned two inexpensive, limited-function devices to work with my high-powered iMac computer. One was a flat-bed scanner that scanned documents and photos one page at a time. Like an old bike, reliable but slow.  As time passed, the controlling software became somewhat squirrelly (details spared—thank me later).

The other “device” (device, that’s what we call them now) was a simple printer. It did both black/white and color and had a limited but functional sheet feeder. The company that produced this inexpensive marvel decided it was a good idea to modify the software in some fashion that caused the printer to … die. Since the device was far out-of-warranty, multiple tries to download/update the software failed and there was apparently no one home at Hewlett-Packard anyway, I made a command decision: give the scanner to a friend who could use its limited functions and trash (recycle) the moribund printer, replacing both with a more modern, all-purpose single box that would do everything I needed: copy, print and scan. Fantastic. What could go wrong?

My extensive online research led me to what turned out to be a very large, incredibly heavy (circa 50 pounds) All-in-One (AiO) machine from a well-known brand not Hewlett-Packard (some affronts cannot be forgiven). Algorithms at American Express, acting on their own, “decided” that the company identified in the purchase order was “suspect,” and rejected my charge. Stunned at this development, I called Amex which promptly said, “oh, ok, no problem.” So, no problem.

Reasonably believing the algorithmic rejection of the charge had invalidated the first purchase, I returned to the source website and purchased the item again. I also bought a service contract with a firm that claimed to offer turnkey setup and technical advice for years. Little did I know that algorithms in the seller’s website had kept the first transaction “alive” following the credit rejection, so now I had unwittingly ordered two of the devices, each of which was half the size of a Volkswagen beetle.

These particular devices would not connect to my wi-fi system for reasons never understood. The algorithms did not like my network, I suppose. The service contract also turned out to be useless, as, after multiple excruciating waits “on hold,” the “technical experts” at the service company simply told me to call the manufacturer for advice on set-up. They had no idea what to do and really weren’t much interested.

So, I returned the devices. Both of them. Fortunately for me, the seller had a UPS pick-up system so all I had to do was get the devices, in their original boxes with all wrappings, wires, etc., down to the concierge desk. Done and done, sore back and all.

The search for a viable machine resumed. I located another AiO, from a different well-known brand, sold by Best Buy. Well-known brand. Free shipping. What could go wrong? Chastened by my earlier experience, I paid for another service contract with the “famous” Best Buy Geek Squad that claimed to include 24-7 installation/setup advice, guaranteed. I’m on a roll now. Stand back and stand by.

The device was delivered promptly enough but, and this is a big but, this device also was unable to connect to my wi-fi system and thus could not, for example, print documents that resided on my computer. It was the  algorithms, I’m sure. I spent more than two hours on the phone with various “representatives” from the Geek Squad, mostly on hold, none of whom had any helpful advice on the rare occasions when I was able to actually speak with someone. And, Best Buy, it turns out, does not pay or arrange for returns.

Since by this time we had moved from New York City to Washington DC, but had no car, we paid an Uber fee to return the machine to the nearest Best Buy. The staff there was singularly uninterested in why we were returning it: “just drop it over there.” But, without argument, they did refund both the purchase price and the cost of the utterly useless Geek Squad service agreement. [Note to self: don’t forget to send Best Buy a bill for the Uber fees].

Sooo, the search resumed yet again, eventually settling on an older, smaller AiO from Epson with more limited features (e.g., a smaller sheet feeder) available at Amazon, where, in my experience, returns were usually pretty straightforward. Now, my prime criterion for buying anything was whether it was easy to return the item when, most likely, it didn’t work. Ben Franklin said “experience keeps a dear school but a fool will learn in no other.” That is what we have come to. I declined to buy the service contract this time. It was me and my manual or bust.

Well, and here I reach the point at last, the substantive portion of the user’s guide for my device is only available online and is 350 pages long! That’s in the upper end of the range for New York Times Best-Seller Non-Fiction books, since the list began. I don’t know what the significance of that is, but it seems important.

Suffice to say that the manual was pretty much useless. Recalling my early successes in the law firm back in the golden era of the 1970s, I succeeded on my own in enabling “print from computer” and “copy from on a roll using my wi-fi network to connect the devices.

BUT, not so fast. The scanning function would not work! The Epson device in scan mode would not “recognize” my printer sitting just a foot away. “Recognize?” Don’t you love how we’ve anthropomorphized computers? We think they’re like people but, of course, people can do things. Algorithms just say no.

After multiple hours on hold with Epson Support, lengthy discussions with multiple technical reps, including several “Level II” senior advisors, several dropped calls after being put on hold “for just a minute while I check something,” I suggested that maybe a direct connection between the printer and the computer with a USB cable might solve the problem. “Oh, for sure, that will do it,” the Epson guy said, as if this obvious solution had been under discussion all along.

I bought a cable, Amazon delivered it the same day (a miracle right there) and then a fellow named “Albert” [uh huh] walked me through a software uninstall/ reinstall of two of the dozen software programs involved in running my device and voila! I was able to scan while using the “buttons” on the front of device, which had been my simple goal all along. It was a victory worthy of Game of Thrones.

Of course, no one at Epson thought it might be a good idea to offer to pay for the USB cable as partial compensation for the staggering time I had spent while setting up the device, not to mention that it was I who came up with the solution.

Now, standing alone, this story has little meaning in the grand scheme, whatever that it. BUT, as I mentioned earlier, we just moved to Washington from New York City, thereby necessitating the purchase of a car. After extensive research, we decided to buy a Ford Escape Hybrid similar, but much more fuel efficient, to the one we owned three years ago before decamping to NYC from Alexandria and giving up our cars. But, no, not so fast.

There are no Ford dealers in the District of Columbia! None. Mon Dieu!

We ultimately settled on two options in the near Virginia suburbs, based on distance from our apartment and the late-season availability of the car type/color, etc. we wanted (relevant but probably ineffectual).

Suffice to say, the salesmen at both dealers knew next to nothing about the cars they were selling nor about how they are taxed or financed. Actually, not next to nothing. Just plain nothing. But, OK, cars have only been around a short while and young guys no longer tinker with them, so nobody knows a damn thing about anything. So be it. I can always look things up. Right?

And that, my reader (if you’re still here) is where the gist of the gist is found. The car manual is an actual book. And when I say “book,” I mean “book.” The manual is 550 pages long! Not only does the inside of the car resemble an airplane cockpit, but you need a degree in aeronautical engineering to understand how to operate it.

Lest you think I exaggerate, something I never do, permit me an example or two. At p. 54 of said manual, one encounters “Keys and Remote Controls.” The first subheading is “General Information for Radio Frequencies.” Radio Frequencies!?! Why do I need to know about radio frequencies to drive my car????

Following three bolded “Notes,” there is a subheading for “Intelligent Access (if equipped).” Parenthetically, I don’t know whether that is a reference to a car feature or to the possibility that the owner may not be intelligent. Maybe it’s just a linguistic oversight because no one knows anything anymore.

Returning to Keys & Remote Controls,” there are three ways to unlock your car door (details unimportant) UNLESSexcessive radio frequency interference is present in the area,” which I take to mean you are parked under a military radar installation (in which case you are about to have other problems). Anyway, if your car won’t unlock electronically, you can always do it with the “mechanical key blade” hidden in your “intelligent access key” as to which “see Remote Control (page 54),” which is, as it happens, immediately below and unsurprisingly reads “REMOTE CONROL” followed by “Integrated Keyhead Transmitter” and another paragraph of instructions. Finally, all of this is on page 54. All of it. Who, then, thought it was useful to direct you to Remote Control on page 54 when you’re already on page 54? Is proofreading now a completely dead occupation?

The above information is followed by pages of information about keys and their uses, including 11 “photos” of various keys and functions most of which do not resemble my keys.

Thereafter, it gets … worse. There are, for example, seven pages devoted to Starting and Stopping the Engine and another seven on Unique Driving Characteristics, which seems likely to be important. Someday I will read about it.

Well, I have to go now. If we’re ever going to actually use our new car before the warranty expires, I have to study up to be sure I don’t accidentally activate the passenger automatic ejection seat (we did not get the moon roof option) while trying to turn on the ten position/six speed variable/fixed windshield wiper/cruise control. Wish me luck. And remember, this is why nothing works any more. You read it here.

Big Block of Cheese Day [Guest Post by Dina Ruden]

I walked to the White House today and when I got there, I wept.

After a hiatus of three years, I returned to DC and one of the first things I wanted to do was take a walk to my old stomping grounds. For 13 years, I worked a block and a half from the White House and often walked over at lunchtime or after work to admire the view of “The People’s House,” the ever-changing scene of school groups, selfie-taking tourists (both foreign and domestic), law enforcement officers mixed in with the “regular” protestors, daily fixtures with their signs and their lawn chairs. My version of Americana at its best.

In the time of Trump, everything has changed.

DC is a post-apocalyptic nightmare right now. As I walked the eight blocks from my apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, I could hear my own footsteps on streets that were once packed with office workers and tourists. I walked for five minutes across downtown DC without seeing another human being. My heart was heavy as I approached the Executive Office Building and the Renwick Gallery and encountered fence after fence and signs warning me off.

Surely, there was a way to walk through Lafayette Square to the park! No, there was not. I walked up to H Street and had to walk all the way around to 16th Street and even then, behind all the fences and barricades, I could barely make out a portion of the White House. I read about this and saw it on TV, but nothing could prepare me for the emotional impact of seeing one of our nation’s most loved historical treasures being closed off from the American people.

An article in The Atlantic aptly describes the scene I encountered:

“The White House today is hidden behind a welter of barricades, anti-scale fencing, bollards, and Jersey barriers…Lafayette Square, the scene of one of Trump’s most vulgar assaults on core American values, is now impenetrable.”

Enterprising citizens have made their displeasure known posting signs along the fence. I found some comfort in arriving at Black Lives Matter Plaza, which brought me hope that the people will ultimately prevail.

There’s a running joke on the show West Wing about Andrew Jackson and Big Block of Cheese day. In the show, they say that Jackson brought the cheese to the White House and invited people who would not normally get the ear of the president to state their cases. According to historians, the 1,400-pound block of cheese was presented to Jackson by a dairy farmer from New York to promote the Empire State. Apparently, Jackson did not know what to do with such a large block of cheese so at the end of his term, he hosted a reception for 10,000 people and invited them to take the cheese. Following that event, the web site, Thought.com, reports:

“The new occupant of the White House, Martin Van Buren, banned the serving of food at White House receptions. Crumbs from Jackson’s mammoth cheese had fallen into the carpets and been trampled by the crowd. Van Buren’s time in the White House would be plagued by many problems, and it got off to a horrible start as the mansion smelled of cheese for months.”

My hope is that on Jan. 21, President Biden will order the barricades, fencing and bollards torn down and the “People’s House” will once again be restored to us. I only hope the stench left behind by the previous administration does not last for months.

 

 

 

 

Rebuttal to “The case against indicting Trump”

 

It’s fair to say that I mostly agree with positions taken by Randall D. Eliason, who is an adjunct faculty member and teaches white-collar criminal law at George Washington University Law School. Some of his WAPO articles are listed at https://wapo.st/3nKdvDc

Nevertheless, having addressed the subject of pardons/indictment of Donald Trump (https://bit.ly/3m32c8L),  I feel compelled to respond to this latest set of arguments as to why the U.S. government should let Trump and his family walk away unscathed from the wreckage he has wrought on the country and the treasure he has stolen. https://wapo.st/39fwOk1 So, I plunge ahead.

Eliason’s first argument is,

“Launching criminal investigations into an outgoing president would set a dangerous precedent. In this country, we don’t use the criminal justice system to punish political opponents.”

This is a problematic framing of the issue. The purpose of criminal actions would not be to “punish political opponents.” First, the issue is crimes committed in office, not “punishing political opponents” for being opponents or for pursuing policies with which we disagree. Second, it’s far from clear that Donald Trump will remain a “political opponent” once he is out of the presidency. There is speculation, of course, that he has tasted the drug of political power and, like every addict, will be unable to resist going back for more. But there are a multitude of obstacles to his being a serious political force once he is not commanding the news cycle all day and night every day and night. [For clarity, I am fully aware of my assumption that the media will cease amplifying every stupid and outrageous thing Trump says and does and that it will pay most of its attention to the actual government and what it is doing for the country].

Eliason anticipates my position to some degree, in noting that Trump’s supporters will see criminal investigation as an effort to silence Trump in anticipation of his next run for the presidency. No doubt that is true. The “minds” of politicians like Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and the Grim Reaper Mitch McConnell will explode with endless invective as occurred when Trump was impeached, and Republicans became hysterical even though they knew they would not admit relevant evidence or witnesses of the crimes Trump had committed in the Ukraine affair.

The question on this issue, I respectfully suggest, is not what Republican sycophants will say but whether what they say is worthy of consideration and continuing influence in the nation’s public affairs. Catering to them, I believe, will have the effect of validating Trump’s rhetoric in a way that is fundamentally inconsistent with the core of the country’s reason for existence, it’s “soul,” if you will.

Eliason also argues that many of Trump’s actions are not “actually criminal.” Fine, I have no objection to giving him a pass on those, no matter how offensive his views and behaviors may have been. There are still plenty of grounds for indictment, including the ones that the Democrats, for reasons I have never understood and railed against at the time, failed to bring in the impeachment articles. I refer the ten (minimum) instances of “obstruction of justice” established by the Mueller Investigation. No indictment was brought on those very strong cases only because Department of Justice policy (dubiously) forbad indictment of a sitting president. See https://bit.ly/3768GNI  https://bit.ly/372xCG3 https://bit.ly/35YyjB5  https://bit.ly/35WpnMg https://bit.ly/2UUurKR

There are likely many others, some of which will only be discovered when the documentary record of Trump’s White House is available for inspection (assuming, of course, that they don’t destroy the key documents before exiting). For example, there are the original notes of the call with Ukraine President Zelensky that we were told had been stored in a secure White House server and have never seen the light of day. The records related to the policy of caging kids at the southern border will also make interesting reading. Because Trump was known to destroy documents he created and given other propensities of White House aides to do whatever Trump demanded, there is a high risk that many documents have been destroyed and, if so, there is the question whether such conduct should go unpunished because Republicans don’t care about such niceties as federal record retention laws or the Hatch Act that was deliberately violated repeatedly by Trump’s staff.

Eliason addresses the obstruction of justice issues but resists criminal enforcement because “the Democratic House of Representatives did not even see fit to impeach the president over those alleged crimes.” To that, I retort, “so what?” That was a political decision, one that was terribly misguided in my view, but, in any case, it was not a creditable judgment that a criminal case could not be based on obstruction. I simply don’t understand Eliason’s conclusion that the “book appears largely closed on Trump’s obstruction.”

Eliason then turns to the “other punishments” of Trump’s misconduct, noting that “the country saw his behavior and booted him.” And Eliason is likely right that “Trump is destined to go down in history as an impeached, disgraced president.” Trump won’t care much about the judgment of history, however. He will spend his remaining years in luxury, denying the truth, interfering in political issues solely for attention and generally being disruptive to keep attention on himself.

That leads nicely into Eliason’s final argument, that “criminal investigations would guarantee that the next few years continue to be all about Trump.” My answer is that even if Trump is allowed to just walk away, he will do everything in his power to keep the media attention on himself. And he will be aided in this by the same collection of spineless, traitorous Republican politicians that have been too cowardly to stand up to him for the past four years.

So, while there are respectable arguments that the United States should just write Trump’s presidency off as a terrible mistake and focus entirely on repairing the damage, I continue to believe that such focus will be impossible and will in fact be continually impaired by Trump’s arrogant interference. If he is under criminal indictment, his attorneys will almost certainly advise him to shut his mouth, stop tweeting and behave responsibly for once in his life. He may resist. So be it. But any way you look at this, Trump is going to be around and will refuse to be ignored.

Finally, I observe that in his closing, Eliason acknowledges that grounds may well exist to pursue a former president. He mentions one who “sold our most sensitive intelligence to an enemy.” I remind us all that there were multiple instances in which Trump gave intelligence information to Russian diplomats and in which he destroyed notes or otherwise prevented record-keeping of conversations with leaders such as Vladimir Putin. In these types of cases, Eliason admits that “it would be unimaginable to say that president is immune from prosecution” While he thinks Trump’s record in this regard is not egregious enough, I contend we don’t know enough at this time to reach that conclusion. There are plenty of grounds for concern in the cases I have mentioned. This goes well beyond “norms” and other traditional practices that Trump savaged.

The solution to the problem of “appearances of weaponizing” the Department of Justice is not to do it. President Biden can make clear, and live by his word, that prosecutorial decisions will be made solely by prosecutors and that he will stand by whatever decisions they make. Republicans will scream like stuck pigs, of course, but we have heard more than enough of their false moralizing and false equivalencies for many lifetimes. The republic’s best move, then, in my opinion, is to put Trump on the legal defensive by aggressively pursuing well-founded, sharply focused criminal indictments for his worst crimes in office.

 

To Pardon or Not to Pardon – That Is the Question


Just over a year ago, I posted a piece entitled Going Along to Get Along. https://bit.ly/2UCmkTi The central theme was the criminal conduct of the Trump administration for which, I naively argued, “The time has come for a reckoning.” The impeachment proceeding was imminent. While I acknowledged the likelihood that the Republicans would continue to support Trump no matter what crimes he committed, I predicted that,

Impeachment, rarely used because it is so serious, is about holding to account a lawless regime that threatens to undermine the democratic republic that was created by the Constitution. If the case is properly made, the majority of Americans will support the action.

In that small regard, I supposed I was right. Trump was massively defeated in the 2020 election by more than 5 million votes and by the same number of Electoral College votes that Trump won by in 2016.

Yet, here we are, two weeks after Election Day and Trump continues to claim that “I WON THE ELECTION!” His legal team, “led” by Rudy Giuliani [I am not making this up], has filed and lost multiple lawsuits across the country. But those suits are only in states Trump lost. Apparently, Trump’s legal team has no quarrel with the vote counting in states he won. Many of the law firms involved have withdrawn their representation. All of the lawsuits have either been dismissed outright or rendered meaningless by either the complete absence of supporting evidence or narrowed so that even if validated, the ultimate election outcome will not be affected.

Trump had previously threatened that he would not recognize the election result if he lost and, in this one respect, he has kept his word. This has brought to the forefront the question whether, once Joe Biden is inaugurated, he should pardon Trump’s commission of federal crimes. At the risk of giving away the plot too soon, I think not. No pardon. Not ever. Here’s why.

I will use as my guidepost in this argument a provocative think-piece published on Nov. 17 by Michael Conway, former counsel to the  U.S. House Judiciary Committee, entitled “Why Biden Should Pardon Trump – and We Democrats Should Want Him To.” https://nbcnews.to/3lB4NGN Mr. Conway was counsel for the House Judiciary Committee in the impeachment inquiry of President Nixon in 1974. He is a graduate of Yale Law School, a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and a retired partner of Foley & Lardner LLP in Chicago. His views are seriously presented and worthy of consideration.

The rationale offered by Mr. Conway is simply that a pardon for Trump’s multiple federal crimes is necessary if the nation is to heal from the four years of division, fear-mongering, racism, misogyny, hatred and other despicable qualities exemplified by the Trump administration and its enablers and supporters.

That is a heavy load for a pardon to carry, especially considering that, as Mr. Conway rightly recognizes, a presidential pardon would give Trump no legal protection from state crimes provable on the same facts. Conway’s argument also acknowledges that Trump is undeserving:

Trump would, of course, be one of the least deserving recipients of a federal pardon in history. His pardon could not be justified based on his innocence or his contrition because Trump is not contrite; to the contrary, he is currently endangering our democratic processes by relentlessly undermining the legitimacy of Biden’s election and thwarting a peaceful transition.

That said, the argument for a Biden pardon is based on several distinct ideas:

  • A pardon necessarily indicates an admission of guilt;
  • Exposure for prosecution under state law would continue;
  • State prosecutions would not be “laid at Biden’s doorstep;”
  • Biden can show he’s better than Trump by declining to do what Trump tried to do: use his administration to punish political adversaries [“lock her up!”]
  • American democracy would be undermined if we accept the prosecution of political opponents;
  • Declining to prosecute Trump will assuage some of the anger of Trump’s supporters who, however wrongly, believe he was cheated out of a second term;
  • Pardoning Trump will help “heal the nation” and prevent an “ongoing cycle of retribution” as political control inevitably cycles;
  • Precedent exists in President Ford’s pardon of Nixon;
  • Prosecuting Trump would enhance his martyr status among followers, add to partisanship and could “even lead to civil unrest.”

That is as strong an argument for a pardon as I can imagine. Here’s why I think it’s wrong.

  • The admission of guilt would be “by operation of law,” but Trump would continue to argue that he was unjustly punished in various ways, especially in light of (2) under which he would continue to be exposed to state prosecutions, especially in New York;
  • Avoiding the “onus” of prosecution for Biden is of low value in the scheme of things, considering the scale and gravity of Trump’s crimes; protecting the incoming president from responsibility for enforcing the law is not a good reason to pardon;
  • We already know to a certainty that “Biden is better than Trump” as a moral force and as an empathetic leader;
  • Avoiding further blows to democratic institutions is a serious point, but democracy has already been severely undermined by Trump’s conduct, as well as that of the Republicans who enabled him;
  • Protecting Trump from federal prosecution is unlikely to assuage the anger of his most ardent followers who, we have learned to our everlasting sorrow, are totally disconnected from normal emotional responses to truth/facts/reality; assuaging their “feelings” is a fool’s errand – it just won’t work;
  • True that there is precedent but for many the Nixon pardon remains, after all these years, a very sore spot indeed; there is little juice behind the precedent argument;
  • In sacrificing the “healing” opportunity, we likely do increase the risk of more partisanship and the possibility of “civil unrest,” but those risks will exist even in the face of a federal pardon if, for example, New York prosecutes Trump for state crimes;

Moreover, pardoning Trump does not achieve the intended goal of peace with the Trump family writ large. There is likely evidence, known or to be uncovered after January 20, that members of the immediate family are guilty of multiple crimes as well, including conspiracy, obstruction of justice, destruction of federal property/records, money laundering and others perhaps even worse. Trump and his followers are not going to take well to facing such charges even if the capo is pardoned.

Finally, pardoning Trump would send the signal that the more crimes you commit and the more outrageously you behave, the better your chance of a pardon. American democracy has been shaken to the core by the four years of Trump’s mal-administration. This outcome of a pardon would tell the next unprincipled demagogue that “anything goes,” because the worse you are, the greater the likelihood you’ll walk free and clear with the loot you have acquired.

I readily confess that some of my thinking about this is driven by the belief, reluctantly reached, that Trump’s acolytes among the general population (he received more than 73 million votes at last count) are not going to be satisfied regarding Trump’s treatment, regardless of the generosity accorded him, They may be forced “underground” again, where, we have learned, they subsisted and persisted all the time many of us thought we had entered the post-racial world heralded by the election (twice) of Barack Obama. But they won’t be “gone;” they won’t likely experience some profound awakening of empathy and generosity toward others; Whatever the “solution” for those people is, I am constrained to believe that a pardon of Donald Trump is simply not relevant to the factors that motivate them.

In the end, perhaps, it can be concluded that I am more a “law and order” person than Trump’s most ardent fans. I believe in the principle that a properly functioning society needs a “just system of justice” that includes the goal of deterring the highest forms of white color crime, the types of crimes committed most egregiously, and often in the open, by Trump and his family and friends. Accountability is essential to prevent demagogues from becoming the norm of our political life. One important lesson from the Trump ascendancy in American politics is that our frequently sneering disrespect for “banana republics” could very readily become an apt description of the United States if we do not insist on full accountability from our leaders.

The harshest lesson, I think, is that we are not really who we thought we were. American aspirations and reality do not mesh as we had believed. That does not mean, however, that we should reject our aspirations. On the contrary, and as Joe Biden’s election has reminded us, we can and must continue to aspire to a higher calling for our country. We have the choice to make: despair that we have fallen short or renew our commitment to making a better and more just society for all who live here. Pardoning Donald Trump will not help us do better.

This position does not mean that every last drop of retribution must be exacted. The pandemic must be the top priority. Restoration of relations with allies is also critical to our national security. And, obviously, I think, action to aggressively address climate change is essential to our survival as a functioning species. Trump and his family can stew in the uncertainty of their ultimate fate until it is appropriate to take up their crimes, a day that will come all the sooner if Trump continues his insistence that he will hold office against the will of the people, as expressed in the 2020 election. If he wants to be drug physically from the White House, that can be arranged, in which case the day of reckoning will come even sooner. That choice is, to a degree, his to make. His family should recognize that truth, at least, and urge him to stand down. Either way, he must go.

 

Joy in the Land

I will not search for words to memorialize this extraordinary day in the life of the country. Others with greater gifts have done and will do that quite well without my meager words.

Shortly after the word came down that the election had, at long last, been called in favor of Biden-Harris, my wife and I ventured out to Columbus Circle, a few blocks from our New York City apartment. We had seen TV coverage indicating people were gathering there in celebration. Little did we know that the gathering was to last most of the day and that thousands of New Yorkers were absolutely beside themselves with excitement that Donald Trump was, at long last, going to be gone. We took a few photos. Here are some of them:

One of the highlights was a group of singers, decked out in bright costumes and led by a man with “Songs in the key of F*You” on his shirt. They sang and danced a bit. By way of example only, the lyrics to the tune of Hello Dolly went like this:

Well, goodbye, Donny. No more lies, Donny.

We can’t wait to send you back where you belong!

It gets a little raw after that, so I’ll spare you the rest. Here they are:

After enjoying the jubilant scene for a while, we walked along Central Park South to 5th Avenue, thinking we would visit the Trump Tower. Many cars and even a bus went by with horns blaring and people leaning out the windows pumping fists in the air.

We discovered that the NYPD had blocked off access to the Trump Tower from blocks away. The streets were deserted.

We could find no reasonable path to our destination and stopped on West 56th for an outdoor lunch, then returned to Columbus Circle. There, we encountered the tail end of a spontaneous march along Central Park South. These photos capture that event.

The NYPD was obviously nervous as it had a huge presence in the immediate area, including a caravan of vehicles that included one of those ominous black vans with no windows (you may have seen video of protesters being pulled off the streets into such vehicles by “police” with no visible identification) though there was not the slightest hint of anger or distress in the crowd. It was a joyous, happy scene of exhilaration in every respect.

We continued to watch the unfolding scene for a while before returning home:

And so, with a final salute to the Trump International Hotel:

we returned to our apartment to await the much anticipated (only four years) speeches of Kamala Harris and Joe Biden. We were not disappointed. Their words were inspiring, as was the appearance of their families, normal and happy people committed to supporting a team that faces enormous obstacles to success but whose commitment to serving the American people cannot be questioned by anyone with a rational mind.

At long last, the beginning of the end of the catastrophic Trump presidency is at hand.

Why Americans Are Dying By the Thousands Under Trump’s Leadership

Here are a few excerpts from WAPO regarding the federal response to the pandemic as we head into Election Day. https://wapo.st/3oJDI69 They speak for themselves.

“President Trump’s repeated assertions the United States is “rounding the turn” on the novel coronavirus have increasingly alarmed the government’s top health experts, who say the country is heading into a long and potentially deadly winter with an unprepared government unwilling to make tough choices.”

“Anthony S. Fauci, the country’s leading infectious-disease expert, said: … “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.”

“Fauci … said the country could surpass 100,000 new coronavirus cases a day and predicted rising deaths in the coming weeks. He spoke as the nation set a new daily record Friday with more than 98,000 cases. As hospitalizations increase, deaths are also ticking up, with more than 1,000 reported Wednesday and Thursday, bringing the total to more than 230,000 since the start of the pandemic….”

“Trump has rallied in states and cities experiencing record surges in infections and hospitalizations in a last-ditch effort to convince voters he has successfully managed the pandemic. He has held maskless rallies with thousands of supporters, often in violation of local health mandates. Even as new infections climb in 42 states, Trump has downplayed the virus or mocked those who take it seriously.”

“… he baselessly said that U.S. doctors record more deaths from covid-19, the disease the coronavirus causes, than other nations because they get more money.”

“By contrast, former vice president Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala D. Harris have consistently worn masks in public, and have held socially distanced events.”

Fauci … described a disjointed response as cases surge. Several current and former senior administration officials said the White House is almost entirely focused on a vaccine, even though experts warn it is unlikely to be a silver bullet that ends the pandemic immediately since it will take months under the best of circumstances to inoculate tens of millions of people to achieve herd immunity.”

“Fauci said … he has not spoken to Trump since early October…. He also lamented that Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist and Trump’s favored pandemic adviser, who advocates letting the virus spread among young healthy people and reopening the country without restrictions, is the only medical adviser the president regularly meets with. “I have real problems with that guy,” Fauci said of Atlas. “He’s a smart guy who’s talking about things that I believe he doesn’t have any real insight or knowledge or experience in. He keeps talking about things that when you dissect it out and parse it out, it doesn’t make any sense.”

[Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, attacked Fauci for speaking his mind, accusing him of being a member of the Washington Swamp and repeating Trump’s talking points that the president “always put the well-being of the American people first.” Believe what you will.]

“Some White House advisers … complain [Fauci] is too focused on his personal reputation and is “not on the team,” said one senior administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment. The doctor has become loathed among many Trump supporters, and Fauci has told others that he has experienced a surge in harassment and threats.”

[See https://wapo.st/3kUAOJK for a list of the 184 times Trump has downplayed the pandemic threat, a reality he confessed to on tape in the Woodward interviews].

“Several senior administration officials and outside advisers described a White House overwhelmed by the pandemic, with a feeling of helplessness over the inability to curb its spread without also throttling the economy or damaging the president’s reelection chances.”

“… the campaign trail message that life is returning to normal underscores how little the president and White House have focused on the pandemic beyond pushing for development and approvals of vaccines and treatments. With the clearance of a vaccine unlikely until year’s end, that raises questions about what happens after Election Day, during what is projected to be the worst stretch yet of the pandemic. The Trump administration will be in charge of managing the pandemic until at least Jan. 20, no matter who wins.”

“Trump’s former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Scott Gottlieb said, “If we don’t plan now, we’ll lose the opportunity to prioritize [school]opening what should be most important to us, just as we lost that chance in the fall because we didn’t plan appropriately this summer.”

“And one of the ways to say the outbreak is over is [to say] it’s really irrelevant because it doesn’t make any difference. All you need to do is prevent people from dying and protect people in places like the nursing homes,” Fauci said. “And because of that, Debbie [Birx] almost never ever sees the president anymore. The only medical person who sees the president on a regular basis is Scott Atlas. It’s certainly not Debbie Birx.”

“Fauci said that many people who catch the virus recover “virologically” but will have chronic health problems. “The idea of this false narrative that if you don’t die, everything is hunky dory is just not the case,” he said. “But to say, ‘Let people get infected, it doesn’t matter, just make sure people don’t die’ — to me as a person who’s been practicing medicine for 50 years, it doesn’t make any sense at all.”

“A similar assessment was offered by Tom Bossert, the former homeland security adviser in the Trump administration. “It sounds alluring,” Bossert said. “It sounds so seductive. It’s not possible. Math makes it irresponsible to even try and say it.”

Trump’s Presidency in Memes — Final??

As we approach the, hopefully, final hours of Trump’s catastrophic presidency, I am submitting a final round of memes collected from Twitter, Facebook and … wherever. If there is any justice in this country, this will be the last time it’s necessary to do this, although his electoral defeat may not entirely end his presidency. More about that another time soon. Meanwhile, back in the looney bin known as the Trump presidency: