Category Archives: Economics

A Special Place in Hell

On August 16, 2022, a United States Senator representing Florida published an “open letter” to “American Job Seeker.” The letter purports to address grievances about the planned hiring of 87,000 new employees for the Internal Revenue Service. In keeping with Scott’s general method of operation, the letter is replete with lies, distortions, and deflections. A U.S. Senator addressing the legislation he’s complaining about should know better. I believe he does and that his mendacity is deliberate. Donald Trump will be happy with him, though, so in Senator RIck Scott’s mind, he is fine with lying, distorting, and deflecting. Let’s have a closer look.

First, Scott decries the “labor participation rate” that he says the Biden administration has caused “to drop to historic lows.” That is a gross distortion at best and a bald-faced lie at worst.

The labor participation rate is the percentage of the population that is either working or actively looking for work. A casual look at Labor Department data would have shown Scott that the rate has remained within a percentage point or so of the level during Trump’s administration. https://bit.ly/3SZT71u Except, of course, for the big dip in 2020 caused by, you will recall, Trump’s grotesque mishandling of the pandemic. In July 2022 the rate was only .3 below the level when Biden was inaugurated. Oh, by the way, Florida, Scott’s state, ranks among the lowest states in LPR. Also, by the way, the national unemployment rate was 3.5% in July 2022, exactly where it was in February 2020, just before the pandemic struck. By most standards that unemployment rate is considered “full employment.”

Scott then says, “I write to you today to offer a few things for you to consider as you continue your job search.” Ah, job hunting advice from a professional politician from Florida, a man whom Wikipedia describes this way:

During his tenure as chief executive, the company [Columbia/HCA, then the largest private for-profit healthcare company] defrauded Medicare, Medicaid and other federal programs. The Department of Justice ultimately fined the company $1.7 billion in what was at the time the largest health care fraud settlement in U.S. history.

Scott has two messages: (1) expansion of the IRS workforce is a threat to Americans and when Republicans get control of Congress in the fall elections, they will remove the funding for these jobs; therefore, don’t waste your time applying; (2) the original job posting indicated the new IRS employees would be armed and one of their “major duties” was to be prepared to kill your neighbors and friends.

That deliberately misinformed and childish hysteria is plainly designed to frighten ordinary Americans. Scott goes on to refer to an “IRS super-police force” that will not only audit your taxes (that you are required by law to pay — remember, Scott is in the party of “law and order”) but directly suggests a mob of armed government employees will kill you if you don’t pay up.

This is the face of the modern Republican Party that uses the rhetoric of government running wild to frighten Americans into believing that a utopian and authoritarian solution is their only safeguard. The reality is quite different.

Lower taxes are, first, a lie. Republicans only lower taxes for the very wealthy. Ordinary Americans see little of the oft-promised tax cuts. Trump’s oft-toted big tax cut went almost entirely to the wealthy and increased the federal deficit by a huge amount. While promising to eviscerate the government, Republicans also promise stronger borders, a more powerful military, and more efficiency – all for less money! The Republican Party is the modern version of the snake oil salesman – buy my elixir and enjoy good health for life! Nothing to it. Something for nothing.

Let’s look more closely at Scott’s hysterical claims. He uses transparent techniques. All caps on “$80 BILLION.” He then compares the resulting IRS work force to the combined employment of four familiar federal agencies: Pentagon, FBI, Customs and Border Protection, and the State Department.  If his original claim of doubling the size of the IRS was accurate, then this might be true even if totally pointless. But it is not. The IRS is not going to hire 87,000 new employees in one year. So, Scott’s workforce comparisons are just more distortions/lies.

The more important question is: what will the new employees be doing that is good for America? Senator Scott doesn’t want you to know about that. Here’s why.

The IRS’s budget has been cut by nearly 20 percent since 2010, impacting the agency’s ability to staff up and modernize half-century-old technology. In 2010, the IRS had about 94,000 employees. That number dipped to about 78,000 employees in 2021. Some of the agency’s computers still run on COBOL, a programming language that dates back to the 1960s. Since 2010, the agency’s enforcement staff has declined by 30 percent, according to IRS officials, and audit rates for the wealthiest taxpayers have seen the biggest declines because of years of underfunding. [https://bit.ly/3K8AzIp]

So, if you’re fine with wealthy tax cheats getting away with under-paying taxes, you’ll appreciate Senator Scott’s gross deception. Otherwise, well, you’ll recognize that you can’t run the government on thoughts and prayers Republicans like to send when your school children are slaughtered with AR-15’s they refuse to restrain.

Speaking of that, Senator Scott also wants you believe that the IRS auditors are going to shoot you. Another lie. Fewer than 3% of IRS employees are Special Agents who carry weapons. Why do they? Because they are law enforcement personnel in the IRS Criminal Investigation unit. They investigate criminal tax violations and other financial crimes such as money laundering, bank secrecy, national security, and national defense matters.

While we’re still on violence, Senator Scott should know that anti-government, anti-worker statements have inspired violent attacks on federal employees in the past. There are now reports of one Republican candidate advocating shooting federal employees, including IRS employees, “on sight.” When you add these incitements to violence against federal employees carrying out Congressionally mandated duties to Republican indifference to the slaughter of school children with automatic weapons they refuse to regulate, you have the perfect storm of a political party advocating violence against its opponents and the government.

Senator Scott’s letter is a dangerous collection of gross distortions and outright lies. This man cannot be trusted. Florida should send him packing (no pun) as soon as possible.

The Root of All Evil

A Biblical quotation worked its way into the popular vernacular a long time ago: the love of money is the root of all evil. The quote is often abbreviated to “money is the root of all evil.”  I have no idea whether the attribution to Apostle Paul is correct, but I also don’t care. I don’t believe either version of it is true.

The love of money, like the love of many other things, both physical and otherwise, can certainly lead to problematic outcomes. But the opposite of love can equally lead to problematic outcomes. There are just too many problematic outcomes to assign all the blame on love of money or just on money. When I think about this, I am reminded of the wonderful Robert Frost poem, Fire and Ice:

Some say the world will end in fire,

Some say in ice.

From what I’ve tasted of desire

I hold with those who favor fire.

But if it had to perish twice,

I think I know enough of hate

To say that for destruction ice

Is also great

And would suffice.

In my view, ignorance is the real root of all evil. Donald Trump once said, “I love the poorly educated!” He knew something that had apparently escaped the notice of even experienced political analysts. It’s not that the “poorly educated” are unintelligent. Many of them are quite intelligent and can perform many tasks effectively. They can be successful in many lines of commerce and in life generally.

On the other hand, the “poorly educated” may be susceptible to believing misinformation/false information because they have not been exposed to the discipline of education and have not undertaken to study on their own. But they are not alone in that, so being poorly educated is neither explanation nor excuse, despite Trump’s claimed admiration for them. During the height of the pandemic, we saw nurses and doctors embrace conspiracy theories, promote quack remedies for COVID and resist vaccination. And many members of Congress who support insane conspiracy theories and engage in traitorous and illegal activities are highly educated.

The problem is more complicated than the simple explanation that the “poorly educated” mistakenly thought Trump as president would be good for them. In trying to understand this, I have read numerous books, articles, theories, and studies. Most recently I discovered Strangers in Their Own Land, by Arlie Russell Hochschild, professor emeritum of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of many notable books. The book was a 2016 Finalist for the National Book Award. This work is based on her personal research conducted in post-Katrina, post-Deepwater Horizon coastal Louisiana. The date of publication, 2016, was just before Trump was elected president and all that ensued. The book nevertheless seems wholly predictive of everything that followed.

Hochschild defined her mission at the outset as an effort to explore feelings, the “emotion in politics.” Strangers at 15. Some of those feelings were disturbing – she notes that “reminders of the racial divide were everywhere.” Strangers at 20. She did not draw much on that fact of coastal Louisiana life but indirectly seemed to acknowledge its abiding and broad influence on political life there.

Strangers focuses on what Hochschild calls the Great Paradox, stated roughly as the massive disconnect between the economic and life interests of the local people and their devotion to the Tea Party which was in full flower in the period covered. The locals were adamantly opposed to regulation, especially federal regulation, that might help restore the opportunity to continue the livelihoods they had pursued for generations in fishing/hunting/farming the abundant natural resources of coastal Louisiana.

One of the Tea Party’s darlings was Bobby Jindal. As Hochschild notes at the end of the book, Louisiana was left a “shambles” after eight years of Tea Party-style leadership by Governor Jindal. Yet his support among locals never waned. They bought into the capitalism mythology completely. Such devotion also led to support for Republican congressman David Vitter who opposed all federal environmental intervention, voted to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency and more. Strangers at 48.

The author said she was struck by what political candidates avoided in their pitches to voters: “that the state ranks 49th out of 50 on an index of human development, that Louisiana is the second poorest state, that 44 percent of its budget comes from the federal government – the Great Paradox.” Strangers at 59. People with little to begin with worried more about what others were getting (“non-working, non-deserving people”) than about destruction of the environment or years lost to bad health conditions.  Somehow this was seen as a loss of “honor” and that was more important than more tangible issues. Strangers at 60-61.

They knew that Big Oil and Big Chemical had undeniably wrecked the local environment, but they adhered to the mythology that the companies also brought jobs and other economic benefits that could not be secured under any form of regulation. They concluded that the honorable thing was to muddle through, accepting their fate while continuing to assert their” principles.”

Hochschild notes three paths by which Tea Party believers arrived at their profound dislike for the federal government:

their religious faith (the government curtailed the church, they felt),

hatred of taxes (which they saw as too high and too progressive), and

the government’s impact on their loss of honor …. [Strangers at 35]

They bought into the belief that taxes went to lazy welfare cheats and “government workers in cushy jobs.” Id. They thought climate change was bogus science. They resented what they perceived to be bias against the “little guy,” meaning mainly the little white guy, and interference with the role of God in overseeing humanity. Strangers at 52. Those are easy myths for resentful people to embrace without having to make the effort to understand complex systems and ideas. Indeed, for many, the outcome was in the hands of their God and humans thus had little responsibility for outcomes.

In portents of things to come, Hochschild notes that at the Republican Women of Southwest Louisiana meeting,

I heard a great deal about freedom in the sense of freedom to – to talk on your cellphone as you drove a car, to pick up a drive-in daiquiri with straw on the side, to walk about with a loaded gun. But there was almost no talk about freedom from such things as gun violence, car accidents, or toxic pollution. [Strangers at 71]

The perplexing reality is that people living with more pollution are more likely to believe in less regulation and more likely to be Republicans. Strangers at 79. This mental orientation set them up for manipulation and exploitation.

The initial tip to the problem of the book’s analysis comes at the beginning. Hochschild observes that the reason for population shifts in the United States had changed: people moved less to find better jobs, housing or (she didn’t mention this) education but rather to align more closely with people of similar political views. The sharpening of political division is, she says, attributable to the ‘right moving right.’ Strangers at 6-7. She recounts the dire economic conditions afflicting the southern states, Louisiana being among the worst of the worst:

Given such an array of challenges, one might expect people to welcome federal help. In truth, a very large proportion of the yearly budgets of red states – in the case of Louisiana, 44 percent – do come from federal funds. $2,400 is given by the federal government per Louisianan per year.

But Mike S_____ doesn’t welcome that federal money and doubts the science of climate change. “I’ll worry about global warming in fifty years,” he says. Mike loves his state, and he loves the outdoor life. But instead of looking to government, like others in the Tea Party, he turns to the free market. [Strangers at 9]

He turns to the same “free market” exploited by Big Oil and others to wreak havoc on the state that Mike purported to love so much. Thus, again, the Great Paradox.

The other major theme in the book is the Deep Story, the myths by which social groups, or tribes, are developed and sustained. Strangers at 135. Here perhaps is the core principle at work. In coastal Louisiana the Tea Party promoted, and locals accepted, the idea that undeserving people were cutting into the line ahead of hard-working “true Americans.” While their perceptions of race are complex, older whites interviewed by Hochschild saw Blacks especially as a problematic class afflicted by special issues not shared by most white people.

Economic class distinctions tracked race and distinguished between “makers” and “takers,” with the latter being the “line-cutters” supported by the federal government, those people unfairly getting ahead of everyone else. This grievance was at the root of many white Louisianans’ attitudes unrelated to the reality of local social and economic standing. Strangers at Ch. 9, and at 157-159.

Despite noting the data showing that “the higher the exposure to environmental pollution the less worried the individual was about it” [Strangers at 253], Hochschild concludes that the continuation of the Great Paradox is not the result of ignorance. [Id.] But that view is remarkable because it’s not supported by most of the data cited in the book. One of dozens of examples is the belief that 40 percent of all U.S. workers are employed by the federal government. The actual figure at the time was 1.9 percent. Strangers at 161.

Such ignorance of economic reality was at the root of many local people’s vigorous resistance to all forms of regulation. Such interventions could have helped to restore the balance of nature and, along with it, the jobs and environment they claimed to cherish. Yet, by and large, they wanted none of it. Hochschild was aware of this because data in Appendix C to the book was often interspersed in the text to illustrate how the real facts refuted the central myths on which the resistance depended. Peoples’ explanations of their views were rife with classical political myths and massively wrong factual beliefs.

Locals that Hochschild interviewed appeared to believe that a woman’s role was to be completely subordinate to her husband. Strangers at 174. This attitude is consistent with the analysis of “what makes a Republican” in George Lakoff’s 1996 Moral Politics that, controversially, applies principles of cognitive science to politics. As summarized in Wikipedia:

Lakoff argues that the differences in opinions between liberals and conservatives follow from the fact that they subscribe with different strength to two different central metaphors about the relationship of the state to its citizens. Both, he claims, see governance through metaphors of the family.

Conspiratorial thinking was also rampant among Hochschild’s subjects. Few people believed science had made the case for global warming. Strangers at e.g., 183. They did not understand what the lives of the seriously poor were like, rejected much historical truth, adopted phantasmagorical solutions dependent upon the “free market” and adopted what has come to be known more recently as “replacement theory.” Strangers at Ch. 14.

In the end, it seemed to me that the author was profoundly fooled by the mannered façade she experienced in her research with the locals whose “good-hearted acceptance” of her, their “great personal warmth and famous Southern hospitality,” misled her to conclude that

in human terms, the [empathy] wall can easily come down. And issue by issue, there is possibility for practical cooperation. [Strangers at 233]

There is nothing in the buildup to the end of the book or in the data set out throughout it that would support such a conclusion. And, of course, the history under Trump’s presidency is the most profound refutation of the “we can all just get along” thesis. The author’s starry-eyed belief in future harmony and progress was, I believe, a grievous error by a researcher whose approach to her study was primarily based on just talking with locals, eating meals with them, and looking at the surrounding conditions that determine their lives and livelihoods.

The book confirms my suspicions in its treatment of the rise of Trump as a political power.

Three elements had come together. Since 1980, virtually all those I talked with felt on shaky economic ground, a fact that made them brace at the very idea of “redistribution.” The also felt culturally marginalized: their views about abortion, gay marriage, gender roles, race, guns, and the Confederate flag all were held up to ridicule in the national media as backward. And they felt part of a demographic decline; “there are fewer and fewer white Christians like us….”        [Strangers at 221]

Economically, culturally, demographically, politically, you are suddenly a stranger in your own land. The whole context of Louisiana – its companies, its government, its church and media – reinforces that deep story. [Strangersat 222]

Trump, consciously or otherwise, fed this sense of disaffection and loss.

His supporters have been in mourning for a lost way of life Many have become discouraged, others depressed. They yearn to feel pride but instead have felt shame. Their land no longer feels their own. Joined together with others like themselves, they now feel hopeful, joyous, elated … in a state of rapture… no longer strangers in their own land. [Strangers at 225]

Rapture indeed. This degree of magical thinking is beyond imagining: a Pew Research Center 2010 study reported that “41 percent of all Americans believe the Second Coming “probably” or “definitely” will happen by the year 2050.” Strangers at 125. Hochschild labels them “victims without a language of victimhood.” Strangers at 131, a missing element that Donald Trump readily supplied.

My overall conclusion about this book is that the people it discusses suffer from a central fatal flaw: they mistakenly believed that the land belonged to them in the sense that the whole of it was their natural right. Anything that challenged that idea was alien, undermining their sense of “our land.” This, I think, is about as un-American a concept as you will find. It ignores history, economic reality, and the nature of democracy. The root concept that “this land is ours then, now and always,” meaning us God-fearing white people who have an entitlement that others are unjustly trying to steal, fundamentally misunderstands the nature of the country, its origins, and its development.

This issue may be connected to education, but I suspect it’s much deeper than that. The possessory and superiority components of these cultural beliefs leave these people vulnerable to the “it’s ok to hate” message from a demagogue like Donald Trump who lacks any core value system of principles except greed. These people have less to fear from interlopers than from their own ignorance.

The problem, however, is that someone so ignorant is usually unaware of his ignorance and simply feels put upon by the forces of change. He just wants what he thought he had before, notwithstanding that the oil-based economy was a complete fraud on coastal Louisiana society, wrecking the environment while failing to deliver the economic benefits that locals were sure existed. It’s also often true that the ignorant are unwilling to learn; they lack empathy and see others’ gains mainly as their losses.

I don’t want to be told I’m a bad person if I don’t feel sorry for that [sick African child on TV with Christiane Amanpour]” Strangers at 128.

But even those who fancy ourselves as “not ignorant” are capable of delusional thinking. I have confessed multiple times to having fundamentally misunderstood the degree of disfunction in the country. I thought the election of Barack Obama was a sign that, overall, the country had changed. That was wrong.

The essential proof is that despite his record of lies, incompetence and corruption, Trump received 74 million votes in 2020. Joe Biden received many more, of course, but the thinnest of margins remains in both houses of Congress. People with short term concerns about things like inflation, and no or limited understanding of its causes, may drive the country back into an abyss from which democracy may not re-emerge. It can happen here. Only the voters can prevent it.

I heard recently from a reliable source that many young people, in their 20’s and 30’s, may not feel they are much affected by what is happening in politics. That absence of perceived impact often makes them indifferent to the outcome of critical issues. If that is true, we are in even more trouble than I imagined.

Republicans are highly motivated by their grievances and can be expected to turn out in large numbers in the 2022 mid-terms. If Democrats stay home, it’s game over. You have been warned.

Is Twitter the Next Republican Echo Chamber?

Social media are awash in problematic and near hysterical responses to the announcement that Elon Musk is cleared to buy Twitter. Having paid little attention to Musk, I have nothing useful to say about the acquisition as such.

I am, however, interested in the assertion that Musk is a “free speech absolutist” and that he will, therefore, apply that principle to his management of Twitter with dire consequences. Many observers believe this means Trump’s Twitter account will be restored, with predictable results. Trump himself reportedly says he won’t rejoin Twitter but anyone who has been mentally functioning for the past five years knows Trump’s word is meaningless. Meanwhile, people like Trump’s children have remained on Twitter all along, promoting their schemes, lying and all the rest. Is the furor just about Trump?

In any case what does “free speech absolutist” mean? Yesterday, Musk tweeted this:

By “free speech”, I simply mean that which matches the law. I am against censorship that goes far beyond the law. If people want less free speech, they will ask government to pass laws to that effect. Therefore, going beyond the law is contrary to the will of the people.

Putting aside the logical issues with those sentences, if Musk really means that free speech must “match the law,” there would be little to worry about. Summarized, the law is that speech that is, for example, in furtherance of a criminal conspiracy or that is demonstrably false and harmful may be regulated, not only by private entities but by the government itself. The classic example is shouting fire in a crowded and darkened theater. Such “speech” is dangerous, and the speaker may be held to account for it. Similarly, solicitation of a crime combined with actual steps toward executing the crime may be prosecuted. Speech that is normally covered by, for example, attorney-client privilege that prevents compulsory disclosure loses its privileged status if, for example, the attorney-client communication is part of a criminal enterprise.

If, on the other hand, Musk means that going forward Twitter will not discipline participants and will depend entirely on the government to do so, we will have an example of the most cynical form of disinformation in history. Why? Because Musk knows that the government is not going to undertake direct regulation of social media platforms like Twitter and claiming to depend on “the law” to do so is the height of cynical misdirection.

Mr. Musk may, on the other hand, actually believe that speech is absolute in its “freedom,” so that, for example, Donald Trump should be free to claim in Future Twitter that the 2020 election was stolen and that no consequences should attach to such false claims. Maybe.

I don’t know for sure what Musk actually thinks. Twitter participants appear to be dropping out in large numbers over fear that Musk will turn Twitter into a platform for free-form lying by right-wing lunatics. Others argue that they will “stay and fight.” Many right-wing conspiracists are rejoicing at what they believe will be the New Twitter where anything goes, including blatantly false statements about important matters like elections. Such statements are already appearing in a multitude of tweets.

Staying and fighting may not be a viable strategy if indeed Twitter is going to adopt the policy that anything goes. If it does, it will almost certainly and very quickly attract the Flat Earth and other crazies who have nothing useful to say and are not open to reason. In that case, Twitter may well die, and Musk will lose a lot of money.

I say that because I am confident that a social media platform of Twitter’s scope will not long endure as a home for lunatic fringe participants. There are, of course, plenty of them already participating. Usually, the best approach is to just block them.

Maybe Twitter really is worth $44 billion but the investment could easily be squandered by turning the platform into what Trump’s Truth Social was supposed to be but never achieved. The good news is that it won’t take too long to see which way the mendacity is blowing.

Twitter as a free-to-lie/cheat/steal platform, Twitter as the new home for Fox News and the like, can be replaced by a platform that respects truth, rejects disinformation and honors the true meaning of the idea of “free speech.” Call me naïve, if you like, but $44 billion for a platform that promotes false information is probably a bad investment. We’ll see.

What a Picture is Worth ….

Donald Trump — A Gangster in the White House

I write to give you the gist of Jeffrey Toobin’s excellent True Crimes and Misdemeanors.

If there is anything to be disappointed about, it is that the book was published in early August of 2020 and thus does not address Trump’s (and other Republicans’) incitement of the January 6 attack and his second impeachment. But there is likely little that Toobin could add at this stage to what is known about that, given the stonewalling by most of Trump’s enablers and the apparent indifference of the Department of Justice to the entire matter.

That limitation aside, this book, like the exceptional Where Law Ends by Andrew Weissman, displays throughout the gift of clear exposition. A complex tale told well. And, like Weissman, Toobin pulls none of his punches in judging the behavior of most of the participants in the criminal enterprise that defined the Trump presidency. If there is anything to complain about in that regard, it’s Toobin’s obvious fascination with and adoration of the role, style, and grit of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, perhaps the only major player to come out of the Trump crime spree as a genuine hero in Toobin’s eyes.

The book reads like a true crime novel, and it is all about crimes. Sad to say, it’s also not a novel. It’s true. All of it.

So, where to begin? The book opens with a summary analysis of Trump’s survival despite the findings of the Mueller Report. There is plenty of blame to go around but much of it rests at the feet of Mueller himself:

Mueller’s caution and reticence led him to fail at his two most important tasks.  Thanks to the clever actions (and strategic inaction) of Trump’s legal team, Mueller failed to obtain a meaningful interview with Trump himself. Even worse, Mueller convinced himself – wrongly – that he had to write a final report that was nearly incomprehensible to ordinary citizens in its legal conclusions. [True Crimes at 8]

Toobin ends the opening with the observation that,

everyone – friends as well as enemies – knew what [Trump] had done. It was obvious to any sentient observer that he did what he was accused of in the Mueller Report and in the articles of impeachment. [[True Crimes at 11]

The book then narrates the story of how that happened, beginning with James Comey’s betrayal of the country by his decision to ignore FBI policy about disclosing details of investigations at all, let alone on the literal eve of an election, with the result that Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was undermined at the last minute. The subsequent narrative will be familiar to everyone who was paying attention but the details, including many not previously revealed (to my knowledge) propel the story forward. Toobin concludes, “it appears likely, if not certain, that Comey cost Clinton the presidency.” [[True Crimes at 28] Indeed.

Toobin makes a compelling case that Robert Mueller was hyper-focused on bringing his investigation to a rapid close and thus failed to pursue “the single most important piece of evidence,” namely, the testimony of Donald Trump himself. But,

Mueller didn’t. He backed down. He couldn’t bring himself to launch a direct legal attack against the president of the United States. [True Crimes at 197]

Of all the mistakes made, and in truth every serious investigation of complex events will have some, the failure to force Trump’s testimonial hand stands out as the largest and the least understandable in light of Mueller’s assignment. Everyone – Mueller’s team, Trump’s lawyers – knew Trump would perjure himself if questioned under oath. He would have had extreme difficulty responding to skilled cross-examination of his conduct and motives. This is particularly important because Mueller believed that Trump’s “state of mind” was critical to bringing charges against him. For me, that will always remain a mystery. State of mind is simply never directly knowable, despite what we’ve seen in some phantasmagorical science fiction movies. It is inferable from conduct in context and circumstances, always.

Mueller made other mistakes. He should have squeezed Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal lawyer whom they had dead to rights on campaign finance violations and lying to Congress. Without ever asking whether his jurisdiction might include the Cohen issues, Mueller turned the case over to the Southern District of New York. Because those prosecutors, accomplished though they were, saw their role narrowly – Cohen was the target, not Trump – they never sought Trump’s tax returns or his financial records.

In a precursor to what was to come, William Barr, who had once been Mueller’s boss at DOJ, volunteered in June 2018 a 19-page memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had appointed Mueller as Special Counsel, attacking the legitimacy of the Mueller investigation. Barr argued that the president could, for any reason or no reason (the legal standard for “at will” employment firing), fire the head of the FBI (Comey) and such action could not be attacked as obstruction of justice. Barr also objected on constitutional grounds to any attempt to force Trump to testify. [True Crimes at 234-235]

Thereafter, negotiations over Trump’s possible testimony were postponed while Rudy Giuliani was brought in to lead Trump’s legal defense team. At a “get-acquainted” meeting with Mueller’s team,

Giuliani wanted to nail down Mueller’s commitment that he would follow the [DOJ Office of Legal Counsel] policy barring indictments of sitting presidents. Aaron Zebley volunteered that Mueller would. [True Crimes at 236, italics mine]

When I read that, I almost gagged. Zebley was Mueller’s former Chief of Staff at the FBI and his top aide in the Trump investigation. Zebley was the subject of much critical assessment in Andrew Weissmann’s Where Law Ends, discussed in detail here: https://bit.ly/3Jn8ye3

I can think of no plausible reason for Mueller or his team to offer such a concession at that point, or likely at any point, in the investigation without getting something of extraordinary importance in return. But, no, the point was “volunteered” away. Astonishing and inexplicable in my opinion.

Many key players in the prolonged saga of Trump’s presidency come in for harsh criticism in Toobin’s accounting, including Judge T.S. Ellis, the judge in the first trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chair. Toobin notes the judge’s “partisanship and incompetence.” [True Crimes at 238] Strong words, indeed, but justified by the shocking events he narrates.

One beef I have with Toobin relates to the central issue in the Mueller investigation. Mueller concluded that there was no evidence proving that Trump or his campaign “colluded” with Russia. Toobin accepts this finding, with the qualification that Trump and his inner circle certainly wanted to collude. [True Crimes at 269] Given the failure to examine Trump personally under oath or to subpoena his taxes and financial records, Toobin’s total acceptance of Trump’s innocence on the collusion issue is, I think, unjustified. Even more so because Trump’s answers to the written questions ultimately submitted to him by Mueller included 36 instances of “don’t remember” by the man who repeatedly claimed to have a genius level mind and memory. [True Crimes at 273]

Toobin holds nothing back in stating that Rudy Giuliani’s involvement in the Ukraine extortion episode “must rank among the most disastrous pieces of advocacy in the history American lawyering.” [True Crimes at 292] No doubt, but Toobin also holds nothing back regarding the Mueller Report itself. He correctly concludes that the Report established that “Trump committed several acts of criminal obstruction of justice.” [True Crimes at 300] Using his gift of snark to full advantage, Toobin paraphrases the Mueller conclusions on obstruction:

We can investigate the President, but we can’t prosecute the President. If our investigation determined that he was in the clear, we’d say that – but we’re not saying that. Nor are we saying that he’s guilty of anything. So we’re not saying he’s guilty – but we’re not saying he’s innocent either. Basically. [True Crimes at 302]

Toobin characterizes the decision to avoid saying whether prosecution was warranted as a “gift to Trump.” [True Crimes at 302] Right again.

For several reasons, a special mention must be made of then- Attorney General William Barr’s issuance of a second letter, two days after he received the 448-page Mueller Report, interpreting the Report to say things it did not say and drawing conclusions the Report did not draw. Or, as Toobin put it, Barr put “a stake in Mueller.” [True Crimes at 307] And then, one of the highlights of the entire book for me,

Many on Mueller’s team, especially at the lower levels, were incandescent with fury at Barr.” [True Crimes at 308]

I don’t think will ever forget that phrase, “incandescent with fury” that so graphically describes how I and many others felt when Barr’s treachery sank in.

The book goes on to cover Trump’s Ukraine extortion scheme, the outrageous efforts of the White House and outside counsel to defend the indefensible, the refusal of Republican senators to hear the evidence through witnesses and their determination to protect Trump at any and all costs. Toobin is unsparing in his condemnation of these efforts, and all are worth reading.

The main thing that really surprised me in the book was an omission. I may have missed it, though I doubt it. There was no discussion of the fate of the full written report (I will not dignify it with the term “transcript,” since it was in no sense an actual transcript) on the Trump-Zelensky call that was widely reported to have been sequestered in a White House server to which access was extremely limited. I have seen no reports about whether the Biden administration has opened the server to discover its contents or whether the server was removed with by the outgoing administration to, again, protect Trump from further exposure of his crimes.

I also strongly disagree, as I have previously written, with the decision of the House managers (mainly the Speaker) to limit the impeachments to narrowly drawn issues, given the breadth and depth of Trump’s crimes in office. The House was not bound by the self-imposed limitations of the Mueller Report and, knowing, as the House did, that conviction of Trump was completely unlikely, they should have thrown the book at him, exposing for the watching world the range and importance of his crimes in office.

I also must record my fundamental disagreement with Toobin’s judgment about the proper role of the Senate in the impeachments. He says,

The senators were nothing more, and nothing less, than politicians were supposed to decide the president’s fate based just in part on the evidence at trial but also on their overall sense of what was best for the country.

That view is far too narrow and validates the refusal of the Republican Party to come to grips with the realities of Trump’s presidency. There remains, and history will confirm, no doubt that Donald Trump committed multiple crimes in office and that he committed crimes in attempting to stop the peaceful transfer of power to the Biden administration. To say that the Senate’s judgment was rightly based on a self-interested determination of “what was best for the country” makes a sham of the entire constitutional process. I do not believe the Founding Fathers, if they had been able to imagine a president like Trump, would have intended that the Senate could just say “it’s in our best interest to keep the leader of our party in power, so he’s ‘not guilty’ regardless of what he did.” I believe the Founding Fathers, whatever their other flaws, wanted and expected more when the extraordinary remedy of impeachment was brought against a president.

Toobin does not spend much time on Trump’s handling of the pandemic because that was not the primary topic of the book. But, as some of the Republican senators observed, the people would eventually render their judgment of Trump on election day in 2020. And they did. For reasons I still cannot grasp, Trump received more than 74 million votes, despite everything. But, fortunately for the republic and the world, Joe Biden won more than 81 million votes and a sufficient margin in the Electoral College to take the presidency. Then, Trump incited a coup to try to stop the transfer of power to the new president.

This was what Trump cared about the most. Toobin presciently notes,

Trump had no great passions on the issues, no policy agenda that he was determined to enact. For Trump, his presidency was more about him than what he could accomplish. For this reason, the only verdict that has ever mattered to Trump is the one rendered on Election Day.

Thus it was written and thus it was done.

You may recall Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress in which he likened Trump to a mafia boss. While Cohen’s handling of Trump and his legal affairs was problematic, to say the least, it appears that he correctly identified the central idea of Trump’s personal code of conduct.

The central question facing us now is, I think, whether the current Attorney General, Merrick Garland, is just another Robert Mueller. As an earlier post has discussed, the statute of limitations has already run on one of Trump’s obstruction crimes. Garland has publicly stated he will follow the evidence and the law even if it leads to Trump. More lawyers have apparently been hired to work on Trump matters.

Meanwhile, time marches only in one direction. The country waits for action. Trump’s crimes, and those of his enablers in the White House and Congress, stretch well back into his presidency, with the capstone being his incitement of the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, more than 15 months ago. The nation waits ….

Meme Time Again

These photos and memes were captured from Twitter and Facebook. They present in images and a few words the essence of important messages for these times.

In closing, I want to note that Ukraine was never a threat to Russia. Putin’s claims otherwise are pretextual. His rationale of needing a bulwark against NATO likewise fails because, if he takes Ukraine, his new border will line up against multiple other current  NATO members. Then what? Will he stop there or is Ukraine Putin’s Sudetenland? If you’re not familiar with Sudetenland’s place in history, read this: https://bit.ly/3sqaddo 

We must not make that mistake again.

The Triumph of Hope Over Experience?

Once again, the rush is on to drop mask mandates and “get back to normal.” Because, Freedumb. This past Presidents Day weekend we visited Wilmington and places along the way. Masks were already the marked exception, even for restaurant staff. Signs referring to masks were mostly gone or disregarded. In our 10-story hotel, one of the two elevators was out of service, many people were perfectly content to, maskless, get on the elevator with you.

As a society we have asked, nay, demanded of our health care workers in hospitals and elsewhere an extraordinary degree of commitment and sacrifice, not to mention life-threatening risk. Small wonder that so many have quit in exhaustion & despair. For a while we made celebrated their sacrifice as we would have for soldiers in time of war (Vietnam excepted)., but that time has passed, it seems.

There are other phrases for what we’re doing now. “Whistling by the graveyard” comes to mind. Dr. Chris Beyrer, professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, summed it up nicely: “… this does look like the beginning of a next phase and let’s hope it lasts.” https://bit.ly/3smMxqk  Indeed, let’s hope. Experience suggests otherwise but we’ll see. I will be quite happy to be wrong about my skepticism.

The over-privileged whiny babies seem to have carried the day with their relentless complaining, arrogant ignorance about the science of the virus and violence. Their hatred and fear of the federal government, their obeisance to the Liar King Trump and other factors have led them to a degree of self-indulgence and dangerous behavior to themselves and others that defies understanding. They must have their seat at the bar, their time at the gym, whatever, and many will simply not accept anything else. Freedumb.

Now, we are on the verge of a shooting war with Russia, a nuclear-equipped country dominated by a former and ruthless KGB operative now essentially Russia’s president for life. Republicans around the country and in Congress have now progressed from the Big Lie of Donald Trump to overt support for a country with which the United States may be at war soon. Their traitorous conduct in supporting, perhaps even planning and certainly defending, the January 6 coup attempt has moved on to more adventurous treasons. Here are their names:

Rep. Elise Stefanik

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene

Rep. Lauren Boebert

Rep. Paul Gosar

Rep. Matt Gaetz

Rep. Andy Biggs

Rep. Jim Jordan

Rep. Greg Steube

Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Jody Hice

Rep. Thomas Massie

Rep. Kat Cammack

Rep. Jim Banks

Rep. Lee Zeldin

Rep. Bill Johnson

Rep. Dan Crenshaw

Sen. Ted Cruz

Sen. Tom Cotton

Sen. Ron Johnson

Sen. Marsha Blackburn

Sen. Tim Scott

Sen. Rick Scott

Sen. Marco Rubio

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith

Sen. Cynthia Lummis

Sen. Lindsey Graham

GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel

GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy

GOP Candidate Ronny Jackson

All Republicans.

There was a time when American politicians would not criticize an American president when we was conducting the nation’s business overseas. And while they reserve the right to oppose U.S. engagement in armed conflict or declarations of war/authorization for the use of force, it was rare that they would overtly side with the enemy in an armed conflict.

No so, today’s Republicans. Given their statements and conduct, it does not challenge the imagination to think they would support Russia’s declaring that all of Europe was Russian territory. Recall Hitler. “The troops massing on your border are just a military exercise. Don’t be alarmed. Our territorial ambitions are quite limited. Believe me.”

But that is a subject for another day. In this post, I want to remind everyone, and hope they share it with others I can’t reach, how Donald Trump, in his official capacity as President of the United States, deliberately and repeatedly lied to the American people for over two years about the COVID-19 virus. In his constant lying, he persuaded his gullible followers that the virus was no threat, that masks were evil, that even the vaccine he claimed to have inspired was not to be trusted, and more. He admitted to having deliberately downplayed the threat in his interview with Bob Woodward. Of course, to deny that he downplayed it would have been another blatant lie because the record of his lies is clear and unflinching.

As a result, Donald Trump is personally responsible for the avoidable deaths of, most likely, hundreds of thousands of Americans. If you think that number is too large, remember that, as of February 22, 2022, the U.S. death total attributable to COVID is 932,894. It seems clear we will come near to or exceed a million dead before this is “over,” if it ever is.

Trump is responsible for many of those that could have been, and still could be, avoided if public health advice had been fully respected. Instead, acts of violence are perpetrated every week in airports and on aircraft, in restaurants and elsewhere – all in the name of Freedumb, encouraged by Trump and his cabal of traitors and incompetents.

It’s tempting, of course, to point fingers at the tens of thousands, or millions, of Americans who have fallen prey to Trump’s siren song. And they are worthy of profound disdain, particularly those who followed his call to storm the Capitol on January 6 and steal the election. Many Americans have proved themselves unworthy of the designation, “American.” They are soft, entitled, and unbending in their disrespect of the needs of others.

And, yet, here we are again, making political decisions about medical issues in our rush to deflect the anger of the self-absorbed cry babies who refuse to wear masks, reject vaccines, and generally behave in a way that assures the pandemic will remain with us longer, perhaps forever. Mostly, if not entirely, in the service of the lies told by Donald Trump and the sycophants who continue to surround him and do his bidding to unlawfully reinstall him as president. It’s a pathetic display of ignorance, arrogance, and insolence. It will not end well.

Here is a chronology of Trump’s lies and deflections about COVID-19. I don’t expect you to read all of the detail, but it may be useful in the coming elections. You may want to just skim through it to get the gist of just how many lies and deflections Trump said just in 2020.

The Year 2020 [italics & bolding added]

January 22:  “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine,”

January 30: World Health Organization declares a public health emergency of international concern.

January 30: We think we have it very well under control. We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five — and those people are all recuperating successfully. But we’re working very closely with China and other countries, and we think it’s going to have a very good ending for us … that I can assure you.”

January 31: The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declares a public health emergency for the U.S.

January 31: HHS Secretary Alex Azar announces travel restrictions, effective February 2, prohibiting non-U.S. citizens, other than permanent residents and the immediate family of both citizens and permanent residents, who have traveled to China within the prior two weeks from entering the U.S. No consideration is apparently given to people coming to the U.S. from Europe who had been in China or in contact with Chinese people.

February 7: Trump Interview with Woodward: “It goes through air, Bob. That’s always tougher than the touch … You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And, so that’s a very tricky one. … It’s also more deadly than your – you know, your, even your strenuous flus. … This is more deadly. This is 5, you know, this is 5% versus 1% and less than 1%. You know, so, this is deadly stuff.

February 10: You know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat — as the heat comes in. Typically, that will go away in April.

February 24: Trump in a tweet: The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries. CDC & World Health have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!

February 25: China is working very, very hard. I have spoken to President Xi, and they’re working very hard. And if you know anything about him, I think he’ll be in pretty good shape. They’re — they’ve had a rough patch, and I think right now they have it — it looks like they’re getting it under control more and more. They’re getting it more and more under control. So I think that’s a problem that’s going to go away

February 26: …when you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.

February 27: It’s going to disappear. One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear. And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.

March 2 — 5 average daily new cases

March 6 — 32 average daily new cases – increase of 5.4 x over 4 days

I don’t think people are panicking. I said last night — we did an interview on Fox last night, a town hall. I think it was very good. And I said, ‘Calm. You have to be calm.’ It’ll go away. 

March 10 — 102 average daily new cases – increase of 2.2 x over 4 days

We’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.  

March 12201 average daily new cases – increase of 2x over 2 days

You know, we need a little a separation until such time as this goes away. It’s going to go away. It’s going to go away. 

March 29 — 15,514 average daily new cases – increase of 76 x over 17 days prior

March 3O: Stay calm. It will go away. You know it — you know it is going away, and it will go away. And we’re going to have a great victory

March 31 — 19,337   average daily new cases – increase of 24 % over two days

It’s going to go away, hopefully at the end of the month. And, if not, hopefully it will be soon after that.

April 3 — 26,081   average daily new cases – increase of 35 % in 3 days

It is going to go away. It is going away. 

April 731,238 average daily new cases – increase of 20 % over 4 days

It did go — it will go away.

April 2828,568 average daily new cases – decrease of 8 % over 21 days

But a lot of movement and a lot of progress has been made in a vaccine. But I think what happens is it’s going to go awayThis is going to go away. And whether it comes back in a modified form in the fall, we’ll be able to handle it.

April 29 — 28,171 average daily new cases – decrease of 1 % over 1 day

It’s going to go. It’s going to leave. It’s going to be gone. It’s going to be eradicated. And it might take longer. It might be in smaller sections. It’ll be — it won’t be what we had. And we also learned a lot.

May 527,134 average daily new cases – decrease of 4 % over 7 days

And I think we’re doing very well on the vaccines but, with or without a vaccine, it’s going to pass, and we’re going to be back to normal.

May 6 — 26.830 average daily new cases – decrease of 1 % over 1 day

Because, you know, this virus is going to disappear. It’s a question of when. Will it come back in a small way? Will it come back in a fairly large way? But we know how to deal with it now much better. You know, nobody knew anything about it, initially. Now we know we can put out fires.

May 8 — 25.475 average daily new cases – decrease of 5 % over 2 days

Well, I feel about vaccines like I feel about tests. This is going to go away without a vaccine. It’s going to go away, and it’s — we’re not going to see it again, hopefully, after a period of time. You may have some — some flare-ups and I guess, you know, I would expect that. Sometime in the fall, you’ll have flare-ups maybe. Maybe not. But according to what a lot of people say, you probably will. We’ll be able to put them out. You may have some flare-ups next year, but eventually, it’s going to be gone. I mean, it’s going to be gone. 

 May 15 — 22.337 average daily new cases – decrease of 12 % over 7 days

We think we’re going to have a vaccine in the pretty near future. And if we do, we’re going to you had a problem come in, it’ll go away — at some point, it’ll go away. It may flare up, and it may not flare up. We’ll have to see what happens.

May 19: “When we have a lot of cases, I don’t look at that as a bad thing,” the president said. “I look at that in a certain respect as being a good thing, because it means our testing is much better. So, if we were testing a million people instead of 14 million people, we would have far few cases, right?

“So, I view it as a badge of honor. Really, it’s a badge of honor,” he added. “It’s a great tribute to the testing and all of the work that a lot of professionals have done.”

Days later, the U.S. recorded 100,000 known deaths from COVID-19. 

June 15 — 21.987 average daily new cases – decrease of 2 % over 31 days

So I think that’s — but even without that [a vaccine or therapeutics], you know, at some point this stuff goes away and it’s going away. 

 June 16 — 22,613 average daily new cases – increase of 3 % over 1 day

I always say, even without it [a vaccine], it goes away. 

June 17 — 23,380 average daily new cases – increase of 3 % over 1 day

…if you look, the numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was. It’s dying out.

But I will tell you, we’re very close to a vaccine, and we’re very close to therapeutics, really good therapeutics. And — but even without that — I don’t even like to talk about that, because it’s fading away. It’s going to fade away. 

June 18 — 24,195 average daily new cases – increase of 3 % in over 1 day

And it is dying out. The numbers are starting to get very good.

July 1 — 44,875 average daily new cases – increase of 85 % over 13 days

And I think we are going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.

July 19 — 64,754 average daily new cases – increase of 44 % over 18 days

I’ll be right eventually. I will be right eventually. You know I said, ‘It’s going to disappear.’ I’ll say it again. It’s going to disappear, and I’ll be right. 

NPR: July 19: Trump Interview:   “Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day,” “They have the sniffles, and we put it down as a test.” He added that many of those sick “are going to get better very quickly.”

At the time of Trump’s interview, more than 3.7 million coronavirus cases had been confirmed in the United States, and more than 140,000 Americans had died.

July 21 — 65,073 average daily new cases – increase of .5 % over 2 days

Well, the virus will disappear. It will disappear.

July 22 — 65,321 average daily new cases – increase of .4 % over 1 day

We’re gonna beat it, yeah. We’re going to beat it. And with time, you’re going to be it — time. You know, I say, it’s going to disappear. And they say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible.’ He said — well, it’s true. I mean, it’s going to disappear. Before it disappears, I think we can knock it out before it disappears. 

August 5 — 56,585 average daily new cases – decrease of 13 % over 14 days

This thing’s going away. It will go away like things go away… 

 It’s going away. No, it’ll go away like things go away. Absolutely. No question in my mind. It will go away. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

August 7 — 54,756 average daily new cases – decrease of 3 % over 2 days

And we’re getting them [manufacturing jobs] even in a pandemic — which is disappearing; it’s going to disappear.

August 13 — 56,371 average daily new cases – increase of 3 % over 6 days

Think of it, we’re almost back to where we were [stock market], and we’re still in the pandemic, which will be going away, as I say, it’ll be going away. And they scream, how you can you say that? I said, because it’s gonna be going away.

August 17 — 51,244 average daily new cases – decrease of 9 % over 4 days

And as soon as the plague is gone — we have vaccines coming, we have therapeutics coming, and it’s going to be gone. And it’s gonna be gone soon.

And the China Plague will fade.

August 24 — 42,123 average daily new cases – decrease of 18 % over 7 days

It’s all coming back so fast and you’ll see it, and the pandemic goes away. The vaccines are going to be, I believe, announced very soon.

August 31 — 41,719 average daily new cases – decrease of 1 % over 7 days

Well, once you get to a certain number — you know, we use the word herd, right. Once you get to a certain number, it’s going to go away. 

September 15 — 38,922   average daily new cases – decrease of 7 % over 16 days

It is gonna disappear. It’s gonna disappear. I still say it.

NPR: September 21: Interview:   “It affects elderly people, elderly people with heart problems, if they have other problems, that’s what it really affects, that’s it. In some states thousands of people — nobody young — below the age of 18, like nobody — they have a strong immune system — who knows?” Trump said.

“Take your hat off to the young because they have a hell of an immune system. It affects virtually nobody,” he added. “It’s an amazing thing — by the way, open your schools!”

October 10 — 47,466 average daily new cases – increase of 22 % over 25 days

But it’s going to disappear. It is disappearing. And vaccines are going to help, and the therapeutics are going to help a lot.

October 15 — 53,152 average daily new cases – increase of 12 % over 5 days

The vaccine will end the pandemic. But it’s ending anyway. I mean, they go crazy when I say it. It’s going to peter out and it’s going to end. But we’re going to help the end and we’re gonna make it a lot faster with the vaccine and with the therapeutics and frankly with the cures.

October 16 — 55,144 average daily new cases – increase of 4 % over 1 day

Even without the vaccine, the pandemic’s going to end. It’s gonna run its course. It’s gonna end. They’ll go crazy. He said ‘without the vaccine’ — watch, it’ll be a headline tomorrow. These people are crazy. No, it’s running its course.

All of the foregoing occurred in 2020. Through Oct. 19, 2020 more than 220,000 people had died from Covid-19 in the US.  Well over a year after Trump’s last quoted remark above, the pandemic death toll in the U.S. is approaching 1,000,000 human beings of all ages and stages of life and health. We will never know precisely how many deaths and other long term/permanent devastating health impacts could have been avoided if Trump had not consistently and repeatedly misled his devoted followers, but it not unreasonable to believe that the pandemic would have entered the endemic stages long ago. Instead, the death and destruction continue. And Trump, well, Trump has moved on. His sole concern is with being restored to the presidency by whatever means – lying, cheating, stealing – will work.

Sources:

NPR: https://n.pr/35rwzSW

Factcheck.org: https://bit.ly/35x0SYd

Guardian: https://bit.ly/3HvJMrm

Vox.com: https://bit.ly/3t4ZJ2c

CNN: https://cnn.it/3M7wvsv

 

Past the Point of No Return

The New York Times just published a “guest opinion” piece by J. Michael Luttig, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and an advisor to Republican senators. https://nyti.ms/3HS9cjT

The article is entitled, The Conservative Case for Avoiding a Repeat of Jan. 6. That language suggested to me that the argument would be that we should just accept the Big Lie that the last election was stolen, accept massive voter suppression legislation around the country in red states and, as a democracy, roll over and not only play dead but be dead. My second reaction was, over my dead body.

Turns out, I was overreacting. My first impression of the topic was wrong. Moral: always read the story before falling for the headline. So, I did.

Luttig, to be sure, is a learned man, shaped in the higher echelons of Republican politics and the judiciary during the halcyon days of the Reagan and G.W. Bush administrations. I say “halcyon” because this was the time when the Republican Party still purported, at least, to stand for something. Luttig eventually resigned from the Court of Appeals to become Boeing’s General Counsel with a reported pay raise of more than $2.5 million. https://bit.ly/3Jvs88e Pretty good for a boy from Tyler, Texas.

I mention all that because, as is often true, challenging someone of his standing and accomplishment can be … challenging. But what are they going to do? I don’t practice law anymore and I do love a challenge. So, let’s look at Luttig’s latest thoughts on the all-important subject of avoiding another violent attack on the government and the Constitution.

To his credit, Luttig recognizes that Trump and his Republican devotees represent a “clear and present danger” to our democracy. Noting issues with the language of the 1887 (yes, over 120 years ago) Electoral Count Act, he further acknowledges that the efforts of Senators Hawley and Cruz to overturn the election were based on “little more than a wish” and notes that Trump has confessed to his perfidy, both past and looking forward.

Trump’s continued promotion of the Big Lie has never been an issue. As president he stated he could do “whatever I want” and he still thinks that. Here’s where things get sticky for Judge Luttig.

Referring to the mythical remnants of the Republican Party after deducting Trump fantasists, Luttig says they are “mystifyingly stymied by Mr. Trump” and while they allegedly reject his lies about 2020,

they are confused as to exactly how to move on from the 2020 election when their putative leader remains bewilderingly intent on driving the wedge between the believers in his lies and the disbelievers.

This political fissure in the Republican Party was bound to intensify sooner or later, and now it has, presenting an existential threat to the party in 2024. If these festering divisions cost the Republicans in the midterm elections and jeopardize their chances of reclaiming the presidency in 2024, which they well could, the believers and disbelievers alike will suffer.

In moving with such facility from “clear and present danger to democracy” to concern about the “existential threat to the {Republican] party,” the Judge reveals his true goal is to right the listing Republican ship and enhance its political fortunes, notwithstanding its hypnotic devotion to Trump. If so, his argument has little or nothing to do with protecting the country from the collapse of democracy.

Luttig’s argument is another variation of “can’t we all just get along?”

the right course is for both parties to set aside their partisan interests and reform the Electoral Count Act, which ought not be a partisan undertaking.

“Ought not,” indeed. My, oh my, what a wonderful world it could be.

Luttig completes the fantasy analysis by assigning mutually reinforcing goals to the two parties. This is a standard tenet of books and courses on negotiating for “mutual gain.” Democrats, Luttig imagines should want to reform the Electoral Count Act to protect democracy which he admits is failing.  This, he speculates, would “prevent another attack like the one at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.” The logic of that premise-conclusion escapes me. As Peter Navarro has insisted, the aim of the January 6 mob was to force the election into the hands of the states, where the Republican majority would install Trump. They didn’t really care what the law said or what power Vice President Pence actually had under the law.

The mutual gain in Luttig’s conception is that “Republicans should want to reform the law for these same reasons, and more.”  Uh huh. He asserts that, while Trump and Trumpers won’t join, “there are consequential reasons of constitutional and political principle for the large remainder of Republicans to favor reform in spite of the former president’s opposition.”

“Consequential reasons of constitutional and political principle” —  got it. I am rolling on the floor LMAO. Except it’s not funny. Luttig’s thesis, right out of the old and long-ago discarded Book of Republican Orthodoxy, is that,

Republicans are proponents of limited federal government. They oppose aggregation of power in Washington and want it dispersed to the states. It should be anathema to them that Congress has the power to overturn the will of the American people in an election that, by constitutional prescription, is administered by the states, not Washington. If the Democrats are willing to divest themselves of the power to decide the presidency that the 49th Congress wrongly assumed 135 years ago, then it would be the height of political hypocrisy for the Republicans to refuse to divest theirs.

Well, now, isn’t that wonderful. Republicans favor limited federal government. Unless, of course, their state gets hit by a big hurricane or flood. Then they are more than happy to line up for federal money and manpower. Actually, I had understood that Republican orthodoxy was opposed to big government everywhere, but that idea was trashed in Texas recently. Republicans are perfectly fine with big government telling people what to do and not do, as long as it aligns with their religious or so-called freedom and family values.

Putting aside Luttig’s phantasmagorical search for coherence in Republican political doctrine (it being the party that advanced no platform in 2020), he next argues that Republicans should want reform of the Electoral Count Act because it is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Trump acolytes like Mr. Cruz and Mr. Hawley should appreciate the need to reform this unconstitutional law.

… no Republican should want to be an accessory to any successful attempt to overturn the next election — including an effort by Democrats to exploit the law.

Did you catch that unsubtle attempt to both-sides the question? He goes on to suggest that it’s the Democrats that may abuse the ECA in 2024 and thus Republicans should support a statutory redo to prevent that heinous outcome.

Someone please make him stop. Cruz and Hawley caring about the constitution? Seriously?

Luttig argues that reform should include giving federal, yes, federal, courts the power to resolve disputes over state electors and to ensure compliance. Right. Remember Gore and Bush?  And recall that the courts do not have command of the means to enforce anything. That power largely, if not entirely in practice, resides in the Executive Branch.

There are other details to Luttig’s proposals, but, frankly, madam, I don’t give a damn. The Republicans are so dug in on resisting any and every action supported by Democrats that the debate over electoral count reform could last decades. All the while Trump would be whining that he was cheated and his lunatic fringe supporters would continue attacking state capitols and Congress … unless and until the leaders of these fascist efforts are indicted, arrested, tried, and imprisoned.

Recall that the Republican Party has, among other things, embraced many of the conspiracy theories of QAnon, failed to discipline members like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, supported a president who lied and dissembled about a deadly virus that has now killed more than 915,000 Americans and maimed countless more, and twice refused to convict on impeachment in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt. These people are not going to do anything to help the country resist the fascism they regularly promote.

If Luttig is right that “the future of our democracy depends on reform of the Electoral Count Act” that was enacted in 1887, we are in more trouble than rewriting an obscure statute can fix. It’s fine to say that “Republicans and Democrats need to put aside their partisan differences long enough to fix this law.” Fine indeed, but such proposals will have no credibility as long as the planners/leaders/major perpetrators of January 6 walk free. Senators Manchin and Sinema have put the last nail in the myth of bipartisanship.

And that’s the one point that Luttig got right:

the only members in Congress who might not want to reform this menacing law are those planning its imminent exploitation to overturn the next presidential election.

If you remain in doubt as to who they are, their names may be found here, https://bit.ly/3gPVNwM, in the updated Congressional Hall of Dishonor

In closing, let me repeat: no statutory language changes are going to protect our democracy from elected and unelected officials who have no respect for law or oaths of office. The Republican Party has made clear beyond reasonable doubt that it is committed to obtaining and keeping power permanently by whatever means are necessary. If it were otherwise, it would have formally repudiated the lying traitor Donald Trump. Instead, it has embraced him as its leader. Just ask Lindsey Graham.

People who believe in the American democracy, however flawed it may be, had better remain alert to the danger and act/vote accordingly. Don’t be distracted by appeals to bipartisanship and unity, however (or not) well-intended. We’re well past the point of no return.

A Picture is Worth ….

Are you offended by the Featured Meme above? If yes, you’re probably a Republican. Kind of a litmus test, you might say. It’s art, but it’s art with a message.

Of course, there are reasons to be offended by it. It involves a child. It’s about violence done to children. It also relates, in a manner of speaking, to religion. Yet, it’s not about religion exactly. It simply says that people who are prepared to sacrifice children to school shootings to continue having unlimited access to guns for anyone and everyone while also claiming to be a Christian following the teachings of Jesus is a **** ing hypocrite. Politest way to put it. I’m having a hard time being polite these days, what with anti-vaxxers prolonging the pandemic and Trumpers still believing in phantasmagorical conspiracy  theories. The suffering conitnues, and for the anti-vaxxers, anti-mandaters and other aggrieved haters, I have no more f***s to give.

Meanwhile, here is the latest collection of memes/photos/call-them-what-you-will. These items say much about our society and the issues we face now. I provide them for those of you wise enough to stay off Twitter and Facebook from which they have been purloined. But some are very clever and, I think, worthy of wider distribution, a picture being worth a thousand words and all.

WARNING: This is political art. Some of it is harsh. It’s art meant to convey a point of view, not merely an interesting array of shapes, colors and so on.  As such, it has jagged edges and sharp points. Our democracy and thus our country, in my opinion, are under extreme threat.  If you’re concerned about the jagged edges and sharp points, please stop now and await my next kinder, gentler post. 

 

The Real Election Fraud – How to Fix It

Subtitle: Gilead is almost here. It can be stopped.

The so-called Republican Party supports Donald Trump’s Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen, despite the reality that no factual evidence to support that claim has ever been produced in dozens of court cases or “audits,” not even in “audits” run by Trump’s most committed followers. Trump’s lawyers have been sanctioned for failing to properly research the factual basis for the election challenges they filed. This led to Republican-controlled state legislatures passing laws designed to suppress Democratic votes and, failing in that, to permit those same legislatures, or their appointed election hacks, to overturn the votes of their citizens and award the presidency to Donald Trump in 2024.

Such a step would, obviously, signal the end of American democracy and the establishment of a dictatorship by what purports to be “lawful means.” It might also/should lead to a second civil war. [Aside: if Republicans’ lust for power should lead to a civil war, what do you suppose our adversaries, like Russia, will do while our national government is distracted in such a struggle?]

While the American Civil Liberties Union and others are filing lawsuits to challenge many of these actions, it is far from clear that the courts will intervene. The bedrock principle of separation of powers provided for in the Constitution will then also cease to exist. America as we know it will cease to exist. The Republic of Gilead will have arrived in America. If you don’t recognize that phrase, please read, at once, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) by Margaret Atwood. If you want to see what that looks like, read some of the stories from Tennessee where religion is now being used, under state law, to permit discrimination in delivery of adoption services. https://bit.ly/3qQNSVJ

There is a partial solution, and it should be adopted immediately. The Constitution, in Article I, Section 4, Clause 1, states that the,

Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations …. [bold face added by me throughout post]

It is time for the federal government to stop playing whack-a-mole with the states. The federal government should take full control of the process by which the national legislature is elected. Such a step would not, by itself, prevent the states from trying to tilt the playing field for other offices but it would make it much more difficult. If done right, it would establish a very high barrier against interference in the presidential election.

There is no ambiguity in that conferral of federal power. The National Constitution Center agrees:

Although the Elections Clause makes states primarily responsible for regulating congressional elections, it vests ultimate power in Congress. Congress may pass federal laws regulating congressional elections that automatically displace (“preempt”) any contrary state statutes, or enact its own regulations concerning those aspects of elections that states may not have addressed. The Framers of the Constitution were concerned that states might establish unfair election procedures or attempt to undermine the national government by refusing to hold elections for Congress. They empowered Congress to step in and regulate such elections as a self-defense mechanism. [https://bit.ly/3GnXRay]

To the same effect, a group of constitutional scholars filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Shelby County v Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013), the case in which the Court eventually gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965:

… the Framers wanted to make sure that state and local officials couldn’t undermine federal elections. [https://bit.ly/3rbVyRp]

Further, the Supreme Court itself has held that,

the Framers understood the Elections Clause as a grant of authority to issue procedural regulations, and not as a source of power to dictate electoral outcomes, to favor or disfavor a class of candidates, or to evade important constitutional restraints [quoted favorably from U. S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U. S. 779 (1995) in Cook v Gralike, 531 U. S. 510, 523 (2001)]

The Court made clear that,

“manner” of elections as we understand it, … in our commonsense view that term encompasses matters like “notices, registration, supervision of voting, protection of voters, prevention of fraud and corrupt practices, counting of votes, duties of inspectors and canvassers, and making and publication of election returns. [case cites omitted]

Justice Kennedy concurred in the Court’s opinion, but added this:

A State is not permitted to interpose itself between the people and their National Government as it seeks to do here. Whether a State’s concern is with the proposed enactment of a constitutional amendment or an ordinary federal statute it simply lacks the power to impose any conditions on the election of Senators and Representatives, save neutral provisions as to the time, place, and manner of elections pursuant to Article I, §4 ….

The dispositive principle in this case is fundamental to the Constitution, to the idea of federalism, and to the theory of representative government. The principle is that Senators and Representatives in the National Government are responsible to the people who elect them, not to the States in which they reside. [emphasis added]

These principles governing the scope of federal power over elections for Congress are very longstanding:

It cannot be doubted that these comprehensive words embrace authority to provide a complete code for congressional elections, not only as to times and places, but in relation to notices, registration, supervision of voting, protection of voters, prevention of fraud and corrupt practices, counting of votes, duties of inspectors and canvassers, and making and publication of election returns — in short, to enact the numerous requirements as to procedure and safeguards which experience shows are necessary in order to enforce the fundamental right involved. And these requirements would be nugatory if they did not have appropriate sanctions in the definition of offenses and punishments. [Smiley v Holm, 285 U.S. 355, ___ (1932)]

That should be enough to settle the question whether the states can establish rules that prevent Congress from regulating federal elections if it chooses to do so. They can’t.

The argument for federal intervention seems conclusive until one encounters the Shelby County case that held unconstitutional the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (the Congressional renewal of 2006) in one of the worst instances of judicial overreach and legislating by the Court in its history. The 5-4 majority opinion was written by Justice Roberts, the current Chief Justice.

In Shelby County, the Supreme Court held that the pre-clearance provisions of the Voting Rights Act (states with a history of racial discrimination could adopt no law on voting until advance-approved by the federal government) were unconstitutional. This was so, the Court said, because the problem at which they were directed had disappeared and that a “current problem” was essential to a law that was such a drastic departure from the principles of federalism whereby the states ran the election process.

The Court’s central reasons for this grotesque outcome were, in my opinion, a “conservative” hostility to the very constitutional principles the majority purported to uphold. The opinion’s opening lines reveal this in Roberts’ characterization of section 5 as “a drastic departure from basic principles of federalism” and of section 4 as “an equally dramatic departure from the principle that all States enjoy equal sovereignty.” The cart that follows that horse had nowhere to go but oblivion.

The Court ignored entirely the Constitution’s empowerment of Congress to regulate by direct action the election of members of Congress, claiming that

“the Framers of the Constitution intended the States to keep for themselves, as provided in the Tenth Amendment, the power to regulate elections.”

That is simply wrong. The Tenth Amendment to the Constitution says,

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

The “powers … delegated to the United States” plainly include Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 explicitly empowering Congress to regulate Congressional elections.

The Court thus completed its elevation to quasi-legislature, eviscerating the separation of powers. Despite a long continuous history of (mostly southern) states inventing new ways to evade injunctions and settlements aimed at racially motivated voting restrictions, the Court made a finding of fact that the problems at which the Voting Rights Act had been directed and repeatedly re-enacted had, by 2013, disappeared and were unlikely to return. There was thus no current need for the legislation and in the Court’s view, that fact rendered it unconstitutional.

I would have thought that the question of the current need for legislation was as distinctly a legislative function as was the original question whether the legislation was needed at the time of its enactment. In principle, after Shelby County, there seems to be nothing standing between any piece of legislation and this Supreme Court’s disposition to decide that Congress was simply wrong about the need for it and thus the legislation is dead on arrival.

One can only wonder which other federal statutes have outlived their usefulness in the minds of the conservative Justices and how long it will be before the principle of Shelby County will be used to justify their rejection based solely on the Court’s view that the legislation is no longer necessary.

True enough, the Court in Shelby County made much of what it called, with relish, the “extraordinary and unprecedented features” of the law’s pre-clearance procedures. But Congress was dealing with an intractable history of racially discriminatory legislation, regulation, and practices, one with long-standing roots in history and culture. The Court swept that aside by looking at the current data on voting in the subject states, finding that all was well, and thus holding that the legislation had long ago accomplished its original purposes. In the conservative majority’s view, by 2013 the law was just a meaningless burden on the oppressed states that had for many decades been guilty of racially discriminatory voting policies but had cleaned up their act. The Court presumed to judge whether those problems and tendencies, buried in southern culture, would rise again. It didn’t think so.

It was oh so wrong.

The extent of that wrongness is well shown in these quotes from the Shelby County opinion:

In 1965, the States could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those charac­teristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the Nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat it as if it were….

If Congress had started from scratch in 2006, it plainly could not have enacted the present cover­age formula. It would have been irrational for Congress to distinguish between States in such a fundamental way based on 40-year-old data, when today’s statistics tell an entirely different story.

It could not be any clearer that the Court is acting as a legislature in making these judgments. If there is any saving grace in this debacle, it is the concluding language that purports to limit the effect of what the Court did:

Our decision in no way affects the permanent nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in §2. We issue no holding on §5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions….

Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.

If this weren’t so egregious an error by the highest court, I would laugh out loud. In reading that last paragraph, I immediately thought of the pathetic cliché, “I’m not racist; why some of my best friends are Black.”

Two important footnotes: (1) Justice Thomas, one of the two dissenting voices in the recent decision to allow the National Archives to release the Trump papers to the January 6 Select Committee, said he would have held all of Section 5 unconstitutional along with the coverage formula. No surprise there. (2) the remarkable dissent penned by Justice Ginsburg (RIP incisively destroyed the central premises of the majority opinion with an overwhelming recitation of facts the Court chose to ignore:

Jurisdictions covered by the preclearance requirement continued to submit, in large numbers, proposed changes to voting laws that the Attorney General declined to approve, auguring that barriers to minority voting would quickly resurface were the preclearance remedy eliminated.

Justice Ginsburg identified some of the “second generation” techniques being employed to defeat the will and ability of minority voters, such as racial gerrymandering and at-large districts that produced fatal dilution of minority voting blocs. She noted that,

… the record before Congress was huge. In fact, Congress found there were more DOJ objections between 1982 and 2004 (626) than there were between 1965 and the 1982 reauthorization.

… between 1982 and 2006, DOJ objections blocked over 700 voting changes based on a determination that the changes were discriminatory.

Those findings alone dispose of the majority’s manufactured claim that “our country has changed.”

Justice Ginsburg also made the point that the 2006 extension of the pre-clearance provision was no casual act, noting that the vote to extend the Act was 390 to 33 in the House and 98 to zero in the Senate. Congress’ intent to extend the protections of the Act in the face of continued recalcitrance and artifice by many states could not have been clearer.

In addition to completely undermining the factual basis claimed by the majority, Justice Ginsburg highlighted the majority’s massive legal mistake by pointing out that the principle of equal sovereignty among the states relates to the admission of new states and that the Court’s use of the doctrine was thus unprecedented. She concluded her devastating dissent with this:

After exhaustive evidence-gathering and deliberative process, Congress reauthorized the VRA, including the coverage provision, with overwhelming bipartisan support. It was the judgment of Congress that “40 years has not been a sufficient amount of time to eliminate the vestiges of discrimination following nearly 100 years of disregard for the dictates of the 15th amendment and to ensure that the right of all citizens to vote is protected as guaranteed by the Constitution.” …. That determination of the body empowered to enforce the Civil War Amendments “by appropriate legislation” merits this Court’s utmost respect. In my judgment, the Court errs egregiously by overriding Congress’ decision.

And, indeed, here we are. Multiple Republican states are passing a multitude of laws to make voting more difficult with almost certain disparate impacts on voters most likely to vote Democratic. For a dramatic statement of the problem, see Senator Klobuchar schooling everyone on this: https://bit.ly/3tQXSQS

The Republicans haven’t stopped there. They are replacing election officials with their partisans in anticipation that Democratic voting will overcome the implanted obstacles. In that case, the Republicans are preparing the groundwork for simply rejecting the vote counts and declaring the Republican candidates the winners. The main goal of this action is, of course, to install Donald Trump back into the presidency in 2024 even if the voters reject him.

If you think I am exaggerating, read these samples: https://wapo.st/3GzjIvJ [Election officials in Texas reject hundreds of ballot applications under state’s new voting restrictions]:

The clerk’s office in Travis [County, Austin] said it does not have enough information from the secretary of state to provide voters with what they must do to fix their applications.  Many other counties are experiencing the same high rejection rate,” the office said in a statement. “We have not received instructions from the state outlining what our office can do to assist voters in submitting a completed application.”

And it has now been disclosed that at the end of 2020 there was a multi-state effort by Republicans to submit fake collections of electors voting for Donald Trump. See, among others: https://bit.ly/3AnBf7G This seems like the plot of a cheap B-grade movie but it’s real. No more evidence is needed of the dishonesty and determination of Republicans throughout the country to undermine democracy and install Trump as dictator.

I am, of course, aware that two putative Democratic senators, Manchin and Sinema, have aligned themselves with Republicans to prevent the adoption of federal voting protection laws. https://nyti.ms/33HxBtw They almost certainly will stand with Republicans in opposing any other federal regulation of voting even if limited to congressional seats as the Constitution provides. Hypocrisy is the missing name for Republican politicians and the Democrats who align with them.

Realistically, we must acknowledge that the constitutionally appropriate solution I am advocating (the complete federal regulation of elections for House and Senate members) is not going to happen until the party balance in the Senate is changed or the filibuster is eliminated. The most likely path is to remove the turncoats Manchin and Sinema, and elect Democrats in other states where Republicans now have Senate seats. This is a tall order to put it mildly, but it is likely the only way to prevent Republicans from simply “taking” the presidency in 2024.

History is not favorable for this outcome. Usually the party “in power” loses seats in Congress in the mid-term elections. If Democrats don’t overcome that history and lose majorities in both houses of Congress, the Republicans will simply stop any legislation favored by Democrats and it will be ‘game over.’

It appears from my sporadic observations that the Democratic Party lacks a strategic vision that spells ‘high likelihood’ of success. The news is generally dominated by Republican talking points. Democratic politicians in online gatherings I have attended spend most of the time with canned talking points. There is little or no follow-up with compelling data points. Trump appointed judges are doing just what the conservatives wanted them to do. Main case in point is the decision just handed down: a nationwide injunction against the President’s vaccine mandate for federal employees.

The President has already achieved many major goals. As he points out, the Republican Party stands for nothing but obstruction, the official Party of No. Who is going to tell that story in terms the voting public can understand? When are they going to start? The run-up to mid-terms is underway now.

It’s great that the Democratic Party stands up for diversity and economic equality, goals I endorse without qualification, but the voters are likely more interested in tangible gains than in broad statements of high principle. Democrats need to stop sounding like politicians and talk about delivered deliverables and what comes next. Every day that goes by without a coherent plan to reach the voters with comprehensible truths is a lost opportunity that cannot be recaptured. The Republicans are wasting no time in undermining the ability of Democrats to vote. We need to move now.

Maybe multitudes are a strength, but I continue to be put off by the number of organizations claiming Democratic credentials seeking donations but stating no clear use of the money. New groups seem to crop up every week. We’re not going to win this way. The national Democratic Party needs to address this and bring the legitimate disparate groups together in a coherent strategy. It’s harder than for Republicans who know exactly what their goals are. It’s time to get the act together.