Category Archives: Politics

The Kindness of Strangers

The title of this post is borrowed from the famous last line of Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire, see https://bit.ly/3ge4ce1, but has no connection to it:

Blanche [DuBois] is led off to a mental hospital by a matron and a kind-hearted doctor. After a brief struggle, Blanche smilingly acquiesces as she loses all contact with reality, addressing the doctor with the most famous line in the play: “Whoever you are…I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

It’s a line, though, that fits in every other way with my experience yesterday at the rally in support of S.1, the For the People Act. The site was in front of the Supreme Court, an appropriate location to address the need for protection of voting rights for all Americans. Typically for a Democratic rally, at least 18 people were scheduled to speak. It was hot, really hot, and, typically for this time of year in Washington, quite humid. Still, I’ve attended plenty of rallies and marches in all kinds of weather, so no worries. Wrong.

I arrived early and was pleased that among the early speakers were Senators Amy Klobuchar and Jeff Merkley. I secured a good spot for photos with a direct line of sight to the podium. The crowd was smaller than I expected, but vocal and passionate about the matter at hand. Some photos appear at the end of this post.

Returning to my theme, as I continued shooting, I failed to notice how “close” the atmosphere had become. As my lightheadedness become more apparent, I realized, too late, that I needed to leave. I summoned an Uber and moved toward the curb to wait, as the dizziness worsened rapidly. I bent over a few times and was thinking of sitting down on the curb when … I realized that several people had their hands on me. I had literally become unconscious for a few moments. Unknown to me, though, several people had their eyes on me, including at least one police officer and some others from the crowd.

They basically held me up, then pushed me down on the curb. The police officer told me I was not going to leave until they had a medical evaluation. I heard discussion of calling a nurse from the Supreme Court. A complete stranger handed me a bottle of water, assuring me it had been poured that morning from the faucet and was safe. Another person appeared with an even colder unopened bottle of water which I gratefully guzzled. Within what seemed like only a minute to me, Nurse Pat appeared, crushed to active two cold packs and quizzed me about my health and present state. She was really outstanding at nursing and her confidence in my well-being restored my own sense of stability: “Gatorade is your best friend now.”

The Uber car arrived, and the police officer told him what was going on. He made clear that I could not leave yet. The driver, named Michael, without hesitation, insisted on waiting for me.

After a while, when I had regained my composure and was feeling much better, the officer and nurse guided me into the Uber car and off we went. Turned out that Michael was wearing a Harley-Davidson shirt and was a traveler, so we talked motorcycles and Alaska cruises while driving. After a cool shower and some down time with more hydration, I began to feel normal again, though still a bit shaken by the unexpected take-down.

Looking back, several things about this stand out. One, I must be more careful about hydration in this Washington DC heat and humidity. Readers, take note. Two, how amazing it was that within seconds of my going wobbly, people who did not know me had rushed to grab me and prevent a nose-dive into the street. Then they gave up their water to help me recover. Nurse Pat was amazing, kind but firm and obviously very competent.  Three, and this lingers even now, I am upset not so much that this happened, but that I don’t know the names of the strangers who came to my aid. I don’t even know which police department the officers were with: DC or Capitol. I was too dazed to notice or ask. Four, the kindness of these strangers saved me from a potentially serious disaster. No one asked for anything; they just wished me well as I departed, carrying their spontaneous goodwill and generosity with  me. I am and will always be most grateful for the kindness of those strangers.

DOJ Defends Trump’s Defamation of Jean Carroll

The Twitterverse is aflame with indignation at the news that the Department of Justice has filed a brief in the case of E. Jean Carroll v Donald J. Trump “in his personal capacity.” DOJ’s brief argues that, based on federal statutory law and multiple court precedents, Trump’s statements that Carroll was lying when she claimed he raped her, while offensive and potentially defamatory, were “within the scope of his employment as President” and thus the United States of America in its sovereign capacity may, indeed must, replace Trump as defendant and Trump’s attorneys as his representatives in the litigation.

This was a genuinely shocking development, especially considering that neither Trump nor any of his co-conspirators have been brought to justice in any way in connection with the January 6 assault on the Capitol that he inspired and directed, nor for any of the acts of obstruction of justice that were described in detail in the Mueller Report. While it’s obviously true that many of the mob that attacked the Capitol have been arrested and charged with various offenses, and others are being hunted as we write, the suspicion is that there were many senior Trump aides, likely including some members of Congress, who were guilty of conspiring to cause the insurrection/sedition of January 6. Many people around the country are outraged that the DOJ would undertake to defend Trump in the Carroll defamation case.

I am among those outraged Americans. At the same time, I am, or was, a licensed attorney and, therefore, had to take the time to read the cases cited by DOJ to try to understand the legal basis for its stunning decision to take over Trump’s defense. I have completed my review of DOJ’s brief and the cases cited and will now set out my views about them.

Preliminary Statement

The position outlined by DOJ amounts to a per se position. That is to say, given DOJ’s articulation of its theory of the case, it is almost impossible to think of a situation in which a sitting president, accused of defamation, responds with, we’ll assume, outright lies constituting blatant overt defamation of the accuser and such responses would not be determined to be within the scope of the president’s employment by the federal government.

I will try to explain why this is wrong. Considerable simplification is necessary. You can read DOJ’s brief in full here: https://bit.ly/3g2Vfnr

Background to DOJ’s Analysis

Under the  federal statute known as the Westfall Act [technically, the Federal Employees Liability Reform and Tort Compensation Act of 1988] bars tort claims against government employees acting within the scope of their employment. Instead, such claims must be brought under the Federal Tort Claims Act, but the catch is that unless the government consents to be sued, defamation cases are barred and, in effect, even though the plaintiff may have been defamed, there is no legal remedy. The District Court succinctly explained it this way:

the FTCA specifically excepts libel and slander cases from the United States’s consent to be sued. Thus, if this really is a suit against the United States, it is one to which the United States seemingly has not waived its sovereign immunity.

As the District Court also noted in the Carroll case,

Because the Westfall Act operates where a lawsuit could have been brought against the United States under the FTCA, the statutes share the same threshold requirements. Thus, in order for the Westfall Act to apply, the defendant must be an “employee of the Government” who was acting within the scope of his or her employment.

Because the goal of all this is to protect federal employees who are claimed to have committed torts  (civil wrongs, such as libel) from having to defend suits when the employees were acting with the scope of their employment, the Attorney General may certify that challenged conduct was indeed within the scope of employment and, therefore, the United States becomes the defendant in lieu of the employee originally sued and the DOJ takes over the defense.

Certifications can be challenged, however, and that is what has happened in the Carroll case. Under the Westfall Act, the question of “scope of employment” is decided according to the law of the state with the closest connection to the events in question.

You can read the District Court opinion here: https://bit.ly/3cs3Huw

Facts in the Carroll case

Carroll claimed in a book that was reported in New York Magazine that Donald Trump raped her in a department store in the mid-1990s. About two hours after the magazine published, Trump, on his own initiative, issued a statement denying that he knew Carroll, asserting that the report was false and designed to sell books. Shortly thereafter, in response to a press inquiry and in an interview, Trump expounded at length on his position that Carroll had fabricated the entire story.

Carroll sued Trump in New York state court, claiming defamation. After ten months of litigation, DOJ decided to step in, removed the case to federal court and certified the scope of employment necessary to invoke the Westfall Act.

DOJ’s Argument

To some degree, DOJ’s framing of the issues stacks the deck in its favor. That is what litigants do when they file briefs arguing for their preferred outcome. We should not, therefore, be shocked that DOJ did that here. There are, however, fair questions to be raised about the approach DOJ took in its analysis of the legal issues.

I will not discuss the threshold question whether the President of the United States is a “employee of the federal government.” Carroll argued the negative; DOJ strongly disagreed and, I believe, has the better argument on that question. A large part of its brief was devoted to that issue.

The critical issue remains whether Trump’s unilateral declaration that Carroll was lying about the alleged rape was within the scope of Trump’s employment as president.

DOJ describes the key question as “whether a high-ranking elected official subject to close public scrutiny acts within the scope of employment when making public statements denying and responding to serious accusations.” And,

The FTCA and Westfall Act, and the common law tort principles that they incorporate, recognize that in some instances employees will commit torts—including intentional torts—for which the employer bears responsibility, even when the employer disapproves of or expressly forbids the tortious conduct. Conduct that falls within the scope of employment for purposes of the Westfall Act thus need not be authorized or acceptable. Indeed, the premise of a scope-of-employment analysis is that a tort may have been committed. Under the Westfall Act, even conduct involving “serious criminality,” … or which runs “contrary to the national security of the United States,” … may fall within the scope of employment. In making and defending a Westfall Act certification, therefore, the Department of Justice is not endorsing the allegedly tortious conduct or representing that it actually furthered the interests of the United States….[case cites omitted]

… the question in a Westfall Act case is whether the general type of conduct at issue comes within the scope of employment. Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job.

Stated differently,

The key inquiry is whether the conduct at issue is of the type an official generally performs, rather than whether the particular allegedly tortious act was improper.

And,

in undertaking a scope-of-employment inquiry, a court must look to “the type of act” the defendant took, rather than its “wrongful character.”

And,

What matters is whether the underlying activity itself was part of the employee’s duties.

DOJ then makes the great leap, sliding past the fact, not disputed to my knowledge, that Trump initiated his public attack on Carroll in the first instance. It was not in response to media inquiries but occurred almost immediately after the New York Magazine publication of her book excerpt. That is why I put bold-face type on that fact earlier. DOJ:

When members of the White House media asked then-President Trump to respond to Ms. Carroll’s serious allegations of wrongdoing, their questions were posed to him in his capacity as President. Likewise, when Mr. Trump responded to those questions with denials of wrongdoing made through the White House press office or in statements to reporters in the Oval Office and on the White House lawn, he acted within the scope of his office.

This is critically important because the cases cited by DOJ are all distinguishable from the Carroll situation. In the opinion in Council on American Islamic Relations v Ballenger (444 F3d 659), on which DOJ heavily relies, the Congressman’s comments about CAIR were made in the context of an explanation why the Congressman’s marriage was dissolving currently which was a matter bearing on his ongoing conduct while in office. Trump’s comments, initially given of his own volition and not in response to media questions, were about events that happened more than two decades ago.

In Does 1-10 v Haaland (973 F3d 591) the statements made by the Congressman were “intended to convey the politicians’ views on matters of public interest to their constituents,” namely an incident at Lincoln Memorial between students and a Native American veteran. Clearly that is not what the Trump-Carroll dispute involves.

In Operation Rescue National v. U.S. (975 F. Supp. 92), “Senator Kennedy said, in part, that the proposed legislation was needed because “we have a national organization like Operation Rescue has as a matter of national policy firebombing and even murder …” The District Court found that that Kennedy’s comments were within the scope of employment because,

Senator Kennedy was providing political leadership and a basis for voters to judge his performance in office—two activities that public officials are expected, and should be encouraged, to perform,”…. In this sense, the Senator’s employer was his constituents and he served them by fully informing them of his views and working to pass legislation he believed would benefit them.. [italics added]

The Operation Rescue analysis is particularly interesting. The court flipped the employment relationship to one in which Kennedy was working for his constituents. If so, the “scope of employment” analysis that would substitute the United States for Kennedy should have failed.

The bottom line is that the DOJ analysis leading to its decision to replace Trump with the United States government is pedestrian. It fails to account for important differences in the Trump case from the precedents cited. And, worse, it creates a nearly per se rule that immunizes all future presidents from slanderous/defamatory statements about disputed matters without regard to the time when those events occurred. DOJ’s analysis is a license for a sitting president to defame people he may have harmed long before taking office. Trump accused Carroll of lying on three separate occasions at least. Under DOJ’s interpretation of the Westfall Act, he could have spent hours more on national television at his rallies and in other public statements attacking her credibility and, after all that abuse, she would have no effective remedy. The United States has not waived sovereign immunity for defamation and there is nothing to suggest that it intends to do so in the future.

Admittedly, the case law opens the door to this approach, but DOJ did not have to walk through it. Given Trump’s history of grifting at the expense of the government, and thus of taxpayers, it is painful to see the Department of Justice bend over backwards to continue putting resources at his disposal while giving him, and future presidents, an essentially free hand.

The legal precedents that make this possible should be closely re-examined. The Westfall Act should be amended to put at least some fences around permissible expression by a sitting president who already has enormous advantages in the fight for public opinion. What happened to Ms. Carroll, regardless of the truth of the underlying allegations, should not be repeated. Republicans would, no doubt, oppose any legislation that might prevent Trump from doing what he does. The only hope for rectifying this miscarriage of justice is to replace more Republicans with Democrats in Congress.

 

Marjorie Taylor Greene Does Not Believe in Evolution

You may think the title of this short post is click-bait, but I assure you I saw the video with my own eyes and ears just a few minutes ago. You can see for yourself at https://www.rawstory.com/marjorie-taylor-greene-evolution/

A Member of Congress, an up and coming standard bearer of the Trumpublican Party, formerly the Republican Party, does not believe in what she calls the “so-called science” of evolution.

There is nothing left to say.

 

Manchin Both Ways – Political Double Speak

Senator Manchin of West Virginia, putative Democrat, published a statement of principles of sorts in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on June 6, 2021. https://bit.ly/3x5q9S8 In matters of this import, reasonable people will expect the ideas expressed to have been expressly approved by the senator. What, then, is the putative Democrat from West Virginia telling us?

The title of the piece tells us that Manchin is going directly in the face of everyone who is concerned about voter suppression in the United States: “Why I’m voting against the For the People Act.” Then, in a remarkable exercise in double speak, Manchin purports to explain why he thinks this is justified. To more clearly set out what Manchin is saying, along with the foreseeable consequences, I have arranged his statements in a table:

Principle                     Manchin Position                    Result                      Effect on Democracy

Right to vote critical to democracy For it Manchin looks good but …. Zero, just platitude
Right to vote is not about party or politics For it Manchin looks good but …. Zero, just platitude
Protecting that right should never be partisan For non-partisanship Good in theory but if Republicans are partisan anyway, law is defeated Negative
Elections should be fair, accessible and secure For it Good if parties agree on what is fair & secure; if not, Repubs defeat law Negative
Early voting is good For it Good if parties agree but if not, Repubs defeat early voting Negative
Party labels can’t prevent doing what is right For it Wrong; party labels often prevent doing what is right Negative
Debate about voting rights is about partisan advantage Against it Wrong; debate is abt voting rts or voter suppression Negative
Partisan policy re voting rights is anti-democratic Against it Manchin looks good but … Negative
We should get along For it Manchin looks good but … Negative
Repubs who voted to impeach Trump shoudd vote for the bill For it Manchin looks good but … Negative
Partisan voting reform will lead to more partisanship Against it Republicans should get their way so we can be non-partisan Negative
Democrats are just as bad as Republicans re filibuster Against it Republicans should get their way so we can be non-partisan Negative
Founders built checks/balances to force compromise For it Republicans should get their way, even though filibuster not in Constitution Negative
Absolute power is bad Against it If Republicans get their way, we will have solutions Negative – Republicans will defeat bill
Better way is to “find it together” For it Republicans defeat the bill Negative

Manchin goes on to argue that the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized five times with bipartisan support, overlooking that the Supreme Court, at the behest of Shelby County, Alabama, gutted the VRA in 2013, leading to immediate resumption of voter suppression laws that continues to this day. The reality is that Republicans who, with the filibuster at their disposal, control the outcome in the Senate with Manchin’s support, are dead set against the readoption of the key provisions of the VRA in any form.

Manchin’s enthusiasm about having one Republican senator supporting the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is just so much hypocritical deflection. There is zero evidence to think Lisa Murkowski’s support is going to lead Republican senators to support the legislation. It is therefore completely transparent cynicism for Manchin to declare:

I continue to engage with my Republican and Democratic colleagues about the value of the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and I am encouraged by the desire from both sides to transcend partisan politics and strengthen our democracy by protecting voting rights.

That is politician double speak for “I don’t want this legislation but I’m going to act like I do. Trust me.”

Thus, Manchin, the Republican sheep in Democrat’s clothes, concludes with his rejection of the For the People Act and rejection of efforts to end the filibuster that gives the Republicans a chokehold on the separate voting legislation, all on the blatantly false premise that “bipartisan compromise” is still possible. Manchin’s hypocrisy is transparent. The question now is: what will the Democratic Party do about this continuing roadblock to meaningful protection of voting rights in America? The Democratic Party is never going to get the cooperation of Joe Manchin who is full of platitudes about bipartisanship and cooperation when he knows full well that neither of those is going to happen in the face of trenchant Republican opposition.

We are at the crossroads now – one path leads to restoring voting rights and protecting democracy, while the other leads directly to more voter suppression and, potentially, the establishment of a dictatorship as Donald Trump has made clear he intends to pursue.

Jennifer Rubin’s opinion piece in the Washington Post yesterday has it right. https://wapo.st/3puKvkV  Manchin’s objection comes down to the fact that Republicans object. His objection, therefore, has nothing to do with bipartisanship. That is a smokescreen for the position that the Republicans should get their way, which is the way of voter suppression and not the path to restoring the highly effective processes that were in place under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Rubin argues,

Manchin’s bland platitudes suggest he prefers stalemate to taking hard votes. The status quo leaves him with latitude to make holier-than-thou pronouncements to decry both sides.

Rubin proposes a series of specific actions to bring the Manchin play to a head. All make great sense. Democratic leadership must demand that Manchin,

(1) “come up with 10 Republicans for H.R. 4 and for a slimmed down H.R. 1” and  “four more Republicans to support the Jan. 6 commission.”

If he cannot, then his thesis that the filibuster promotes debate and makes way for compromise collapses and his role in promoting the tyranny of the minority is laid bare.

(2) spell out what reforms he would accept. Is requiring Republicans to hold the floor (i.e., demanding a talking filibuster) “weakening” the rule? …. If the filibuster is simply a means of thwarting any reasonable legislation, why is it worth preserving? What if the integrity of our democracy is at stake?”

Elevating the filibuster to the sine qua non of our constitutional system is absurd. It is not in the Constitution. It protects no constitutional principle. It does not constitute a check or balance on the other branches as, for example, a veto override or the Senate’s advise and consent power on nominees. It does not protect minority rights when it is used to thwart voting rights protection for disfavored minorities.

(3) “Democrats should compel Republicans to filibuster again and again the bills Manchin himself thinks are entirely reasonable. Bring up H.R. 4. Put the Jan. 6 commission back on the floor. After 5 or 6 of these rounds, Manchin’s bipartisan fetish may subside.”

(4) Democrats should also  “demand he present compromise legislation that has 10 Republicans. What magic formula is he aware of that has evaded others? Where are four more Republicans in addition to the six who would support the Jan. 6 commission?”

(5) “voters and voting rights activists need to confront Manchin civilly and peacefully, but with unrelenting demands for him to justify his position. An array of interest groups hurt by Republican obstruction and assaults on voting rights — e.g., organized labor, seniors, the disabled community — must turn up the heat. Most of all, Capitol Hill police and other law enforcement officials must demand passage of the Jan. 6 commission — or Manchin’s agreement to push it through with less than 60 votes. They and the widows of law enforcement personnel killed from the Jan. 6 events need to be omnipresent and unrelenting.”

The final word from Rubin, well and truly said:

The time for Manchin’s excuse-mongering is over. It is time to demonstrate his bipartisan notions are more than fantasy.

 

 

Trump, Seriously

It is tempting to treat Donald Trump as a sick joke at this point. He sits in Trumplandia, aka Mar-a-Lago, spewing lies about the 2020 election and lashing out as his enemies, perceived or otherwise. He is apparently planning to hold more “rallies,” that many view as simply another way for Trump to scam his political base.

Twitter is ablaze with mocking commentary about Trump, his family who can’t resist tweeting about all the outrages against them, his political allies in the Republican Party who, terrified that Trump’s supporters will turn on them, are willing to sell the country down the drain to avoid his anger. Hundreds of the people he inspired, indeed directed, to attack the Capitol on January 6 are facing serious prison time, loss of jobs, financial ruin, loss of respect and more.

And, according to multiple reported sources, Trump is asking whether he is, as many of his supporters have declared, going to be restored to the presidency in August or perhaps later. The apparent basis for this is the collection of so-called “election audits” being conducted by a rag-tag bunch of Republicans in Arizona and other closely contested states.

As ludicrous as all this is, and as tempting as it is to believe that the left-leaning side of Twitter is justified in mocking all of it, there remains a serious undercurrent of concern that Trump’s followers will, once again, attempt to disrupt the government through a violent insurrection. A group of 100 scholars of history/democracy has signed a letter expressing their belief that anti-government sentiment inspired by Trump should not be simply dismissed. They and many other serious observers have drawn the parallels from history elsewhere as evidence that the threat of undoing the American republic and its democratic ideals is real.

Recall that, despite his gross mishandling of the pandemic, among many other failures, 74 million Americans voted to give Trump a second term. Those people were, for whatever reasons, unimpressed with Trump’s admission that he downplayed the seriousness of the coronavirus, undeterred by his overt racism, misogyny, criminality and indifference to the plight of so many – approaching now 600,000 dead from COVID-19. There is little reason to believe that the majority of those 74 million people feel any differently today. Many, apparently, would readily yield their democratic freedoms, such as the right to vote, in exchange for restoring Trump to power by whatever means necessary.

I restate these concerns because the threat is, in my judgment and that of many serious thinkers with far greater credentials than mine, very real.

An easy case can be made that Trump’s delusions of grandeur, his belief in so many unbelievable things (for example only, the idea that the “ election audits” can somehow put him back in power) are evidence of mental decline, perhaps severe mental illness, held up by his rage and inability to accept that, finally, he was defeated in a way that cannot be overcome by lawsuits, threats, bribes or anything … anything short of violence, that is. Violence is the one tool left for Trump, and there may well be large numbers of Americans prepared to engage in it if he tells them to do it. No different than many of the so-call Third World countries that Americans often ridicule as “not us.”

I am not, obviously I hope, suggesting there is a high probability that Trump will attempt to retake power through violence. On the other hand, we have already seen in the events of January 6 that he is not beyond doing it. His most ardent followers are easily misled. The stories of his increasing anger and irrationality from apparently reliable inside sources should, therefore, be taken seriously. I hope, and believe, that the current President is doing so but is just not giving oxygen to the idea that Trump is a real threat.

So, we can continue to have our fun on Twitter and Facebook by mocking Trump’s delusions, but everyone dedicated to Benjamin Franklin’s prescient declaration, “a republic, if you can keep it,” should remain alert and focused. Hopefully, the Department of Justice will, as it is intended to do, act aggressively against the members of the January 6 mob and show the world that we take our democracy seriously here. Any who would be its enemies, foreign or domestic, will be dealt with fairly but with severity appropriate to the nature of the challenge. It’s our republic and, yes, we mean to keep it.

I Am Never Wrong

I also never exaggerate. Believe me.

Why then do things not always work out the way I want them to? I realize that my unerring instincts were not one of the self-evident truths to which Thomas Jefferson referred in the Declaration of Independence, but still, things should be working out better because I’m always on the right side and always right.

How, for example only, can it be true that, as former Republican congresswoman Barbara Comstock said on Meet the Press, May 30:

.… many Americans“ still don’t realize how violent that [day] was. … People are still talking about [sic] these were like tourists. We need to have that full story out. It’s going to get out one way or the other.

[As noted in an opinion piece by Washington Post Digital Opinions Editor (??) James Downie. https://wapo.st/3uzxCqM]

Because I’m never wrong and that is one of the most improbable statements I’ve seen made about the January 6 Trump-directed attack on the Capitol and the 2020 election, I went to the Meet the Press transcript, conveniently provided by NBC at https://nbcnews.to/3uIo7pc in search of context.

[An aside: Chuck Todd opened the show with, “And a good Sunday morning. And I hope you’re enjoying this Memorial Day weekend, wherever you are.” Interested to note that the Republican Party has not demanded hysterically that Todd be removed, nor has it questioned his patriotism for suggesting that Memorial Day was a time that could be enjoyed. No, they saved that vitriol for Vice President Harris who tweeted almost exactly the same sentiment. You’d have thought she’d asked for help from Russia or something.]

Returning to what passes for reality, Ms. Comstock was on the show apparently because she “spent the week unsuccessfully lobbying Republican senators” to vote for a commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection. Her effort failed in part because Mitch McConnell, aka MoscowMitch on Twitter, was opposed: “There’s no new fact about that day we need the Democrats’ extraneous commission to uncover.”

Well, if McConnell is right about that, I must be wrong. Impossible. How, for example, would McConnell know that we already know everything that’s important to know about what happened on January 6? Hmmhh? How does he know that? That claim alone requires further investigation. If McConnell knows everything important there is to know about the Capitol attack, he should be examined under oath to find out what he knows. If he is lying and doesn’t know anything important, he’s going about his business in a curious way. The truth, of course, is that he doesn’t care what happened on January 6 as long as no one can pin it on him, his Congressional buddies in the far-far-right wing of the Republican Party or the former president whom McConnell worships as a living god.

For reasons that defy understanding, Chuck Todd described McConnell as “being honest publicly” in admitting that the greater the light shed on January 6, the worse for Republicans in the 2022 mid-terms. Todd: “That’s why he’s against it, period.” The irony, of course, is that Todd implied, correctly, that McConnell is rarely “honest publicly.” And if that’s true, it’s not a stretch to conclude that he’s rarely honest in private either. The truth  hurts. Or it should. Todd gets a C minus for this non-revelation. McConnell gets an F.

But let’s get back to Comstock’s assertion that “… many Americans still don’t realize how violent that [day] was….” She cites as proof that “People are still talking about [sic] these were like tourists.”

Completely wrong. “People” aren’t talking about the Trump-mob as if they were tourists. One Member of Congress said that. A Republican, of course. As for “many Americans,” I suggest Comstock is gaslighting us. After a bazillion words and hours-and-hours of videos have been produced on the subject, it is simply not possible that “many Americans” do not understand the violence of January 6. To be sure, many of them continue to assert that the mob was actually “antifa,” all of whom came dressed in Trump paraphernalia & carrying Trump flags, and if there were any Trump supporters in the mob, they were simply carried along with the crowd of antifas. Oh, and Black Lives Matter people also. BLM was also involved in the attack, wearing Trump gear and bearing Trump flags. Sure.

If it were true, and it’s clearly not, that the January 6 mob was antifa and BLM, why would the Republicans not be jumping at the chance to expose the truth about the attack instead of resisting the creation of a January 6 Commission at every turn? How would the Republicans explain the presence of Ashli Babbitt, the woman shot trying to force her way into the House chamber?

And if antifa and BLM were behind the attack, wouldn’t the Republicans want to know who planted the pipe bombs on January 5 at the RNC and DNC? The video shows a person in a hoodie whom many of us believe was a female whose form and movements suggest Lauren Boebert, a Republican Member of Congress. We have no hard evidence beyond the video, but you’d think that the Republicans would be anxious to put that question to rest and to pin it on antifa or BLM. But, no, they oppose any further investigation.

You’d have to be either dead, severely ill or a delusional Republican to be unaware of the violence of January 6. Comstock is wrong and I’m right. The Republicans in Congress know the awful truth about January 6 and are living under the delusion that they can somehow prevent the truth from being told. They know Trump is guilty. The Republicans are protecting Trump and almost certainly some of their own Members of Congress. Their claims about January 6 are as nuts as Marjorie Taylor Greene, aka MTGCuckoo, who claims school shootings were staged and … forget her, too bonkers to warrant more attention.

But I bet the Republicans in Congress and, formerly, the White House, are not sleeping too well, wondering who among the more than 400 people arrested so far is going to spill the beans to secure a lighter sentence. This issue is never going to go away. It will be like a weight, a yoke if you prefer, around the necks of every Republican running for office in 2022 and beyond. The real question is whether the Democrats will be sufficiently astute to use the weight effectively. It’s past time. Tick tock.

January 6 Commission Cannot Be Bipartisan

Manu Raju reports on Twitter:

Pelosi, on call, tells Dems re Jan. 6 probe that they can either: 1) Push for another Senate vote on commission 2) Create select committee 3) Allow existing committees to probe Jan. 6 4) Ensure one committee, like House Homeland, “take charge of investigation,” per source on call.

It’s time to stop the nonsense. The Capitol attack occurred almost six months ago. More than 400 people have been arrested but there are no trials scheduled as far as we know. Manhunts continue, presumably. Rumors are rampant about extent of pre-planning among white supremacy groups, involvement of Members of Congress and many other possibilities.

The trail gets colder by the day. The Republicans in Congress have made it clear they will not agree to anything in the way of bipartisan Congressional investigation of the attack. There is no reason to expect this to change. Ever. Mitch McConnell has been explicit that he sees no political gain for Republicans, only harm, in such an investigation. Retaining political power is all that matters to McConnell.

So let’s get over it. This is not a case where some small subset engaged in terrorist acts against the national government. The Capitol attack was instigated by Donald Trump who told the mob he was going to go with them to the Capitol to “stop the steal.” He had no evidence then and has none now to support his claim that the election was rife with fraud and stolen. The entire episode was an attempt to force his installation as president despite having lost the election. This was a mob of Republican supporters. It’s on tape. Republicans’ claims that the January 6 mob was “antifa” or “Democrats” or aliens from another planet are all of a piece – blatant lies.

Republicans cannot investigate themselves. And they surely will not. How many shouting matches do we have to watch in hearings in which the likes of Jim Jordan disrupt, interrupt and deflect to prevent any meaningful business from occurring?

Democrats, the fate of our democracy is on the line here. Republicans are not going to cooperate in a process that may well reveal the complicity of not only the former president but many members of Congress as well. It’s time to get on with the investigation. Rather than trying to do this through the blunt instrument of Congressional hearings, it should be  in the hands of the Department of Justice and the FBI. No matter what is done or how it’s done, the Republicans will cry foul and say Democrats are just trying to extract political revenge. Let them bellyache all they want.

Repeating myself, it is widely believed by credible authorities, see, e.g., the letter signed by 100 scholars of democracy at https://bit.ly/3pbvjJu, that the fate of American democracy is literally at risk now as Trump continues his Big Lie from his stronghold in Florida and millions of Americans continue to believe the unbelievable claim that the election was stolen. A solid investigation will surely take some months to complete, so let’s get on with it. Ignore the Republicans’ wailing. They have shown their true colors. They are not red, white and blue. They will object even if the investigation produces 100 percent reliable evidence so stop playing their game and move on without them.

 

No News Is … No News – Risks Are Higher for Unvaccinated People

The Washington Post published a piece on May 21, updated May 28, entitled, The unseen covid-19 risk for unvaccinated people. https://wapo.st/3vDfAoK

The gist of the gist is that,

Unvaccinated people are getting the wrong message, experts said.

“They think it’s safe to take off the mask. It’s not,” said Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. “It looks like fewer numbers, looks like it’s getting better, but it’s not necessarily better for those who aren’t vaccinated.”

Rarely speechless, this “news” came close to making me so. I will not curse – this is a family-friendly blog – but I’m sorely tempted on this one.

It’s possible I’m misunderstanding something here, but it seems to me, very clearly, that the revelation that as more people are vaccinated against COVID, the risks of catching the virus will rise in the group of people who, for whatever reason, have not been vaccinated. Then, it also follows, as the night follows day, that when the data are evaluated only for the unvaccinated group, cases/hospitalizations/deaths will tick upward.

For the life of me, I don’t understand why this is news. Or why it is in any way surprising or anomalous. And it hasn’t got a damn thing to do with “wrong message.” Anyone who has been paying even a little attention to one of the biggest and most impactful stories of the century, and possesses a modicum of common sense, is aware that not being vaccinated against a highly contagious virus will leave you vulnerable.

Of course, I do understand that there remain people who oppose vaccination. They have a variety of “reasons,” ranging from abstract fear to belief that the vaccines contain microchips or may change one’s DNA to …. never mind. Their resistance to vaccination has at least two effects: (1) it, obviously, leave them unprotected against the COVID virus, especially if they have never been infected, and (2) reduces the chance that we can achieve herd immunity by reducing the number of potential infecteds to the point that transmission effectively ceases.

Their resistance creates these problems despite the extensive clinical trials and the huge number of vaccinations delivered so far with minimal meaningful adverse effects. As of today, 135,087,319 people in the United States have been fully vaccinated. https://bit.ly/3pg4Tq9 Also as of today, 591,265 people have died from COVID in the United States, 3,126 in the last seven days. [Reason exists to believe the number of deaths may be close to double that. See https://covid19.healthdata.org/united-states-of-america]

I repeat that this is not a result of messaging. The message has been clear for a long time that the vaccines, following extensive clinical trials, are safe and effective. Anyone who refuses vaccination is therefore deliberately exposing themselves to increased risk. The COVID vaccine does not concern itself with the reasons a person is unvaccinated. It mindlessly infects any host it can find whose immune system does not kill or reject it.

Therefore, I remain unable to understand why the Washington Post published an article that expresses such obvious information as if it were Late Breaking News of a startling and unexpected nature. Presenting the vaccination situation as the Post has done provides more fodder for the deliberately ignorant or delusional people who have no medical excuse for refusing vaccination but now have “poor messaging from the government” to add to their list of excuses.

Go Back Where You Came From!!

If you’ve been paying attention, you have seen many videos and news reports of people, on the street and in stores, yelling at, usually, Black people but also Asians, Latinos, Arabs or other “non-whites”  that they should “go back where you came from, you _______!” The blank often includes an obnoxious epithet of one kind or another that I choose not to repeat. You know what I’m talking about.

For the past three years, we lived in, and loved, New York City and in the course of that time observed literally hundreds of ethnically diverse people everywhere. It is reported that over 200 languages are spoken by people in New York City and on any given walk, if you paid attention, you usually heard quite a few.

That mixing does not imply harmony, of course. One rainy night, a torrential downpour actually, we emerged unprepared from a Broadway show but miraculously caught a taxi near the theater. Traffic was a snarled mess even by New York City standards, with vehicles and soaked pedestrians fighting for space. Our taxi and another vehicle, likely an Uber-type, came close to each other. No contact was made, but the drivers glared at each other. Our driver lowered his window and began muttering epithets at the other, who appeared to return the insults. The words weren’t about driving but about ethnicity. It wasn’t clear who was what, but it was clear enough that they hated each other on sight.

A while back, after we moved to Washington DC, it occurred to me to conduct a little thought experiment about this “go back where you came from” business. Because I have other things to do, I was forced to use a shortcut for my research: Wikipedia, the modern source of all knowledge not found in Google. I found three articles particularly relevant to my quest: American Ancestry (https://bit.ly/353Ywx8), Native American Ancestry (https://bit.ly/2KLJ4io), and Americans (https://bit.ly/3oc8Omj). Woe to the serious researcher.

My concept is straightforward: if everyone “went back where they came from,” where would they go and what would be the consequences, especially for those people most prone to yell this message at others presumed to come from somewhere that is not here.

The astounding complexity of this task became immediately apparent in thinking about my own “origins” (not genetic origins in the sense of ancestry.com or 23andMe.com, although that path would have similarly complex implications). My maternal grandparents emigrated to the United States from Russia. My father’s lineage, I was told, was Dutch but there is no objective evidence remaining to support that belief. So, set me aside for a moment and let’s look at some data.

Wikipedia reports that 6.6 % of the US population (21,227,906) self-identifies as “American.” They reside mainly in southern and midwestern states, speak only English and claim to be mostly Christian (Protestants). They appear to be White.

Much of this is attributed to the length of time their ancestors have been in the United States, as these people tend to have English, Scotch-Irish or other British ancestries.

Nevertheless, according to the U.S. Census, “the vast majority of Americans and expatriates do not equate their nationality with ancestry, race or ethnicity, but with citizenship and allegiance.” I am reminded of the fictional Popeye the Sailor Man’s famous line, “”I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.” Apparently, many so-called “Americans” have taken Popeye to heart. They have managed to forget their real origins, somehow coming to believe that they are the true original “Americans” with some unique entitlement to the space between the oceans.

On the other hand, given the re-emergence of racism, white supremacy and related bigotries in American behavior, there is now reason to question whether the Census is asking the right questions. Donald Trump didn’t create racism; he simply re-legitimized its expression, with horrific results.

If you don’t get that, let me return briefly to my personal history. I recently came upon some photos I had scanned from my high school yearbook – Central High in Memphis, Tennessee, circa 1960. At the time Central was very well-regarded among public high schools, at least in the south. Here are two  photos from that yearbook:

Add to this that my junior high school history teacher made explicitly clear to our class that, in addressing the U.S. Civil War, there was to be no discussion of slavery. The War Between the States, we were assured, was not about slavery at all but about “states’ rights.” The reality that those “rights” involved legitimizing the ownership of one group of people by their white “masters” was, well, not to be mentioned.

I am not informed about the content of pre-college curricula around the country. I cannot, therefore, say with confidence that the distortion of history, the removal of civics courses and related “education” moves have produced the generations of ignorance that led 74 million Americans to vote for the likes of Donald Trump in 2020.

But, returning to my main theme, I can say with some confidence that the “go back where you came from” insult is based on a fundamental failure to grasp reality. For example, the self-identification of “American” in the Census is a gross example of what may be one of the first instances of cultural appropriation in “American” history.

The earliest use of “American” to “identify an ancestral or cultural identity dates to the late 1500s, with the term signifying “the indigenous peoples discovered in the Western Hemisphere by Europeans.”  The term was later extended to the white colonists from Europe. Skipping over the sordid history of early-comers’ resistance to newcomers from Ireland, Germany and other European countries, including many Catholics, the modern-day U.S. Census Bureau now defines “ancestry” as a reference to a person’s ethnic origin or descent, ‘roots,’ or heritage, or the place of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States.” That wide-open approach clears the path to ignoring reality by millions of people. They don’t have to think hard about it – “I’m American….You, on the other hand …..”

Among Census responders self-identifying their ancestry as something other than just “American,” the numbers are:

44.2 million — German

22.8 million English

4.5 million Norwegian

4.5 million Dutch

.6 million Finnish

33 million Irish (many more likely if survey had been done on St Patrick’s Day)

10.4 million French

15.6 million Italian

12.2 million Mexican

5.2 million Native American

10 million Spanish

46.7 million African American

5.8 million Puerto Rican

That collection totals 215.5 million people, roughly two-thirds of the US population. Add to that the 6.6 percent who are just “American” (21,227,906) and you get 236 million people. The rest (roughly 100 million) identify with some other origin, but don’t claim to be “American.”

Wikipedia quotes Professors Anthony Daniel Perez and Charles Hirschman in a 2009 publication for the proposition that

ethnicity is receding from the consciousness of many white Americans. Because national origins do not count for very much in contemporary America, many whites are content with a simplified Americanized racial identity. The loss of specific ancestral attachments among many white Americans also results from high patterns of intermarriage and ethnic blending among whites of different European stocks.

I wonder about that in light of developments since at least 2016 when Trump became president. It appears that the issues surrounding “otherness” have re-emerged with a vengeance since Trump became a political factor. That’s one reason for the imbalance of police force used against Black and Brown people here, as well as the “go back where you came from” carping that has emerged in video after video of (almost always) white people yelling at a person of color.

While non-Native Americans have occupied this land for a few hundred years, the fact remains that every one of the “white” people here came from, directly or through an ancestor, from somewhere else. It’s convenient, of course, to overlook that reality if you are one of those people who, with a sense of entitlement, has come to resent the presence of people who don’t look like you, talk like you or think like you.

The 2010 Census aligned U.S. responders this way:

Self-identified race Percent of population
White 72.4%
Black or African American 12.6%
Asian 4.8%
American Indians and Alaska Natives 0.9%
Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders 0.2%
Two or more races 2.9%
Some other race 6.2%
Total 100.0%

Reading the descriptions of racial and ancestral categories used by the Census and other surveys will simply make you more confused. By way of example only,

People of European descent, or White Americans (also referred to as Caucasian Americans), constitute the majority of the 308 million people living in the United States, with 72.4% of the population in the 2010 United States Census. They are considered people who trace their ancestry to the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. Of those reporting to be White American, 7,487,133 reported to be Multiracial; with largest combination being white and black. Additionally, there are 29,184,290 White Hispanics or Latinos. Non-Hispanic Whites are the majority in 45 states. There are five minority-majority states: California, Texas, New MexicoNevada, and Hawaii. In addition, the District of Columbia and the five inhabited U.S. territories have a non-white majority The state with the highest percentage of non-Hispanic White Americans is Maine.

Everyone clear on all that? No? Me neither.

I will spare you further agonizing over the details. The main point is, and I believe it’s conclusive, that if we all went back where we came from, there would be damn few people left in the space we now call the United States.

So what, you may say. That’s not going to happen. True enough. But it should give us pause in how we view “America” and who we really are. It is no exaggeration to say, “we are all immigrants.” Maybe not first removed, but the vast vast majority of people who think of themselves as “American” are, by history, transplanted foreigners who occupied land that actually “belonged” to no  one (Native American populations often did not consider the idea of “property” to apply to the land – this was one of the ruses used to excuse white invaders’ taking their land: if they don’t “own” it, it’s there for anyone who wants to stake a claim to it. When the Native Americans resisted, they were killed or imprisoned, one way or another, in the service of “manifest destiny.”)

Still, the “so what” response must be reckoned with. Millions of people have simply lost, by one means other another, their connection to their historical roots, choosing to believe they are the original people who are entitled to everything they want by virtue of some supposed universal superiority. That fantasy is part of the root of the delusional thinking that divides the country politically and otherwise. A very long time will pass before it is resolved but it would help a lot if the educational system stopped reinforcing the illusion. The first step to resolving a problem is recognizing you have one.

Time for Strong Action Against Unruly Air Travelers

Back in July 2020, when the pandemic was still raging around the country, the Association of Flight Attendants called on the Federal Aviation Administration to mandate masks be worn by passengers on commercial flights. https://bit.ly/3yGZqgm The AFA called the FAA’s failure to act “absurd,” and it was. One can easily imagine that the FAA was, like many other federal agencies, intimidated by Donald Trump and his overt resistance to admitting the seriousness of the pandemic which (despite his assurances it was under control and would soon disappear “like magic”) has been responsible for the deaths of what is approaching 600,000 Americans.

Frankly, madam/sir/whomever, I really don’t give a damn about your “rights” and your claim to “freedom” to put others at risk. Air travel has proved to be relatively COVID-risk- free, and the widespread implementation of vaccinations is making it more so.

Nevertheless, many remain vulnerable and while the federal mandate is now at long last in place, enforcement remains a problem. The union president noted that while airline crews were doing better in protecting themselves with masks, some customers continue to resist. Threatened bans on future travel were insufficient deterrents. Flight attendants were subjected to verbal abuse and even physical attacks, for which, apparently, the airline employees are left to their personal legal remedies.

Most recently, it was reported that a Southwest Airlines flight attendant was attacked by a passenger and lost two teeth, among other injuries. https://bit.ly/3hYwbjb  Once again the president of the local flight attendants union sent a letter to the airline’s CEO calling for more aggressive action, since this was “just one of many occurrences.” The letter said,

Today’s traveling environment requires a new level of firmness in both tone and direction to ensure proper control in the cabin of our aircraft as the attitudes and behaviors of the flying public have, unfortunately, declined.

Part of the issue is, as the union noted, “Oftentimes, appropriate actions to maintain a safe environment have been misconstrued as being unkind or inhospitable. As alcohol sales are added back into this already volatile environment….” Airline reluctance to engage passengers aggressively may be particularly affected now that the pandemic appears to be receding and national policy is opening the door to increase travel. Pent-up demand for travel is very strong, so a near-term major increase in both travel and incidents may be in the offing. Airlines are likely concerned about any action that will be seen as off-putting by some passengers.

If so, that’s no excuse for inaction. The union letter noted there were 477 incidents on Southwest Airlines alone in the five week period ended May 15. The total incident count nationally must therefore have been in the thousands.  This is not just a Southwest Airlines problem. According to USAToday,

The FAA has taken notice of a spike in passengers behaving badly, adopting a zero-tolerance policy in January and extending it in Marchso it’s in place throughout the pandemic.

Since Jan. 1, the agency said it had received approximately 2,500 reports of unruly behavior by passengers, including about 1,900 reports of passengers refusing to comply with the federal facemask mandate.

The agency has proposed hundreds of thousands of fines, including $258,250 so far in May.

That’s all well and good, but likely more must be done to stop the escalating attacks on flight attendants working to keep everyone safe in flight.

The union letter asked for three steps:

  • Better inform passengers that misbehaving could land them on Southwest’s restricted travelers list and result in potential fines, criminal charges and possible imprisonment:  “The flying public needs to understand that egregious behavior will result in being banned from flying with Southwest Airlines.”
  • Be consistent in policies: “No passenger should be removed from one flight only to be permitted to board the very next Southwest Airlines flight after a noncompliance incident. We ask that you take a strong stance to ensure that unruly passengers are not welcome to travel with us. Period. Full stop.”
  • Demand the U.S. government increase the number of federal air marshals on flights and request that they “get involved and take action” when crew members are threatened.

Those steps are all good, but I believe more is required. A number of possibilities come to mind.

  1. Give each boarding adult passenger a card that states unequivocally the mask and other pandemic-related rules, that these rules are requirements of federal law and/or airline policy and not subject to discussion or debate and will be enforced strictly throughout the flight. Failure to comply will result in arrest at the next stop.
  2. Anyone physically attacking a flight attendant will be sued on behalf of the attendant by the employing airline. Not may but will. For serious actual and punitive damages. Count on it.
  3. Any person physically attacking a flight attendant will be, not may be, will be banned for life from flying on that airline.
  4. The federal government should add a new policy that if a passenger is found guilty and/or liable for assaulting a flight attendant or other crew, other airlines will be notified of the identity of that passenger, so they can take whatever action they want to take in the circumstances. Such passengers are clearly unsafe for those around them, so safety considerations warrant such disclosures.

In short, adults will be expected to act like adults. If you can’t comply, don’t fly. If you do fly and you don’t comply, you will, not may, face severe consequences, guaranteed.

This will seem harsh to some and downright un-American to others. Too bad. It is intolerable and unconscionable that flight attendants should be subjected to the reported abuses by inconsiderate and violent jerks who think the laws and regulations should not apply to them. There is no doubt that flying commercially involves a degree of regimentation. This is done for the safety and comfort of everyone involved, not just the few who think they are above the law. This is not new.

If the union and my reforms are implemented, it seems most likely that violent incidents in air travel will decline swiftly and significantly. With any luck, in the slightly distant future, the masking rules may be relaxed. Until then, it’s time for the airlines and the government to act decisively to restore consumer confidence in air travel and to protect the people who are in place to protect the rest of us.