Tag Archives: Biden

Vaccinate or Else!

Somewhat, and only somewhat, like the Most Interesting Man in the World from the beer ads, I don’t usually curse but when I do, well …. run.

As the world crumbles around us, I am sick to f*cking death of the whining, immoral, selfish, ignorant, indifferent fools who refuse to get vaccinated because of … what? Their “rights?” Their “freedom to choose?” I am not interested. I don’t want to hear it anymore. We now have people seriously saying we should pay these people to vaccinate. Or just be nice and understanding of their concerns. Or just leave them alone because they’re Americans and have the right to decide how to protect themselves and their families, never mind the impact their intransigence and ignorance may have on others, including children who are, for all practical purposes, entirely at the mercy of decisions made by adults.

No, no and more no. I lost a relative to COVID. I lay her death at the feet of Donald Trump and the mob of lying, sniveling cowards who supported him while he knowingly downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, promoted the use of medically unsound remedies, and generally allowed the country to sink into near oblivion. More than 600,000 dead in the United States alone. Most of them On Trump’s watch.

In early 2020 we lived in New York City, the epicenter of the initial coronavirus explosion in the United States. Within days of my wife’s office in midtown Manhattan closing (in mid-March,) I experienced what turned out to be mild symptoms of COVID as then understood. A local clinic doctor, dressed like a spaceman, said, “You almost certainly have COVID, but we have no tests for people like you who are still standing. Even if we confirmed it, we would just send you home. So, go home, stay there and good luck.” Given my health history, this was a terrifying direction that felt like a potential death sentence.

My wife was not as lucky as I was. She had been incredibly healthy, worked out all the time, ate right and all the rest but within days was in extremis with every known COVID symptom except the very worst ones – she had no lung or brain involvement. Some days you just get lucky. It was terrible. No other words for it.

I did what I could to help her through long nights when she was unable even to walk unaided, fevered, with severe body aches and all the other horrors you have likely read about by now. We lived about 50 yards from the Emergency Room entrance to Mount Sinai West hospital and, on many nights, I thought we were on the verge of having to take her in, knowing that she would be alone under the “no visitors” policies. The horror went on for over two weeks around the clock. People were dying left and right. Many of those who survived had permanent heart, lung and brain damage. The sirens bringing victims to the hospital blared throughout the day and night, day after day. It felt like the end of the world.

We were among the most fortunate in that we both recovered, long before much was even known about the virus, long before there was any realistic suggestion that a vaccine might be developed in less than a year. We were, of course, in lockdown. Our essential needs, and a few luxuries, were met by a stranger in our building, with a big heart and a lot of courage. [See the text of Angels In New York reposted below, originally in my discontinued blog AutumnInNewYork.net]

COVID is thus not an abstraction for us. It has taken the life of someone we knew and loved. It destroyed our sense of security in life – that if we worked hard and subject to the usual ups and downs, all would somehow be well. The pandemic stole more than a year of my waning lifetime. We burrowed in like animals, waiting for an invisible monster to slide silently into our lives again and possibly destroy us. We were afraid of everything: the mail, the Amazon boxes, the concierge at the front desk, the neighbors.

But, as I said, we were among the very fortunate who survived, almost entirely intact. When we moved to Washington in late 2020, a flukish circumstance enabled us to be vaccinated in January-February of 2021. We joined the growing legion of the saved, eventually able to walk outside without masks, to eat outdoors in restaurants without feeling we were placing our lives on the line and generally to resume a semblance of normal life. This was true freedom.

Now, inevitably it seems, the Delta Variant of COVID has arrived, reaching the United States virtually overnight, and is rampaging through the country. And what happens? The former president, who downplayed the virus at the outset, called the virus a “Democrat hoax,” secretly had himself vaccinated and is focused entirely on promoting the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. His voice could have been influential in altering the course of the Delta Variant infection but, no, he only cares about himself. One of his chief sycophants, Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, has taken up the mantle of COVID-denier-in-chief, while the Delta Variant ravages his state. His continuous mixed messages just end up reinforcing the resistance.

And on and on it goes. If this keeps up, we are facing another wave of avoidable deaths (almost all current COVID deaths are from unvaccinated people) and possibly nationwide lockdowns that would deal a death blow to the economy and to hope itself.

I am in no f*cking mood for more of this ignorant nonsense. This is like sitting in theater watching a group of fools enter the haunted house, knowing they are headed into dangers they don’t see even though the evidence is everywhere. The feeling of impending doom can be a high for fans of horror movies, but I always hated them. My new sense of impending doom is far more profound and realistic now.

And, so, what is happening? CHAOS. The Republican Governor of Alabama has awakened from her self-induced political coma to say “it’s “time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks.” https://wapo.st/3x2eOSo Why now? Here’s why: her state has had a “92 percent increase in coronavirus infections and a 72 percent rise in hospitalizations over the past week.” But just one-third of Alabamians are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest levels in the nation. Meanwhile, “exhausted health providers say they are bracing for case spikes that are largely preventable, driven by the hyper-transmissible delta variant.” And, once again, and totally predictably, “hospitals are becoming overwhelmed in states with low vaccination rates.” And, also predictably, “a number of prominent Republicans and conservative media voices continue to shower vaccines with skepticism, and social media disinformation continues largely unabated.”

Examples of failed strategies abound. The National Football League adopted new rules that a team

“could be forced to forfeit a game if there is a coronavirus outbreak linked to unvaccinated players. The move has both competitive and financial implications: Players won’t get paychecks for forfeited games, the NFL said. About 80 percent of all NFL players had at least one shot before the rules took effect, said league spokesperson Brian McCarthy, who credited seminars about the vaccines’ benefits, on-site vaccinations and other tactics.”

The operative word is “could,” because the policy has two conditions: a game must be canceled because of a coronavirus outbreak among unvaccinated players or staff members and cannot be rescheduled. In any case, many players among the college-educated vaccination holdouts may well be prepared to take the chance. The policy applies to mostly very well-off athletes and staff for whom the risk of financial sacrifice may be a small price they can easily afford to pay. If the NFL wants to stop the virus, it needs to tell the players: “vaccinate or you’re off the team.” More on that in a moment.

A well-meaning article in the New York Times, Should Vaccinated People Start Wearing Masks Again?  https://nyti.ms/3BBvaoq has a lot of nice advice and information about masking and distancing practice in the face of the Delta Variant, but the problem now is that the complexity of the situation has worsened.  People generally don’t do well with such complex decision-making. The article presupposes freedom of choice, deep understanding of risks, a multitude of factual situations and more. It’s just too much to expect.

Contrast that with the decision of more than 400 colleges and universities requiring returning students for in-person classes to be vaccinated. The schools have simplified the decision-making: vaccinate or study elsewhere. Period. Hospitals and health systems are now also lining up to mandate vaccination or strict testing regimens that could lead to being sent home without pay or termination of employment.

The federal government has stated, correctly in my view, that private companies may require vaccination to return to work in offices. Failure to return could result in loss of employment and unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, the data on the benefits of vaccination is overwhelming:

As of July 12, more than 159 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Of those, just 5,492 had breakthrough cases that resulted in serious illness, including 1,063 who died. That’s less than 0.0007 percent of the vaccinated population. Meanwhile, 99 percent of deaths from Covid-19 are among the unvaccinated.

 In this one instance, I find myself partially aligned with Dr. Leana S. Wen, a regular WAPO columnist who seems always to find grounds for disagreeing with Democratic health policies. https://wapo.st/3iK5ddB  Dr. Wen says, “the Biden administration needs to strongly urge a return of covid-19 restrictions.” She’s not referring to lockdowns, at least not yet. She notes that “the CDC’s honor system didn’t work” but that “vaccinated people are still well-protected” and thus “in settings where everyone is known to have immunity, no additional restrictions are needed.”

In all other contexts, however, where the risk of infection spread is present, “indoor mask requirements should be reinstated.”

The problem, yet again, is that urging jurisdictions to follow science is no longer a realistic option. Los Angeles County issued a new mask mandate, only to find that its sheriff declined to enforce it. At the risk of letting some reality creep in, Dr. Wen notes, correctly, that “the areas with the lowest vaccination rates are also the ones least likely to implement mask mandates.” Nevertheless, she sticks to the “Biden administration can make a difference” theme.

Then, Dr. Wen makes what I believe to be a classic mistake:

The federal government could also use this opportunity to — finally — incentivize vaccination. It could say that areas with high vaccine uptake do not need to reimplement mask mandates, and mandate vaccination on planes and trains and in federal buildings.

Incentives have been tried in various places and they don’t solve the core problem. And a random policy on travel will just confuse everyone even more and lead to further non-compliance. Wen gets its right with her next suggestion:

And [the Biden administration] can finally get behind a vaccine verification system that would allow restaurants, gyms, workplaces and universities to create safe, maskless environments where everyone is vaccinated.

But, it’s going to require more than encouragement and cheering from the sidelines to get this done. We need, must have, a nationally mandated policy on vaccination.

I’m with Max Boot on this. https://wapo.st/3i55mt4: “Stop pleading and start mandating.”

…. even as evidence grows that vaccines are safe and effective, resistance to them is also growing. A recent Post-ABC News poll found that 29 percent of Americans said they were unlikely to get vaccinated — up from 24 percent three months earlier. Only 59 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.

…. the biggest obstacle to vaccination is now Republicans who are being fed a steady diet of anti-vaxxer propaganda by Fox “News” Channel, Facebook and other social media, and reckless demagogues such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

This is madness. Stop making reasonable appeals to those who will not listen to reason. (According to an Economist/YouGov poll, a majority of those who refuse to get vaccinated say vaccines are being used by the government to implant microchips.) It’s a waste of time. Start mandating that anyone who wants to travel on an airplane, train or bus, attend a concert or movie, eat at a restaurant, shop at a store, work in an office or visit any other indoor space show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.

I understand the argument that Republican Governors may resist a national vaccine passport, but that’s too damn bad. The federal government has the authority under the Commerce Clause, among other powers, to compel compliance. It should act before it’s too late.

The argument that the federal government should step in with financial awards for getting vaccinated suffers from multiple problems. Principles developed in behavioral economics tell us that people are more concerned about loss than about gain. Offering some modest amount, declining over time, as recommended by Charles Lane in WAPO, https://wapo.st/3kSyfue, not only rewards the wrong behavior, it assumes that the recalcitrance of anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers can be overcome with a few pieces of silver. For some, maybe that’s true, but it seems unlikely for the vast majority, and we have little time to lose with such experiments.

Adopting a strong, mandatory federal policy that supersedes all conflicting state laws, regulations and mandates (recall the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause), with significant consequences attached to non-compliance, is now the fastest path to assuring the bulk of holdouts are vaccinated in time to prevent the worst consequences of an uncontrolled pandemic resurgence. The mandate must be accompanied by clear and specific instructions on the acceptable proof of vaccination.

Anticipating the objections, yes, of course, the plan would require some form of exception for limited religious and demonstrable medical issues involving people with relevant co-morbidities, small children and the like. Compared to the consequences of an uncontrolled and continuously morphing viral pandemic, those are small problems. Some of those affected would, however, experience limitations on their behavior until we can be satisfied that herd immunity has been achieved.

Will this approach have implementation issues? Very likely. We have fiddled around so long that a rational, well-executed plan may be nearly impossible, but that’s not cause to shy away from trying. At this stage, we are grasping at straws, but it seems apparent that nothing of a “voluntary nature” is going to overcome the suicidal tendencies of, mainly, Republican anti-vaxxers. They are unmoved by the data showing that most of the deaths and other serious consequences of COVID infection are among the unvaccinated.

We must, therefore, remove the question from consideration: you want to drive, you get a license. You want to go to restaurants, movies, bars, travel, etc., you get vaccinated. Otherwise, stay home in lockdown. Our lives depend on it. End of story. If the vaccine resisters don’t approve, well, return to the first sentence of my second paragraph ….

************

Repost of Angels in New York [from April 20, 2020]

Just when you least expect it and are sinking into the despair of self-isolation with a sick spouse and extreme personal vulnerability to the coronavirus, someone appears as if by magic to save the day. It’s not magic, of course; it’s human kindness and generosity at its best. I referred to her as an angel in an email and, with no prompting from me, my wife used the same terms. It must therefore be true.

The story is simple enough. My wife has come down with what appears to be COVID-19. We don’t know how it happened. We’ve taken all the precautions. Nonetheless, a doctor in a televisit said she thought it was COVID. It fits the symptoms list perfectly. Fortunately, so far, there are no breathing issues. But you may take my word for it – this virus is mean as a junk yard dog. Everything bad you’ve heard about it is true.

Anyway, my own vulnerability has led my wife to vehemently object to my leaving the apartment. Since she became ill six days ago, I have left only twice to pick up food deliveries and packages at the concierge desk and that was over her protest. When she started to need some things we had consumed, like ginger ale, I found that it is impossible to order online at CVS for delivery of items sold “only in store.” We then recalled that a few people in our building (700 apartments in two towers) have volunteered through the resident portal to help people like us. One of them was recent. I found her message and we began to communicate.

Skipping some of the details, she instantly agrees to trek to the CVS around the corner to buy whatever we need. Faced with imminent store closure (it’s Saturday night at 8 pm and the normal “open 24 hours” has apparently been suspended), she makes them stay open until she gets everything we asked for and delivers it to our door. She exhibits no impatience whatsoever as we text back and forth about the options/brands, etc. She wants us to have exactly what we want, not just what is convenient for her to grab and go. I am a bit overwhelmed.

This leads to a second trip the next day when we discover other needs. She texts me from the store to recommend an over-the-counter medication that may help my wife’s nausea (it did) after consulting with the pharmacist about it. She sends photos of various options so I can choose specifically what she should buy.

She patiently helps me struggle to reimburse her through her website (standby re that), but refuses to accept anything beyond the actual cost of the purchases. She says: “no way I’m taking anything other than exact amount.  Grandpa, who stormed the front in Battle of Bulge, would be horrified and embarrassed if I were to dishonor family name during time of national crisis.”

Now, I know I’ve encountered someone very special. An angel in human disguise. In New York City. We exchange a bunch more emails and texts after I check out her website where she manages, as a hobby, a meditation/mindfulness training program for working people. My wife in particular is interested in this for her post-recovery work life. It turns out this new friend-by-text and I are both alums of Yale University (me, Yale College, she the Law School) and Harvard (me the law school, she the Business School). To respect her privacy, I will not identify her by name. Her resume is intimidating. I joke that I and members of my class often observe that we probably couldn’t get into Yale now and her background shows why. She finds this amusing. She has a sense of humor and an infectious positive attitude toward life. [Is it a pun to refer to “infectious positive attitude” during a pandemic?]

I explain that since there is an immutable rule of life that no good deed goes unpunished, there will be two consequences to her work as Good Samaritan for us: one is that my wife must make dinner for her when the lockdown ends and life returns to some semblance of normality. The other is that I will write about her in this blog.

This is a story that must be told and included in my tales of life in New York City. She demurs on the blog but we agree she will bring dessert of her choice to the dinner. She sends me a remarkable photo of a multi-color dessert cake she had baked and says, “be afraid.” Date to be determined but I am optimistic we will make this happen.

And, for sure, my wife and I will be made better by having known this generous, ebullient, kind-hearted person, an unexpected benefit from the pandemic. As I conclude this post at 7 pm, I hear the New Yorkers that have balconies applauding, banging pots and cheering for that other group of angels working in the Emergency Rooms and ICUs around the city. This happens every day and apparently has started a national “movement,” as well it should. Giants and angels come in all sizes and in many disguises. If you’re lucky enough, an angel will find you too. I hope so.

A Darkness in the Heart

A few days ago, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, releaseddocuments showing ex-President Trump’s efforts to pressure the Department of Justice (DOJ) to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.  https://bit.ly/35wq4uL Maloney’s release says, in part,

These documents show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation’s chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost. Those who aided or witnessed President Trump’s unlawful actions must answer the committee’s questions about this attempted subversion of democracy.

This is not really new. Recall that on May 3, 2017, more than four long long years ago, I published, https://bit.ly/3vObOrS that included a 24-item list of indictable/impeachable offenses by Donald Trump. That was long before the March 2019 Mueller Report, laying out conclusive evidence of at least ten instances in which Trump obstructed justice. And longer still before the July 2019 phone call in which Trump threatened the President of Ukraine that he would withhold Congressionally-approved aid if Ukraine did not announce an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. See https://bit.ly/3vBQ7LF It was even longer before the January 6, 2021 Trump-inspired and Trump-led (“I will be there with you.”) attack on the Capitol, for which I recommended that Trump be indicted, arrested and charged with Sedition & Felony Murder. https://bit.ly/3q7iaSb

Thus, it comes as no surprise that unleashed Trump has once again committed multiple crimes. [An aside: this is not an exaggeration. I will soon be reviewing the extraordinary memoir, Where Law Ends, by Andrew Weissmann, the inside account of the Mueller investigation that reveals in horrifying detail the determination of Donald Trump to retain power and remain unaccountable to the people, including multiple crimes in office]

In a nutshell, as exposed in the released documents, here is how Trump attempted to subvert the Department of Justice in the wake of his 2020 election defeat [full details here; https://bit.ly/35wq4uL]:

Trump Sent Bogus Election Fraud Claims to Top DOJ Officials Minutes Before Announcing Their Promotions to the Top Two Spots in the Department

Trump Used Official White House Channels and a Private Attorney to Pressure DOJ to Urgently File a Supreme Court Lawsuit to Nullify the Election

      • The draft 54-page complaint demanded that the Supreme Court “declare that the Electoral College votes cast” in six states that President Trump lost “cannot be counted,” and  requested that the Court order a “special election” for president in those states.

Trump Enlisted Assistant AG Jeffrey Clark in an Attempt to Advance Election Fraud Claims; The White House Chief of Staff Pressured DOJ to Investigate Conspiracy Theories At Least Fives Times

 Examples [“Rosen” refers to then Deputy AG Jeffrey Rosen]:

      • On December 30, 2020, Mr. Meadows forwarded Mr. Rosen an email from Cleta Mitchell, a Trump advisor who later participated in a January phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.  During that call,  President Trump reportedly asked Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to declare him the winner of the state.  The December 30 email contained allegations of “video issues in Fulton County.”  Mr. Meadows wrote to Mr. Rosen:  “Can you have your team look into these allegations of wrongdoing.  Only the alleged fraudulent activity.”
      • Later on December 30, 2020, Mr. Meadows emailed Mr. Rosen a translation of a document from an individual in Italy claiming to have “direct knowledge” of a plot by which American electoral data was changed in Italian facilities “in coordination with senior US intelligence officials (CIA)” and loaded onto “military satellites.”  This individual claimed that the true data, as well as sources within the conservative wing of the Italian secret service, confirmed that Donald Trump was “clearly the winner” of the 2020 election.

Further nuances and details about these sorry episodes were reported in the Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3q4tP49 One element of that recital is the repetition of “no comment” and no response to inquiries from the press about the narrated events. Even those Justice Department officials who were steadfast in declining Trump’s overtures to overturn the election are apparently unwilling to address the revelations in the emails released by the Oversight Committee. And, quite expectedly, Mark Meadows and Trump himself had nothing further to say regarding their blatant attempts to overturn the election.

 What Should Happen Now

Trump and all of the people involved in attempts to suborn the Department of Justice should be indicted under 18 USC § 371,arrested and tried. It’s past time to put a stop to Trump’s campaign to undermine the central fabric of our democracy.

The US Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. § 371, if violated when two or more persons conspire either to (a) commit any offense against the United States, or (b) defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose. Both offenses require the traditional elements of conspiracy: an illegal agreement, criminal intent, and proof of an overt act.

In Hass v. Henkel, 216 U.S. 462 (1910) the Supreme Court stated:

The statute is broad enough in its terms to include any conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing or defeating the lawful function of any department of government . . . (A)ny conspiracy which is calculated to obstruct or impair its efficiency and destroy the value of its operation and reports as fair, impartial and reasonably accurate, would be to defraud the United States by depriving it of its lawful right and duty of promulgating or diffusing the information so officially acquired in the way and at the time required by law or departmental regulation.

In Hammerschmidt v. United States, 265 U.S. 182 (1924), the Court elaborated:

To conspire to defraud the United States … also means to interfere with or obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions by deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest. It is not necessary that the Government shall be subjected to property or pecuniary loss by the fraud, but only that its legitimate official action and purpose shall be defeated by misrepresentation, chicane or the overreaching of those charged with carrying out the governmental intention.

A multitude of later cases confirm the ongoing vitality of those early definitions.

Proof of conspiracy requires knowledge by the perpetrators that the statements were false. The claims made by Trump, Meadows and others acting on Trump’s behalf were not just obviously false but bordered on hallucinatory. Trump’s repeated claims that there was “no way” he lost Georgia, for example, have no plausible factual predicate and after sixty lawsuit failures, no plausible factual basis has been presented. Trump’s claims were a blatant attempt to both “interfere or obstruct legitimate Government activity” and/or to “make wrongful use of a governmental instrumentality.”

The Manual of Model Criminal Jury Instructions: 8. Offenses Under Title 18, referring to 18 USC § 371,  states,

A conspiracy is a kind of criminal partnership—an agreement of two or more persons to commit one or more crimes. The crime of conspiracy is the agreement to do something unlawful; it does not matter whether the crime agreed upon was committed….

One becomes a member of a conspiracy by willfully participating in the unlawful plan with the intent to advance or further some object or purpose of the conspiracy, even though the person does not have full knowledge of all the details of the conspiracy. Furthermore, one who willfully joins an existing conspiracy is as responsible for it as the originators.…

An overt act does not itself have to be unlawful. A lawful act may be an element of a conspiracy if it was done for the purpose of carrying out the conspiracy. The government is not required to prove that the defendant personally did one of the overt acts.

A conspirator may not defend on the basis that he believed in fantasies when he made claims he knew were unjustified. In this case Trump and his henchmen tried to enlist the personnel and resources of the nation’s top law enforcement agency to accomplish what they failed to accomplish in the election, knowing to a moral certainty that their claims lacked a basis in reality. The conduct in question occurred almost two months after the election and after numerous lawsuits throughout the country failed to persuade a single judge (including some Trump himself appointed) that there was any basis for claims of election fraud that could change the result. Even Trump’s Attorney General Barr publicly rejected the fraud claims.

I am not alone in advocating strong and prompt action to stop Trump’s continuing effort to overturn the election . Jennifer Rubin suggested the following in the Washington Post on [https://wapo.st/3wz0sJM]:

    1.  criminal investigation into post-election actions in which officials were pressured to change election outcomes, including attempts at DOJ and at state officials such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger,
    2. create strict guidelines for Justice Department attorneys regarding efforts to undo lawful elections, including whistleblower protections and mandatory duty to report such actions to Congress,
    3. sue to stop the bogus so-called “audits” in Arizona and elsewhere,
    4. develop federal legislation to strengthen the Electoral Count Act, such as requiring a supermajority to challenge electoral votes.

Rubin’s final recommendation is probably the most important: establish an election-monitoring program for 2022 and 2024 that will assign Justice personnel to prevent voter intimidation, measure wait times, observe election counting, receive complaints and, ultimately, render a report on the functioning of elections in all 50 states.  That’s the most critical because Republicans throughout the country are legislating changes in local election procedures to enable Republican-controlled legislatures and political appointees to control and even overturn election results.

Following Republicans’ uniform refusal to hold Trump accountable for any of his many crimes in office, it is now clear that the fate of the nation’s election system is under systemic attack. It is no exaggeration to say that Republicans are prepared, without compunction, to adopt totalitarian tactics to establish themselves as the permanent ruling party in American politics. They seem to believe that the majority of Americans will accept such actions in peaceful submission. That, I believe, is a fundamental misjudgment, the consequences of which are unimaginably horrible. Among many other things, the United States is no longer separated from its enemies by oceans that take weeks or months to cross. A violent civil conflict would expose the country to attacks from which it could never recover.

In any case, there is no reason to sit idly by while the Republicans attempt in plain view to subvert the Constitution and establish a Republican dictatorship under Donald Trump. Aggressive and immediate actions can prevent the unthinkable and avert more drastic measures later. Trump and his co-conspirators should be indicted forthwith. Time and opportunity are wasting.

Biden Speaks & Republicans Whine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My categories were:

Racial messaging (overt or covert)

Trigger words/phrases & religious messaging for Republican base

            Anti-partisanship/reverse partisanship

Victimhood

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Washington schemes or socialist dreams”

“America is not a racist country”

            “Washington power grab”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Didn’t Take Long, Did It?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Georgia’s New Voting Law – Truth or Consequences?

One of the two replies reacting to my post, Caw! Caw! Jim Crow Returns to Georgia, asserts that I am “spreading lies” about the new Georgia voting law and that “Even the Washington Post gave Biden four Pinocchios for what he said about it. Today’s Washington Examiner explores what’s behind all the lies and misrepresentations:” The Examiner article mentioned can be read at https://washex.am/31Lo8g1

Since the responder is known to me to be an intelligent person with extensive education and professional experience, I cannot just let the accusation of lying pass without comment. Quite a bit of comment, actually. I apologize for the length of this post, but accusations of lying require detailed responses. I have strong opinions about many things but work very hard to cite authorities and avoid false statements.

When someone does something inconsistent with normal practice, the action often raises questions of motive and intent. Doubly so when the asserted rationale has no factual foundation. Examples from the Trump years abound. The call with the President of Ukraine comes to mind. Demand is made for an investigation of something that has no factual basis for the apparent purpose of undermining a political opponent. No other plausible explanation of the event is presented and the documentary record of it is sequestered in a secret server by attorneys for the then president. Strange behavior causes suspicion to arise about what was really going on.

It is more than curious, then, that the new Georgia law was rushed through as if an imminent emergency faced the state’s electoral system. I am not aware that such an emergency existed. What then was going on?

The Washington Examiner tells us  that the “voting reform law contains simple, commonsense measures, most of which … will make it easier for people to vote.” That much is actually true of some parts of the law.

But then the Examiner exposes what I had argued was the underlying reality: the claim that the conduct of the 2020 election showed real risks of fraud that needed to be stamped out immediately when in fact no such fraud was found in Georgia (after, I believe, three audit/recounts [https://cnn.it/3dMbAuL] and the Governor’s own aggressive investigations). No fraud was found in Georgia or anywhere else. More than 60 lawsuits claiming fraud were brought and all were promptly dismissed, mainly for lack of evidence or other legal deficiencies. One of the principal attorneys bringing those cases on behalf of Trump has stated in court filings that, in effect, the fraud allegations made were so outlandish that no rational person would have believed them as being factual allegations. https://bit.ly/3fEhfFr

The only fraud that occurred in Georgia was the attempt by Donald Trump to induce the Georgia Secretary of State to “find” just enough votes to overturn the official results and award Trump the state’s electoral votes. It’s on tape and cannot be denied. https://wapo.st/3wn2Nrr

Thus, the stated rationale for this massive, intricate detailed rewrite of Georgia’s already intricate, detailed election statute was false. There was no fraud requiring the law to be changed and certainly not so urgently.

The Examiner, and my commenter, note that President Biden was wrong is saying that the new law forced polling places to close at 5 p.m. Fine. The President appears to have been wrong on that one point. In fact, that was the only thing the Washington Post fact checkers addressed. See https://wapo.st/3cNHTu0

Maybe Biden was recalling an earlier version of the Georgia statute or was misinformed by staff. Whatever. He apparently made a mistake about one provision in the massive changes to what turned out to be 95 pages of legislative text.

The Examiner was also up in arms over the objections noted to criminalizing the provision of food and water to voters waiting in lines at polling places, claiming that’s the law in New York and “many states.” My research suggests the Examiner is wrong about New York but even if true, it doesn’t much matter. The rest of the Examiner article is just argument about the Democrats’ motives and other things that I decline to waste time addressing. Let’s address the facts and whether I have spread “lies” about the Georgia law, bearing in mind, again, that the entire stated rationale for the changes, in Georgia and a multitude of other Republican states, is a mirage, a political fantasy about voter fraud that never happened.

In a related vein,  by the way, the state of New York is moving toward no-excuse absentee voting, a process that requires a state constitutional amendment. In each vote on this, with one exception, all the negative votes have come from Republicans. https://bit.ly/3rHh1jq

Turning back to Georgia, in drafting my post I did not actually rely on what President Biden said about the Georgia law. I cited a Washington Post article (https://wapo.st/2QIONbe) for a number of specific actions in SB202, all of which I confirmed independently. Recognizing the possibility that I could have made a mistake in reading the complex and detailed language of SB202, I re-examined the legislation after the “spreading lies” accusation. I found the following about what I had written:

  • new identification requirements for casting ballots by mail. TRUE
  • curtails the use of drop boxes for absentee ballots. TRUE
  • allows electors to challenge the eligibility of an unlimited number of voters and requires counties to hold hearings on such challenges within 10 days. TRUE
  • makes it a crime for third-party groups to hand out food and water to voters standing in line. TRUE
  • blocks the use of mobile voting vans. TRUE
  • prevents local governments from directly accepting grants from the private sector. TRUE
  • strips authority from the secretary of state, making him a nonvoting member of the State Election Board. TRUE
  • allows lawmakers to initiate takeovers of local election boards. TRUE

Given that the predicate for the legislation was false and that these “improvements” were rushed through and signed behind closed doors, I stand by my conclusion that the legislation “is voter suppression in the guise of “cleaning up” issues that never existed in the first place.”

My view of this is apparently supported by a large number of major companies that do business in Georgia, including Delta Air Lines and Major League Baseball. The Georgia legislature’s reaction to the criticism from those companies was to attack those companies. See, e.g.,  https://bit.ly/3dwyZjt and any number of many other publications reporting on this. The Georgia Republican Party often rants about “cancel culture” but when faced with “consequence culture,” it has a conniption fit of outrage.

There is more. In looking again at the actual statute adopted in Georgia, I noted some other interesting details.

The Secretary of State was chair of State Elections Board and elected by popular vote.. This is supposed to be a non-partisan position but is now selected by entirely partisan General Assembly. The Secretary of State is reduced to an ex officio nonvoting member of the Elections Board.

There is a new procedure for suspending and replacing county or municipal superintendents. New provisions provide for politically-controlled demands for review of performance of individual local election officials. Toe the expected political line or face loss of your position.

Neither the Secretary of State, election superintendent, board of registrars, other governmental entity, nor employee or agent thereof may send absentee ballot applications directly to any voter except upon request of such voter or a relative authorized to request an absentee ballot for such voter. New restrictions limit who can “handle or return” a voter’s completed absentee ballot application.

“All persons or entities, other than the Secretary of State, election superintendents, boards of registrars, and absentee ballot clerks, that send applications for absentee ballots to electors in a primary, election, or runoff shall mail such applications only to individuals who have not already requested, received, or voted an absentee ballot in the primary, election, or runoff.” The State Election Board is authorized to fine, apparently extra-judicially, anyone claimed to have violated the new rules on handling absentee ballot applications and ballots.

The law limits the days when advance voting can occur and forbids registrars from providing for advance voting on other days even if local circumstances indicate it would be helpful to people voting.

For counting absentee ballots, the process must be open to the view of the public, but no observer may make electronic records of what is observed.

“The Secretary of State shall be authorized to inspect and audit the information contained in the absentee ballot applications or envelopes at his or her discretion at any time during the 24 month retention period. Such audit may be conducted state wide or in selected counties or cities and may include the auditing of a statistically significant sample of the envelopes or a full audit of all of such envelopes. For this purpose, the Secretary of State or his or her authorized agents shall have access to such envelopes in the custody of the clerk of superior court or city clerk.”

What happens if “audit” reveals problems many months after the election result is declared? Who decides? How? The Secretary of State, as noted earlier, has been demoted to ex officio status on the Election Board. Will the solution be produced by the legislature?

Extending poll hours to accommodate a number of voters who were unable to vote during a particular period requires a court order. It is unclear what problem was this intended to resolve & how will it work in practice. Most likely, time and other practical considerations mean that no extended poll hours will be possible.

The “food and water” issue that has garnered much attention might have been more acceptable if it had stopped with “no campaigning,” which is common in many places, but instead, regardless of circumstances, no one, including non-partisan community groups, may provide foo­­d or water to voters in line. An exception was provided for “self-service water from an unattended receptacle,” whatever that means. Can party partisans set up passive food/water stations for self-service immediately adjacent to the voter waiting line and brand them with party or candidate labels?

There is a curious and unexplained disparity in treatment of two particular election offenses. If you “intentionally observe” a voter’s candidate selection, you have committed a felony. But if you “use photographic or other electronic monitoring or recording devices, cameras, or cellular telephones, except as authorized by law [??], to: (1) Photograph or record the face of an electronic ballot marker while a ballot is being voted or while an elector’s votes are displayed on such electronic ballot marker; or (2) Photograph or record a voted ballot,” you are only guilty of a misdemeanor.

Finally, special rules adopted by the State Election Board during a state of emergency “may be suspended upon the majority vote of the House of Representatives or Senate Committees on Judiciary within ten days of the receipt of such rule by the committees.” Politicians will apparently decide whether a declared public health emergency warrants changes to election processes.

To conclude, the legislation is not all bad. For example, I think that replacing signature- matching with identification requirements is a step in the right direction, provided that the identification requirements are reasonable for all classes of voters and do not have disparate effects on, for example, minority voters. It is not clear to me, and apparently to many others more expert in this, that the identification requirements adopted in Georgia satisfy that test, but I suppose we will find out soon enough.

Another provision I think is acceptable is the prohibition on campaigning while monitoring the processing of absentee ballots, although one wonders why it was necessary to impose a communications blackout on what absentee ballot monitors observe during that process and how that ban will work if litigation results and eye-witness testimony is needed.

It is, in short and overall, impossible to accept that, having lost the presidential election and two senatorial run-off elections, the Republican Party in Georgia was suddenly struck with over-powering public-spirited inspiration to straighten out the state’s already incredibly detailed, specific and, based on recent experience, reliable election processes with a bunch of politically neutral repairs that no one thought necessary before the election.

Thus, I remain steadfastly suspicious of massive and rushed legislative actions claimed to address problems that have been found, after multiple deep investigations, to be non-existent. The Georgia legislation, considered in detail and as a whole, seems to lack a rationale other than voter suppression. That’s what I called it, and I believe that’s what it is. Equally important for present purposes, everything I said about what was in the legislature was factually correct. It will take much more than an editorial in the Washington Examiner, the New York Post of the District of Columbia, to show otherwise.

 

Day 2 –Republican Whining Begins

We should have seen it coming.

Washington Post reports that after two days of the Biden administration, with Day One largely devoted to the inauguration, Republicans are already whining about what they now claim is profligate Biden spending proposals in his initial stimulus package to help struggling families as well as states/localities trying to get schools started again, and more. https://wapo.st/39f295C The WAPO title, Turned off by Biden’s approach, GOP opposition to stimulus relief intensifies, tells the story even without reading the article. But I read it anyway.

The gist:

President Biden’s pitch for bipartisan unity to defeat the coronavirus and resurrect the economy is crashing into a partisan buzz saw on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on ground rules for running the Senate — let alone pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.

Biden’s relief package is being declared dead on arrival by senior Senate Republicans, some of whom say there has been little, if any, outreach from the Biden team to get their support. Liberals are demanding the president abandon attempts to make a bipartisan deal altogether and instead ram the massive legislation through without GOP votes. And outside groups are turning up the pressure for Biden and the Democrats who control Congress to enact economic relief quickly, even if it means cutting Republicans out of the deal

Some Republicans, WAPO cites Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), are saying that some elements of Biden’s pandemic stimulus package were really their idea and, naturalment, they’re on board with those. But some were apparently insulted that President Biden had not personally reached out to them to beg for support “even though Biden pitched himself on the campaign trail as a bipartisan dealmaker.”

According to the WAPO story, it’s not just the bruised egos of Republicans who think the President, before having breakfast, owes each of them a personal call. What it actually is remains unclear, however, as, for example, Sen. Portman (R-Ohio) is quoted, doing the classic Republican two-step, to the effect that “it’s not about me but it’s all about me – I didn’t get a call.”

The English translation of all this Republican hand-wringing and hair-pulling is that the new president had the nerve to announce his $1.9 trillion plan without first asking the Republicans to approve it. And, presumably, if the Republicans disapproved, the President, being a champion of bipartisanship, should simply have yielded to the partisanship of the Republicans. How nice for the Republicans who, having lost the election, would still get final say on the Democratic agenda.

The issue as portrayed is not whether in substance the Biden proposal is the correct approach in its details to the massive mess that the Trump administration, with full Republican congressional support, created for the country. It’s whether Biden is acting in a genuinely bipartisan manner, which to Republicans means they get to define the plan.

Having forgotten their affection for Trump’s deficit-exploding tax cuts for the wealthy, the always oh-so-conservative anti-spending Republicans are bent out of shape over the dastardly possibility of increasing the national minimum wage to $15. In case you’re wondering, as I was, about the history of the minimum wage, it was raised a whopping 70 cents in July 2009 to the current $7.25 per hour. https://bit.ly/3sPSIl3 At that rate, a person working 40 hours of paid time per week makes $290 gross per week and $15,080 a year if no unpaid leave is taken. The 2020 “poverty guidelines” for the 48 contiguous states plus DC were:

Persons in Family/Household           Poverty Guideline

1                                                               $12, 760

2                                                               $17, 240

3                                                               $21,720

4                                                               $26,200

Biden’s proposal would yield annual gross income of $31,200 and, technically, move most minimum wage workers out of “poverty.” It would also, obviously, help many of people most seriously affected by the unemployment driven by the pandemic.

But – the Republicans say this is a “non-starter.” Why, after all, would Republicans want to help people most in need of help when they can help themselves instead?

The Democratic strategy, according to Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, is to put Republicans in the position of identifying what they don’t want to pay for. That’s a good strategy, but the Republicans will be remorseless in saying “no” to provisions like an increase in the minimum wage, the first in more than 11 years. Republican logic, says that the minimum wage is not related to the pandemic. Kind of like saying the vaccine is not related to the pandemic either – you can take it, but you can also not take it. And if it’s not related, then under the reasoning of occasional Republican dissenter, Mitt Romney, the spending is not “absolutely necessary.”

Having witnessed Republican indifference to the suffering of caged children at the southern border and other crimes against humanity and multiple overt acts of criminality, including obstruction of justice and voter suppression, it was a bit disconcerting to see how sensitive Republicans have become. They are a virtual chorus of “Biden poisoned the well with an extreme proposal and our feelings are so hurt, we simply can’t cope with negotiating in good faith.” The horror, the horror.

The article notes that the legislation could be passed with just Democratic votes, but that individual senators could then try to force acceptance of their individual agendas.  That would, of course, be classic Democratic politics – get control and then shoot yourselves in the foot/head. Hopefully, that won’t happen this time. Opportunities like this only come along occasionally and the need is critical.

Everything is complicated by disagreements over how to manage the Senate’s business with a 50-50 split in party membership (the Republicans claiming their 50 percent is worth more than the Democrats’ 50 percent) and the handling of Trump’s second impeachment trial (Republicans claim that holding Trump accountable for his crimes will be “divisive.”) Everything depends on everything, and meanwhile the American people continue to suffer – COVID deaths continue to mount, lunatic right-wing white supremacists continue to claim that the election was stolen from Trump and threaten to resume attacks and unemployment claims continue at economy- and company/family-destroying rates.

Republicans don’t seem to care because, well, they’re Republicans and the economic suffering of Americans is simply not something of major importance to them. They had no hesitancy last year in dawdling for months over the last stimulus legislation, only finally agreeing at the very end of the year. We should have seen this coming.

My view, then, is that Biden tells the Republicans to put up or shut up – and do it now. No prolonged negotiations. It’s time to act. If Republicans can’t see the problem, proceed without them. Democrats who try to leverage the situation should be taken out to the woodshed and, well, you know. It’s time to end politics as usual. We didn’t run Trump out of town just to have all the good ideas pulled into Republican quicksand.

 

 

 

The Republican Unity Smokescreen

In an astonishing but not surprising exercise in false-equivalency and what-about-ism, Republican Gary Abernathy argues in WAPO, https://wapo.st/3oT6n8t, that the price of unity going forward is to pretend Donald Trump is really Mother Theresa in a suit and that nothing serious happened in Washington on January 6. President Biden, Abernathy argues, should let bygones be “boys will be boys.” In effect, Biden should validate the “concerns” of right-wing/conservative conspiracy-meisters and extend an olive branch.

Abernathy begins his sanctimony by objecting to Biden’s comparing the election-fraud lie campaign of Trump-Hawley-Cruz (the-list-goes-on), to Nazi propaganda techniques. Why? Because, Abernathy says, marketers exaggerate and Democrats lie too, and let’s not forget the violence “instigated by left-leaning agitators” (read that as, “those violent Black people and antifa”), so what’s the problem? If Biden wants to unify the country, he should just flip the Trump Charlottesville playbook and go with “bad people on both sides.” Abernathy says Biden should “acknowledge that there’s plenty of blame to go around for a nation more on edge than at any time since the 1960s.”

In short, Abernathy, likely speaking for most of the Republican establishment now, argues, in effect, that the Trump-directed assault on the Capitol that was intended to stop the Congress from completing the election process to confirm Joe Biden, and thereby retain the defeated Donald Trump as a dictator/president, was equivalent to the resistance to the Vietnam War in the 1960s. He grudgingly admits that the second Trump impeachment is “admittedly more justifiable than the first one” but in referring to it as a “melodrama,” Abernathy uses sleight of words to take away what he purports to concede. Most thinking adults are now aware that the government itself was lying to the people about Vietnam, from the beginning and throughout. Does Abernathy really want to equate the two situations: Trump and Vietnam?

The ultimate effect of Abernathy’s “reasoning” is that the burden falls to President Biden to extend an olive branch to the gang of insurrectionists and traitors who tried to topple the government in the service of a corrupt and incompetent grifter. In short, Abernathy seems to believe that the burden for the insurrection falls on the shoulders of those who did not engage in insurrection. Remarkable.

The real beef here is obscured by that opening line, but Abernathy soon reveals his real grievance: that, finally, after four years of helping spread Trump/Republican disinformation and outright lies about our government and our country, the social media platforms decided it was time, with a few weeks left, to suspend the president’s access to a free megaphone for amplifying his mendacity to the public and his attempts to overthrow the government.

Abernathy’s real gripe thus seems to be the decision to cut off Trump from his endless broadcast of falsehoods through serial tweeting:

In the current environment, conservatives are rightfully alarmed at the prospect of crucial digital platforms being pulled out from under them in response to the support they express for a particular politician or idea. The tech giants are private entities claiming to be following their guidelines, not government agencies violating the First Amendment, but a president can use his bully pulpit to influence their actions.

There are those who say that Trump abused social media to incite violence. Others read the same tweets and disagree. More disturbing than anything Trump could tweet, though, is the fact that the highest elected officeholder in the land could have his voice virtually silenced by the whims of a handful of unelected Silicon Valley bullies. [boldface added by me]

This part of the diatribe is so disingenuous, it’s laughable. Digital platforms were not pulled out from conservatives merely because they supported a particular politician or “idea.” Trump expressed very few “ideas” in his constant tweeting [when did he actually work at the job of being president?]. It was not even the constant lying that fact-checkers found, without refutation, set a world record in outright false messages.

Those were “concerns” and the subjects of many complaints, but the digital media folks stuck with Trump/Republicans despite all that lying. It was when Trump decided to send a mob of violent supporters to interfere with, and threaten the physical safety of, the Congress that the platforms finally said, “too much is too much.” This was no “whim.” To call it that is to minimize the most serious assault on American democracy since the Civil War threatened to literally break the country.

Silliest of all is the argument that Trump has actually been silenced. The media still hangs on his every word, though he’s not talking so much these days as he sulks and prepares for the political anonymity and legal adversities that await him beginning in a few days. That’s on him. He has plenty of supportive media (FOX, OAN, Breitbart and others) ready to repeat and amplify every false message he still wants to convey.

Maybe the reality is that Trump finally realizes that the game is over, and he can’t win. He has finally, after a lifetime of being the boss, been told “no, and no means no. You lost. It’s over.” We’ll see about that. The nation’s capital city and the capitals of all 50 states are on high alert for days to come to the threat of violence by Trump’s deranged supporters who still claim, with no factual support whatsoever, that the election was stolen.

Abernathy’s grievances against the tech platforms are so profound that he has undertaken to write parts of President Biden’s inaugural address for him. For example, he proposes Biden say,

What we should not fall prey to is the temptation to silence the voices of millions of peaceful and patriotic Americans by eliminating their preferred platforms because of a few bad actors. That’s not who we are as Americans.

But “who we are as Americans,” if it has any meaning now, is certainly not the thousands of people who, at the direction of the president, refused to accept reality and instead used violence to try to change the outcome of an election and thereby disenfranchise more than 81 milli0n voters who elected Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The “few bad actors” excuse went down Trump’s golden toilet with the videos of the Capitol assault and the deaths of five people, including a police officer, at the hands of screaming traitors to American values, acting on lies promoted by the president and multiple Republican members of Congress.

The “few bad actors” is just another variant of “fine people on both sides” and it’s not good enough, not even close. The voices of “millions of peaceful and patriotic Americans,” who were not present or represented by the insurrectionists at the Capitol, have not been silenced. They have full access to Twitter, Facebook and the rest to make such conservative arguments as they wish. Indeed, many of them continue to spew hate and conspiracy nonsense to this day. It’s actually quite difficult to be censured by the platforms, but, as we learned, even they have limits. As for Trump, well, just too bad about him. He made his choice and, finally, there were consequences. And, of course, there are other platforms where he can continue to spew lies, crazy conspiracy theories and grievances against anything and everything he and they believe is oppressing them.

The truth that Abernathy and the politicians he continues to support refuse to accept is that the election was not stolen. Continuing to argue otherwise based on fantasies lacking any basis in reality is not an American value that the incoming president should be focusing on right now.

Biden understands that he must immediately try to overcome the triple threat/shambles left behind by the Trump administration and its enablers: the pandemic, the crushed economy and the collapsing climate on which our very survival depends. Abernathy doesn’t want to face the horrible truth that Donald Trump’s reign as president has killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, wrecked the economy and set back our attempts to combat climate catastrophe perhaps beyond repair. THOSE are the priorities, not the continued whining and grievance of Trump’s political base.

Abernathy’s preferred version of Biden’s address also would contain this:

Biden could further make conservative Americans sit up and take notice by speaking their language, saying, “In the United States, we don’t ‘cancel’ people because their opinions and ideas diverge from what many of us might prefer. We don’t exile people for criticizing or questioning their government or even our democratic processes — both of which can be constantly fortified by our willingness to consider the voices of all Americans, not just those with whom we agree.

That is wrong on virtually every level. Abernathy is laying claim to the idea that everything is equal: lies, insane conspiracies, calls for violence – all are entitled to equal credit with the truth and reality. That is simply wrong. We cannot and should not use the government to suppress the expression of non-violent ideas, but, to use a time-worn but valid analogy, one may not cry “fire” in a darkened theatre when there is no fire and you’re just afraid of the dark. The First Amendment does not protect such speech, nor should it. And it doesn’t matter a wit that your fear of the dark is genuine.

Private communication platforms are not obligated to give equal voice to boldfaced lies and fantasies which are not the same or equivalent to positions/arguments about political philosophy. QAnon is not entitled to equal space on Twitter or Facebook. In the end, conservatives can choose to believe whatever they want to believe, including rejecting science and scientific method as valid means of determining what is true, but they don’t have the right to control privately-owned space for the purpose of undermining truth as a concept and dis-establishing the government.

A final point: Abernathy’s call for Biden to “embrace Americans across the political spectrum” was addressed repeatedly during the campaign. Biden said many times he would be president for all people, not just those who voted for him. That pledge stands, as Mr. Abernathy surely knows, but it is incredibly disingenuous, in my opinion, to try to wedge into that commitment an acceptance of the right-wing orthodoxy that truth and falsity as just two equal versions of one thing. They are opposites, not equivalents, and Joe Biden knows it. Someday, maybe, Republicans will awaken from their dreamworld and accept that truth as well.

 

A Bright Spot in the Darkness

Much of what I write about here is dark and ominous. The past four years have brought the country low. We are on the verge, I believe, of beginning the long process of recovery, as I have indicated in earlier posts. But the darkness is tenacious. As we approach the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, on whom the hopes of the nation depend, the city of Washington is shrouded in massive defensive preparations – not against a foreign enemy, but against a segment of the American people who threaten to disrupt the inauguration to overturn the election.

As fate would have it, I am scheduled for some surgery in Bethesda, Maryland (a Washington suburb for those not familiar with the area) on February 19 and a follow-up exam in Rockville, MD on the 20th, Inauguration Day. Poor planning on my part, but I took what was available and could not predict that the capital city would be under siege by our own citizens.

Some days before, I had signed up for AlertDC, a messaging service about various disruptions one might want to know in traveling around the area. Last night (Friday at 8:22 pm) we received an alert including a message from the Virginia Department of Transportation about bridge closures, further raising our concerns  about our travel plans for my surgery. In the VDOT message were the standard “Contact” email addresses of people from VDOT and Virginia State Police.

Feeling increasingly concerned about the obstacles we might face making two roundtrips from downtown DC to the Maryland suburbs, I sent an email inquiry to all three. It was now 8:52 pm on Friday night. It would, I thought, be a miracle if we ever heard from anyone because they likely were being bombarded with messages and preoccupation with the brewing crisis across the area.

Eighteen minutes later, 9:10 on a Friday night, a reply email arrived with additional information about bridge closures and a specific suggestion to help reduce our risk of getting stuck. The message was from Ellen Kamilakis, Senior Public Affairs Officer at VDOT. Not a form message but a personal response with useful information that addressed my reason for reaching out. A  quick check of her LinkedIn revealed a multi-award-winning communicator. No wonder. I decided this person needs some additional recognition. Late on a Friday night, in an environment that must be fraught with pressure and uncertainty, Ms. Kamilakis took a moment to respond to a citizen with a problem.

As I noted in an earlier post, the next time someone makes a crack about “those government employees,” recall this message. Be thankful, as I am, that people like Ellen Kamilakis work for all of us.

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

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

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

In the time of Trump, everything has changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

To Pardon or Not to Pardon – That Is the Question


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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