Tag Archives: Biden

Oh No! Another Biden Gaffe! Or….

The media and, of course, the Republican Party and even some Democrats are having conniption fits over President Biden’s statement about Vladimir Putin at the end of his speech in Poland: ““For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

Media reports indicate that this was an ad lib, not uncommon for this, or any other, president. Secretary of State Blinken, for example, “clarified” that,

We do not have a strategy of regime change in Russia or anywhere else, for that matter…. In this case, as in any case, it’s up to the people of the country in question. It’s up to the Russian people. [https://nyti.ms/37UHZjc]

To clarify Blinken’s clarification, the United States strategy today is not to take overt actions to push Putin out of power or other terminate his leadership position in Russia. Fine. It has been clear to anyone watching closely that this was the case all along. Neither the United States nor NATO is going to attack Russia to force Putin out. Biden didn’t necessarily say otherwise.

There are several “non-conniption fit” interpretations of Biden’s remark that are worth consideration. One example,

Julianne Smith, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, told CNN’s “State of the Union” that Mr. Biden’s remarks were “a principled human reaction” to the Ukrainian refugees he had met in Warsaw. [https://nyti.ms/37UHZjc]

There are others. One is that it wasn’t an ad lib at all, that it was planned just the way it played out. A signal, you might say, to the Russian oligarchy that their removing Putin by whatever means was fine with the United States. In other words, it was a “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” moment. [for those unfamiliar, see https://bit.ly/3DiFBi8] Then, of course, it was “walked back,” as planned. Keep ‘em guessing.

Maybe it was just a kind of prayer for divine intervention. Biden is quite religious so that’s a plausible expression of human angst from him.

Maybe it was just a profoundly humane response to the grief he felt in being with the refugees and so close to unprovoked death and destruction being wrought by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

I, of course, have no inside knowledge of this situation. Maybe it was just a gaffe. If so, let he who has not gaffed throw the first stone. Then let’s move on.

The Republicans probably won’t. They’ll harp on this as long as the media gives them the play they so desperately want to make the president look bad even as we try to navigate the treacherous path between helping Ukraine stand up to a dictator hell-bent on imprisoning another independent nation while avoiding a nuclear provocation that could end up destroying all life worth living on the planet.

But the media should calm down. Even if Biden were expressing his personal desire that Putin be taken down, the attention to this is overblown and self-defeating. Better to just keep ‘em guessing.

 

 

The Real Election Fraud – How to Fix It

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further, the Supreme Court itself has held that,

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

The Court made clear that,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was oh so wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road Not Taken

Kudos to President Biden for taking the hard but right path to restoring the physical and economic health of the country. Shame on those who continue to harp on the ignorant and irrationally resistant themes of “my rights” at the expense of the health and welfare of others. ENOUGH!

We’re at the fork in the road. Nothing short of a full-on frontal attack on the virus is going to get us out of this mess. The great American poet Robert Frost captured the idea in his famous poem, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Biden has taken the road that many politicians would eschew – the one that will, and has, inevitably create another furor. Rather than the “safe path,” Biden has shown the courage of a leader by doing the right thing rather than the safe or easy route. You can hide from destiny only so long, as this great story reminds us:

A merchant in Baghdad sent his servant to the market.
The servant returned, trembling and frightened. The
servant told the merchant, “I was jostled in the market,
turned around, and saw Death.

“Death made a threatening gesture, and I fled in terror.
May I please borrow your horse? I can leave Baghdad
and ride to Samarra, where Death will not find me.”

The master lent his horse to the servant, who rode away,
to Samarra.

Later the merchant went to the market, and saw Death in
the crowd. “Why did you threaten my servant?” He asked.

Death replied, “I did not threaten your servant. It was
merely that I was surprised to see him here in Baghdad,
for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra. 

The choice we face now, that we must face, is between aggressively striking at the virus with all the tools at our disposal or continuing to beg the irrational and uninformed to do the right thing. The former has a chance to stop the pandemic, to take advantage of the astonishing opportunity that the rapid deployment of vaccines has provided. The latter approach has virtually certain terrible consequences: more illness, more death, more permanently damaged bodies.

The reality is that the vaccines are safe and effective. The reality is that the rapid spread of the Delta variant has again overwhelmed the nation’s medical capabilities. COVID infections that are mainly in unvaccinated individuals are denying needed medical services for people with other medical conditions.

I have read some of the insane rantings of primarily right-wing and libertarian “authorities” who claim to have inside knowledge that the virus was released deliberately by agents of the federal government who are cashing in on the vaccines. These people claim that the vaccines contain various poisons, microchips and who knows what else.

It seems that one can always find someone who claims to have the inside track on awful secrets and conspiracies that are constantly being plotted against the rest of humanity. These sometimes include people with “medical credentials,” but often they are former workers in the pharmaceutical industry who are certain that they have inside information to expose the crimes being perpetrated in the name of … whatever. They readily accept the plausibility of conspiracies involving many thousands of people around the globe, no one willing to spill the beans, all in the name of “follow the money” or some other cliché that substitutes for actual thought.

We see this same theme played out in science fiction movies and what I call “caper movies” in which bad guys pull off, at least temporarily, extraordinary schemes to steal, blow up, capture huge sums of money, power over the world, etc. Movies like Air Force One, Die Hard and so many others. I have struggled through a few episodes of a TV series called Eureka that is loaded with utterly implausible, preposterous concepts and science-like doublespeak and gibberish. Some people apparently take such stories to be true. It’s an easy shift from one phantasmagorical storyline to another. Harry Potter is real, flying broomsticks and all.

Reality is more mundane. Two kinds of sickness pervade the country. One is the COVID-19 virus. We’ve learned a lot about it and about how to prevent its worst manifestations. Vaccines, masks, social distancing – that’s pretty much the essence. Study after study confirms the validity of these measures, if, at least, they are applied broadly and consistently.

But it’s damned inconvenient and mighty annoying. COVID has shuttered many businesses, interfered with our fun and instilled a deep-seated fear in many people that they and their loved ones, including children for whom they are responsible, are being exposed to an invisible, highly transmissible and deadly disease. More than 648,000 dead from a disease that our former president assured us would “soon disappear like magic.” Damned annoying.

The other sickness is the resistance to the solution. We know what to do but for many Americans, the disease isn’t the real enemy. The real enemy is the government. Many people appear to believe the government unleashed the virus. Why would the government do that? Did the government want to destroy the economy? Weaken our national defenses? Reduce the population? End civilization? Apparently, many believe so.

Logic and reason have little to do with this mindset. It’s analogous to those who argue that the January 6 insurrection was actually the work of the winners of the election who wanted to stop the certification of their win so that the loser, whom they hate, would be installed as the winner. That make sense to you? If so, take two giant steps to the right.

Along comes the new president who starts an unprecedented and initially successful campaign to deliver life-saving and pandemic-ending medicine into tens of millions of citizens without any meaningful adverse consequences and at no cost. And yes, yes, I understand we can’t prove that ten years from now there won’t be some inexplicable adverse outcome for somebody. There is no scientific or medical reason to suspect that could or would happen, but we can’t predict the future with 100% certainty, so ….

But, you know, in the long run we’re all dead anyway. In the meantime, we can return to “normal life.” All we have to do is get vaccinated and comply with a few annoying but otherwise trivial practices a while longer with a few minimal restrictions on our behavior.

But, no, this is apparently asking too much for millions of Americans. They have their “rights” to protect, regardless of the consequences. “Freedom” is their watchword. Don’t tell me what to do even if it’s for my own good. Sounds like a teenager who thinks he knows everything already and is invulnerable. Or the guy with the boat who insists on going out in the hurricane because he can “handle anything.”

Many of these people end up in the ICU, begging for the vaccine, only to be told by doctors, “it’s too late for you. You should have taken the vaccine earlier. It can’t help you now. Nothing can help you now.”

The solution is in our hands, if only our minds will allow us to see it. I despair of it, after engaging yet another person who on first encounter seemed reasonable and thoughtful, but then insisted “we are being lied to” and that the vaccines contain deadly poisons that make them magnetic. She argued with me that the vaccination program was unnecessary because “natural immunity” was superior protection to the vaccines and lasted longer. How she knows this: read on the internet.

I end where I began. History will record that Joe Biden acted justly and rightly in ordering mandatory vaccination programs, with, in most cases, very generous opt-outs for people with true medical conflicts and genuine religious objections (I don’t know what religion that is, but the exemptions are available).

I find some inspiration in these closing words from Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

 

Afghanistan

Republicans are ecstatic that the mess in Afghanistan has given them another excuse for deflecting attention from the treasonous insurrection of January 6. Afghanistan is a mess, of course, and little that the White House can say about it is going to fix it in the near future, or ever. Understanding full well that the President is “responsible” for what happens on his watch, the sudden awakening of Republican and media angst over the plight of Afghan citizens is more than a little hypocritical and nonsensical.

That noted, I am not here to defend the seemingly failed planning by our military and intelligence people around the final departure of American and allied troops. I will just note before getting on with my points that the departure of Western troops from Afghanistan was never going to be met with the Taliban stepping back, popping some champagne, and waiting for the last troops and fleeing citizens to depart. The handwringing over this is, in my opinion, beyond absurd. And, after twenty years, it is simply ludicrous to suggest, as someone on CNN just did, that, ‘we promised them democracy – how can we just abandon them now?’ I will leave it to others to sort that out. Given the response so far, the media will have a lot to say about it.

My mission here is to place some context around the Afghanistan scenario, observations that some may find objectionable but which, I firmly believe, are reality.

Whatever the actual thinking was in sending American forces into Afghanistan, we were apparently trying to achieve two goals: (1) deny a base to Al Qaida-like terrorists, a task thought to be achievable by applying broad and constant military pressure against any “group” thinking of launching attacks against the United States in the vein of the September 11, 2001, and (2) while we were there, engage in some Western-style nation-building by promoting democratic political values and processes for adoption by the tribes and warlords that had dominated Afghan society for a very long time.

What could go wrong?

The one essential thing that went wrong, in my view, safely ensconced in my living room, is the same thing that went wrong in Vietnam, the first war officially “lost” by the United States since the country’s founding: we underestimated our adversaries. Déjà vu all over again.

Incidentally, “lost” in this setting doesn’t mean we were defeated. It means we didn’t win.

Americans have, I believe, been underestimating our adversaries since before the country was founded in 1787. The westward expansion from the original colonies followed the repression and subjugation of native populations east of the Mississippi River. Encounters with the Indians of the Western Plains met a formidable collection of adversaries, particularly the Comanche and Apache tribes. Underestimation of the native people, who were regarded as savages by white settlers and government/military alike, led to many deaths, until the white man’s superior firepower and ruthless violence finally overcame the natives’ resistance to expansion into their territory. Suggested reading: Empire of the Summer Moon.

The invincibility of the United States military was well-established in the American mind by the beginning of World War I and proved itself in World War II, albeit with many setbacks, not least of which was, of course, the Day of Infamy, the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that led to our entering the war in the first place. Not long after WWII ended, and after renewed isolationism reduced our military capabilities, the U.S. was caught by surprise again by the invasion of North Korea into South Korea. We suffered huge setbacks in that conflict as well, basically fighting to a draw, but coming away with some sense of having prevailed. North Korea did not get South Korea. We didn’t win, but neither did they.

Then there was Vietnam. Undeterred by the dismal failure of France to overcome resistance to the continued colonization of the country, the United States crept its way into full-throated engagement against the army of “little men in black pajamas” (a common way at the time of denigrating the enemy that was, in truth, winning the war). South Vietnam ostensibly was critical to U.S. interests in preventing communism from “taking over” Southeast Asia, a continuation of the “red menace” thinking of the 1950s. Accustomed to “winning” and to maintain the myth of American fighting superiority against all enemies, the U.S. government lied its way into an impossible situation: an unwinnable jungle war in which superior technology (total air superiority, napalm, carpet bombing, Agent Orange and more) failed to break the will of the resistance.

In January 1968, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese armies stunned the world with the Tet Offensive, launched country-wide on the Lunar New Year festival when many of the South Vietnamese forces were on holiday leave. https://bit.ly/3z0psuw While the battle(s) were ultimately won by Western forces, the cost was staggering. As the Wikipedia article notes,

The offensive had a strong effect on the U.S. government and shocked the U.S. public, which had been led to believe by its political and military leaders that the North Vietnamese were being defeated and incapable of launching such an ambitious military operation; American public support for the war declined as a result of the Tet casualties and the ramping up of draft calls.

The war went on for seven long years more, leaving us with the Pentagon Papers and the now iconic scene of an American helicopter airlifting terrified Vietnamese from a building in Saigon (not the American embassy).

Much happened thereafter even before the 1991 Operation Desert Storm to drive Iraq back out of Kuwait. Most of the details are lost to memories, but you can review them here. https://bit.ly/3sE6UxR Prepare to be jolted. Desert Storm did not take long and “victory,” once again, belonged to the Western coalition led by the United States. We were once again winners.

The confidence of Americans was then shaken to the core by the attacks of September 11, 2001. The enemy, it seemed, was roaming free within the country and, armed with boarding passes and box cutters, was able to murder thousands in a few minutes. The furious response at yet another Day of Infamy was not short in coming.

Undeterred by history, and fully aware of the failure of Russia to subordinate the country, the United States entered Afghanistan in 2001 and in 2003 invaded Iraq. The U.S. left Iraq “officially” in 2011 but military engagements continued largely outside the interest of media and the public. See https://bit.ly/2W8W8nt for a short history.

We remained in Afghanistan fighting the Taliban, and others, until President Trump, in what was to be his final year in office, negotiated an agreement with the Taliban (not including the Afghan government, our putative ally) to withdraw U.S. forces by May 1, 2021. President Biden, following up Trump’s prior decision and based on his own long-standing opposition to continuing a futile fight not strongly supported by the Afghan government or its people, decided to end the American military presence and ordered the final removal of U.S. troops. In about a week the Taliban launched a remarkable takeover of the country, leading to scenes of chaos at the Kabul airport as fleeing Afghans and Americans, who were warned of our imminent departure some time ago, tried to escape.

Chaos reigns in Afghanistan and the Republicans here have something new to cheer and deflect about. Officials in other countries are also quick to scoff at the “embarrassment” of a U.S. retreat in the face of the total collapse of the Afghan army that the U.S. spent 20 years training and funding and supplying. That’s not going to change.

The question remains — Why are we reliving, yet again, the tragic scenario of having fought a long and, in the end, futile war at staggering cost in treasure and, more importantly, human suffering?

There are, as always, many likely factors that contribute to the repetition of this behavior, but I believe there is one predominating force that drives the others. That is the core belief in American Exceptionalism.

Americans seem to have a compelling need for the myth of American Exceptionalism no matter what the evidence shows. It appears to be an essential element of national identity. The belief is reinforced regularly – in school lessons, in the celebration of July 4 Independence Day, in (at least in theory) Memorial Day celebrations and the formal ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery (Arlington gets 3 million visitors a year; many of them witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb) and the periodic national obsession with domination of the Olympic Games medal count.

A critical component of American Exceptionalism is that the country is invulnerable to invasion by foreign troops. America is especially blessed, I was taught at an early age, by its geographical position on the planet. It is “protected” on the north by Canada and in the south by Mexico, neither of which is a threat as a haven for an invading army. Of course, the advent of the airplane and the aircraft carrier changed the threat scenario as we learned on December 7, 1941. The well-worn aphorism, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty” became popular despite our unusual place in the world. https://bit.ly/3AX01dS During the 1950s period of the nuclear arms race, people in my generation were constantly reminded of the new peril to our very survival. We literally stood on the brink of nuclear holocaust in what became the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962.

We survived that threat, narrowly, and we “showed” the world in our response to the 9/11 attacks that the United States was still not to be trifled with. We were prepared to destroy entire countries and their civilizations to preserve our own.

But it was a shocking realization that we were not as secure as we thought, not as invulnerable to foreign or domestic threats after all and, after revelations like the torture in the Abu Ghraib Prison in Iraq, not as pure of heart as we had been told.  Nevertheless, the insecurity fostered by changes in the world situation enabling our enemies to reach us with horrifying violence, of which we had been convinced we were immune, actually reinforced the commitment to the idea of American Exceptionalism. The more vulnerable we became, the more determined we were to believe in and act out the mythology of American Exceptionalism. If we weren’t so great, after all, why would they keep coming after us?

If we are the “best” of people, the purest example of the success of the Enlightenment, the people most committed to the preservation of democracy around the world, leaders of the Free World, then it follows we are not only exceptional but also entitled to special deference because of “who we are.” We hear this in political speech, among many other places, all the time. This mind-set primed many Americans to believe in the Fortress America idea, that we are essentially alone, that our very salvation as a nation and culture depends on “America First.” We are so special, so powerful, we don’t need other nations; America can go it alone. Trumpism.

Except that it’s just not true. We don’t much like to hear about it, but the fact is that the country was formed by taking, through force and artifice, the land of the natives who were here before the “white man” arrived. The evolution of the body politic led to a national constitution that, as an essential condition to its creation, formally embraced the idea that some people, brought here against their will and whose labor was taken without compensation, were less than fully human.

That ugly compromise with colonies whose economies and lifestyles were dependent upon human slavery conflicted with the moral fabric that underlay the national idea and eventually led to the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet I was “taught” in junior high school history class in the 1950s that the Civil War had nothing to do with enslaved people and we were not to discuss the subject in class. We now see that many Americans believe that the Confederacy was an honorable undertaking that gave rise to some abstract idea of “heritage” justifying, among other things, the continued display of the Confederate flag as a symbol equal, if not superior, to the Stars and Stripes of our national flag.

And while the war was won and the enslaved people technically freed, much of the country refused to accept the idea of equality. Jim Crow laws and decades of other forms of discrimination produced a huge and possibly permanent economic underclass. Recall that school desegregation was not officially ended in this country until 1954 and violent resistance to it continued long after.

The country has continued whistling by the graveyard, pretending to be something it is not, thereby preventing the national reckoning that, in the long run, could unite most of the population around a common set of principles. If you have not seen the marvelous scene from the TV series, The Newsroom, in which Jeff Daniels, playing the anchor man, appears on a panel discussion and is asked, “what makes America the greatest country in the world?,” you really owe it to yourself to watch it. You can see it here: https://bit.ly/3AUkQXt If you’ve seen it, watch it again.

It’s a bit out of date (2012) and a touch misogynist (though I suspect/hope the writers meant “men” to refer to humans) and some of the data has changed. Nevertheless, in many respects, it sounds in the present moment. It’s a powerful statement of reality that conflicts with the mythology that has built up around the history of the United States.

That truth is complicated, and complication is something the human mind tries to avoid. Myths are more attractive. They’re easy to articulate and easy to believe. You can read all about that in any good book on behavioral economics. You could start with Thinking, Fast & Slow by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, one of the originators of the concept.

Lest you think this is apologia for Donald Trump’s ‘Make America Great Again’ slogan, let me disabuse you now. That slogan presupposes something that is blatantly false and plays on fear: fear of losing, blaming others for the perceived loss while simultaneously giving the national treasure away to the already wealthy and to the corporations whose lust to consume at any cost our precious resources is boundless.

The MAGA slogan is a scam, perpetrated on the willing (74 million voted for Trump in 2020 despite everything known about his grift, incompetence, dishonesty and failure to be courageous when courage was the only currency that could have saved the country from more than 600,000 deaths to COVID-19). No, if you’ve read any of my prior posts in this blog, you should be clear that I am not about MAGA.

Let’s look at some facts. These are, like science, true whether you believe them or not.

The U.S. economy is large, with the highest Nominal GDP. https://bit.ly/3sEPzFa [all cited data is pre-pandemic; the economic and social devastation caused by COVID-19 is staggeringly large but not yet measured.] Our economic “system,” measured by GDP, is thus a huge success. But not without cost. The United States ranks second only to China in delivering carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (we are fourth in per capita emissions). https://bit.ly/3B1NFB9 The United States is a prototype example of the Tragedy of the Commons on a global scale. We’re big but not the best.

And, before you start chanting “we’re No. 1, we’re No. 1,” recall that we don’t produce nearly as much stuff as we did in the good old days, while we consume enormous amounts of almost everything imaginable and then some. Much of that “stuff” comes from other countries, as we learned to our chagrin during the pandemic when many supply chains failed. Thus, while “the U.S. economy is at the forefront of technology in many industries … it faces rising threats in the form of economic inequality, rising healthcare and social safety net costs, and deteriorating infrastructure.” https://bit.ly/37VcSB5 Let’s review just a few details.

Based on the “the percentage of people between the ages of 25 and 64 who have completed some kind of tertiary education in the form of a two-year degree, four-year degree or vocational program,” the United States ranks only sixth. https://cnb.cx/3xWa2pW  We lead the world in persons incarcerated per 100,000 population [https://bit.ly/3z7HEm4] There are more guns in private hands in the U.S. than in the next 9 countries combined. https://bit.ly/3iZwc6d The U.S. literacy rate ranks 125th in the world. https://bit.ly/3svc8Me Of the 37 countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation & Development (OECD), the U.S. had the third highest poverty rate. https://bit.ly/3sB0rnh Finally, the U.S. ranks 15th on the U.N. Education Index. https://bit.ly/2WdIu2g

All that said, most people with some awareness of world affairs and conditions would not trade places with citizens of other countries. Viewed in its entirety and all things considered, the United States remains a pretty good place to live for most of its inhabitants, especially the white population. But we cannot have a realistic view of our place in the world, let alone within the country, if we have a glassy-eyed fantasy version of reality about the country, its values and what we can expect or demand of it. One can always say, “we could do better,” but the Afghanistan situation was a long-term losing proposition. Our chances of accomplishing the original goals were limited to non-existent and after twenty years of trying, there is no point to pretending otherwise.

Maybe we could have prepared better, but let’s not forget that the outgoing administration refused to cooperate with Biden’s transition team. We can’t know for sure what the implications of that non-cooperation were, but it’s not an unreasonable speculation that they had an effect. In any case, the idea that there was a clean simple way to exit Afghanistan is pure fantasy.

The Taliban weren’t going to let a power vacuum exist after we left. The speed of their advance through the country, facing little to no opposition from the Afghan government forces, is the clearest indication of the inevitability of the chaos that ensued. All the handwringing and political theater isn’t going to change that.

It’s curious indeed that Republicans who were all in on Trump’s desire to seal the U.S. borders to prevent immigrants from entering are now all about admitting huge numbers of Afghans fleeing the Taliban. Or are they just expecting other countries to take them? Politics and mythology can easily confuse one’s thinking. It would be interesting if Republicans applied their newly discovered empathy for Afghans to the COVID-19 pandemic that is ravaging their states, overwhelming their healthcare systems and killing their children.

Afghanistan is lost. The central issue is not whether we could have done a better job with the exit of military forces. We could have. The real issue now is whether we will simply reinvent the history to say that we “won,” and continue the fantasy of American Exceptionalism while not actually doing much to make the fantasy a reality. How, for example, will the Western international community of nations relate to Afghanistan under Taliban control? What happens regarding the seemingly inevitable human rights issues that are going to arise immediately regarding women there? What will United States policy toward a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan be and how will it be enforced?

Everything reasonable that can be done to avoid unnecessary bloodshed during the continuing evacuation should, obviously, be done but the focus must now be on the future. That future is as uncertain as it has ever been. That’s not Joe Biden’s fault. It’s not even Donald Trump’s fault. At this point the idea of fault is beside the point. It falls to President Biden to try to fashion a workable answer in a country that still lives in a fantasy dream of who we are and what we can do in a modern world.

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.