Tag Archives: Biden

To Pardon or Not to Pardon – That Is the Question


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

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

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

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 Many of the law firms involved have withdrawn their representation.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Joy in the Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Court Gives Back of Hand to Voter Protection

CNN reported last week that the Supreme Court, without opinion or explanation, granted a request by Alabama to prevent voters from dropping off their ballots by handing them to an election official at the curbside. https://cnn.it/3osEjJB The decision in an unsigned 5-3 order, to which Justices Sotomayor, Kagan and Breyer dissented, addressed a permissive ruling by a federal District Court judge permitting, but not requiring, willing Alabama counties to allow curbside voting, as they have done in prior elections in 2016 and 2018. The District Court judge’s opinion was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta.

The District Court judge reached the following conclusions issued in conjunction with a lengthy set of Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law:

1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-11-7, 17-11-9, and 17-11-10 that absentee ballot affidavits be witnessed and signed by a notary public or two adult witnesses violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 complications because they are either age 65 or older or disabled or have underlying medical conditions that make them susceptible to COVID-19 complications, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-9-30(b), (d), and 17-11-9 that absentee voters provide a copy of their photo identification with their absentee ballot applications violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters who are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 complications, the curbside voting ban violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters with disabilities who cannot safely obtain a copy of their photo ID, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-9-30(b), (d), and 17-11-9 that absentee voters provide a copy of their photo identification with their absentee ballot applications violates the ADA.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic to voters with disabilities, the curbside voting ban violates the ADA.
    1. As applied during the COVID-19 pandemic, the requirement under Ala. Code §§ 17-11-7, 17-11-9, and 17-11-10 that absentee ballot affidavits be witnessed and signed by a notary public or two adult witnesses violates the Voting Rights Act.”

For the highly determined, the court papers may be read at: https://bit.ly/3opiLgI

The Court of Appeals reversed all of the District Court’s conclusions except for the curbside voting issue.

In a classic Trump Republican fashion, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall argued that “Some level of risk is inherent in life and in voting.” Stated differently, if voting in person ends up killing you (there are no mask requirements in Alabama), well, that’s life. The Alabama Secretary of State had earlier expressed concern about the security of ballots because voters “wouldn’t be able to physically put their ballot into the machines that read the ballot since they’re held indoors.” Apparently, the Alabama Secretary of State does not trust the poll workers that the counties employ for the purpose of assisting voters.

Justice Sotomayor’s dissent said, in part, “We should not substitute the District Court’s reasonable, record-based findings of fact with our own intuitions about the risks of traditional in-person voting during this pandemic or the ability of willing local officials to implement adequate curbside voting procedures.”

The Supreme Court’s decision is remarkable insofar as it permits a state to disallow voting practices that, at least in a pandemic, could reduce vulnerable voters’ exposure to sometimes deadly health risks, especially for older and health-vulnerable voters. The ultimate rationale for the state’s inexplicable overturning of prior practice was the Republican Attorney General’s view, in effect, that “life’s a bitch and then you die, so who cares?”

In truth, the state position is a form of voter suppression directed at a segment of the population more-likely-than-not to vote Democratic. These types of decisions, especially unexplained, are particularly problematic when considered against the anti-democratic decision of the Supreme Court in the landmark Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013) that gutted the pre-clearance requirements of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those provisions compelled certain states to seek prior approval of the Justice Department for any new election or voting laws, because of those states’ prior history of voter suppression.

Shelby County involved one of the worst examples of judicial legislating ever seen, as evidenced by Chief Justice John Roberts’ explanation of the decision:

A statute’s “current burdens” must be justified by “current needs,” and any “disparate geographic coverage” must be “sufficiently related to the problem that it targets.” The coverage formula met that test in 1965, but no longer does so.

Coverage today is based on decades-old data and eradicated practices. The formula captures States by reference to literacy tests and low voter registration and turnout in the 1960s and early 1970s. But such tests have been banned nationwide for over 40 years. And voter registration and turnout numbers in the covered States have risen dramatically in the years since. Racial disparity in those numbers was compelling evidence justifying the preclearance remedy and the coverage formula. There is no longer such a disparity.

As reported in The Atlantic, https://bit.ly/34uqn9C,

The results have been predictable. Voter-identification laws, which experts suggest will make voting harder especially for poor people, people of color, and elderly people, have advanced in several states, and some voting laws that make it easier to register and cast ballots have been destroyed. For many of the jurisdictions formerly under preclearance, voting became rapidly more difficult after the Shelby County decision, particularly for poor and elderly black people and Latinos.

Decisions like the Alabama curbside voting case are the predictable consequence of the Supreme Court’s conservative majority inserting its judgment, without explanation, where only the legislature should go. At the risk of repetition, the current decision affirms the elimination, for partisan political purposes, of a health-based practice that was permitted in two prior elections.

This is what we have to look forward too as the Republican majority of Trump enablers in the Senate affirms yet another right-wing judge to the high court this very day. I don’t know what the solution to the Supreme Court dilemma is, but Joe Biden’s thoughtful and measured approach seems the right way to move forward, provided his commission acts swiftly. The issue has been exhaustively analyzed by many constitutional scholars so we’re not going into new territory here. The composition of the Court has changed before and the nation survived. It’s less clear today that the Republican approach to governance is survivable by anything resembling a democratic republic. Time is therefore of the essence once the Democrats take control of the government in January.

Amtrak to Suspend Train Service to Respond to Republican Document Requests

Republican Troubleshooters Demand 190 Years’ Worth of Records

It’s natural, I suppose, for people who have not spent time on Capitol Hill to wonder what those highly privileged people do up there all day – you know, on behalf of the public that elected them and, presumably, also for those who thought someone else would be better. We have been given some insight into that question as regards Republican representatives by an October 20 records request to William J. Flynn, President and Chief Executive Officer of Amtrak, technically the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, sent by four Republican Congressmen from the Republican Office of the House Subcommittee on Rail, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials.

There is a subcommittee, often many of them, for every committee in Congress (this one is among six under the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, or T & I as it is affectionately known in Washington circles). I’m sure your mind is now trying to wrap itself around what the entire organization chart for the entire Congress must look like. Please stop right there lest you suffer lasting mental harm.

This particular Subcommittee has some pretty impressive sounding responsibilities [https://bit.ly/3knpaqr]:

  •  “jurisdiction over the economic and safety regulation of railroads and the agencies that administer those regulations.  Economic regulation is administered by the five-member Surface Transportation Board (STB).  This independent agency also has the authority to address national emergencies as they affect the nation’s rail transportation system.”
  • “The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is responsible for administering and overseeing railroad safety laws, railroad infrastructure and development programs, performing research and developing technology, and has federal oversight of Amtrak.”
  • “Amtrak [established in 1970] is the nation’s major provider of intercity passenger rail service….The Subcommittee continues to oversee efforts to increase efficiency and improve service in Amtrak’s operations.”
  • “The Subcommittee also has jurisdiction over the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, which is responsible for providing regulations and safety oversight of pipelines and pipeline facilities, as well as overseeing the transportation of hazardous materials.”
  • “Railroad retirement benefits and unemployment systems, as well as rail labor relations also fall under the jurisdiction of this Subcommittee.”

That’s enough responsibility and overseeing, you would think, to be a full-time job for the Subcommittee members.  But two members out of 15 Republicans on the Subcommittee, found time to produce the aforesaid letter to Amtrak. Those four are Ranking Member Rick Crawford (R-AR), fellow Subcommittee-man Scott Perry (R-PA) plus T&I full Committee members, Bob Gibbs (R-OH), and Lloyd Smucker (R-PA). The others? Who knows? Politics, as we will see, is a peculiar affair. Truth is, of course, the letter was written by Subcommittee staff and approved up the chain of command. That’s just how things work.

The letter concerns [drum roll] Joe Biden’s use of Amtrak charter trains for his recent campaigning in Pennsylvania and Ohio. The Republicans, ever watchful for profligate spending, claimed not to know what Biden paid for the trains and, through their questions suggested that something was rotten on the railroad tracks. Had they bothered to look first, they would have discovered that  “in its disclosures to the Federal Election Commission, the Biden campaign reported spending $265,000 on the train charter. Amtrak says that the starting rate for a charter is $30,000, and that no discount was given.” https://wapo.st/2ThtQCf But who wants to investigate when the opportunity to allege political scandal by an opponent arises? Not Republicans. Notify the media!

The asserted reasons for the Republicans’ deep concerns about Biden’s train charters are that [footnotes omitted],

  • “the Biden campaign’s use of Amtrak’s charter train redirected Amtrak’s scarce resources during a time of record losses, employee layoffs, and service cuts during the COVID-19 pandemic.”  
    • The premise here is that Joe Biden, a private citizen, somehow commandeered Amtrak’s charter train against Amtrak’s wishes and did so at a particularly bad time. The bad time, of course, was the result of Donald Trump’s failure to act against the virus, but never mind that.
  • “We are concerned that the apparent use of a struggling, resource-deprived, publicly-run service for political gain does not serve the best interests of Amtrak or the American taxpayers at this time.”
    • Here the premise is that Biden hurt Amtrak by paying it for services rendered in exchange for “political gain.”
  • “we question whether the Biden campaign’s use of Amtrak caused delays of freight trains at a time when supplies are crucial.”
    • Here the Republican Congressmen show profound regard for the nation’s PPE supplies that it believes, for no apparent reason, may have been delayed by Biden’s charter train.

The implication is that Biden somehow purloined the Amtrak trains for “political gain” when Amtrak would have been better off doing something else with its trains, despite the fact of collapsed demand for travel demand due to Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the Republican research,

According to Amtrak’s guidelines, charter trains are not a part of its “primary objective” of operating its “core train service safely, punctually, and efficiently.” Amtrak’s guidelines for operating charter trains include requirements that the use of Amtrak’s resources will not impact its regular operations, and that the train “must generate sufficient financial benefit for Amtrak to justify the Amtrak resources and assets.”

Moreover, the Republicans’ preliminary investigation revealed the following salacious information:

The Biden charter train included several Amtrak cars and made multiple stops for campaign events where guests were invited aboard the train. The Biden campaign distributed plastic identification cards to riders designed like actual Amtrak tickets. News reports suggested freight train interactions with the stopped charter train and the potential for delays at campaign stops.

The Republicans clearly believed they were on to a big one. “Abuse of train” is a matter to be taken very seriously, and Amtrak is committed to the policy that the truth must come out.

Now, I happen to have it on good authority that Amtrak is both short-staffed now (COVID-19 layoffs, you know) and struggling to get the trains to run on time (big surprise to past Amtrak users). So, I’m going to help out these Republicans who apparently don’t know how to conduct even a minimal investigation but who love to issue press releases. I’m going to suggest answers to the ten questions and offer them, hereby, to Amtrak and the Subcommittee free of charge. This will help enable Amtrak to answer the questions by November 2, as demanded (coincidentally, I’m sure, the day before the election), unless … well, let’s not spoil the surprise. See below and buckle up.

  1. The total cost to Amtrak, including in equipment, resources, and salaries, to operate the Biden campaign charter train.
    • Answer: “A fully-allocated cost analysis of a small set of charters would entail dozens, possibly hundreds, of hours of staff time. Since the Subcommittee has indicated its sensitivity to Amtrak’s resource use, we’re sure you won’t mind if we “hard pass” on this question,” but if you insist we address it, you may expect the answer around June 2021. We don’t mean to be disrespectful but note for the record and in our defense that many congressional subpoenas (you just sent a letter) have been flatly rejected out-of-hand by the administration. What’s good for the goose and all that…

2. The total cost paid to Amtrak for the Biden charter train     and whether the Biden campaign received any financial discount, reduced fares, special treatment, or special services for using Amtrak’s resources to campaign through Pennsylvania and Ohio.

    • Answer: This information was largely covered in the press already. You can find it here: https://wapo.st/3dPoYxv But, be advised, you’re not going to like the reporting on Republicans’ long-standing efforts to cut Amtrak’s budget and the historical data about other candidates who have used Amtrak trains in campaigns.

3. Whether the Biden campaign’s charter train delayed any Amtrak trains or disrupted any Amtrak services.

    • Answer: We’ll look into this when we can, but it’s doubtful. It’s often hard to identify exactly what “causes” a particular delay, but we will get back to you. Soon. Promise.

4. Whether the Biden campaign’s charter train received track preference over any freight trains or other trains.

    • Answer: That information is also difficult to identify since we normally don’t have to keep that data to run a railroad, but, as above, we’ll get back to you. Soon. Promise.

5. Whether riders on the Biden campaign charter train purchased tickets to board the train.

    • Answer: We think you should know the answer to this already. Biden chartered the train, so there would be no reason to sell tickets except possibly as a fund-raising activity, the conduct of which is not Amtrak’s business. Perhaps another federal agency or body of Congress can help you with this. We hope so because we take your need for information very seriously.

6. The number of Amtrak employees taken off their regular duties to staff the Biden campaign charter train, including any overtime hours worked.

    • Answer: We don’t understand the question. Working on charters are part of the “regular duties” of employees when charters are sold. Amtrak is in the passenger train business and charter trains are part of that business. Amtrak, as you know ,or have reason to know, was paid for the charters according to standard charges that cover all costs to the extent possible.

7. A copy of standard operating procedures or similar documents utilized by Amtrak and its employees in operating standard charter trains.

    • Answer: We believe you already possess this information since you cited our procedures in your letter. We respectfully decline to provide duplicate information. We’re sure you understand we are busy trying to run a railroad. If you don’t understand that, we can’t help you.

8. A copy of any documents, standard operating procedures, or guidelines Amtrak has for trains chartered for campaign and/or political events, particularly presidential campaigns.

    • Answer: We are initiating a company-wide search for these documents. Since the request was not time-limited, the hunt for historical versions of any current documents will likely take some time, so don’t expect anything before the election. We will get back to you. Soon. Promise.

9. A historical list of any time Amtrak trains have been previously chartered for campaign usage and the costs of those resources and costs paid by the individual candidate’s campaign.

    • Answer: Well, that’s a doozy, all right. We will certainly initiate a good faith search but estimate this will take the balance of 2020, 2021 and possibly 2022 since trains run by Amtrak and its predecessors for campaigns likely began in 1836 and have been used, according to reported sources, by at least Harrison, Carter, Ford, Bush (both) and Clinton. You did not specify whether you want the costs, whose estimates will necessarily be speculative, in current dollars or constant dollars. We await your clarification.

Meanwhile, be advised that good-faith compliance with the aforementioned requests will require Amtrak to suspend for the foreseeable future all passenger service in the Northeast United States until further notice, starting November 4, 2020. Have a nice day.

10.  A written response on how the Biden campaign charter train remained in compliance with Amtrak guidance and procedures on COVID-19.

    • Amtrak’s COVID-19 practices are set out on our website. You can find our website at www.amtrak.com. We assume the Subcommittee knows how to use a computer. Have a nice day

I believe my suggestions will do much to move this process along at the pace it deserves.

 

Trump – Who Is He?

NOTE: I apologize for the obvious formatting issues in this post. For reasons that defy understanding, WordPress unilaterally changed the editor for its posts, forcing workarounds that often simply don’t work. I have spent over an hour trying to fix these without success or useful help from WP. I will soon be moving to another platform that has figured out formatting. So …. onward:

For reasons perhaps too obvious to state,  I cannot bear to watch a Trump rally. It feels like … passing a bad car accident, somehow attracted to the horror while simultaneously trying not to see disturbing images that will linger far too long. Curiosity, however, is a powerful force. I have read many news stories, seen many film clips and watched comedians like Jordan Klepper interview attendees who seem lost in a cult-like euphoria about a man who, when you really think about it, has nothing in common with them and, based on overwhelming evidence, has no positive regard for them whatsoever. They are mere tools for his ultimate goal which seems to be maximization of personal glorification and wealth.

Faced with that conflict, I decided to do the next best thing – try to analyze Trump’s speech based on a couple of typical recent examples. Perhaps because they attracted much attention in the news, I chose his rallies in Nevada on February 21, 2020 and September 12, 2020. I also looked at his Fox Propaganda, oops, sorry, Fox News interview with Jeanine Pirro also on September 12, 2020 . For comparison, I also analyzed Joe Biden’s speech at Gettysburg on October 6, 2020. The transcripts were found at the Transcript Library at https://www.rev.com/blog/transcripts which is a rich source of transcripts of all manner of speeches, albeit in uncorrected form.

The framework for analysis was constructed to a large degree by reading Trump’s 2/20 Nevada speech. Based on what appeared to be repeated elements in his speech, I developed this set of words/phrases to compile:

 

Advocating Violence

Attacks Democrats

Attacks Press

Audience Praise

Blatant Lies

Domination – words expressing Trump’s power over                      others

Fear Mongering – references to border/immigrant                          invasions, riots, destruction of cities &                                              neighborhoods/suburbs

Invokes Patriotism

Racist Statements

Self-Praise

Some People Say/I Hear/Heard

Trump as Victim

Word Salad

The categories I chose as analytical tools are my own creation. Trump’s method of delivery appears to be largely stream-of-consciousness, a kind of rambling around certain repeated themes, interspersed with what I have labeled “Word Salad,” a phrase that refers to a sequence of often-partial thoughts with rapidly mixed subjects and seemingly random expressions. Sometimes one can discern what Trump is talking about, but at others the “stream” is incoherent and indecipherable.

Curiously, these episodes do not seem to bother the rally audience, suggesting that little of what Trump says is actually absorbed as discrete intellectual ideas by the listeners. They are there mostly, it seems, for the hate messages against Democrats and Hillary Clinton, still after four years. Trump’s rhythm, if it can be called that, seems entirely random, changing subjects frequently, sometimes multiple times within a minute of speech time. He often repeats phrases two or three times.

Here is an example of Trump’s Word Salad from 2/21/20:

But Jake Tapper put out some things, basically saying, I believe it, that’s the way I read it, that the new Russian thing that started yesterday, that Putin wants to be sure that Trump, which give me a break. Give me a break. But Jake Tapper said it ain’t so, and if he did say that because they were a little complex, they can turn them around, or when Zucker sees him and said, “Why did you put that? I want that deleted and I want you to do a different one.” But he did say that. So I respect that because it’s another hoax story.

To do the analysis, I attributed a descriptor every time there was a change of subject. There were many occasions when more than one descriptor applied to the same text, as, for example, when Trump Attacked Democrats with what can only be seen as Blatant Lies. He often changes focal ideas within a few sentences, sometimes returning to the previous theme but also sometimes, seemingly randomly, moving on to other subjects.

Trump’s soliloquys are typically quite long when not scripted or pre-arranged. His February speech was 1 hour and 46 minutes; in September, it was 1 hour and 34 minutes.

Here then are the results of this exercise applied to Trump’s Nevada speeches:

 

February 21, 2020 September 12, 2020
Attacks Democrats = 20 Attacks Democrats = 36
Attacks Press = 20 Attacks Press = 15
Audience praise = 2 Audience praise = 3
Blatant Lies = 10 Blatant Lies = 45
Domination = 2 Domination = 6
Fear Mongering = 11 Fear Mongering = 32
Invokes Patriotism = 6 Invokes Patriotism = 3
Self-praise = 46 Self-praise = 34
Some People Say/I Hear/Heard = 10 Some People Say/I Hear/Heard = 1
Trump as Victim = 3 Trump as Victim = 8
Word Salad = 28 Word Salad = 1

 

A number of things leap out from this. Democrats come in for multiple attacks from Trump, often associated with Blatant Lies. The attacks are no surprise as this is campaign season, but the lying is astounding. Trump has no regard whatsoever for the truth.

The press remained a favorite subject of assault by Trump. His attacks on Democrats were often focused on Hillary Clinton, an audience favorite still eliciting “lock her up” chants from the Trump faithful.

While Trump made no overtly racist statements in these two speeches, Fear Mongering was prominent among his themes, especially in September. Fear Mongering often referred to members of minority groups as invaders and desecrators of white neighborhoods or borders so that Fear Mongering could as well been divided into overt attempts to stoke fear of the “other” and outright racist remarks.

Finally, while the later speech was far more coherent (only 1 instance of Word Salad), Trump’s self-promotion was a constant. His speeches never wander very far from a boast about his being the first or only president history to achieve some objective. His rally audiences never seem to mind the absence of policy content. They are not there to hear about Trump’s policies except in the form of boasts about all he has accomplished. Those boasts are often Blatant Lies but the adoring Trumper masses don’t seem to care. His arrogance seems to appeal to them even though it is evident that he has no personal regard for them and no real understanding of the problems they face.

As a kind of standardizing test, Trump’s interview with Jeanine Pirro of Fox Propaganda was instructive. It seems clear that the entire interview was structured from the outset, as Pirro often had to steer Trump back to what were pre-arranged lines. In just under 16 minutes, this is what happened:

Advocating Violence = 1
Attacks Democrats = 8
Attacks Press = 1
Blatant Lies = 12
Domination = 4
Fear Mongering = 9
Invokes Patriotism = 1
Self-praise = 5
Trump as Victim = 1
Word Salad = 1

The same major patterns emerge: Lying, Fear Mongering, Attacking Democrats and, of course, Self-Praise.

For further comparison, I analyzed Joe Biden’s speech at Gettysburg, PA on October 6 using the same criteria. Only one of the categories came up: Invokes Patriotism. As a piece of political oratory, Biden’s address at Gettysburg, just 24 minutes long, was high-minded, venerating the site and those who fought there, as he dwelt on the ultimate meaning of it all for America. As one would expect, he relied on Lincoln’s own historic words from his famous visit to those hallowed grounds. Biden exhibited humility in the face of the staggering events that occurred on those fields and the immortal words of Lincoln about the sacrifices of the people who fought there.

Biden’s Gettysburg speech will probably not go down in history in the same way that Lincoln’s did. Context certainly matters. But Biden and Trump might as well be in different countries. Trump’s vision of America, based on the words he uses, is ugly, self-focused, arrogant and demeaning. Biden is the exact opposite, appealing, as Lincoln did, to the better angels of our nature. The contrast is compelling. Biden is about America and its values. Trump is about Trump.

Trump’s Presidency in Memes — Round 2

The hits just keep coming so it seems only right to share what I have found on Twitter, where I spend far too much time, and Facebook. This time I will offer a few comments along the way. Just because I can. If Republicans can twist themselves into logical pretzels that would have bedazzled Escher (Google him if new to you — very interesting work) to justify reversing the decisions made to deny a hearing/vote on Merrick Garland for Supreme Court Justice, I can add my thoughts to these precious memes. Note for the record that I did not create any of them — I chanced upon them while searching for coherence on the cited sites. The are the work of people far more creative than I.

Most prominent among Trump’s failures is his decision to downplay the severity of the coronavirus the severity and deadliness of which he knew very early on. He decided to lie about it allegedly to “avoid panic” — making him the only president in modern history to not trust the people with the truth about a killer virus — with massively deadly consequences: 200,000 dead so far and many thousands more with permanent organ damage. And no end in sight.

While Trump’s crimes against humanity are the major story of the hour, we cannot overlook the loss of icon Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The photo on the right is from the Supreme Court the night the news of her passing spread in Washington. RIP fair lady.

Below is a random-ish collection of other memes I found. One note: I have not included a number of photos of Donald Trump inappopriately engaged with daughter Ivanka. I just can’t do that, although I think those photos speak volumes about the nature of the man who sits in the White House. For similar reasons, I did not reproduce the meme that includes the infamous quotations of his comments coming off the bus with Billy somebody about grabbing women. Everyone knows those words by heart, I suspect, so no need to repeat them here. Just remember — that was man now the sitting president of the United States.

One more note: the last shot of the Trump cabinet below had a label: “No misogyny found in our investigation” or something similar. Let your imagination run wild & add your own.

 

 

 

ICYMI – Part 7: Trump Turns on the Country

News worth remembering in a few months when you vote:

TeamTrump didn’t wait 24 hours before launching racist, misogynist attacks on Joe Biden’s choice of Kamala Harris as his Vice President. Trump mouthpieces on Fox Propaganda deliberately mispronounced her name while Trump, inspired by others, signed on to the birtherism argument that Harris might be disqualified. Every respectable legal scholar I have seen agrees that her birth in Oakland, California settles the question. But in TrumpWorld nothing says “class” like a playground level name-calling campaign of lies and deflections.

Trump’s associates are the gift that keeps on … stealing. Steve Bannon, Trump’s former senior strategy adviser, and three others have been arrested for “defrauding hundreds of thousands of donors” in a crowdfunding campaign called ‘We Build The Wall.’ https://bit.ly/3aLOxxZ  See https://webuildthewall.us/ourteam/ for high school photo of Founder-President (and now defendant) Brian Kolfage, along with Steve Bannon’s ready-made mug shot (he’s Chairman of the Advisory Board). Erik Prince, “Sheriff” David Clarke and Curt Schilling also sit on the board.

How long before Trump says ‘Steve Bannon? I don’t know him?” How long before Trump pardons him? The General Counsel for the Build the Wall PAC is Kris Kobach, known mainly before this as the lead vote suppressor in Kansas and failed head of Trump’s failed commission to find voter fraud in the U.S., and who was later demolished in his races for Governor of Kansas and the U.S. Senate. [For the record, this is not “fake news;” it’s the real thing].

Chaos in the Postal Service. Conflicting stories abound regarding the Trump administration ‘plan’ to disrupt the Postal Service based on Trump’s zero-evidence-based claim that mail-in voting is fraught with fraud. https://wapo.st/2YfB1xC and https://nbcnews.to/2EmbLih In one sense the  details don’t matter. Trump has, in classical Trumpian fashion, already accomplished his mission: to induce chaos in the system and to discourage people from voting at all. If you look back at the past 3.75 years, you can readily see that chaos/confusion is the main product of the Trump administration. It’s what you get when you appoint mostly “acting” leadership so you avoid normal vetting processes that would stop unqualified ideologues from taking charge of complex federal agencies and resources.

Will Trump Leave If He Loses the Election? Trump and his White House enablers like Kayleigh McEnany continue to hint/deflect/lie about his repeated statements that the election is going to be “rigged” against him. When directly asked, the answer seems to be “we’ll see how it goes.” In 2016 the question of his respecting the outcome was answered with “yes, but only if I win.” I will break habit here and predict: if Trump loses, he will leave the White House on time – one way or the other way.

If you missed Barack Obama’s speech at the DNC, you owe it to yourself to watch the video. His speech will, I believe, be considered one of the great presidential statements in textbooks and histories for years to come. And, of course, the women. Let me not overlook the women: Michelle Obama (“It is what it is”), Dr. Jill Biden and, of course, Kamala Harris. These women were simply magnificent – intelligent, forceful, direct. Trump must be eating his own flesh, consumed with rage and envy. You know how he hates “uppity” women.

In a likely unprecedented statement, 74 former national security officials who served during the administrations of four Republican presidents, including Trump’s own, or as Republican Members of Congress, declared that

Through his actions and his rhetoric, Trump has demonstrated that he lacks the character and competence to lead this nation and has engaged in corrupt behavior that renders him unfit to serve as President.

https://bit.ly/34o3zJk The statement consists of 10 paragraphs detailing the charges, a stunning indictment of staggering scope and awesome power. If you read nothing else, read the statement. Then plan how you’re going to safely and securely cast your vote for the Biden-Harris ticket and for Democrats up and down the line so that we have a governable outcome in which coherent policies can be proposed, adopted and executed. There is no other way back from the abyss that threatens to engulf the nation.

The noose tightens as the federal district court denied a motion to delay the effect of a subpoena for many of Trump’s financial/tax documents possessed by the Mazars USA accounting firm. https://cnb.cx/3gjxk0f The request for emergency relief now goes to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. You will recall that the U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected Trump’s claim that he was absolutely immune from criminal investigation. Things may be about to get interesting if Mazars is required to turn over the documents to prosecutors in New York.

Meanwhile, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a demand for federal criminal investigation by the FBI of amateur Postmaster General Louis DeJoy for undermining voting by mail that Trump has claimed would help defeat his re-election. https://bit.ly/3gixuF8 Of course, the FBI is currently operating as an arm of the Trump administration under the command of Trump’s personal lawyer, the Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, so one must wonder what will be accomplished by this move.  Nevertheless, it’s another example of the web of corruption that infests the Trump administration from top to bottom.

QAnon wackery/quackery – take your pick – has now been embraced by major elements of the   and effectively endorsed by Donald Trump. https://nyti.ms/3l6AlEu I will not waste space setting out the Q version of the world, but you owe it to your sanity and your country to know it’s out there. Multiple Republican candidates for Congress believe the Q nonsense and some of them are almost certain to win. And you thought Congress could not descend to any lower level than the depths to which Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz have taken it. To quote the Natural Born Killers, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outrage Without Power is Useless

I have been seeing a number of social media posts in which people are venting their more-than-justifiable outrage at recent events of which George Floyd’s murder is probably the worst but far from the only case. It’s the worst because of the apparent quiet deliberation with which his execution was accomplished. Many of those posts are directed at the political process that has failed to address systemic racism and that led to the election of Donald Trump. Frustration is widespread, along with anger, despair and related emotions. The country-wide protests are just one manifestation.

There has also been considerable violence, much of it inflicted by police officers who are supposed to protect and defend the people  in the exercise of their constitutional privilege of free speech. We have seen many videos of police protectively escorting armed men and other almost-all-white people screaming about their “right” to refuse to wear masks for public health There have been a few videos of police aligning themselves with the protesters, to be sure, but the majority, based on my unscientific review, involve police engaged in unnecessary and unprovoked attacks on peaceful protesters.

There are also videos of violence perpetrated by mostly unknown people against businesses and police, some apparently just angry random acts and others designed to take advantage of the protest chaos to destroy property and steal whatever was at hand. In my view these acts are unjustifiable by any standard, even as we recognize the anger and pain of witnessing “official violence” over and over again. Violence begets violence and hate begets hate. In the end it doesn’t lead anywhere good for anyone and provides a convenient excuse for people to reject the awful realities that led to the protests.

Most people of good will are united in the belief that Donald Trump is the worst president in America history. The number of white people, of all ages, who have joined the protests has shocked the country. But there are intimations that the outrage and sadness experienced by Black people and now also by an apparent majority of white people may be directed at targets that will not contribute to meaningful solutions. Examples include statements to the effect that “if Joe Biden doesn’t pick XYZ as his VP, I am sitting out the election” and “if Biden doesn’t aggressively support policies A,B and C that were proposed by Bernie Sanders, I’m voting for the Green Party.” There are many variations and references to the outrage felt by “my group” with intransigent statements of “my way or the highway.” Some of them say Joe Biden is just another old white guy and a traditional politician who is a member of the political elite that is responsible for the state of society now.

As another admittedly old white guy, I am deeply troubled by these statements. There is no doubt, none whatsoever, that our society has much to account for. Donald Trump, who is in my view evil incarnate, is not alone responsible for that debt but he is responsible for unleashing the reactionary forces that hold a fantasy view of the America of the past that they somehow believe was “better” than now and thus follow the “make America great again” trope that Trump has promoted. Readers of this blog know where I stand on Trump so I’m not going to belabor that here today.

My main point here is those people whose righteous anger, frustration and pain have stirred their passions to new heights must, if they want American society to improve in meaningful, systemic ways, focus that rage on the right targets. As it stands, our political system, for better or worse, is based on a two-party political system that makes it impossible for third-party candidates to win major elections. It is, I am certain, a truism of American political life that no third-party candidate has a chance to be president. No matter how appealing single-issue or narrowly focused their platforms may be, anyone who votes for them is, in net effect, voting for the re-election of Donald Trump. The mathematics of this are undeniable. If we’re going to begin the process of healing the country and moving forward with a more progressive agenda, the election of Joe Biden is absolutely critical.

I have engaged a number of people on social media platforms on this question. Most of them are immovable. They make statements like “it’s better to vote for a moral platform than the continuation of the politics that got us to this sorry state.” No doubt, a morally superior agenda is to be desired. Accepting, for example, that the Green New Deal is such a morally outstanding program of ideas (which I do, for the record), the fact remains that no Green New Deal candidate is going to be elected president. Anyone who votes for a GND candidate is enhancing the voting power of the Republican Party that supports Trump and assuring that the exact opposite of the principles the GND supports will prevail.

That simply cannot be the morally superior choice among the available options. I have also heard the “my voting for the GND will teach them a lesson, that they can’t ignore us and carry on as before.” Same response. The “lesson” isn’t going to teach anyone anything if Donald Trump is re-elected.

Fundamentally, while the choice of leader is extremely important, in reality it is equally important the chosen leader select exceptional people to staff the key components of the government. The people who surround and advise the president are as important as the president himself. The president’s value system will guide these choices that ultimately control how the government makes policy and otherwise goes about its business. The truth of this principle can be clearly seen throughout the history of the Trump administration. Many of his key advisors and cabinet choices were picked for entirely the wrong reasons, leading to unprecedented graft and corruption. Trump’s administration has had no fewer than 14 indictments of key players, including campaign staff and senior advisors. Multiple cabinet members have left office in disgrace for various offenses against the public good.

The election of a president elects a related value system, a set of judgments about who are the right people to lead the country. While the president has the final word, much of what a president does is effectively controlled by the advisors/cabinet that he selects. This is how the president “forms a government” that can function and deliver on policy commitments for the common good of the people. Under Trump, the “best people” became a sick joke, but moving past that, the reality is that only the “best people” can do the job and you only get the best people if the value system of the president is sound.

I am one of the growing number of citizens who believe the November election is “for all the marbles” insofar as the American idea of democracy is concerned. I accept without hesitation or equivocation that the United States has failed terribly to live up to its aspirations as set out in the Declaration of Independence and as manifested in the Constitution. There is plenty of disappointment to cite, plenty of falling-short of our ideals. The weaknesses of the constitutional structures established in the country’s early years are quite evident, but very hard to change. What makes the US and is citizens “exceptional” is not the purity of what has been achieved but the aspirations to which the majority of our people and institutions continue to adhere.

So, we are left with what we have. That reality is most troubling, but for now, it is the cards we have been dealt. It is, therefore, imperative that the anger, frustration and pain of recent and past events be directed at the real targets of opportunity. Only by acquiring political power can the justified outrage be translated into action that can produce real change. Without power, the outrage is useless. The forces arrayed against change, against justice, are strong because they are also passionate in their beliefs, however much we may deride them. They hold enough political power to impose their craven agenda on everyone. The constitutional system gives them disproportionate leverage. To defeat them requires a massive show of political will and political action by those who believe the present system is fundamentally broken.

Voting on the basis of a single issue-set is not good enough. The choice in the 2020 election is between two different value systems. To give but one example, one of those value systems defends arresting, separating and literally putting in cages thousands of children brought into the country illegally, many of whom will never see their parents again. That value system assigns blame and fault, which drive their actions regardless of the human consequences. The other value system says that approach is morally wrong, that whatever policy we follow regarding illegal immigration, there is no justification for this treatment of minor children. That’s just one of the value choices involved in this election.

Another one, larger in scope, is the value system that maintains that truth is relative and ultimately is whatever the people in power say it is. That value system prevailed in, among others, Nazi Germany. It rejects science in favor of ideology. It is the path to dehumanization and totalitarianism. It is happening here, now. That is the real meaning behind the slogan “fake news.”

To stop it requires a massive show of political will and political action by those who believe the present system is fundamentally broken. We must choose among the real choices we have, not the ones we would prefer. Only with the exercise of intelligent choice now, can we reach the place where we have better choices, not because we are more angry or frightened than others but because we have the power to make the changes we need.

That concludes today’s sermon. Believe.

Bloomberg – Where from Here?

Disclosure: I have watched very little of the Democratic shouting matches called “debates” by the media. I tried early on; I really did. It was too much. Watching the mob of aspirants to the highest office in the land yell at each other like school yard children was too much to bear. Now the crowd has thinned but the yelling continues.

I did watch for a while last night though, mainly to see how Michael Bloomberg fared in the face of entirely predictable attacks from the others. It was not pretty to watch. I was shocked, which is not easy, to see Bloomberg so unprepared to address with sharp, brief responses the foreseeable assaults related to stop-and-frisk, workplace and personal hostility toward women and all the rest.

I suspect that in what counts for “normal life” for a billionaire Bloomberg is never spoken too as he was during last night’s free-for-all. He seemed both surprised and unprepared. His reactions were weak and his substantive responses were astonishingly poor in light of the circumstances. He tried to suggest that the women who signed NDAs would not want to be freed to tell their stories and looked paralyzed when Elizabeth Warren demanded to know how many there were. He tried to suggest that the whole fuss was some kind of reaction to bad jokes on his part. Ugh.

My guess is that Bloomberg’s campaign is finished. I hope so. He should save all that money and prepare to support the eventual nominee in the forthcoming battle of titans with Donald Trump. If Bloomberg wants to be remembered well, he has the best chance by being the financial angel behind a winning Democratic campaign against the gangster president that now inhabits the people’s house in Washington. His staff has shown some chops in creating aggressive political ads and could be very helpful to the nominee who will have his/her hands full with the heavily financed, foreign-influenced/supported Trump machine. Bloomberg’s financial and other support for the Democratic nominee would be the highest and best use of his considerable resources.

As for the his/her question, it seems clear to me that Elizabeth Warren is the most qualified among the remaining Democratic contenders. Having said that, I am mystified almost to despair at why Ms. Warren feels it is necessary to raise her voice. I understand, of course, that being on a stage with Bernie Sanders, who apparently can’t speak without gesticulating wildly and shouting, is challenging. The format also does little to produce the kind of orderly disputation that I would like to see from those seeking the peoples’ approval to lead the nation. But Pete Buttigieg, who someday (but as a small-town mayor not now) will be ready for the presidency, managed to remain calm and steady at least while I was watching.

To be clear, I’m not talking about the obnoxious “she’s too angry to be likable” accusations directed at Warren. My concern is not about “women being too aggressive.”  I am asking for someone with her knowledge and experience to state, in an orderly but forceful and compelling way, why her intellect, ideas and experience make her more qualified to be president than the other aspirants and more likely to be able to defeat Trump. The best way to get past all that garbage about women being too pushy is to stop behaving like Bernie Sanders and become the steady intelligent rock we all, I hope, are looking for. Someone who can eat Trump’s lunch in debate, not by out shouting or name-calling him but by showing through reason why he must be removed from the presidency.

There is no doubt, in my view, that many of Warren’s substantive ideas are ahead of their time and will face resistance even in a majority-Democratic Congress. Warren is, I am convinced, far better able to deal with that reality than the other candidates with the exception of Joe Biden.

So, what about Biden? He has the greatest relevant experience. He was a loyal VP to Barack Obama. He is a known quantity to our allies abroad and, as far as can be known, is generally respected by them. He has “presidential temperament.” Joe Biden has a lot to commend him. To be sure, Biden has some flaws. They all do, but none of his flaws even registers against the flaws of the sitting president. I suspect that the worst substantive objection to Biden is his age, but that is a charge against multiple contenders and can be resolved with a good choice for VP. There are numerous respectable alternatives that would lend strength to the Democratic ticket.

So why not Joe? Perhaps the most compelling substantive reason is the argument that it’s time for new blood, bold ideas even if too advanced for immediate adoption and so on. I believe, as I have for decades, that for the most part the success or failure of a president turns on the people with whom he surrounds himself. The president is not the source of all the good ideas nor is he effectively able to control the execution of every project his/her administration attempts. I am assuming, of course, that, unlike Donald Trump, the president understands the responsibilities of the office, pays attention to the advice of his experts, listens carefully and so on. You know, the normal attributes of a fully functioning adult.

And, in the end, it is the president who decides. That is why it is so important to elect a leader who will listen, study, respect truth as best it can be determined, and act with full and unending devotion to the public, as opposed to one’s private, good. The presidency carries the gravest burdens, the heaviest responsibilities to make the most difficult choices a human being ever must make. That is why we need a leader with the attributes of maturity, selflessness and honesty that underpin the best chance of getting things right.

It is, I suggest, time to stop screaming and start speaking. Stop tearing each other down and start addressing the real problem that one of our two political parties has willingly made itself hostage to a right-wing cabal of dishonesty and incompetence. In my view, the red MAGA hats are the functional equivalent of the swastika. If re-elected, Donald Trump will conclude he is, in effect, a monarch and democracy in America will be dead. That is the challenge we face, so we had best choose wisely. And then, it all comes down to getting out the vote. Everyone who stays home on Election Day because their favorite Democrat wasn’t nominated will be, in effect, voting for Donald Trump’s re-election. If you know such people, it is time now to start explaining this to them. There are only two sides to this fight. Everyone must choose. It is time