The Good News and The Bad News

It has been a busy week.  First the good news.

For the third time I was an Election Judge (poll worker, but sworn in as a judge in this state because of the decision-making that may be needed).  Once again it was a very long day with no respite, but worth it.  At our location, everyone, Republican, Democrat or Unaffiliated, was uniformly cheerful, friendly, and appreciative of their role to play in our democracy.  It was refreshing in the current era to see the best parts of our republic.

In my state, Maryland, one of the “bluest” in the country, we re-elected a Republican Governor for the first time in decades.  At the same time, the Democrat controlled state legislature gained more seats for the Democrats and voters re-elected our Democrat Senator and Representatives.  I consider that a positive sign as well.  In the first year of the Governor’s term, he tried to push legislation through that did not have the support of the representatives.  At the same time, some of the legislation the Democrats wanted was turned back by the Governor.  The same old story?  In this case, no.  Both the Governor and the legislative leaders realized that nothing would be accomplished if they didn’t — wait for it — compromise on the issues.  That does not mean it was all unicorns and rainbows, there were some knock down, drag out battles over certain issues.  On the whole, however, both parties recognized that compromise was necessary in order to accomplish meaningful results.  Consequently, most of those involved, including an unheard of for this state second term for a Republican Governor, returned to office.  (To put it in perspective, he is only the second Republican Governor in Maryland since Spiro Agnew — Richard Nixon’s first Vice president.  The last two term Republican Governor was Theodore McKeldin first elected in 1951.)

I was looking forward to writing an entirely positive piece in this space and was feeling better about the state of affairs in our country after the election.  After all, the House would now have oversight over the excesses of the Executive Branch for the first time in two years.

It lasted less than twenty-four hours.  Then came the bad news.  In duplicate.

Wednesday night another mass shooting of innocent victims occurred.  This time in Thousand Oaks California, considered the third most safe city in the country, according to FBI statistics.  Mostly students out for a break in the routine and a little dancing were gunned down.  Another needless tragedy that is becoming increasingly too common.  According to the Gun Violence Archive, this was the 307th mass shooting in the U.S. in 2018.  (They define a mass shooting as four or more people shot in one incident — not necessarily all deaths.)  Another in a long line of sad days for too many families and for all of us as citizens.  Perhaps the new Congress will finally address common sense gun laws that are supported by a majority in the country across all party lines.

Earlier that day the president gave what can only be described as a bizarre press conference that was either an attempt at showing that he would not change his habits and methods despite a significant defeat at the polls or a deliberate attempt to be bizarre in an effort to change the news cycle away from the success the Democrats had at the polls.

More significantly, he fired (yes, fired, when the president asks for a resignation it is not a voluntary action to resign) Attorney General Jeff Sessions Wednesday afternoon.  It was not so surprising that he did so, as he had been saying he would for well over a year, but it was unsettling that he did so less than twenty-four hours after the polls closed.  To some extent, it is what it is.  I was no fan of Mr. Sessions, but I did respect that he stood up to the president over the ongoing Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president.  Mr. Sessions did the right thing to recuse himself in accordance with the ethics of the situation and the rules of the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Mr. Trump never got over the fact that someone in his administration did the right thing.  He constantly asked where was “his Roy Cohn” — an Attorney General that should defend him personally and shield him from investigations, rather than work for the American people in upholding the principles of the Constitution.  (You may remember that Roy Cohn was Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and mentor.  Mr. Cohn started his public career as Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Chief Counsel during the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954.  Mr. Cohn is  the person responsible for teaching Mr. Trump to always “hit back twice as hard” against any accusations and “deny, deny, deny” — never apologize or admit to a mistake.)

The real bad news was not necessarily in the departure of Mr. Sessions.  The shocker was the person Mr. Trump named as his successor.  Mr. Trump’s intent to stop the Mueller investigation is reflected in his choice.

In a move that many Republican and Democrat Constitutional scholars consider against the law, Mr. Trump got his Roy Cohn by appointing Matthew Whitaker as the Acting Attorney General.  Mr. Whitaker is not a Senate confirmed official, which is the basis for many scholars and experts to consider his appointment to be illegal.  The normal sequence of events would be for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to become the Acting Attorney General.  Conceivably, Mr. Trump could have appointed another Senate confirmed official as the Acting AG but he did not do that.  Why, you ask?  I do not know what goes on in Mr. Trump’s mind, but I can guess.

This is a bit down in the weeds, which I think Mr. Trump believes most people don’t care about, but this turn of events is serious and with long-lasting impact.  I will attempt to explain why, as succinctly as possible.

Mr. Rosenstein has been the supervisory official for the Mueller investigation.  Mr. Trump has been at odds with him for nearly two years about that investigation.  He wants to put someone into the DOJ as Acting AG in order to have someone in place to over rule Mr. Rosenstein and to inhibit, if not derail or eliminate, the Mueller probe before it indicts one of his family (the odds are high that Mr. Donald Trump Jr. is in Mr. Mueller’s sights) or comes back with a report saying that the Trump Campaign did conspire with the Russians to influence the election and then Mr. Trump obstructed justice in an attempt to cover it up and/or protect his family and business interests.

Legal scholars not only think Mr. Whitaker is an invalid appointee, but they also mostly agree that should he stay in the position, he must recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation because of his extensive public remarks stating that he does not believe anything happened between the Trump Campaign and the Russians.  Oh, and that there was not obstruction of justice. Unfortunately, before being briefed on the investigation or before talking to the ethics attorneys in the DOJ, Mr. Whitaker has expressed that he will not recuse himself.  Of course not. Mr. Trump would not have appointed him if he did.  Preposterously, today Mr. Trump claimed to reporters that he did not know Mr. Whitaker, even though Mr. Whitaker often accompanied or replaced Mr. Sessions in many meetings with the president.  Reportedly, since the president did not like Mr. Sessions, Mr. Whitaker often spoke to the president in his stead.  My view is that some kind of quid pro quo was reached between Mr. Trump and Mr. Whitaker.  The former would appoint him Acting AG with some kind of follow on appointment in the future and the latter would make sure Mr. Mueller and his investigation was severely inhibited or ended.  Such an arrangement of course would be illegal and further the case for obstruction of justice.

They are birds of a feather, however.  Mr. Trump is well-known for his scams, such as Trump University that took in millions of our fellow Americans money based on promises never delivered.  It was forced to close down and Mr. Trump paid a hefty fine.  Mr. Whitaker was on the Board of Directors of a firm that the Federal Trade Commission labeled a “scam,” shut down and fined millions of dollars.  Additionally Mr. Whitaker sent threatening emails to some who complained that they were scammed.  So, they have that in common.

Mr. Whitaker has been especially clear in his remarks regarding the Mueller investigation and the circumstances surrounding the president.  He is right in line with the president that there is nothing there and that it is politically motivated.  In fact, he has opined that the “real” investigation should be of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee (DNC).  Here is what will happen, in my view.

  • Mr. Whitaker will severely limit funding for the Mueller investigation which will curtail further work without having to actually dismiss him and effectively end the investigation.
  • Mr. Whitaker further will limit Mr. Mueller’s work by prohibiting a subpoena of the president to force him to answer questions and will limit any other new avenues of investigation.  (The Acting AG overseeing the investigation must approve all significant elements of the Mueller probe.)
  • Mr. Whitaker will appoint a new Special Counsel to investigate Mrs. Clinton and the DNC in an effort to distract from the Mueller investigation and to give the president a new “caravan” to attack in an effort to distract the American public.

All of this will happen quickly, so that the new Democrat majority in the House has no chance to stop it before taking over in January 2019.  Mr. Trump must be feeling trapped between the rock (Mr. Mueller) and a hard place (the incoming Democrats in the House).  He will act out in any way possible to protect himself, his family and his business interests.  He probably feels that with Mr. Whitaker as the Acting AG, he can dictate which actions the DOJ should take and how Mr. Whitaker can act to protect him.  This is dangerous new territory for our country.  Firing Mr. Mueller directly will cause a political firestorm that may backfire on Mr. Trump.  Instead there will be delays, obfuscation and a slow strangling of the Mueller probe.  The real question is how senior officials in the DOJ, starting with Mr. Rosenstein will react to this affront to our Constitution.  Do they resign in mass?  Do they soldier on doing the best that they can under stifling circumstances?

What about the Republicans in the Senate?  Will they find a spine and stand up to the president at last? Are there any Republicans left in the Senate or have they all become Trumpists?  I see little hope as Senators such as Lindsay Graham (Trumpist — SC) have gone from saying that firing Mr. Sessions would not be tolerated to supporting Mr. Trump’s action to remove him.

“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay.  Any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency, unless Mueller did something wrong.”  — Lindsay Graham in July 2017

“What I’ve been saying for months is every president deserves an attorney general they have confidence in and they can work with.” — Lindsay Graham in November 2018

I am not picking on Senator Graham as his remarks reflect the change in almost every Republican in Washington today.  They changed from executing their oversight role to a becoming a rubber stamp of all things Trumpian, even as it defies what they say they’ve stood for their entire lives.

So for a few hours Tuesday night, I felt good about the future of our country.  I still feel good about it in the long run.  A few short hours later I realized that in the short run, we have a crazy ride ahead of us that will threaten the very fiber of our country.  I think we will survive based on the goodwill I experienced Tuesday, but it is not going to be easy or pretty.

Hang on for a crazy trip over the next two years.  It’s gonna be wild, baby!

 

 

Advertisements

Is There No Shame?

As we head into the final days before Election Day, and in the wake of two domestic terrorist attacks including the tragic loss of eleven lives at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, the ridiculous claims, lies, fear mongering and fomenting of hate by the President of the United States of America continues unabated.  He has no shame.  When repeatedly asked about his vile tactics he offers some version of “it works — we won.”  Maybe he won, but the “we” — the citizens of this great country — are losing.  The president may feel no shame, but I do.  I am ashamed that this is the face of the United States that the world sees.

As I have written before, the president uses words that have distinct connotations for people who consider themselves white supremacists, anti-Semites, and others.  “Nationalist,” “globalist,” “international bankers,” and other similar words have distinct anti-Jewish meanings to those filled with hate.  It stokes the fires raging inside of the haters.  Here is one thing to understand.  These people don’t just hate Jews as a religion, they see a vast international conspiracy where “Jews” rule the world.  Literally.  The haters see a hidden web of conspiracies and connections throughout the world that the rest of us know nothing about.  They believe that the Jewish conspiracy controls everything that happens politically and especially economically.  All the suffering by those that are not part of the cabal can lay their problems at the feet of those that “belong.”  The nationalists unfounded hate may take the form of religious intolerance, but it is important to understand that in their minds it goes way, way, deeper.  It is a world-wide conspiracy and everything is controlled by “the Jews.”

Thus the murderer that attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue (Etz haChayim in Hebrew in the Book of Genesis) reportedly picked this particular house of worship because of their well-known involvement with the Jewish charity known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) whose motto is “Welcome the stranger.  Protect the refugee.”  Founded in 1881,  HIAS sought to help Jewish refugees coming to the U.S.  In 1975 it expanded its scope to help Vietnamese refugees coming to the U.S. following the fall of South Vietnam to the communists.  It works world-wide to help the poor and misplaced and refugees of all religions, nationalities and ethnicities.  Currently they are helping the refugees coming from Central America.

Enter the “caravan.”  Enter the George Soros (an internationally known Jewish billionaire) funded caravan.  To the haters, it is all connected.

The synagogue murderer was incensed that the congregants were helping these poor migrants.  He is said to have posted on social media that these impoverished people were “invaders” that were brought here “to kill our people.”  He went on to post that “I can’t just sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.”

Hmmm.  Where did I hear that before?  Oh, right.  From the President of the United States of America.

Among other lies he tells at his campaign rallies, he claims that most of the refugees are members of “MS-13” and “Middle Easterners” coming here to spread illegal drugs, murder people, spread disease, and take away jobs.  As he said earlier this week, “We’re being invaded.  When you look at that, thousands of people — when you looked at that bridge loaded up with thousands of people, that’s called an invasion of our country.”

Reality check.  There are currently less than three thousand people, many women and children, and they are approximately 900 miles away on foot walking across Mexico.  This is one of many such “caravans” that have formed in recent years.  Mostly the migrants travel together for safety from criminals and others willing to exploit them.  The last one to arrive at the U.S. border was last April and resulted in the arrest of 14 people.  Under U.S. and international law we have an obligation to at least listen to and decide on the merits whether these individuals and families, who turn themselves in at the border and ask for asylum, in accordance with the lawshould in fact be given asylum.

They are not law breakers and they are not illegal aliens.  Nearly all of them, turn themselves in. For the April caravan the president sent approximately 2100 National Guard troops to beef up the border.  I am no math major, but that amounts to roughly 150 soldiers for every person arrested from the caravan.  Now the president has issued an order for about 5200 active duty soldiers to move to the border this week.  A few fun facts about that.  This will be the greatest number of troops on the Mexican border in over a century.  We will have about the same number of soldiers on the border with Mexico as we have now in Iraq and Syria combined fighting ISIS.  He promises at his campaign rallies that he will send 15,000 soldiers to the border “soon.”  (It is unclear whether this number includes the 5200 already ordered there.)  That number is nearly equivalent to the total number we have fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Which is the greater threat?  Impoverished families from Central America or the Taliban?  ISIS?

Here is a couple of things to consider.  He is sending active duty troops because the National Guard now there are under the control of the state governors that supplied them.  Not the president.  He wants troops he can control.  There is a law known as the  Posse Comitatus Act signed by President Hayes in 1878 that has come to be interpreted as prohibiting U.S. federal troops from enforcing domestic law. In other words, they have no arrest powers.  (Of the military services, only the U.S. Coast Guard has arrest authority.  There are some exceptions for the other services under the Insurrection Act and in other specified situations.)

In other words, our active duty forces that are involved in two active wars and numerous other missions around the world, will be sent to the border to satisfy the campaign rhetoric of the president.  He has politicized the military and is using it as a personal tool for campaigning.  As it is, they can only be used in a support role (non-law enforcement tasks) but so far have been under orders from the Secretary of Defense to have no interaction with the refugees beyond medical or legal aid.  To further demonstrate the waste of taxpayer money, the caravan is not expected to arrive at the border for about two more months.  That amounts to 15,000 troops sitting on their collective back sides for two months — which may include Thanksgiving and Christmas — rather than being home with their families between combat deployments or training for their next deployment.  It impairs readiness.

This is not a matter of enforcing immigration laws.  All main stream politicians and candidates, from any party, supports enforcing our laws and protecting the borders.  This is not what the president’s rhetoric is about.  It is all to stir up fear and anger among people who must be pretty unhappy about their lives.

But it gets better yet.

The President of the United States of America apparently thinks that he can change the Constitution of the United States through an Executive Order.  Wow.  My prediction is that his plan to do so disappears after the election — most things he promises go out with a whimper — but what if he actually believes it?  Here is what he said earlier this week.

“It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don’t.  You can definitely do it with an Act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.”

So everyone has had it wrong for over two hundred years.  I wonder who the “they” are that just discovered that all it takes is an Executive Order.

Specifically he wants to change the “policy” (yes — he actually said that) written in the 14th Amendment.  There are five sections to the amendment, but it is the first section that he wants to change.  That portion of the 14th Amendment reads:

“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

This is the so called “birthright” amendment and the source of so much hate and misinformation about “anchor babies.”  The president claims that:

“We’re the only country in the world where a person comes in and has a baby, and the baby is essentially a citizen of the United States for 85 years, with all of those benefits.  It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. And it has to end.”

Facts take a beating under this president.  There are over 30 countries that have the same birthright privilege of citizenship including Canada and Mexico.  The baby is not “essentially” a citizen, they are a citizen.  “All those benefits” which he claims amount to “billions and billions of dollars” do not take into account that the vast majority of those babies grow up to be productive citizens of the United States that work and pay taxes and contribute to the improvement of our country.

But there is something more sinister about attacking the 14th Amendment.  Not only does it continue to vilify those seeking a better life, the 14th Amendment is an anathema to those same self-styled “nationalists” that I have written about before.  The 14th Amendment is there to incorporate into law and the Constitution that former slaves and their descendants are full citizens.  The amendment overturns counting slaves (and presumably without this change, freed slaves) as three-fifths of a person encapsulated in Article One, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution.  So picking the 14th Amendment for an Executive Order does two things.  It supports the views of white supremacists and further encourages them by, in the view of many African-Americans, going after one of the most historically important amendments in their lives.  It also sends a signal to many African-Americans that they are part of the “other.”

Perhaps he would like to also sign an Executive Order doing away with freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights as well.  The president, like Joseph Stalin considers the press an “enemy of the people.”  Come to think of it, why stop there?  Just overturn any other silly amendments that get in the way.

I see a pattern developing.  These are not isolated incidents.  All are common to a thread of creating the “other” to hate, fear and vilify.  A page from the demagogue text-book.  Note that the president is not campaigning on his accomplishments.  Pay attention to his rants at his rallies and you will not hear him say anything that might not have already been said during his 2016 campaign. He is trying to convince people that without him and his supporters in Congress, the apocalypse will be upon us.

The stakes are high.  The soul of our country is under attack.  I find it shameful and it is too high of a price to pay for “winning.”


Where Are The Patriots?

“You know, they have a word.  It sort of became old-fashioned.  It’s called a nationalist.  And I say, ‘Really, we’re not supposed to use that word?’  You know what I am?  I’m a nationalist, okay?  I’m a nationalist.  Nationalist!  Use that word.  Use that word!”

—  Donald J. Trump at a political rally in Houston, 22 October 2018

And there we have it.

The President of the United States is proudly using a word that is full of historic negative connotations.  Mr. Trump stated yesterday in response to a reporter’s question that he didn’t know why people were upset with his use of the word and implied that it meant the same as “patriotism.”  It is not the same, and anyone with any sense of history knows that.  While the president is famously ill-informed, and proud of it, I have no doubt he knew exactly what he was saying.  His own words tell us that: “we’re not supposed to use that word.”

Nationalism:  Loyalty and devotion to a nation.  Especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or groups.

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Patriotism: Love for or devotion to one’s country.

— Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Note the difference, and it’s a big one.  One espouses devotion to a nation, one to a country.  While we say that we “are one nation under God” we are really a country, not a nation in the sense that it is used in these definitions.  In this sense a nation is a group of people with a common language, ethnicity, and an outlook that manifests in a common culture.  In other words, it is exclusive of those that do not share the same traits.

Nationalism is a relatively recent development in history, coming into wide-spread usage starting in the 1800s and resulting in the founding of nation-states in place of empires or kingdoms that had dominated previously.  The idea came of age in the 20th century and was one of the key causes leading to World War I and World War II.  In truth, nationalism can be a positive force, such as in the end of colonialism and the emergence of many new countries from nations across Africa, Latin America and Asia, or it can be a negative force such as the rallying cry of fascist dictators and others.  Vladimir Putin is using Russian nationalism to consolidate his power and as an excuse for the annexation of Crimea and for threats against the Baltic States, especially Estonia which has a high percentage of ethnic Russians in its population.

E Pluribus Unum.  “Out of many, one.”  Our country’s motto reflects the fact that our country is made of people from around the world, from many nations, that have come together to form a “more perfect union.”  We put aside our devotion to the nation of origin and pledge our allegiance to a new country.  This is what made, and keeps, America great and is significantly different from what it means to be French, or Spanish, or Chinese.

The history of nationalism in this country is sordid.  Historically it means a belief in a country dominated by white Christian males and is most closely associated with white nationalism.  The march in Charlottesville Virginia last year was a white nationalist rally which included overt neo-Nazi groups.  Mr. Trump opined that there were “good people on both sides” thus validating the cause of those groups, at least in their eyes.  Nationalism means that one promotes one’s own culture and values ahead of those of others.  Nationalists do so not just because they believe in them but because they believe that their culture and values are inherently better than those of any other one’s or any other nation’s culture and values.  Thus, it means that in the context of the Charlottesville rally, for example, that white interests should supersede those of any other group in the U.S.

In the 1930’s the Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party used nationalism to legally rise to power in a republican Germany.  The rallying cry was that German culture and ethnicity was superior to any other nation’s and therefore Germans should dominate the world.

In the U.S., mainstream politicians and citizens celebrate our diversity.  We have a history of people of different ethnic groups, nationalities, religions, cultures and customs coming together in a common cause.  It is what makes for American Exceptionalism which is, well, exceptional because we are one of the few, if not the only, country in the world that not only believes in our diversity, but celebrates it.

Mr. Trump claimed yesterday in response to a question about white nationalism during a press availability in the Oval Office, as to whether he intended his remarks to encourage white nationalists. He responded incredulously to the question and said “no, I’ve never heard that theory about being a nationalist.”

Really?

Where are the patriots?  Who is standing up and saying, “no, Mr. President, we are not nationalists, we are patriots.”  We do not celebrate the demonization of other ethnic groups or nationalities. Patriots celebrate our country and are proud of the fact that from our various backgrounds we come together in common purposes.  We are a beacon to the world.  Extinguishing that beacon through a misguided belief that we are somehow being “screwed” by “others” will not improve the life of any American.  Should we follow the path that Mr. Trump espouses we lose the essence of what has served us so well for so long.  Anger and fear are the basic ingredients of a “nationalist” ideology.  We are better than that.

 

 


An Ugly Time

The process surrounding the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court is one of the ugliest proceedings that I can remember.  On Thursday much of the nation was watching as first Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee and then Judge Kavanaugh did so.  I was able to watch it all and it was very difficult to see.  I feel badly for both witnesses, and their families.  In these divided times both have suffered indignities that should not happen.  After listening to the testimony, I do not know what happened on that night so many years ago.  It may be impossible to know for sure what did or did not happen then.  Dr. Ford was a credible and compelling witness.  I believe her.  At the same time, Judge Kavanaugh was adamant in his denial and we do have a system of assuming innocence until proven guilty.  There are a number of scenarios that could have occurred where they are both correct — either in the actual facts or in the way that their minds have shaped events.  We probably will never know exactly what happened.

Having watched, I will say right up front that I do not think that Judge Kavanaugh should be confirmed to the Supreme Court.

The reasons are many and varied, but foremost among them is my belief that his confirmation will solidify and institutionalize the blatant politicization of the Supreme Court, both in substance and in the process of selecting future Justices.  This was solidified in my mind while watching the hearings on Thursday, but I have felt this way about Judge Kavanaugh from the moment I first saw him speak at the White House while accepting the president’s nomination.  The more I have learned about him the more I am convinced that he was and is a political operative with questions about his ability to maintain neutrality in cases that may come before him.  This excerpt from his opening statement to the committee says it all:

“This confirmation process has become a national disgrace. The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced advise and consent with search and destroy. Since my nomination in July, there has been a frenzy on the left to come up with something, anything to block my confirmation.  This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups. This is a circus.

“The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions from serving our country and as we all know, in the United States political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.”

Keep in mind that the “you” he is talking to are Democrats. His demeanor and body language in response to the Democrats on the committee was contemptuous, sneering, and purposely disrespectful.  I understand his anger and his revulsion at the way the process unfolded.  That said, we expect a member of the Supreme Court to be even-tempered, respectful and willing to listen to all sides of an issue.  His display of raw emotion on Thursday was none of those things.  It was possible to passionately defend himself and his family in a mature, earnest way without publicly losing respect for the gravity of the situation and those with whom he disagrees.  Dr. Ford was able to do so in her testimony, shouldn’t we expect the same of a Supreme Court Justice?

Take another look at his words above.  “Fueled by pent-up anger at President Trump and the 2016 election.”  “Revenge on behalf of the Clintons.”  “What goes around comes around.”  How can the American public possibly think that he will be even-handed when on the bench if he is looking to get back at those he thinks unfairly attacked him?  His temperament should be disqualifying and his words should be disqualifying.  Here’s the essence of what transpired.  He went berserk at the hearing not only supposedly to clear his name (he evaded way too many questions in my mind to convince me that he was telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth), but it was a performance to shore up the Conservative base and Republican support.  He channeled their anger to rally them behind him.  In the process he purposely “fueled the pent-up anger” of his right-wing supporters, further dividing the nation he purports to want to bring together, to fulfill his own ambition.

There was another element to his testimony as well.  His sense of entitlement to the job — that somehow he was owed this appointment — was overwhelmingly apparent and very disquieting.

The hearings are in essence a job interview.  It is not a trial and therefore there is no burden of proof for guilt or innocence. That said, I do not think he was clear in his thinking and he was not straight forward in his answers.  This was true in his first hearing before the committee, and he did an even worse job of clearly answering questions in the second.

I disagree with his political philosophy and his stance on many issues.  That happens in the course of history, and as the result of elections one party or way of thinking gets their way.  While I may disagree with that party or ideology, I am willing to accept that they get to put forward a nominee that supports their way of thinking in these important positions.  However, I hope that whatever the party or ideology of a Supreme Court nominee might be, that the individual is straight forward, tries to be neutral, and is seemingly of outstanding character.  I get none of that vibe about Judge Kavanaugh.  My concerns about him transcend his conservatism.

Thankfully, a modicum of decency in the process was restored when Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) and Senator Chris Coons (D-Del) were able to work out a compromise on the committee to allow the FBI to reopen the Background Investigation of Judge Kavanaugh for a week.  I was concerned that his appointment would be jammed through the Senate in a rush and that possibly damaging information would surface about him after he was installed on the bench.  Had that happened (or should it still happen) another bitter fight with Constitutional overtones would have ensued.  My view is that the Republicans pushing to get him on the Supreme Court (I’m looking at you Senator McConnell) don’t care to get to the truth.  They just want their guy on the bench.  I think that Senator McConnell is/was betting that an effort to impeach a Justice Kavanaugh would fail under the weight of accusations that it was a political gambit to remove an unpopular judge rather than on the ethical grounds that would precipitate it.  He is on for life.  Period.

It is doubtful that the expanded FBI investigation will change anyone’s mind.  It is however, a chance for all sides to take a time out, pull back the rhetoric, and think through all of the pros and cons about the nominee and not just who is “winning” or “losing.”

I worry that in the long run we as a nation are losing our principles.  We have been through contentious, bitter political battles in our long national history.  We have survived.  Unfortunately, the recovery was often long and unbalanced.  We may be headed for the political cliff again.  I trust that our resiliency as a nation will keep us from going over the edge, but there are no guarantees.

I agree with Judge Kavanaugh on one thing, however.  He is correct when he calls his nomination process a “circus.”  There is plenty of blame to go around on Capital Hill on the way the entire process was handled.  Unfortunately, I don’t see any leaders stepping up to clean up behind the elephants and zebras and get us back on track.  It will probably get uglier and messier before it gets better.  And Judge Kavanaugh will become Justice Kavanaugh.

 


King Trump

“Apres moi le deluge.”

– – Attributed to French King Louis XIV

The expression means “after me, the deluge.”  It can be understood in a number of ways, including that after the demise of the king, there would be a disaster, or that he simply did not care what happened after he was gone.  In some contexts, it has also come to mean that the king is the state, and without the king, the state ceases to exist.

Whatever one’s translation, it can easily be attributed in current times to our president.  In many of his statements, he clearly sees himself as the state.  Anything that goes against his wishes is a “disaster” or “an attack on our nation” or “treason.”  Numerous examples abound.

“And it’s a disgrace. It’s, frankly, a real disgrace. It’s an attack on our country, in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”

— Donald J. Trump on 9 April 2018 following the FBI executing a lawful search warrant on the offices and home of his attorney Mr. Michael Cohen

“Just remember: What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”

— Donald J. Trump on 24 July 2018

“I tell you what, if I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor.  Without his kind of thinking (as he pointed to his head) you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.”

— Donald J. Trump on 23 August 2018 on “Fox and Friends”

There are many many more examples, too many to list here, where Mr. Trump equates his well-being to the state of the nation.  He apparently thinks he is the nation.  But perhaps the best example is still ongoing, starting with last week’s anonymous New York Times opinion piece on Mr. Trump’s fitness for office written by a “senior official” in the administration.  It is worth reviewing the entire impact and implications of the piece, but first it is interesting to consider Mr. Trump’s reaction to it.  Among other things, the writer made it clear in his/her opinion that Mr. Trump exhibits “erratic behavior,” exhibits fundamental “amorality,” and his leadership style is “impetuous, adversarial, petty, and ineffective.”  Most importantly, the writer states that early on in his administration there was serious talk of invoking the 25th Amendment that provides the process for removing an unfit president from office.

Wow.  Are we dealing with Captain Queeg and the Caine Mutiny?  Will someone soon be ladling out strawberries to make sure they are all there?

More on all of that momentarily, but here is Mr. Trump’s reaction to it, coming on the heels of early reviews of Bob Woodward’s book on his presidency called “Fear” which will be released to the public tomorrow.  He called upon the Department of Justice to initiate an investigation into who wrote it and into the New York Times to find out why they published it.  His one word response to the events, over Twitter of course, was “TREASON.”  (The all caps are his.)  Once again, Mr. Trump loosely throws around very profound and serious accusations whenever anyone criticizes him.  He equates himself to the state.  Remember his insistence on loyalty to him, as a person, rather than to the Constitution and the rule of law.  Once again he is threatening to use the Justice Department and FBI for his own personal purposes.

Dangerous.

The New York Times opinion piece met with mixed reactions depending on who responded.  His senior political appointees duly swore that it wasn’t them.  Of course.  The original Deep Throat in the 1970’s swore for roughly thirty years that it wasn’t him.  Until it was.

More substantively, what is the import of the piece?  I think it naive and unthinking to pass it off as just another political hack job from someone who doesn’t like the president.  Just business as usual.  Except that it isn’t.  The increasing amount of evidence building around the president since his inauguration is that he is temperamentally, intellectually, and psychologically unfit to be the president of these United States.  Remember Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) saying in the summer of 2017 that the White House is being run like “adult day care.”  Senator Ben Sasse (R-Neb) said when asked about the piece “It’s just so similar to what so many of us hear from senior people around the White House, you know, three times a week. So it’s really troubling, and yet in a way, not surprising.”

Many other politicians, pundits, analysts and journalists relay that have observed the same unsettling behavior on the part of Mr. Trump for two years.  They find nothing surprising in the situation as described in the op-ed or as reported to be in Mr. Woodward’s forthcoming book.  It’s business as usual.

Yikes!

If everyone in the know understands that the president is not fit for office, why are they not stepping up and doing something about it?  Consider this.  In the piece the senior administration official says this:

Given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would start a complex process for removing the president. But no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis.”

This is serious business.  If they felt that strongly, then why has no one gone to Congress (that we know of, it is always possible they did and the Republican controlled Congress chose not to act) or to the American public and expressed their obvious concerns over his ability to function as president.  It is their duty.  If it is that bad, that his own political appointees seriously considered it, then we are in big trouble.  And no one is doing anything about it.

That isn’t to say that there should be a cavalier attitude about deposing a duly elected president.  This is serious business.  But that’s the point.  I assume that a senior official does not take invoking the 25th Amendment lightly, and if they do they should be removed. To even think about it, much less discuss it, hints at dire circumstances.  The writer is failing in his/her duty to the Constitution to not act on it.

One may also question the fidelity to the Constitution of the writer, and if the piece is correct, other members of the administration, by their tactics to keep the president in line.  The author writes of “a two-track presidency.”  This in and of itself is dangerous.  While officials inside and outside the administration may disagree with a decision, their duty is to execute the orders of the President of the United States.  We cannot function with a “two-track presidency.”  Such action runs counter to the principles of our nation.  When confronted with a profoundly troubling order, the officials surrounding the president have three choices.  They can talk him out of it, resign and express their disagreement, or carry it out to the best of their ability.  Period.

The story told in the op-ed and seemingly in Mr. Woodward’s book, coupled with long-standing journalist and news reports, paints a very scary picture of a president running amok.  Personally.  These concerns are separate and distinct from political agreements or disagreements on his policy.  Think of this, the senior national security cabinet officials and intelligence officials still do not know what Mr. Trump discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  That is wrong and extremely troubling.

Equally troubling is that people within the administration take it upon themselves to decide which policies to implement and which ones to ignore.  That isn’t how it works.

Finally there is Mr. Trump’s instinct to take everything personally and to invoke his powers to use the government for his own purposes.  The list is nearly endless.  In this case, it is a challenge to the fundamentals of our nation’s laws to call an op-ed piece “treason” and to imply (a president’s wishes are normally taken as commands) that the Department of Justice and the FBI should investigate an individual exercising their First Amendment rights.  Further to imply that they should investigate the New York Times and force them to turn over the name of the author should make us all extremely concerned.  No laws were broken in writing and publishing the piece.  None.  There is no national security or classified information in the piece.

One can argue that the anonymous source should have put their name on it.  I agree.  That is not against the law, however, and is significantly different from an investigation for treason.

I do not know what it will take for the Republican controlled Congress to exercise their Constitutional duties of oversight of this president.  One person opined that only “millions” marching in the street will get them to do their duty.  The elections in November will have a huge impact on the nation.  If the Republicans win and continue to ignore their duty, Mr. Trump will be emboldened and push the limits of his power even further.  If the Democrats win we will have endless hearings and investigations into Mr. Trump’s activities to the extent that it is possible that no other legislative business will get done.  For the future of our nation, I will take the latter — or elected Republicans willing to take on the president.

My theory is that the current Republican leadership in the House and Senate have decided to ride Mr. Trump as far as they can — especially in the appointment of federal judges that is taking place at an unprecedented rate, not to mention the Supreme Court.  The face of the judiciary has changed for years, perhaps decades to come.  The Congress, especially through Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky), is going to continue to go full-bore on approving judges, riding Mr. Trump, until he collapses, at which point they will abandon him.  His collapse will happen either through a Democrat blue wave in November or through Mr. Trump’s removal by resignation or impeachment.

In all, it is a troubling picture where we all need to pay attention.  Risking hyperbole and hoping I do not sound shrill, nothing less than our future is at stake.

 

 

 


The Man Who Changed History

As confirmation hearings get underway today for the next nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and as the President of the United States continues to undermine the rule of law through his tweets, it may be time to ponder the impact on United States history made by one man.  No not him.  Senator Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) is the man.

You will remember that when Justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly in February 2016, President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to replace him in March 2016.  Senator McConnell as the Majority Leader of the Senate refused to even meet with him, much less allow hearings or a vote on the nomination.  This was unprecedented.  As I wrote at the time, the ability of a president to nominate a Supreme Court Justice, at any time in his term, was a long-established power held by the president.  Indeed, the precedent was set early when President John Adams nominated Chief Justice John Marshall after the election of 1800 and he assumed his position on the court at almost the moment President Adams was walking out the door of the White House (Thomas Jefferson won the 1800 election).

For the record, because we hear it still, there is no “Biden Rule” as claimed by the Republicans in the Senate as the reason for not moving Judge Garland’s nomination forward.  The truth is that then Senator Joe Biden of Delaware gave a speech in June 1992 where he argued that the president, at the time President George H. W. Bush, should not nominate a new Supreme Court Justice before the election.  But here is “the rest of the story.”  There was no vacancy on the Supreme Court.  There was no nominee to the Supreme Court.  The Senate never voted on his proposal and it was never incorporated into the rules.  And he did not argue that a president could not nominate someone should a vacancy occur, only that given the proximity of the upcoming election, the president should wait until at least the day after an election to make the nomination.  The “Biden Rule” is poppycock.  It doesn’t exist.  Senator McConnell had to really, really reach deep for a shaky reason for an unprecedented act on his part.

The seat left by Justice Scalia sat vacant for over a year.

But that’s not all.

Senator McConnell had an even bigger impact when, to facilitate what promised to be a hard-fought confirmation vote for then Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, he changed the Senate rules on a straight party vote to allow for a simple majority (51 votes) to confirm a Supreme Court nominee rather than stay with the over 200 year tradition of a super majority (now 60 votes) to confirm.  This is the long-lasting and perhaps devastating change to our nation’s judiciary and its independence that will haunt us for generations to come.

Why?  The reasons are complex but the simplest, and perhaps most important answer, is that for much of our nation’s history requiring a super majority usually meant that a nominee must appeal to a number of members of the opposite party in power.  This historically meant that radical judges mostly could not garner the required number of votes for approval.  This tended to result in nominees being right or left of center rather than far right or left.  There had to be a modicum of moderation in the nominee’s past and probable future rulings on the court.  That useful tool is now gone.  The party in power can put in the most radical, and dare I say political, Justice that they may find and do it for purely political or ideological reasons.  Many argue that the Supreme Court is already too political.  Well, we now have the potential for it to become a political tool of whichever party is in control of the White House and Senate.

Since the rules that have guided our nation for so long are now no longer followed, what block is there in the future for a president and his party’s Senate to use a simple majority to put eleven or thirteen or any number of justices on the Court?  The incoming party looks at the make up of the Supreme Court, decides that in order to overcome the last ruling party’s political Justices they will just pack the Court with enough Justices to override those that came from the other party.

Yes, I know that President Franklin D. Roosevelt tried to pack the Supreme Court and was thwarted.  Here’s the rub.  The Constitution does not say how many Justices should be on it.  It merely says that the Federal Judiciary should consist of “one supreme Court and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”  The first Supreme Court nominated by President George Washington had six Justices including the Chief Justice.  Through our early history Congress passed a series of Judiciary Acts that designated the number of Justices and it varied from five to ten.  The current nine members is the result of an act in 1869.  The point is that Congress sets the number of Justices and since precedent has already been over turned, what will stop some future Congress from changing the law regarding the number of Justices?

Senator McConnell changed the future by effectively doing away with natural “checks and balances” that tended to keep our Justices more moderate than they might be and by putting political expediency in front of principle, thus opening the door for others to do so in the future.

The expectation is that Judge Kavanaugh will get at least 51 votes and join the Court.  His is a critical addition in an era where the president tweets constantly for law enforcement to punish his political adversaries (“Lock her up!”) and to protect his political supporters.  Just yesterday he tweeted out

“Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publicized charge, just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the Jeff Sessions Justice Department. Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time. Good job Jeff.”  — Tweet from Donald J. Trump on 3 September 2018

“Jeff” is of course Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  The “two very popular Republican Congressmen” are Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Ca) indicted by a federal grand jury of misusing over $250,000 of campaign funds and the other is Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) indicted on charges of insider trading.  Both have pleaded not guilty, however Rep. Collins suspended his re-election campaign.  For the record, Rep. Collins conducted his insider trading during the Trump Administration and indeed he is caught on film on the White House lawn making one of the calls that set off the chain of events that led to the charges.  The larger point is that the president is chiding his Attorney General for enforcing the law because people from his own party, that incidentally were the first two members of the House to endorse Mr. Trump, and that could help him politically, were the perpetrators.  So much for the rule of law and the president’s sworn oath to uphold the Constitution.

Further, thanks to Senator McConnell, we may now have two Justices on the Court appointed by a president that is very, very likely to have critical Constitutional issues surrounding the survival of his presidency come before them.  One could argue that the current nomination process should be put on hold until the unindicted co-conspirator in the White House has his legal situation resolved.

Long after we move past the current unfolding Constitutional crises, the impact of Senator McConnell’s decision to put political expediency above the good of the nation’s proven processes will have unintended consequences.


Are You Exhausted?

I am.

From legal developments surrounding Mr. Donald J. Trump to the continued revelations of evil emanating from the Catholic Church it is hard to catch one’s breath.  It seems that institutions that one could look to for ethical and moral guidance are themselves the worst kind of example for any of us.

It would take me pages to even quickly recap the events from the last week.  I think we will look back on it as some kind of turning point, although I am firmly of the belief that we have only just begun a new “long national nightmare” (as President Gerald Ford said on 9 August 1974 at his inauguration) before we reach an understanding of the totality of the illegal and immoral actions surrounding Mr. Trump, his family, his business and his efforts to skew the 2016 election.

Worse still is that we have a president that lashes out in retaliation for any sort of criticism.  He lashes out not just as a cyber bully (Be Best Mr. President!) but in harming the ability of people to earn a living.  He takes no responsibility for anything, and in fact is actively trying to shut down investigations into his and his associates activities that are against the law.  Duly authorized federal investigations, monitored by Republican political appointees, directed by a former FBI Director under a Republican president, resulting in court cases under duly appointed judges, and verdicts returned by twelve ordinary citizens as provided for in a civilized democracy are branded as “unfair” or “witch hunts”.  There is clear evidence of foreign intervention in our democratic processes and the president not only wants to shut it down, he praises the autocrat responsible for the actions.  Meanwhile he supports white nationalists, repeats provable lies, shows no respect for minorities, and searches for ways to increase his power without the constraints of Congress or the courts.

Everything is personal with him.  Everything.  Mr. Trump has absolutely no understanding of the ideals that support our nation.  The only things that cause him to act — in between golf rounds, “Executive Time” (ie., watching Fox News), and Tweeting — are to do things that benefit him personally.  He sees everything through that light, and it appears to me, assumes that everything anybody else does is similarly guided only by their respective self-interests.  There is no greater good.

He does not understand that there are actually people that serve honorably in government without partisan or personal gain.  He demands loyalty to himself and himself only, not to country or to what is right, or to the ideals of our nation.  His understanding of government, and especially those in the Executive Branch, is that it is merely an extension of the way that he ran Trump Inc. — he gets to be the boss and anyone that has a different idea, or worse tells him he cannot do something, is clearly just trying to screw him over.  In this way he is very petty and childish.  If he doesn’t get his way he acts out.  In Trump Tower as the head of Trump Inc. it is something to read about in the gossip columns and be amused.  In the Oval Office it is dangerous and un-American.

There are still over 500 children separated from their parents in “kiddie jails” created by this president’s policies.  North Korea makes our president look like a laughing-stock as they have gotten away with everything they wanted from Mr. Trump for nothing in return.  The press conference in Helsinki with Vladimir Putin was the most disgusting, vomit inducing performance I have seen from an American president on foreign soil.  The “winning” trade wars over tariffs continue to expand with an increasing threat to our economy and has already driven numerous small businesses under because they could not afford raw materials like steel and aluminum.  The list is endless.  Congress is missing in action (“at least we got Gorsuch” is too high of a price to pay.)

And now we have the Chief Federal Law Enforcement Official in the land acting like the Mafia boss that he really is.  To call Mr. Paul Manafort a “brave man” and that he has “respect” for him because he didn’t “break” is disgusting.  He also belittles our court system by talking about “Justice.”  Mr. Manafort is a convicted felon that took advantage of American tax payers and knowingly broke the law in numerous ways for his own benefit.

“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family. “Justice” took a 12-year-old tax case, among other things, applied tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Michael Cohen, he refused to “break” – make up stories in order to get a “deal.” Such respect for a brave man!”  Mr. Donald J. Trump via Twitter on 22 August 2018

As an aside, one wonders what news Mr. Manafort could “break” (the inference of Mr. Manafort as a POW under torture is further evidence that Mr. Trump has no clue).  To me, for the president to congratulate him for not breaking means that Mr. Trump knows that Mr. Manafort has information to “break” about Mr. Trump and his probable illegal activities.

On the other hand Mr. John Dean, who famously testified against President Richard Nixon, thus breaking open that conspiracy, is a “RAT” (in all caps).  He had choice words for his personal attorney Mr. Michael Cohen who is now a convicted felon after pleading guilty to seven counts, including two that effectively name the president as an unindicted co-conspirator and said that “flipping” should be illegal.  In other words, the primary tool used by law enforcement to solve cases should not be allowed.  Nice.  Oh yeah, he also said that violations of campaign law were “not a big deal.”

“It almost ought to be outlawed. It’s not fair. Because if somebody’s going to give—spend five years like Michael Cohen, or 10 years, or 15 years in jail because of a taxi cab industry, because he defrauded some bank—the last two were tiny ones. You know, campaign violations are considered not a big deal, frankly. But if somebody defrauded a bank and he’s going to get 10 years in jail or 20 years in jail, but if you can say something bad about Donald Trump and you’ll go down to two or three years, which is the deal he made.”

An excerpt from Mr. Donald J Trump’s interview on “Fox and Friends” aired 23 August 2018

Let’s see.  Mr Trump’s personal attorney guilty of numerous crimes including tax evasion.  Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman convicted of numerous crimes including tax evasion.  What are the odds that Mr. Trump also evaded paying taxes?  No wonder he won’t release his tax returns.  Besides, he basically already told us about his crimes.  Remember that during the first presidential debate in 2016 he was accused of not paying taxes and his reply was “That makes me smart.”

And there is so much more.  Instead of draining the swamp he replaced the alligators with crocodiles and turned it into an infinity pool.  Only the best people, indeed.

I worry because we have already seen nasty instances of the president lashing out when something doesn’t go his way.  We have already seen him search for new and creative ways to use his Executive Powers in ways not imagined by the Founding Fathers.  When the heat comes, and it is coming, and we learn the full breath-taking scope of his law breaking over the years, only one’s imagination limits what possible scenarios might play out.

I have written in this space before that any comparisons to Watergate are misguided.  As nasty as he may have been, President Nixon recognized the limits to his power and had at least a modicum of pride in the proper functioning of a democracy.  He resigned.  Mr. Trump has no modicum of decency in any sense.  He proves that daily.  His mantra is that if he gets hit he hits back ten times harder.  There is nothing that we have seen that indicates that he will go quietly into the night when the full scope of his misdeeds are revealed.  I have no idea how this will end in the coming months.  One thing I would bet on, however, is that It isn’t going to be pretty.

If you are as exhausted by all of this as I am already, rest up.  Mr. Trump and his cohorts are counting on us thinking of all of his shenanigans as “normal” and on no one holding him accountable.  It will be “we the people” that are going to have to get the job done.  Vote in November!