Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung.
— P.T. Barnum
As expected, the 118th Session of Congress got underway with a real spectacle after fifteen ballots to finally elect Kevin McCarthy (RMAGA – CA) as the Speaker of the House. In his vision quest to finally achieve his lifelong dream to be Speaker, he gave enormous power to the clowns that constitute his main supporters in the Republican caucus. Some observers argue that he gave away too much power, and thus will have little ability to actually govern or to accomplish much of anything. Assuming that the Republicans in the House of Representatives really intend or desire to accomplish anything of substance, those observers may be right. The bottom line, however, is the same. Not much of value will come out of the House in the next two years. Anything that does is likely to be ridiculous — such as their current effort to do away with the Internal Revenue Service and eliminate federal income taxes — and is almost certainly assured to fail in the Senate and absolutely will be vetoed by President Joe Biden.
There are, however, some elements of Mr. McCarthy’s concessions to the most extreme elements of his caucus that can cause real harm to our country. (I say most extreme in the context of believing that all elements of the House Republican Party are extreme. I don’t think that there are any “moderates” left. There are only hard right wing and dangerously hard right wingers in the Party now. The evidence is based not on public pronouncements, but rather on actual votes. So far, no matter how extreme the issue, the Republicans have voted unanimously. We will see if some long time Republican members realize that the country is being taken hostage and form their own bloc to counter the crazies.)
Many analysts have focused on the moves inside the House and how damaging they may prove to be. Some of it is arcane to the casual observer, but has real consequences to how things are accomplished. Or not accomplished. I do not intend to go into each and every corner of Mr. McCarthy’s concessions to the extreme right. However, there are two that we should pay attention to as the consequences could impact us all. One is the impending battle over raising the debt limit in the United States. The other is the formation of a new committee called The Select Subcommittee On The Weaponization of the Federal Government. The Chair of the Judiciary Committee Representative Jim Jordan (RMAGA – OH) will chair the subcommittee. Some critics grimly call it “The Tin Foil Hat Committee” or “The Committee to Obstruct Justice” because its primary goal is to investigate the Department of Justice, the FBI, our intelligence agencies and according to Mr. Jordan, to investigate why conservatives are being targeted by the federal government and therefore he needs to protect the First Amendment, including such violations of the amendment as is embodied in the investigations into the events on and before 6 January 2021.
It has become a twenty first century game for Republicans to try and hold the debt ceiling hostage when a Democrat is in the White House. When a Republican is president, the necessary legislation passes without remark or notice. Separating the hyperbole from the facts is important. Without going into all of the history, one should note that the Fourteenth Amendment (one amazing Amendment, by the way) says in part, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” In other words, pay the bills lawfully incurred by the U.S. government. Simple, right? All it means is that we as a country, just like most consumers, buy things on credit and pay them off over time. And it’s in the Constitution. There should be no problem but somehow in this century Republicans try to use it as a way to cut spending by the federal government (and thereby shrink the size of the government and eliminate or shrink programs they don’t like). Their concerns are over future spending. That’s legitimate and should be debated in every Congress. But they present it to the American public as some kind of current fiscal responsibility, not future. Again, let’s look at the facts. The debt ceiling was originally an accounting step that Congress took during World War I to allow more flexibility to the Treasury Department to spend during the war without continually coming to Congress for approval. It was not meant to be the same as a budget, appropriation or authorization. It is only in recent decades that it has become a weapon that the Republicans use against the Democrats, depending on which party is in power. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s official web site, the debt ceiling has been raised 78 times since 1960. Forty-nine times under Republican presidents and twenty-nine times under Democratic presidents. That is not exactly a Democrat spending problem. Math can be a tricky subject and one can manipulate the numbers a lot of ways whether discussing absolute dollars, percentages, relative dollars or other measures. That said, most experts conclude that the three presidents to have the national debt grow the most were, in order, Abraham Lincoln, George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump.
Here is the bottom line. The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. We have already passed the debt ceiling but the Secretary of the Treasury is using “extraordinary measures” to keep paying the bills until there is a new limit (which allows more borrowing). Those measures run out around June. The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt in our entire history. No one knows exactly what will happen because it has never happened before. However, there is near unanimous agreement by serious financial experts and economists that it will trigger a world wide recession, including sky rocketing interest rates in the U.S., millions of jobs lost, the government shut down, social safety nets dry up and an economic nightmare for the average citizen. No one wants that to happen. And that’s the rub. Republicans know that Democrats can never allow that to happen and so, voila, the perfect hostage situation. Speaker McCarthy wants to “negotiate” with President Biden over spending cuts in order to raise the debt. The president says that there can be no negotiation because raising the debt limit is the normal business of the Congress under the Constitution and has nothing to do with future spending. Here’s the problem for the president. Mr. McCarthy is coming to the table with a wide ranging and drastic reduction in government programs, including in Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. If the president gives in to even a little bit of that agenda in exchange for raising the limit, the Republicans have scored a tremendous political victory without having given up anything in return, merely doing their Constitutional duty. That is not a “negotiation.” Further complicating the issue is that members of Mr. McCarthy’s caucus probably would not mind seeing the U.S. default on its debts. Their goal is create as much chaos, anarchy and division as possible in order to fill the vacuum with their own autocratic policies and leaders. In other words, there is no guarantee Mr. McCarthy can pass anything without the Democrats help.
Some of those same extremists that would not mind destroying the American and world economy are on the Weaponization Committee. Chairman Jordan is under investigation for his actions leading up to the attempted coup on 6 January 2021. Other prominent members of the committee include MAGA supporters that are also under investigation. The panel will have thirteen members and Mr. McCarthy has already put eleven Republicans on it. Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) automatically gets a seat as the senior minority member on the Judiciary Committee. That leaves space for two other Democrats. Democracy in action.
It is a dangerous situation. While little of substance will come out of that committee, it will be used to try to investigate the investigators and as a cudgel against any other member of the government or a particular agency that irks them. Mr. Jordan has already demanded that the Department of Justice turn over all of their investigatory information on the 6 January coup. This would be unprecedented in American history. The Congress cannot interfere in ongoing criminal investigations. It would completely undermine the rule of law in our country. DOJ rebuffed the request but I am sure that the committee will haul the Attorney General, Director of the FBI and others before their panel to brow beat them, bully them and otherwise yell and put forth misinformation. In other words, their goal is to create more chaos, more attempts to undermine American’s faith in the government and our institutions and to foment more efforts to bring down our democracy. Also in their aim is the Department of Education and “Big Tech.” They are chartered with the ability to access the same information shared with the Intelligence Committee, another unprecedented move. They will investigate the “unfair” search warrant at Mar-a-Lago and the discovery of classified papers found in President Biden’s home (but not those recovered from Mar-a-Lago because, as one Representative put it, “he’s been investigated enough.”) They most certainly will project the insurrection on 6 January as a group of patriots exercising their First Amendment rights (see above) and of course try to cover up their own involvement in the coup attempt. Recall that 147 Republicans voted on 6 January 2021 to overturn the election. All eight of the Senators and 118 of the Representatives are part of the current Congress.
In simple terms, the Weaponization Committee can try, and will try, to investigate anything that they want to anywhere in the country and anywhere throughout the government. Witch Hunts, indeed. More dangerously they will attempt to gain access to the most sensitive information available to our justice and intelligence systems. No one knows what they may do with that information or how destructive they may be. Every Republican in the House voted to authorize this committee. That is why I despair that there are no moderates left on the Republican side of the aisle.
The clowns are in charge in the House. The circus is underway. It will be quite the show. One hopes that it results only in fury and showboating and lots of air time on Fox News rather than causing real harm to our democracy.
The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then get elected and prove it.
P.J. O’Rourke — American Satirist
As I write this, the House of Representatives failed for the twelfth time to elect a Speaker of the House, a position that is second in line to the presidency. Until a Speaker is selected, no other business may be conducted in the House, including swearing in the Members. Technically, right now, we do not have a House of Representatives and you have no representation in that body. This is the first time since 1856 that it has taken so many votes to elect a Speaker, and the first time since 1923 that more than one vote was required. In 1856 it took 133 votes over two months. In that case, the main issue was the debate over whether slavery should be allowed in the new states joining the Union or not. It was a substantive issue with real consequences. Today’s votes have nothing to do with any substantive issue. It is purely and plainly a power struggle within the Republican Party. Whether a political party has a huge majority or a slim one, as in this case, that party is expected to put together the votes to select a Speaker and to institute the rules for the incoming Congress. The current crop of Republicans are failing in every respect and the humiliation of the would be Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) continues.
I have written in this space before that Mr. McCarthy is a textbook example of a poor leader, and now we can observe just how bad he is. Apparently, he wants the title of Speaker of the House but he doesn’t really want the job. In his attempts to get himself elected, he has abdicated most of his responsibilities and given those that are holding him politically hostage everything that they have asked for, and yet he still does not have enough votes. It is likely that later today, or tomorrow, or next week he will end up as Speaker, but he will be the weakest one to serve in that position in a very long time. The intra-party fight is mostly over power. To outsiders it seems like an arcane collection of rules and patronages and who can chair what committee. It is a fight for power. It has nothing to do directly with policy or governing. However, those arcane rules and committee assignments will set the tone for what, if any, legislation comes to the floor for a vote. Primarily, those Republican Members gumming up the work of the House now are the very same ones who want to spend their time in office impeaching President Biden (allegedly Mr. McCarthy has promised that they can start hearings to do so in order to get their votes) investigating the J-6 Committee, and generally seeking revenge on any Democrat, Republican or citizen that they perceive to be their “enemy.”
This week’s boondoggle is only a preview of things to come. I do not expect any serious work to be accomplished over the next two years. Should there be a Speaker McCarthy, and should he accidentally want to do some serious work, such as, oh say raise the government debt limit on expenditures already made, and thus keep from ruining our economy and plunge the world into a previously unknown crisis, he can be challenged by one disgruntled Republican who can force a vote on his continued Speakership. In other words, Mr. McCarthy is mostly powerless, held hostage by the people within his party that have no interest in actually governing. They are only interested in power, Fox News exposure and raising money. Chaos and anarchy are their goals. They are a mix of insurrectionists, grifters, election-deniers and idiots. And Mr. McCarthy is ready to turn the People’s House over to them so that he can get his portrait mounted in the Capitol.
Actually, this should come as no suprise.
Today is the second anniversary of the insurrectionist attack on our government in an attempt to keep the former president in power. For the first time in our history, there was no peaceful transition of power from one president to the next. Similarly, in the House, there is no peaceful transition of power from one leader to another. In this case it is not because one party or opponents of those newly in power fought to keep the transition from happening. This is an intra-party Civil War for the heart and soul of one of the two major parties in the United States. The situation is entirely the creation of the Republican Party.
There is a straight line connecting the events from two years ago to those of today. In 2021 it was an outside attack on our government. Today it is an inside attack. The enemy is within. Never forget that Mr. McCarthy headed up not only the Republican Caucus in 2021, but also the Sedition Caucus. Even after the attack on 6 January he voted against certifying the free and fair election of Mr. Biden and he led 139 of his fellow Republican Representatives to do the same. (There were also eight Republican Senators in the Sedition Caucus.) For two years, those now obstructing the smooth functioning of the government have tried to disrupt the entire electoral process. Many of these same people are open admirers of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister and budding oligarch Victor Orban. Their goal is to create enough chaos and disruption to allow a “strongman” to rise to power and take control of the government. They cloak themselves in patriotism but have no idea what the Constitution means or what it stands for. In a way, we should be thankful for their dysfunction. If they were organized and united they could be an even greater threat to our democracy.
Thomas Jefferson famously said that “the government you elect is the government you deserve.” I think we deserve better than the circus we are witnessing in the House of Representatives. As the dysfunction continues over the next two years, I believe that the American people will come to realize that they deserve better and will throw the bums out (well, many of them). It remains to be seen how much damage the insurrectionists can do in the meantime. Thank goodness the Senate remains as a buffer to the insanity.
“Your money is not charity. It is an investment in the global security and democracy that we handle in the most responsible way.”—Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a speech to a Joint Session of Congress on 21 December 2022
As we celebrate the holidays and look toward a new year, it is important to remember that the war in Ukraine continues. This is day 307 since the Russian invasion in February. Fierce fighting continues in eastern Ukraine and the entire country is subject to air raids from missiles, drones and artillery. While the Ukrainians continue to fight with courage, tenacity and ability, they are still outnumbered and with fewer technologically advanced weapons than their Russian counterparts. It is a a brutal war.
Recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that he will send 500,000 additional troops to the Ukrainian front. Such numbers are staggering and could easily overwhelm the Ukrainians on the ground. That is until we pull back the curtain and it reveals that most of the 500,000 are conscripts off the street and, literally, convicts recruited from prisons throughout Russia. They are sent to fight with little or no training and often suffer from lack of adequate weapons, winter clothing and food. Such is the Russian way of war. Even their most vaunted Army units are in trouble as outlined by a recent article in the Washington Post. The “200th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade” was considered one of the most elite units in the Russian military. Originally tasked with protecting the nuclear missile submarines of the Russian Navy based in the far northern Kola Peninsula, since the end of the Cold War, the “200th” was often tasked to take on some of the Russian military’s toughest assignments. Last February, they were among the lead elements of the invasion tasked with taking Kharkiv. Since then, their staggering losses of experienced personnel and of state of the art equipment leaves them, in the estimation of several European intelligence assessments, in such a state that it “cannot be considered a fighting force.”
The Russians are losing the ground war. Unfortunately, Mr. Putin is determined to continue the fight. His goal seems to be the total obliteration of Ukrainian culture, quality of life, and the civilian population. In the dark of winter, the fighting on the front will continue with heavy casualties on both sides while attaining only minor tactical advantages. Operationally and strategically, the winter fighting will remain stagnant.
The result? Nearly daily Russian terrorist attacks on civilians in Ukraine. If he cannot win on the battle field, Mr. Putin will punish the civilian population. Terrorism is the only way to describe the continued attacks on schools, hospitals, museums, power stations and water plants. Mr. Putin is determined to destroy the will of the Ukrainians to resist. Clearly, he has never studied history if he believes that a reign of terror descending from the skies will turn the tide of war. He obviously never studied Britain’s response to the intense bombing of World War II, his own nation’s resistance in that same war to the Germans in Leningrad or Stalingrad, or countless other stories of a determined population strengthening their resistance to tyranny while under relentless attack.
Mr. Zelenskyy was in Washington D.C. last week to convey directly to the U.S. Congress and to all of us as citizens that Ukraine will not fall to Russian aggression. They are unwavering in their determination. But they need continued help from the U.S. and NATO and Mr. Zelenskyy was here to make sure that we do not get weak-kneed in our support. With the swearing in of a new Congress in January, numerous MAGA Republicans are pushing to end, or at least severely restrict, the aid we send to Ukraine. (Incredibly, some are open admirers of Vladimir Putin — their view of a strong and effective leader.) For the time being, our support of Ukraine continues thanks to the Omnibus Bill passed by the House and Senate as they headed out the door for the holidays. The all encompassing bill (ostensibly a 1.7 trillion dollar spending bill, it is packed with numerous amendments addressing everything from tax law to the Electoral Count Act of 1887) included 45 billion dollars for Ukraine. Thus Mr. Zelenskyy’s statement that this is not charity, it is a fight for the rule of law and the sanctity of democracy. I agree with him.
The war in Ukraine is not some far off, obscure war where the average American could probably not even find it on a map (of course the average American isn’t very good about locating places on a map of the United States). It is nothing less than a line in the sand that western democracies will not see the post World War II world order go up in flames. Ukraine is the first attack on European soil since the 1940s where one country is determined to take over another through military force. The West either believes in supporting democracy or all democracies will be threatened. The Baltic States, Finland, Norway and Sweden certainly understand the stakes due to their borders with Russia. Polish history makes them very aware of the dangers of this Russian threat. This is the biggest test yet as to whether we in the U.S. and NATO believe what we say or whether we are going to look away. Our domestic politics sometimes obscures this point. But if we do not help Ukraine, we may as well tell the world that we are no longer a world player, and China would certainly be glad to hear that as they continue to threaten a peaceful Taiwan.
The size and scope of our support is growing as the conflict continues. The U.S. and NATO are walking a fine line in trying to keep Ukraine in the fight and capable of defending themselves without expanding the war into the rest of Europe. In November, a missile landed in Poland near the Ukrainian border and killed civilian workers. It turned out to be a Ukrainian air defense missile gone astray, but it raised serious concerns as it exemplified a possible Russian provocation. President Joe Biden declared that we will defend every inch of NATO territory. What if the next “stray” missile is Russian and we have the intelligence to support the fact that it was not accidental? Such a scenario will severely test NATO resolve and engender debate as to the appropriate response. (Most likely the response would be measured and on a similar scale, such as a cruise missile slamming into the launch site from which the missile came. The problem, of course, is that a miscalculation or misunderstanding the intent can quickly lead to a massive escalation.)
I have at least two recommendations to move our country’s support of Ukraine to a new level. One is to declare Russia a terrorist state. There is no question that they meet the criteria. The torture, rape, abduction and murder of Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers are war crimes. Mr. Putin’s order to indiscriminately bomb cities and towns along with the deliberate targeting of humanitarian facilities are terrorist activities. Car bomb or exploding drone? No difference. To do so incurs certain legal and international actions and the West is not certain how the Russians might respond, as well as concern over the second and third order impacts on our other friends or allies. At this point, it is necessary. Make the proper diplomatic preparations and then do it.
The second game changer would be to give the Ukrainian military offensive weapons. The U.S. and NATO are reluctant to do so in fear that the Russians would see it as provocative and a possible act of war should they be used against the Russian motherland. It is a risk worth taking in my opinion. Through training, effective intelligence to monitor their use, and other measures to modify the weapons the West can minimize the chances that the Ukrainians would misuse the weapons. The rationale for supplying them is that as long as Russia has safe havens for their missile launching aircraft, drones and ships, they run no risk and can fire at will to destroy Ukrainian cities. Bringing Russian logistics hubs, training centers, and bases in occupied Ukrainian territory into the war raises the stakes for the Russian military and contributes to the unmistakable decline in Russian morale. It could help to convince more Russian soldiers to defect or go home (thousands already have), and the increased destruction of the Russian military could lead to increased unrest in Russia, including some in the government that do not want to see their military and economy destroyed because Mr. Putin has some kind of crusader-like vision quest for Ukraine. It is worth the risk.
I am sure that efforts already are under way to curtail third party efforts to supply Russia. Most notably, Iran is sending armed drones in vast numbers for the Russians to use against Ukrainian cities. There is also open source reporting that North Korea is probably supplying Russia with artillery and ammunition for use in the war. The U.S. and other nations have the means to make this too painful for those countries to continue their support. To date, China has not helped Russia militarily. Diplomatic efforts must continue to ensure that they do not do so.
As it is, Mr. Biden promised to send a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine. This is a very advanced air defense system. It will take time for the battery to arrive and for the Ukrainians to get properly trained in its use. Some have criticized the decision as being provocative and could lead to an escalation by the Russians. Not so. As Mr. Biden pointed out, it is a defensive weapons system. It won’t be used unless the Russians continue to attack Ukraine.
To me it is not only important from a geo-strategic viewpoint for the U.S. to continue to support Ukraine. It is in our national interests to help them. It is not an act of “charity” or done at the expense of our own citizens. It is absolutely a case of pay me now or most certainly we will be paying much more later, including with the blood of our sons and daughters.
Last week’s election was a tribute to American democracy and to Americans. As I write this, the make-up of the House of Representatives is unknown, but it likely will be controlled by the Republicans with a majority of between two and seven Members. Regardless of the result in the upcoming runoff election in Georgia, the Democrats retained control of the Senate, which will provide a buffer for any craziness that comes from the House in 2023 (a function the Senate traditionally fulfills regardless of which party may be in power) and will allow President Joe Biden to continue to appoint members to senior administration positions, and most importantly, to appoint members of the judiciary.
Historically, last week’s results are very unusual as the party in power at the mid-term elections of a president’s first term almost always loses seats (often lots of seats) in the House and Senate. Not this time. While the Democrats seem ecstatic over the results, it still is likely that the Republicans will control the House. To me the Democrats celebrating the results of this election is like the losers of the Super Bowl celebrating. “We only lost by one point as time expired! What a great victory!” There are no “moral victories.” It is still a loss, and despite the signal that some of the more mature members of the Republican Party understand the message that voters sent, there are still a whole bunch of MAGA Republicans in the House (and elsewhere) just salivating at the prospect of being in charge. Time will tell which branch within that party prevails, but I fully expect that the craziness coming from the MAGA crowd will only increase. Buy your tickets now for the three ring circus that the House of Representatives will be for the next two years.
That said, we as a country, should celebrate this election. Democracy worked. Most of the truly extreme candidates did not win. Election-deniers conceded (so far) that they lost their races. No significant fraud or disruptions to voting occurred. It went as planned and as it should, despite the best efforts of those on the far right that desperately wanted things to go awry. The system worked. That in itself is a great accomplishment as many of us were not so sure that it could work, much less that it would. Thankfully, it appears that we stepped back from the brink of losing our Republic.
In another series of votes last week, we learned that the Supreme Court is hopelessly out of touch with the majority of Americans and that two things can be true at the same time. Last summer Kansas held the first state-wide referendum on abortion rights in the wake of repealing Roe v Wade in the Dobbs v Jackson’s Women’s Health Organization decision. Kansans overwhelming defeated an amendment that would have prevented abortions in the state. In the recent election, voters in five states either rejected restrictions on abortion or outright affirmed a women’s right to choose — all of the states that had the issue on the ballot. In Montana and Kentucky voters rejected further restrictions on abortion. Vermont, Michigan and California approved amendments to enshrine abortion rights. So far whenever the issue is left to the voters, rather than to male dominated state legislatures, the people have voted in favor of women’s rights. Many thought that Roe got it right — they want abortion to be safe and legal. To me, this demonstrates that the Supreme Court is out of touch. It also demonstrates that individuals may personally oppose abortion (they would never have one or help to facilitate one) but that they still do not want government officials, elected or otherwise, interfering in what is the most personal of decisions. Some also rebelled at the idea of imposing other’s religious beliefs on everyone. Additionally, I think many Americans have learned that the issue of abortion is about more than just a “cavalier” decision on wanting children or not. There are complicated emotional, economic, and practical issues at play. We have also (re)learned that draconian anti-abortion laws really do impact women’s health. It is not a black and white issue to most voters. It’s complicated. And they so voted.
It will take some time to fully digest the import of this election. However, even as results continue to trickle in and there inevitably will be recounts and challenges, it is clear that democracy won. People understood that our political way of life was on the line and they responded. We should all give ourselves a pat on the back.
The mid-term elections will be held nation-wide on 8 November this year. All 435 Representatives in the House and thirty-five Senators, along with thirty-six state governors are up for election. Many more office holders at the state and local levels will also be chosen. It seems that during every election campaign, during every election year, multiple candidates, pundits and editorials opine that this will be the most important election in our history. This time they are right.
The Brookings Institution published an analysis of the candidates on the ballot in 2022 and found that there are 345 election deniers running for office. All are Republicans. The election deniers in the analysis are running to be governors, Secretaries of State (in most states they are responsible for running and certifying elections), Attorneys General, members of Congress, and members of state legislatures. Using a scoring sheet based on the state or district, past performance and other criteria, the study’s authors then calculated the probability of an election denier winning office. They concluded that 199 (58%) had a high probability of winning their race. Seventy candidates (20%) have a medium probability of winning. The remaining seventy-six candidates (22%) have a low probability of taking office. Every state in the Union has at least one candidate that denies the results, or questions the legitimacy, of the 2020 election. Most of those likely to win, 131 to be precise, are running for the U.S House of Representatives or the Senate, including incumbents that voted against certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral win.
To my mind, this demonstrates that only one party, the Democrats, is interested in maintaining our Republic through a functioning democracy. The other party, the Republicans, are deliberately sowing distrust in our election system and in many cases advocating for violence against our political system if their candidate does not win (more on that later). Most of these candidates openly state that the only result they will accept is their own victory and the victory of those that they support — all Republicans. If a Democrat wins, it is presumed that the election was “rigged.” Not only does this perspective lead to the end of democracy as we know it, destroying all that we used to hold dear under our Constitution, it also pits Americans against Americans. Election officials are bipartisan professionals assisted by a large number of bipartisan volunteers that believe that they are contributing to the fundamental strength of our nation. The election deniers claim that those very people — just trying to do the right thing — are the enemy. And an enemy of the United States must be destroyed. Consequently, many jurisdictions around the country have a paucity of election workers. So many have been threatened through social media, phone calls, emails, letters and demonstrations in front of their homes that they have quit. We received graphic testimony during the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (J6 Committee) hearings as to the impact that those threats have on everyday citizens. Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss testified as to their experience in Georgia as election workers. As Ms. Freeman testified, “there is nowhere that I feel safe.” Even today, almost two years after the 2020 election, she does not go into public spaces if she can avoid it for fear that someone will recognize her and attack her. Shameful.
As I have written in this space before, the role model for many of these Trump Republicans is Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary and his anti-immigrant, anti-democratic, Christian, white nationalist philosophy. Recently he implied that the war in Ukraine was the fault of the U.S. Other Trump Republicans go even further and admire Vladimir Putin as the model for the type of strong leader that we should have in the U.S.
As we have learned from the J6 Committee, the events leading to the attack on the Capitol was not a series of random events, or spur of the moment actions by a president who refused to accept that he was a loser. It is increasingly clear that there was a connected, concerted, planned sequence of events to keep the loser in office. The planning began as early as the summer of 2020. The attack on the Capitol was the final stage of the plan. In my view, based on the J6 hearings, the losing president wanted there to be real and extreme violence at the Capitol, including gunfire, serious injuries and deaths. As he wanted to do multiple times previously, he would then invoke the Insurrection Act, declare martial law, and declare that he must stay in office to restore order across the country. In other words, a coup via violent means. He tried unsuccessfully to pull off a coup through fake electors, law suits and Congressional malfeasance by the Sedition Caucus vote to not recognize the Electoral College results. All failed. Violence was the final answer. I sincerely believe that if he did not actively wish the death or capture of his Vice President, he would not have minded if it had happened. Not only was he genuinely angry at Mike Pence, I think that if he was harmed or killed, then the outgoing president had a spectacular reason to declare martial law.
These are the 345 people that are running for office. Some will be directly in charge of carrying out the elections, deciding which votes count, and certifying the results. They all support the former president’s Big Lie that the election was stolen and that he should be restored to office. They all declare that the only legitimate outcome of any election is that their candidate wins. It isn’t just crazy anymore. It is real. There is a nation-wide effort underway to rewrite the rules of our democracy to leave only one party in power. Presumably forever.
This upcoming election is about one thing only — the survival of our Republic as we know it. On the campaign trail most of the discussion is about inflation, gas prices, immigration, abortion and other issues. Those are real problems. They need to be addressed. However, in the current context they are a smoke screen to allow Trump Republican candidates to talk about anything but the real goal. If you listen carefully, they have little to no policies or solutions to alleviate those problems. There are slogans, there are attempts to “own the libs” and there are other non-consequential statements, but no substantive proposals. When asked by reporters as to what Republicans would do should they win back Congress, here is what the Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said about the Republican platform for 2022, and I quote, “That’s a very good question. And I’ll let you know when we take it back.” Note that the 2020 Republican platform did not exist. It merely stated in a very few words that they would do whatever Trump wanted. No policies. No agenda.
Here is what to expect next year if the Trump Republicans win the House of Representatives — a large number of Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) types running the show. You may remember her as the far right conspiracy monger that loves the limelight by owning the libs. She also is an advocate of the Great Replacement Theory whereby immigrants (only the black and brown immigrants) are sent to the U.S. by Democrats to replace “good Americans” (white Americans) in their jobs, schools, and in the voting booth (never mind that you need to be a U.S. citizen to vote). Among other things. Think she is a whack job on the fringe of politics that only crazies listen to? Think again. In the new Congress, she will be in the main stream of her party along with all the election deniers and far right wing advocates ready to change the way that the U.S. government acts domestically and internationally. Think I am exaggerating? Take a look at the news video clips and photographs where the-wants-to-be-Speaker-of-the-House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is announcing some new effort on behalf of the Republican caucus. Standing over his right shoulder, or sitting next to him, more times than not, is Marjorie Taylor Greene. She would not be there if she was not a player in the new extremist Republican party. Or let her tell you herself as she told a reporter for the New York Times. Speaking of Minority Leader McCarthy she said, “I think that to be the best Speaker of the House, and to please the base, he’s going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway. And if he doesn’t, they’re going to be very unhappy about it. I think that’s the best way to read that. And that’s not in anyway a threat at all. I just think that’s the reality.” Which House Committee do you think she wants? Oversight? Judiciary? Appropriations? Q-anon follower Marjorie Taylor Greene as a Committee Chair for any committee in Congress is scary all unto itself. And she will only be one of many.
(Speaking of Q-anon, Trump now plays the unofficial anthem of Q believers at the end of his rallies.)
There is only one way to combat this direct attack on democracy. That is to continue to repeat the facts over and over and over again. As Joe Friday would say on the old Dragnet program, “just the facts, ma’am.” Clearly, many people will not accept the facts. Ever. Especially as they are bombarded with lies, propaganda and conspiracies. But we have to try. These new politicians have learned one lesson well from the losing president. Lie, lie, lie. Never apologize. Double down if caught. It worked for him and it appears that it works for many of his approved candidates. If there is any phrase that best sums up the current crop of Trump Republicans it is “I don’t care.” They don’t care if they lie. They don’t care if they are doing great harm to our country. They don’t care if people are suffering and will continue to suffer as the new leaders put power and making money over the needs of our citizens. They just don’t care about anything, period. Except winning the election so that they can force themselves on the rest of us.
Many of the election results are going to be very tight. If only a handful of voters learn the truth and vote against the far right candidates, it could turn an election. In any case, we have to try. Otherwise, it is so long democracy. It was nice while it lasted.
In English, the Ukrainian national anthem is known as “Ukraine Has Not Perished.” Indeed, it has not perished, even as the unprovoked Russian invasion of its territory continues. The initial invasion took place in February 2014 and the Russians invaded again in February 2022. Over seven months ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin went all in on his long-standing desire to annex all of Ukraine, not just Crimea or the eastern part known as the Donbas. After seven long months of warfare, massive casualties continue to mount on both sides of the conflict. Recently, however, the Ukrainians have shown themselves to be the superior force on the ground — both in terms of their fighting ability and in terms of their will to destroy the Russian troops invading their country. There does not appear to be any comparable will to fight in any of the Russian units engaged in combat and thus the tide is starting to slowly turn in the Ukrainians’ favor.
Perhaps surprisingly so, the Ukrainian successes create an ever more dangerous situation. The last few weeks have shown that President Putin is not willing to back off of his stated goal to crush the Ukrainian people, overthrow its government, and install a puppet regime that is controlled by Moscow. Indeed, he is doubling down despite his gross miscalculation that he could take Ukraine in a matter of days with a quick strike into Kyiv. To show his resolve to control Ukraine, earlier this month he formally annexed the regions of Luhansk, Donetsk, Kherson, and Zaporizhzhia in eastern Ukraine. That part of the country is where the fighting on the ground continues and the Russian and pro-Russian forces are concentrated there. The annexation was announced despite one important thing — the Russians do not control all of that territory. In fact, Ukrainian forces have the Russians in retreat in several parts of the annexed areas. This is where things get dicey.
President Putin declared that those four regions were now a part of Russia proper (just as he claimed Crimea in 2014) and that an attack on them would be considered an attack on the homeland. In a late September speech, President Putin declared that he was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend Russia’s “territorial integrity.” Since then he has reiterated that he is willing to use “all means necessary” to protect the newly acquired territory, which is a euphemism for threatening to use Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) to prevent Ukraine from retaking their own territory. (WMD are chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.) Bluff? Bluster? Empty threats? Warning? No one is sure, and that is the problem. Mr. Putin backed himself into a corner that now threatens the stability of Russia as a country and threatens his own iron grip on the population. He considers the current state of affairs to be “an existential threat” to Russia and to himself. Is it possible that if he sees his own safety and power threatened that he would lash out? Possibly, but let’s look a little closer.
The past few days have given us some ideas as to how Mr. Putin might respond to an expanded war. When the twelve mile long Kerch Strait Bridge from Crimea to Russia was partially damaged on Sunday, the Russians retaliated by launching massive air strikes using approximately one hundred cruise missiles and suicide drones in one morning to attack Ukrainian infrastructure and civilian neighborhoods. (So far, no one has claimed responsibility for the attack on the bridge, but Russia assumes it was Ukrainian special forces.) The Russian supply of such weapons is not endless, but air strikes are probably the primary method that the Russians will use to continue to disrupt daily life in Ukraine and to inflict serious damage. The intent is to break the will of the civilian population and force the Ukrainian government to seek a settlement of some kind. It will not work.
The Russian style of warfare is based on raw brutality. Massive numbers of people and weapons are used against every aspect of an opponent’s military and civilian systems, capabilities, support and people. The term “collateral damage” does not exist for Russia. Killing civilians and destroying playgrounds, hospitals, apartment buildings, and any other area of a city is the point. Torture is a tool to be used. Indiscriminate bombing is a tool to be used. Everything is on the table. If brutality is the point, then that adds credibility to any threat to use WMD. So does that include nuclear weapons?
In my opinion, no. Not because Mr. Putin considers them to be off the table. Rather, so far, he calculates that he has other means at his disposal to achieve his war aims. In my many years in the military, I never seriously believed that we, or anyone else, would use nuclear weapons. The deterrent impact of sufficient numbers of weapons on both sides made it highly improbable. But now, for the first time in my adult life (I was around for the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that is a different situation), the chances are not zero. I still think that the probability of Mr. Putin using a nuclear weapon, even as a “demonstration,” is incredibly low, but no one knows for certain what he may be capable of doing. Probably more likely is the use of chemical weapons. The Russians used them, or at least abetted their use, in Syria. It may be as the Russian army withdraws from yet another town or village that the incoming Ukrainian forces may be subject to a chemical attack. If so, it is likely to be on a small scale and intended to be a deterrent to a continuing Ukrainian offensive and a warning to the rest of the world that the Russians are not bluffing when they threaten to defend themselves using “any means necessary.”
More likely, the Russians will expand their use of asymmetric attacks such as cyberwarfare, economic warfare such as limiting or stopping the export of oil or natural gas, or halting the shipment of goods (especially grain) from the Black Sea. A clear sign of such efforts occurred in late September this year when Swedish and Danish sensors detected explosions in the Baltic Sea. It was soon discovered that the Nord Stream pipelines running from Russia to Europe were experiencing massive leaks, thus stopping the flow of natural gas to Europe. To date, there is no official blame or explanation for the leaks. It is widely believed, however, that Russian special forces are to blame. The Russians, and other nations including the United States, have the capability to operate from submarines near the seabed to disrupt the wide array of modern infrastructure that crosses great bodies of water such as gas and oil lines and fiber optic cables. As winter approaches, Mr. Putin may be pushing European nations, especially Germany, to give up their support of Ukraine by disrupting their economies and signaling that other elements of infrastructure could be at risk if their support to Ukraine continues. It may be a long, cold winter in much of Europe. In the short run, it actually hurts Russia as the gas it sells to Europe is a major element of support to the Russian economy. The side effect is to again signal that Mr. Putin is willing to do “anything,” even if it hurts his own people, to achieve his goals. I would expect to see more of these moves from the Russians, as long as they can plausibly (or in some cases implausibly) deny their involvement.
The war in Ukraine will drag on for months to come, possibly years. Mr. Putin knows that he is in trouble on the ground and his army is being destroyed. Recent attempts to mobilize 300,000 additional troops to fight in the war have gone badly. Russian men are leaving the country in droves. Reportedly, over 200,000 have fled to Kazakhstan alone. Another 100,000 are said to have left for other countries surrounding Russia in order to avoid conscription. Even if he raises an additional 300,000 troops, they will be poorly trained and equipped based on what we see with his allegedly “elite” forces that have already been decimated on the battlefield. They will only be cannon fodder, which is yet another indicator that the Russian army and Mr. Putin in particular have no concerns about the lives and well-being of their soldiers or their civilians. It is worth noting that Mr. Putin’s retaliatory strikes this week and his threats to use “any means necessary” are not aimed at the Ukrainian soldiers on the front. Rather, they are all aimed at the Ukrainian civilian population. It is terrifying for them, but as has happened throughout history, his terror tactics only increase the resolve of those under attack.
Mr. Putin has many options left in his bag of tricks. However, even he must recognize that he does not want to go toe-to-toe with NATO. He must also recognize that as his attacks on Ukrainian cities escalates, he runs the risk of NATO and other friendly nations increasing the number and sophistication of the weapons they are sending to Ukraine.
It is hard to know how this conflict ends, but it is increasingly less likely that there will be a negotiated settlement.
In case you had a normal, enjoyable long weekend, you may have missed the ruling yesterday from U.S. Judge Aileen Cannon of the Southern District of Florida. In her order, she decreed that a Special Master (or impartial reader) must review the roughly 11,000 stolen government documents legally seized by the FBI from Donald J. Trump’s club at Mar-a-Lago. Nearly every law professor, former prosecutor, and legal analyst considers the judge’s intervention in an ongoing criminal and national security investigation to be “unprecedented.” Many also think that it violates the separation of powers delineated in the Constitution.
This may be grounds for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to appeal her court order.
As I understand it, she went beyond the usual procedure for a Special Master when she included issues of executive privilege. In what to some of us may seem is double think, since the DOJ, FBI and National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) are all part of the Executive Branch, there is no executive privilege to protect documents from the Executive Branch when it is the Executive Branch that wants them. Furthermore, Judge Cannon indicated that the use of executive privilege was not settled law. In other words, the previous court cases that said that executive privilege does not extend to former members of the Executive Branch, including former presidents, is wrong. This would include the 7-2 Supreme Court decision in 1977 that a former president does not have unrestricted use of government documents after leaving office. The case is Nixon v General Services Administration and had to do with the Constitutionality of the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act passed in the wake of the Watergate revelations. The law is Constitutional according to the Supreme Court.
In her order (Donald J. Trump v United States of America, Case No. 22-81294-CIV-CANNON), among other notable exceptions to precedent, Judge Cannon (appointed to the bench after Trump lost the 2020 election and rammed through by then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell), said in her order that those decisions do “not negate a former President’s ability to raise the privilege as an initial matter.” Since the FBI assumed that executive privilege did not apply (because it didn’t), they did not screen for it, according to the judge, and therefore, among other reasons, the Special Master is needed.
Furthermore, the judge argues that because Trump is a former President of the United States, he deserves special treatment. He would be impacted by the “stigma” of the legal seizure and he could suffer from “reputational harm.” In other words, we are not all equal under the law. Trump is special and should be so treated. She argues that one must be “mindful of the need to ensure at least the appearance of fairness and integrity under the extraordinary circumstances presented.”
Let that sink in for a moment. Judge Cannon is basically arguing that because Trump and his MAGA supporters are raising such a fuss about the FBI carrying out the legally obtained search warrant, that she must appease them. This past weekend Trump spoke at a campaign rally and said, “The FBI and the Justice Department have become vicious monsters, controlled by radical left scoundrels, lawyers and the media, who tell them what to do!” (FBI Director Christopher Wray was appointed by Trump.) None of the MAGA crowd will be appeased by anything short of a coup to put Trump back in power. Judge Cannon is either a part of, or falling for, the scam that everything happening to Trump is unfair and only happens because the “radical left” hates him and causes all of his problems. It is a closed propaganda loop that reinforces itself over and over again. Not one thing that goes against Trump will be seen as fair or correct under the law.
In fact, it gets worse. Trump golf caddy and former-person-with-a-spine Senator Lindsey Graham proclaimed a week ago that if Trump is indicted for stealing the nation’s most highly guarded secrets that “there will be riots in the streets.” Not that he was afraid that there might be riots or that people may think that but they shouldn’t do it. No. “There will be.” Mob lingo for “it’s a nice little country you have there. It would be a shame if something happened to it.” Of course Trump trumpeted that statement on his financially broke social media forum. They know exactly what they are doing by threatening violence if they are held accountable. Such statements are particularly reprehensible in the context of Trump having used inflammatory language that lead to the assault on the Capital on January 6, 2020. Shameful.
The bottom line on the Special Master ruling is that as per his usual tactics, Trump will continue to delay, deny and then delay some more. Expect that there will protests over the selection of the Special Master, the decisions made by that person, and every imaginable thing that can be appealed. Many of those issues may end up with the Supreme Court. The point is that it will be months, if not years, before the items seized in August will again be turned back to the DOJ, FBI, or NARA.
We learn again and again and again that Trump has no regard for anything that does not enrich him or empower him. He simply acts as though the rules do not apply to him. Yesterday, a federal judge agreed. They don’t.
Think about it. The President. Of. The. United. States. stole government secrets and kept them in his club in Florida without anyone having any clear idea as to why, who has seen them or even if all of the documents have yet been recovered by national security officials. Are there some at his golf club in Bedminster N.J.? In Trump Tower? Did he sell them? Give them away? Clearly Trump had no understanding of national security, how information is obtained, the damage it can do, or that he has exposed every one of us to grave risk. He just doesn’t care. In a recent interview, Sue Gordon the recently retired Deputy Director of National Intelligence, calmly and clearly explained that this could be the biggest blow to U.S. national security ever. It could do irreparable harm to our interests and those of our friends and allies around the world.
I for one am exhausted by the never ending story. There is hope. The judge’s order does not cover the material obtained by NARA in January or the material turned over in June. (At that time a signed statement under oath said that was the last of the documents. One more of the tens of thousands of lies associated with Trump in the past six years.) It does not impact the work of the House Committee investigating the attempted coup and attack on the Capital. It does not impact the grand jury now known to be investigating that same attack. It does not impact the grand jury investigation in Georgia looking into Trump’s attempt to change the vote totals there in 2020. It does not impact the investigation underway in New York looking into the shady practices of Trump, Inc. (For which his CFO already pleaded guilty.) And that’s just the tip of the iceberg regarding Trump’s illegal activities.
So why is there not one indictment? From just what we know publicly about the classified documents it is unbelievable to me that no indictment has yet been handed down. Surely, the DOJ knows even more and that there is plenty of evidence with or without the documents seized in August.
In my mind, there are only two explanations. Either they will not prosecute him or there are bigger fish to fry than just stealing classified documents. They could be building a much larger case, especially if they have evidence as to what Trump did with that information. Personally, I think that the attempted coup and fomenting an insurrection are the crimes that should bring him to justice. That case may take longer because it is more nuanced and requires more hard evidence of Trump’s direct involvement in planning the coup with the intent to overthrow an election.
Whatever the case, get on with it already!
Unless you were on vacation on a tropical island last week, you undoubtedly heard about yet another criminal act by the ex-president. Just when you might be thinking that we’ve heard it all, that it is impossible for Donald J. Trump and his wholly owned subsidiary formerly known as the Republican Party to further debase and destroy our nation, we find ourselves shaking our collective heads over another despicable and corrupt violation of our nation’s laws, morals, ethics and sense of duty.
As his actions continue to come to light through the actions of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th insurrection and the conspiracy to overthrow the duly elected president of the United States, one has to wonder why the man is still walking the streets creating hate and discontent throughout the land. He needs to go to jail.
Yes, yes, I know. He is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law following the rules under our system. That said, it is not clear why he has not been arrested and forced to post bail. Were I to have his track record, I know that I would have already taken a “perp walk” into court.
To me, perhaps the most despicable and shameful aspect of the last week was the reaction by nearly every senior elected Republican official in the land. Most of them attacked the FBI and DOJ. Not one that I heard of even took a “wait and see” approach. Instead they followed in Trump’s footsteps and attacked, attacked, attacked — with the vilest and darkest comments imaginable. Do you want an example? How about Senator Rick Scott (Tr-FL) who, following the execution of a court approved search warrant, said; “This should scare the living daylights out of American citizens. The way our federal government has gone, it’s like what we have thought about the Gestapo and people like that — that they just go after people. What we thought about the Soviet Union.” Rick, you make me proud to be an American. Or perhaps the comments from Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (Tr-GA) — as fine an American as you would ever want to meet — who is yelling to “Defund the FBI.” And in the finest Trumpian way, she is selling caps and t-shirts with that slogan for a mere thirty dollars. I could go on and on, but I would rather not.
For those that have never dealt with material classified Top Secret (TS) or Sensitive Compartmented Information (SCI) you may not understand the impact of Trump’s actions. Not only is the information highly classified, but what is really causing most of those SCI classifications is what is commonly called “sources and methods.” In other words, the way that the information was obtained. Foreign intelligence services receiving such documents could reverse engineer the information in order to find out where it came from. Perhaps it is a highly placed mole. Perhaps it is good old fashioned espionage. Perhaps it is through secret technology capabilities. Or a variety of other sources. The point is, people’s lives may be at stake and the country’s safety and security are certainly at risk by carelessly handling the documents.
I will not go into explaining or rebutting all of the silly excuses that Trump is putting forth and finding support for from his employees in the wholly owned subsidiary. All of it is total fantasy and as big of an unbelievable lie as is possible to concoct. There are no “oops” moments with TS and SCI material. It is always signed for and always guarded. Nearly every time it is created and maintained in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF). It is not even discussed outside of those facilities. The Oval Office is not a SCIF. The few times it is taken outside of a SCIF, it is signed for, and carried in a special satchel that is literally handcuffed to the courier. Afterwards, it is signed back in. If the same person does not return it and sign it back in, there is big trouble. Like losing your job and going to jail trouble.
The point of bringing this up is that there can be no “accidental” leaving of documents around or just borrowing them for awhile or anything else. Even taking into account that one is dealing with the President of the United States, there would be no chance of a breach.
Unless it was done intentionally.
How was this accomplished? I do not know. I will leave that to the FBI. Just as importantly, why was it done? Again, I do not know, but I will merely state that Trump does nothing that he cannot monetize. The Washington Post reported that at least some of the classified documents had to do with nuclear issues. I will just ponder the fact that during Trump’s administration he and his inner circle, including his son-in-law, wanted to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. Ostensibly it was for nuclear power plants, but many experts concluded that it could also lead to Saudi Arabia building nuclear weapons. Thankfully, cooler heads in the National Security areas of the government were able to stop such a deal. Coincidentally, after leaving office, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner landed a two billion dollar deal with the Saudis. Last month the Saudi funded LIV golf tour held a tournament at Trump’s Bedminster course in New Jersey. Could there be a connection? I do not know. People are just asking.
In my opinion the FBI should not be asking what he was going to do with that information but rather what did he already do with it?
There is a larger picture here. Trump clearly cares nothing about the laws, norms or traditions of the United States or what it means to be president. It appears that he thought that as president, he owned the country, everything in it and everyone that worked in the government. Whether his approach was that of an autocrat or a mafia boss does not really matter, he believed that anything he wanted was his. (For the record, I think he operates like a mafia boss. Autocrats at least have an ideological base to operate from. Trump only cares about himself and making money. He has no underlying beliefs, be they good, bad or indifferent. He only cares about what rewards him.)
Trump and his fellow conspirators and abettors should be held to account to the fullest extent of the law. For everything. I think the impeachment charges brought against him were insufficient. By this I mean that twice the House tried to simplify his transgressions to one, easily understandable charge rather than the full breadth and depth of his criminality. They gambled that the public would buy into something that could be easily digested. They also saw as their primary goal to remove the cancer from our government and keep it from ever returning again. They only needed him to be found guilty on one charge. They failed.
The DOJ cannot fail. Trump needs to be stopped. Trumpism will not die if Trump is removed as too many other politicians (especially certain southern governors) have learned his lessons. At least if Trump is indicted, tried and convicted, the leader of the cult will be disgraced and removed. Millions of people will think that it was a kangaroo court and that he was set up. They already think that, so there is nothing to lose by acting and a lot to lose if we do not hold him accountable. Those same politicians taking the mantle of Trumpism will also see that if they become president, they can do whatever they want because there are no consequences. His cult members argue that Trump is the most persecuted president in our history. I want him to be the most prosecuted.
Cries that these actions are unprecedented are true. Primarily because we never had a full scale mafia boss as our president before. But if his home can be raided, then anyone’s can, they cry. Two points. Mar-a-Lago was not just a residence, it was a club. People come and go. Memberships are sold. It is not exactly like the FBI searched a two story colonial on a cul-de-sac. Secondly, yes, if you break the law, conspire to over throw the government, take TS and SCI documents home to your basement, you can probably expect a knock on your door from the FBI. That is the point. No one should be above the law. Not even an ex-president who is now, under the law, just a regular citizen like the rest of us. No magic wands to declassify documents. No thoughts in his head that everyone should instinctively obey. Just follow the law.
I fear for our republic, I fear for our democracy and I fear for our future. Trump and his cult followers and collaborators in Congress are the single greatest domestic threat to our country and our way of life since the Civil War. I am very afraid there will be more domestic political violence. Firing up the cult to attack FBI officers and federal judges is dangerous, as we saw earlier this week in Ohio when one of the cultists tried to kill FBI officers at their area headquarters.
For nearly 22 months now, Trump has been doing his best to destroy this country and make himself the Dear Leader. It is not getting any better. During the dangerous response to the pandemic during his administration I opined in one of my postings that Trump may in fact be an agent of Vladimir Putin because things were getting so bad, it could not be by accident. It had to be by design. Chaos, discord and political violence in the U.S. are right in keeping with Putin’s goals. No one person in our history has done more to align with the goals of an adversary than Trump has done. I cannot forget those meetings between Trump and Putin, alone, with only Putin’s interpreter. We may never know what words were exchanged, but Trump’s continued actions designed to undermine our government on every level may tell us more than any transcript.
Our way of life is under attack — a warning that I have been shouting for some time now. While the former guy continues to push the Big Lie (in order to continue to profit off of the Big Grift), his impact on our country is more insidious and much more long lasting than just his attempts at overthrowing our government to keep himself in power. His biggest impact is the radicalization of the Supreme Court. Perhaps more correctly, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) orchestrated a type of revolution when he pushed three Supreme Court nominees through the Senate while making up the rules as he went along — changing them to suit his purposes. He refused to consider President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland because it was an election year, leaving the seat empty for almost a year. Then in 2017 he changed the filibuster rule to push Justice Neil Gorsuch through to confirmation. The nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh was equally rushed. Finally, Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed by the Senate eight days before the 2020 election, after early voting had started in many states. So much for consistency, honesty or integrity.
Those three Justices have now joined with Justices Clarence Thomas (I should mention that his wife advocated for decertifying the election of President Biden and reinstating the former guy), and Samuel Alito, two ultra conservative Justices that have been waiting for the opportunity to undo decades of rulings. Five Justices now have a veto proof majority to decide cases for decades to come. Chief Justice John Roberts, a true conservative and not a Trumpist, has become something of a moderate vote, although in most cases he is expected to vote with the majority.
The result is a runaway court eager to execute a political agenda. Their most spectacular decision so far, of course, is to take away the Constitutional right to an abortion decided in Roe v Wade, the first time in our history that the Supreme Court took away a right. This decision will have far reaching repercussions throughout the land, many of which are yet to be understood. Many Americans are morally opposed to abortion but also believe that the government should stay out of imposing its will on women and girls’ health care decisions. Technically, the ruling did not ban abortions. It merely said that there was no Constitutional protection and it was left to the states to decide for themselves. In some states, the laws can be interpreted as preventing In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), “morning after” pills and some forms of contraception. Some states have no exceptions including the health of the woman, rape or incest. Where the health of the women is included as an exception, the wording is often vague making physicians and other health care providers reluctant, or down right refusing, to provide care for fear of prosecution. Some states are seriously considering making it a crime for a woman to go to another state for a legal abortion. Will there be pregnancy police? It is illegal in some states to gamble or solicit a prostitute, will they prosecute travelers to Nevada where such things are legal? A whole barrel of potential invasions of privacy in many aspects of our individual lives are just waiting to be unleashed by overzealous legislatures around the country.
But, wait! There’s more!
As I explained in my 5 May 2020 piece (The Minority Rules) the majority opinion overturning Roe essentially says that the Fourteenth Amendment “due process” and “equal protection” clauses do not apply to anything that was not mentioned in the original Constitution or that was unknown to the Congress and states when the Amendment was ratified. Let that sink in. Here we come 1868! All kinds of things were unknown in those days and the rights of women and minorities were nearly non-existent.
Although Justice Alito and other Justices tried to say that previous rulings using the Fourteenth Amendment, such as same sex marriage, unfettered access to contraceptives, marital privacy, mixed-race marriages, and a slew of other rulings, are not in jeopardy, several of them have voiced opposition to those rulings in the past or said that such decisions should be left to the states (more on that in a minute). More to the point, Justice Thomas in his concurring opinion expressly addressed those issues (except for some reason, mixed race marriages) as being wrongly decided. In essence, he was sending notice to the states that the Supreme Court would gladly re-adjudicate those issues if they are brought forward.
In this session the Court also weakened gun laws, narrowed the gap between church and state and crippled the federal government’s ability to regulate carbon emissions to fight climate change, among other things. Two guiding principles seem to be at work with this majority.
One is the “nondelegation doctrine.” This court used that theory to block vaccine mandates during the pandemic and now to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating power plants. In essence, the theory holds that Congress cannot delegate policymaking authority to Executive Branch agencies. In other words, if the law does not specify the powers of a particular agency, then they are not allowed to put forth regulations or rules that govern a given activity. In the modern United States, science, technology, knowledge and innovation are advancing at ever increasing speeds. To keep up with modern advances, and unable to anticipate every development, Congress since the late 1930’s increasingly wrote laws governing federal agencies in broad terms, allowing them to operate in a particular regulatory area, precluding the need to constantly rewrite the laws. In one study, 99 percent of the laws passed since 1947 delegated some authority to a federal agency. If the nondelegation doctrine becomes the new norm for the Supreme Court, the federal government as we know it may be made impotent and unable to govern. Which, of course, is the goal of several far right conservative groups. Certainly, there will be many, many challenges to federal control.
The second aim of this Court seems to be to return as many things to the states as possible for them to legislate as they please. We see this with the abortion decision. Expect it to continue in many areas of what was once considered settled law. Where you live will dictate your rights. One might ask why have a federal government if the states will be able to do as they please? Good question. Apparently national defense and interstate commerce are the only areas of responsibility for the federal government.
Historically, “states rights” has been the cover for the Civil War, enslavement of human beings, Jim Crow laws, and preventing people from voting to name a few of the oppressive laws enacted over our history through the middle of the 20th Century. Let’s remember our history. After the Revolutionary War the colonies first banded together under the Articles of Confederation, giving great latitude to each. It did not work. With the Constitution and the creation of a federal government, we became a (mostly) united functioning country.
For me, all of the above not-with-standing, the scariest part is yet to come. The Supreme Court announced that next year they will hear Moore v Harper a case from North Carolina involving a gerrymandered voting districts map created by the state legislature that was overturned by the North Carolina state Supreme Court saying that it violated the state Constitution. The court ordered up a more fair map drawn by the court. This case involves yet another far right legal theory called “the independent state legislature theory.” Without getting too far into the legal weeds, the theory claims that the Election Clause of the Constitution says that state legislatures are the only groups with the right to decide on election rules unless Congress passes overriding legislation. In other words, an individual state could set up whatever rules it wants concerning federal and state elections and that state’s Supreme Court or governor have no say whatsoever as to how it will be done. The governor cannot veto such laws and the state Supreme Court cannot declare it as running counter to the state’s Constitution. The legislature can do whatever it wants regarding elections. Or so the theory states. Put that in the context of the 2020 election and the former guy’s attempts to overturn the election. Had states passed laws prior to the election giving themselves the sole power to choose the electors for the Electoral College they could have ignored the actual popular vote and sent a slate for whomever they want. I cannot predict what will happen when that case comes before the U.S. Supreme Court, and that’s the problem. Maybe they will make clear that state legislatures do not have that unfettered power, maybe they won’t. And that’s scary to me.
Prior to the Civil War, the correct grammatical statement was “the United States are…” After the Civil war it became “the United States is….” I fear we are moving backward in time.
For anyone that cares about the fate of our country now, or in the future, this was one busy week in Washington D.C.! While the Supreme Court was busy making our country less safe and rescinding a Constitutional right for the first time in our history (while threatening to continue to eliminate more in the future), the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol (commonly referred to as the J6 Committee) continued its hearings. Yesterday was the fifth in the series, and at least to this observer, the most compelling of them all. Which is saying something as each has been ever more riveting than the previous ones and they continue to boggle my mind with the audacity of the ex-president’s attempted coup.
While we were aware of seemingly isolated events in real time in late 2020 and early 2021, the J6 Committee is able to connect the disparate dots into a comprehensive explanation of the attempted coup following the 2020 election. What seemed to me at the time as a series of egotistical bloviating statements, coupled with wild and preposterous claims by unprofessional and clueless attorneys acting simultaneously with unscrupulous election officials and elected officials in key swing states can now be described as a preposterous, but highly coordinated, well-executed series of conspiratorial schemes to decertify the presidential election to keep the former guy in office. For the first time in our history (there seems to be a lot of that these days), a losing president refused to conduct a peaceful transfer of power to his successor and tried to retain power for himself. The ongoing hearings reveal just how close we came to losing our Republic.
Many an amateur historian wondered how the democracies in Italy and Germany could lead to dictatorships in the 1930s. We now know how it happens because we came oh so close to having it happen here. A charismatic leader creates a cult-like following and then finds people within the system that are willing to do anything to gain power for themselves in support of the would be autocrat. Based on yesterday’s sworn testimony, we now have a poster boy for those that would overthrow our way of life. His name is Jeffrey Bossert Clark, an Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ). While his is a Senate confirmed position, he is relatively low on the hierarchy to be known to the average member of the public. He is now known far and wide as the man who was willing to stage a coup within DOJ in order to help the now ex-president stay in power. (As a side note, he was the subject of a pre-dawn visit by federal agents on Wednesday executing a search warrant to confiscate electronic devices for investigation into their possible use in a criminal enterprise.)
Mr. Clark worked a behind the scenes deal with the defeated president to become the Acting Attorney General of the United States. As was abundantly clear during yesterday’s testimony, Mr. Clark had no experience, expertise, or ability to run the DOJ. What he did have was the willingness to send out a bogus, deceitful, and unscrupulous letter to officials in Georgia and other states insinuating that the DOJ was investigating election fraud. Which was a lie. (Seemingly, the best way to find a place in the ex-president’s inner circle is the ability to unabashedly and unashamedly tell bold faced lies.)
His involvement seems like the “smoking gun” demonstrating the ex-president’s intent, ability, and effort to undo the free and fair election that gave President Joe Biden the presidency by roughly 7 million votes.
The then president continued to push the actual Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen and Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue to send out the letter mentioned above. For days and in multiple conversations they explained that they had investigated every claim of fraud or improper election activity and there was nothing that impacted the outcome of the election. It was a free and fair election. As he testified yesterday, and in Mr. Donoghue’s contemporaneous hand written notes provided to the J6 Committee, Mr. Donoghue and Mr. Rosen explained that they could not “just change the outcome of an election. It doesn’t work that way.” The now ex-president responded “I don’t expect you to do that. Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.“
(In yesterday’s proceeding, sworn testimony from at least two sources included the fact that Republican Representatives Mo Brooks (ALA), Matt Gaetz (FL), Louie Gohmert (TX), and Scott Perry (PA) asked for “blanket pardons” before the 2021 Inauguration. Additionally, it is believed that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA) asked for one. There was also a request for blanket pardons for “every Congressman or Senator who voted to reject the Electoral College vote submissions of Arizona and Pennsylvania.” aka the Sedition Caucus. Anyone that continues to support him now, knowing what we know with who knows what other gasp inducing revelations to come, is a traitor to the ideals of our nation.)
The ex-president knew that there was no corruption, he just needed DOJ to officially corrupt itself by signing a false document to fool the American public into thinking something was amiss so that he could use his allies in the Congress to decertify Electoral College votes for Mr. Biden and throw the whole process into chaos.
It was a premeditated plan with a beginning a middle and an end to keep him in power. As the hearings continue, we now know that there were multiple avenues of corruption intended to decertify Mr. Biden’s victory and to keep the former guy in office. The insurrection on 6 January was not a random act but rather part of a larger plan to pressure Vice President Mike Pence into changing the Electoral College votes, or, should that fail, bring down the Congress and decapitate the number two and number three office holders behind the president. We shall see what else the committee brings forward, but my guess is that the intent was to create such chaos and uncertainty with the attack on the capitol as to allow the president to invoke the Insurrection Act and declare Martial Law to keep himself in power until he could rig things to keep Mr. Biden from assuming the office.
There are two things that worry me going forward.
First, unlike former president Richard Nixon, this ex-president is not going away. He continues to rile up his cult followers in the public and in elected office to pursue the Big Lie that he won the election in, as he likes to say, “a landslide.” Over one hundred successful candidates for office in this year’s Republican primaries are advocates of the Big Lie. In many ways, the events surrounding the 2020 election were a dress rehearsal for 2024. Only a few real patriots that understood and stood by their oaths to the Constitution saved the day. Next time there will be people in place that do not take their oath seriously and will be willing to do whatever it takes to put their person in office. Apparently, some people put their oath to support and defend the Constitution in the same category as checking the box for terms of service to get on a web site.
As former Republican United States Circuit Judge John Michael Luttig, a conservative’s conservative, warned in a previous J6 Committee session, that there “was a war on democracy instigated by the former president and his political party allies on January 6” when “knowing full well that he had lost the 2020 presidential election… he and they set about to overturn the election that he and they knew the former president had lost.” He then went on to say that the ex-president’s actions today create “a clear and present danger” to the future of our democracy. Words no judge states lightly.
Second, what do we do about it? The danger of indicting and sending a former president to trial, under a new president from a different political party opens an entire series of questions about what that means to the future of our country. Does it set a precedent for every succeeding administration to pursue the previous one as punishment or payback? Would we be, as Dana Milbank of the Washington Post put it, “one bunch short of becoming a banana republic?” It is scary stuff. Unprecedented in U.S. history. It could start a Civil War — taking our current cold civil war to a hot one. Unknown territory.
On the other hand, the ex-president’s actions and those of his cronies and accomplices are also unprecedented. If we believe that in these United States “no one is above the law” then why would we not prosecute him? Clearly, I am not an attorney, but to this layman’s eyes the ex-president and many of his accomplices broke the law. They tried to overthrow the government. They were willing to establish an autocracy with one-man rule. Why should that go unpunished? If ever there was a political crime in our history since THE Civil War, this it. And he is planning to do it again. He told us as much. Holy Moly! As I have mentioned in this space on many previous occasions, autocrats from Mussolini to Saddam to Trump tell us exactly what they are going to do. They do not always succeed, but they have no shame and their ego is such that they are convinced that they can get away with it. Why let a petulant bully get away with crimes just because he happens to be a former president?
Taking the emotion out of it, hard to do, at least for me, there are pros and cons whichever way DOJ decides to go. There is every possibility that however Attorney General Merrick Garland decides to pursue this, or not, it could go south and turn out very badly for our country. To me, we have too much to lose by not pursuing every legal measure available to hold the former guy accountable. It is far more dangerous to our country in the long run to turn a blind eye to the coup ring leader. After each of his impeachment trials he was emboldened to take ever more egregious actions. If he is not held accountable for an attempted coup, who knows what he is likely to try next.
I agree with Judge Luttig. He is a clear and present danger to the future of our Republic. If one believes that, then there is no question as to whether to pursue a legal remedy to hold him accountable. Do it.