Under The Big TopPosted: January 28, 2023 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Congress, Congressional Oversight, Debt Limit, U.S. Constitution Leave a comment
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 Continuing Assault on DemocracyPosted: December 8, 2020 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: 2020 Elections, Coup, Election Fraud, Presidential Election, U.S. Constitution Leave a comment
What is it with the former Republican Party? Even as I write, they continue their assault on the foundation of our republic. Likely, this will cause permanent long-term damage to our country. Tens of millions of people in the United States think, thanks to the rantings of Donald J. Trump and the continued efforts of national Republicans, that last month’s election was riddled with fraudulent practices and was rigged in favor of President-elect Joe Biden. To what end is this lie continuing even as the Electoral College is preparing to cast the majority of their votes for Mr. Biden on Monday 14 December?
Mr. Trump is nearly out of legal moves to dispute the election and is moving on to illegal attempts to change the outcome of the election. In every sense of the word, he is attempting a coup. Within the past week he twice telephoned the Pennsylvania Speaker of the House to pressure him into calling a special session of the legislature to replace the duly elected Electors with a slate pledged to Mr. Trump. This is the third state that he directly and personally meddled with trying to get them to change the results or overturn them outright. (The other two are Michigan and Georgia.) Last night a leading Trumpist Senator Lindsey Graham from South Carolina went on Fox News to berate the Republican Governor of Georgia to “not sit on your a**” and to call a special session of the legislature to challenge Mr. Biden’s victory in the state.
To date, state officials, Democrats and Republicans, are holding the line, upholding the law, and refusing to cave to Mr. Trump’s demands. However, pressure is mounting on Congressional Republicans to challenge the Electoral College results when they are certified on 6 January 2021. Two Republican Congressmen say that they will challenge the results. Under the 12th Amendment and the 1887 law known as the Electoral Count Act, the word “certifies” is not well defined. It takes only one Representative and one Senator to object to certifying a particular electoral slate. The objection must be in writing and signed by each. The House and Senate then decides separately on how to resolve the issue via a vote. (Normally they confer and often use a Joint Committee to resolve any issues.) The last time a slate was challenged was in 2005 when there was an objection to Ohio’s electoral slate. The issue was debated and quickly resolved.
More foolishness came today when the Republicans on the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies refused to vote in favor of saying that the inauguration was for Mr. Biden and his running mate Ms. Harris. They argued that the process was still playing out and yet to be officially resolved. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton filed a law suit today with the U.S. Supreme Court against Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin claiming that those states “used the Covid-19 pandemic to justify ignoring federal and state election laws.” Over the weekend the Washington Post released the results of their survey of all 249 Republicans in the House and Senate asking if they accepted that Mr. Biden won the election. Only 27 said that they did. Two claimed that Mr. Trump won. The other 220 said that it was too early to say or refused to answer the question.
And on and on. What in the good name of democracy is going on? Why aren’t more people upset by this direct assault on our most fundamental right as American citizens? What inspires national Republicans to stay in this cult of personality and with unwavering loyalty bring down our democracy in the process?
I have heard a variety of explanations. They fear him, still, even as a loser. That he will run for president again in 2024 and they want to be on his good side. That if they don’t support him they will be “primaryed” by someone Mr. Trump supports. That they are letting him work through the various stages of grief until he realizes that he is a loser. There are lots of driveling excuses floating around. None of them make any sense any longer. Even if they did make sense once, c’mon man, it’s over! Let’s follow the norms and traditions that make this country great.
Reflecting on why we are in this situation it occurred to me that possibly, maybe probably, none of those answers trotted out by the pundits are accurate. There may be elements of truth in them, but that is not the main motivator of their abhorrent actions.
The real reason is that the true believers like what he is doing.
Some may be cynical in that they believe their own political self-preservation depends on Mr. Trump remaining in power. Others may have the same autocratic tendencies that Mr. Trump daily exhibits. Some may just believe that Democrats in government, all of them — every one — are so inherently evil that they have to do everything, and that means everything, in their power to stop them from taking over the government. Any end is better than that.
With that epiphany, it is not that the Republicans are afraid of Mr. Trump and have lost their spine. They are not. They want him to succeed. Think of that. One of the two major parties in our democracy would rather see an election overturned by unethical and un-American methods rather than give up power. Autocracy? They are down with that. For four years I have tried to figure out why they go along with absolutely every crazy thing this president does, even if it goes directly against everything they said they stood for in the past. The explanation was actually quite simple. They like it, they like the power they have, and they don’t want to give it up.
If they have learned anything from Mr. Trump, they have learned that if you have the power you can do anything. There really are no laws or Constitutional limits to what you can do if you are just nervy enough to do it. Who can stop the president? It turns out that if you just ignore subpoenas, hearings and inquiries nothing happens. Impeached? Who cares if you have a Senate that wants to keep you in power no matter what. Pack the Supreme Court? Sure. You need a little luck through resignations or deaths but if you are in charge you can set any rules that you want. Hand out pardons to your political cronies and dirty tricksters? No problem, no one can stop you. Staying in power is paramount. Once in power, you are in control. Of everything.
Here is where it gets scary.
The national Republican Party is selling the same bill of goods to their supporters that Mr. Trump is selling. There are millions of people in the country that are convinced that Mr. Trump will be sworn in as president on 20 January 2021. Convinced. As the Wisconsin conservative pundit Charlie Sykes said recently, the realization that Mr. Trump is no longer the president will be such a shock to their beliefs and world view that their actions will be totally unpredictable. We already had armed protesters over the weekend show up at the home of the Michigan Secretary of State in a pure move of intimidation. When the true believers realize that they have been lied to, they are not going to take it out on Mr. Trump. They will default to the Trumpian explanation that their votes were stolen, the election rigged and that democracy is dead. There are both short and long-term dangers in that explanation and the fact that millions of people will believe it.
Add to that sweet mixture the many white nationalist groups that have long had a goal to start another American Civil War. This could be their pretext to take to the streets. There is a clear and present danger from domestic enemies willing to foment violence. That would give openings for our foreign enemies to take advantage of the situation. It is a dangerous time. It is not a game that those Republicans supporting Mr. Trump’s lies are playing. They are playing with fire. I am very concerned that real people will be injured or killed as Mr. Trump continues to incite violence in barely disguised rhetoric as he continues to live in fantasyland.
Is such a scenario inevitable? I think not. The rule of law and the Constitution can still prevail. My concern is that Mr. Trump is becoming increasingly desperate and cares not a whit about democracy or the country’s well-being. Therefore, it is well past time for Senate and House Republican leaders to state the obvious. Make clear and unambiguous statements that the system worked, it was tested in the courts, the law was upheld, and the results of the election are undisputed. Unless they do that, Mr. Trump and millions of Americans will think that they were robbed.
The Assault on DemocracyPosted: November 20, 2020 Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: Presidential Election, U.S. Constitution 1 Comment
Donald J. Trump is conducting a disturbing and dangerous assault on the very foundation of our democratic republic. Such an assault began well before the election and continues unabated weeks after Election Day. How or when it stops we may not know until 20 January when Joseph R. Biden Jr. is sworn in as the 46th President of the United States. Mr. Trump told us what he was going to do and, for once, was true to his word. He is undertaking the most blatant exercise of raw power to overturn a presidential election in our history.
As alarming as Mr. Trump’s efforts to undo an election that he lost by nearly 6 million votes may be, more alarming is the fact that the majority of Republican Senators support his efforts, some by actively engaging in attempted voter disenfranchisement — I’m looking at you Lindsey Graham — and others by their continued silence while Mr. Trump and his cronies blatantly attempt to overturn a fair and fraud free election. The Republican Party is dead and now they have put the last nail in the coffin.
That Mr. Trump lost is a great thing for our country. As his actions continue to show, should he have won, and absent a Senate that is willing to confront him, he would have run roughshod over every Constitutional boundary that has protected our country for over two hundred years. As it is, his current actions are those of a despot. The very foundation of our country is under assault by this president as he tries to convince us that he “won in a landslide.” And national level Republican politicians are letting him try.
Thankfully, there are still elected officials, Republican and Democrat, at state and local levels that have a firm grasp on reality and retain the backbone to do their job faithfully, fully and in keeping with the oath that they took to uphold the laws and Constitution of the United States, regardless of pressure from the President of the United States.
None-the-less we now know how fragile our democracy really is. Mr. Trump and his co-conspirators are incompetent. They cannot pull it off. But, they have put forth a roadmap that a more competent administration could follow in the future to steal an election. It is imperative that the Congress work to close the loopholes in our election process to preclude any future attempts to overturn a fair election.
The effort hit an all time high of danger and of farce yesterday during a press conference headed by a sweating, hair dye dripping, Rudy Giuliani at the Republican National Committee Headquarters. After every legal attempt to halt vote counting or to throw out votes was dismissed in court for lack of evidence (currently, the Trump campaign is zero for thirty) they resorted to wild claims invoking everything from Venezuela to Cuba to a mysterious national conspiracy to change votes electronically from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden. None of the claims were supported by any facts whatsoever. Mr. Giuliani stated that he could not share the evidence because it was classified, but that it would be produced at a later time.
Furthermore, the Trump campaign’s efforts are racist, pure and simple. The challenges and conspiracy theories apparently are only relevant to certain cities such as Detroit, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Atlanta and Las Vegas. In each case they are focused on precincts and counties that are predominately Black or Latino. This is a blatant attempt to disenfranchise minority voters.
Remember that Mr. Trump earlier this week “terminated” Christopher Krebs — his own appointee — who was responsible for the country’s cyber security and for overseeing the integrity of the voting process. He was fired for doing the unthinkable. He told the truth. After Election Day Mr. Krebs declared “the November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes or was in any way compromised.” He did his job. In this administration that is grounds for being fired. Additionally, his deputy was forced to resign and as is his habit, Mr. Trump had a more “loyal” appointee assigned to the job.
In a Tweet, Mr. Krebs called Mr. Giuliani’s performance yesterday “the most dangerous 1 hr 45 minutes of television in American history. And possibly the craziest.” He is right. What Mr. Trump is attempting through his surrogate Mr. Giuliani is un-American and a grave threat to our democracy.
Today Mr. Trump is inviting members of the Republican controlled Michigan legislature to the White House in an attempt to get them to interfere in the Electoral College process. This seems to be the new strategy. Since they have failed at the ballot box, in the courts, and everywhere else, they think that they can mess with the Electoral College, or delay its vote, or something (I’m not sure they know) in order to throw the election into the Congress where they think that they can win. They lost the popular vote by 6 million votes. They lost the Electoral College count by 74 votes. They are trying to overturn the will of the people with unfounded, unproven, and ridiculous claims as if we do have an autocrat in charge of our government.
This course of events goes beyond letting “Trump be Trump” or giving him time to assimilate the fact that he is a loser or any other psychological double talk that Republicans are putting forth about his behavior. This is simply a case of an autocrat trying to steal an election by claiming that no, really, the other guy stole it.
Unfortunately, the longer this goes on the number of people that believe his unfounded claims will grow. What happens then is impossible to predict, but I fear that the nut cases in our great land will feel that they somehow have to rectify the situation and force the country to accept that Mr. Trump really won.
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump sits whining in the White House, only leaving to play golf, while the Covid-19 pandemic grows into a massive crisis. The situation now is the greatest threat to our well-being since it began in February. The number of deaths is fourth on the list of our country’s greatest losses of life behind the Civil War, the Second World War and the 1918 flu pandemic. On the current trajectory it could move up the list to be the second worst in our history. Nothing from Mr. Trump except to claim that he is responsible for the vaccine that will soon be in production. No effort to put forth economic relief for the millions struggling to make ends meet. No effort to keep the government from shutting down on 11 December because there is no bill to provide the money to keep it functioning. Crises everywhere and Mr. Trump is putting all of his energy into convincing people that he really won the election and therefore will overturn the certified results.
From the vast majority of the members of the Republican Senate? Crickets.
We are in danger. Serious danger. Our enemies foreign and domestic see that we are in turmoil. They see that our democracy is fragile and not functioning as it should. They see that we have a distracted, weak president that is only interested in taking money from his supporters and amassing power. The next 60 days will be fraught with ever greater threats as we fail to address that which is staring us in the face and we see an increasingly unhinged president willing to do anything to stay in office.
I am out of the prediction business. I will only say that it would not surprise me that Mr. Trump never concedes, never allows a transition, and does everything in his power to turn over a domestic and international situation that will undermine any policies Mr. Biden hoped to address during his presidency. For at least his first year, Mr. Biden simply will be too busy putting out the fires that Mr. Trump set on his way out.
The only thing that I am sure of is that Mr. Biden will be sworn in at noon on 20 January 2021 and that millions of people will believe that he stole the election away from Mr. Trump.
Thank God Trump only had one term.