The Passing Parade

The year is almost over and so is the decade that’s strangely ending with a “19” instead of a nice, round “20”. There is lots of news and commentary out there. An extremely truncated summary:

It didn’t make a splash, because this is 2019, not 1971, but The Washington Post reported:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable…

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking … Who will say this was in vain?”

The Afghanistan Papers won’t get as much publicity as the Pentagon Papers. They should have called them the “Afghan Papers”, more concise language now being the custom.

The Post also explained the history of the “It was Ukraine, not Russia” myth that has taken up permanent residence in what’s left of the Toddler’s brain and is so popular among right-wing politicians and propagandists everywhere. In a few words, the Russian government created the myth in order to cast blame on somebody else:

The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity [of course]. . .One former senior White House official said [the president] even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.”

The Popular Information political newsletter summarized new analysis of the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors:

An extraordinary analysis by top legal experts, published by Just Security, clearly explains how the impeachment inquiry [implied] that [the pres] committed at least three (and probably more) federal crimes. All of these crimes involved him abusing his presidential powers, making them particularly relevant to impeachment….

  • Federal campaign finance law
  • Bribery
  • Honest services fraud

[This last one] occurs “when a public official breaches his duty to act in the best interests of his constituents by performing an official act in exchange for personal gain”, such as “withholding funding that had been allocated by Congress —  money intended to advance U.S. national security by helping Ukraine combat Russian aggression — to advance his personal political interests”.

Cool.

By the way, Congressional Democrats and Rep. Justin Amash (an independent who was kicked out of the Republican Party when he exercised his conscience) finally got around to impeaching the monster. Paul Krugman reacted:

What we saw Wednesday was a parade of sycophants comparing their leader to Jesus Christ while spouting discredited conspiracy theories straight from the Kremlin. And as they were doing so, the object of their adoration was giving an endless, rambling, third-world-dictator-style speech, full of lies, that veered between grandiosity and self-pity…

Republicans, in other words, are beyond redemption; they’ve become just another authoritarian party devoted to the leader principle. And like similar parties in other countries, the G.O.P. is trying to rig future elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression, creating a permanent lock on power

But if Trump’s supporters look just like their counterparts in failed democracies abroad, his opponents don’t.

One of the depressing aspects of the rise of authoritarian parties like Hungary’s Fidesz and Poland’s Law and Justice has been the fecklessness of their opposition — disunited, disorganized, unable to make an effective challenge even to unpopular autocrats as they consolidated their power.

Trumpism, however, faced determined, united, effective opposition from the beginning, which has been reflected both in mass marches and in Democratic electoral victories. In 2017 there were only 15 Democratic governors, compared with 35 Republicans; today the score is 24 to 26. And last year, of course, Democrats won a landslide victory in House elections, which is what made the impeachment hearing and vote possible.

Many of the new Democratic members of Congress are in Republican-leaning districts, and some observers expected a significant number to defect on Wednesday. Instead, the party held together almost completely. True, so did its opponents; but while Republicans sounded, well, deranged in their defense of Trump, Democrats came across as sober and serious, determined to do their constitutional duty even if it involved political risks.

Now, none of this necessarily means that democracy will survive….

What we learned Wednesday, however, was that those who define America by its ideals, not the dominance of a particular ethnic group, won’t give up easily. The bad news is that our bad people are as bad as everyone else’s. The good news is that our good people seem unusually determined to do the right thing.

Finally, speaking of good people, the widely-read evangelical magazine Christianity Today called for the Toddler’s removal from office. The editorial got so much attention, their website crashed:

His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused…. .Whether [he] should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments….

To the many evangelicals who continue to support [him] in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of [the president] influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off [his] immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?

You have to wonder how many of the president’s supporters understand that, if the Senate did its duty in the new year, our convicted president would be replaced by super-Christian Mike Pence, not the dreaded mainline Protestant who failed to carry Wisconsin.

In conclusion, it seems to me that we face two major issues:  climate change and bringing majority rule to America.

Majority rule would mean dealing with the courts, the Electoral College, a skewed Senate, gerrymandering, election security, campaign finance reform and voter suppression. It’s quite an agenda. But, as Senator Warren [subject of the latest Rolling Stone interview] keeps saying, we need big, structural change in our political system if we’re going to make progress on issues like climate change, inequality and much more.

Oh, and you might check out “The Historical Case for Abolishing Billionaires” in The Guardian. It begins by quoting another well-known proponent of regulated capitalism, Adam Smith.

My Country, ‘Tis of Thee

I was thinking about writing a post based on recent statements by Sen. Orrin Hatch (Republican, Utah) and Sen. Charles Grassley (Republican, Iowa), but an actual writer beat me to it.

From Paul Waldman of The Washington Post:

With Republicans well on their way to passing a dramatic overhaul of the tax code, they have presented to the public a sweeping, comprehensive vision not just of what taxes should look like, but of what government is there for, what our obligations are to one another, and even how each of us should think about our value as human beings. This is a moment of uncommon clarity.

…. Let’s start with Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, who made this comment on the estate tax:

“I think not having the estate tax recognizes the people that are investing,” Grassley said, “as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Right now, the first $5.5 million of any estate is not subject to the tax. Because of that, fewer than one in 500 estates owes any tax at all. So Grassley is saying that 99.8 percent of Americans lead contemptible lives of waste and folly, while only that remaining sliver of the extra-wealthy have shown the virtue that should win their heirs the ability not to pay taxes on the fortunes bequeathed to them. The Senate bill would double the tax’s exemption, while the House bill would eliminate the tax entirely; depending on how the final version turns out, Eric Trump may finally be free of the fear that he’ll have to pay taxes on his inheritance.

Now let’s turn to Utah’s Orrin Hatch, who explained why, despite his support of a bill offering trillions of dollars in tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations, we absolutely must start slashing the social safety net immediately:

“I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger, and expect the federal government to do everything.”

… There isn’t much political advantage in saying that if you die with less than $5.5 million in assets, like nearly all Americans do, that means you were lazy and self-indulgent, while only the wealthy have proven their moral worth by the size of their bank accounts. So when someone says something like that, you can be pretty sure he’s expressing his actual beliefs….

Those are value judgments, rooted in how Republicans tend to view the worth of different people. They operate on the presumption that the economic system is fair, and the results of that system provide a measure of different people’s virtue. If you’re rich — even if you got rich by choosing the right parents — they presume that you deserve to be taxed as lightly as possible, while if you’re in need of the kinds of help we offer low-income people, then it reflects a moral failing. If we give you any help at all, it should be as grudging as possible, accompanied by stern lectures and even rituals of humiliation like drug tests.

Their tax bill, and their upcoming assault on the safety net, will weave these principles more deeply into our laws. And these principles are their real rationale; ignore all the practical claims they make about the explosion of economic growth these tax cuts will supposedly produce, and how the benefits will trickle down to everyone, and how it will all pay for itself. Those arguments are transparently bogus. A recent survey of 38 prominent economists found that only one said the tax bill would significantly increase growth…

Confronted with this comprehensive debunking of their practical claims, Republicans are undeterred and undaunted. That’s because they’re driven by a moral imperative, one that says that no matter what effect cutting taxes on the wealthy and corporations might have on the economy, it’s just the right thing to do. It rewards the virtuous, and you can tell who the virtuous are by how much money they have. If you’re asking why they wrote the bill the way they did, that’s just about all you need to know.

Meanwhile, our law-and-order president (sexual predator D. Trump) has endorsed former judge Roy Moore, who will probably join Grassley and Hatch in the Senate later this month:

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My country, ’tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing….

In Case You Missed It, Let’s Review the Crime That’s Still in Progress

Republican Senator Mitch McConnell and Republican FBI Director James Comey, with help from Vladimir Putin and Julian Assange, are in the process of stealing our election. They’ll do it unless the Electoral College does its constitutional, patriotic duty nine days from now and elects Hillary Clinton or some other qualified person.

The indictment:

According to the CIA, and probably the NSA too, neither of which are generally considered left-wing organizations, Russia hacked both Democrats and Republicans this year, but the Russians only gave the Democrats’ stolen information to Wikileaks. Wikileaks then gave the information, some of which was embarrassing to the Democrats and the Clinton campaign, to the world.

In September, President Obama informed Congressional leaders that the Russians had done this in order to elect the Orange Menace. Obama also requested a bipartisan declaration opposing the Russian interference in our election. But Senator McConnell, the Republican Majority Leader, wouldn’t make a joint statement, arguing that it would interfere with the election.

Instead, on October 7th, the Department Of Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued their own watered-down joint statement on Russia’s hacking activity, not pointing out that only information damaging to the Democrats was being revealed:

The U.S. Intelligence Community [which includes the CIA, FBI, NSA and thirteen other agencies] is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations…. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process….We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.

Furthermore, on October 31st, the Financial Times reported that the Republican Director of the FBI was against making even that announcement:

FBI chief opposed US statement blaming Russia for hacks

Government official says James Comey had election timing concerns

Of course, only three days before, and only eleven days before the election, Director Comey ignored the Department of Justice policy against making such announcements near an election and sent a letter to Congressional leaders announcing a new investigation into emails possibly involving Hillary Clinton.

That letter was immediately leaked to the press and led to a blizzard of news coverage. The Orange Menace immediately declared that “this changes everything”. Although nothing at all came of the investigation, the Clinton and T—p campaigns agree that the FBI’s new suggestion of scandal was the crucial last-minute event that swayed enough voters to change the election. From Politico:

Top officials for both campaigns said the revelation—which turned out to be an inconsequential cache of previously parsed emails kept on the laptop of Clinton aide Huma Abedin’s estranged husband, Anthony Weiner—was a game-changer in a race in which Clinton had little margin for error. Elan Kreigel’s team saw her numbers collapse in the most volatile swing demographic: educated whites who had been repulsed by Trump’s sexual misdeeds.

To sum up: Vladimir Putin releases hacked emails in order to defeat Clinton. Julian Assange makes the emails public. Mitch McConnell and James Comey interfere with voters being told about Russia’s plan on the grounds that it will affect the election, i.e. hurt the Republican candidate. Meanwhile, Comey ignores Department of Justice policy and tells the world that there is more to the supposed Clinton email scandal, not caring that his last-minute “revelation” will affect the election, i.e. hurt the Democratic candidate.

Despite everything, Clinton gets almost 3 million more votes than T—p nationwide. But in three “swing” states that Clinton expected to win, T—p gets 77,000 more votes than Clinton, giving him the Electoral College majority necessary to become President.

As the saying goes, can you spell “coup d’état”? How about “treason”? If you think that’s too harsh, how about “putting party ahead of country”?

The solution:

At this late date, the only ones who can prevent this crime from succeeding are the Republican members of the Electoral College. Thirty-seven of them can deny an unqualified, dangerous person the presidency and let the House of Representatives choose someone else. Forty-eight of them can switch to Hillary Clinton and elect the qualified person who got more votes. It’s that simple. 

And yet it’s that unlikely. What are the odds that there are more than a handful of Republicans among the 306 who will vote on December 19th who are sufficiently patriotic and sufficiently respectful of the Constitution to do what Alexander Hamilton said was necessary? Regarding the Electoral College, from The Federalist Papers, number 68:

Nothing was more to be desired than that every practicable obstacle should be opposed to cabal, intrigue, and corruption. These most deadly adversaries of republican government might naturally have been expected to make their approaches from more than one quarter, but chiefly from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils. How could they better gratify this, than by raising a creature of their own to the chief magistracy of the Union?…

But the convention have guarded against all danger of this sort, with the most provident and judicious attention. They have not made the appointment of the President to depend on any preexisting bodies of men, who might be tampered with beforehand to prostitute their votes; but they have referred it in the first instance to an immediate act of the people of America, to be exerted in the choice of persons for the temporary and sole purpose of making the appointment….

All these advantages will happily combine in the plan devised by the convention; which is, that the people of each State shall choose a number of persons as electors, equal to the number of senators and representatives of such State in the national government, who shall assemble within the State, and vote for some fit person as President. Their votes, thus given, are to be transmitted to the seat of the national government, and the person who may happen to have a majority of the whole number of votes will be the President….

The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States.

I mean, how amazing would it be, if a band of brave citizens, now being referred to as “Hamilton Electors”, rose to the occasion, saved the world and got complimentary tickets to the Broadway smash “Hamilton” too?

PS – Forgot to mention that T—p is going to appoint Senator McConnell’s wife to a cabinet position. Others in T—p’s cabinet, like the head of Exxon who will be Secretary of State, are very pro-Russian. But emails!

PPS – Nate Silver, respected political analyst and statistician, on Twitter: “Clinton lost 4 states (FL, MI, WI, PA) by ~1 point. If not for Comey/Russia, she probably wins them all by ~2 points & strategy looks great.”

Sgt. Joe Friday Lays It on the Line

A brief reference to the 1955 movie Pete Kelly’s Blues, which starred Jack Webb and Janet Leigh, and for which Peggy Lee received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, inexorably led me to the following clip. It’s from an episode of Dragnet, the long-running TV show that featured Mr. Webb’s immortal performance as Sgt. Joe Friday of the Los Angeles Police Department.

In this scene, Sgt. Friday gives it straight to a smirking con man who’s been caught impersonating a member of the LAPD (it’s hard to imagine a more heinous crime in Sgt. Friday’s eyes):

As YouTube videos often do, this led to an idle thought:

Where’s Jack Webb now when we need him to give it straight to a certain smirking con man who’s hard to avoid these days?

It wasn’t long before an online pal responded under the heading: 

Where Jack Webb Is Department

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Proving once again, he pointed out: There’s never a cop around when you need one!

PS: Does anyone doubt that Mr. Bookman, the library cop on Seinfeld, enjoyed the occasional episode of Dragnet when he wasn’t out rousting book criminals?

Hillary Clinton Made a Great Speech

At the A.M.E. Church conference in Philadelphia on Thursday, July 8th, the day after the killings in Dallas. The full speech is here, with excerpts below the video:

Partial transcript of her remarks:

Gun violence is ripping apart people’s lives. They’re trying to tell us. And we need to listen.

I know that, just by saying all these things together, I may upset some people. I’m talking about criminal justice reform the day after a horrific attack on police officers. I’m talking about courageous, honorable police officers just a few days after officer-involved killings in Louisiana and Minnesota. I’m bringing up guns in a country where merely talking about comprehensive background checks and getting assault weapons off our streets gets you demonized.

But all these things can be true at once. We do need police and criminal justice reforms, to save lives and make sure all Americans are treated equally in rights and dignity. We do need to support police departments and stand up for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us. And we do need to reduce gun violence. We may disagree about how to do all these things, but surely we can all agree with those basic premises. Surely this week showed us how true they are.

Now, I have set forth plans for over a year to reduce excessive violence, reform our sentencing laws, support police departments that are doing things right, make it harder for the wrong people to get their hands on guns. For example, there are two important steps that I will take as president.

First, I will bring law enforcement and communities together to develop national guidelines on the use of force by police officers. We will make it clear for everyone to see when deadly force is warranted, and when it isn’t. And we will emphasize proven methods for de-escalating situations before they reach that point.

And second, let’s be honest — let’s acknowledge that implicit bias still exists across our society and even in the best police departments. We have to tackle it together, which is why in my first budget, I will commit $1 billion to find and fund the best training programs, support new research, and make this a national policing priority. Let’s learn from those police departments like Dallas that have been making progress, apply their lessons nationwide.

Now, plans like these are important. But we have to acknowledge that — on their own — they won’t be enough. On their own, our thoughts and prayers aren’t enough, either. We need to do some hard work inside ourselves, too….

I’ve tried to say for some time now that our country needs more love and kindness. I know it’s not the kind of thing presidential candidates usually say. But we have to find ways to repair these wounds and close these divides. The great genius and salvation of the United States is our capacity to do and to be better. And we must answer the call to do that again. It’s critical to everything else we want to achieve — more jobs with rising income; good education no matter what ZIP code a child lives in; affordable college; paying back debts; health care for everyone. We must never give up on the dream of this nation.

I want to close with a favorite passage — a passage that you all know — that means a great deal to me and I’m sure to many of you, from Galatians. “Let us not grow weary in doing good” — “for in due season, we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”

The Decline of the Militia

From What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 by Daniel Walker Howe:

Jeffersonians of the founding generation had reposed great confidence in the militia as an alternative to a standing army that could be used against the liberties of the people it supposedly protected.This militia, organized in each locality, consisted of all physically fit white males of military age, who would supply their own arms and donate as much of their time as necessary to keep in training and readiness when called upon to deal with insurrection or invasion. This was the “well regulated militia” postulated in the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights and prescribed by the federal Militia Act of 1792.

The militia had proved ineffective on many occasions in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 (George Washington never put much trust in it), but its gradual disappearance in the generation after 1815 had nothing to do with its military shortcomings.

The militia gradually ceased to function because most male citizens resented it as an imposition, and hated serving in it so much that they either refused to show up for the periodic musters and drills, or if they came made a mockery of the occasion. Since the men who defied the militia laws constituted the electorate, politicians dated not to coerce service. White male democracy could successfully defy the law, as squatters defied landlords or Indian treaties…. When the war with Mexico came in 1846, the administration made little use of the militia and relied instead on its small professional army plus volunteers trained and equipped at government expense [p. 491].

Now, 170 years later, we have the most powerful military and most heavily-armed police in the world, while sad, angry men, with a death wish for themselves and others, “serve” in the “militia”.

PS – “994 mass shootings in 1,004 days”