A Critical Battle Has Been Won – But Not The War

Halleluiah!!  We can keep our democratic republic, at least for the next four years.  I won’t relax, however, until President-elect Joe Biden takes the oath of office on January 20 next year and President Trump and his family are out of the White House.  Still, based on his record of gross incompetence, Trump should have been dramatically ejected from the presidency by a Biden landslide.  The fact that he wasn’t is troubling. 

Truth is, over 72 million Americans voted their approval of Trump’s authoritarian tendencies and his attacks on our democratic institutions.  They evidently don’t care that Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department became a de facto part of Trump’s political organization and that the president put loyal lackies in charge of Homeland Security, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Defense. 

And I’m concerned that down ballot voting seemed to confirm that Republican obstruction, hypocrisy, lies, bigotry and voter suppression didn’t cost them much beyond the presidency.  They even gained seats in the U.S. House.  For me, that is the most disturbing result of this election.  When politicians – in this case Republicans – don’t pay a price for their malfeasance, they have no reason to change and I don’t believe they will.  

So, here we are again, another Republican president has left his Democratic successor with a full plate of monumental crises.  President Biden will be heir to a raging pandemic, massive federal deficits, high unemployment, a weak economy, a foreign policy in shambles and a world that mostly views the United States as a pitiful nation in decline.  Does anyone believe Republicans will help Biden solve these problems?  I don’t.

In fact, I am confident that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) is already thinking ahead to 2024.  If Republicans still control the Senate, which is likely, McConnell can prevent Biden from enacting any progressive legislation, block or impede his judicial appointments and generally obstruct his administration just like he did with President Obama.  The Senate leader will hope that the American public will blame Biden for failing to achieve important objectives and vote more Republicans into Congress in 2022, perhaps even retaking the House and adding additional Senators to the Republican caucus.  That would put the GOP in an excellent position to elect their presidential candidate in four years and have full control of the government again in 2025, just like they did in 2017.

Even while falsely claiming that he won this year, Trump is already talking about being a candidate again in 2024.  Congressional Republicans are both supporting his efforts to contest this election and indicating he should run in four years.  The foregoing tells me that the GOP leadership believes an autocracy will help them retain power better than a democracy and there’s some data to support this proposition.

The Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden maintains data on political parties around the world.  One graph produced by this organization shows how the Republican Party’s commitment to democracy has steadily eroded since the late 1990s and fell off a cliff after Donald Trump was elected in 2016.  Another shows how Republican Party leaders went from demonizing Democrats “half the time” around 2009 to “usually” demonizing them around 2016.  V-Dem also graphed how Republican Party leaders increased explicitly encouraging violence against political opponents around 2012 and how it continued from there through Trump’s leadership.  Conversely, the Democratic Party received a high, steady rating for its commitment to democracy, with low incidences of opponent demonization and calls for violence against adversaries.

What’s the good news?  I believe private citizen Donald Trump will be facing a substantial possibility of being indicted for numerous crimes when he leaves office in 2021, including massive money laundering, bank fraud and insurance fraud.  That’s probably why he is fighting so hard to retain the presidency.  Fearing prosecution by a Biden appointed U.S. attorney general and a U.S. attorney in the hard driving Southern District of New York, I believe Trump will attempt to pardon himself and his family before he leaves office.

The problem for The Donald – a federal pardon won’t prevent Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance from getting his financial records and that could lead to indictments by a New York grand jury.  Trump loyalists may want their hero to run again in 2024 but I think he has a better chance of going to jail than he does of serving a second term as president. 

No matter, there are numerous far-right Republicans who are courting Trump’s base and advocating Trumpian policies.  No doubt, a dozen or more of them will throw their hat in the 2024 ring.  The one I fear the most though is Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is highly intelligent, ruthless and unethical.  He has the skills to use the anti-democracy precedents set by Trump to control the federal government and again put the fate of our democratic republic at risk.

For now, however, we can revel in the fact that Trump will not have four more years to subvert the Constitution and further destroy the image of the United States abroad.  And we can be confident that competent, ethical Biden-appointed officials will follow the rule of law as they control key government agencies that protect us from threats, both foreign and domestic.

Oh yes.  Halleluiah!

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Conservative Supreme Court Could Hurt the GOP

Supreme Court of the United States

After Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died and President Trump quickly nominated Judge Amy Coney Barrett to fill her seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, some Democrats were hoping that Utah GOP Sen. Mitt Romney might oppose confirmation of a justice so close to an election.  Romney dashed their hopes on September 22, however, when he released a statement saying he favored a vote to confirm her.

Speaking to reporters, Romney voiced support for justices who are “strict constructionists.”  Romney further commented, with a smile.  “I recognize that we may have a court which has more of a conservative bent than it’s had over the last few decades,” he said.  “But my liberal friends have over many decades gotten very used to the idea of having a liberal court.  And that’s not written in the stars.”

“What liberal court?” I almost yelled aloud when I read this.

The fact is, liberal Democrats haven’t been the predominant influence on the composition of the Supreme Court since World War II ended.  The four Chief Justices appointed since President Franklin Roosevelt’s death were all selected by Republican presidents.  Of the Supreme Court justices confirmed since 1945, 12 were appointed by Democratic presidents; 20 were appointed by Republican presidents. 

As for strict construction, which Romney and many other Republicans support, it dates back to before the Civil War.  This theory requires that those interpreting a law or the U.S. Constitution should strictly adhere to the text exactly as it was written.

Most conservatives today, however, use two different terms, “textualism” and “originalism.” During her confirmation hearing Judge Barrett was asked to define originalism.  She said it means that the text of the Constitution should be considered as having the meaning that it had when it was ratified and that meaning doesn’t change over time.  A bit later she defined textualism in a similar way, saying that a judge should consider the text as it was written, with the meaning it had at the time and shouldn’t infuse her own meaning into it.

Prominent conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society promote jurists who are originalists.  In fact, all six conservative Supreme Court justices are members of the Federalist Society and Trump mainly used recommendations from that organization to choose the 200+ judges he has appointed to the federal courts. 

Consequently, I decided to do some research on federalism, the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation so I could better understand how decisions might be made by Trump appointed judges.

Federalism is a system of government in which powers are divided between two levels of government that have equal status, i.e., federal and state.  Federalists, however, believe that states no longer have equal status and that many federal government powers should be delegated to the states, including those over education and welfare. 

The Federalist Society is a group of conservatives and libertarians – federalists – dedicated to “reforming the current legal order,” which its members believe is dominated by liberal ideology.  They advocate “reordering priorities within the legal system to place emphasis on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law.”  Two of the organization’s founding principles are that the state exists to preserve individual freedom and that the duty of the judiciary is to say what the law is, not what it should be.  

The Federalist Society appears to be an educational organization because it doesn’t take positions on legal or policy issues or engage in other forms of political advocacy – or so they claim.  Its membership of 60,000 lawyers, law students, scholars, and other individuals believe that individual citizens – not government – can make the best choices for themselves and society.  No doubt, its members consider themselves to be originalists.

On the other hand, the Heritage Foundation takes strong positions on policy issues and engages in conservative political advocacy.  It claims to have over 500,000 members who value free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.  I suspect that many members of the Federalist Society also belong to the Heritage Foundation and hold the same conservative beliefs.

The Heritage Foundation developed a 1,100-page policy manual entitled “Mandate for Leadership” in 1980, according to its website.  At the time, this document was described by United Press International as, “a blueprint for grabbing the government by its frayed New Deal lapels and shaking out 48 years of liberal policy.”  I believe this tells us what the Heritage Foundation’s objectives are – roll back President Roosevelt’s New Deal.

So, how will federalism and originalism affect the Supreme Court’s decision on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?  Will people with preexisting conditions and tens of millions of Americans lose their health insurance?  Will the conservative majority’s beliefs cause them to overturn Roe v. Wade and end constitutional protections for abortions in the United States?  Will they reverse the Court’s 2015 ruling that allowed same sex marriages?

Well, polls indicate that a majority of Americans favor Obamacare, constitutional protections for abortion, marriage equality and numerous other more liberal positions ingrained in American society.  No doubt, conservative ideology and public opinion are headed for a showdown as the Supreme Court considers these and many other issues that Republicans want decided in their favor.   

But here’s the thing.  If the Supreme Court’s conservative majority rules against strong public opinion, it will be Republican politicians that pay the price in subsequent elections.

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Republican Successes Could Herald Their Downfall

It appears that the GOP will finally get a solidly right-wing Supreme Court.  I may not be the first to use this analogy – but Republicans in pursuit of their conservative goals are like a dog trying to catch a car it’s chasing; success might mean the end of them. 

Why so?  Well, just consider one of the huge issues that a 6 to 3 conservative majority on the Court will rule on within the next year – the future of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). 

Republicans have been trying desperately to repeal this law since the day it was passed by a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2010.  Wealthy Libertarian donors like the Koch brothers, helped the GOP flood the media with fear-mongering attacks before Obamacare took effect in 2014, ominously warning of government-controlled health care.  Almost all GOP-led states refused to cooperate in implementing Obamacare and 22 initially refused to accept the Medicaid expansion it provided.

Since 2014, the non-expansion states have dwindled down to 12.  In some cases, state lawmakers legislated the reversals, others were accomplished by ballot initiatives, where voters took matters into their own hands.  In August, Missouri became the sixth Republican-controlled state where voters expanded Medicaid by ballot initiative and the seventh state to take advantage of greater Medicaid coverage since President Trump was inaugurated.  Voters want health care insurance!

A July 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 75% of Americans favorably viewed the Medicaid program, including 65% of Republicans.  A recent Economist/YouGov poll determined that 65% rated health care as “very important.”  Consequently, it’s no surprise that the attempt by President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare in the summer of 2017 is given as a primary reason why Democrats regained control of the U.S. House in 2019.

Health care is a big issue in rural America, which is home to the Republican base.  University of North Carolina researchers found that 120 rural hospitals have closed since 2010, with a record number of 19 closing in 2019.  According to a February 2020 report by the Chartis Center for Rural Health, there are 453 rural hospitals that are vulnerable to closure.  Of the 216 that are labeled “most vulnerable,” 75% (162) are located in states that have not expanded Medicaid under Obamacare.

Still, Republicans have continuously attacked the Affordable Care Act in court, particularly its individual mandate that imposes a tax on individuals who don’t have health care insurance.  In a case before the Supreme Court in 2012, however, Chief Justice John Roberts voted with the liberal justices to uphold the individual mandate as constitutional.

But after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act reduced the individual mandate tax penalty to $0 in 2017, 20 Republican-controlled states sued the Trump administration, claiming that without this penalty, the entire law must fall.  Later that year, a federal district court judge in northern Texas agreed with them and so did the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in December 2019. 

Consequently, on November 10, the U.S. Supreme Court will begin considering if the entire Affordable Care Act must be struck down, with a decision expected next spring. Although the law remains in place, health care insurance coverage for tens of millions of Americans hangs in the balance, along with the fate of hundreds of rural hospitals and Obamacare’s protections for an estimated 102 million of our citizens who have preexisting conditions. 

Recently, Trump has been promising that those with preexisting conditions will be covered under his soon to be released health care plan.  But there is absolutely no evidence that such a plan exists.  He is blatantly lying in an attempt to remove health care as a campaign issue.  Numerous Republicans who are up for reelection this year are promising constituents that they will protect those with preexisting conditions too.  They are also lying.

The almost 400 pages of newspaper columns and blogs I have written since 2014, have attempted to document the fallacies of conservative ideology and the damage that GOP policies would do to this nation.  Since 2011, Republicans have proposed federal budgets that would reduce Medicaid funding dramatically and turn Medicare into a premium support program where retirees would be at the mercy of profit-minded insurance companies.  These budgets would cut trillions of dollars from food stamps and the other social safety net programs over a 10-year period.  

But here’s the thing.  Conservatives rarely get any of their policies enacted into law.  Even with total control of the government during 2017 and 2018, they failed miserably in repealing Obamacare and were unable to pass much from their legislative wish list except a tax cut for the wealthy.  There’s a good reason for this; Americans would vote most Republicans out of office if they attempted to significantly change Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other programs for the elderly and the poor. 

Trump administration failures in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic are looming large as we approach November 3rd.  Americans have a clear picture of what happens when Republicans are in control.  Millions have already cast their ballots and millions more will do so during early voting.  The cowardly GOP Senators who enabled this incompetent president and refused to hold him accountable for his unconstitutional acts are in fear of losing their jobs.  Some GOP Senators are warning of a blue tsunami and a “Republican bloodbath.”

Voters, bring it on!

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A Blue Wave Would Build America Back Better

What could be better for the nation than a Democratic sweep of the November elections?  That would give a President Joe Biden the control of Congress he will need to enact his program next year.  Democrats may have to eliminate the Senate filibuster in the process but I believe they are willing to do that.

With former Vice President Biden ahead in the polls, economists are giving a lot of thought to a total Democratic victory this year and the economic outlook is encouraging according to a September study by Moody’s Analytics.   Their report – The Macroeconomic Consequences: Trump vs. Biden – modeled several scenarios for November, including a Democratic sweep and a Republican sweep.  Turns out – which shouldn’t be surprising – that between these two, the economy would be weaker if President Trump wins and a Republican-controlled Congress fully adopts his economic policies next year. 

So, what would the GOP likely do?

Actually, Republicans didn’t draft a platform this year; their agenda is — well, whatever Trump wants.  So, Moody’s researchers mainly used the proposals in the president’s fiscal year 2021 budget for their analysis.   These include another tax cut costing $1.9 trillion and over $700 billion in spending cuts during the coming decade.  Yep!  Same old, same old.

No doubt, Trump’s first priority would be to make permanent the individual income tax provisions of the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) that are scheduled to expire at the end of 2025.  That would further benefit the wealthy, of course, and add hundreds of billions to the federal deficits.

Republicans have long wanted to benefit their rich donors by reducing the capital gains taxes that apply to sales of stock and other assets.  They’ll do that by indexing the purchase price of an asset to inflation.  Capital gains tax is assessed on the difference between the sales price of an asset and the original purchase price.  Increasing the purchase price by inflation would reduce this difference, which would decrease the capital gain and the resulting tax.  Regarding stocks, only around 52% of Americans own them and reportedly the richest 10% of Americans hold over 80% of the shares. 

The president has also long supported a reduction in payroll taxes.  Arguably this would benefit working Americans but it would certainly enrich Trump businesses that must match employee contributions.  This summer he actually seemed to support eliminating that tax completely, which according to experts would cause the Social Security Trust fund to run dry in 2023.   Heads up, poor seniors who intend to vote Republican, you may have to stock up on some tasty canned dog food.

Trump’s spending reductions would mostly affect health care programs but he would also cut food stamps and other programs in the social safety net.  One thing’s for sure, Republicans in Congress will try to eliminate President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal achievements and Medicare/Medicaid if they get the chance. 

But here’s the thing.  The GOP policies of tax cuts for the wealthy and austerity for everyone else just don’t do enough to boost the economy.  That’s why Moody’s analysts believe the Democrats’ fiscal policies will do more to increase the gross domestic product (GDP) and result in better job creation.

Biden is proposing over $4 trillion in tax increases and over $7 trillion in additional spending.  He would increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy by moving the top corporate rate from 21% to 28% and rolling back much of the Republican’s 2017 tax cuts.  Plus, Biden would tax capital gains and dividends earned by individuals making over $1 million a year as ordinary income, i.e., 39.6% instead of 20%.

In order to bolster the Social Security trust fund, Biden would increase earnings subject to payroll taxes from almost $138,000 to $400,000.  This extra revenue would significantly extend the ability of Social Security to pay benefits, which are reportedly the primary source of income for 40% of retired Americans.

Although it wasn’t covered by Moody’s, I’m sure Democrats would quickly increase the IRS audit and enforcement budgets that Republicans in Congress have been slashing since 2011.  Over the past decade, Republicans helped tax evaders rob the U.S. treasury of hundreds of billions of tax dollars. 

A University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School study found that “Over the next decade, $7.5 trillion, or nearly 15 percent of owed taxes, will go uncollected.”  The authors concluded that “a commitment to restoring tax compliance efforts to historical levels could generate over $1 trillion in the next decade.”

Additional IRS tax collections from wealthy tax cheats, along with tax increases, would nicely supplement Biden’s plan to spend $2.4 trillion on infrastructure and greatly increase government spending on education, the social safety net and health care.  Investments like these have the potential to create millions of good-paying jobs and give Americans hope for better times. 

For I believe that Donald Trump and the Republican Party have caused the future of the United States to look the darkest it has since before the Civil War.  Yet, it doesn’t have to stay that way.  The past four years are history but the coming four years are in the voter’s hands. 

That’s why my Blue Wave political contributions have been greater than ever this year.  And like tens of millions of other concerned Americans, I intend to keep opposing the current anti-democratic Republican menace until its threat is eliminated.

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In Search of Roots – Back Down the Gravel Road

Do you ever wonder how and why you developed as the person you are?  Have you ever traveled back to your birthplace – physically or mentally – to see what you could discover about how your roots shaped your life?  Well, this is a brief story about my journey.

The two-story frame house where I spent the first eight years of my life still looks out on Marion Street and across a small grassy field to the greenhouse where my father worked for many years growing roses.  The Des Moines to Fort Dodge trolley tracks that ran by the greenhouse and fifty yards south of our acreage are still there too.  We called it the Interurban.  Now the only traffic on these tracks is an old steam engine pulling two well-used passenger cars full of tourists down into the Des Moines River valley and back.  Smooth blacktop paving covers Marion Street these days, but in my memory, it will always be a dusty, gravel road. 

Up that road and across the tracks on the left was Henry Shell’s pig farm and dairy where we bought our milk.  A pungent pig odor always floated in the breeze on warm summer evenings.  Henry’s farmhouse and barns are gone now, replaced by a nice bungalow. 

Our old house is green instead of the white I remember and it’s almost obscured by trees and bushes on one side.  Things do grow a lot in over 70 years.  The old wooden barn behind the house has been replaced by a modern metal structure.  The big front porch where I rode my tricycle is gone too, as are the outhouse and the chicken coops.  I struggle to remember these structures, but I will never forget the woodpile where I spent so many hours playing as a child.  

This accumulation of poles, logs and planks – 4 feet high, 6 feet wide and 10 feet long – was near the small cornfield that covered the southern section of our acreage.  A vertical pole at each corner held everything in place.  Out in the country, there weren’t many neighbors close by and my brothers were much older than me.  So, I spent a lot of time with my imaginary playmates on that old pile of wood. 

It was my stage when I sang to the cornstalk crowd.  They were very attentive.  It was my airplane as I sat in a makeshift cockpit and soared through the sky.  It was a pirate ship, which I attacked with my lath sword in hand, vanquishing patched eye demons by the dozen.  And yes, it was even a space ship after Mom bought me a Buck Rogers ray gun that made sparks when I pulled the trigger. 

A quarter mile from our house was the two-room, country schoolhouse where I learned to read and write – actually, the same building where my Dad had started school in 1915.  At the back of the property – now just a vacant lot – were two outhouses.  On the right side was the well where we pumped our drinking water, along with the swings and teeter totters.

Nearby was a neighborhood where people led a hardscrabble life.  There was a two-story shack that I passed on my way to school every day.  The outside walls were covered with tarpaper held down by oddly angled laths.  I seem to remember a goat looking out an upstairs window one time, but maybe that was just a story my brothers told me.  The occupants of this house used a two-horse drawn wagon for transportation and farmed with horse drawn implements when Dad hired them to tend our few acres of corn.  They were like characters out of a Snuffy Smith comic strip, with tattered, hillbilly-looking old hats and scraggly beards.

My schoolmate Larry was from another poor family.  He was quite bright, but rather sickly looking and small for his age.  His mother invited me for lunch one day and we kids were served some creamed corn, a dab of potatoes and a piece of bread with bacon grease on it.  It wasn’t my typical meal and the siblings of the house squabbled over what was left on my plate when I had finished.  Later Larry was at my house for lunch.  Mother served us a glass of milk, a banana and a large meat sandwich.   Larry was overjoyed.  I have often wondered what became of him. 

By comparison, our family was relatively well off on our rented, five-acre plot, with a cow, chickens, a big garden, an automobile and a working Dad who made $18 a week.  Yet, even though we were on the high side of the local economic scale, our house had only one cold water faucet and no in-door bathroom.  In the summer, we used the outhouse.  During cold weather we used a chemical toilet, into which my brothers frequently threw my small stuffed panda bear.  That little guy got washed a lot.

Much later in life I viewed a video talk by a University of Colorado Professor, Morris E. Massey, entitled, “What You Are Is Where You Were When.”  Well, this rural Iowa setting was where I was when.

Occasionally my mind wanders back down the gravel road, seeking answers to the questions we all have, searching for character shaping events and asking, “Why?”  What prepared me for the life I’ve enjoyed and the things I’ve been able to do?  But the gravel road doesn’t talk to me anymore; it has long since been covered over and gone silent.  Still – I can’t be sure – but perhaps it told me all I needed to know as I played on my woodpile stage and watched its dust settle on my cornstalk audience.

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Can U.S. Democracy Be Taken for Granted?

Nicholas Kamm/AFP-Getty Images

Most Americans are exhausted by President Trump’s lies and demagoguery.  They don’t want to see his face on TV or read about all the damage he is doing to this nation.  But they must not ignore the fact that this president believes he’s above the law and that U.S. Attorney General William Barr wants to keep him there.  Yes, instead of protecting the Constitution, the nation’s chief legal officer has become an active enabler of Trump’s unconstitutional behavior.

With all the focus on Trump, however, I don’t believe Americans have been paying nearly enough attention to the dangerous Mr. Barr.  Just who is this man?  What does he believe?  And how is he weakening our democracy?

Barr is a 70-year-old lawyer who received his law degree with highest honors from George Washington University Law School in 1977.  He is a devout, conservative Catholic who was President George H. W. Bush’s U.S. Attorney General from 1991 until 1993.  After working in the private sector for many years, he was confirmed as Trump’s attorney general in February 2019.  By most accounts, Barr was a well-respected conservative lawyer.  Although few Democrats voted to confirm him, many hoped he would curb Trump’s legal excesses.  They were dead wrong.

What does Barr believe?  Well, he has long argued that executive power is expansive. He supports a “unitary executive,” where the president has total power to control executive branch agencies, including the supposedly independent Department of Justice.  For example, on Jan. 8, 1991, as deputy attorney general, Barr reportedly told then-President George H. W. Bush that he had unlimited authority to a launch a major war [in Iraq] without congressional permission – or even if Congress voted against it.  Keep in mind, the Constitution explicitly gives Congress the power to declare war.

What Barr has been doing to weaken our democracy would literally fill a book, but let’s start with his opposition to special counsel Robert Muller’s Russia investigation.  On June 8, 2018, private citizen Barr wrote a 19-page memo to Mueller’s boss, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, which opined that Mueller lacked the legal grounds to investigate the president for obstruction of justice.  Some called it an application to be Trump’s attorney general.  It evidently didn’t succeed in stopping Mueller from thoroughly conducting such an inquiry, however, Barr did get the job he was seeking.

Democrats feared that as attorney general, Barr would simply fire Mueller – but he did the next best thing.  More than three weeks before releasing Mueller’s heavily redacted 448-page report to the public, Barr issued a four-page letter to the Senate and House judiciary committees on March 24, 2019.  This missive basically cleared Trump of colluding with the Russians during the 2016 election and opined that Mueller didn’t produce sufficient evidence that the president had obstructed justice.

In a letter to Barr dated March 27, 2019, the usually reticent Mueller expressed his concern that Barr’s March 24 letter, “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”  In May, hundreds of former federal prosecutors from all around the nation published a bipartisan letter online that states “Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.”

Barr was unfazed and has continued to refuse granting Congress access to the unredacted Mueller report.

Suppression of the full Mueller report, however, was merely one of Barr’s democracy damaging decisions.   Here, in summary, are just two of his numerous acts to undermine the rule of law:

During February 2020, the highest levels of the DOJ (a.k.a., Barr) pressured prosecutors to seek a lighter sentence than the federal guidelines suggest in the case against Trump’s friend, Roger Stone.  The Department subsequently issued an unprecedented overriding sentencing memorandum, which caused prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky to resign from both the Stone case and his temporary appointment in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in D.C.  In time, the president commuted Stone’s sentence.

The DOJ filed a motion on May 7 to immediately drop its prosecution of Trump’s former National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, even though he had twice plead guilty for lying to the FBI.  A week later, almost 2,000 former DOJ officials signed a letter calling for Barr to resign over what they called his improper intervention in Flynn’s criminal case.  The letter assailed Barr’s “repeated actions to use the Department as a tool to further President Trump’s personal and political interests.”

Eighty percent of George Washington University’s law faculty – Barr’s alma mater – signed a six-page letter on June 23 that endorsed calls for Barr to resign, citing his misconduct in the aforementioned matters.  The letter stated that Barr has “failed to fulfill his oath of office to ‘support and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  It goes on, “Sadly, in his current (second) term as Attorney General, Mr. Barr has demonstrated repeated disregard of the principles [rule of law] for which our institution stands.”

No democracy can long endure without the rule of law.  When a huge, unprecedented group of bipartisan legal professionals accuse Attorney General Barr of flaunting this critical tenet and violating his oath to defend the Constitution, they know our democracy is seriously threatened.   

Obviously, they don’t believe U.S. democracy can be taken for granted – and neither should we.

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Right-wing Conspiracy Theories Target Democrats

Rick Loomis/Getty Images

What is the absolute worst thing you can call a person, I mean something that immediately elicits strong emotions of disgust, revulsion and hatred toward that individual?  Is it murderer?  Is it Trumpist? (Just kidding.)  No, it’s pedophile or worse yet, cannibal pedophile.  So, it’s no surprise that these terms are used by right-wing Internet trolls to demonize liberals and the “left.”  They want Americans to despise Democrats.

Remember Pizzagate?  This ridiculous 2016 Internet conspiracy theory claimed that Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats were running a satanic, pedophile ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizza parlor.  Some believe it was hatched by an ultra-right, white nationalist group but maybe the Russians did it.  Regardless, it was totally false.

The following year, a Pizzagate offshoot began creeping around on the fringes of the Internet in October.  An anonymous operator who self-identified as “Q” began posting mysterious image board messages to support President Trump.  He (or perhaps she) gave the impression that he was an intelligence or military officer with a very high Q security clearance. 

This individual warns about a small, secretive group of powerful Democratic elites that are manipulating world affairs, in concert with the mainstream media, Hillary Clinton – of course – and the “deep state.”  He claims that these Satan worshippers – who some Q followers believe are also cannibals – have organized mass pedophilia rings that they hide from the public.  Further, Q assures his readers that Trump is the only one who can thwart these evil-doers and is waging a secret campaign against them.

Q followers worldwide likely number in the low millions.  They have formed a religion-like Internet community called “QAnon,” which has no known physical location.  Yet, it reportedly has an infrastructure, literature and a growing number of believers.  Q leaves clues on the Internet and patriots – as followers call themselves – search to decipher their meaning and reveal his prophecies.  Their antics are reminiscent of the Pokémon Go game.

My interest piqued in 2018 when QAnon members appeared at Trump rallies holding up large Q signs.  Research revealed that they have cryptic sayings, like “The Storm is coming (mass arrests),” which they believe will lead to the “Great Awakening,” a period when Trump will destroy the evils of the deep state.  They also have a pledge, “Where we go one, we go all,” frequently abbreviated as “WWG1WGA.”  The beliefs of these people are so bizarre and disconnected from reality that they’re difficult to describe in a way that makes any sense.

The FBI has designated QAnon a potential domestic terrorist threat that could drive “extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts.”  Yet, a July 4 video shows Trump’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn – who the White House has discussed rehiring – taking an oath that included a QAnon reference, WWG1WGA.  And Trump helped elevate these radicals into the mainstream recently by seeming to welcome its members into his base.  Fox News’ frequent whitewashing of QAnon’s activities can be found here.

Dozens of QAnon supporters are now running for elective office, including Marjorie Taylor Greene who recently won the Republican primary in a deep red district in Northeast Georgia.  She will almost certainly be elected to the U.S. House in November.  Greene has written numerous articles for a conspiracy theory web site, according to NBC News, and has been highly criticized for making anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim videos.  Although she formerly embraced the QAnon conspiracy theory and called Q a patriot, she backtracked during a recent Fox News interview and claimed that she’s not a QAnon candidate.

On August 12 Trump tweeted: “Congratulations to future Republican Star Marjorie Taylor Greene on a big Congressional primary win in Georgia against a very tough and smart opponent. Marjorie is strong on everything and never gives up – a real WINNER!”

In a recent blog, I outlined how former Georgia congressman Newt Gingrich and other Republicans have viciously vilified Democrats for decades.  The QAnon group, however, has taken that agenda to a dangerous extreme by falsely accusing Hillary Clinton and other democrats of being pedophiles who drink the blood of children. 

According to an article in the Atlantic magazine, one of Q’s posts stated: “These people need to ALL be ELIMINATED.”  And reportedly, many QAnon supporters believe top Democrats should either be imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay or rounded up and executed.

Although the speakers at last week’s GOP convention didn’t go quite that far, their lies and race-tinged fear mongering was directed at casting Democrats as radical socialists who will destroy America and control Americans.  I believe that the blatant promoting of right-wing conspiracies during the campaign and this event shows that Trump is desperate to win.  And there’s a good reason why.

When Michael Cohen – Trump’s lawyer and fixer – testified before Congress he parted one of the many veils that obscures the Trump organization’s fraudulent activities.  If Trump loses the election, the entire body of their criminality – money laundering, bank fraud, etc. – will be exposed and family Trump could be in a world of hurt.  So, I believe he will contest an election loss and hold out until he can cut a deal whereby he and his family can avoid both federal and state prosecution. 

Folks, it’s imperative that we carefully vote early and work hard for a landslide turnout to elect Joe Biden.  That’s our only defense against this autocrat and his conspiracy theory goons.

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The Right to Vote Is the Foundation of Democracy

The right to free and fair elections is the most precious one we possess as citizens of the United States.  Without that blessing we wouldn’t be able to elect officials that will protect the other rights we have under the Constitution.  Republicans, particularly President Trump, however, are attempting to deprive us of an election where all of our votes will be handled properly and accurately counted.  Why?  Voter suppression is their favored way to win.

That’s nothing new for Republicans, of course, it has been going on for years, aided by a 2013 decision by conservatives on the Supreme Court that gutted Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act.  Since then, some GOP-controlled states – like Ohio – gerrymandered congressional districts to virtually guarantee Republican candidates would win the majority of U.S. House seats and many enacted strict voter ID laws.  According an appeals court, North Carolina’s 2013 voter law, “targeted African Americans with almost surgical precision.”  Republican secretaries of state have implemented radical purges of voter rolls to remove minority citizens – a.k.a. likely Democratic voters – and in general have attempted to make voting more time consuming and difficult, particularly in minority precincts. 

Is there a reason why conservatives go to such lengths to bend the rules in their favor?  Well, I don’t think even the best of them can successfully sell their policies to the American people. 

The current crowd leading the GOP, however, is certainly not “the best of them.”  First, Trump was impeached for attempting to coerce the Ukrainian president into investigating his likely presidential opponent, Joe Biden.  Then Trump’s former National Security Advisor John Bolton alleged in his book that the president tried to get election help from Chinese President Xi.  More recent allegations suggest Trump’s ambassador to Brazil sought similar support for Trump’s reelection from Brazilian officials.

Now, less than 90 days before the election, Republican-controlled Senate committees under Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Charles Grassley (R-Ia.) are using subpoenas and oversight hearings in an attempt to brand the intelligence community under President Obama as corrupt and dig up dirt on Joe Biden and his son, Hunter.  They want to succeed in smearing Biden where Trump failed.  Johnson even admitted his efforts would help Trump get reelected.

Meanwhile, Trump was taking voter suppression to a much higher level.  When it became clear that millions would seek to vote by mail due to the coronavirus pandemic Trump – without evidence – attacked that system as being conducive to widespread voter fraud.   Never mind that he and many on his staff have voted with mailed absentee ballots numerous times. 

In March, Trump was on Fox News discussing provisions the Democrats wanted in the CARES Act to ramp up funding for voting by mail during the pandemic.  He said it would create higher levels of voting that “if you ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.”  Well, you’re right Mr. President; more people voting typically means fewer Republicans win.

Oh, but it wasn’t enough for Trump to just bad-mouth voting by mail; he had to do something to disrupt the process.  Enter Louis DeJoy, a Trump supporter and mega-donor who was appointed as postmaster general in June.  He went right to work.

Trump loyalists typically get rid of or reassign the knowledgeable top officials in any agency they head – and that’s exactly what DeJoy did.  He also implemented “reforms,” banning overtime and reportedly removing or decommissioning up to 20 percent of the high-volume mail sorting machines.  Just a few days ago Postal Service contractors began removing the ubiquitous blue neighborhood mailboxes in Montana and other states.  Bipartisan protests from Montana’s congressional delegation finally stalled that process.

Trump’s quotes are usually semi-coherent so I’ll just paraphrase a few:  At the end of July, he claimed the election must be postponed because it would be fraudulent with mail in ballots and, “a great embarrassment to the U.S.A.”  Speaking to Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo on August 13 Trump admitted that he was against extra funding Democrats wanted for the postal service because “that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting.”  A few days ago, after lauding “beautiful absentee ballots,” Trump told a group of supporters “the only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged.”

Okay, did Trump do anything to make sure the upcoming election will be accurate and fair?  Of course not.  In fact, last week a reporter asked him three times, “What are you doing as president to make sure there is a free and fair election?”  Instead of an answer, all the reporter got was a blizzard of baseless complaints and lies.

Although public pressure caused DeJoy to pause his “reforms” until after the election, he hasn’t committed to correct the damage already done.  His decisions with the Postal Service, however, were a perfect example of the way Trump and his cronies don’t even try to hide their corrupt intent or actions anymore.  No doubt, they are confident in their ability to dupe Republican voters and stymie Democratic efforts to stop them. 

Still, think how much worse their corruption would have been if the 2018 election hadn’t given Democrats control of the U.S. House.  Yes, elections have consequences.  And they will be dire – particularly for our democracy – if this November’s election gives Trump another four years.

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Trump’s Executive Actions Are a Grand Illusion

My last blog tried to explain the differences between the $3.4 trillion HEROES Act passed by the Democratic-controlled U.S. House in May and the $1 trillion HEALS Act passed by the Republican-controlled Senate in late July.  I had hoped to provide readers with a guide to evaluate the ongoing negotiations between House and Senate Democratic leaders and the White House, represented by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. 

Those talks ended last Friday and on Saturday, President Trump issued one executive order and three memoranda (which carry less weight).  He said these actions, “will take care of pretty much this entire [coronavirus relief] situation.”  Clearly, Trump either doesn’t understand the problems or he lied.

I obtained copies of these documents and will attempt to explain the four major areas where they claim to provide relief.  But first it might be best to highlight some of the challenges after certain provisions of the CARES Act that was passed in March expired.

  • Thirty million Americans were collecting an extra $600 per week federal unemployment insurance supplement at the end of July when this payment expired.  These dollars added to a state benefit, which, according to Goldman Sachs, averages $370. 
  • A survey by the U.S. Census Bureau found that 24 million Americans claim they won’t be able to pay their next month’s rent without the supplemental federal benefits.
  • The COVID-19 Eviction Defense Project, estimated that 110 million Americans are renting and around 23 million – or 20% – are at risk of being evicted by Sept. 30.
  • Although the economy supposedly added 1.8 million jobs in July and the unemployment rate dipped to 10.2%, these jobs numbers were down sharply from May (2.5M) and June (4.8M).
  • The U.S. now has more than 5 million confirmed coronavirus cases and over 160,000 deaths.  States that opened their economy early have delayed further opening, and in some cases have pulled back.  This virus is definitely not under control.

To address these problems the president is attempting to do the following, although some aspects of his plan may not be legal.

Payroll tax deferral – This memorandum directs that payroll taxes for workers making less than $104,000 per year be deferred through December 6, which would add almost $250 per month to the paycheck of someone making $48,000 per year.  The extra received, however, would have to be repaid in December.  Oh, but Trump promised, “If I’m victorious on November 3rd, I plan to forgive these taxes and make permanent cuts to the payroll tax.”  

This deferral does nothing for the unemployed and could seriously weaken an already stressed Social Security trust fund, which could run out of surplus as early as 2033 if a bad recession continues.  Permanently cutting this tax would decimate the Social Security and Medicare systems, so I expect Trump’s comments will be walked back.

Lost wages assistance – This memorandum provides that the $600 per week unemployment insurance supplement that expired at the end of July will be replaced starting August 1 with a $400 payment, $100 of which must be paid by the states.  Trump is taking $44 billion from the $70 billion FEMA Disaster Relief Fund for the federal share, just as hurricane season is starting.  States are directed to use the $80 billion remaining in the CARES Act’s Coronavirus Relief Fund to meet their obligation. 

But here’s the problem.  At current unemployment levels, the $44 billion of federal funds will be exhausted before October according to the Washington Post’s Heather Long and the states will be on the hook for the remaining obligation of $400 per week for their unemployed until December 27.  They are already begging for more assistance from the federal government as their tax revenues have cratered.  States need something like the $900+ billion assistance that was in the Democrats HEROES bill, not another burden on their already strapped budgets.

Renters and homeowner’s assistance – This executive order is illusory.  It merely directs several cabinet members, including the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to determine if “any measures temporarily halting residential evictions” are necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and to identify any federal funds which are available to provide temporary assistance to renters and homeowners.  No doubt, evictions are already underway after the CARES Act moratorium expired last month and it appears that foreclosures can begin in September.

Student loan payment relief – This memorandum continues both suspending loan payments and temporarily setting interest rates to zero percent on student loans, which under the CARES Act are due to expire September 30.  This applies to loans held by the Department of Education and lasts until December 31, 2020.

Under careful analysis, the president’s grand scheme to circumvent Congress and subvert the separation of powers is woefully inadequate to address the massive economic problems caused by the coronavirus and is subject to strong legal challenges.  Yet, that’s exactly what those who concocted it are hoping will happen.  Republicans for the most part don’t want to provide any additional relief to struggling Americans.  So, what better than to create an illegal illusion of relief with executive actions and then blame the Democrats for blocking them when they go to the courts to preserve the separation of powers.

Former President Harry Truman said it best, “How many times do you have to get hit over the head until you figure out who’s hitting you.”  Of course, he was talking about Republicans.

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Huge Deficits Are Bad – the Alternative Is Worse

President Trump signed the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March.  Not one Democrat was invited for the signing, although they had more input on this bill than Republicans.  This legislation provided an extra $600 in unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who were out of a job and included a moratorium on evictions.  There were numerous other provisions in this bill but these two were designed to expire at the end of July. 

The U.S. House passed the $3.4 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act on May 15.  Democrats anticipated that the unemployed would need more financial help and so would those in danger of being forced out of their homes.  Conservatives railed against this bill as a liberal wish list and the Republican-controlled Senate ignored it for over two months.  Perhaps they believed the ridiculous – actually stupid – statement by Vice President Mike Pence that the virus would be gone after Memorial Day and the economy would come bouncing back.

Finally, Senate Republicans presented their $1+ trillion Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act in the last week of July, just days before the extra $600 unemployment benefits were due to expire.   Still, they appeared to be in total disarray.  In fact, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advised that 15 to 20 GOP Senators wouldn’t vote for any additional coronavirus relief legislation, whatsoever.

Democrats acted early and comprehensively to anticipate the pandemic effects that health professionals were predicting.  Republicans failed to act, perhaps based on Trump’s happy talk or an expectation that the virus would subside and a V-shaped recovery was in the offing. 

Now, July 2020 is behind us but it recorded more virus cases than any one of the previous five months and the pandemic is still staring us in the face with no end in sight.  All of this drama made me eager to compare the House and Senate bills; here’s what I discovered.

HEROES Act (Dems) v. HEALS (GOP):

1. One-time stimulus payment – Both bills provide $1,200 per adult but the Dem’s bill is much more generous for children, proposing $436 billion (b) v. $300b for the GOP.

2. Hazard pay for essential workers, including health care – Dems $190b v. GOP $0.

3. Extra federal unemployment benefit – Dems, $600 weekly, costing $437b v. GOP, $200 weekly through September and 70 percent of a worker’s former earnings after that, costing $110b.

4. Assistance for home owners and renters – Dems, $202b v. GOP, $3b.

5. Health care funding – Dems, $382b v. GOP, $111b.

6. State and local government aid – Dems, $1.1 trillion, including $81b for Medicaid and $90b for education v. GOP, $105b for education only. 

7. Additional small business aid – Dems, $0 v. GOP $200b.

8. Business tax cuts – Dems, $36b v. GOP, $203b.

9. Higher education funding – Dems, $169b v. GOP, $0.

10. Increase child tax credit benefits – Dems, $119b v. GOP, $0.

The GOP bill would shield businesses, universities, schools and hospitals from being sued over coronavirus-related damages for five years.  It also includes $1.75b to demolish and replace the FBI building in Washington instead of moving the headquarters to the suburbs.  Trump wants this money because he fears a flashy hotel would be built on the vacated property and compete with his hotel, which is across the street.   Democrats strongly object to these provisions. 

Dems want a two-year elimination of the 2017 tax law’s cap on state and local tax deductions, which would cost $137b and favor blue state tax payers.  This probably won’t fly with Republicans.

These two bills dramatically highlight the differences between Democratic and GOP philosophy.  Democrats are trying to help people remain in their homes or apartments, put food on their tables and pay their bills.  They are also trying to prevent massive additional layoffs in the public sector by giving significant aid to state and local governments whose tax revenues have cratered.  

Congressional Republicans are attempting to do the bare minimum for people and state and local governments, while favoring relief to businesses.  A significant number of them don’t even want to do that.

Virus cases are spiking all across the nation and our economy is reeling from the worse quarterly decline in the past 70 years, down 9.5 percent.  Economists are fearing a descending spiral where more workers lose jobs, leading to greatly lowered consumer spending, leading to more business closures, leading to….  Well, you get picture; they are worried about an out of control economic downturn that damages the economy for years to come.

Many economists advise going BIG on virus relief and even some right-leaning ones are not so worried about more debt now.  Still, a substantial number of Republicans in Congress will tenaciously cling to their deficit hawk ideology even if Americans lose their homes, people go hungry and the country goes to hell.

Sure, I’m concern about adding $6+ trillion to the deficit this year – but if it saves this nation from sliding into a bad depression, it will be well worth it.

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