SCOTUS Delivered Really Great News

The Supreme Court of the United States

In an 8-1 decision on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ended former president Donald Trump’s attempts to block the January 6 Select Committee’s requests for White House documents related to the attack on the Capitol.  The first sentence of its order said it all: “The application for stay of mandate and injunction [by former president Trump] … is denied.”  This is a critically important decision.  In fact, the National Archives has already started delivering some documents to the Committee.

The Court’s order went on to state, “Because the Court of Appeals concluded that President Trump’s claims would have failed even if he were the incumbent, his status as a former President necessarily made no difference to the court’s decision.”  In other words, we still don’t know if former presidents can prevail if they claim executive privilege over documents created during their presidency.  

In a separate concurring statement, Justice Kavanaugh disagreed with the Court of Appeals’ “suggestion” that only the sitting president may invoke the presidential privilege for communications that occurred during a former president’s time in office.  Kavanaugh argues that a former president must be able to successfully invoke the executive privilege for such communications, without regard to the sitting president’s approval, unless they involve illegal discussions or activities.  He is concerned that if a president and his staff know that their communications could be subject to disclosure after that president leaves office, it would have a chilling effect on the candor necessary for the presidential decision-making process.  I agree with Kavanaugh’s logic.  Perhaps President Biden and staff took note of it too.

Only Justice Clarence Thomas sided with Trump.  I’m not suggesting that he made a political decision, but his wife Virginia (Ginni) Thomas is a lawyer who is very active in conservative politics and a devoted follower of the former president.  Ms. Thomas has reportedly promoted various conspiracy theories on Facebook, including a false claim that Bill Gates would use coronavirus vaccines to kill people and another that warned about George Soros funding a massive conspiracy against Trump.

Regardless, I suspect the Court’s decision has Trump going a little crazy by now.  At last, it is official, the emperor has no clothes and a lot of his staff and some Republican members of Congress might be feeling quite naked right now too, particularly Trump’s former chief of staff, Mark Meadows.  Those who have claimed executive privilege for not appearing before the January 6 Committee are probably seriously rethinking their options.  Every day we are learning more about the possible crimes committed by Trump and/or his staff leading up to the January 6 insurrection.  The prospect of jail time should make some of them eager to tell their story before one of their colleagues tells it for them.

To make matters worse for Trump, he is also facing legal liability in at least three other investigations. Last summer, the Manhattan district attorney charged his company with a criminal scheme to help its executives evade taxes.  The former president and one or more of his children could also face charges as this case unfolds.  There is also a civil case against the Trump organization that was brought by the New York Attorney General Letitia James. 

Perhaps the most serious criminal case against Trump, however, could be brought by Fulton County, Georgia, District Attorney Fani T. Willis.  She alleges that he illegally pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the 11,780 votes he needed to win the state.  And, she has a damning audio tape of Trump’s discussion with Raffensperger.  Norm Eisen, senior fellow of the Brookings Government think tank, believes that Trump is facing a “substantial risk” of prosecution in this case.

In addition, there is a possibility that the U.S. Department of Justice will bring charges against Trump related to his call to Raffensperger and/or the White House involvement in the attack on the Capitol.  If the Oath Keepers’ leader and associates were involved in a seditious conspiracy, as the DOJ has alleged, why can’t that same charge form the basis for indicting Trump, Meadows, Steve Bannon and numerous other Trump staff members and associates?    

It’s also worth noting that a few establishment Republicans have started challenging Trump.  Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) recently attempted to debunk Trump’s lies about a stolen election.  He was supported by Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who appeared to be motivated by concern that Trump will become a liability in the upcoming elections.  If this fear becomes prevalent among the GOP candidates in 2022, the former president’s grip on the party could seriously slip.

Due to all the mounting challenges against Trump, I believe that it’s highly unlikely he will be the GOP’s nominee in 2024.  That’s not necessarily a reason to celebrate, however; the apparent number two guy on the list of potential presidential nominees is Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.  The 43-year-old DeSantis is more intelligent, in my opinion, and even more dangerous than Trump.  His popularity with the Republican base puts him in an excellent position to challenge Trump for the GOP nomination in 2024.

But all that is on the horizon.  For now, I’m very relieved that the Supreme Court ruling will enable a thorough, in depth report on how and why the January 6 attack occurred, one that Fox News and Republican spin masters won’t be able to ignore or refute.

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Biden’s 2021 Shows No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Photo by The Daily Dot

During President Biden’s first year in office, all the focus has been on the Democrats as they try to enact the president’s truly beneficial policies.  Yet, the mainstream media seems to ignore what they’ve accomplished while harping on their failures to make good on campaign promises.  I have written about this recently; but bear with me as I take another shot at it. 

Here are some quotes from a Bloomberg article on December 20, where the writers touted Biden’s first year economic performance as “unbeatable.”

“Corporate America is booming because the Biden administration’s Covid-19 vaccination programs and $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan reduced the jobless rate to 4.2% in November from 6.2% in February, continuing an unprecedented rate of decline during the Covid-19 pandemic.”

“[I]nflation adjusted, gross domestic product surged at an average annual rate of 5.03% in each of the first three quarters of 2021 and is poised to expand 5.6% for the year based on the average estimate of more than 80 economists surveyed Bloomberg.”

“Corporate America was never healthier than under Biden in 2021. Efforts to support consumers flowed through to America’s companies, which are enjoying profit margins of around 15%, the widest since 1950, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.”

“Biden is the only president over the past half century with robust increases in non-farm payrolls (4.3%) and manufacturing jobs (2.6%), approaching the gains enjoyed by [President] Carter in general employment (4.6%) and factory workers (3.9%).”

“America’s economy is the envy of the world, looking at the foreign-exchange market. The dollar has strengthened 7.37% this year.”

As 2021 made its exit on Friday, Ben Winck at Business Insider wrote about the 27% surge in the S&P 500 and how that gain “thrashed” almost all Wall Street estimates from a year ago.  He noted that JPMorgan’s prediction of a 17% gain at the beginning of 2021was the most bullish for that index but that some estimates were as low as 1.2%.  Winch cited the vaccine rollout in early 2021– a Biden administration initiative – as a major factor in fighting the coronavirus, which allowed the economy to reopen.

Amazingly, however, recent polls show that many Americans believe the economy is in terrible shape, which is obviously not true.  At the same time, many of these same folks believe Trump’s big lie that the 2020 election was stolen, which is also false.  Biden’s accomplishments, the economy and the presidential election aren’t the problem though, what’s fueling the public’s concern is right-wing misinformation.  And a lot of this garbage comes from Fox News.  I don’t believe opinion anchors at this network care about democracy, the welfare of our citizens or this republic; they and their management are totally focused on making viewers angry at Democrats, which is what boosts their ratings with Trump’s base.  But that’s for a future blog.

The economy, however, wasn’t Biden’s only significant 2021 accomplishment.  According to a recent MSNBC article, he also got 40 federal judges confirmed.  This compares to 19 of Trump’s nominations confirmed in 2017.  There are also 31 Biden nominees teed up and ready for confirmation.  This is a very big deal that, unfortunately, gets very little attention from the media or the public.

I guess, that since much of what Republicans try to do, slash Medicaid, food stamps, labor laws, bank regulations, gun controls, abortion clinics, etc., isn’t popular with most Americans, they don’t get criticized when they fail.  None the less, they have a long history of failures, which I believe are well worth highlighting in comparison to Biden’s performance.

Republicans have continuously promised to reduce the size of government and to cede authority over federal programs to the states.  They’ve endlessly harped about balancing the federal budget, often suggesting a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.  These are among the most solid, bedrock policies for the GOP, small government, states’ rights and zero federal deficits.  Yet, the four Republican presidents since 1981, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush and Donald Trump – a total of 24 years in the White House – have totally failed to accomplish any of this.  Their major wins, except for Bush I, have been tax cuts, which, of course, ballooned the federal deficits that they claim to hate.

Bush II’s attempt to privatize Social Security – a longtime conservative priority – crashed and burned during his second term, despite the GOP’s sizable majorities in Congress.  Trump, who also had a Republican-controlled Congress in 2017 and 2018, promised to repeal Obamacare the minute he took office and he touted infrastructure week until it became a standing joke.  Why did he fail?  Republicans had no viable plan to replace Obamacare and Trump couldn’t get Republicans to even draft an infrastructure bill.    

Perhaps voters have low expectations for Republicans.  It goes without saying, however, that if politicians never try to do anything significant – like the Build Back Better Act – they can’t be criticized for failing in the effort. 

Obviously, Democrats are attempting to legislate some huge programs with very narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress, perhaps too many.  But is that something for which they should be punished?  Will voters put Republicans back in power because Democrats tried to do too much and failed on part of it?   I sure hope not.

Happy Holidays!  I hope you and your families enjoyed a warm and wonderful, virus free holiday season and that your New Year will be uplifting and productive.

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Conservative SCOTUS Justices Threaten Our Republic

Dallas Morning News

In the foreseeable future, this nation will be in the grip of six, mostly far-right justices on the Supreme Court of the United States.  They will have the power to determine if “we the people” get to keep the democratic republic that the Founders established in 1787.  And I’m not confident that the answer will be a clear cut yes. 

How did we get to this disturbing point?  First, recall some statistics that I included in an earlier blog:  The four chief justices appointed since President Franklin Roosevelt’s death have all been selected by Republican presidents.  Of the Supreme Court justices confirmed since 1945, 12 were appointed by Democratic presidents; 20 were appointed by Republican presidents. 

Still, in the 1960s and early 1970s – the era of landmark civil rights legislation – conservative Republican politicians claimed that the Supreme Court was involved in “judicial activism” and railed against the “liberal Court.”  Yet, in 1973, when the Court rendered a 7-2 decision in Roe v. Wade that gave women a constitutional right to an abortion, the opinion was written by Justice Harry Blackmun, a Richard Nixon appointee, and joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger, another of Nixon’s Republican appointments.

The Court took a definite turn to the right, however, when President Ronald Reagan appointed William Rehnquist as chief justice and Antonin Scalia as an associate justice in 1986.  It moved further right in 1991 when President George H. W. Bush appointed staunch conservative Clarence Thomas to replace a retiring liberal, Justice Thurgood Marshall, on the Court.  

Thus began a period when the Court handed down numerous 5-4 decisions, usually five conservatives to four liberals.  Occasionally, Justice Anthony Kennedy – a Reagan appointee and sometimes swing vote – would join the liberals to deny the conservatives their way.  It was this alignment, five conservatives to four liberals with the possibility of a swing vote, that kept some balance in the Court. 

That didn’t stop the conservatives, however, from handing down two democracy-damaging rulings.  First, there was Citizens United v. FEC in 2010 that opened the floodgates of money in politics, followed by Shelby County v. Holder in 2013 that crippled the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and freed racist-inclined Republican-controlled legislatures to significantly restrict minority voting rights.

Unfortunately, Kennedy’s swing vote was eliminated when he resigned in 2018 and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) finally got Bret Kavanaugh – President Trump’s second appointee – narrowly confirmed to the Court after a contentious hearing. 

At the time, I hoped Chief Justice John Roberts would become a swing vote on some issues and help keep the conservatives somewhat under control, which he did.  When McConnell rushed Amy Coney Barrett through the Senate just days before the 2020 presidential election, however, the power on the Court shifted sharply to the right, with almost no possibility of a swing vote.  In effect, the Chief Justice lost control of “his” Court.

It’s worth noting that all six conservative justices on today’s Court are members of the Federalist Society, an organization of conservative and Libertarian lawyers who generally believe in federalism, aka, “states’ rights.”  As such, they favor limiting the scope and power of the federal government.  These justices also describe themselves as “originalists,” which means they believe the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted based on the accepted meaning of its words when they were written.  So, we have an 18th Century perspective addressing 21st Century issues.

After recent oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson [Mississippi] Women’s Health Organization, it seems almost certain that the Court’s conservatives will significantly limit constitutional protections for abortion by weaking or overturning Roe v. Wade.  All of them were quizzed on this issue during their confirmation hearings and they either dodged the question or apparently lied, saying Roe was settled law.  A plurality of Americans doesn’t support overturning this landmark precedent on abortion but these justices don’t seem to be concerned about public opinion.  I believe they are committed conservative ideologues. 

Liberal-leaning Justice Sonia Sotomayor warned her colleagues about weakening Roe while questioning Mississippi’s Solicitor General, “Will this institution [Court] survive the stench that this creates in the public perception that the Constitution and its reading are just political acts?  I don’t see how it is possible.”  That, my friends, is mighty strong language. 

Later, Justice Sotomayor questioned, “If people actually believe that it’s all political, how will we survive? How will the court survive?”  I would argue that a politicized Supreme Court also threatens the survival of our democratic republic.

Earlier this year, Texas enacted SB 8, a law that bans abortions after the sixth week of pregnancy and enables citizens – some say vigilantes – to enforce it with private lawsuits.  Since this law was first challenged in August, the conservative justices, with the exception of Roberts, have allowed this very strict abortion law to remain in effect even though it’s clearly unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade.  To me, this is a strong indication that at least five conservative justices intend to overturn Roe and legitimatize Texas’ SB 8.

But here’s the thing.  Constitutional protections and other prior Court precedents could be effectively nullified by state laws that are enforced by private citizen lawsuits.  States could even empower right-wing plaintiffs to bring a torrent of spurious libel lawsuits against mainstream media organizations, which would severely restrict freedom of the press.  The damage the conservative justices could to our democratic republic is totally frightening.

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Even Unbiased and Liberal Media Help GOP

Getty Images

Media organizations need content to fill their publications every day, which is difficult during news voids over long holiday weekends like Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately, my email from Politico Playbook last Sunday contained several “filler” articles that primarily focused on Democratic failures while mostly ignoring Republican obstruction and malfeasance.  They were about politicians “falling short of promises or expectations, or just plain blowing it.”  

First up was how President Biden fell short by “Failing to tame the pandemic and provide a return to normalcy.”  This conclusion was supported by brief summaries of articles by the Washington Post’s Dan Balz and the New York Time’s Nate Cohn.  Both predicted a tough election year ahead for the president. 

Baltz outlined Biden’s promises of taming the coronavirus pandemic, fixing the economy, persuading Congress to enact his sweeping domestic policy and unifying the country.   He concluded that “none of these goals has been fully accomplished, and that shapes the political environment heading into next year’s midterm elections.”

Cohn analyzed the disconnect between Biden’s popular policies and his low approval rating.  He opined that while voters may punish presidents for pushing unpopular policies, they rarely reward them for enacting legislation.  What the public is seeking, according to Cohn, is “peace and prosperity — in a word, normalcy.”

I suspect most Playbook readers skimmed through those summaries and continued scrolling down to other news.  After clicking on the provided links and reading these columnist’s lengthy articles, however, I had to wonder why WaPo and the NYT are always chided as being the “liberal press.”  While their content may be factually correct, it only told part of the story.

Balz’s full article provided some details about the rising coronavirus cases, and stated that “there have been more deaths so far in 2021 than in the whole of 2020,” a fact that many readers might assume is Biden’s fault.  (That’s what Republican politicians claim.)  From there, he segwayed into how Biden’s hope to vaccinate the vast majority of the population had fallen short and how the president’s vaccine mandates had worsened political divisions, as the administration struggled to overcome vaccine resistance.

Balz did give Biden some credit for getting the $1.9 trillion stimulus package and the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted with very slim majorities in Congress.  He observed, however, that these accomplishments did not garner the expected political credit and that perceptions of the president’s leadership had, “taken a hit.”  A casual reader of this article could get the impression that this legislation was the cause of the “worse inflation in three decades.”

Balz did criticize former president Trump and Republicans who called for punishing their 13 colleagues who voted for the infrastructure bill.  Yet, he stated in the next paragraph that Biden had become almost as polarizing as Trump.

Baltz concluded his article with an oft heard observation that Biden and the White House are struggling with their messaging.  After reading it I can better understand why.

Cohn began his article by stating that many Democrats believe that electoral success will result from enacting popular legislation.  Then he went on to dispel that theory by reminding readers that the president’s approval ratings have dropped into the mid-40s.  He cited polls showing that Americans not only feel that the president hasn’t accomplished much or helped them personally, they believe he has actually made things worse.  These ridiculous conclusions are also supported by some polls I have analyzed.  For God’s sake people, Biden has signed two massive bills before completing his first year in office, including the largest infrastructure legislation in decades. 

In addition to Biden’s shortcomings being highlighted extensively in the Playbook email, the Democratic Party was cited for having failed to deliver on promised immigration fixes and the Never-Trump Lincoln Project was chided for “Too many instances [of falling short] to name in a clause.”  Yet, the only criticism of Donald Trump – if it can be called that – involved his endorsement of several Senate candidates that are failing.    

But here’s the thing.  The editors of Sunday’s Political Playbook email did not take the GOP or its leadership to task for much of anything.  Still, perhaps they didn’t cover the blatantly anti-democratic conduct by Republicans at all levels of government because they certainly haven’t fallen short on that. 

The worst omission in Sunday’s Playbook email, however, was failing to highlight the role of Republicans in obstructing the president’s efforts to make good on his promises, like controlling the coronavirus, vaccinating the populace and unifying the people.  Neither did it emphasize what great progress has been made since January 21 in various areas, including the economy.

The Politico organization is not rated as politically biased that I could find, right or left.  Yet, this entire Sunday email reminded me of what the GOP and conservative media, like Fox News, do constantly – keep the focus on Democrats, emphasize their failures and gloss over or omit any mention of negative news that might damage Republicans.

Certainly, the mainstream media should report fairly on the president’s accomplishments and failures.  But I believe many news outlets are “falling short” in fully focusing on the most critically important issue facing our democratic republic today:  Trump and the majority of congressional Republicans are attempting to subvert our democratic processes in an effort to take total control of government at all levels.  And there damn sure won’t be any “normalcy” for the nation if they succeed.

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West Virginia Needs the Build Back Better Act

West Virginia’s Blackwater Falls State Park

West Virginia truly is a very beautiful state.  Just drive north on I-77 during almost any season and you will be thrilled with the scenery, particularly in the fall.  Yet, all this beauty can’t hide some shocking facts that I learned during Army basic training in the 1960’s.  Some of the soldiers from rural areas of West Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Southern Virginia who were in my barracks were incredibly poor and lacked the education to escape their poverty-stricken situations.  In fact, several of these young troopers couldn’t even read or write.  Current data tells me that things haven’t changed much in parts of these states.

The personal finance website WalletHub evaluated the economies of the 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. in June; West Virginia’s is ranked 50th.  This state of almost 1.8 million is 50th in economic activity and 51st in innovation potential.  WalletHub put WVA at 51st in the critical statistic of median annual household income or, shall we say, dead last.  It’s the third to lowest in high tech jobs and also last in startup activity.  Another WalletHub study ranks the state fifth highest in terms of the most at-risk youth, which is tragic.  The future of all states is dependent on its young citizens.

In the past decade, the United States had the slowest population growth since the 1930s, according to a study of census data by the Washington Post.  The population in three states, however, actually declined and the loss in residents was highest in West Virginia at -3.2%, most of it from rural areas. 

The median age in WVA is between 42 and 43 compared to the national average of 38 and the state is just one of two where deaths have exceeded births since 2010.  In fact, this 90+% White state actually had over 200,000 more residents in 1950 than it has today.  And the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service projects that West Virginia’s population will just keep shrinking through 2040.

Still, WVA isn’t all that much worse off than a large number of Republican-controlled states.  They usually comprise nine out of the 10 most dependent on federal government transfer payments, like Social Security and grants for health care and education.  Typically, these federal dollars exceed what their residents and businesses pay in federal taxes.  The largess they get, of course, comes mostly from blue states that pay more in taxes to the federal government than they get back.  West Virginia is the fifth most dependent on federal help in 2021, according to WalletHub, and has always been one of the 10 most dependent since I started keeping track a decade ago. 

Among the poorest 25 states based on median household income in 2021 – all but several of which are totally controlled by Republicans – West Virginia’s median of $46,711 is next to the poorest and 16% of its population is impoverished, according to another personal finance website MoneyWise.

It reported that West Virginia is one of the worse states for education – based on U.S. Department of Education statistics – with one in five children living below the poverty line and over 10,000 being homeless in the 2019-2020 school year.  “If you can find a good reason to live here,” says MoneyWise, “housing is very affordable.”  To me, this means that West Virginians aren’t even able to build significant wealth by owning a home. 

You know what all of this is leading to, of course, an attempt to show why West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s opposition to paid family leave and expanded health care provisions in President Biden’s Build Back Better Act, among others, will hurt his constituents.  

It’s obvious why he opposes a provision that would reward utilities that transition to clean energy while penalizing those that don’t.  His state is a significant natural gas producer and coal-fired electric power plants accounted for 91% of the state’s electricity generation in 2019, according to the Energy Information Agency.  Also, Manchin represents the second-largest coal producing state and reportedly is the founder of the coal company that his son runs.   

While Manchin has become the hero of conservative billionaires, the Charleston (WVA) Gazette-Mail decried his successful efforts to gut clean energy portions of the BBB Act, “Manchin has given credence to the claims that he is more motivated by obeisance to the coal and gas industries than to the health of his constituents; that Manchin, personally, and his campaign’s fundraising, benefit more financially by perpetuating climate change than by attempts to avert it.”

Well, the good Senator from WVA is like many members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, beholden to special interests that fund their campaigns.  This unfortunate democracy weakening result occurred because five conservative SCOTUS justices cavalierly decided in the 2010 Citizens United case that corporate money was speech protected by the First Amendment.  I believe this decision effectively stifles the voices of ordinary American voters who don’t have powerful lobbyists in Washington to protect their interests from the abuses of well-heeled energy companies and other large corporations.

A recent Washington Post article quoted Manchin as saying, “I don’t believe that we should turn our society into an entitlement society.”  Well, I don’t know how “entitled” West Virginians are but it’s clear to me that without greater federal help – like the full BBB Act provides – they may never escape their current dire straits.

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Big Investments in America’s Future Are Within Reach

Western Washington Wind Turbine Farm

With all the negative news lately, I’ve been thinking about where the nation would be but for the miraculous Senate wins in Georgia by Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff on January 5.  Let’s see, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill would not have been signed in March, very few if any federal judges appointed by President Biden would be confirmed by now and it wouldn’t even make sense to talk about the president’s $3.5 trillion Build Back Better (BBB) Act with Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in charge of the Senate.  

The coronavirus relief legislation provided billions of dollars to surge the vaccination program and control the pandemic, which no doubt saved thousands of lives and prevented the Delta variant from taking an even greater toll.  It also provided around $170 billion for K-12 schools and colleges, funded direct stimulus payments to middleclass and lower income families, boosted unemployment benefits and shored up state and local governments with $350 billion in support.  That alone was quite an accomplishment.

It’s easy to get depressed about what’s going on in Congress right now, particularly with the battles between so-called centrist Democrats and progressives.  Yet, my God, just think how we would be feeling if McConnell controlled the Senate. 

Since we aren’t mired in that gloom – fortunately – I get the chance to delve a bit into the reconciliation (BBB) bill that will hopefully be put in final form by Democrats soon and write about some benefits it could provide for all Americans, now and in the future. That’s happy!

You don’t need piles of data and learned studies by Harvard professors to understand that children who are deprived of decent health care and education will likely grow up to become liabilities to society rather than assets; that’s just plain old common sense.  Sure, some will overcome these adversities and become entrepreneurs, doctors and scientists but many will drift into crime and drug use or simply lack the training and stamina to contribute significantly to the information age economy.  Better health care and support for education are key provisions of the president’s BBB agenda.

Biden and the Democrats wanted $3.5 trillion in their expanded infrastructure bill, which would be spent over a 10-year period.  Many voters probably don’t realize, however, that U.S. defense spending will exceed $8 trillion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, which is almost half a trillion dollars more than all other discretionary spending by the U.S. government.

I believe that if we were to put the same resources into building our infrastructure, physical and social, as we do to design and build the means to destroy things and kill people, the United States would be a much stronger economic superpower.  Conversely, if we fail to make investments in critical infrastructure as proposed in the BBB Act, I am concerned that this nation, torn by division and dysfunction, will no longer be the dominant superpower in a decade or two.

Consequently, I’m not concerned if this important legislation is half the $3.5 trillion in spending that the president and many Democrats wanted so long as they get it done.  Many of them believe whatever they pass will prove to be popular with the public and that they will be able to build on it later.  I agree.  So, rather than focusing on the cost, I’m more interested in what’s in the bill. 

Preschool: All Democrats are supporting what I believe is a key provision, universal, high-quality, free, preschool program for 3- and 4-year-old children across the country, paid for entirely by the federal government. 

Child tax credit: The child tax credit of $300 per child that was established in the coronavirus relief bill earlier this year will likely be extended for at least a year, perhaps with some modifications.

Paid family leave: Democrats wanted to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all workers since the U.S. is one of the few nations that doesn’t have some type of national paid leave.  To cut the cost, the White House is now backing a four-week program for lower-income workers that would expire after several years.

Tax increases: Instead of raising income taxes on corporations and the wealthy, Democrats are considering a tax on unrealized capital gains for those with $1 billion in wealth or who earn more than $100 million for three consecutive years.  This would be a tax on assets they hold, even if they don’t sell them.

There were numerous other provisions of the original $3.5 trillion bill that will be eliminated or significantly be cut back, including free community college, expanded child care for parents who work, enhanced Obamacare subsidies, housing aid, home care services for the elderly and disabled, expanded dental, vision and hearing benefits in Medicare, etc.

I know, today we can’t be sure what will be in the final bill.  But here’s the thing.  If the Democrats manage to pass even a scaled-back BBB Act as currently envisioned, along with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, it will probably be the largest investment in America’s future that Congress has ever made in one fiscal year.

Some politicians and pundits accuse Biden of over promising and under delivering.  Well, compare that to a McConnell controlled Senate that would promise very little and deliver nothing.  I’ll take glass half full negotiations over an empty glass – that no one is even discussing – anytime.

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America Is Doing Great – Except for its Politics

Photo by Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

According to legend, upon being asked about rumors of his demise, renowned American author Mark Twain said, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”  Well, I believe the same is true about stories that democracy in the United States is dying.  Yes, I know – I write a lot about the threats to our democratic republic.  And while they are serious and quite real, they aren’t nearly the whole story. There’s some good news behind the dire headlines if you look for it and you might be surprised at what you discover.

Some might find it hard to believe, but the United States has over 24 percent of the global economy (GDP), about the same share as it did 40 years ago, according to the World Bank national accounts data.  That’s simply amazing considering how other countries have progressed economically during that period, particularly China.  Hey, of the world’s top 10 companies by market capitalization, seven are American.  These corporations dominate the globe like at no other time in the past.  Technology development in the U.S. still out paces that in the rest of the world, including industries of the future like biotechnology, nanotechnology and artificial intelligence.

China is America’s most significant global competitor but I believe President Xi’s aggressive rush toward a more restrictive autocracy and his assault on the Chinese technology sector will inure to America’s benefit.  The supply chain problems that occurred during the pandemic were a wakeup call and many started in China.  The critical products that this nation needs simply can’t be dependent on the whims of a foreign dictator.  Medical supplies, computer chips and pharmaceuticals are among the many that should be produced here in the future, or at least under U.S. control.

Like China and some developed countries, including Japan and Germany, the U.S. population is aging but American demographics remain superior to our closest global competitors due mainly to immigration.  Yes, immigration.  And the U.S. dollar, which is the most dominant reserve currency around the world, is required for almost 90 percent of international transactions, according to thebalance.com.  That’s hugely important!

The world economy is expected to expand 5.6 percent in 2021 and a further 4.9 percent in 2022 according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics.  Yet, the U.S. economy is recovering faster than any of the other developed countries says PIIE, in spite of the Delta variant and supply chain issues.  Why?  America’s early start on vaccinating its population and the Democrats’ muscular 2021 pandemic fiscal response. 

The net worth of America’s households grew by $5.8 trillion in the second quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.  And if the latest projections for the Delta surge are correct, we may be able to celebrate Christmas in a more normal fashion this year, according to a new projection on the trajectory of the pandemic from a consortium of researchers advising the Centers for Disease Control.  They don’t see a winter surge on their radar.  

Although President Biden is currently mired in battles over his Build Back Better initiative, it’s supported by a significant majority of Americans, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, which is in line with several other polls.  The roughly $1 trillion bipartisan roads and bridges program is supported 62 to 34 percent and the $3.5 trillion spending bill on social programs such as child care, education, family tax breaks, expanding Medicare for seniors, etc. is favored by 57 to 40 percent.  Reports indicate that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other industry lobbying groups are pressing for passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

Once the American public gets a better picture of Biden’s massive programs, I believe they will find that — well, they’re not all that massive.  Nor will they believe the fear mongering about runaway inflation and other horrific results the Republicans are hyping, and here’s why.  The $3.5 trillion will be expended during the next ten years.  That’s less than 6 percent of total government spending over that period and less than half the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to recent estimates.

What’s not to like about all of this news?  Actually, nothing, except it comes at a time when politics across the nation, but particularly in Washington, are acrimonious, uncivil and totally dysfunctional.  Why has this happened?  I believe it’s primarily because the Republican Party has been deteriorating as a rational governing body since the 1980s.

Now that the battle over funding the government and raising the debt limit has been kicked down the road to December, the Democrats can focus on passing several critical bills on voting rights, immigration reform and infrastructure.  They probably won’t succeed with everything but I believe they will find a way to do some great things for this nation’s future before the 2022 elections.

And keep in mind, there is no certainty that Donald Trump will be a candidate in 2024 or that he can win the GOP nomination and even less that he will become the 47th president.  A lot can happen in three years, including Trump being indicted and tried for the many state and federal crimes he has committed.

I know, right now it’s hard to see through the fog created by the Republicans’ election fraud lies and total rejection of democratic principles – but beyond the right-wing gloom, America’s future looks reasonably bright.

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Think a Coup Can’t Happen Here – Think Again

When Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) brazenly obstructed President Obama during all eight years of his administration, I wondered why he seemed oblivious to payback when Democrats again took control of both the White House and Congress.  Could it be, I thought, that McConnell believed that one day the Republican Party would take total control of the government and Democratic retribution would be impossible.  Well, the Republican reaction to the 2020 election indicates that my musings weren’t unreasonable.

Just consider the ominous scenario described in September 23 article by neoconservative scholar and columnist Robert Kagan entitled Our constitutional crisis is already here.  It’s a heads up for all Americans who cherish democracy.  Kagan believes that former president Donald Trump will be the GOP’s standard bearer in 2024 and that there’s a “reasonable chance over the next three to four years …. of mass violence, a breakdown of federal authority, and the division of the country into warring red and blue enclaves.”  That’s heavy stuff.

Kagan is concerned – and I agree – that many Americans and some members of both parties are too sanguine about the ability of our democratic institutions to prevent this type of chaos.  Yet, just consider what has transpired since last November.  Trump stonewalled a smooth transition to the Biden administration, while claiming the election was stolen from him and plotting a coup that nearly succeeded when his supporters attacked the Capitol on January 6.  But for a few ethical Republicans at both the state and federal level, the 2020 election could have been thrown into the House of Representatives where GOP-controlled states could have voted to keep Trump in office.

But here’s the frightening thing.  It’s obvious that the radical, Trump-supporting element of the GOP has more control over state party organizations now than last November.  Since then, numerous Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed laws that give them partisan control of the election processes.  In a typically close presidential election, they could alter the results in a few swing states and make the Republican candidate the winner in the archaic Electoral College, even if the Democrat wins the popular vote by a wide margin.

What is equally alarming is the number of voters who are being misled by conspiracy theories and lies. Republican vilification of the mainstream media and Trump’s relentless fake news attacks on CNN, and the like, have no doubt caused many conservatives to migrate to Fox News, social media and other right-wing outlets that suppress negative stories about Republicans and feed misinformation to their audiences.  As a result, a large majority of Republicans actually believe the 2020 election was rigged.

This is just part of the cynical public relations playbook the right-wing has been following for several decades; attack the media as biased against conservatives, then denigrate Democrats as dangerous radicals and socialist policy makers.  Rhetoric like this no doubt helped motivate Trump supporting insurrectionists to storm the Capitol on January 6.  One who has been arrested for her activities on that day allegedly admitted, “We were looking for Nancy [Pelosi] to shoot her in the friggin’ brain,” according to a government affidavit filed on Friday.

To make matters worse, Senate Republicans are now blocking Democratic efforts to increase the debt limit and threatening a catastrophic default on the nation’s debt.  Default would certainly cause the U.S. credit rating to be significantly lowered and dramatically raise the cost of interest on the federal debt.  They don’t seem to care.

Is this part of their plan to derail the Democrats $3.5 trillion infrastructure legislation?  I believe they view Biden’s popular New Deal-like agenda as an existential threat to their chances in future elections. They know the resulting spending programs will add millions of new jobs and be very popular with voters.  Or, perhaps Republicans are attempting to create chaos during a Democratic administration that would help them regain control of Congress in 2022 and set the stage for a Trump victory in 2024. 

Regardless, why are most Republican politicians supporting a second presidency for this incompetent demagogue?  Well, I believe it’s because they truly don’t have anything or anybody else.  Their policies aren’t supported by a majority of voters and they have no other star comparable to Trump.  So, they’ve sold their soul to this psychopathic narcissist and would-be autocrat.  And now they must support him because they believe their only option to regaining power is to follow Trump’s pathway to authoritarianism.

For several decades after the 1940s, the federal government was able to operate without a serious constitutional crisis, mainly because members of both political parties basically operated in good faith and were bounded by the “norms” of civility and ethics that are democracy’s guardrails.  They respected each another, the rule of law and the results of elections; they battled furiously over tax issues and the size of government but more or less put country and the good of the American people above party loyalty.  Unfortunately, the Republican Party has been steadily abandoning these democracy protecting principles since the 1980s.  The result was Donald Trump’s inauguration as president in 2017.

Perhaps Mr. Kagan’s “constitutional crisis” is premature hyperbole.  But this much is crystal clear to me, Democrats are trying to preserve our democracy; Trump-supporting Republicans are planning a coup that would destroy it.  And if concerned Americans who love this democratic republic don’t fight like hell, they just might succeed.

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SCOTUS Justices Aren’t Partisan Hacks – Are They?

Photo by Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett didn’t wait long to begin defending the conservative majority’s decision to allow Texas’ radical anti-abortion law to take effect; but she sure chose a very controversial venue for it.  After being introduced by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center last weekend, the junior member of the Court bluntly stated why she was there, “My goal today is to convince you that this Court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.”  Amazingly, she failed to see the irony of making this claim while sharing the stage with McConnell, at a Center he endowed in 1991.  

It was then-Senate Majority Leader McConnell who refused to even hold hearings on Merrick Garland when Democratic President Obama appointed him to the Court in 2016 after Justice Anthony Scalia died.  He claimed that the Senate shouldn’t confirm a justice to the nation’s highest Court in an election year.  But when Republican President Donald Trump appointed Barrett shortly after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, McConnell rushed her through a confirmation just weeks before the 2020 election.  Talk about partisan!

“Judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties,” Barrett implored.  Okay, what are the judicial philosophies of the six conservative justices on the Court.  All are members of the Federalist Society, a group of conservative and libertarian lawyers (federalists) whose objectives align quite nicely with those of the Republican Party.  As their name implies, federalists are states’ rights advocates who oppose big government and federal intrusion in state matters. 

All six conservative justices are “originalists” in their approach to interpreting the Constitution.  This means that they view the text of the Constitution as having the meaning that it had when it was ratified and which doesn’t change over time.  Another way of stating this, I suppose, is that the vicissitudes of a modern society shouldn’t be considered in interpreting the nation’s founding document as it was ratified in 1789 and thereafter amended.   

Take the Second Amendment, for example, which states, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  When these words were written, virtually all able-bodied free men in the United States between the ages of 16 and 50 were required to serve in a militia.  They were armed with single shot, muzzle-loading, flintlock rifles that even in skilled hands could fire only three rounds per minute, at best.  There’s simply no comparison between these ancient “arms” and a modern-day assault rifle that fires over 45 rounds per minute.  

But it’s not just that weapons have changed, so have the times.  In colonial America, people needed a gun to put food on the table and defend the family.  Militias were armed, citizen soldiers who were typically under the control of state governments.  I believe that representatives of the various states, particularly the southern slave states, wanted the Second Amendment language in the Constitution in order to ensure that the federal government couldn’t disarm their state militias. 

Yet, the late Justice Anthony Scalia, writing for the conservative majority in District of Columbia et al. v. Heller (2008), had no problem separating the right to bear arms granted in the operative clause of the Second Amendment from the introductory clause concerning militias.  He simply decided that this language does not limit the right to keep and bear arms to members of a militia.  This landmark Supreme Court case was the first to give all citizens the constitutional right to own a gun, which delighted Republican-supporting gun rights advocates nationwide and facilitated their legal challenges to many state and local gun control laws.

In another important case, Citizens United v. FEC (2010), five conservative justices ruled, in effect, that corporate expenditures to influence political campaigns are protected speech under the Constitution.  I don’t believe the Founders had this result in mind when they penned “Congress shall make no law …. abridging the freedom of speech” in the First Amendment.

Only a limited number of small corporations existed in late 18th Century America.  The best example of a large 21st Century business organization at the time – which was well known to all of the Founders – was the British East India Company.  This behemoth operated under a royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I and was responsible for almost half of Britain’s trade, according to a National Geographic article by Erin Blakemore.  At its most formattable, the BEIC had nearly total control of the tea market and – with an army of 260,000 soldiers – ruled almost all of the modern-day countries south of the Himalayan Mountains, including India.  In fact, it was tea sent by the East India Company that was tossed overboard in Boston harbor in 1773 during the infamous Boston Tea Party.

Did the Founders intend to grant freedom of speech protection to expenditures by this type of powerful business organization to influence political campaigns?  I think not.  So, why did the conservative majority on the Court decide to recklessly fling open the flood gates of money in politics with their Citizen’s United opinion?  Was it because corporations are typically among the most important supporters of GOP candidates?  That’s certainly the way it appears.

If Republican appointed Supreme Court justices have been trying to convince people they aren’t partisan hacks, they’ve done a damn poor job of it.

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2020 Census Confirmed Republicans’ Worst Fears

Protest at the Supreme Court – Pete Marovich/Getty Images

The decennial census probably affects more people in the United States than any other federal government function.  Drawing congressional districts and allocating federal funds are two of the best-known uses of census data but it is critically important in numerous other government programs.  The census database also provides detailed statistics that are invaluable to industries across the economy and data from past censuses give us some interesting historical perspectives.

When Ronald Reagan was first elected president in 1980, the white population in the U.S. was over 80% of the total, as tabulated by the census that year.  The 2020 census determined that the number of whites slipped below 60% for the first time but still maintained a comfortable majority at 57.8%.  Yet, there were five million fewer white residents in 2020 than in 2010, the only decrease since the inaugural census in 1790.  The share of whites in the under 18 age group dropped from 53.5% to 47.3%.  This statistic on the percentage of white children is hugely significant for estimating the coming demographics of white America. 

In fact, demographers predict that it’s just a matter of time before white people in the U.S. will no longer be the majority of the U.S. population.

Republican politicians are well aware of what is happening to the largest segment of their base.  That’s why they want to severely limit immigration of black and brown people and why most GOP-controlled states are attempting to enact strict voting laws that almost always limit the ability of minorities to vote.  Instead of appealing to them by supporting policies that benefit middleclass and lower income working people, Republicans are attempting to exclude or discourage people of color from participating in the most democratic right of a U.S. citizen, voting.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) believes that politicizing the federal courts will help the GOP stay in power.  That’s why as majority leader of the Senate during former president Trump’s four years he was totally focused on packing the federal courts with conservative judges.  That’s also why he rushed Trump’s Supreme Court candidate, Amy Coney Barrett, through the Senate right before the election after liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in September 2020.  McConnell is hoping that conservative judges will block Democratic legislation on immigration and side with Republicans on state laws restricting voting rights and abortion.

Well, McConnell’s gambit paid off when five conservative justices on the Court denied an emergency request by a women’s health group to block Texas’ radical new abortion ban, which took effect on September 1.  With this decision, far-right justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, plus the three justices appointed by Trump, displayed their power over the Court and Chief Justice John Roberts, who voted with the three liberal justices on this request, can’t stop them. 

In an unprecedented, blistering dissent Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote, “Presented with an application to enjoin a flagrantly unconstitutional law engineered to prohibit women from exercising their constitutional rights —-, a majority of Justices have opted to bury their heads in the sand.”   She reasoned that the bill is “clearly unconstitutional” under 50 years of federal precedent, including Roe v. Wade.  “This equates to a near-categorical ban on abortions beginning six weeks after a woman’s last menstrual period, before many women realize they are pregnant, and months before fetal viability,” she wrote. 

Because the Texas law allows any private individual to file a civil lawsuit against anyone who aids a woman to get an abortion after the first six weeks of her pregnancy and collect $10,000 if successful, Justice Sotomayor added, “In effect, the Texas Legislature has deputized the State’s citizens as bounty hunters, offering them cash prizes for civilly prosecuting their neighbors’ medical procedures.” 

No doubt anti-abortion zealots will file numerous lawsuits whenever an abortion is performed in Texas, even in situations where the pregnant woman has the procedure done within the allowed six-week period.  These legal actions are certain to have a very chilling effect on any abortion in Texas, which is exactly what the Republican-controlled state legislature intended.

Actually, it’s not too surprising that the five conservative justices on the Court allowed the Texas abortion law to take effect. All six conservative justices are members of the Federalist Society, and organization that strongly supports states’ rights. Consequently, we can expect the current nine-member Court to pay deference to most state government actions.  They proved that in 2019 when five conservative justices ruled that federal courts would not get involved in disputes over radical gerrymandering by state legislatures.  And I believe that conservatives on the Court will attempt to block the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act or any other voting rights act Democrats pass that impedes state control of elections.

The 2020 census revealed that America is diversifying most in small town mid-America, according to the Wall Street Journal and the growing minority population is expected to help Democrats at the polls.  This confirmed the GOP’s worst fears and no doubt Republicans will become even more of a threat to our democratic processes than they are today.  And it seems likely that conservatives on the Supreme Court will help them.

I would prefer that the Court not be expanded.  But perhaps a 13-member Court with four additional justices appointed by a Democratic president is the only way to preserve democracy in the United States.

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