Historic Supreme Court Decisions Are Looming

Pandemics, protests and politics, oh my!  Yes, there’s a lot driving the news cycles these days but pending decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court are even more ominous for the nation’s future.  Later this month, or certainly this summer, the court could drop some bombshells right in the middle of the presidential election year battlefield that could affect the very democratic principles upon which the nation was founded.  The court will rule on three cases involving subpoenas for President Trump’s tax returns and other financial records that will decide – in essence – if the Constitution’s separation of powers has any meaning and if a sitting president is subject to the rule of law.

Trump’s lawyers failed to block these subpoenas in the lower courts based on sound precedent established by separate Supreme Court decisions involving Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.  The court forced Nixon to hand over Oval Office tape recordings subpoenaed by the Watergate special prosecutor in 1974.  And the court required Clinton to sit for a deposition in Paula Jones’ sexual harassment civil suit in 1997.  Both of these cases were decided unanimously under conservative chief justices appointed by Republican presidents, with three justices appointed by Nixon ruling against him and two justices appointed by Clinton giving him thumbs down.

So, I was a bit surprised – but probably shouldn’t have been – that the Supreme Court decided to weigh in on these cases that seemed to be correctly decided by the lower courts.  Is this court intent on establishing some limits of executive power and/or congressional oversight?  Or, are conservative justices eager to shield Trump from damaging revelations of his finances?  We should know soon.

One case involves subpoenas by the Democratic-controlled House Committee on Oversight and Reform for the president’s tax returns and financial records held by his accountants and business entities.  Another, concerns subpoenas by the House committees on Financial Services and Intelligence for similar records at the president’s bank.

Subpoenas in the third case resulted from a grand jury criminal investigation by the New York City district attorney into payments made by Trump to a porn star and other women.  It was issued to Trump’s accounting firm and also covers tax returns and financial records.

None of these subpoenas requires Trump to produce records in his possession, but his lawyers have vigorously challenged all of them.

In the cases involving congressional committees, the central issue is separation of powers.  Congress has typically had broad oversight powers under the Constitution to investigate anything and subpoena witnesses and documents so long as its purpose is to draft legislation.

The president’s lawyers mainly argued that the congressional subpoenas are an unwarranted witch hunt to investigate Trump’s criminality and not intended for legislative purposes.  They also contend that unfettered congressional subpoena power would result in constant harassment of a president by an opposing political party.  (Do they mean like Republicans did to Bill Clinton?)

In the criminal case, Trump’s lawyers made the ludicrous argument that the president is not only immune from prosecution while in office, he can’t be investigated, even if he shot someone on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.  They also caution that such subpoenas would allow state and local officials to politically harass a sitting president.

Attorney General Bill Barr’s Justice Department has joined these cases in support of Trump, although its lawyers didn’t contend that the president is immune from investigation.

Unquestionably, the foundation of our democratic republic is the rule of law.  What’s at stake with these cases is the neutrality of the Supreme Court as an unbiased arbiter of the law.  If it gives deference to a political party or a president over previously settled law, it will seriously weaken the foundations of our democracy, perhaps irrevocably.

Still, it’s possible the court will send the cases involving congressional subpoenas back to the lower courts for additional briefing by the lawyers or require that House Democrats provide more specifics on the legislation for which these documents are being requested.  A delay would benefit Trump this election year.

But if the conservative justices decide that the court won’t intervene in disputes between the other two branches of government or that a president has broad immunity from congressional oversight, the Constitution’s separation of powers will be obliterated.  And if they overturn the lower courts’ rulings with regard to the grand jury subpoenas, we will know that this court has put a sitting president above the law.

I don’t care if the president’s financial records show he’s not a billionaire.  He lies about everything else, so why not his wealth?  It doesn’t matter if he legally paid no income tax; lots of rich people avoid paying taxes.  What all Americans need to know about, however, is Trump’s dependence on Russian money and his involvement in money laundering or other financial crimes, which I suspect he has committed.

Trump treats the rule of law with distain as president; it’s highly likely he did the same as a businessman.  He seems to enjoy living on the legal edge.  Trump isn’t restrained by the law; he uses it as a weapon.  And if he gets another four years to appoint additional conservatives to the Supreme Court, he will attack the Constitution like any other of his opponents and attempt to eviscerate it.

So, vote in November as if your liberty and our democracy depended on it — because they do.

 

 

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Has Trump Finally Gone Too Far?

Many unnerving tragedies have occurred since George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis policeman on May 25.  Police frequently attacked and injured journalists covering the resulting protests – President Trump called for federal troops to police American cities – federal officers cleared the way for a Trump photo op by using tear gas and rubber bullets to push peaceful protesters out of Lafayette Square – and coronavirus deaths exceeded 110,000, partially due to Trump’s incompetent response to the pandemic.

In this time of uncertainty and chaos, Americans are crying out for a hero who will speak truth to power.  They yearn for a voice that can’t be stilled by a nasty, threatening Trump tweet.  Then, just when it seemed as if stalwarts like that were AWOL in the Trump era, former Defense secretary and retired Gen. James Mattis rose to the occasion.  Last week his stinging rebuke of the president entitled, “In Union There Is Strength” was published by The Atlantic magazine.

The U.S. military is supposed to be a nonpartisan national defense force, which should not be used against Americans.  It appears that Mattis was angered by the sight of Defense Secretary Mark Esper and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley – in battlefield camouflage – walking across Lafayette Square with Trump for his photo op with a Bible.

After accusing the president of trying to divide the American people instead of trying to unite them, Mattis admonished “We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort.  We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership.”  He added. “We must reject and hold accountable those in office who would make a mockery of our Constitution.”

This powerful, unprecedented condemnation of the commander in chief by a well-respected retired Marine general required a response from politicians of both parties.  South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, who has effusively praised Mattis in the past, chastised the general for these statements.  So did several other GOP senators who were once huge Mattis fans, although most of their colleagues tried desperately to avoid commenting.  Democrats, as you might expect, lauded Mattis for his bold, forthright critique.

A few Republicans, however, were not so quick to take the former secretary of Defense to task, including Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee for president and frequent Trump critic.   He called Mattis a “wonderful man.”  “Gen. Mattis’ letter was stunning and powerful. Gen. Mattis is a man of extraordinary sacrifice. He’s an American patriot. He’s an individual whose judgment I respect, and I think the world of him,” Romney said.

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said Mattis’ statement was “overdue” and that she was “very thankful” he had made it.  When asked if she intended to support Trump’s reelection she said, “I’m struggling with it”.   She added that she found the statement by former President George W. Bush on Floyd’s death and the resulting protests, “empowering.”

While Bush decried the violence and looting, he said, “It is a strength when protesters, protected by responsible law enforcement, march for a better future.” Also, “Those who set out to silence those voices do not understand the meaning of America — or how it becomes a better place.”

Mattis isn’t the only Trump critic from the military and defense establishment.  In a Washington Post op-ed, four former secretaries of Defense joined 85 other Democratic and Republican Defense officials in criticizing the president for his use of the military in responding to protests over Floyd’s murder.  They wrote, “We are alarmed at how the president is betraying this oath [to defend the Constitution] by threatening to order members of the U.S. military to violate the rights of their fellow Americans.”

Retired ADM Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, retired ADM William H. McRaven, who directed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, retired Marine Gen. John Allen and numerous other retired military officers have spoken out in support of Mattis and frequently against the president.  “President Trump has shown he doesn’t have the qualities necessary to be a good commander in chief,” said McRaven, which sums up the opinions of many others.  I don’t think Trump tweets will silence or diminish any of these men.

The U.S. military is one of the few government institutions that is still respected by the majority of Americans.  Fortunately, it has so far managed to stay mostly nonpartisan under the heavy hand of a president who demands absolute loyalty from all who serve him and claims that the Constitution gives him the power to do anything he wants to.

No doubt, Trump’s power is based on his enablers’ fear of retribution.  He’s a bully, quick to ridicule and punish those who challenge him.  The bipartisan support for Mattis’ statements, however, indicates Trump has finally gone too far.  His grip on the GOP has been weakened and his threats to this nation and its Constitution have been laid bare.

The late political scientist Gene Sharp once wrote: “Obedience is at the heart of political power.”  Now, high level, virtually unassailable officials are refusing to obey Trump and that number could grow.  Large, diverse groups of Americans are nonviolently protesting police brutality and Trump’s agenda.  This two-level pushback demonstrates that Americans aren’t about to yield when faced with this president’s authoritarian tactics.  These, I believe, will be the keys to toppling Trump’s regime in November.

 

 

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If You’re Feeling Helpless – You’re Not Alone

What more can I write about President Trump and his inept, corrupt administration?  Ditto the Republican Party.  And who needs negative predictions about the path ahead when there seems to be so little we can do about it?  Yet, when I pause and focus on the future, I can’t help believing that Americans will turn away from the authoritarian abyss where Trump and the GOP are leading this nation.

I know, Trump is an incompetent, narcissistic idiot being protected by his toady attorney general, Bill Barr.  Yes, Republican-controlled states with a minority of the population are dragging this country around by the nose.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell represents Kentucky, one of poorest states in the country.  His right-hand man, the majority whip, is South Dakota Sen. John Thune.  Next in line is Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso.  These two states have such a tiny – mostly white – populations they have only ONE representative in the U.S. House.

We still have a free press, however, and elections.  Not even the conservative-controlled Supreme Court would dare abolish these freedoms.  The greatest threats to an independent media are wealthy right-wing investors who might purchase a majority of the outlets, like they did in Hungry.  But Jeff Bezos, the richest man in the world, owns the Washington Post.  And I don’t believe it’s possible that other major independent news sources could be taken over by conservative buyers.

Billionaire Libertarians like Charles Koch who fund conservative causes are offset by numerous, very wealthy moderates and liberals like Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.  Many of the new billionaires are in the high-tech industries with younger, more diverse employees.  The conservative dominated industries like oil and gas production are not nearly as politically powerful as they once were.  The titans of technology will be driving policies in the future much more than coal and oil executives.

Americans have a 220+ year history of relative freedom and democracy.  That’s not the case with Russians and Eastern Europeans who, until the collapse of the Soviet Union, had mostly lived under monarchies or dictators for hundreds of years.  So, I simply don’t believe that liberty-minded Americans would ever accept Trump/Republican authoritarianism where Trump’s gut makes all the decisions and they suffer the consequences.  Neither would powerful U.S. corporate leaders.

We have a Constitution, right?  Even ultra-conservative Supreme Court justices like Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito – who claim to strictly follow the Constitution’s text – can’t circumvent the Bill of Rights and its protections of individual freedoms.

The United States is a democratic republic.  The Constitution can only be changed via a constitutional convention – which hasn’t occurred since 1787 – or by two-thirds of the members of both chambers of Congress passing amendments.  Either way, changes must be ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures.  That’s not like Russia where a majority of its people may soon approve constitutional amendments that will allow Russian President Vladimir Putin to retain power, virtually for life.  Trump envies Putin’s dictatorial authority but he will never achieve it via constitutional amendments in the United States.

Conservative columnist Ross Douthat theorized, however, that Trump doesn’t want power like other authoritarians, he just wants attention.  As populous leaders like Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban used the coronavirus crisis to consolidate power, Trump demurred, forcing state governors to take the lead.  Douthat believes Trump was afraid of “claiming any power that might lead to responsibility and someday blame”.  He concluded, “America needed a president capable of exercising power and found that it had only a television star, a shirker and a clown”.  Amen to that!

I totally agree that Trump seems more interested in playing the showman than formulating policy.  He is lazy, preferring to hold rallies where he relishes the adulation – Mussolini-like – before spending a weekend golfing with sycophantic friends.  The pandemic chaos and its likely aftermath of high unemployment and economic stress are not situations he has the temperament to handle.  His staff and cabinet are equally incapable doing the tough work of governing.

In fact, Trump’s presidency calls to mind the old proverb “one bad apple spoils the barrel”.  Attorney General Bill Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will probably go down in history as two of the most unethical officials to ever hold those powerful positions.  Trump’s other executive branch appointments – which are quickly confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate – are frequently inept and/or corrupt, including department heads like former EPA chief Scott Pruitt.  At the same time, career federal employees with skill and integrity have been replaced by compliant Trump loyalists.

Yes, it’s such a helpless feeling to watch Trump ravage the stature and credibility of the United States on the world stage and hamstring the oversight powers of the Democratic-controlled House.  Equally frustrating is seeing Republican committee chairs in the Senate operate like Trump’s reelection campaign staff.

The Founders would probably be incredulous – as most Americans are – at how easily Trump and congressional Republicans have been able to threaten the very foundation and continued viability of the great democratic republic they created.  Yet, I believe the considerable damage they have done is reversible.

Fortunately, the architects of the Constitution provided freedom loving U.S. citizens with a mechanism to deal with Trump and his GOP supporters – the vote.   And I firmly believe they will use it to change directions and put this nation and our democracy back on course.

 

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What Is Freedom – And Who Has It?

Freedom-Protests-A-1

Anti-government protestors have been aggressively railing against stay-at-home orders in Michigan and other states, demanding their freedom.  But what is “freedom”?  Is it their right to own an assault rifle?   Does it equate to refusing vaccinations for their children?  Is it being unencumbered by any type of government action whatsoever?  Or is freedom synonymous with economic and health care security?

The Libertarian Party reveres freedom.  Its motto is: Less Government, More Freedom.  Actually, many members of the GOP are Libertarians, perhaps because they have more influence as Republicans.  These ultraconservatives want to abolish income taxes and the IRS, outlaw labor unions and limit government to police and national security duties.  Sure, who needs the EPA and the Department of Education anyway?

The “give me liberty” protests, however, got me thinking a lot about freedom and who really has it.

Certainly, the top one tenth of one percent of wealth holders – those with a net worth starting at around $43 million – have plenty of freedom.  Many of them own one or more jet aircraft.  Hey, who hasn’t thought about how great it would be to own a private plane?  Well, during my working years, I frequently flew on company aircraft.  And I can attest; it’s the ultimate in stress free travel.

No need to worry about a security check, TSA agents or crowded gate areas.  On a morning flight, the pilots take your luggage and provide a hot cup of coffee and a freshly made donut as you relax in a first-class seat.  When returning in the afternoon, a cocktail, cold beer or glass of wine helps smooth out the trip home.  You can fly from Chicago to New York City, hold some meetings and be home in time for dinner.

Yet, luxurious travel is not the only freedom the ultra-wealthy enjoy.  Most have multiple homes; many have luxurious yachts; and some even own a private island.  Their real freedom, however, comes from access.  If they want to meet privately with their representative, senator or even the president, no problem.  A generous campaign contribution facilitates getting special treatment.  No doubt, multi-millionaires and billionaires have the ultimate in freedom.

Those households in the top one percent with a net worth starting at $10.4 million have it pretty cushy too.   They get preferential service wherever they go and have no worries about getting the very best in medical care.  Even folks at the lower end of the top 10 percent with a net worth of a little over $1 million have a reasonable amount of freedom; their main worry is running out of cash before they run out of time.

Retirees above age 65 with a modest net worth also have a fair amount of freedom if they own their home and are collecting Social Security.  At a minimum they have a roof over their head, a guaranteed income and Medicare.

I would submit, however, that freedom for a majority of Americans is very tenuous, even if they have a job and company provided health insurance.   A recent report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Urban Institute estimates that 43 million of these folks could lose their job and their health insurance due to the coronavirus crisis.

As we learned from a 2019 Federal Reserve study, 27 percent of Americans would have to borrow or sell something to cover an unexpected $400 expense and 12 percent would not be able to cover it at all.  That’s almost 40 percent of Americans – roughly 130 million – who  are in poor financial shape.  How much freedom do they have?

A New York Times article by Nicholas Kristoff about Denmark’s response to the current pandemic and a McDonald’s employee there is illustrative of the stark contrast to a similar American worker.  According to Kristoff, the humblest Danish burger-flipper at McDonald’s makes about $22 per hour, which includes various pay supplements.  He or she also gets six weeks of paid vacation a year, life insurance, a year’s paid maternity leave and a pension plan.  Plus, all Danes enjoy universal medical insurance and paid sick leave.

Kristoff states that the cost of living in Denmark is around 30 percent higher than in the United States.  But U.S. McDonald’s employees are currently fighting for $15 per hour and that wouldn’t include all the other benefits the Danes have.  Who has more freedom, the guy or gal in Denmark who asks “Do you want fries with that?” or his or her counterpart in the U.S.?

Around five years ago, McDonald’s employees in the U.S. were seeking a $10 per hour minimum wage.  I was trying to discuss this movement with a conservative friend, but he dismissed it with, “Well, if McDonald’s has to pay that, they’ll use machines to make burgers.”  I thought, how callous is that?  Still, it’s a typical Republican mindset regarding minimum wages; working-class Americans must either accept low pay or risk being replaced by a robot.

Yes, those protesting against stay-at-home orders in Michigan and elsewhere can wave their assault rifles and their flags.  They can claim the government is being tyrannical and Nazi-like, as they have.  They can angerly vent about being robbed of their freedom.  But no matter what the involved governors do, if these protestors don’t have adequate savings, a secure job and affordable health insurance – the only freedom they’ll actually have is in their mind.

Above photo by Paul Sancya/AP

 

 

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After the Virus, What’s in America’s Future?

The Great Depression of the 1930s was devastating for the entire world, especially the United States.  The agrarian economy of the early twentieth century produced a society that was probably much more self-reliant than that of today’s interconnected, information age.  So, I’ve often wondered how 21st century Americans would cope with a similar economic catastrophe.  Well, apparently, it’s here.  Unemployment claims in the United States have soared to over 33 million and the percent of jobless may exceed the peaks that occurred in the 1930s.

I read an interesting article in The New Yorker recently that questioned if the coronavirus pandemic and the economic fallout would cause this nation to become more progressive or more dystopian.  It’s possible that we’re nearing that inflection point, so it stimulated my thinking, not only about the future and also about the early 1900s and another horrific pandemic.

World War I ended in November 2018, right in the middle of the first wave of the 1918-2019 flu epidemic that killed 675,000 Americans.  The European conflict had cost the United States an estimated $22.6 billion and the death of over 116,000 American soldiers.

The victorious allies – heavily influenced by France where much of the fighting occurred – dictated the terms of the June 1919 Treaty of Versailles that disarmed Germany’s military and stripped it of territory and economic resources.  Its most humiliating provisions forced this defeated nation to admit responsibility for the war and pay reparations of $33 billion ($504 billion today) in gold-backed German marks.

The treaty was strongly opposed by powerful Massachusetts GOP Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and failed to achieve the necessary two-thirds vote for ratification in the U.S. Senate.  It followed that the U.S. didn’t join the League of Nations in 1920 as President Woodrow Wilson had strongly advised.  U.S. politicians didn’t believe that future involvement with Europe would be in America’s self-interests.  Sound familiar?

Republican Warren G. Harding became president in 1921, promising a return to “normalcy.”  He was backed by a Republican-controlled, isolationist-minded Congress.

But while Americans were enjoying the “roaring twenties” – notwithstanding the prohibition of alcohol – the German economy was in shambles and the German mark (without gold backing), was almost worthless.  As a teenager, I did some work for a German couple who had lived in Germany before 1926.  They talked about needing a basket full of paper marks to purchase a loaf of bread.

As the Great Depression completed its third year in November 1932, Americans threw out the Republicans who had controlled the government for almost a decade and elected Democrat, Franklin D. Roosevelt as president, with a Democratic-controlled Congress.  Thus, began eight years of enacting the “New Deal,” probably the most progressive legislation in the nation’s history.  What followed was 30+ years of economic progress that greatly benefited all working-class Americans.

The depression, however, steered Germany in an entirely different direction.  During the prior decade of humiliation and economic chaos, radical right-wing political organizations like the National Socialist Workers’ Party (Nazis) had gained power.  They promised to reverse the oppression of the Versailles Treaty.  The German government (Weimar Republic) had been totally destabilized by economic stagnation and unrest.  The resulting rise of populism and nationalism paved the way for Adolf Hitler to seize power in 1933.  What followed was massive military expansion and World War II, during which millions of combatants and civilians died.

Today, as the possibility of another global depression looms, populism and nationalism are on the rise again across the western world.  Authoritarian, right-wing governments are threatening to completely replace democracies in Romania, Hungry, Poland, Turkey and Brazil.  In the United States, long-established democratic norms are being trampled under President Donald Trump’s inept, authoritarian-styled leadership.

Even in 2019, this nation was experiencing 1920s-like income inequality.  Now, thousands of cars line up at food banks in communities that were prosperous just three months ago.  And this situation will only get worse as millions of jobless, cash-poor Americans struggle to pay their bills and buy groceries.

Congress is throwing trillions of dollars at these problems but one has to wonder how much of it will actually benefit the individuals and small businesses that are most needy.  Still, many companies won’t survive, leaving their former employees desperately seeking jobs.

Trump-supporting white nationalists and swastika displaying neo-Nazis are taking advantage of the chaos and gaining national attention by opposing the stay-at-home orders of various – mostly Democratic – state governors.  They’re encouraged by Trump who calls them “very nice people” and tweets, “Liberate Michigan”.

Right-wing, antigovernment militia organizations are also protesting, typically carrying military-styled assault rifles.  There are likely more than 100,000 members of the 200+ radical militia organizations operating throughout the U.S. and a deep recession could dramatically swell their numbers.

It’s obvious that Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and the GOP will do anything to retain power.  They’re stifling congressional oversight and crippling the Constitution’s separation of powers, while politicizing both the Justice Department and the courts.  Frankly, I fear they are politicizing the rule of law.**

No question, the November election will decide America’s future.  Will voters elect a president and Congress that preserve our democratic institutions and enact progressive legislation that helps working-class Americans escape the prison of income inequality?  Or, will they choose the opposite direction by reelecting Trump and a Republican-controlled Senate that will help him add the shackles of authoritarianism?

I know how I will vote.

**DOJ just dropped the criminal case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s former National Security Advisor.

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GOP Is Turning U.S. Competence into a S–t Show

During President Obama’s first term, several of my conservative friends constantly railed about the president’s spending.  I remember one of them saying “Tea Party, here we come”.  When Obama signed a massive stimulus package of around $800 billion soon after he was inaugurated, Republicans squealed like the world was ending and blamed him for the record-breaking $1.4 trillion deficit for fiscal year 2009.  But that legislation was only part of the story.

Fact is, what happened to federal budgets during the Great Recession will occur in 2020 and perhaps well beyond.  Federal and state revenues will crater by hundreds of billions and the cost of programs like Medicaid and unemployment insurance will skyrocket as people lose jobs and health care coverage.   In response, Congress has passed massive “relief” packages, which will add even more trillions in red ink.  Unlike Republican obstruction during Obama’s administration, however, Democrats will strive to bolster the economy by all means possible.

The Congressional Budget Office projects that the FY 2020 federal deficit will be $3.7 trillion, followed by $2.1 trillion for FY2021.  The combined deficit of $5.8 trillion for these two years almost equals the total Great Recession deficits during President Obama’s entire first term.  These estimates will certainly increase, however, if Congress authorizes funding to shore up state budgets.  The U.S. Treasury can borrow without limits to cover revenue shortfalls; states can’t do that.

Most states must balance their budgets, so when revenues decrease, so must spending.  The National League of Cities estimates that up to one million public-sector employees may lose their jobs this year, many of them teachers.  Education funding is typically the largest item in state budgets, so it invariably gets cut when the economy tanks.  If Congress fails to appropriate relief for states in the next coronavirus bill, the nations’ children – and their futures – will be the victims.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), however, is baulking.  Although he normally avoids filling his mouth with shoe leather, McConnell said he wasn’t interested in bailing out “blue states” and that states could declare bankruptcy if they couldn’t meet their obligations.  He wants to shrink government at all levels, particularly in Democratic states that have unionized employees.  Sure Mitch, why not add numerous state bankruptcies to this catastrophe?

McConnell’s cynical remarks garnered bipartisan criticism but none more severe than New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s.  He correctly countered that his state pays more in federal taxes than it receives in federal benefits, while the opposite is true for McConnell’s state. Actually, the extra taxes New Yorkers pay to the government, help fund education and health care benefits for Kentuckians.

But Kentucky certainly isn’t alone in needing federal help.  Financial web site, wallethub.com ranks the 50 states by federal government dependency where 1 (one) is the most dependent on federal funding.  The red states’ average ranking of 21 shows they are much more dependent than blue states, which have an average ranking of 33.  Of the 10 most federally dependent states, nine are totally controlled or mostly controlled by Republicans; Kentucky is number five.  Clearly, McConnell needs to focus his attention back home.

Then there’s the Republican in chief whose presidency is ripping the conservative veneer off his party’s ideology, exposing its shameful hypocrisy.  The 2017 Trump/GOP tax cut that will add $1.5+ trillion to federal deficits has totally debunked President Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economic myth that tax cuts for the wealthy pay for themselves.  And the staunchly free trade-loving, deficit-hating Republicans were mostly silent last year as Trump slapped tariffs on foreign goods and deficit spending skyrocketed.

In fact, the GOP has become like a cult, with many members eagerly guzzling the Kool-Aid of lies served up by the president.  Frankly, I don’t get it.  Among the many qualities that define good leaders and admirable human beings – I don’t believe Donald Trump possesses even one.  Not One!  This petty, ignorant man frequenting displays flashes of mind-boggling stupidity and proudly displays his arrogance.  And if reelected, he’ll destroy what makes America great – including our democratic processes and what little international respect this nation still retains.

On Saturday, Irish Times’ columnist Fintan O’Toole expressed what I believe numerous foreign leaders are thinking, “Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world…..But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.”  He added, “The country Trump promised to make great again has never in its history seemed so pitiful.”

Pitiful?  The United States of America is viewed as pitiful???  Well, lay the blame for this shocking assessment directly on President Trump, along with numerous conservative Republican politicians and Fox News commentators like Sean Hannity.

Their disgraceful responses to the coronavirus crisis delivered a body blow to American exceptionalism.  The U.S. has over a million coronavirus cases, resulting in 61,000+ deaths so far and an economy crashing into a bad recession.  Why?  Because Trump put stock market concerns and his reelection above protecting Americans’ health.  Then, the federal government actually made the bourgeoning crisis worse under his inept leadership.

Thankfully, GOP incompetence isn’t shared by the vast majority of Americans, so we’ll get through this pandemic in spite of them.  But we must vote Trump and a whole bunch of Republicans out of office so this nation can reclaim its “world’s greatest country” status.

 

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Let Life’s Lessons Guide Us to Better Times

Almost a year ago I came across an article in the New York Times digital addition that caught my eye.  It encouraged readers to “share your story” and “life lessons,” perhaps to provide some wisdom for students graduating that spring.

I have long believed that every adult – particularly in my generation – has led an interesting life; so I’ve frequently encouraged friends to record their experiences for the benefit of their children and grandchildren.  Anyway, I decided to respond to this article in hopes of reading about the lessons learned by others.

I’ll get to my little story shortly, but I decided to start at a much earlier time with this blog because I believe the following event – and a later event – have significance too.

Shortly after doing the cap and gown bit at my Florida high school I had a chance meeting with a classmate, Ted, who I only knew because we had been in the school chorus together.  At the time I was pumping gas and greasing cars part time at a two-pump filling station near my parents’ home.  I had no clue about my future, except that it wouldn’t include college in the fall.

Ted was excited about a career development meeting he had recently attended where an FBI agent talked about clerical jobs with the Bureau in Washington, D.C.  This piqued my interest too and together we decided to visit the local FBI office to learn more.  We were in casual clothes so the agent gave us an application and told us to come back properly dressed for an interview.

That second meeting led to a 300-mile drive for another interview at the FBI Field Office in Miami and in September 1957, Ted and I took off for the nation’s capital in his 1952 Chevy, eager to start our first real job.

Fast forward a few years to the story I submitted to the NYT, along with my “life lessons”:

In 1960 I was a 20-year-old accounting clerk working for the FBI in Washington, D.C. and attending night classes at George Washington University.  My objective was to become a special agent.  One afternoon a co-worker walked by my desk and casually asked if I intended to take the test for a job in the Bureau’s computer department.  My high school math grades weren’t all that good but this seemed like a great opportunity for advancement so I eagerly applied for the challenge.

The test was an exercise in logic, but my experience taking college exams helped me get a qualifying score.  This quickly led to a transfer and a promotion.  So, a chance encounter and a simple decision put me on the ground floor of a burgeoning technology where I learned to program some of the first IBM mainframe computers.

Life lessons:  Be open to every opportunity that comes your way.  One might just turn out to be a dramatic life changing event.  And remember, hard work and perseverance are omnipotent.

Fast forward a few more years.

It was New Year’s Eve, 1964; a loud party of young government workers was going strong in the large, dimly lit basement of an old, three-story home in Alexandria, Virginia.  I was leaning against a musty brick wall, drinking a beer and trying to chat with a friend.  Couples were twisting away with Chubby Checker and the volume of the music made normal conversation almost impossible.

The bare wooden stairs descending from the main floor were directly in front of me – illuminated by a single light bulb dangling on a cord from the ceiling.  All of sudden, a beautiful young lady in a lime green sweater and matching slacks stepped into this light.  I was in pursuit before she reached the dancefloor – a totally unusual reaction for me.

We danced a few times, mostly the twist, and I asked for her phone number.  She refused my advances and later left the party with some girlfriends well before midnight.  Normally, I would have forgotten about this rebuff or assumed that I might see her again at one of the frequent weekend parties I attended.  At the time I had a challenging job as a computer programmer and was totally focused on the college classes I was attending almost every weekday night.

But I was smitten.  I had her name and perseverance prevailed.  Soon I had her phone number and arranged our first date.  We became engaged on her 22nd birthday in March.

When I think about how we might never have met that night, or maybe ever, it simply boggles my mind.  She had been stood up by the guy she was dating; I could have attended any of several parties to welcome the New Year of 1965.  Still, I don’t believe in fate or that we were predestined to meet.  Each of us is occasionally presented with an opportunity that may not seem all that significant when it occurs.  Our New Year’s Eve encounter was one of those.  Yet, it’s how we react that can make all the difference in our future.

Next month, this lovely lady and I will celebrate our 55th wedding anniversary.

Life lessons for today: Dwell on pleasant memories; they will sustain us.  Be open for opportunities to promote truth, justice and civility; they are pillars of our democracy.  And above all, keep persevering.  Better times will surely result.

 

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Trump Inflicts Pain of GOP Ideology on Nation

It’s no secret, the Republican Party has been attacking the mainstream media and the federal bureaucracy for decades.  Still, no president has waged that battle with more ferocity than Donald Trump.  After the 2016 election, he admitted to journalist Leslie Stahl that he “demeans” and “discredits” the press so the public won’t believe the negative stories reporters write about him.  And he frequently calls the media “the enemy of the people”.  Perhaps that’s because the journalists who he apparently despises frequently show his incompetence, like they did in warning about the coronavirus threat.

Trump’s efforts to hollow out the executive branch of government, however, are probably more damaging than his attacks on the press.  His budget proposals for the past four years have included double digit percentage cuts to numerous federal agencies, including the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Congress didn’t agree with most of these reductions but Trump used other means to shrink the government.  He simply didn’t fill numerous important positions and he eliminated or weakened critical functions like the National Security Council’s pandemic preparation organization.

Yet, Trump is simply following the example set by the Republican-controlled U.S. House during President Obama’s administration.  They recommended transitioning Medicare into a premium support program, giving states a block grant to manage Medicaid and, of course, repealing Obamacare.   Their plan has always been to transfer responsibility for health care, education and numerous other programs to the states.  The Republican budget for fiscal year 2015 would have restricted the executive branch to hiring only one federal employee for every three that left the government.  For several decades, the GOP has been totally focused on downgrading or eliminating federal agencies and cutting taxes.

Well, I don’t need to rehash the failure of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 that ballooned federal deficits instead of supercharging the economy as Republicans promised.  It is worth noting, however, that many of the corporations now seeking government aid from the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief program, wasted their tax cut largess on massive stock buyback programs instead of investing in their businesses.

As for the other longstanding GOP policy of limited government, the ongoing pandemic highlights its fallacies.  Trump’s swiss cheese administration wasn’t prepared to support the needs of the nation’s heroic medical care providers.  So, Trump told state governors they were responsible for acquiring the supplies necessary for hospitals to handle the exponentially growing coronavirus cases.  Then the Federal Emergency Management Agency inexplicably began competing with them.  As a result, prices increased dramatically and medical supplies that had been ordered by states – like Michigan and Colorado – were sometimes confiscated by FEMA.

I can’t decide if Trump is simply implementing a longstanding conservative desire to delegate federal functions to the states or if he is attempting to put the onus on them so he can blame governors for his failures.  Either way, things don’t seem to be working well for him or his advisor and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

While the president was dragging feet on ordering automakers to manufacture ventilators, Kushner claimed that the federal stockpile was “supposed to be our stockpile” and not one that states could use.  Someone needs to remind this clueless, pandemic neophyte a-hole that tax dollars from the states pay for all that stuff, not to mention the cushy perks he enjoys as a White House advisor.

To make matters worse though, Trump is using the federal medical stockpile for political purposes.  Reports indicate that many states – both red and blue – were receiving only a fraction of their requests for stockpile supplies, while requisitions by Florida – a key swing state – had been fully filled and Trump-friendly Kentucky and Oklahoma received more than they had ordered.

When Trump tweeted on Friday that he was sending 100 ventilators to Colorado at the request of Republican Cory Gardner, that state’s vulnerable Senator, the Denver Post accused Trump of using medical supplies to boost Gardner’s campaign.   Colorado’s democratic governor, Jared Polis, then revealed that FEMA had cancelled Colorado’s order for 500 ventilators, which that agency subsequently purchased.

Regardless, here’s why the limited federal government – delegate to states – ideology is totally ludicrous; most states lack an economy and tax base that could adequately fund the programs Republicans would transfer to them.  California is the exception; its 40 million citizens drive an economy larger than all but four countries.  Federal tax dollars that its residents pay significantly exceed the federal benefits they receive.  So, Congress uses the extra tax dollars from California to support health care and education programs for poorer – mostly Republican – states like Kentucky.

The current pandemic is just another example of how the conservative ideology of Republicans frequently inflicts great hardship on the nation.  The terrible inequality that exists in America today had its roots in the trickle-down economic policies of President Ronald Reagan; the Great Recession resulted in substantial part from the regulatory laxity of President George W. Bush’s administration; and the coronavirus death toll and economic fallout are being exacerbated by President Donald Trump’s unconscionable delayed response and his shifting of responsibilities to the states.

As the coronavirus crisis worsened, most Americans desperately called for more leadership from the top of the federal government – but all they’ve gotten from Trump is the typical Republican response to health care and other issues, “Dude – you’re on your own”.

PS – The GOP plan for health care consists of a first aid kit with a band-aid, an aspirin and a prayer book.  Same for gun violence.

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Changing News Cycles Can’t Save Trump This Time

President Trump has gone from claiming that 15 coronavirus cases would be going away to announcing on Tuesday that this pandemic will kill between 100,000 to 240,000 Americans.  I believe he came up with this staggering death toll because he believes that the final number will be significantly lower than this range.  He will then brag about the great job he did managing the crisis.  Of course, we all hope the U.S. experiences far fewer deaths than this estimate.  But those who will deserve the credit for saving American lives are several of the nation’s governors – Democratic and Republican alike – along with the heroic workers in health care facilities.

The federal government is grossly failing in its response to this crisis and there’s a good reason why.  Over the past three plus years, Trump has fired or otherwise replaced most of the officials who were in a position to influence his erratic performance, particularly former Chief of Staff John Kelly, former Chief Economic Advisor Gary Cohn and former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, to name a few.  All were replaced by “yes” men, more or less, who rarely if ever challenge the president’s flawed reasoning and decisions.

By demanding total loyalty and savaging those who say things or make decisions that he doesn’t like, Trump has stymied independent thinking and actions by officials all across the executive branch of government.  Knowledgeable, skill bureaucrats have been replaced by Trump “loyalists” – turnover in his administration has been head spinning – and many agencies have been left with weak and inexperienced “acting” heads.  The bottom line – Trump’s administration wasn’t prepared for ANY national crisis, let alone a pandemic.

Now, while governors seek solutions, the president looks for someone to blame for his mistakes.  Without evidence he questioned the requests for masks at medical facilities: “Are they going out the back door?”  And alleged that, “We have that happening in numerous places.”  This spurious accusation by Trump is simply disgusting.

The president has even refused to take charge of the production and distribution of medical supplies, leaving states to bid against each other and even the federal government.  This lack of coordination by the Trump administration drives up prices and leaves some U.S. hospital systems with severe shortages.  And there is good evidence that Florida – a state which is critical to Trump’s reelection – is receiving the medical supplies its officials requested from the federal storehouse while other states, both Republican and Democratic, are receiving only a fraction of their needs.

Most U.S. presidents would have been coordinating a response to this pandemic with U.S. allies but it’s always “America First” with Trump.  Consequently, China has been taking the lead in helping Italy and other nations fight the coronavirus.  Asia’s richest man, Jack Ma, co-founder of China-based Alibaba, used his charitable foundation and the Alibaba Foundation, to ship testing kits and masks to the United States and other countries.  And Russian President Vladimir Putin scored a huge propaganda coup by sending an enormous transport plane full of medical supplies to the U.S.

Coronavirus cases reached one million on Thursday, having doubled in a week.  The speed with which this disease has spread in a little over three months highlights Trump’s gross negligence in downplaying the threat for eight weeks.  And after finally admitting it was a problem, he has failed to bring the full power of the federal government to bear on protecting the American public.

A Boston Globe editorial on Monday went so far as to state that the president has “blood on his hands”.  The same accusation could be leveled against many conservative media personalities who minimized the coronavirus threat, including talk show host Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and numerous other Fox News commentators.  Fox’s Tucker Carlson was one of the few to sound an alarm.

No thinking person with knowledge of how the coronavirus spread in China and the drastic measures required to quell it would minimize the threat from this disease.  Anyone not living in a cave for the past thirty years had to be aware that millions of Chinese are constantly visiting the U.S.  Yet, Hannity and some other conservative commentators chose to ignore the facts and the obvious logical conclusions.  Their unbounded zeal to protect Trump and denigrate Democrats caused them to frame the news about the coronavirus as an attack on the president and downplay its veracity.  It seems they were blinded by their far-right ideology.

Trump has frequently benefitted from the fast-moving news cycle to avoid scandals that would have destroyed most politicians.  Shortly after the nation was shocked by hearing Trump brag about grabbing women by the crotch on an Access Hollywood video, this sensational story was quickly overshadowed when Wikileaks released a tranche of emails that Russians had stolen from Democrats.  Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels, his positive comments about the Charlottesville white supremacists and his obstruction of justice as detailed in the Mueller report, all faded from public attention relatively quickly.

Well, neither Russian hackers nor exculpatory legal opinions from Attorney General Bill Barr will shield Trump from blame this time.   The coronavirus pandemic will dominate the news for months and Trump’s indefensible two-month hiatus in responding to it will come under intense scrutiny as the number of deaths rises, the economy falters and this disaster escalates.

MAGA is becoming a cruel joke – and Trump is the punchline.

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Trump Totally Fails His Big Leadership Challenge

President Donald Trump should be the best-informed person in the nation, if not the world.  He gets daily briefings from a highly skilled U.S. intelligence apparatus.  If the Chinese were attempting to minimize the coronavirus severity, these people would have known that.  There can be no doubt, Trump was well informed of the impending threats to this nation in early January.

But the president has a habit of trusting his “gut” more than any expert advice so this may be why he downplayed these warnings.  Still, it’s impossible to know what goes on in this man’s mind.  Sometimes it appears as if he lives in an alternative reality.  The following quotes from a Washington Post article on March 14 clearly serve to prove that point.

When Trump was asked about the first coronavirus case in Washington state during a January 21 interview on CNBC he said, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”  During a February 2 interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity he assured listeners that, “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”

At a February 10 campaign event – and four more days that month – Trump claimed the virus would miraculously go away by April when it gets warmer.  And he substituted wishful thinking for reality during a February 25 news conference with, “We’re very close to a vaccine.”

The next day on the 26th Trump remarked that the existing 15 cases, “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero,” adding, “that’s a pretty good job we’ve done.” OMG!  He praised himself for a decrease in cases that was never going to occur.  Several days later, a dozen more U.S. infections were identified and a person had died.  After two weeks, 1,000 cases had resulted in 28 deaths.

This news conference produced more notable Trump downplays, “This is a flu. This is like a flu.”  And “I don’t think it’s inevitable [spread of virus]. It probably will. It possibly will. It could be at a very small level, or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens, we’re totally prepared.”  He definitely wasn’t.

The stock markets ended lower on Friday, February 21 on fears of a faltering Chinese economy, as the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) dipped below 29,000.  During the week of February 24 through 28, however, the markets cratered into correction territory.  By Friday, the DJI had shed almost 3,600 points for the week to close at 25,409, as high volatility prevailed.

In early March, Trump turned defensive after being criticized for his faltering response to the coronavirus threat.  That usually means target the black guy and Trump didn’t hold back.  He claimed that President Obama “didn’t do anything about” the 2009 swine flu outbreak, which was absolutely, provably false.  He also claimed, “The Obama administration made a decision on testing that turned out to be very detrimental to what we’re doing.”  Trump earned Four Pinocchios from Washington Post fact checkers for this dishonesty.

It’s difficult to tell if the president is ignorant, if he just says what he wants to believe in his alternative universe or if he simply lies.  On March 6, however, he assured us that “Anybody that wants a test can get a test,” which apparently isn’t true to this day.  Several days later he offered a false excuse and claimed credit for his reaction to it, “This blindsided the world. And I think we’ve handled it very, very well.”

During his address to the nation on March 11, Trump patted his back again and began messaging to blame outsiders: “This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history.”  Later, it became the “Chinese virus.”

The Federal Reserve cut interest rates to near zero on Sunday, March 15 and Trump came up with this beauty the next day, “We have a problem that a month ago nobody ever thought about.”  When asked to rate his response to the pandemic on a scale of 1 to 10, he ludicrously rated it a 10.  But his lie on the 17th was absolutely jaw dropping, “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

Why go back over this history?  Well, on March 15, I accidently tuned in to ultra-conservative Mark Levin’s show on Fox News.  He and his guest were singing Trump’s praises, giving the president great credit for his response to the pandemic.  And some polls indicate that the president’s approval rating has improved significantly.  Really?

Various administration officials, including the totally obsequious Vice President Mike Pence, pile kudos on the president during daily updates on the virus situation, while Trump approvingly absorbs it on camera in the background.  And the White House rejects any criticism of the president as illegitimate and blames Democrats and the media of a relentless, biased political assault.  They claim the president has taken historic, aggressive action to protect the American people.  It’s enough to make one ill.

Well, we can’t let Fox News, conservative media and the White House spin machine convince the public that Trump deserves accolades.  His response to this pandemic has been self-serving, misleading and woefully inadequate.  He justly deserves public outrage over his eight weeks of lies and colossal leadership failures.

 

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