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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When Republicans Politicize a Crisis – It Gets Worse

Photo by Patrick Semansky/AP —- Secretary Pompeo and Abdul Ghani Baradar

The RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) are apoplectic over what’s going on in Afghanistan.  But wait!  I don’t mean Sen. Mitt Romney, Illinois Rep Adam Kinzinger, or any other Republican who former president Trump has labeled with this acronym.  Oh no, I’m referring to Trump’s former secretary of State Mike Pompeo, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, all the Republicans who voted on January 6 against certifying President Joe Biden’s election victory and for sure, Donald Trump.  Neither the former president nor his supporters are real Republicans in my book, much less patriotic Americans.

There’s plenty of blame to go around for the chaos in Afghanistan, of course, including some for President Biden’s decisions.  But two of the most shocking criticisms of the president came from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Pompeo.  Both are former military officers who should know better.  Pompeo graduated first in his class at West Point in 1986; Cotton is a decorated veteran who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan during former president George W. Bush’s administration. 

Yet, as the Taliban was closing in on the Afghan capital of Kabul on August 14, the far-right Cotton typified the Republican response to this dire situation, “Joe Biden’s ill-planned retreat has now humiliated America and put at risk thousands of Americans left in Kabul,” Cotton said.  He added that Biden “must unleash American air power to destroy every Taliban fighter in the vicinity of Kabul until we can save our fellow Americans.”  

The following day, Pompeo advocated “crushing” the Taliban surrounding Kabul with American air power in order to, “inflict cost and pain on them.”   “This president [Biden] confronted a challenge in Afghanistan – he has utterly failed to protect the American people from this challenge,” he added. 

Both of these ex-military men should well know that air power alone could never destroy all Taliban fighters around Kabul, a sprawling city of over 4 million people.  As they were uttering their bombing nonsense, the Taliban had almost taken total control of the country and no doubt possessed some heavy weapons that had been abandoned by the Afghan military.  The international airport near the city would be the only way out for the remaining Americans and Afghan allies in the surrounding area and it’s likely there weren’t enough U.S. military personnel there to fully protect it. 

Unquestionably, massive bombing would have resulted in horrific civilian casualties.  And, it would be like trying to subdue a lion with a baseball bat.  No doubt, enraged Taliban fighters would have captured every American they could find.  Even if they couldn’t overrun the airport, any U.S. evacuation aircraft would likely have taken intense fire from Taliban rocket propelled grenades, heavy machine guns and artillery.  I believe the result would have been an incredibly worse catastrophe, with numerous Americans killed or held hostage and few being able to escape.   

Why on earth would Pompeo and Cotton have proposed get tough, reckless bombing campaigns?   Could it be their 2024 presidential aspirations?

Pompeo’s Afghan blunders, however, go much deeper.  As the U.S. secretary of State in 2018, he and former president Trump succeeded in pressuring the Pakistani government to release a Taliban co-founder, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, to negotiate a deal.  The bilateral agreement that was signed in February 2020 freed 5,000 captive Taliban fighters from prison and committed to the withdrawal of U.S. military and allied forces within 14 months (by May 2021).  In exchange, they got some promises from an untrustworthy enemy. 

It’s been reported that Trump even suggested a meeting with Taliban representatives at Camp David and mused about winning a Nobel Peace Prize.  Was this deal designed to bolster Trump’s 2020 reelection prospects?  Hmm, could be.

Regardless, The Trump/Pompeo agreement not only reduced the American military presence in Afghanistan, it reinforced the Taliban army by thousands of fighters and severely weakened the Afghan government in Kabul.  By the time Biden was inaugurated, Afghanistan’s fate was almost sealed, according to many observers.  He could either attempt to renegotiate the Trump agreement while rebuilding U.S. forces or carry out its commitments.  Neither was a good option for the United States by then.  And yes, chaos was probably inevitable under the circumstances Biden inherited, as there remained thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of Afghans to be evacuated from this hostile environment. 

Still, why hadn’t the Trump administration begun the process of bringing translators and other at-risk Afghan allies to the United States before the U.S. withdrew troops in 2020?  Well, last Friday, Olivia Troye, who was a counterterrorism aide to former Vice President Mike Pence, accused former Trump advisor Stephen Miller of organizing xenophobic officials inside the Trump Administration to deny these refugees special immigration visas.  If true, this is beyond shocking.

The ongoing humanitarian effort in Afghanistan will playout over the next few weeks and every American should hope and pray that all of our fellow citizens are evacuated from Kabul, along with thousands of our Afghan allies.  Still, I believe the way Republicans are politicizing this tragedy – just like they politicized the coronavirus pandemic – is exacerbating an already horrible situation.   

And, we can be certain that Republicans will demand intensive investigations of Biden’s handling of the withdrawal from Afghanistan while attempting to impede and downplay the investigations of the vicious January 6 attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters.  They have no shame.

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When Everything Is Political — Nothing Is Off Limits

To me, these eight words sum up where we are as a nation today and it’s not a good place to be.     

How did we get here?  Well, I believe the seeds took root during Ronald Reagan’s administration in the 1980s and grew with the rise of conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and the vicious hardball political tactics of former Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).   Right-wing operatives like these wrote the playbook for the ultra-conservative Fox News anchors in the late 1990s and the Tea Party radicals in 2010.  Over time, the anti-government, anti-media rhetoric of the GOP kept getting louder and more unhinged until it spawned Donald Trump, a man whose every decision before, during and after his presidency has been based on how it might affect him politically.

Along the way, Senate Minority/Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) played politics to the hilt in obstructing virtually everything President Obama attempted to accomplish in Congress, including refusing to even hold hearings on Merrick Garland, Obama’s appointment to the Supreme Court.   McConnell’s middle finger to the president’s constitutional authority was outrageously unprecedented but it perfectly served his dangerously audacious political agenda.

Turns out though, the Republican Party’s back-peddling from democratic norms has been tracked by the V-Dem Institute, an independent research organization that measures how strongly political parties in 169 countries around the world are committed to democracy.  The “illiberal index” in its October 2020 report shows that – and I quote – “[T]he Republican party in the US has retreated from upholding democratic norms in recent years. Its rhetoric is closer to authoritarian parties, such as AKP in Turkey and Fidesz in Hungary. Conversely, the Democratic party has retained a commitment to longstanding democratic standards.” 

You won’t hear a hint of that report on Fox News, however, nor will that channel put much emphasis the many ways Trump and the GOP have politicized democratic processes, both before the 2020 election and since.  Here are just the worst examples.

Recent news reports reveal that Trump attempted to politicize and corrupt the Department of Justice and the rule of law.  He pardoned felons Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, among others, simply because they were his friends.  The GOP leadership, of course, let him get away with this pure politicization of the pardon process with little comment.  An independent DOJ and the rule of law are two of the strongest pillars of our democracy but some Republican politicians see them as impediments to their political objectives.

Without a doubt though, Trump’s reaction to the coronavirus in early 2020 will go down in history as an all-time low for callous and deadly political maneuvering.  It resulted in hundreds of thousands of dead Americans as Trump, his Republican supporters in Congress and the right-wing media recklessly politicized protective masks and vaccinations. 

But this is what’s really chilling: Vanity Fair reported in a July 2020 that because the virus at first hit hardest in blue states, the president’s advisors weren’t very concern, specifically Jared Kushner’s team.  They thought a national plan to combat the virus was not necessary and that it would be an effective political strategy to blame the Democratic governors.  If true, not only was that approach to a crisis wrong-headed and cruel, I believe that it bordered on a criminal conspiracy.

High on the list of the most egregious political acts by Trump and company has to be the Big Lie that the 2020 election stolen from him.  In other words, they attempted to brand the election processes as fraudulent and untrustworthy and still are to this day.  In Georgia, where he lost, the president called on Republican state election officials to find votes for him.  They refused.  Trump operatives attempted to prevent certification of Joe Biden’s validly seated electors.  They failed. Trump urged the DOJ’s acting attorney general in December 2020 to state that the election was corrupt and leave it to him and the “R congressmen.”  He didn’t.

Trump tweets verify that he subsequently summoned a mob to Washington on January 6 to protest the certification of Biden’s win. Then during a speech that morning he urged them to “fight like hell” because if you don’t, “you’re not going to have a country anymore.”  Shortly thereafter he directed them to go to the Capitol. 

Can there be any doubt that Trump, and yes, the majority of Republicans in Congress, attempted a coup?

A bipartisan investigation of the resulting insurrection has been soundly rebuffed by Republicans as they try to blame Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the violence.  They are making a political charade out of what was probably the most serious threat to our democracy in history.  

Trump and his crowd even politicized the U.S. Olympic team, here-to-fore untouchable for anything but praise and full support.  Perhaps the most viscous attacks from the right were on world-class U.S. gymnast, Simone Biles, for dropping out of several events due to mental health issues.   They called her, among other things, a “quitter,” “arrogant,” “selfish sociopath,” “immature” and a “shame to this country” Hmm, would they have attacked like this if she were white?

Politics is like a drug, once hooked on it, some normally decent people do some undemocratic things.  And the bad people like Trump, — well, no act for political gain is off limits to them, which is why they’re an existential threat to our democracy.

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GOP Decides It Can’t Survive in a Democracy

Scene from the film, “The Little Shop of Horrors, a 1986 Warner Brother’s release

Folks who’ve enjoyed the play or film “The Little Shop of Horrors” will understand why it reminds me of the Republican Party’s evolution over the past several decades.  In the Little Shop, a bumbling florist discovers a small, talking plant that lives on human flesh and blood.  He starts feeding it with his own vital fluid but soon must provide human victims as it keeps growing and becoming more aggressive.  In end, the plant eats him too. 

Well, the GOP once had a much smaller, far-right base until conservative Republicans kept throwing it more and more political red meat.  Like the fictional flesh-eating flower, that group just kept growing and getting more voracious until it has now almost completely devoured the establishment party. 

That process will continue as old-line Republican Senators like Alabama’s Richard Shelby, Ohio’s Rob Portman, Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, North Carolina’s Richard Burr and Missouri’s Roy Blount retire in 2022.  And it’s certainly possible that all five could be replaced by strong supporters of former president Trump or even a political bomb-thrower or two, like Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) who is running for Shelby’s seat. 

The likely retirement of Iowa’s 88-year-old Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley could make room for a sixth Trumpian. And Alaska’s Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who voted to convict Trump in the second impeachment trial, faces reelection next year, with well-funded, Trump-loving primary challengers battling to capture her seat.

Certainly, pro-Trump replacements for the somewhat more moderate Senate Republicans in 2023, along with GOP Senators like Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson, Texas’ Ted Cruz and Kentucky’s Rand Paul – to name a few of the most radical – would give Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) the most obstructive, anti-democratic caucus in modern history.

Over in the House, there are literally dozens of fanatics like GOP Rep. Margorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) who have demonstrated dangerous antipathy to democracy.  The 10 Republican representatives who bravely voted with Democrats to impeach Trump after the January 6 Capitol insurrection will also face strong primary challenges from ardent Trump supporters next year. 

Republicans at all levels of government, along with tens of millions of their supporters, have convinced themselves, without evidence, that the Democrats somehow stole the 2020 election.  With the enthusiastic support of right-wing media, they’re using Trump’s Big Lie to justify politicizing the election process with election laws that also seriously impede minority voting.

This voter fraud charade has confirmed my long-held belief that whatever Republicans wrongly accuse Democrats of doing, they are doing or want to do themselves, including stealing elections.  They don’t believe they can win in a free and fair election process so they try to project their devious methods on to Democrats, while using them to rig the system in their favor. 

You know friends, I keep wondering – when will this nation have an election again where our democracy isn’t being threatened by Republicans?  Obviously, it won’t be soon.

If the GOP takes control of the Senate and/or the House in 2023, as history would predict, and the numerous voter suppressing, election politicizing laws being passed by most Republican-controlled states are not nullified, it’s almost guaranteed that a Democrat will not be in the White House after 2024 unless he or she wins by a landslide.

I don’t wish to be an alarmist, but Republicans are openly and actively in the process of crippling – if not destroying – democracy in the United States.  That’s a fact!!  The only question is, can they be stopped?  If Trump or another Republican like him is elected president in 2024, along with a Republican-controlled Congress, I fear that our two-party political system could be virtually eliminated. 

The justices on the conservative-controlled Supreme Court may not rule against this GOP power grab, perhaps because political parties have no specific rights under the Constitution.  Or if they do, the Republican administration and Congress might simply ignore the decision. 

But here’s what strikes me.  I don’t think most Republican politicians and their supporters realize what they’re doing; their love of conspiracy theories, irrational hatred of liberals and impatient quest for power, is overwhelming all other considerations. 

First, the norms they are violating, the precedents they are setting and the types of laws they are enacting could be used against them if a left-wing tyrant is elected president sometime in the future when white people are certain to be in the minority.  That possibility alone should make them want to strengthen our democratic processes rather than weaken them.  Do they no longer fear Democratic payback?

Moreover, the GOP seems oblivious to the corporate and business interests it has long promoted.  Don’t Republican politicians realize that America’s strength – including that of its dollar – and its status in world affairs is primarily due to its strongly democratic history and the rule of law?  These qualities make America a business-friendly, economic powerhouse and a safe haven for foreign investment.   Do Republicans really believe that major U.S. corporations would support a conservative autocracy, any more than they would a socialist government? 

Until 2016, I firmly believed that no internal political force could easily subvert the U.S. Constitution or corrupt our democratic institutions.  But consider how Republicans and their right-wing supporters have managed to weaken our democracy in just the past year.  To them, this is necessary to ensure survival of the party – and they’re not about to relent.

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GOP Is Great at Messaging – Governing, Not So Much

CNN File Photo

Right after posting my last blog, my wife and I flew across the country to visit with our daughter and family for the first time in 18 months.  Needless to say, I didn’t have much time to write blogs or read all the articles that came to me via the Internet.  So, I compiled a file of interesting links on my computer.  In reviewing this collection for the past almost four weeks, I found enough material for a year’s worth of blogs.  One thing that stood out, however, was how good Republicans are at spinning the news.

It seems like ancient history now, but recall how the Tea Party and Republicans pounced all over President Obama’s “spending” and the huge federal deficits for fiscal year 2009 and several years thereafter.  Even the so-called liberal media was critical to some extent.  As a result, Obama’s stimulus package was smaller than it should have been for recovery from the Great Recession that President George W. Bush caused.  Republicans even managed to convince many of their followers that Obama caused that crisis.

GOP attacks on the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) after 2010 led tens of millions of Americans to believe it was government control of health care and that it authorized “death panels” that would determine who got health care and who died.  Their campaign was ludicrous, of course, but quite effective.

House Republicans organized a select committee on Benghazi in 2014 and spent over two years investigating former secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the tragic 2012 attack that killed four Americans in Libya.  Like the findings of numerous other congressional inquiries, they uncovered no malfeasance by Clinton.  They did, however, discover something they could use against her, a previously unknown private server where her emails were stored.  This became frontpage news almost every day during the presidential campaign in 2016 and Donald Trump – an expert in media matters – used it to great advantage.  As a result, millions of voters came to believe Clinton was crooked and joined in chants to “Lock Her Up!”  I believe this issue cost Hillary the election.

That brings me to 2020 and the Black Lives Matter protests after the horrendous murder of George Floyd.  One of the most unfortunate phrases that was promoted during that summer was “defund the police.”  No doubt, GOP officials began salivating the first time they saw it on numerous placards carried by the protestors.  It’s short and catchy, easy to message in all types of ways, particularly on social media, with audio and video to support their claims.  These three words are also subject to numerous interpretations and Republicans claimed their Democratic opponents wanted to eliminate police forces around the country.  I’m confident that their attacks cost Democrats numerous seats in the House in 2020 and probably in the Senate too.

A related phrase that may appear in Republican messaging is “qualified immunity.” This 1967 Supreme Court established doctrine protects law enforcement officers and other public officials from civil liability unless they are determined to have violated what the court defines as an individual’s “clearly established statutory or constitutional rights.”  Here, however, I would like to digress a bit. 

My legal experience causes me to warn liberal Democrats who may want to completely eliminate this protection for law officers.  It is difficult enough to get qualified individuals to take this tough job that typically doesn’t pay enough to justify the stress and the danger that it entails.  I fear that good candidates won’t even consider police work for fear they might incur personal liability or that the expense of an insurance policy would be prohibitive.  I would rather have their police department employers shoulder the financial liability in civil suits instead of individual officers. 

The GOP spin machine, however, now has a much better boogeyman to scare people than qualified immunity – critical race theory (CRT).  As I understand it, the study of CRT – mainly in college level social science classes and law schools – examines how institutions and laws have been structured over time to maintain white supremacy.  It’s absolutely perfect for messaging because hardly any layperson understands what this esoteric, academic exercise is all about.  Consequently, right-wing pundits and politicians can define it to their liking and then attack that definition.

According to Media Matters, Fox News has mentioned CRT nearly 1,300 times in the past several months and “has repeatedly amplified a lie that critical race theory teaches that one race is ‘inherently superior to another.’”  Republicans are expecting this race baiting messaging to help them win back control of the House in 2022 and perhaps the Senate.  It just might succeed.

Consequently, Democrats must never dismiss GOP campaign attacks or lies as being ridiculous or frivolous.  Millions of voters believe the “Stop the Seal” rallying cry that motivated hundreds of Trump supporters to attack the Capitol on January 6.

President Biden and Vice President Harris will be traveling the nation this summer, promoting their critically needed infrastructure program and their American Families Plan.  But we won’t hear Republicans trying to compete in 2022 or 2024 by touting GOP programs to create jobs, improve health care and uplift American workers.  If anything, they’ll be promising more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.

To be sure, the GOP is long on messaging – but very short on policies to govern by.

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Republicans Have a Plan for Never Losing

Dirty tricks and undemocratic tactics have been a part of politics in the United States since the Constitution was ratified.  Some have even been humorous. 

During the 1950 Florida Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, Rep. George Smathers was speaking to a group of rural – perhaps, not too sophisticated – voters.  He scandalously accused his opponent Rep. Claude Pepper of “matriculating” with young women in college, of being a “shameless extrovert” who has engaged in “nepotism with his sister-in-law,” and a man who habitually practiced “celibacy” before marriage.   Smathers continued by outing Pepper’s brother as a “practicing homo sapien,” and his sister as a “thespian in wicked New York.”  Smathers won handily, although he denied ever making these statements.

One of the most famous and disturbing attempts to sway an election, of course, was when President Nixon’s campaign operatives bungled the June 1972 break-in of the Watergate headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C.  Nixon went on to overwhelmingly win the election but the Watergate coverup and scandal forced him to resign.  At least once, political misdeeds were punished.

More recently, in 2018, Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., a small time Republican operative in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district, was caught harvesting mail in ballots and manipulating them in various ways to benefit the campaign of Republican Rep. Mark Harris who narrowly defeated Democrat Dan McCready.  A new election was ordered and Dowless was indicted for obstruction of justice and illegal possession of an absentee ballot, among other charges.

There was an election in Texas, however, that I believe predicts what could occur if the voting laws being enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures remain effective for the 2022 and 2024 elections.  And it’s all about manipulating election results after the polls close. 

Texans alleged for decades that significant fraud enabled Lydon B. Johnson to win the 1948 Texas Democratic primary runoff election for U.S. Senate by 87 votes. They became suspicious when Johnson overcame a huge deficit to snatch victory from defeat. Robert A. Caro’s 1990 book, “Means of Ascent,” however, details what actually occurred during the vote counting after that election.

On a Saturday primary election night, Johnson trailed former Texas Governor Coke Stevenson by 20,000 votes, according to Mr. Caro, with a few areas yet to report.  When San Antonio tallies were included, Johnson had miraculously picked up 10,000 more votes than Stevenson, who had beaten Johnson in these precincts by 2 to 1 in the first primary. Johnson’s deficit to Stevenson narrowed more later that evening due to returns from rural Rio Grande Valley counties.  Next day a newly discovered, uncounted precinct went heavily for Johnson.

Then, on Friday, the Rio Grande Valley precincts made corrections to their returns that narrowed Stevenson’s advantage to 157 votes.  Later that day, Jim Wells County telephoned in its amended vote totals that put Johnson on top.  County officials had cast the votes of deceased and absent voters and had given Johnson an extra 200 votes by simply changing the 7 in a “765” tally to a 9.  Johnson had won because a South Texas political boss manufactured thousands of votes for him, according to Mr. Caro.

Caro concluded that although ballot fraud was common in the late 1940s in some parts of Texas, Johnson’s 1948 campaign raised it to a new level.  

Actually, a very similar situation could occur in several states like Georgia if the 2024 Democratic presidential candidate holds a slim lead on election night. 

Georgia’s current voting laws give Republican legislators control of the State Election Board, which has responsibility for election oversight and the power to replace local election officials.  This Board could easily use mere allegations of fraud or election irregularities to replace officials in Fulton County, which includes heavily minority precincts in Atlanta.   Politically motivated operatives could then find more votes for the Republican candidate and/or invalidate votes for the Democrat. 

President Biden won Georgia by a little less than 13,000 votes, despite winning the popular vote by 7,000,000.  He won in Georgia, Arizona and Wisconsin by a combined total of just under 44,000 votes, which narrowly avoided a tie with then-President Trump in the Electoral College.  A tie would have thrown the election into the U.S. House where Trump would have won because Republican-controlled states are in the majority and each state gets one vote. That’s right; just 44,000 votes saved us from another four years of Trump.

Like Georgia, many of the voting laws recently enacted by Republican-controlled states have some mechanism for more easily challenging the final vote counts, giving the legislature an opportunity to flip close elections to the GOP candidates.

Republican state voting laws will surely be challenged in court, of course, but it is clear that federal laws governing the conduct of elections are critically needed.  Unfortunately, any legislation that would negate suppressive state election laws and prevent them from being enacted in the future – like the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act – has zero chance of overcoming a Republican filibuster in the Senate.

This arcane Senate rule was once used by segregationists to obstruct civil rights legislation.  Now, it will allow Republicans to block any legislation that would standardize fairness in state election processes or otherwise disrupt GOP plans to win by voter suppression and other election skullduggery. 

They’re trying to rig the system so Democrats never win.

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