Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Case for a Maximum Wage

The New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz says that Americans Favor Fifteen Dollars an Hour for Congress.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report) – Americans took to the streets in large numbers on Thursday to show their support for a fifteen-dollar-an-hour wage for members of Congress.

In major cities across the nation, fast-food workers and other service employees held signs, shouted chants, and gave impassioned speeches to demonstrate their conviction that Congress deserves a maximum hourly wage of fifteen dollars.

“Members of Congress are people, just like you and me,” Tracy Klugian, a McDonald’s employee who took part in the Washington protest, said. “They should be paid what they deserve.”

Assuming that they continue to take off approximately two hundred and forty days a year, members of Congress earning the proposed maximum would see their average annual income adjusted from a hundred and seventy-four thousand dollars to thirteen thousand five hundred dollars, a salary that many marchers called “fair and equitable.”

“I know what members of Congress will say: ‘I can’t live on that,’” Harland Dorrinson, a protester in Chicago, said. “Well, if they want to earn more, they should go out and acquire some skills.”

While organizers of the marches proclaimed today’s protests a success, in some cities the demonstrations met some opposition from counter-protesters, who argued that fifteen dollars was too much.

Actually, $15 is well within the rage of minimum wages set to go into effect this coming year reports ABC News in Minimum wage to increase in more than 20 states in 2020. At least 17 cities will hit or surpass $15 an hour, according to estimates. Congress could vote themselves a minimum wage higher than $15 - but not by very much.

While many state and local governments will raise their minimum wages in 2020, there are no public plans for a federal increase.

Congress set the federal minimum at $7.25 per hour in 2009. While many states have passed higher wage floors, the federal rate has remained the same for the past 10 years, the longest period of time without an increase since the Roosevelt administration implemented it in 1938.

“There is a bill in Congress for a $15 minimum wage by 2025, I believe,” [said a researcher at the National Employment Law Project (NELP)]. “And it passed the House, but it’s stalled in the Senate and is not being brought up to the floor by the Senate leadership or the (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) committee chair.”

Scriber is aware of the attitudes by Senate leadership favoring holding the federal minimum at $7.25. One of my anonymous GOP sources favors paying members of Congress the federal $7.25 minimum. “Imagine what would happen if Congress gave themselves a $15 hourly wage. Every Tom, Dick, and Harriette would want the same.”

Most marchers interviewed by Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources have a more expansive view. They favor a maximum wage. “Think about it”, said one marcher. “That $15 cap on CEO pay would be more than enough to fully fund the $15 minimum wage for the rest of us.”

Monday, December 30, 2019

Trump's wall will not stop a pandemic - Congress needs to fund the special pathogen network.

Earlier this month I blogged about how Trump ‘keeps topping’ science fiction author William Gibson. The present keeps getting stranger and stranger. I included “an excerpt from the recently published The Second Sleep: A novel by Robert Harris.”

The novel is set in a seemingly slightly post-medieval Britain. The central character is a priest who has discovered an ancient manuscript. The author of that manuscript belonged to a group of ancients who contemplate a post-apocalyptical world.

We have broadly identified six possible catastrophic scenarios that fundamentally threaten the existence of our advanced science-based way of life …

Among them was “A pandemic resistant to antibiotics.”

It’s no longer in the realm of science fiction. The thing is we may have the technological and medical means to prevent such a pandemic but lack the societal - -and particularly the political – will to prevent it.

At the Washington Post, Ronald A. Klain and Syra Madad warn us that A program protecting us from deadly pandemic is about to expire.

Five years ago, a man walked into a Dallas emergency room and became the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States. Suddenly, the nation was confronted with a rare, deadly and infectious disease whose containment required special procedures, training and equipment. When two nurses at that hospital got infected, the real scramble to respond began.

Three weeks later, the Obama administration proposed — and shortly thereafter, a bipartisan majority in Congress approved and funded — a major program to equip facilities and train staff on the front lines of our health-care system. As a result, when the United States confronts another challenge like the Ebola threat of 2014 — as it inevitably will — we will be prepared to quickly identify infected people, isolate them and provide them with care.

Unfortunately, this program expires in May 2020, and there is no indication that Congress intends to fully renew it. Without such continued funding, training will cease, specialized facilities will be shut down, and — as staff members move on to other jobs and opportunities — all Americans will be at greater risk.

The plan that the government put in place … had four tiers. First, most health-care facilities around the country were prepared to identify patients who might have a dangerous infectious disease like Ebola and refer them for testing. Second, in almost every major city, at least one “assessment center” was established to accept and test suspected cases. Third, more than 60 treatment facilities for Ebola and similar diseases were set up within existing hospitals from coast to coast, to treat patients with such a diagnosis. And at the apex of the system, 10 Ebola & Other Special Pathogen Treatment Regional Centers were established to handle the hardest cases.

Right now, Congress is considering funding for these most advanced facilities, but not the full network that protects our country. If it does not renew this entire program in the next five months, the system will begin to disintegrate. Equipment will get out of date or be cannibalized for other purposes. Drills and simulations will cease. We will return to nearly the state of unpreparedness that we had five years ago.

That would be disastrous.

Why? Because the day will come when a dangerous pathogen will arrive in the United States once again. …

Just as it takes only one patient to cause an outbreak, so too does it take only one unprepared health-care facility, in one city in the United States, to serve as an incubator for the spread of such a disease. We are only as strong as our weakest link.

Failure to act would be penny-wise but pound-foolish. The cost of keeping up the trained, equipped and prepared facilities is far less than the hundreds of millions of dollars it cost to start almost from scratch as we did in 2014. …

We do not know when the next dangerous pathogen will arrive in our country, or when a patient with such a disease will require isolation and treatment. We do not know where such an event will occur. But we do know that it will happen — sooner or later.

Congress should renew the entire treatment network for Ebola and other special pathogens, and fund it for another five years. We have already invested the time and money to be prepared for this eventuality. It will be a health-care and economic catastrophe if we squander that capacity now.

We are looking at the possibility of a pandemic like Ebola that is caused not by our technological sophistication, as contemplated by Harris in The Second Sleep, but by our collective political failure to act. Perhaps someone can make the case to Congress that funding Trump’s wall will not stop a pandemic.

Ronald A. Klain was the White House Ebola response coordinator in 2014–2015 and is an adviser to Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign. Syra Madad is the senior director for the System-wide Special Pathogens Program for New York City Health + Hospitals.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Trump's war on science

Science Under Attack: How Trump Is Sidelining Researchers and Their Work

(Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry for the tip on this one.)

Previously I’ve blogged about the attacks - war, really - waged by Trump against the nation’s federal research agencies . This NY Times piece brings it all into focus in a comprehensive story. It’s not good news.

WASHINGTON — In just three years, the Trump administration has diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide, marking a transformation of the federal government whose effects, experts say, could reverberate for years.

Political appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly. The administration has particularly challenged scientific findings related to the environment and public health opposed by industries such as oil drilling and coal mining. It has also impeded research around human-caused climate change, which President Trump has dismissed despite a global scientific consensus.

But the erosion of science reaches well beyond the environment and climate …

The authors document instance after instance of Trump administration’s politicization of science - for the benefit of fossil fuel interests, for example. The consequences for the nation’s science base are drastic

The concluding topic highlights how bad things have gotten for scientific personnel in agencies responsible for basic and applied science.

An Exodus of Expertise

“In the past, when we had an administration that was not very pro-environment, we could still just lay low and do our work,” said Betsy Smith, a climate scientist with more than 20 years of experience at the E.P.A. who in 2017 saw her long-running study of the effects of climate change on major ports get canceled.

“Now we feel like the E.P.A. is being run by the fossil fuel industry,” she said. “It feels like a wholesale attack.”

After her project was killed, Dr. Smith resigned.

The loss of experienced scientists can erase years or decades of “institutional memory,” said Robert J. Kavlock, a toxicologist who retired in October 2017 after working at the E.P.A. for 40 years, most recently as acting assistant administrator for the agency’s Office of Research and Development.

His former office, which researches topics like air pollution and chemical testing, has lost 250 scientists and technical staff members since Mr. Trump came to office, while hiring 124. Those who have remained in the office of roughly 1,500 people continue to do their work, Dr. Kavlock said, but are not going out of their way to promote findings on lightning-rod topics like climate change.

“You can see that they’re trying not to ruffle any feathers,” Dr. Kavlock said.

The same can’t be said of Patrick Gonzalez, the National Park Service’s principal climate change scientist, whose work involves helping national parks protect against damages from rising temperatures.

In February, Dr. Gonzalez testified before Congress about the risks of global warming, saying he was speaking in his capacity as an associate adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley. He is also using his Berkeley affiliation to participate as a co-author on a coming report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations body that synthesizes climate science for world leaders.

But in March, shortly after testifying, Dr. Gonzalez’s supervisor at the National Park Service sent the cease-and-desist letter warning him that his Berkeley affiliation was not separate from his government work and that his actions were violating agency policy. Dr. Gonzalez said he viewed the letter as an attempt to deter him from speaking out.

The Interior Department, asked to comment, said the letter did not indicate an intent to sanction Dr. Gonzalez and that he was free to speak as a private citizen.

Dr. Gonzalez, with the support of Berkeley, continues to warn about the dangers of climate change and work with the United Nations climate change panel using his vacation time, and he spoke again to Congress in June. “I’d like to provide a positive example for other scientists,” he said.

Still, he noted that not everyone may be in a position to be similarly outspoken. “How many others are not speaking up?” Dr. Gonzalez said.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

By the numbers - the cost of human needs

Zero

Margot Sanger-Katz at the Times reports that In the U.S., an Angioplasty Costs $32,000. Elsewhere? Maybe $6,400. A study of international prices finds American patients pay much more across a wide array of common services. The $6400 is the cost of angioplasty in the Netherlands. Here are some more using ETA - Scriber’s eyeball-estimate technique for averages, in this case the average percentage of U. S. cost.

  • “Health Insurers in U.S. Pay Much More for Hospital Care” (like angioplasty) - 35%.
  • “U.S. Prices for Most Outpatient Procedures Are Also High” (like colonoscopy) - 35%
  • “The Pattern Holds for Drugs, Too” - 30%

So what about this “zero” business? That’s the Scriber’s estimate of the number of health care professionals and health care entities willing to take a cut. Sanger-Katz explains.

Any successful effort to tamp down American prices, of course, will mean reducing someone’s paycheck. The uniquely high prices for drugs in the United States help make pharmaceutical companies profitable. The high prices paid for hospital care keep large research hospitals and small rural providers afloat. The high prices help doctors pay off extensive education debt — but also help place them among the highest-paid professions in our economy. None of those groups particularly want a pay cut.

Yet other countries are managing to deliver quality health care at less than half the cost in the U.S. If you, as the saying goes, “go figure”, you too will come up with “zero.”

1,300

Mike Stobbe, AP Medical Writer, covers the ‘Tough year’ for measles and other infectious diseases in US.

There were nearly 1,300 cases of measles in the U.S. through November, That’s the largest number in 27 years. There were no deaths but about 120 people ended up in the hospital.

This from a disease that vaccines had essentially purged from the country for a decade.

Not only that …

Hepatitis A tends to be thought of as a kind of food poisoning, often traced to an infected restaurant worker with poor hygiene. But the latest wave began in San Diego among homeless people and people who use illicit drugs. In 2017, there were 1,500 cases in four states tied to the outbreak. This year, it boomed to 17,000 in 30 states, with Florida and Tennessee the hardest hit.

Eastern equine encephalitis got its name because it was first seen in horses in Massachusetts. … The numbers remain very low — just 38 cases this year. But that’s more than double the annual number in the past decade, and it included 15 deaths. That prompted health warnings in some places and even calls to cancel outdoor events scheduled for dusk, when mosquitoes are most active.

4,100

The AZ Blue Meanie reports on the cost of Trump Trade Wars: farmers who can’t feed themselves turn to food stamps - or simply abandon their farms. All that while 60% of Trump’s tax cuts to farmers in NY state, for example, have gone to the top 10%.

And about that $4,100? That’s the amount of the subsidy for one farm family which is struggling to get by. And, finally swallowing their pride, they’ve turned to food stamps. How long that will help is anyone’s guess now that Trump has attacked SNAP.

200,000

Feds deny county’s request to shift funds to Tucson migrant shelter reports the Daily Star. The amount at stake is $200,000.

"It’s pretty disappointing that somebody would think that humanitarian aid that was provided for in the law and in the policy would somehow diminish border security,” [Pima County Administrator Chuck] Huckelberry told the Star on Friday, adding that he’ll “reassess with the board where this will go.”

Federal officials have notified Pima County that their request to use a portion of Operation Stonegarden funding to operate the Casa Alitas migrant shelter was denied after they determined “there is no border security operational benefit.”

Hucklberry argued "that a surge of asylum seekers in Pima County that overwhelmed the Border Patrol and prompted the request from the supervisors is “an appropriate border security risk for mitigation.”

A representative from the Arizona Department of Homeland Security referred questions to representatives from the Border Patrol and Federal Emergency Management Association, who did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Of course not.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

What does it mean to wish 'Merry Christmas' in a nation without Christian values

In his Blog for Arizona post yesterday, Michael Bryan asks Do We Live in a Christian Nation This Christmas?

In a word, Bryan’s answer is “ no”.

Here’s the short version of why not.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

I find myself musing this Christmas day on whether the old bromide that America is a “Christian nation” is actually true in any meaningful way.

It is true that the various denominations and sects of Christianity, lumped together a as monolithic religion (a questionable proposition in itself) is by far the most common religious allegiance of Americans. 65% of Americans self-identify as Christian in 2019. This is down considerably over the past few decades, from 85% in 1990, and to 78% in 2012. If we can be considered a “Christian nation” by such a metric, it is a rather swiftly declining majority.

But that is not the sense that preoccupies me today. The sense that I am contemplating is whether our nation, in that we express our values through public policy, practice, and norms, in any way comports with “Christian values”.

[…]

So this Christmas, perhaps we should give some thought to how we express our Christian (or other) values when we exercise our civil rights to participate in public discourse and government.

I reflect on our poor going in want, innocent children suffering cruel and even fatal detention, neglect and abuse, and the sick dying for lack of proper medical care, and I don’t believe I live in anything approaching a Christian nation. My Christmas wish is that someday soon, I will.

Wealth, health, and the support and love of your families to you all. You need it all in our “Christian nation”. In fact, you can’t live without it.

Read more of Bryan’s indictment of our “Christian” country after the break.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Trump's Christmas present to birds - Happy Extinction

Birds covered in oil
A new normal? Pelicans covered with oil
from the Deepwater Horizon disaster

Trump’s Christmas present to birds is the modern version of Dickens’ Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. That would be the human amplification of mass extinctions underway.

Lisa Friedman at the NY Times reports how A Trump Policy ‘Clarification’ All but Ends Punishment for Bird Deaths. “A new interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 2017 means that as of now, companies are no longer subject to prosecution or fines even after a disaster like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 that destroyed or injured about one million birds and for which BP paid $100 million in fines.” Photo credit Lee Celano/Reuters.

Following are excerpts.

… Across the country birds have been killed and nests destroyed by oil spills, construction crews and chemical contamination, all with no response from the federal government, according to emails, memos and other documents viewed by The New York Times.

Not only has the administration stopped investigating most bird deaths, the documents show, it has discouraged local governments and businesses from taking precautionary measures to protect birds.

In one instance, a Wyoming-based oil company wanted to clarify that it no longer had to report bird deaths to the Fish and Wildlife Service. “You are correct,” the agency replied.

In another, a building property manager in Michigan emailed the Fish and Wildlife Service to note that residents had complained about birds being killed while workers put up siding and gutters around the apartment. Not to worry, the agency replied: “If the purpose or intent of your activity is not to take birds/nests/eggs, then it is no longer prohibited.”

The revised policy — part of the administration’s broader effort to encourage business activity — has been a particular favorite of President Trump’s, whose selective view of avian welfare has ranged from complaining that wind energy “kills all the birds” to asserting that the oil industry has been subject to “totalitarian tactics” under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

In Albuquerque, N.M., Alan Edmonds, an animal cruelty case manager with New Mexico’s animal protection agency, pushed back after the Fish and Wildlife Service gave only a verbal warning to a company that had trapped and killed a Cooper’s hawk. The agency replied that, without proof that the company wanted to kill the hawk, “we can’t do anything.”

Mr. Edmonds said the company received “not even a slap on the wrist.” He acknowledged the hawk was just one bird. But Ms. Greenberger of the Audubon Society said, “This is how we lose birds.”

“We don’t lose them a billion at a time,” she said. “We lose them from small incidents happening repeatedly over the vast geography of our country.”

New email messages show that Trump did order a hold on military aid to Ukraine - and then the WH covered it up, or tried to

The House vote to impeach Donald Trump was not an end but rather, if anything, a beginning of revelations yet to come. For example, regarding the withholding of military aid to Ukraine, we’ve learned. confirmed really, from a trove of emails that, yes, the president did do that.

Here are snippets from a longer report.

Michael Duffey, a senior budget official, told Pentagon officials that Trump had become personally interested in the Ukraine aid and had ordered the hold, according to the heavily redacted emails, obtained by the Center for Public Integrity on Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. He also asked the Pentagon not to discuss the hold widely.

"Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute the direction,” Duffey wrote in a July 25 email to Pentagon Comptroller Elaine McCusker and others.

We, the public, should be thankful for organizations like the Center for Public Integrity. Merry Christmas, Mr. President.

Here’s the longer version: Paul Waldman, Washington Post/Plum Line, reports that Newly revealed emails show why Trump should fear a real Senate trial.

Though articles of impeachment against President Trump have been approved by the House, the investigation — both official and journalistic — is by no means over. And newly revealed emails demonstrate not just why Democrats are so eager for Trump’s trial in the Senate to include testimony from witnesses we have yet to hear from, but also why Republicans are so frightened of the prospect:

An official from the White House budget office directed the Defense Department to “hold off” on sending military aid to Ukraine less than two hours after President Trump’s controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, according to internal emails.

Michael Duffey, a senior budget official, told Pentagon officials that Trump had become personally interested in the Ukraine aid and had ordered the hold, according to the heavily redacted emails, obtained by the Center for Public Integrity on Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. He also asked the Pentagon not to discuss the hold widely.

Now we know why House Democrats subpoenaed Duffey as part of the impeachment inquiry — and why he and other officials refused to comply as part of the White House’s stonewalling of the inquiry.

You might say that while these emails give us some more detail about how this policy was implemented, it doesn’t change the basic story. But let me emphasize this in particular:

“Given the sensitive nature of the request, I appreciate your keeping that information closely held to those who need to know to execute the direction,” Duffey wrote in a July 25 email to Pentagon Comptroller Elaine McCusker and others.

This directly undermines the justification Trump’s defenders have so often offered for holding up the aid: that it was not to coerce Ukraine into helping Trump’s reelection campaign but was merely a product of Trump’s passionate commitment to fighting corruption (please stop laughing).

If that were true, the White House would have wanted to make sure that every relevant official in the government was informed about the suspension of aid and why it was being undertaken. The White House might even have wanted to talk about it publicly. Instead, the White House treated the suspension of aid as a secret so dangerous that if if were discovered it would be a disaster.

So officials in the Pentagon couldn’t figure out what was going on, and many of them feared that since the aid had been appropriated by Congress, withholding it was against the law. Why were they kept in the dark? Because of the way those close to Trump treated what he was doing on Ukraine. They acted as though the president was up to something so problematic that it had to be kept secret even from other officials in the government, let alone Congress or the public.

That’s what Duffey surely meant when he talked about how “sensitive” the withholding of aid was. That’s how National Security Council lawyers reacted when they saw that Trump had strong-armed Zelensky on that infamous phone call; in a panic, they hid the transcript in a special server so it could be accessed by as few officials as possible to keep people from knowing what Trump had done. The common reaction when those around Trump learned of his moves on Ukraine seems to have been: Oh, my God. We have to keep this from getting out.

And they were right. When it finally did become public, the result was the impeachment of the president.

These new emails will make it even more difficult for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to justify staging the kind of Senate trial he and the White House would obviously prefer: one as brief as possible, with no witnesses. And while the president himself might like to create an absurdist spectacle by forcing Joe Biden or his son to testify, Trump doesn’t have a single witness he could call whose testimony would support the idea of his innocence.

That’s Trump’s problem, which is now McConnell’s problem, in a nutshell. If there are going to be any witnesses at all, they would have to include at a minimum Duffey, acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, all of whom have refused to testify before the House. And who would the witnesses for Trump’s defense be? They’ve got nothing.

So revelations such as these new emails — and they won’t be the last — will actually make McConnell even more determined to hold a perfunctory trial without witnesses. The more obvious it becomes that there is more to learn about Trump’s attempt to coerce Ukraine to help his reelection, the less willing he’ll be to open that can of worms. And the less likely it will be that the public gets to see the whole sordid story laid out in Trump’s trial.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A gift list for those in the news from Jennifer Rubin

Scriber wishes you happy holidays and all the best for the coming year. In the spirit of the season it is customary for many of us to exchange gifts. So …

The Washington Post (conservative) columnist Jennifer Rubin plays Santa Claus in Some gifts I would like to give Trump, Republicans and others. (Block quotes assumed.)

As we head into the week of Christmas and Hanukkah, I have my holiday gift list ready to go:

For Republican House members: A mirror, so they can see how terrible they look with their faces contorted with anger mid-scream as they rant and rave on the House floor. Perhaps they will consider how unprofessional and mean-spirited they appear.

For Senate Republicans: A copy of “Profiles in Courage” by John F. Kennedy. Boy, could self-identified moderate Republicans (and all those with an appreciation for their oaths as jurors in an impeachment trial) use some inspiration as they consider whether they want to conduct a fair, robust trial. Do they really want to participate in a sham that will set themselves up for condemnation and ridicule when, eventually, the full story of President Trump’s extortion comes out (for example, when John Bolton publishes his tell-all book)? Doing the right thing in this instance would actually be an act of political self-protection.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.): A life-size cutout of late senator John McCain, whose guidance Graham desperately needs right now. Graham has lost his way, forgotten his “maverick” friend’s devotion to country over party and allowed himself to become a flunky for a corrupt, unfit president.

For President Trump: A stress ball. He seems very angry these days — at Democrats for delaying transmission of the articles of impeachment to the Senate; at Republicans for not defending him staunchly enough; at an evangelical publication that dares to criticize him; and at his lawyers for not preventing his impeachment. Instead of fuming and keeping all that hostility bottled up, he could squeeze the living daylights out of a rubber ball.

Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney: A carton of pens with disappearing ink. When next Trump is tempted to send off a loony letter ranting at the House speaker or a world leader, Mulvaney could be confident that the screed will literally disappear before reaching its intended recipient.

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg: A suit of armor. He handled the assault from rivals on the debate stage Thursday about as well as could be expected, but they are not going to let up. As one of the favorites in Iowa, he will have a target on his back for the next six weeks or so.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass): A time machine. If only she could go back in time and avoid tying herself to Medicare-for-all. Her health-care rollout triggered a nosedive in the polls as voters figured out that this fantasy scheme would be an anchor around her neck in the general election.

Former vice president Joe Biden: A lifetime supply of Wheaties and strong coffee. We can only speculate that these might have contributed to his energetic, focused and forceful debate performance. Whatever he did (or ate or drank), he should do (or eat or drink) before the next debate.

Our NATO allies: An election countdown clock. These might be in short supply in the stores, but they will help our European allies track the days until the 2020 presidential election in which, they dearly hope, a stable president is elected — one who understands America’s role in the world and recognizes that they, not the Russians, are America’s friends.

All my readers: I wish you a joyous holiday season and a chance to recharge your batteries before the wild year ahead. I will be taking some time off, but keep checking this space. You will find an occasional holiday treat. I will return on Dec. 31.

'Teetering on the Brink of the End of Reality'

In a TED talk (TEDxCERN) we learn How we can protect truth in the age of misinformation - we hope.

Fake news can sway elections, tank economies and sow discord in everyday life. Data scientist Sinan Aral demystifies how and why it spreads so quickly – citing one of the largest studies on misinformation – and identifies five strategies to help us unweave the tangled web between true and false.

If you think it’s bad now, get set for it becoming worse. Aral explains technological developments that will challenge our societal ability to distinguish fake from fact.

Have we reached a technological singularity? Wikipedia explains: “The technological singularity – also, simply, the singularity – is a hypothetical future point in time when technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unfathomable changes to human civilization.” It sometimes feels that way when confronted with the barrage of fake news.

You do need to watch Aral’s TED talk. And then connect it to our current political polarity and the practitioners of fake news - Trump and the Russians immediately come to mind but they are not the only purveyors of misinformation.

Trump reads 'The Snake'

You Can’t Say Trump Didn’t Warn Us writes Taige Jensen in the NY Times. The president’s favored poem, “The Snake,” isn’t about immigrants. It’s about him.

Thanks to Jana Eaton for the tip.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Moscow Mitch McConnell is wounding America - again

Jonathon V. Last in The Bulwark takes a shot at how we got to our polarized place.

There are two theories about how we got to the political moment we’re in.

The first theory is deteministic. It goes something like this:

Over the last 40 years America has undergone rapid demographic change. This shift, combined with the societal dislocations caused by an immense technological revolution and various other economic pressures—i.e. globalization and income inequality—created a political powder keg that lead inexorably to a period of mass polarization, resulting in the rise of a demogogic authoritarian.

The second theory is that we are where we are because of a series of choices made by political leaders which, bit by bit, created dangerous political conditions.

For instance:

  • Bill Clinton’s perjury and refusal to resign his office and instead, force and impeachment fight.
  • Al Gore’s decision to litigate the 2000 election rather than concede.
  • George W. Bush’s decision not to form more of a national unity government in the aftermath of 9/11 and run-up to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • The smearing of John Kerry in the 2004 election.
  • The ramming through of Obamacare in the face of massive public resistance.
  • The implementation of the nuclear option in the Senate.
  • The effort on behalf of some Democrats to promote Donald Trump on the assumption that he could not win.
  • The effort on behalf of some Republicans to promote Donald Trump on the assumption that he could not win.

This is a partial list, of course, and there’s more than enough blame to go around for everyone. [Scriber doesn’t agree with all these but the general point remains.]

Some of these choices seemed like a big deal at the time. Some did not. One of the decision points which I never fully appreciated was Mitch McConnell’s decision to not hold a vote on Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

What I thought was, at the time, simply very hard-ball politics turns out to have been a deep wound to the polity. Neil Gorsuch’s politics are closer to my own than Merrick Garland’s. But whatever the benefit, it wasn’t worth the cost.

It was a mistake on McConnell’s part. A mistake that hurt America.

And now he’s doing it again. Over the weekend, Bill Kristol and Jeff Tulis wrote a long piece going over, bit by bit, the ways that McConnell is damaging the constitutional order in an unprecedented manner.

It’s fine to think that the Senate should not vote to remove President Trump. I disagree, but it’s a perfectly valid view.

But how they get to that decision matters. If they arrive at that outcome by corrupting the process, the McConnell will once again have wounded our country in pursuit of a short-sighted political objective.

There is a great deal of red in this man’s ledger.

As I said before, I’m in a different political place than the guys responsible for content at The Bulwark. For example, Last and Scriber are polar opposites in their evaluation of Garland and Gorsuch. But somewhat surprisingly, we are agreed on some important issues. One is that McConnell grievously wounded America by holding Merrick Garland’s SCOTUS nomination. Another is that McConnell is doing it again.

Wanted - a few good Republican senators in pursuit of impartial justice. They must 'rise to the demands of principle and statesmanship.'

It is still not clear that such senators exist.

Ruth Marcus, at the Washington Post, asks "In an era of reflexive tribalism, at a moment of maximal partisanship, how should we understand the meaning of the oath that 100 senators will soon take to do “impartial justice” in the impeachment trial of President Trump? Is the oath meaningless blather glossing over the certainty of a preordained conclusion — or can it serve some useful function notwithstanding that reality?

But why are we even entertaining those questions?

You could cite Trump’s blatant obstruction, but the real problem is tagged by William Kristol (editor-at-large of The Bulwark) and Jeffrey K. Tulis (Professor of Government at The University of Texas at Austin, author of The Rhetorical Presidency, and co-author of Legacies of Losing in American Politics) writing in The Bulwark . They have some thoughts about how to fix that problem. Here are their closing observations. (We’ll return to Marcus’ ideas at the end of this post.)

America’s Mitch McConnell Problem The Senate majority leader is a danger to the Constitution.

In contrast [to speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi], what has Senator McConnell done in response to the Speaker’s request and the proposal of Minority Leader Schumer that the Senate tailor the Trial Rules for Impeachment to this case in a way that permits the House managers to make their case and the president’s counsel to defend him?

McConnell has shown contempt for the very notion of a fair trial.

Indeed, he and Sen. Lindsay Graham have announced—effectively pledged—that they will not follow the new oath that they will be required to take once the chief justice is invited to preside.

We need to be very clear on this point: Many senators and congressmen throughout American history have not lived up to their oaths, whether it be the regular oath they take upon election, or the special oath for an impeachment trial.

But we can’t think of any previous senator who has publicly promised not to follow their oath. And we certainly can’t think of others who, like McConnell and Graham, previously participated in an impeachment trial in which they purported to be faithful to their oaths and urged others to be as well.

It is not a case that McConnell and Graham are mistaken, or ignorant of their special duty. Rather, they know what they are doing, are conscious that it is wrong, and are willfully pursuing this course anyway in order to support a president whose prospect for anti-constitutional behavior had worried both of them during the 2016 election season. These are why their comments on the upcoming Trial are among the most contemptible by any Senators in American political history.

Fortunately, the ending of this story does not need to be written by Mitch McConnell. A small, bipartisan group of senators can fix this mess in an afternoon.

The main goal should be to enable both the managers for House and the counsel for the president to put on their strongest cases in a fair trial.

The Senate has other duties as well, and the reason for supplementary rules regarding specific impeachment trials in the past has been to balance the need for a full and fair trial with the other business of the Senate. This means there may be restrictions on the number of witnesses called and time allowed to question them. But the point of fair rules is not to constrain the ability of the prosecutors and defense attorneys to put on their best case. It is to make it possible for them to put on a robust case and to balance that need with the rest of the nation’s pressing business.The impeachment of the president of the United States by the House of Representatives is not an act to be trivialized or dismissed. The Constitution demands that the Senate take this action seriously. Senator McConnell is abusing his own office in his attempt to dismiss a trial before it can be conducted fairly.

If a bipartisan group of public-spirited constitutionalists on both sides of the aisle come together, they can tell McConnell that he will only get 51 votes for amending the Rules of the Senate for Impeachment Trials if he works with them to fashion a fair process that allows for crucial documents to be compelled to be produced, and a reasonable number of witnesses to be called—and for reasonable times and procedures be set.

Republicans should be willing to accept the witnesses the Democrats want called, and Democrats should be generous in permitting the president his number of witnesses. By generous, we mean that, contrary to Senator Schumer’s proposal, judgment on the relevance of the president’s witnesses should be made publicly at the trial, with the aid of the chief justice’s rulings, rather than ruled out now.

If the president wants to call Joe Biden, for example, so be it. Objections to particular questions to any of the witnesses, including perhaps the president himself, can be adjudicated at the trial by the chief justice and the senators, acting in their new role as fellow judges.

There is no good reason to fear a fair and complete Senate trial. The House managers will make their case, and whatever additional witnesses they can call in the Senate whose testimony was blocked in the House will be experienced public servants who will, we trust, testify truthfully and appropriately.

The president’s lawyers may be tempted to try to create what some of us would consider a circus, but the character of the president’s defense surely has to be up to him. In any case, the nation will survive a bit of a circus. And ultimately we need to turn to their common sense to judge the president and his defenders.

If conducted under rules acceptable to all Senators, as was the last Trial twenty years ago, at the end of the day, a verdict will be rendered that will vindicate the Constitution and convey to the nation a sense of a fair and orderly process. The only way to get to that outcome is if some Senate Republicans refuse to lower themselves to be the mere agents of an unprincipled and partisan leader and instead rise to the demands of principle and statesmanship.

Ruth Marcus also has some ideas about what ‘impartial justice’ means to the Senate.

In an impeachment trial … the Senate is the ultimate tainted jury pool, inherently biased. Of course, many senators have already concluded how they will vote — not only Republicans but Democrats as well. Anyone huffing over Republicans’ peremptory dismissal of the charges needs to take into account that numerous Democrats have already announced the opposite conclusion. Boasting over closed minds is as unattractive for one side as the other.

And, of course, Republican senators will work with the president and his advisers as the trial proceeds, just as Senate Democrats coordinated with the White House during Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

Still, it cannot be — it should not be — that the solemn admonition and the sworn promise to do impartial justice is devoid of content. It is in the nature even of politicians, some of them, anyway, to aspire to reflect their better angels. Senators have a way of worrying about that history thing.

Granted, this hopeful assessment must contend with the brute-force reality of modern politics, as exemplified in the brazen assertion of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), “I’m not an impartial juror.” Are McConnell’s Republican colleagues willing to announce to their constituents that they take their own oaths so lightly? If not, what might impartial justice constitute?

For both sides, it would mean toning down the conclusory rhetoric. If hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, assertions of open-mindedness in the Senate trial offer the healing balm of seeming statesmanship. Perhaps this would be a scant fig leaf barely obscuring venomous partisanship. Yet modeling good behavior, even if insincerely, has a way of producing more.

For Democrats, dispensing impartial justice would mean soberly considering the implications of removing a president from office for the first time in history. That is no small step.

For Republicans, doing impartial justice would mean dropping the extraneous complaints about bad motives and unfair process that supposedly taint the impeachment inquiry and taking seriously the substantive charges against the president. The rest is noise.

Why does it matter whether Democrats were determined to impeach Trump from the start? Some were, certainly, but impeachment didn’t happen until the Ukraine episode surfaced. Likewise, even if the president was somehow denied due process in the House proceedings — he wasn’t; he rejected the process that was offered — a set of serious allegations is now before the Senate. Members have a constitutional duty to take those seriously even if they believe the House did not perform adequately.

That leads to the most important issue the Senate faces, which is whether to hear from witnesses with information relevant to the charges against the president, and to obtain documentary evidence that Trump summarily refused to provide to the House. The matter of whether the House should have pursued its subpoenas is irrelevant at this point, with the Senate constitutionally obligated to conduct an impeachment trial.

The current festival of dueling, side-switching quotes from the Clinton trial in which Republicans asserted the importance of hearing from witnesses and Democrats dismissed the necessity obscures two key points. First, witness testimony was obtained in Clinton’s case; that sets a precedent. More important, the Clinton witnesses were far less essential. There was a full record of testimony and documents that is missing here. It is possible to conclude that there is enough evidence, even without it, to convict Trump. It is irresponsible to determine that he should be acquitted without hearing from such relevant parties as former national security adviser John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Doing impartial justice doesn’t compel a vote to remove the president from office. Republican senators are entitled to conclude that Trump’s conduct does not rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors. But their oath requires something more than an eager leap to that result.

That mandates not only grappling with the evidence against the president but also, before dismissing it as inadequate, ensuring that the relevant information has been put before them, before the American people and, yes, before history.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Trump rules with fear and loyalty - in spite of Republicans' fear and loathing

Return of the King

The founding fathers recognized the potential for a return to a monarchy. We as a nation have avoided that for two centuries. But now a substantial number of voters are just fine with Donald as King. And those sentiments motivate GOP politicians. God save America - because the Republican base and sycophantic politicians most certainly will not. Read on for a perspective on how Trump rules - and I mean that in the sense of an Americonarchy.

A case study in fear and loyalty - or fear and loathing

Fear and Loyalty: How Donald Trump Took Over the Republican Party. The president demands complete fealty, and as the impeachment hearings showed, he has largely attained it. To cross him is to risk a future in the Republican party. In this NY Times report, Jonathon Martin and Maggie Haberman observe that “President Trump has kept Republicans members of Congress in line throughout the impeachment process.” How does he do it?

BIRMINGHAM, Mich. — By the summer of 2017, Dave Trott, a two-term Republican congressman, was worried enough about President Trump’s erratic behavior and his flailing attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act that he criticized the president in a closed-door meeting with fellow G.O.P. lawmakers.

The response was instantaneous — but had nothing to do with the substance of Mr. Trott’s concerns. “Dave, you need to know somebody has already told the White House what you said,” he recalled a colleague telling him. “Be ready for a barrage of tweets.”

Mr. Trott got the message: To defy Mr. Trump is to invite the president’s wrath, ostracism within the party and a premature end to a career in Republican politics. Mr. Trott decided not to seek re-election in his suburban Detroit district, concluding that running as anti-Trump Republican was untenable, and joining a wave of Republican departures from Congress that has left those who remain more devoted to the president than ever.

“If I was still there and speaking out against the president, what would happen to me?” Mr. Trott said before answering his own question: Mr. Trump would have lashed out and pressured House G.O.P. leaders to punish him.

… All the incentives that shape political behavior — with voters, donors and the news media — compel Republicans to bow to Mr. Trump if they want to survive.

Sitting in a garland-bedecked hotel restaurant in his former district, Mr. Trott said that he did not want to seek re-election “as a Trumper” — and that he knew he had little future in the party as an opponent of the president.

There is no market, he said, for independence. Divergence from Trumpism will never be good enough for Democrats; Mr. Trump will target you among Republicans, Mr. Trott added, and the vanishing voters from the political middle will never have a chance to reward you because you would not make it through a primary. That will be ensured in part by the megaphone the president wields with the conservative news media.

“Trump is emotionally, intellectually and psychologically unfit for office, and I’m sure a lot of Republicans feel the same way,” Mr. Trott said. “But if they say that, the social media barrage will be overwhelming.” He added that he would be open to the presidential candidacy of former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump dangles rewards to those who show loyalty — a favorable tweet, or a presidential visit to their state — and his heavy hand has assured victory for a number of Republican candidates in their primaries. …

… why was there no introspection within the party after the midterms about the damage Mr. Trump did to Republican candidates, particularly in the suburbs?

“If you go to any Republican event, you’re going to find more people at that event than ever before,” Mr. Trott said, “and every single one of them to a person will be all in for President Trump. They’ll all have ‘Make America Great Again’ hats on and they’ll be saying what a tremendous president he is.”

Mr. Trott recounted one of his most vivid memories of his time serving with Mr. Trump. It was the day in 2017 when House Republicans voted to repeal the A.C.A. and celebrated afterward at the White House.

Mr. Trott was one of the first lawmakers to enter the Oval Office after the Rose Garden celebration and he stood behind the president’s desk when Mr. Trump pulled out a sheet of paper.

“He already had a list of 20 people who had voted against him two hours earlier,” he recalled.

Back home in the districts Trump voters show “slavish devotion”

Lawmakers not seeking re-election are often the most candid about the slavish devotion Mr. Trump engenders with voters — and the pressure it puts on them.

“Public officials need to be held accountable, and I don’t think any governmental system works well with blind loyalty without reason,” said Representative Francis Rooney of Florida, who announced his intention to retire earlier this year after criticizing Mr. Trump for his conduct with Ukraine and suffering an immediate backlash.

Mr. Rooney ultimately voted against impeachment, but told colleagues he felt uneasy about it. Recalling an appearance on a Florida television station afterward, Mr. Rooney said: “They interviewed me after the vote and then they interviewed one of these Cape Coral Republican ladies and she said, ‘Well, it’s about time they came around to realize it’s a big media hoax.’ How do you argue with that? How do you reason with that?”

Saturday, December 21, 2019

IMPOTUS - short for impeached president. George Conway made it into a hashtag too

Aldous J Pennyfarthing writing at Daily Kos reports that George Conway coined a new nickname for Trump, it’s trending, and he will hate it — #IMPOTUS. Conway invented IMPOTUS as short for IMpeached President Of The United States. Then he added a hashtag that went viral.

I suggest using #IMPOTUS in your communications, comments, tweets, FB posts, LTEs, etc. Use it early and often.

To save the GOP Republicans need to put country first and call the witnesses

The NY Times Editorial Board observes that Trump Has Been Impeached. Republicans Are Following Him Down. Ignoring facts and trashing the impeachment process is no way to protect democracy. Here is a bit of it.

… the nihilism of this moment — the trashing of constitutional safeguards, the scorn for facts, the embrace of corruption, the indifference to historical precedent and to foreign interference in American politics — is due principally to cowardice and opportunism on the part of Republican leaders who have chosen to reject their party’s past standards and positions and instead follow Donald Trump, all the way down.

It’s a lot to ask of Republicans to insist on holding their own leader accountable, just as that was a lot to expect of Democrats during the Clinton impeachment inquiry. But while many Democrats then criticized President Bill Clinton and some voted to impeach him, Republican lawmakers would not breathe a word against Mr. Trump on Wednesday.

Instead, they competed with one another to invoke the most outlandish metaphor of evil — from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ — and suggest that Mr. Trump is enduring even worse.

By any reasonable measure, Mr. Trump’s own conduct in office clears the bar for impeachment set by the founders. The case against him is that he solicited foreign interference to help in his 2020 re-election campaign, that he used hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to do it, that his administration tried to hide the evidence and that he then blocked Congress from performing its constitutionally mandated role of checking the executive branch. Multiple government officials, some appointed by the president himself, have confirmed all of these facts.

There may be no better illustration of what the Constitution’s framers considered to be impeachable conduct. And that’s leaving to the side strong evidence that Mr. Trump has committed other impeachable offenses, including taking foreign money at his personal businesses, obstructing justice and violating campaign-finance laws — the latter two of which are also federal crimes.

Through it all, Mr. Trump has had the opportunity to rebut the charges. By his account, he could have extinguished both articles of impeachment by allowing top administration officials to testify under oath. If he really did nothing wrong, the testimony of these officials would exonerate him of the charge of abusing his power, and simply their appearance under oath would dissolve the charge of obstructing Congress.

And yet when given the opportunity to defend himself, the president has refused to participate, defying all of the House’s subpoenas for witnesses and documents, effectively declaring himself unaccountable.

When it comes to the prospect for a valid trial in the Senate, “Unfortunately, the Senate is led by Mr. McConnell.”

Mr. McConnell, who like all senators will swear an oath to “do impartial justice” at the start of the trial, has already vowed to violate that oath. “I’m not an impartial juror. This is a political process,” Mr. McConnell said on Tuesday. “The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate.” He has also vowed to coordinate directly with the White House on all aspects of the trial.

No one is suggesting that House Democrats are above playing politics, but at least they held hearings, considered evidence and did their best to get at the truth. Mr. McConnell won’t even promise that much.

The bottom line is that impeachment in the House is unlikely to protect the country from Mr. Trump’s abuse of power, because his fellow party leaders prize their power more than the principles they say they stand for. The only way to protect American democracy is for those who value it to put it to work, and vote these people out.

But that will be then - as in November 2020. What will happen now?

Former Senator Jeff Flake appeals to his former colleagues in a Washington Post op-ed: The president is on trial. So are my Senate Republican colleagues.

To my former Senate Republican colleagues,

I don’t envy you.

It might not be fair, but none of the successes, achievements and triumphs you’ve had in public office — whatever bills you’ve passed, hearings you’ve chaired, constituents you have had the privilege of helping — will matter more than your actions in the coming months.

President Trump is on trial. But in a very real sense, so are you. And so is the political party to which we belong.

As we approach the time when you do your constitutional duty and weigh the evidence arrayed against the president, I urge you to remember who we are when we are at our best. And I ask you to remember yourself at your most idealistic.

We are conservatives. The political impulses that compelled us all to enter public life were defined by sturdy pillars anchored deep in the American story. Chief among these is a realistic view of power and of human nature, and a corresponding and healthy mistrust of concentrated and impervious executive power. Mindful of the base human instincts that we all possess, the founders of our constitutional system designed its very architecture to curb excesses of power.

Those curbs are especially important when the power is wielded by a president who denies reality itself and calls his behavior not what it is, but “perfect.”

Personally, I have never met anyone whose behavior can be described as perfect, but so often has the president repeated this obvious untruth that it has become a form of dogma in our party. And sure enough, as dogma demands, there are members of our party denying objective reality by repeating the line that “the president did nothing wrong.” My colleagues, the danger of an untruthful president is compounded when an equal branch follows that president off the cliff, into the abyss of unreality and untruth.

Call it the founders’ blind spot: They simply could not have envisioned the Article I branch abetting and enabling such dangerous behavior in the Article II branch. And when we are complicit, we cede our constitutional responsibilities, we forever redefine the relationship between Congress and the White House, and we set the most dangerous of precedents.

My simple test for all of us: What if President Barack Obama had engaged in precisely the same behavior? I know the answer to that question with certainty, and so do you. You would have understood with striking clarity the threat it posed, and you would have known exactly what to do.

Regarding the articles of impeachment, you could reasonably conclude that the president’s actions warrant his removal. You might also determine that the president’s actions do not rise to the constitutional standard required for removal. There is no small amount of moral hazard with each option, but both positions can be defended.

But what is indefensible is echoing House Republicans who say that the president has not done anything wrong. He has.

The willingness of House Republicans to bend to the president’s will by attempting to shift blame with the promotion of bizarre and debunked conspiracy theories has been an appalling spectacle. It will have long-term ramifications for the country and the party, to say nothing of individual reputations.

Nearly all of you condemned the president’s behavior during the 2016 campaign. Nearly all of you refused to campaign with him. You knew then that doing so would be wrong — would be a stain on your reputation and the standing of the Republican Party, and would do lasting damage to the conservative cause.

Ask yourself today: Has the president changed his behavior? Has he grown in office? Has the mantle of the presidency altered his conduct? The answer is obvious. In fact, if the president’s political rally in Michigan on Wednesday is any measure, his language has only become more vulgar, his performance cruder, his behavior more boorish and unstable.

Next, ask yourself: If the president’s conduct hasn’t changed, has mine? Before President Trump came on the scene, would I have stood at a rally and cheered while supporters shouted “lock her up” or “send them back”? Would I have laughed along while the president demeaned and ridiculed my colleagues? Would I have ever thought to warm up the crowd for the president by saying of the House speaker: “It must suck to be that dumb”?

As I said above, I don’t envy you. You’re on a big stage now. Please don’t accept an alternate reality that would have us believe in things that obviously are not true, in the service of executive behavior that we never would have encouraged and a theory of executive power that we have always found abhorrent.

If there ever was a time to put country over party, it is now. And by putting country over party, you might just save the Grand Old Party before it’s too late.

And the first step is for Moscow Mitch McConnell to call the witnesses. The only reason not to is laid bare by David Gordon writing at Blog for Arizona: Moscow Mitch, Call the Witnesses.

… at the Democratic Presidential Debate in Los Angeles, Senator Amy Klobuchar gave the best reason of all the candidates to call the witnesses, stating to the audience that:

“And I would make this case. As we face this trial in the Senate if the president claims that he is so innocent, then why doesn’t he have all the president’s men testify? If President Trump thinks that he should not be impeached, he should be not scared to put forward his own witnesses.”

Pelosi, Klobuchar, and Schumer are right. If the President is innocent and Republicans have nothing to fear, why is the Administration actively preventing all of the remaining first-hand witnesses to testify? Why are Republicans like Moscow Mitch so reluctant to call these very same people who can definitively say whether or not the President committed impeachable acts?

The answer is fairly obvious: Republicans already know what the answers from these witnesses will be and are eager to fast forward an impeachment “show trial” where the guilty man is not removed from office and hope the Trumpist cult base does not pause to think why these people would not voluntarily want to testify for their Duce…President.

It is time for the Political Prince of Darkness-Enemy of the People-Obstructionist in Chief-Moscow Mitch McConnell to put the country’s interests above his own and Individual One’s.

Moscow Mitch, Call the Witnesses.

Friday, December 20, 2019

GOPlins are about to lose our republic to King Donald

In previous posts, for example, I have argued that the real story of the 2016 election is not Trump, him being but a symbol, a front man for his supporters and those who voted for him. The latter group is the real story I argued. However, there is another group who are the players in the another story about to unfold - the Republican senators who are now marching in lock-step to the beat of Trump’s drum - Drumpf, Drumpf, Drumpf … It is these Drumpfers who say what Trump decrees who will sometime soon to pretend to conduct an impartial trial. It is already established by their majority leader that there will no such thing and that the leader, Mitch McConnell, would just as soon conduct no trial at all.

Shame, I say. And that is a burden of history that the senate Republicans will bear for all time. Two columnists, George Conway (Washington Post) and John Cassidy (New Yorker) make that case.

Conway shows how Republican senators run the risk of being shamed by Trump himself.

In his unhinged letter Tuesday, President Trump accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of having “cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment!” A few days earlier, he accused Democrats of “trivializing impeachment.”

If anything has cheapened or trivialized the process by which Trump was impeached, it was House Republicans’ refusal to treat the proceedings with the seriousness the Constitution demands. Unable to defend the president’s conduct on the merits, GOP members of the House resorted to deception, distortion and deflection: pretending that Trump didn’t ask President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rival; claiming that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election; and throwing up all manner of silly assertions of procedural unfairness.

[…]

In any event, the fact that senators swear an oath to “bear true faith” to the Constitution, and the fact that the Constitution requires the Senate to “try all Impeachments,” should require them to hold a real trial with live witnesses. But if that isn’t enough to persuade them, Republican senators should consider at least two significant practicalities.

The first is that the Ukraine investigation is only three months old. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has cited this as evidence that the impeachment was rushed and unsupported. Actually, the opposite is true: A remarkably strong case was assembled in an unusually short time, even in the face of extraordinary obstructionism from the administration, which directed numerous witnesses not to testify. The Watergate investigation, by contrast, spanned roughly two years; the Starr investigation and Clinton impeachment proceedings, 11 months.

What that tells us is that plenty more evidence remains to be unearthed. We know already of the witnesses whom Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) proposes should testify, but whose testimony was blocked by Trump: acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney; Robert Blair, a senior adviser to Mulvaney; former national security adviser John Bolton; and Michael Duffey, a top official at the Office of Management and Budget. No doubt there are volumes of electronic and physical documents that remain to be produced.

One way or another, the gist of that evidence will seep out, as truth inevitably does. The president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, will continue to make admissions, and, if he were to be criminally prosecuted, evidence would come out in his prosecution. Others — most notably Bolton — will write books. There will be more leaks to intrepid journalists. Perhaps more whistleblowers will step forward.

Meanwhile, the House can still investigate, if it so chooses. In fact, it should. After all, not only does the House have a continuing obligation of oversight, but also there is no double-jeopardy prohibition on impeachment: If more damning evidence surfaces, there is no constitutional reason Trump couldn’t be impeached again.

So common sense should tell senators that, even if Trump is acquitted in a short-circuited trial, that won’t prevent the evidence from revealing whether an acquittal was a just one. If Republican senators cut the trial short, they run the risk of being refuted and shamed on the pages of history by the very evidence they sought to suppress.

But that’s not the only practical reason they shouldn’t cut the trial short. A second reason — perhaps the ultimate reason — is President Trump.

For the extraordinary evidence of the Ukraine scandal isn’t a one-off. Putting his interests above the nation’s is what Trump instinctively does.

Trump’s written tirade to Pelosi confirms the point: It shows that, even as he is being impeached, he still has no idea why — and thus no idea what his presidential duties require. He hasn’t learned his lesson, and never will.

And that is the ultimate point Republican senators who care about their legacies should consider: They run the risk of being refuted and shamed on the pages of history not just by the evidence — but by Trump himself.

Cassidy documents The Republicans’ Abject Submission to Trump at the House Impeachment Vote. They undoubtedly will show the same debasement at a Senate trial.

Mark Twain, no fan of the legislative branch of the federal government, famously wrote that “fleas can be taught nearly anything that a Congressman can.” It’s not clear that Donald Trump has ever opened a Twain book. But the lengthy impeachment debate in the House of Representatives on Wednesday showed that he has taught Republican members of Congress to repeat his propaganda so faithfully it would be beyond even the most able little parasite. Either that or the Republicans taught themselves, which is an even more alarming thought.

The President “was denied due process… . That makes this process illegal and illegitimate. What a shame. What a sham.” This was the Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer, who represents Missouri’s Third Congressional District. “The process has been rigged from the start,” Debbie Lesko, a first-term Republican congresswoman from Arizona, said. “I am voting no because the President has done nothing wrong,” Roger Marshall, an obstetrician who represents a sprawling Republican district in northwest Kansas, declared. “The only party guilty of obstruction, abuse of power, or whatever focus-groups terms they’re using today is the party on the other side… . It’s past time to be done with this circus… . I will vote no and encourage this body to move on from this heartbreaking, disgraceful day.”

The contributions from Luetkemeyer, Lesko, and Marshall were notable not because they were unusual or novel but because they were entirely typical. One after another, all day long, the Republicans parroted the lines that Trump has been feeding them since September, when the news broke that an anonymous whistle-blower had filed a complaint about Trump’s behavior, and the Ukraine story was blown open.

As the sorry details emerged of how Trump squeezed Volodymyr Zelensky, the President of Ukraine, to dig up dirt on the Biden family—or, at least, to announce that he was starting an investigation into the Bidens—some commentators, myself included, speculated that the Republicans would ultimately fall back on the argument that Trump’s actions, although reprehensible, didn’t rise to the level required for impeachment. And indeed, Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University Law School professor, did make a version of this argument earlier this month, when the House Republicans invited him to testify to the Judiciary Committee.

That defense wasn’t good enough for Trump: not nearly. From the very beginning, he has insisted that his July 25th call with Zelensky was “perfect”; that he had merely been pressing the Ukrainian President to tackle domestic corruption in Ukraine, even though he never used that word; and that the entire impeachment inquiry was a Democratic “witch hunt.” But Trump didn’t merely promulgate this fake narrative himself. He demanded that Republicans in Congress repeat it, too, and Wednesday’s hearing showed how completely he succeeded in bending the House G.O.P. caucus to his will.

By the eve of the hearing, it was clear that not a single Republican would vote for the two articles of impeachment. It still seemed conceivable, at least, that one or two of them would allow that Trump’s behavior had raised some serious concerns. No. Congressman Will Hurd, the sole black Republican in the House, who recently announced his plans to retire, perhaps came closest when he said that the impeachment inquiry had unearthed “bungling foreign-policy decisions.” In truth, however, even that statement was a woeful cop-out.

The rest of the Republicans acted as if they were participating in a show trial—one with a predetermined not-guilty verdict. James Comer, of Kentucky, described the impeachment process as “a baseless attempt” to override the votes of sixty-three million Americans. Denver Riggleman, a Virginia congressman whose district includes Monticello, said that Jefferson and Madison would hate to see Congress trying to reverse the result of an election. Greg Murphy, from North Carolina, declared the proceeding to be “a mockery of American justice.” Clay Higgins, a hard-right pro-Trumper from Louisiana, called impeachment “a betrayal” and said it was “brought upon us by the same socialists who threaten unborn life in the womb.”

Trump, who the White House press office claimed might “catch some of the proceedings”—even as he tweeted about it (in all caps)—will have appreciated Higgins’s rant. But the prize for the most ludicrous speech on his behalf perhaps went to Representative Barry Loudermilk, of Georgia, who reached into the New Testament for inspiration. “When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Loudermilk declared. “During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this President in this process.”

After Loudermilk finished, Jerry Nadler, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, which drew up the articles of impeachment, calmly pointed out that the committee afforded Trump the chance to personally testify, as well as to have a counsel present who could question other witnesses. The President turned down these offers. Adam Schiff, the head of the Intelligence Committee, quoted Hamilton, one of the originators of the impeachment clause, and said he “predicted the rise of Donald Trump with staggering prescience.” John Lewis, the seventeen-term Democratic congressman from Georgia, invoked generations to come and said, “We have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.”

These were memorable moments, but not as memorable as the abject submission to Trump and Trumpery that the elected Republicans displayed throughout. When historians look back on this day, that is surely what they will find most notable, and tragic.

From the Library of Congress:

As the Constitutional Convention adjourned, “a woman [Mrs. Eliza Powell] asks Dr. Franklin well Doctor what we got a republic or a monarchy? A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.” James McHenry. Diary, September 18, 1787. Manuscript. James McHenry Papers, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress (63.02.00) [Digital ID# us0063_02p1]

Returning to Rep. Lesko’s amazing assertion, “the President has done nothing wrong,” she reveals a fundamental truth about the Republican’s defense of Trump. If what he said and did is ”nothing wrong“ then nothing will ever rise to be branded as ”high crimes and misdemeanors." That means that every president, the current one included, will be above the law. And if that is the case, we will have lost our republic and the Republicans in Congress will bear the blame.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Tormented by the stain of of impeachment, Trump writes a letter documenting his mental and moral decay

On the eve of his impeachment President Trump wrote a 6-page letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Here are follow-ons to my analysis yesterday.

Glen Kessler (Washington Post) does some Fact-checking President Trump’s impeachment letter to Pelosi.

Reading President Trump’s impeachment-eve letter to the House speaker seemed very familiar to The Fact Checker. It’s like a written version of his campaign rallies, replete with false claims we have fact-checked many times before either in individual fact checks or in our database of false or misleading Trump claims.

Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post wrote how It is hard to capture how bizarre and frightening Trump’s letter to Pelosi is.

On the eve of his impeachment, a stain that obviously torments him more than his enablers have let on, President Trump issued a rambling, unhinged and lie-filled letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). It is difficult to capture how bizarre and frightening the letter is simply by counting the utter falsehoods (e.g., repeating the debunked accusation that Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin was fired for investigating Burisma; claiming Congress is obstructing justice; arguing he was afforded no rights in the process), or by quoting from the invective dripping from his pen.

What is most striking is the spectacle of the letter itself — a president so unhinged as to issue such an harangue; a White House entirely unable to stop him; a party so subservient to him that it would not trigger a search for a new nominee; a right-wing media bubble that will herald Trump for being Trump and excoriate Democrats for driving the president to this point; and a mainstream media not quite able to address a public temper-tantrum (resorting instead to euphemisms such as “scorching,” “searing,” etc.). The letter and the response (or lack thereof) is the perfect encapsulation of the state of American politics — in which one major party has bound itself to the mast of a raging, dangerous narcissist while the other cannot uphold the norms and institutions on which our democracy depends.

The Arizona Blue Meanie has choice words about what that letter means for our nation as On eve of impeachment, Donald Trump comes undone.

Donald Trump is increasingly erratic and untethered from reality. He demonstrates daily that he is mentally and emotionally unstable, and is getting worse. He is a danger to himself and to society. Trump has always been morally unfit to hold the high office of the presidency.

If Trump’s coconspirators and accessories in Congress who are aiding and abetting his crimes in progress — On impeachment eve, Trump repeats the crime: Even as the House on Tuesday worked out the rules of the debate that will almost certainly see President Trump impeached by Wednesday night, Trump and his team continued to commit the very offenses for which he is being punished — “acquit” him in a sham trial in the Senate, Donald Trump will feel unbound to abuse his power. He will be freed to become the autocrat of his dreams.

There is no telling what outrages we are likely to witness over the coming year — the prosecution of Trump’s political opponents by his corrupt Attorney General, the rigging of the 2020 election with the assistance of foreign interference from Russia, and if Trump still manages to lose the election, his refusal to concede the presidency by questioning the electoral integrity and legitimacy of the election (which he has undermined), or by force of arms from his unhinged followers in the personality cult of Donald Trump, something he previously threatened in 2016.

This coming year is going to be the most unsettled and dangerous time in American history since the election of 1860, and the secession of the Confederate States and Civil War that followed in its wake, all because Republicans in Congress have abdicated their constitutional duty in support of an obvious madman who is hellbent on destroying our democratic norms, values and institutions in pursuit of replacing American democracy with an authoritarian autocracy under permanent Republican rule.

The survival of American democracy is at stake. It is time for patriotic Americans to stand up and be counted in defense of the Constitution and American democracy against this existential threat.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Senator Martha McSally copies Trump's presidential psychological projection

Nyah, Nyah, Nyah-NYAH, Nyah, You’re immature-ure. Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources report hearing President Trump taunt House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with this sing-song instance of psychological projection. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) has stronger evidence.

For many years, Donald Trump has responded to criticisms with I’m-rubber-and-you’re-glue projection: his sins become his opponents’ sins. Whatever the president has done wrong becomes the thing he accuses his detractors of doing.

It’s sometimes described as Trump’s “no puppet” problem because during a 2016 debate, Hillary Clinton accused the Republican of being a “puppet” for his allies in Moscow. The future president, showing all of the sophistication of a slow toddler, responded, “No puppet. No puppet. You’re the puppet. No, you’re the puppet.”

But we’re occasionally reminded that Trump isn’t the only one who embraces this tactic.

Benen continues, reporting that Despite evidence, Arizona’s McSally accuses Dems, not Trump, of abuses.

The Associated Press reported this week, for example, on appointed Sen. Martha McSally (R) of Arizona, who reflected on the ongoing impeachment proceedings.

McSally, who’s one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the U.S. Senate, has repeatedly avoided saying whether she thinks it was wrong for Trump to ask Ukraine’s government to investigate his political rival.

But she was much more candid when speaking to a supportive audience in Tucson on Saturday, saying only the Democrats have abused their power.

She said Republicans want to “make sure that we continue to highlight the abuse of power” that Democrats have committed, “which is the only abuse of power that we’ve seen going on here,” apparently referring to the impeachment inquiry.

Exactly. Presented with striking evidence of presidential abuses, the appointed GOP senator believes it’s actually Democrats, not Trump, who are guilty of abuses.

The AP report further suggested that McSally appears to be taking a rather partisan approach to the likely Senate impeachment trial, telling her friendly Arizona audience that Republicans are working through the best way to handle a trial “without inadvertently planting our own landmines and walking into a minefield.”

“If we want to drag in some people, some other people may get dragged in, and, you know, we don’t know how that’s going to go,” the senator was quoted saying.

McSally added that GOP senators are “working closely with the White House” on the process for impeachment.

Senate rules require members to take a specific oath before an impeachment trial gets underway: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that in all things appertaining to the trial of ____, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”

The list of Senate Republicans who appear to be focused on considerations other than “impartial justice” appears to be growing.

Given this reporting, it is highly likely that McSally will be in violation of her oath even as she speaks it.

Another case of presidential projection

Trump Denounces ‘Partisan Impeachment Crusade’ on Eve of House Vote. In an irate, six-page letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, President Trump denounced the impeachment inquiry in scathing terms, asserting that he had done nothing wrong and that Democrats would pay a political price in 2020.

You can read the full letter in that Times report.

Suspecting that Trump would revert to form, blaming everyone but Trump for his impeachment, I combed through the letter and found these instances of projection - copied here verbatim.

  • abuse of power by Democrat Lawmakers
  • you are violating your oaths of office
  • declaring open war on American Democracyyour spiteful actions display unfettered contempt for America’s founding
  • second conversation [w/ Zelenskyy] that has been misquoted, mischaracterized, and fraudulently misrepresented.
  • your attempt to undo the election of 2016 and steal the election of 2020!
  • failed with the Mueller report because there was nothing to find,
  • You are the ones interfering in America’s elections.
  • You are the ones subverting America’s Democracy.
  • You are the ones Obstructing Justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own selfish personal, political, and partisan gain.
  • your perversion of justice and abuse of power.
  • Any member of Congress who votes in support of impeachment — against every shred of truth, fact, evidence, and legal principle — is showing how deeply they revile the voters and how truly they detest America’s Constitutional order. Our Founders feared the tribalization of partisan politics, and you are bringing their worst fears to life.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

True conservatives and true Christians should welcome impeachment

Following are two op-ed pieces on the theme of Trump’s unfitness for the presidency. An empty faith demanded by a bogus prophet is how a group of Republicans characterize Trump and his sycophants. Second, whatever message you think is conveyed by Christmas, its spirit contradicts Trump’s un-Christ-like views of heroism and strength.

Thanks to Rebecca McCreary and Roving Reporter Sherry Moreau for their alerts.

(1) An empty faith, a bogus prophet

We Are Republicans, and We Want Trump Defeated announced kin the NY Times op-ed by George T. Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver and Rick Wilson who “have worked for and supported Republican campaigns.” Now they say "The president and his enablers have replaced conservatism with an empty faith led by a bogus prophet.

To fully appreciate what they say you should know this background: George T. Conway III is an attorney in New York. Steve Schmidt is a Republican political strategist who worked for President George W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. John Weaver is a Republican strategist who worked for President George H.W. Bush, Senator John McCain and Gov. John Kasich. Rick Wilson is a Republican media consultant and author of “Everything Trump Touches Dies” and the forthcoming “Running Against the Devil: A Plot to Save America From Trump and Democrats From Themselves.”

And here is their op-ed in full.

Patriotism and the survival of our nation in the face of the crimes, corruption and corrosive nature of Donald Trump are a higher calling than mere politics. As Americans, we must stem the damage he and his followers are doing to the rule of law, the Constitution and the American character.

That’s why we are announcing the Lincoln Project, an effort to highlight our country’s story and values, and its people’s sacrifices and obligations. This effort transcends partisanship and is dedicated to nothing less than preservation of the principles that so many have fought for, on battlefields far from home and within their own communities.

This effort asks all Americans of all places, creeds and ways of life to join in the seminal task of our generation: restoring to this nation leadership and governance that respects the rule of law, recognizes the dignity of all people and defends the Constitution and American values at home and abroad.

Over these next 11 months, our efforts will be dedicated to defeating President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box and to elect those patriots who will hold the line. We do not undertake this task lightly, nor from ideological preference. We have been, and remain, broadly conservative (or classically liberal) in our politics and outlooks. Our many policy differences with national Democrats remain, but our shared fidelity to the Constitution dictates a common effort.

The 2020 general election, by every indication, will be about persuasion, with turnout expected to be at record highs. Our efforts are aimed at persuading enough disaffected conservatives, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents in swing states and districts to help ensure a victory in the Electoral College, and congressional majorities that don’t enable or abet Mr. Trump’s violations of the Constitution, even if that means Democratic control of the Senate and an expanded Democratic majority in the House.

The American presidency transcends the individuals who occupy the Oval Office. Their personality becomes part of our national character. Their actions become our actions, for which we all share responsibility. Their willingness to act in accordance with the law and our tradition dictate how current and future leaders will act. Their commitment to order, civility and decency are reflected in American society.

Mr. Trump fails to meet the bar for this commitment. He has neither the moral compass nor the temperament to serve. His vision is limited to what immediately faces him — the problems and risks he chronically brings upon himself and for which others, from countless contractors and companies to the American people, ultimately bear the heaviest burden.

But this president’s actions are possible only with the craven acquiescence of congressional Republicans. They have done no less than abdicate their Article I responsibilities.

Indeed, national Republicans have done far worse than simply march along to Mr. Trump’s beat. Their defense of him is imbued with an ugliness, a meanness and a willingness to attack and slander those who have shed blood for our country, who have dedicated their lives and careers to its defense and its security, and whose job is to preserve the nation’s status as a beacon of hope.

Congressional Republicans have embraced and copied Mr. Trump’s cruelty and defended and even adopted his corruption. Mr. Trump and his enablers have abandoned conservatism and longstanding Republican principles and replaced it with Trumpism, an empty faith led by a bogus prophet. In a recent survey, a majority of Republican voters reported that they consider Mr. Trump a better president than Lincoln.

Mr. Trump and his fellow travelers daily undermine the proposition we as a people have a responsibility and an obligation to continually bend the arc of history toward justice. They mock our belief in America as something more meaningful than lines on a map.

Our peril far outstrips any past differences: It has arrived at our collective doorstep, and we believe there is no other choice. We sincerely hope, but are not optimistic, that some of those Republicans charged with sitting as jurors in a likely Senate impeachment trial will do likewise.

American men and women stand ready around the globe to defend us and our way of life. We must do right by them and ensure that the country for which they daily don their uniform deserves their protection and their sacrifice.

˘We are reminded of Dan Sickles, an incompetent 19th-century New York politician. On July 2, 1863, his blundering nearly ended the United States.

(Sickles’s greatest previous achievement had been fatally shooting his wife’s lover across the street from the White House and getting himself elected to Congress. Even his most fervent admirers could not have imagined that one day, far in the future, another incompetent New York politician, a president, would lay claim to that legacy by saying he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it.)

On that day in Pennsylvania, Sickles was a major general commanding the Union Army’s III Corps at the Battle of Gettysburg, and his incompetence wrought chaos and danger. The Confederate Army took advantage, and turned the Union line. Had the rebel soldiers broken through, the continent might have been divided: free and slave, democratic and authoritarian.

Another Union general, Winfield Scott Hancock, had only minutes to reinforce the line. America, the nation, the ideal, hung in the balance. Amid the fury of battle, he found the First Minnesota Volunteers.

They charged, and many of them fell, suffering a staggeringly high casualty rate. They held the line. They saved the Union. Four months later, Lincoln stood on that field of slaughter and said, “It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”

We look to Lincoln as our guide and inspiration. He understood the necessity of not just saving the Union, but also of knitting the nation back together spiritually as well as politically. But those wounds can be bound up only once the threat has been defeated. So, too, will our country have to knit itself back together after the scourge of Trumpism has been overcome.

(2) Trump’s contorted conceptions of heroism and strength are contradicted by Christmas

Michael Gerson asks us to imagine “the spectacle of a thin-skinned, graceless old man attempting to crush the spirit of an idealistic teenage girl” as he shows us how Trump has adopted the coward’s conception of heroism.

Two recent events — one deadly serious, the other merely pathetic — raise the question: What is the true meaning of strength?

First, there was President Trump’s grant of clemency to three U.S. servicemen accused of war crimes — two of whom Trump brought to the stage during a Florida fundraiser in a kind of presidential tribute to brutality. In Trump’s version of events, he was protecting “warriors” from the pettifogging timidity of the so-called deep state. “We train our boys to be killing machines,” tweeted the commander in chief, “then prosecute them when they kill!”

Both act and explanation are destructive and offensive. The men and women of the U.S. military are not trained to be killers, though killing combatants in war is certainly part of their job. They are marinated in a code of honorable conduct and serve a cause — the cause of freedom and human dignity — that is inconsistent with the commission of war crimes.

Trump, as we know, is not big on moral codes and is disdainful of causes that transcend nationalism. Once again, he is squandering an inheritance he does not value or understand. He also is expressing a certain view of strength — strength as the brutal application of lawless violence — that is closer to the creed of the Cosa Nostra than to the “duty, honor and country” that calls and characterizes the U.S. armed forces. Trump has adopted the weak man’s view of what strength looks like, the small man’s view of what greatness looks like, the coward’s conception of heroism.

The second event — Trump’s cyberbullying of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg — had lower stakes but represents a similar view of strength. Trump — probably feeling both envy and anger at Thunberg’s selection as Time’s Person of the Year — urged her to “work on her Anger Management problem.” If pressed, Trump would surely explain that he was getting back at someone who had criticized him first. Future historians will look back with horrified confusion at the spectacle of a thin-skinned, graceless old man attempting to crush the spirit of an idealistic teenage girl.

In Trump’s worldview, nothing is more contemptible than weakness — which he defines as vulnerability and self-restraint in the face of provocation. The elements of his code? Blessed are the powerful and pitiless. Blessed are the cruel and ruthless. Do unto others twice as bad as they do unto you.

It is instructive that these two events — the clemency and the bullying — should come during the Christmas season. Whatever you think about the historicity of the biblical accounts, they provide a powerful story about the true nature of power.

The whole narrative is framed by governmental attempts to assert and maintain control. The site of the birth is determined by a government census. The wise men must frustrate Herod’s attempt to locate a competing king. The slaughter of the innocents is state-sponsored mass murder. The holy family must flee to Egypt as refugees. The Roman Empire and its client ruler are attempting to snuff out potential sedition in its cradle. And that intention is fulfilled some three decades later — to all outward appearances — in a public trial and crucifixion.

“From beginning to end,” says Christian author Philip Yancey, “the conflict between Rome and Jesus appeared to be entirely one-sided. The execution of Jesus would put an apparent end to any threat, or so it was assumed at the time. Tyranny would win again. It occurred to no one that his stubborn followers might just outlast the Roman empire.”

But that is what happened. And the Christmas narrative indicates why. Whatever else this story may be, it is an inversion of our view of power — as though we had lived our whole lives upside down and were finally set aright. In God’s perspective on events, the culmination of history takes place among common people. Shepherds are the audience for angels. The stable is more influential than the royal court. Refugees are more important than rulers. The hopes of humankind are met, against all expectation, in a helpless infant. Power is found in the renunciation of power; strength is perfected in weakness.

It is not always obvious how this great inversion applies in our lives or our politics. But it forbids us from believing that cruelty can bring authority, or that peace can be achieved through murder, or that justice can arrive through lawlessness. It calls us to humility and decency over arrogance and ruthlessness. And it provides the Christmas hope that love will have the final word.