Thursday, December 31, 2020

What is supposed to happen on January 6th - and what the GOPlins will do to try to screw it up

Screw it up #1: One Senator’s Stunt

Let Josh Hawley put Republicans to the uncomfortable test is an opinion by Ruth Marcus, Deputy editorial page editor at the Washington Post. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) — Yale Law School, Supreme Court clerk, Missouri attorney general and, according to the first line of his Twitter bio, “constitutional lawyer” — surely knows better.

His plan to challenge the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral college victory when Congress convenes for that purpose on Jan. 6 has no basis in the facts or the law. That is putting it too charitably, actually. It is, if anything, anti-constitutional — inconsistent with the Constitution’s vision of the ceremonial role of Congress in ratifying the election results.

It is doomed to fail — except, perhaps, at its scarcely disguised purpose of winning Hawley favor in the eyes of the Trumpian base. Think of it as the first act of Hawley’s all-but-inevitable 2024 presidential campaign. Think of it as what it is: a stunt.

Yet while irresponsible, Hawley’s move is not necessarily a terrible development. It forces a vote that will have the salutary effect of requiring his Republican colleagues to decide — and to put on the record —whether their loyalty is to President Trump or to the Constitution. Better to know than to guess. Better to inflict some accountability rather than to enable dodging.

Put another way: Any vote that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fervently wishes to avoid is one I’m for. Put every member of the House and Senate on the record, and let them reap the consequences, for good and for ill, in the short term of political fallout and in the long view of history. Those who vote against certifying Biden’s victory can explain it to their grandchildren.

To back up, here’s what’s supposed to happen on Jan. 6, as set out in the 12th Amendment and the 1887 Electoral Count Act. Congress convenes in a joint session, presided over by Vice President Pence, in his role as Senate president. According to the Constitution, states submit their electoral votes to Congress. On Jan. 6, the date specified by the Electoral Count Act, “The President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted.”

The law does set out a mechanism for challenging the certificates. It requires a request by at least one House member — in this case, the endlessly Trump-enabling Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) — and one senator, hence the significance of Hawley’s announcement Wednesday that he would join Brooks’s mad crusade.

“I cannot vote to certify the electoral college results on January 6 without raising the fact that some states, particularly Pennsylvania, failed to follow their own state election laws,” Hawley harrumphed. “And I cannot vote to certify without pointing out the unprecedented effort of mega corporations, including Facebook and Twitter, to interfere in this election, in support of Joe Biden.” Um, Senator, there is no vote requiring you to certify. A vote only happens if someone like you insists on a challenge.

Even if Hawley’s complaints were justified, he’d be raising them in the wrong place. The place to decide whether Pennsylvania complied with Pennsylvania’s election laws is in the courts of Pennsylvania — which, guess what, did just that, at Trump’s behest. He lost. Pennsylvania certified in timely fashion that its electors cast the state’s votes for Biden. Case closed. Hawley’s objection on the ground of alleged corporate interference is even dumber. Hold a hearing, Senator. Draft a bill. In the joint session, your role is to accept the votes of the electors. Period.

In pre-butting criticisms of his conduct, Hawley proffers a fallback excuse: Democrats did it, too. True. In 2005, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones (D-Ohio) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) objected to certifying Ohio’s electoral votes; their complaints were rejected by a majority of both chambers. In 2001 and again in 2017, Democratic House members lodged complaints but could not find a single senator to join them, as the law requires. Their objections were gaveled down by the sitting vice presidents, Al Gore — the losing presidential candidate — and Joe Biden. “It is over,” Biden announced, as he rejected the challenges to Trump’s election.

As Hawley well knows, it is over for Trump this time. All his intervention will do is to gum up the works, temporarily. If he persists, the House and Senate will debate separately for two hours — and even if Republicans retain their majority, there appear to be well enough Republicans willing to join in rejecting the challenge. This is literally political theater.

There is an argument to be made that Hawley’s move comes with additional costs. The more Republicans are forced to go on the record on Biden’s election, the more they may feel pressured to pledge fealty to Trump. And the more votes against Biden, the more powerful the bogus argument that he is an illegitimate president. And merely insisting on this challenge risks more normalizing of what should be abnormal.

Still, there are upsides in insisting on a vote. Put Republicans to the uncomfortable test. During the four years of Trump’s presidency, they have too often been able to evade accountability. If Hawley wants to put them to the test, let us watch and see if they choose to fail.

Screw it up #2: Louie, Louie

Rep. Louie Gohmert files lawsuit claiming Mike Pence has ability to overturn election results reports Hunter of the Daily Kos Staff.

There is a new Dumbest Lawsuit in the Land, and it should not surprise anyone to know that Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, a man whose battles with coherency and common sense have become the stuff of congressional legend, is the first name on the sheet. According to the lawsuit—which is filed in Gohmert’s home district and features the names of Arizona’s supposed “alternate” Republican “electors” Kelli Ward, of all people—the manner in which presidential electoral votes have been counted by Congress all these years is completely wrong and unconstitutional.

Instead, Gohmert and the others are filing suit against Vice President Mike Pence. They demand that the District Court for the Eastern District of Texas declare that Pence need not count the electors from the states Donald Trump and his allies do not want counted when Pence presides over the congressional tally of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6. The Constitution, they say, grants Pence the power to throw out votes if he damn well wants to, upon which the election is nullified, the House and Senate meet to pick who the president will be, and in theory that somehow leads to the Democratic-led House somehow agreeing that Donald Murderbuffoon must remain president.

The important thing to know is that lawsuit has roughly zero chance of working, because (1) the Constitution does not say that, (2) the claim that Gohmert has standing because as a congressthing, counting electors he doesn’t want counted will make him officially Sad, and (3) all the rest of it. It’s a broadly dishonest retread of the previous Dumbest Lawsuit in the Land, with some of the most egregious errors removed and new ones added.

The backstory here, though, is mildly more interesting. Exactly a week ago, Gohmert and a host of Republican fascism-peddlers met with both Donald Trump and Mike Pence to plot out strategies for sabotaging the acceptance of the Electoral College results. House Republicans have been strongly pressuring Pence to cause a scene at the Jan. 6 tally, Donald Trump’s pseudolegal bullshitters have been hyping conspiracy theories rallying the base around the same premise, and we can gather that this lawsuit against Pence was either a planned move between House Republicans and Pence to give him plausible deniability for creating a scene or, perhaps more likely, a disgruntled loner move from Gohmert himself after Pence refused to explicitly promise House crackpots that he’d go along with their ridiculous, seditious, and doomed-to-failure plan.

So this is what they came up with. Or, at least, what Rep. Louie Gohmert and Kelli Freaking Ward came up with. We’re going to no doubt see different versions appear in coming days from Jim Jordan and Trump’s other most willing traitors, but all of it is meant mostly as rube fodder. It is meant to rile the far-right Republican base into believing the election was “illegitimate” based on hoaxes peddled by Republican leaders claiming all manner of conspiracy and fraud.

It’s already been made clear that even conservative courts are not going to go along with Republican attempts to stage an outright coup. House Republicans and Trump are instead working to so delegitimize our elections process that the violent far right comes out to do what the courts will not.

Just because it probably won’t work doesn’t make it less dangerous. This is another test of the system’s bounds. They will be tested again, and again, and again.

The Way We Are - and how we got here

You remember, I am sure, the 1973 Redford/Streisand romantic movie The Way We Were. The theme in this post is “The Way We Are” - and how we got here.

As usual, Heather Cox Richardson has an excellent essay on the events, people, and historical trends that help us understand how we got to to the “here” in her December 30, 2020 Letter from Letters from an American.

Here is just the “now” part of it.

And so, we are at the end of a year that has brought a presidential impeachment trial, a deadly pandemic that has killed more than 338,000 of us, a huge social movement for racial justice, a presidential election, and a president who has refused to accept the results of that election and is now trying to split his own political party.

It’s been quite a year.

BIG SNIP

The increasing voice of democracy clashed most dramatically with Trump’s ideology in summer 2020 when, with the support of his Attorney General William Barr, Trump used the law enforcement officers of the Executive Branch to attack peaceful protesters in Washington, D.C. and in Portland, Oregon. In June, on the heels of the assault on the protesters at Lafayette Square, military officers from all branches made it clear that they would not support any effort to use them against civilians. They reiterated that they would support the Constitution. The refusal of the military to support a further extension of Trump’s power was no small thing.

And now, here we are. Trump lost the 2020 election to Democrat Joe Biden by more than 7 million votes and by an Electoral College split of 306 to 232. Although the result was not close, Trump refuses to acknowledge the loss and is doing all he can to hamper Biden’s assumption of office. Many members of the Republican Party are joining him in his attempt to overturn the election, taking the final, logical step of Movement Conservatism: denying the legitimacy of anyone who does not share their ideology. This is unprecedented. It is a profound attack on our democracy. But it will not succeed.

And in this moment, we have, disastrously, discovered the final answer to whether or not it is a good idea to destroy the activist government that has protected us since 1933. In their zeal for reducing government, the Trump team undercut our ability to respond to a pandemic, and tried to deal with the deadly coronavirus through private enterprise or by ignoring it and calling for people to go back to work in service to the economy, willing to accept huge numbers of dead. They have carried individualism to an extreme, insisting that simple public health measures designed to save lives infringe on their liberty.

The result has been what is on track to be the greatest catastrophe in American history, with more than 338,000 of us dead and the disease continuing to spread like wildfire. It is for this that the Trump administration will be remembered, but it is more than that. It is a fitting end to the attempt to destroy our government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

To understand how we got here, do read Heather Cox Richardson’s essay.

And let me add this. Trump is berating the states for not doing vaccines as rapidly as promised, leaving each of the 50 individual states to develop their own plan for vaccine administration. Consider Arizona.

Arizona revamps COVID–19 vaccine distribution system to speed up inoculations, reported by Howard Fischer and reprinted in the Daily Star. State Health Director Dr. Cara Christ acknowledged that only about 18% of the more than 314,000 doses received by this week actually have ended up in the arms of Arizonans. The rest may be rotting on the shelves of the malicious ineptitude of Donald J. Trump and his GOPlins.

But there may be hope for better times ahead. If the nation can weather the first week of January, in which the election results are finally confirmed, we may be able to move on and recover America the Beautiful.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Plague Year

If you want to understand how The U. S. got to where it is then this New Yorker piece is essential reading. It’s long but it’s good.

The New Yorker Editors write: Dear Readers,

In April, Lawrence Wright published a shockingly prescient novel about a global pandemic sparked by a mysterious virus that originated in Asia. As his fictional world hewed ever closer to reality, and it became clear that the covid–19 outbreak was hardly the fleeting episode that President Trump insisted it would be, The New Yorker asked Wright to spend the better part of the year reporting this narrative.

Remarkably, the very scientist who had helped Wright invent a fictional pathogen and vaccine for his novel—Dr. Barney S. Graham, of the National Institutes of Health—ended up becoming the chief architect of the first two vaccines to be authorized for emergency use in the United States. In addition to Graham, Wright also interviewed epidemiologists, researchers, public-health experts, frontline medical responders, and key individuals across federal and local governments. The result is a work of sweeping reporting that takes readers inside laboratories, hospital rooms, and the White House for an astonishing and comprehensive examination of the science, the politics, and the human tragedy of the pandemic.

This week, we have devoted nearly the entire issue—something we’ve done on only a handful of occasions in The New Yorker’s history—to Wright’s exploration of the past year and what went so wrong with America’s response to the coronavirus. His narrative of the pandemic is filled with insights about vaccinology and White House intrigue, but among the most powerful segments of the piece are his portraits of ordinary Americans, such as Dr. Ebony Hilton, a Black anesthesiologist in Virginia, who knew from the start that the pandemic would lay bare our society’s deepest inequities. The pandemic may be the biggest story of our lifetime, but Wright, as always, has woven his tapestry from the smallest threads.

A Reporter at Large
January 4 & 11, 2021 Issue
The Plague Year The mistakes and the struggles behind America’s coronavirus tragedy.
By Lawrence Wright
December 28, 2020

Tales from a Trump conspiracy rabbit hole

RWN at Daily Kos laments: Oh My God! I just crawled out of a Trump conspiracy rabbit hole, it’s really crazy down there!

Let me start out to say it comes from a vein from a FB friend who is from my childhood past. That said, I have learned that it is inappropriate to allow fantastical political or social extreme perspectives not to go unchallenged. Not through opinions or calling out names, but with facts or citing sources where almost entirely there is not a response in kind, merely more expression of extremism. What I learned is over the last couple of weeks we have many who are lost to the psychological warfare, this is not normal times to be discounted. Let me get to it.

My friend going all the way back to kindergarten has this as an open post on FB yesterday;

So, here’s where it stands. Democrats used mail-in voting, the Dominion machines, and other common means of voter fraud to steal the election from the American people. Estimated actual voter count nationwide….Trump 105 million, Biden 47 million. Trump CAN prove it. And be sworn in on the 20th. But it will take a call out to our military to seize machines and ballot warehouses, and recount, along with monitoring the Georgia runoff. The military is ready and Very willing.

Now that’s just the start. You’ll have to go to the original for the increasingly nutty writings of responders to RWN’s logic and math.

Thanks to Mrs. Scriber for the tip.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Why the president vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act

Heather Cox Richardson pens the December 27, 2020 Letter from an American. Here is one item of interest given the president’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act.

Tonight, Trump relented and signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which includes the coronavirus relief measure and the 2021 appropriations bill (along with other measures).

He accompanied it with a statement claiming he would demand changes to the law, but these have no force; Congress will almost certainly ignore him. …

So the CAA will become law, and the drama of lawmaking for this congressional session should be over. But it is not quite over yet. Trump vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act, which specifies how the defense budget will be spent, on Wednesday, December 23. The NDAA has passed with bipartisan majorities since the 1960s when it first began, and presidents have always signed it. But Trump has chosen to veto it, on the grounds that it calls for the renaming of U.S. military bases named for Confederate generals and that it does not strip social media companies of protection from liability when third parties post offensive material on them.

The National Defense Authorization Act this year does something else, though, that seems to me of far more importance to the president than the naming of military bases.

It includes a measure known as the Corporate Transparency Act, which undercuts shell companies and money laundering in America. The act requires the owners of any company that is not otherwise overseen by the federal government (by filing taxes, for example, or through close regulation) to file a report that identifies each person associated with the company who either owns 25% or more of it or exercises substantial control over it. That report, including name, birthdate, address, and an identifying number, goes to the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The measure also increases penalties for money laundering and streamlines cooperation between banks and foreign law enforcement authorities.

America is currently the easiest place in the world for criminals to form an anonymous shell company which enables them to launder money, evade taxes, and engage in illegal payoff schemes. The measure will pull the rug out from both domestic and international criminals that take advantage of shell companies to hide from investigators. When the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists dug into leaked documents from FinCEN this fall, they discovered shell companies moving money for criminals operating out of Russia, China, Iran, and Syria.

Shell companies also mean that our political system is awash in secrecy. Social media giants like Facebook cannot determine who is buying political advertising. And, as Representative Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) noted, shell companies allow “foreign bad actors” to corrupt our system even more directly. “[I]t’s illegal for foreigners to contribute to our campaigns,” he reminded Congress in a speech for the bill, “but if you launder your money through a front company with anonymous ownership there is very little we can do to stop you.”

We know the Trump family uses shell companies: Trump’s fixer Michael Cohen used a shell company to pay off Stormy Daniels, and just this month we learned that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner approved a shell company that spent more than $600 million in campaign funds.

The new requirements in the NDAA apply not just to future entities, but also to existing ones.

Congress needs to repass the NDAA over Trump’s veto—indeed it is likely that the CTA was included in this measure precisely because the NDAA is must-pass legislation—and both the CTA and the NDAA bill into which is it tucked have bipartisan support. Trump has objected to a number of things in the original bill but has not publicly complained about the CTA in it. It will be interesting to see if Congress repasses this bill in its original form and, if not, what changes it makes.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Two months of Dave Barry - and this worst of all years is not over yet

BIG SNIP

So begineth Scriber’s take on Dave Barry’s take on Trump’s taking America to the cleaners. You know - that was an old way of saying we got cheated. By our President. Whatever we lost went to his own pocket. That should not be a surprise to anyone who has any sense of Trump’s history. Remember the New Jersey casino scandals? Trump stiffed his contractors. That’s an old way of saying Trump lined his own pockets. So why were the good burghers of America-the-Great so surprised by Trump’s unparalleled dishonesty. But hey, so what. The new normal for presidential communications was somewhere north of 20,000 lies.

If you don’t remember a lot of what I left out in my Big Snip, don’t worry about it. You, like me, and a lot of other Americans, live in the present. In this case forgetfulness is a useful psychological defense mechanism. And, if we can dump core and forget about the first 10 months that will let our memories fill up with all the really shitty stuff that happened in the more recent two months.

So here are Dave Barry’s recounting of the most horrible months in Americas’s 2020.

(As an aside, do you want to know how I know “horrible”? Trump is saying that he won the election by a landslide in which he won 232 electoral votes and lost 306 to Joe Biden. And he is still, as I wright this, speaking Republican/Trumpist double speak in which losing is winning and winning is losing.)

Dave Barry’s Year in Review 2020. And we thought past years were awful.

Thanks to Paul McCreary for pointing us at Barry’s article.

BEGIN QUOTE

We’re trying to think of something nice to say about 2020. Okay, here goes: Nobody got killed by the murder hornets. As far as we know. That’s pretty much it.

With October finally over, a divided, weary nation trudges into the crucial month of …

NOVEMBER

… when finally, after all the politics and the platitudes, the debates and the demagoguery, the rallies and the riots, the allegations and the alliteration, it’s time for the American people to do what they have done since the founding of the republic: Eat all their leftover Halloween candy. There’s a lot of it this year because there were few trick-or-treaters, leaving many Americans with no choice but to snork down the weight of an adult male cocker spaniel in mini Snickers. But we do it, because we are Americans, dammit.

Then, at last, it’s Election Day. Millions of voters lurch to the polls, unless they already voted, in which case they remain on the sofa, burping up chocolate fumes and anxiously watching the cable-TV network of their choice. Political experts are confidently predicting an easy Biden win, possibly a landslide, based on input from professional pollsters armed with conclusions derived from sophisticated statistical analysis of data obtained via surveys of the seven Americans still willing to answer the telephone.

But the actual race turns out to be much closer, and several days pass without a clear winner as the various states count ballots via their individual methods under our quirky, zany electoral college system. Florida, which has totally screwed up in previous elections, surprises everybody by reporting the vote count almost immediately, thanks to an executive order by Gov. Ron DeSantis to “just go ahead and reuse the results from 2016, since we counted those already.” But the process is much slower in states such as Pennsylvania, which uses the base 17 numbering system, and Arizona, where by law votes must be tabulated on cowhides.

It is not until Saturday that the news media call the election for Biden. President Trump accepts the defeat with the calm, mature grace and dignity that have become his trademark as leader of some imaginary nation that we are fantasizing about in this sentence.

In reality Trump claims that he won the election BY A LOT, but it is being stolen from him via a vast, sophisticated, malignant and purely hypothetical vote-fraud scheme. To combat this fraud, the president forms a crack legal team headed by former sane person Rudy “Rudy Three i’s” Giuliani, who presides over what future scholars will view as the single greatest event in the history of America, if not the world. This occurs when the president announces via tweet that his lawyers will hold a news conference at “Four Seasons, Philadelphia.” Everyone assumes he means the Four Seasons Hotel, but in fact — and here we have definitive proof that there is a God, and He or She has an excellent sense of humor — the event takes place in the parking lot of a company called Four Seasons Total Landscaping, which is across the street from a cremation center and down the block from Fantasy Island Adult Bookstore.

We are not making this up. Nobody could make this up.

The Four Seasons event turns out to be a good indicator of the competence of the Trump legal team, and it eventually becomes clear to everybody not living in the White House that Trump will not successfully challenge Biden’s win. But it is also clear that, just as in 2016, the media elite greatly underestimated support for Trump, who somehow got more than 74 million votes despite the fact that the media elite doesn’t personally know any Trump supporters, and in fact has devoted four solid years to declaring that anybody who doesn’t hate Trump as much as the media elite does has to be a racist idiot. So who on Earth could these 74 million Americans be? It’s a mystery that probably will never be solved, at least not by the media elite.

Meanwhile on the coronavirus front, there is good news and bad news:

⋅ The good news is that several drug companies announce they have developed promising vaccine candidates, while Budweiser reports “significant progress” on a hard seltzer that also can be used as hand sanitizer.

⋅ The bad news is that the number of cases, in what feels like the 37th wave, is spiking once again, and American consumers are once again creating shortages of toilet paper by buying enough rolls per household to wipe every butt in Denmark for a year. Many states impose tough new covid restrictions, most notably California, which bans “all human activity not personally involving the governor.”

Speaking of states taking action: On Nov. 12 the nation pauses to observe the 50th anniversary of the date that the Oregon state highway department attempted to dispose of an eight-ton dead whale on a beach by detonating a thousand pounds of dynamite under the carcass, the result being that vast quantities of putrid whale flesh were blasted into the sky, and then, because of gravity — which apparently nobody had told the Oregon state highway department about — it came back down all over the crowd of spectators gathered to watch. Historians agree that this was the greatest thing that ever happened in the world prior to the Trump legal team’s news conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

In arts and culture news, Guinness World Records announces that the most watched video in YouTube history, with over 7 billion views, is “Baby Shark Dance,” which was created by a South Korean company called Pinkfong that for some inexplicable reason we never took out with a nuclear missile even though the entire world would have thanked us.

Trump, carrying on a cherished White House tradition, pardons turkeys named “Corn” and “Cob” and a former national security adviser named “Michael Flynn.” “Corn” and “Michael Flynn” were convicted of making false statements to the FBI; “Cob” was serving a four-year sentence for tax evasion.

Joe Biden, preparing for a historically difficult transition to a presidency that will be confronted with a daunting array of critical challenges both at home and abroad, fractures his foot playing with a dog.

As the month draws to a close, Americans celebrate Thanksgiving as the Pilgrims did, by gathering with their loved ones for a communal meal in the basement with the lights off so as to avoid detection by the authorities.

And then, at last, the finish line of this wretched year looms ahead as we stagger into …

DECEMBER

… which begins with good news and bad news on the economy:

  • The good news is, holiday retail sales are strong.

  • The bad news is, most of these sales are online purchases of Four Seasons Total Landscaping T-shirts.

The other hot holiday wish-list item is the coveted Sony PlayStation 5 gaming console, which is nearly impossible to find in stores due to the fact that it does not, physically, exist. “We made a bunch of cool commercials for it,” states a Sony marketing executive, “but as for an actual device that you can plug in, nah.”

Long term, the economic outlook remains troubling, with the U.S. economy being kept afloat mainly by consumers making monthly payments to Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Disney Plus, CBS All Access, HBO Now, Peacock, HBO Max, Discovery Plus, Starz, Chickadee, Eyeballz, Amazon Super Deluxe, HBO Medium Rare, Chickadee Plus, Disney Extra Special, Amazon Supreme Unleaded, HBO Gluten Free and a bewildering array of other streaming services that consumers rarely watch but keep paying for because they can’t figure out how to cancel their subscriptions.

“These people are pumping millions of dollars a month into the economy,” states Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. “God help us if they ever remember their passwords.”

In other national news, President Trump, faced with soaring coronavirus cases and a congressional stalemate over a desperately needed relief package, devotes his energies, as chief executive, to tweeting approximately once per hour that the election was RIGGED. The Trump legal team, alleging that there was a massive organized conspiracy to commit vote fraud, files multiple lawsuits but achieves basically the same legal outcome as Hamilton Burger, the stupendously ineffective district attorney on the “Perry Mason” TV show, who went to court week after week for many seasons and almost never won a case, WHICH ONLY PROVES HOW MASSIVE AND ORGANIZED THIS CONSPIRACY IS.

While the president continues to insist that he was reelected, members of his staff quietly prepare for the transition by updating their résumés and conducting a search for the briefcase containing the nuclear launch codes, believed last seen in the back of a golf cart in Bedminster, N.J.

As the curtain gradually descends on the Trump administration, it becomes Joe Biden’s turn to take center stage and face the harsh scrutiny of the Washington press corps. Leading the way is CNN, which broadcasts a hard-hitting two-hour special report on the incoming Biden administration, featuring a panel of eight journalists who unanimously agree that if George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln were alive today, they would definitely fracture their feet playing with dogs.

In business news, Amazon (founded by Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos) pays $237 billion in cash to acquire Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

In the arts, Rolling Stone magazine declares that the No. 1 song of 2020 is “WAP,” which is an abbreviation for something that we cannot publish in a family newspaper, but suffice it to say that if any year deserved to have this declared as its best song, that year would be 2020.

Finally, after 12 nightmarish months, 2020 draws to a close, and …

… and here we must interrupt our narrative to let you, the reader, in on a little secret: Because of magazine deadlines, we have to turn in our Year in Review in mid-December, before the year is actually over. Normally this doesn’t matter, because the holiday season tends to be a slow news time.

But this is no normal year, and we’re nervous. We worry that something major, by which we mean bad, will happen after our deadline — something involving the presidential election, or the virus, or some awful thing we cannot even imagine. Like, for example, maybe astronomers will announce that because of the human race snacking at historically high levels during the pandemic lockdown, the Earth has gained a huge amount of mass, which has slowed the planet down in its orbit around the sun and, as a result, to make the calendar work out, we have to add an ENTIRE MONTH to 2020. This month would of course be called …

PANDEMBER

… which you probably think can’t possibly happen, right? What a crazy idea!

As crazy as masked Americans fighting over toilet paper.

Our point is, we don’t know what else will happen this year, including when it will end. We’re just hoping that it eventually does, and that next year is nothing like it. In that spirit, we’ll close with the wish we always offer at the end of our annual review, although this time it’s more of a prayer:

Happy new year.

END QUOTE

'A disgraceful campaign of ecological destruction, carried out for profit in fulfillment of a political slogan'

Quotes of the Day: It’s a disgraceful campaign of ecological destruction, carried out for profit in fulfillment of a political slogan: “Build the Wall.” … President-elect Joe Biden said in August: “There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.”

Tim Steller’s opinion: Biden’s border-wall obligation — repair damage to Southern Arizona. “We want the construction to stop and we want restoration to start on Jan. 22,” says one Southern Arizona rancher worried about environmental damage caused by the border wall.

From the New Mexico border to the Barry Goldwater bombing range, workers are busily destroying Southern Arizona’s borderlands.

Night and day, week after week, they’re blasting, grading, tearing up, digging down — all to throw up as much border wall as they can before President Trump leaves office Jan. 20.

It’s a disgraceful campaign of ecological destruction, carried out for profit in fulfillment of a political slogan: “Build the Wall.”

Many of the places where the wall is going up now — like Guadalupe Canyon in Cochise County, the Pajarita Wilderness in Santa Cruz County and the Tinajas Altas mountains in Yuma County — are largely impenetrable by vehicle and a very difficult climb and walk anyway, especially in summer. The wall itself is practically redundant there.

But the contractors have just this one shot to make their buck. Southwest Valley Constructors, a division of New Mexico-based Kiewit, has a $2.2 billion contract to build 88 miles of wall in southeastern Arizona. North Dakota-based Fisher Sand and Gravel is carrying out a $1.8 billion contract to build 74 miles of wall south and west of Tucson.

By my calculations, on average the cost of one measly foot of border wall construction is $466!

So they’re blasting rock, sucking up water and pouring concrete as the clock ticks down.

President-elect Joe Biden said in August: “There will not be another foot of wall constructed in my administration.”

The Army Corps of Engineers has estimated that the federal government would save $2.6 billion in border-wall spending if Biden stops construction when he takes office, the Washington Post reported.

A total of $3.3 billion would be left to spend, but it would cost about $700 million to wind down operations and pay off contractors.

All of this, of course, is money allocated to the Defense Department that was hijacked by Trump by declaring an emergency, because he promised his supporters a wall. Mexico is not, as he promised, paying for the wall — we are.

The whole money grab may eventually be declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, which is to hear the case next year, but even then it would only happen long after the damage is done.

With all this money pouring into environmental destruction and the blocking of wildlife migration, the news from the omnibus spending bill passed last week added insult to injury: Congress has allocated an additional $1.375 billion to building border walls.

This was simply a compromise position between Democrats and Republicans that was imported from last year’s spending bill in order to get this one passed in a hurry. But still, it’s an extreme misuse of our taxpayer money, on top of Trump’s possibly illegal spending.

I’ve been speaking with some Cochise County property owners, and they’re outraged at the destruction, but they’re also worried about the future.

The wall itself is likely to contribute to flooding in places like the San Pedro River, Guadalupe Canyon, and other sites where water flows across the border. It has also caused massive damage to the land and the vegetation.

“We want the construction to stop and we want restoration to start on Jan. 22,” said Diana Hadley, a Tucson resident who owns a ranch near the border in southeastern Cochise County.

It’s not just the wall itself that is the problem, though it does threaten to block migration patterns for many mammals, including the jaguars that Hadley has fought for years to protect.

“The roads are just these huge scars on the landscape,” Hadley said. “Presumably, in a place like Guadalupe Canyon, they won’t get all the work done in the next month, but all the scars are still going to be there. If we get a big monsoon rain, imagine all the rock that’s going to fall down.”

She envisions a Civilian Conservation Corps-style program to reduce the damage.

Valer Clark, who owns properties on both sides of the border as part of the Cuenca Los Ojos conservation project, said “emergency measures” are required to protect and restore water flows.

Cuenca Los Ojos has been improving water retention on a property in Mexico, just across the border from the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge, which is east of Douglas. Now she expects the southward flow to be blocked.

“The wall goes into the ground,” she said. “The water flowing between the two countries — it’s not going to flow.”

While the damage has happened quickly, the recovery will take a long time.

“It’s like turning a big ship around,” she went on. “It’s going to take a while, and there’s going to be a lot of discussion as to what damage has been done.”

Now, the $1.375 billion isn’t formally dedicated to ecological restoration, but it is dedicated to “construction of a barrier system along the southwest border.”

First of all, the money doesn’t have to be spent at all. But if it is spent, there’s a good argument to put significant money toward repairing some of the damage from what may by then be the illegal, rushed construction of numerous roads as well as border barriers, using Defense Department money.

U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, the Tucson Democrat who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, thinks so, too.

“The Biden administration has big discretion,” he said. The new administration could “redirect the money to restoration in some areas, mitigation in other areas, because the damage has been done.”

"Along that scar in Southern Arizona there is some damage that has to be remediated.”

Saturday, December 26, 2020

'Mad at everyone' Trump wants his goons to keep fighting. But with no useful tools in sight.

Amber Phillips writing in the Washington Post asks what Could Trump declare martial law to try to steal the election? That and other efforts his allies are floating won’t work, say legal and national security experts. Here’s why.

For example: “Set up a special counsel to investigate voter fraud”

Trump has toyed with putting one of the most conspiracy-theory-minded lawyers in his orbit, Sidney Powell, into an official position to “investigate” whether there was fraud that led to his loss.

What this would do: Not much.

For one, it doesn’t seem like she’ll find anything. In six states he lost, officials have found just a handful of incidents worth investigating — nowhere near the tens of thousand of votes Trump would need to overturn his loss. The courts have nearly universally rejected his claims as well.

Two, she wouldn’t have much time. A special counsel can’t be removed by the next president, but a Biden Justice Department could just silo her and give her zero resources.

Three, the Justice Department would need to implement this, and it’s not clear Trump has that support. Attorney General William P. Barr said on his way out the door this week that he saw no need. His replacement, Jeffrey A. Rosen, hasn’t commented on this.

Of all the ideas floated out there, this one is the flimsiest, experts said. (But they stressed that they are all infeasible.) “Like all the post-election litigation by the president’s team, it’s all half-baked ideas that don’t have a basis in law and don’t have a basis in fact and don’t have any chance of success,” [Adav Noti, an election law expert with the Campaign Legal Center] said …

Here are other Trump Tricks which, mainly, are destined to failure.

  • Declare martial law
  • Use the Insurrection Act to somehow get control
  • Seize voting machines from states
  • Have Congress protest the election

Another thing that could be done is to have Vice President Mike Pence, who tallies and reports the certifications, somehow sabotage that count.

Also in the WaPo, Colby Itkowitz and Josh Dawsey report that Pence under pressure as the final step nears in formalizing Biden’s win.

Vice President Pence urged an audience of conservative youth activists earlier this week to “stay in the fight,” as they chanted “Four more years” and “Stop the steal” to trumpet their embrace of the groundless notion that President Trump was the true victor of the recent election.

“I’ll make you a promise: We’re going to keep fighting until every legal vote is counted, we’re going to keep fighting until every illegal vote is thrown out,” Pence said at the event Tuesday. “So — for all we’ve done, for all we have yet to do — stay in the fight.”

But in less than two weeks, it will fall to Pence to declare that fight over — and lost. A joint session of Congress on Jan. 6 will take the last step in formalizing President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, and Pence, in his role as president of the Senate, will preside over the session after four years of ceaseless efforts to demonstrate his loyalty to Trump.

Some die-hard Trump supporters are declaring that Pence will be a traitor if he does not somehow derail the proceedings. There is no evident way for him to do that even if he wanted to, but such demands ratchet up the pressure on Pence, who is unlikely to escape their wrath — or Trump’s.

“Trump would probably tell Pence, ‘Just go declare us reelected,’ ” said Joel Goldstein, a professor at the Saint Louis University School of Law. “Part of his constitutional duty is to be responsible. Just because you’re vice president doesn’t mean you get to engage in behavior that is threatening the underpinning of democratic institutions of the country.”

Pence is hoping for a low-key Jan. 6 and is not planning any unnecessary drama, aides said, intending to stick to his perfunctory role. He is eyeing a trip overseas soon after.

“unnecessary drama”? Good luck with that.

As Pence reads aloud the vote tallies at the joint session, several GOP lawmakers have said they will challenge the results of several Biden-won states. If a member of both the House and the Senate object, that would trigger a two-hour debate in each chamber and then a vote.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is eager to avoid forcing his members, especially those facing difficult reelections in 2022, to take that vote. Accepting the results could mean alienating the still-powerful Trump base, while opposing them could be seen as undermining democracy.

Only Trump could so freeze up our government.

But Trump wants the drama of such a challenge. A senior administration official said Trump is “mad at everyone,” not just Pence, because he wants his whole team to fight more.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

The ultimate board game - Presidential Go, No Go

Will Trump play Go, No-Go? What scenarios are being considered? And by whom?

The Daily Beast has some answers.

Sources: Secret Service Has No Plan if Trump Refuses to Go. But they do have procedures for handling trespassers.

If there are any checklists or plans, procedures, or guidelines for the Secret Service to follow in the event of an autogolpe—a crisis in which a sitting president refuses to transfer power—a half-dozen former officials privy to the government’s most sensitive contingency plans aren’t aware of them.

None would speak for the record, owing to both the secrecy of the plans and to the sensitivity of the moment: They don’t want to encourage President Donald Trump to cross a line that authorities haven’t conceived of.

The Daily Beast pressed these officials to run through scenarios on the grounds that Trump has made a sport of turning the inconceivable into the how the hell did that just happen?

These officials, who include leaders of Secret Service presidential details, agency heads, and military planners, see two distinct issues.

One is: Will there be a question about who the president really is? The other: What happens if, in a fit of pique, the former president simply will not vacate the seat of American government.

The first question is easy to answer. After the certification of the Electoral College on Jan. 6, the White House Military Office will prepare a briefing for President-elect Joe Biden on the contents of the president’s emergency satchel, often known as “the football,” with a secure satellite phone and laminated nuclear-war option guide inside. They will accept, from the National Security Agency, a set of presidential authentication cards, known as biscuits, that will be active the moment Biden is sworn in. Each has two columns of letters and numbers on it, and are used by the Pentagon emergency-action controllers to positively identify the president.

If past is prologue, Biden will receive the procedural briefing on Jan. 19 and a military aide will be assigned to him immediately, hours before the inauguration. (As vice president, he received similar briefings and the process hasn’t changed, according to officials.)

President Trump’s nuclear authentication card won’t work after the swearing-in. So far as the U.S. military is concerned, it doesn’t matter where the president is; billions of dollars have been spent to ensure the commander-in-chief can execute a war plan from anywhere on earth, even if he can’t immediately occupy the White House. There will be no ambiguity, these officials said, even if Trump were to try something extraordinary. The Pentagon’s command and control centers would not accept his orders.

What if Trump won’t go?

What if he sits down at the Resolute Desk and dares someone to physically remove him? What if he occupies a couch in the residence? The harm here is real, beyond how ridiculous the performance would look to the rest of the world: A functional president requires a functioning office.

Former senior government agency heads and Secret Service detail leaders pushed to think through this scenario offered several plausible solutions. “I think I’d have a conversation with the chief of staff, and then the family, Ivanka and the other kids and say, ‘It’s going to be your job to make sure he’s gone,’” a former senior Secret Service official said.

Another possibility: “When the staff leaves on January 19, don’t let them back into the complex the next day. He can’t do anything without his staff.”

An isolated president, in other words, would be more susceptible to just throwing in the towel.

“I really think it would be up the Republican Party if he were to try something like that,” a second former official said. “The Service and the military would just not want to get involved. It’s not our role.” (Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said there is “zero” role for troops to play in the election or its aftermath.)

A movie ending is not in the cards, either, because the Secret Service’s Presidential Protective Division (PPD) immediately transfers its resources to the incoming president on Jan. 20. In other words, there won’t be a “Biden detail” in a shooting war with the PPD because the PPD becomes the Biden detail the moment the president is inaugurated.

And no one should worry about loyalties, either. The Secret Service’s deputy director, Leonza Newsome III, was the head of Biden’s vice-presidential detail during the Obama administration.

But what would happen if Trump simply said no?

“Well, I guess by law he would be a trespasser,” a former Secret Service agent said. “We’d have to escort him out.”

Somehow I just cannot imagine He of Weak Ego exposing himself to that ignominy.

Holiday Message from the Scriber

Dear Scriber Subscribers:

The Scriber is taking a semi-break over the holiday season. Posts will be spottier (than usual). I’ll get back on track after the 1st. In the meantime, scan the latest news sources for updates on Trump’s Tramps - i. e. those criminals pardoned by Dear Leader.

And Maskify! Be Safe. Be well.

Sincerely,

Your Scriber

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

'As he descends into the fever swamps' Trump no longer governs

Heather Cox Richardson reports on the president’s deteriorating state of mind in the December 21, 2020 letter edition of Letters from an American. Excerpts follow.

In the past two days, stories in major papers have focused on the president’s deteriorating mental state. The Atlantic ran a story by Peter Wehner titled “Trump is Losing His Mind.” It describes “Trump’s descent into madness.” Politico ran Michael Kruse’s story titled “Is Trump Cracking Under the Weight of Losing?””[T]he actual fact of the matter,” it said, is that “Trump is a loser.” Kruse points to Trump’s uncharacteristic absence from the public eye to wonder if he is breaking down mentally.

“His fragile ego has never been tested to this extent,” Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen told Kruse. “While he’s creating a false pretense of strength and fortitude, internally he is angry, depressed and manic. As each day ends, Trump knows he’s one day closer to legal and financial troubles. Accordingly, we will all see his behavior deteriorate until it progresses into a full mental breakdown.”

CNN reported that senior White House officials are worried about what Trump might do in the next month as he spends more and more time with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, who is under active investigation by federal prosecutors; conspiracy lawyer Sidney Powell; disgraced former national security adviser Michael Flynn; Steve Bannon, who has recently been indicted for fraud; Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade adviser; and now Patrick Byrne, the founder of the Overstock retail website.

As he descends into the fever swamps, Trump has largely given up any pretense of governing. His public schedule remains empty, and his private meetings appear to focus on how he can stay in office. Today we learned that Russian hackers broke into the email system used by the leadership of the Treasury Department, but the cyberattack from Russia has gone unaddressed except to the extent the president tried to blame the attack on China (although he has made no move to retaliate against China for the attack). He has made little attempt to shepherd any sort of an economic relief bill through Congress. And, most crucially, he is silent about the epidemic that is killing us. As of this evening, more than 18 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus, and at least 319,000 have died.

Consider this to be a sign of things to come after January 20th. Trump and his sycophants will face legal actions (and even criminal ones) for their misdeeds

The House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis that is investigating the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic today released documents showing that Trump appointees in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tried to “alter or block” at least 13 of the reports written by CDC scientists. Appointees messed around with the CDC’s traditional “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports” and edited reports on the use of masks, the dangers of Covid–19 in children, and the spread of the disease. They also tried to delete emails revealing political interference in scientific assessments. Some of the emails from science adviser Paul Alexander calling for the administration to speed the spread of coronavirus in order to achieve herd immunity have sparked outrage.

Chaired by Representative Jim Clyburn (D-SC), the select subcommittee today issued subpoenas to Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services Alex M. Azar and Director of the CDC Dr. Robert Redfield for all documents “relating to efforts by political appointees… to interfere with scientific work conducted by career officials.” It had requested the documents earlier this month, but HHS and the CDC declined either to cooperate or to permit Redfield to testify about political censorship to the committee.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Trump's parting gift, in addition to 30 days of nail biting terror, is one more constitutional crisis

Michael Tomasky, Daily Beast Special Correspondent, predicts that The Final 30 Days of the Trump Presidency Will Be Its Most Terrifying. You think, as Sinclair Lewis put it, it can’t happen here, right? Think again! It can—and it has.

Following are excerpts.

We have 30 days to go, and I’m getting spooked. Donald Trump’s been awfully quiet. Well, not on Twitter, but in life. Publicly. And I’m wondering if this is one of those calm-before-the-storm situations, like, it’s too quiet.

And over the weekend we learned Trump has been anything but quiet in private. If a White House meeting descended to a level of sleaze and deviousness where even Rudy Giuliani—there proposing someone impound America’s voting machines—was getting skittish, it had to break the demento-meter. Martial law?! Sidney Powell as a special counsel looking into electoral “fraud”?!

So, is something cooking in Donald’s brain? Is he really going to declare martial law? You think, as Sinclair Lewis put it, it can’t happen here, right? Think again! It can—and it has. According to this fascinating essay on the website of the Brennan Center by Joseph Nunn, martial law has been declared 68 times in U.S. history. Martial law, Nunn writes, “describes a power that, in an emergency, allows the military to push aside civilian authorities and exercise jurisdiction over the population of a particular area. Laws are enforced by soldiers rather than local police. Policy decisions are made by military officers rather than elected officials. People accused of crimes are brought before military tribunals rather than ordinary civilian courts. In short, the military is in charge.”

… the military might well refuse to carry out an order that the brass finds unconstitutional, so the existing order will have restrained Trump, albeit by doing needed damage to the principle of civilian control. But remember that meanwhile, you’ll have Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones and Mike Flynn and Roger Stone and these other fascists encouraging insurrection. And the people who listen to those nutcases have a lot of guns.

Trump, Giuliani, Powell, and Flynn (who were all present at that bonkers weekend White House meeting) are unhinged, immoral, and lawless. Thankfully there are a few people around, Mark Meadows and Pat Cipollone, who are arguing forcefully against thinking of ways to undo the election. Awful humans though they may be for working for this lunatic in the first place, God bless them for these efforts, at least.

But they aren’t the president. Trump is. If they won’t carry out his unconstitutional orders, he’ll just fire them and hire someone who will. White House Chief of Staff Roger Stone, anyone? Joint Chiefs Chairman Michael Flynn? After admitting—twice—that he lied to the FBI?

Those may be exaggerations. But one doubts Trump is going quietly into that good night. He and his hooligans will try something. His parting gift to America will be one last constitutional crisis. Let’s just pray that enough people say no.

True confessions - from a former DOJ lawyer

Quote of the Day: “No matter our intentions, we were complicit.” - Erica Newland, former DOJ Lawyer.

‘I’m Haunted by What I Did’ as a Lawyer in the Trump Justice Department.doj No matter our intentions, lawyers like me were complicit. We owe the country our honesty about what we saw — and should do in the future. So writes Erica Newland in a NY Times op-ed. “Ms. Newland worked in the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department from 2016–18.”

Thanks to the alert from Scriber’s Editor-at-Large, Sherry.

Here it is.

BEGIN QUOTE

I was an attorney at the Justice Department when Donald Trump was elected president. I worked in the Office of Legal Counsel, which is where presidents turn for permission slips that say their executive orders and other contemplated actions are lawful. I joined the department during the Obama administration, as a career attorney whose work was supposed to be independent of politics.

I never harbored delusions about a Trump presidency. Mr. Trump readily volunteered that his agenda was to disassemble our democracy, but I made a choice to stay at the Justice Department — home to some of the country’s finest lawyers — for as long as I could bear it. I believed that I could better serve our country by pushing back from within than by keeping my hands clean. But I have come to reconsider that decision.

My job was to tailor the administration’s executive actions to make them lawful — in narrowing them, I could also make them less destructive. I remained committed to trying to uphold my oath even as the president refused to uphold his.

But there was a trade-off: We attorneys diminished the immediate harmful impacts of President Trump’s executive orders — but we also made them more palatable to the courts.

This burst into public view early in the Trump administration in the litigation over the executive order banning travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, which my office approved. The first Muslim ban was rushed out the door. It was sweeping and sloppy; the courts quickly put a halt to it. The successive discriminatory bans benefited from more time and attention from the department’s lawyers, who narrowed them but also made them more technocratic and therefore harder for the courts to block.

After the Supreme Court’s June 2018 decision upholding the third Muslim ban, I reviewed my own portfolio — which included matters targeting noncitizens, dismantling the Civil Service and camouflaging the president’s corruption — overcome with fear that I was doing more harm than good. By Thanksgiving of that year, I had left my job.

Still, I felt I was abandoning the ship. I continued to believe that a critical mass of responsible attorneys staying in government might provide a last line of defense against the administration’s worst instincts. Even after I left, I advised others that they could do good by staying. News reports about meaningful pushback by Justice Department attorneys seemed to confirm this thinking.

I was wrong.

Watching the Trump campaign’s attacks on the election results, I now see what might have happened if, rather than nip and tuck the Trump agenda, responsible Justice Department attorneys had collectively — ethically, lawfully — refused to participate in President Trump’s systematic attacks on our democracy from the beginning. The attacks would have failed.

Unlike the Trump Justice Department, the Trump campaign has relied on second-rate lawyers who lack the skills to maintain the president’s charade. After a recent oral argument from Rudy Giuliani, Judge Matthew Brann (a Republican) wrote that the campaign had offered “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations, unpled in the operative complaint and unsupported by evidence.” Even judges appointed by Mr. Trump have refused to throw their lots in with lawyers who can’t master the basic mechanics of lawyering.

After four years of bulldozing through one institution after another on the backs of skilled lawyers, the Trump agenda hit a brick wall.

The story of the Trump campaign’s attack on our elections could have been the story of the Trump administration’s four-year-long attack on our institutions. If, early on, the Justice Department lawyers charged with selling the administration’s lies had emptied the ranks — withholding our talents and reputations and demanding the same of our professional peers — the work of defending President Trump’s policies would have been left to the types of attorneys now representing his campaign. Lawyers like Mr. Giuliani would have had to defend the Muslim ban in court.

Had that happened, judges would have likely dismantled the Trump facade from the beginning, stopping the momentum of his ugliest and most destructive efforts and bringing much-needed accountability early in his presidency.

Before the 2020 election, I was haunted by what I didn’t do. By all the ways I failed to push back enough. Now, after the 2020 election, I’m haunted by what I did. The trade-off wasn’t worth it.

In giving voice to those trying to destroy the rule of law and dignifying their efforts with our talents and even our basic competence, we enabled that destruction. Were we doing enough good elsewhere to counterbalance the harm we facilitated, the way a public health official might accommodate the president on the margins to push forward on vaccine development? No.

No matter our intentions, we were complicit. We collectively perpetuated an anti-democratic leader by conforming to his assault on reality. We may have been victims of the system, but we were also its instruments. No matter how much any one of us pushed back from within, we did so as members of a professional class of government lawyers who enabled an assault on our democracy — an assault that nearly ended it.

We owe the country our honesty about that and about what we saw. We owe apologies. I offer mine here.

And we owe our best efforts to restore our democracy and to share what we learned to help mobilize and enact reforms — to remind future government lawyers that when asked to undermine our democracy, the right course is to refuse and hold your peers to the same standard.

To lead by example, and do everything in our power to ensure this never happens again. If we don’t, it will.

END QUOTE

Sunday, December 20, 2020

ZERO! Trump's aiders and abetters were not good people. Jennifer Rubin explains why.

Scriber’s Editor-at-Large Sherry called our attention to this one.

WaPo’s Jennifer Rubin tells us why John Kelly is wrong. These were not good people.

Former White House chief of staff John F. Kelly — the man who enthusiastically presided over the separation of children at the border; defended President Trump’s lies and accommodation toward Russia; and enabled arguably the most destructive president in our history — told the Atlantic: “The vast majority of people who worked in the White House were decent people who were doing the best they could to serve the nation.” He added, “They’ve unfortunately paid quite a price for that in reputation and future employment. They don’t deserve that. They deserve better than that, because they kept the train from careening off the tracks.”

This is dead wrong. These people are not victims. Their reputations have been besmirched for the best of reasons: They participated in an administration unparalleled in its corruption, meanness, racism and authoritarianism.

The excuse that things would have been worse without White House aides is weak, at best. Would we have lost even more than the 312,000 Americans who died from covid–19 if not for them? Would we have been even more lax in failing to respond to Russia’s interference in our election, its bounties on U.S. troops or its hacking of our government?

Self-congratulatory aides did not stop the child-separation policy. Nor did they prevent Trump from trying to delegitimize the election. Or from lying about hush money to pay off an adult-film actress. Or from failing to warn the public early on that covid–19 was far worse than the flu. Or from refusing to wear a mask. Or from encouraging Chinese President Xi Jinping in his efforts to place millions of Uighurs in concentration camps. Or from spewing more than 20,000 lies. Or from extorting Ukraine to manufacture dirt on a political rival. Or from defaming our intelligence community. Or from using tear gas on peaceful protesters outside the White House. I could go on, but you get the point: Their hands are dirty because they enabled a dishonest president and allowed him to continue his reign of chaos, death and authoritarianism.

And about that ZERO! thing in the headline …

The number of senior officials who quit on principle is close to zero. The number of former Cabinet officials who came forward during the impeachment to give testimony is zero. In many cases, aides personally broke norms and laws. How many Hatch Act violations did they commit? How many officials pushed through a national security clearance for Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, when he objectively would not qualify for one in a normal administration? How many took to social media to deceive their fellow Americans?

There were a handful of officials who behaved commendably and arguably did prevent greater harm. Christopher Krebs, the former director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, did his best to shoot down disinformation about the election and call out efforts to discredit the results. He was fired as a result, a badge of honor in my book. Likewise, we saw honorable public servants such as Fiona Hill, Alexander Vindman and Marie Yovanovitch step forward to provide testimony about Trump’s impeachable conduct at the expense of their jobs. Christopher Wray performed heroically as director of the FBI. Beyond that, however, it is hard to think of someone in this administration who did more good than harm.

The notion that a lowly aide is exempt from condemnation because he or she “just” typed memos or “just" made travel arrangements or “just” set up meetings is misguided. When a regime routinely sets out to undermine our democracy, neglect its obligations to defend the Constitution and lie, it must rely on all the middle- and low-level aides to do all the tasks that produce its horrible results. Trump could do what he did because of the John Kellys, the Kayleigh McEnanys, the Kellyanne Conways and many other aides whose names are not familiar to us.

That these people are suffering damage to their credibility and condemnation from their fellow Americans is a positive sign our body politic still retains an appreciation for democracy and a moral compass.

Reasons to fear the time of monsters

In the time of monsters: Trump fiddles with Flynn …

In the December 19, 2020 edition of Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson exposes recent pressures to kill our democracy.

“The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters,” wrote Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Trump and the Republicans are fighting tooth and nail to retain their hold on power, while President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris are quietly trying to move forward.

There are monsters, indeed. Today, New York Times journalists Maggie Haberman and Zolan Kanno-Youngs reported that Trump held a long meeting at the White House yesterday with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani; disgraced former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, whom Trump recently pardoned for lying to the FBI; and Flynn’s lawyer Sidney Powell. These four are the heart of those insisting—without evidence—that Trump won the 2020 election. They have talked of Trump declaring martial law and holding new elections. In the meeting, Trump apparently asked about appointing Powell as special counsel to investigate voter fraud in the 2020 election.

White House advisers in the room, including White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone and White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, pushed back strongly, noting that Powell has yet to prove any of her accusations. Axios journalist Jonathan Swan reported that senior Trump officials think Trump is spending too much time with crackpots who are egging him on to seize power. One told Swan: when Trump is “retweeting threats of putting politicians in jail, and spends his time talking to conspiracy nuts who openly say declaring martial law is no big deal, it’s impossible not to start getting anxious about how this ends.”

… while our country burns.

The country is increasingly ravaged by the pandemic. Friday saw more than 250,000 new infections in a single day. More than 315,000 have died, including 3,611 on Wednesday. More than 128,000 Americans have received the vaccine.

The economy is in recession, but yesterday, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) objected to one-time federal payments of $1200 because he says he’s worried about the deficit. Democrats noted that the Trump administration’s tax cuts for the wealthy and military spending added a projected $4 trillion to the deficit by 2026. Then, just as it seemed both sides had come to an agreement over a coronavirus relief bill, the Republicans scuttled it with a new demand that would rein in the ability of the Federal Reserve to combat the recession. This would take from Biden a key tool. The Republicans seem to be doing their best to undercut the Biden administration so they can regain power in 2022 and 2024.

(Just before midnight tonight, the Senate appears to have reached a compromise. Details are not yet available).

This week, the United States learned of a massive hack on our government and business sector. Intelligence agents as well as Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, say Russia is behind the attack. Once again, though, Trump refuses to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin. He claimed that the attack wasn’t as bad as the “Fake News Media” says it is, and he suggested the culprit could have been China, rather than Russia. Then, once again, he insisted he won the election.

Can there be any doubt that Trump is in thrall to Putin?

And yet, if the Trump administration models an assault on our country by a group of oligarchs determined to seize power, the incoming Biden administration is signaling that it takes seriously our future as a true multicultural democracy.

Nothing signals that more than the nomination of Representative Deb Haaland (D-NM) as Secretary of the Interior Department. Haaland is a member of the Laguna Pueblo people who have lived in the land that is now New Mexico for 35 generations. She is the daughter of two military veterans. A single mother who earned a law degree with a young daughter in tow, she was a tribal leader focused on environmentally responsible economic development for the Lagunas before she became a Democratic leader.

SNIP (Read today’s letter for the sad history of our treatment of indigenous peoples.)

The Interior Department today manages our natural resources as well as the government’s relationship with Indigenous tribes. Placing Haaland at the head of it is more than simply promoting diversity in government. It is a recognition of 170 years of American history and the perversion of our principles by men who lusted for power. It is a sign that we are finally trying to use the government for the good of everyone.

“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland tweeted after the announcement. “I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”

A new world struggles to be born.

Traitor Flynn touts martial law to Trump

David Gordon at Blog for Arizona asks What is Michael Flynn doing in the Oval Office Talking About Declaring Martial Law.

The American People should start becoming acquainted with the term sedition.

It is a word that means “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.”

Michael Flynn, the former three-star general and National Security Advisor for Donald Trump who was recently pardoned by his patron for lying to the F.B.I. is guilty of sedition.

For days he has been advocating the views of a fringe organization called Veterans for Trump that have voiced support for Donald Trump to declaring martial law, suspending the Constitution, and overturning the results of the 2020 Presidential Election.

Instead of being shunned from the White House as an embarrassment and persona non grata, General Flynn and his attorney, Sidney Powell (the same lawyer who was once on Trump’s legal team conveying the craziest theories of voter fraud that no court would entertain,) found themselves with Rudy Giuliani on the phone, according to reporting from the New York Times, in the Oval Office apparently discussing ideas with Mr. Trump to:

  • Appoint Ms. Powell as a Special Counsel to investigate voter fraud.
  • Declare martial law as Flynn has been suggesting for a couple of weeks.
  • Confiscate voting machines, through Executive Order, to prove voter fraud.

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Counsel Pat Cipollone, according to the New York Times, “repeatedly and aggressively pushed back on the ideas being proposed…”

Apparently, Ms. Powell called the White House advisers “quitters.”

While it is comforting that Meadows and Cipollone did the right thing in condemning what Powell, Flynn, and Giuliani were proposing, it is also telling that a crackpot attorney and disgraced former General and National Security Advisor were able to get through the White House entrance and make it into the Oval Office.

It would be like Ronald Reagan inviting Oliver North to discuss helping Anti Communist Forces in South America after Iran Contra or Richard Nixon inviting the Watergate Plumbers for a photo op after the break-in.

Michael Flynn is a person of low character, little to no mental stability, and a traitor.

He should be charged with sedition after January 20, 2021, for his advocating Martial Law so his patron could not pardon him again.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Trump and minions are sabotaging the transition - and doing other dastardly deeds.

In the December 18, 2020 edition of Letters from an American, Heather Cox Richardson points us at some really, really bad sh!t the Trumpists are shoveling all over our nation.

In the impeachment hearings Adam Schiff asked: “How much damage can Donald Trump do between now and the next election?” and then answered his own question: “A lot. A lot of damage.” In fact, it’s worse than any of us imagined.

And a year later, here we are. A pandemic has killed more than 312,000 of us, and numbers of infections and deaths are spiking. Today we hit a new single-day record of reported coronavirus cases with 246,914, our third daily record in a row. The economy is in shambles, with more than 6 million Americans applying for unemployment benefits. And the government has been hobbled by a massive hack from foreign operatives, likely Russians, who have hit many of our key departments.

Today it began to feel as if the Trump administration was falling apart as journalists began digging into a number of troubling stories.

Much, if not all, of this story seems targeted at making President Elect Biden look bad.

Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, appointed by Trump after he fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper by tweet on November 9, this morning abruptly halted the transition briefings the Pentagon had been providing, as required by law, to the incoming Biden team. Observers were taken aback by this unprecedented halt to the transition process, as well as by the stated excuse: that Defense Department officials were overwhelmed by the number of meetings the transition required. Retired four-star general Barry R. McCaffrey, a military analyst for NBC and MSNBC, tweeted: “Pentagon abruptly halts Biden transition—MAKES NO SENSE. CLAIM THEY ARE OVERWHELMED. DOD GOES OPAQUE. TRUMP-MILLER UP TO NO GOOD. DANGER.”

After Axios published the story and outrage was building, Miller issued a statement saying the two sides had decided on a “mutually-agreed upon holiday, which begins tomorrow.” Biden transition director Yohannes Abraham promptly told reporters: “Let me be clear: there was no mutually agreed upon holiday break. In fact, we think it’s important that briefings and other engagements continue during this period as there’s no time to spare, and that’s particularly true in the aftermath of ascertainment delay," a reference to the delay in the administration’s recognition of Biden’s election.

Later, the administration suggested the sudden end to the transition briefings was because Trump was angry that the Washington Post on Wednesday had published a story showing how much money Biden could save by stopping the construction of Trump’s border wall. Anger over a story from two days ago seems like a stretch, a justification after the briefings had been cancelled for other reasons. The big story of the day, and the week, and the month, and the year, and probably of this administration, is the sweeping hack of our government by a hostile foreign power. The abrupt end to the briefings might reflect that the administration isn’t keen on giving Biden access to the crime scene.

Republicans appear to be trying to cripple the Biden administration more broadly. The country has been thrilled by the arrival of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine that promises an end to the scourge under which we’re suffering. Just tonight, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a second vaccine, produced by Moderna, for emergency authorization use. This vaccine does not require ultracold temperatures for shipping the way the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine does. Two vaccines for the coronavirus are extraordinarily good news.

But this week, as the first Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines were being given, states learned that the doses the federal government had promised were not going to arrive, and no one is quite sure why. The government blamed Pfizer, which promptly blasted the government, saying it had plenty of vaccines in warehouses but had received no information about where to send them. Then the White House said there was confusion over scheduling.

Josh Kovensky at Talking Points Memo has been following this story, and concluded a day or so ago that the administration had made no plans for vaccine distribution beyond February 1, when the problem would be Biden’s. Kovensky also noted that it appears the administration promised vaccine distribution on an impossible timeline, deliberately raising hopes for vaccine availability that Biden couldn’t possibly fulfill. Today Kovensky noted that there are apparently doses missing and unaccounted for, but no one seems to know where they might be.

Today suggested yet another instance of Republican bad faith. With Americans hungry and increasingly homeless, the nation is desperate for another coronavirus relief bill. The House passed one last May, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to take it up. Throughout the summer and fall, negotiations on a different bill failed as Republicans demanded liability protection for businesses whose employees got coronavirus after they reopened, and Democrats demanded federal aid to states and local governments, pinched as tax revenue has fallen off during the pandemic. Now, though, with many Americans at the end of their rope, McConnell indicated he would be willing to cut a deal because the lack of a relief package is hurting the Republican Senate candidates before the runoff election in Georgia on January 5. Both sides seemed on the verge of a deal.

That deal fell apart this afternoon after Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) with the blessing of McConnell, suddenly insisted on limiting the ability of the Federal Reserve to lend money to help businesses and towns stay afloat. These were tools the Trump administration had and used, but Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tried to kill them after Trump lost the election. The Federal Reserve’s ability to manage fiscal markets is key to addressing recessions. Removing that power would gravely hamper Biden’s ability to help the nation climb out of the recession during his administration.

It’s hard not to see this as a move by McConnell and Senate Republicans to take away Biden’s power—power enjoyed by presidents in general, and by Trump in particular—to combat the recession in order to hobble the economy and hurt the Democrats before the 2022 election.

Money was in the news in another way today, too. Business Insider broke the story that the Trump campaign used a shell company approved by Jared Kushner to pay campaign expenses without having to disclose them to federal election regulators. The company was called American Made Media Consultants LLC. Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, was president, and Vice President Mike Pence’s nephew, John Pence, was vice president until the two apparently stepped down in late 2019 to work on the campaign. The treasurer was the chief financial officer of the Trump campaign, Sean Dollman.

The Trump campaign spent more than $700 million of the $1.26 billion of campaign cash it raised in the 2020 cycle through AMMC, but to whom it paid that money is hidden. Former Republican Federal Election Commission Chairman Trevor Potter is trying to take up the slack left by the currently crippled Federal Elections Commission. His organization, the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan clean election group, last July accused the Trump campaign of “disguising” campaign funding of about $170 million “by laundering the funds” through AMMC.

This news adds to our understanding that Trump is leaving the White House with a large amount of cash. He has raised more than $250 million since November 3, urging his supporters to donate to his election challenges, but much of the money has gone to his own new political action committee or to the Republican National Committee. Recently, he has begged supporters to give to a “Georgia Election Fund,” suggesting that the money will go to the runoff elections for Georgia’s two senators, but 75% of the money actually goes to Trump’s new political action committee and 25% to the Republican National Committee.

Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman at the New York Times note that are very few limits to how Trump can spend the money from his new PAC.

Invasion USA

I recall a movie from the cold war era titled “Invasion USA”. In that 1952 movie, “A TV reporter and his barroom interviewees learn that Alaska has been attacked and proceed to watch the invasion on television.”

That same title seems appropriate given what is happening right now. Forget the bombers and tanks. Think instead cyber warfare.

The strings pulled by Moscow controlling its puppet, Donald Trump, are no longer a metaphor. The breach of many networks giving Moscow capability for command and control of our infrastructure is very real. Read on.

Former Trump aide: ‘We are sick, distracted, and now under cyberattack’ reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog). As the scope and severity of Russia’s cyberattack becomes clearer, there’s little doubt that Trump’s policy toward Moscow has failed.

The cybersecurity news earlier this week was jarring, both in its scope and its severity. As NBC News reported, “Hackers who targeted the federal government appear to be part of a Russian intelligence campaign aimed at multiple U.S. agencies and companies, including the cybersecurity company FireEye, officials said Sunday.”

Initially, the public was alerted to the fact that U.S. Department of Commerce was breached. Then we learned of an intrusion at Treasury Department. It wasn’t long before the Department of Homeland Security had also reportedly fallen victim to “a major cyberespionage campaign.”

The list then grew to include the Pentagon, the U.S. Postal Service, and the National Institutes of Health.

On Tuesday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he’d received a classified briefing on the matter, which he described as “stunning.” The Connecticut Democrat added that the information he’d learned left him “deeply alarmed” and “downright scared.” A day later, Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) told CNN the hack was “virtually a declaration of war by Russia on the United States.”

It was against this backdrop that Tom Bossert, who served as Donald Trump’s White House homeland security adviser, wrote a New York Times op-ed that argued, “The magnitude of this national security breach is hard to overstate.”

The Russians have had access to a considerable number of important and sensitive networks for six to nine months. The Russian S.V.R. will surely have used its access to further exploit and gain administrative control over the networks it considered priority targets. For those targets, the hackers will have long ago moved past their entry point, covered their tracks and gained what experts call “persistent access,” meaning the ability to infiltrate and control networks in a way that is hard to detect or remove.

Mindful of the electoral circumstances, Bossert noted that Donald Trump is poised to leave office with much of the U.S. government having been compromised by Russian intrusion, which warrants a significant response.

“President Trump must get past his grievances about the election and govern for the remainder of his term,” the op-ed concluded. “This moment requires unity, purpose and discipline. An intrusion so brazen and of this size and scope cannot be tolerated by any sovereign nation. We are sick, distracted, and now under cyberattack. Leadership is essential.”

It’s a compelling call, though there’s little to suggest Bossert’s former boss has any intention of taking the advice.

For one thing, Donald Trump has gone from doing little actual work to doing no work at all. The New York Times recently reported that the president “barely shows up to work” anymore. Soon after, the Washington Post quoted a senior administration official saying, “The large majority of his time has been unstructured, in the Oval [Office], just going nuts about voter fraud…. That occupies seemingly every waking moment of his day.”

The Associated Press also reported that Trump’s involvement in the day-to-day governing of the nation “has nearly stopped,” and the Republican no longer bothers with policy briefings.

Complicating matters, of course, is the outgoing American president’s profound weakness toward Moscow and the embrace of a soft-on-Russia posture that obviously isn’t working. A Washington Post analysis noted yesterday:

[I]n this moment, it’s worth noting how Trump and the White House had assured that their approach was having the desired effect. Trump might not have talked tough on Russia — preferring to instead talk about how he wanted to have a good relationship with Putin — but the argument was that his administration’s actions were picking up the slack. We were assured this approach — bifurcated as it was — was working.

This argument now appears discredited.

It’s also worth emphasizing for context that Trump has experimented with all kinds of responses to Russia’s attack on U.S. elections in 2016, including an emphasis that it happened on Barack Obama’s watch. The subtext was hardly subtle: Moscow might have targeted us for a cyberattack before 2017, but Putin respects Donald Trump’s awesomeness too much to even consider such a thing now.

Perhaps this helps explain the Republican’s reticence this week in response to the latest attack. Could it be that Trump is not only reluctant to criticize his Russian benefactors, but he doesn’t want to admit that his entire posture has been a failure?

AZ hit with 'exponential growth' in COVID-19 measures

Banner Chief: “Exponential Growth” of COVID Outbreak Putting Healthcare System at Risk reports the Tucson Weekly.

Banner Health’s Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Marjorie Bessel shared alarming news of the spread of COVID–19 throughout the state at a press conference today despite the hopeful news of the vaccine’s arrival in Arizona.

Dr. Majorie Bessel: “When healthcare systems become overrun, all care is jeopardized.”

Bessel remains concerned as the state continues to experience an “exponential growth” of coronavirus with case counts, positivity rates and hospitalizations all increasing.

As the top clinical leader of Arizona’s largest hospital system that’s providing care for almost half of the state’s hospitalized COVID–19 patients, Bessel worries about the continuing surge of the virus, especially during the holiday season.

Within the first two weeks of December, COVID–19 hospitalizations in the state have increased by 93%. This is the same rate experienced throughout the entire month of November, Bessel shared.

According to the chief clinical officer, coronavirus patients comprise 49% of all Banner’s hospitalized patients and 55% of ICU beds. That represents 150% of the hospitals’ peak in a pandemic-free winter season.

Bessel said Banner is also seeing increased deaths from COVID–19, causing the morgues at some hospitals to become so overwhelmed that bodies are being placed in refrigerated trucks.

Closely following guidance from the White House coronavirus task force, Bessel highlighted that Arizona is experiencing a “full resurgence” as it did in its summer surge in cases, but it lacks the mitigation necessary to suppress it.

Bessel expressed support for allowing local authorities to implement mitigation protocols like Tucson and Pima County have done through mandatory curfews and mask mandates.

"We’ve seen recent actions, as an example, by the mayor of Tucson, Pima County, the mayor of Phoenix and the Phoenix City Council, giving local mayors authority to take mitigation steps and help the state of Arizona’s health care system reduce COVID–19 cases in our hospital, which in turn helps all of us by ensuring that the health care we or our families may require will be there in our time of need,” she said.

In a press conference Wednesday, Gov. Doug Ducey made clear he isn’t implementing any further statewide mitigation guidelines as the virus rages through Arizona.

“The White House coronavirus task force also states that if state and local policies do not reflect the seriousness of the current situation, all public health officials must alert the state population directly,” Bessel said. “As the chief clinical officer for the largest health system in Arizona, which is caring for nearly half of all the hospitalized COVID–19 patients in the state, I am following the direction of the White House coronavirus task force by alerting you directly about what needs to be done to slow the spread of COVID–19 before the level exceeds that of our health care resources.”

Bessel urges the public to limit physical interaction to only those in their immediate households, wear a mask in all public situations and avoid traveling or gathering with those outside their households during the holidays.

"These actions are absolutely necessary, and we need every Arizonan to do their part so that healthcare can continue to be accessible to all those who need it, both COVID and non-COVID patients,” she said. “When healthcare systems become overrun, all care is jeopardized.”

If hospitals become depleted of essential resources such as staff and ventilators, Arizona’s triage addendum will be activated, which would determine who receives emergency care first and when.