Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Consequences, Even For Trump

Well, he certainly got religion, seemingly. The New York Times reports

Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said on Tuesday that the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 had been “provoked by the president and other powerful people,” stating publicly for the first time that he holds President Trump at least partly responsible for the assault.

“The mob was fed lies,” Mr. McConnell said, referring to attempts by Mr. Trump to overturn the election based on bogus claims of voter fraud. “They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government which they did not like.”

Mr. McConnell made the remarks on his last full day as majority leader, speaking on the eve of President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s inauguration and as the Senate was bracing to receive a single article of impeachment from the House charging Mr. Trump with “incitement of insurrection.”

The Kentucky Republican has indicated privately that he believes that Mr. Trump committed impeachable offenses, but he has said he has yet to decide whether to vote to convict the president, and many senators in his party are awaiting a sign from Mr. McConnell before making their own judgments. 

Awaiting a sign, no doubt, to determine what principles they have. It's critical for McConnell to signal flexibility on the impending Senate trial because he is currently negotiating with Chuck Schumer the details on control of the Senate.

However, Senator McConnell probably is genuinely considering voting for conviction of Donald Trump.  The Times notes that at Trump's trial after he was first impeached

Mr. McConnell acted at the White House’s behest to set trial rules that would favor acquittal. Now, he has told allies he hopes never to speak to Mr. Trump again and is doing nothing to persuade senators to back him, instead calling the impeachment vote a matter of conscience.

McConnell hopes never to speak to President VL because the former is no Joe Biden, who has put a heartbeat from the presidency the politician who once called him, in Jill Biden's reckoning, a racist.  By contrast, McConnell is not inclined to reward an individual who successfully cut his legs out from under him.

It took the Senate Majority Leader six weeks to acknowledge that Donald Trump lost the presidential election to Joe Biden. Within five weeks later he had indicated that he might vote to convict Trump, stated that the Capitol riot was "provoked by the President and other important people," and has promoted a leak that he doesn't want to talk to Trump again.

Something happened in the interim. That something was the run-off election in Georgia for dual Senate seats. Instead of conceding his own race, the President argued vociferously that he had won and aggressively spread the myth that he would return to office. Not only did the GOP lose both races, but barely so. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will become Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell because of Donald Trump. 

Believing Joe Biden might not become President, Republican voters were less motivated because they thought Trump might return to office, making the idea of a Democratic-controlled Senate more palatable. Independent-minded voters found it unnecessary to ensure Republican control of the Senate as a check on the liberal Democrat in the White House.

Mitch McConnell has not undergone the "epiphany" Joe Biden expects from Republicans.  Rather, McConnell knows the GOP lost its majority in the United States Senate because of Donald J. Trump.  This does not endear the latter to the former, who will pay at least a small price for his single-minded devotion to self.  It should be a reminder to Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden that they will be facing off against a ruthless rival, not a partner.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Death, A Drug, And Silence

The New York Times reported last Thursday

Dr. Harold N. Bornstein, who for a time was President Donald J. Trump’s personal physician and who had attested that Mr. Trump would be “the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency,” died on Friday. He was 73.

His death was announced on Thursday in a paid notice in The New York Times. The notice did not give a cause or say where he died.

Of course it didn't. In a seemingly unrelated matter


The jokes practically write themselves for "he watches every show, he's working- he got to work immediately." However, the prior phrase- "he stays up late at night"- probably is more significant. The President's habit of getting little sleep has been nearly as little explored as the reason for Dr. Bornstein's death.

The fondness of  a singularly lazy President for staying up much of the night should have piqued the media's curiosity. Instead, it was left to Noel Casler, who worked as a talent handler on the set of Celebrity Apprentice for six seasons, to explain in an interview early last year that Mr. Trump

snorts Adderall as his maintenance high. When he gets too wired, this is tempered with benzodiazepines. There’s also a robust use of cocaine and methamphetamine in the Trump orbit, and I’ll leave it at that….NYC is also full of folks with anecdotes of Trump’s drug use. They come up to me and share stories all the time. Look into the Dr. Bornstein stuff if you want to know more, and ask yourself why Trump sent [his bodyguard] Keith Schiller to strong-arm the doctor and steal his medical records, shortly after being elected POTUS.

Casler knowingly has disregarded the non-disclosure agreement he was required to sign for his position on the brazenly unrealistic reality show. He has repeated his claims in interviews, Twitter, and comedy shows without a denial from Trump or anyone in his camp. They are completely unrebutted.

This website explains

Adderall is a prescription drug combination of both Amphetamine and dextroamphetamine to work as a stimulant and change the levels of certain natural chemicals in the brain. It is most commonly used to treat attention hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and can help with focus, concentration, and control of certain behavioral problems.

Donald Trump's use or abuse of dangerous drugs remains a mostly unexplored issue, as does the death of Dr. Harold Bornstein. That may be no coincidence.


Sunday, January 17, 2021

Danger On The (Non-Insurrectionist) Right

In this excerpt from the portion (below) of an interview Friday evening on Bill Maher's Real Time, former Trump adviser Kelly Ann Conway contends

You know, the people who believed in Donald Trump, the forgotten man or forgotten woman, they appreciate an expansion of school choice and charter schools. Why should all- why should just the rich kids have all the opportunities?

You probably missed the "Support Charter Schools" banners amidst the Capitol Hill rioters with Stop the Steal signs, Confederate flags, "MAGA Civil War" and a Camp Auschwitz t-shirt. The weakened public school system, aided and abetted by President Obama's Administration, fortunately was another failure of the Trump Administration, which was unable to muster the financial and public support sought by Education secretary DeVos. Their loss but our gain as students, parents of students, teachers, and taxpayers.

Maher didn't take the bait, instead continuing his line of questioning. At one point, Conway claimed

... I think it's important to recognize you have dead terrorists named Soleimani al-Baghdad. You have whole judiciary, the dead terrorist, you have- well, that doesn't happen by accident.

Soleimani wasn't the only prominent individual killed in the Middle East. We recall that Jamal Khashoggi, a journalist and Saudi national resident in the USA who wrote for The Washington Post, was dismembered by bone saw, almost certainly by people close to the Saudi regime.

Prince Mohammed bin Salman bore major responsibility for the assassination, a situation which never once discomfited presidential senior adviser Jared Kushner, "the prince's most important defender inside the White House."

Conway neglected to mention Khashoggi, though she did applaud

policy gains, where you do have de-regulation and taxes lowered for people where it matters. I think his legacy on the policy stuff will survive a lot of this. Other people will be just fine, okay. Last week was horrible. I made that very clear. Last week was inexcusable, it's disgraceful.

The passive voice, "last week," does a lot of work there as substitute for supporters of Donald Trump, who did all he could to incite a riot and overthrow the government of the United States of America.

Nevertheless, the references to charter schools, judges, taxes, and de-regulation were most telling and significant.  Though omitting "far-right authoritarian" and "would-be monarch," David Frum recognizes a growing danger:

There is a legend building among the non-deadend Trumpers, that Trump had a decent record before some arbitrary date: before the election, before the pandemic. It needs to be stressed that Trump was a crook, charlatan, bigot, thug, and incompetent from the start to the end.

What Kellyanne Conway calls "legacy" is a false narrative building among non-dead end Trumpers, but also likely to generate support among a wide range of conservatives, including Jeff Flake, Joe Scarborough, maybe Conway's husband George, and many others. They tend to be media darlings because they dislike Donald Trump but long for a Republican Party which promoted the policies which led us down the road to a President Donald Trump. The light is blinking red and spelling danger.


Friday, January 15, 2021

Forgetting That Terrorists Terrorize

Joseph R. Biden was elected President of the United States of America and Kamala Harris the nation's Vice-President on November 3, 2020. In statehouses around the country, on December 15 electors met and made official the Biden-Harris victory. And famously late in the night of January 6 and into the early morning of January 7, Congress certified the triumph of Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris.

Therefore, all of the mainstream media- especially CNN and MSNBC- were correct when they told us definitively on November 6 that the election was over and decided   Yet, on January 20, as we do quadrennially on January 20, there will be a ton of money spent for an inauguration and related activities, thankfully curtailed this year because of the coronavirus (a last laugh for Donald Trump). Nonetheless, bread and circuses will be the order of the day and tens of millions of dollars spent to demonstrate visually what we all learned the first week of November, were reminded of the third week of December, and reminded again the first week of January..

Noting the increased security precautions for the January 20 event, former FBI Special Agent Brad Garrett tells ABC News

So my sense is, if we're going to have a conflict, a violent conflict, it's going to be in the outer perimeter between probably the DC police, maybe the Capitol Police, maybe the Park Police, depending on where it is. But it's not going to be the day, if you're a protestor, to try to do anything significant- nothing close, obviously, to last Wednesday.

It will be either nothing close to last Wednesday- or nothing at all.  And that is why this guy is right:

We have been boldly told for over a week now that the January 6 insurrectionists are "domestic terrorists" or more boldly told "terrorists." But if the threat posed by violent extremists is of a terrorist nature, the insurrectionists are far more likely to attack state capitols (or less likely, elsewhere) than the US Capitol.

That's the way it is with terrorists because they are intent on spreading fear, or terror. It's most effectively accomplished not by attacking lawmakers, believed to be malevolent, who are on the verge of certifying an election the perpetrators evidently believe was fraudulent.  They do so by attacking innocents, individuals or groups unrelated to the evil the terrorists perceive. And the attacks usually come where least expected.

Nevertheless, despite intelligence indicating that the capitals of all 50 states are vulnerable to attack on January 20, the federal government is pouring money into protecting the buildings and institutions in the capital city of Washington. Meanwhile, states have limited manpower and, even if they are not besieged and attacked, will be spending their limited revenues to protect their own buildings and citizens.

This is foolish if preventing terrorist attacks is the highest priority but an effective approach if perception is the highest priority. It's an effort to convince the world that we are, and remain, exceptional, whatever evidence of the past four years (and especially of the past year) indicates.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Little New Under The Sun

With House Republicans on Tuesday making sounds that they were sufficiently displeased by Donald Trump that they would consider impeachment, Chris Cuomo (video below) stated

Tonight, there is reason for hope. Things are very much in flux. But we have never heard what we have tonight. Republicans may want their party back from Trump... Turns out now even die-hard Trumplicans are doubting their dedication.

Things do remain in flux. However, GOP members of Congress do not need to get their party back. It never went anywhere. Now in exaggerated form, it is close to what it has been for decades.  The day before the comment by the somewhat sanguine CNN host, Paul Krugman wrote that since "The Paranoid Style in American Politics" in 1964, "the big thing that has changed since (Richard) Hofstadter wrote is that" 

one of our major political parties has become willing to tolerate and, indeed, feed right-wing political paranoia.

This coddling of the crazies was, at first, almost entirely cynical. When the G.O.P. began moving right in the 1970s its true agenda was mainly economic — what its leaders wanted, above all, were business deregulation and tax cuts for the rich. But the party needed more than plutocracy to win elections, so it began courting working-class whites with what amounted to thinly disguised racist appeals.

Not incidentally, white supremacy has always been sustained in large part through voter suppression. So it shouldn’t be surprising to see right-wingers howling about a rigged election — after all, rigging elections is what their side is accustomed to doing. And it’s not clear to what extent they actually believe that this election was rigged, as opposed to being enraged that this time the usual vote-rigging didn’t work.

But it’s not just about race. Since Ronald Reagan, the G.O.P. has been closely tied to the hard-line Christian right. Anyone shocked by the prevalence of insane conspiracy theories in 2020 should look back to “The New World Order,” published by Reagan ally Pat Robertson in 1991, which saw America menaced by an international cabal of Jewish bankers, Freemasons and occultists. Or they should check out a 1994 video promoted by Jerry Falwell Sr. called “The Clinton Chronicles,” which portrayed Bill Clinton as a drug smuggler and serial killer.

So what has changed since then? For a long time Republican elites imagined that they could exploit racism and conspiracy theorizing while remaining focused on a plutocratic agenda. But with the rise first of the Tea Party, then of Donald Trump, the cynics found that the crazies were actually in control, and that they wanted to destroy democracy, not cut tax rates on capital gains.

And Republican elites have, with few exceptions, accepted their new subservient status.

You might have hoped that a significant number of sane Republican politicians would finally say that enough is enough, and break with their extremist allies. But Trump’s party didn’t balk at his corruption and abuse of power; it stood by him when he refused to accept electoral defeat; and some of its members are responding to a violent attack on Congress by complaining about their loss of Twitter followers.

Yet, Cuomo remarked (at 4:23 of the video) "members of the GOP considering whether to finally amputate Trump is meaningful."

In the end, there were ten Republican members of the House voting to "amputate" Trump while 207 voted to maintain the leadership of the President who openly and publicly, with malice and forethought, encouraged the overthrow of the federal  government. With 211 in the caucus, 4.7% of GOP members supported the quaint notion of a democratic republic.

Moreover, that constituted 95% of Republicans backing President Trump with one foot out the door. It was one week before, whatever influence he might continue to have, the fellow will lose all power.

In a mere 7 days (6 days now), the President will  no longer be the third most powerful person on the planet but instead private citizen Donald Trump. And still: 10.

Krugman wrote additionally "it’s not clear to what extent they actually believe that this election was rigged, as opposed to being enraged that this time the usual vote-rigging didn’t work."

Undoubtedly, some Republicans do believe that the election was rigged, notwithstanding the thoroughly overwhelming evidence that it was not manipulated.  However, this is the political party they helped build or, in the case of the younger members, decided to join and represent in Congress.

It is a Party which has long admired the authoritarian style and probably will continue to do so. With their guy leaving office and corporate donors uncomfortable, Republican senators may (though not likely) break with form, discover the importance of the rule of law, and provide the 17 or 18 (out of 50) votes needed for conviction.

Until then, however, 10. Ten out of two hundred eleven. It is not becoming a new party now. It did not become a new party because of Donald Trump.  Not for decades grand, it still is the Grand Old Party.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Meet The New Guy, Same As The Old Guy

President-elect Joe Biden is pushing to keep impeachment from consuming his agenda and overshadowing the early days of his administration, as he tries to avoid the appearance of either promoting the proceedings or trying to stop them.

With that in mind, CNN has learned, Biden called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell this week to discuss the possibility of "bifurcation," which would be conducting impeachment proceedings at the same time senators work to confirm his Cabinet nominees and consider a sweeping Covid relief package.

It's the latest sign that with each passing day since the siege of the Capitol, people close to Biden say, he has become resigned to the fact that impeachment is simply one more crisis that he will inherit from the Trump presidency.

It's also the latest sign that the new Joe is the same as the old Joe. And that's not good.

In April of 2019, In These Times reviewed Joe Biden's role, as described in Bob Woodward's 2012 The Price of Politics, in the Obama Administration's negotiations with Congress to secure an infamous Grand Bargain. Branko Marcetic explained

Later in the negotiations, Biden dangled the possibility of Medicare cuts in return for more revenue — meaning higher taxes. Soon after, he suggested Democrats might be comfortable raising the eligibility age for entitlements, imposing means testing and changing the consumer price index calculation, known as CPI. (Means testing is often seen a Trojan horse for chipping away at these programs, because their universality is one of the reasons they’ve remained virtually untouchable for almost a century. It’s also been criticized for imposing an unnecessary and discouraging layer of bureaucracy.)

At one point, Biden reportedly called the Medicare provider tax a ​“scam.” ​“For a moment, Biden sounded like a Republican,” Woodward notes. Biden’s team was forced to remind him that such a move would force states to cut services to the poor, to which he replied, ​“We’re going to do lots of hard things,” and so ​“we might as well do this.”

As Woodward writes, ​“this was a huge deal” for Cantor (“Biden had caved”), and showed the administration had adopted the Republican view on the matter of the Medicare provider tax. Despite this giveaway, the Republicans continued their stubborn opposition to any revenue increases in the proposed deal.

The negotiations were ultimately scuttled by Cantor....

Although Marcetic/Woodward focused on Vice-President Biden's decades-long mixed perspective toward earned benefits, this narrative additionally highlights Biden's approach toward cooperation and bipartisanship.  The V.P. negotiated a giveaway which pulled the rug out from under Representative (now Senator) Chris Van Hollen, a fellow Democrat.  

Presumably, he did so in part because of an ambivalence toward Social Security and Medicare and eagerness to reach a deal, any deal. That's bad on two levels.

But there was additional motivation. The Vice-President wanted to cut congressional Democrats, especially Van Hollen (then ranking member of the House Budget Committee), out. Teamwork for Biden took a back seat to, well, Joe Biden.

Now President-elect Biden evidently is taking the leading role in working with Senator Mitch McConnell, who soon will be Minority Leader rather than Majority Leader. He does not appear to be working through his own party's leader, Chuck Schumer, who is set to take over leadership of the chamber as Majority Leader.

Bad cop, good cop is a tried-and-true game, and can easily be applied here. Have Schumer and McConnell negotiate with each other, just as House Republicans and House Democrats were dealing with each other in 2011 before Vice President Biden undermined his own people. It would give Schumer a fair amount of leverage because of his ability to tell McConnell that he would have to get approval from the soon-to-be President. 

As of this writing on Wednesday afternoon, the impeachment process is still in its early stages. However, it's not too early to suspect that in many instances, if President Biden has to cut fellow Democrats effectively out of negotiations, he will. If he doesn't have to do so, he may, anyway.



Tuesday, January 12, 2021

A Low Bar That Must Be Cleared

President-elect Biden has nominated Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, to be Assistant US Attorney for Civil Rights Under Law. Last summer, responding to protests of the killing of George Floyd, Clarke wrote

This is a moment like none other in our nation's history. We are literally witnessing the emergence of one of the biggest racial justice movements that we have seen in modern time. For the first time, we are talking openly about white supremacy and racism.

If a researcher for Fox News' Tucker Carlson has the story right, Clarke certainly knows a lot about supremacy and racism. It's personal for he, or at least it once was because reportedly

In 1994, Clarke wrote a letter to The Harvard Crimson in her capacity as the president of the Black Students Association to explain her views on race science.

"Please use the following theories and observations to assist you in your search for truth regarding the genetic differences between Blacks and whites [sic]," Clarke wrote. "One: Dr Richard King reveals that the core of the human brain is the 'locus coeruleus,' which is a structure that is Black, because it contains large amounts of neuro-melanin, which is essential for its operation.

Two: Black infants sit, crawl and walk sooner than whites [sic]. Three: Carol Barnes notes that human mental processes are controlled by melanin -- that same chemical which gives Blacks their superior physical and mental abilities.

"Four: Some scientists have revealed that most whites [sic] are unable to produce melanin because their pineal glands are often calcified or non-functioning. Pineal calcification rates with Africans are five to 15 percent [sic], Asians 15 to 25 percent [sic] and Europeans 60 to 80 percent [sic]. This is the chemical basis for the cultural differences between blacks and whites [sic].

"Five: Melanin endows Blacks with greater mental, physical and spiritual abilities -- something which cannot be measured based on Eurocentric standards"...

After an outcry on campus, Kristen Clarke suggested that she didn't necessarily believe what she had written.

Just a month later, however, Clarke invited the noted Trinidadian anti-Semite Tony Martin to speak on campus. Martin, then a professor at Wellesley College, was the author of a self-published manifesto called "The Jewish Onslaught." In it, Martin chronicled the "escalating Jewish onslaught" against Black people.

For Martin's fans like Kristen Clarke, his speech at Harvard did not disappoint. He attacked both Jews and Judaism as a religion. Martin, who retired from Wellesley in 2007 and died in 2013, spent his final years giving speeches to Holocaust denial organizations on topics such as "tactics of organized Jewry in suppressing free speech."

Kristen Clarke strongly approved of Tony Martin, telling The Crimson: "Professor Martin is an intelligent, well-versed Black intellectual who bases his information on indisputable fact." According to Kristen Clarke, Tony Martin's anti Semitism was based on "indisputable fact."

These remarks may have been taken out of context. Or they could have been merely the intellectual ramblings of a young Harvard University student. Presumably, that will be determined at the confirmation hearings of the highly accomplished nominee, whose parents emigrated from Jamaica and sent their daughter to Choate Rosemary Hall, a preparatory high school in Connecticut.

No one should be denied a critical position in a presidential administration simply because she is a child of privilege nor supported supremacy (white or black) twenty-six years earlier. Clarke will presumably be asked about the remarks and whether she'd say the same things now.

Of course, she will express her deep regret for them- whether or not they were accurately transcribed and reported. If nothing else, they will make it more difficult for her to gain confirmation.

But more is necessary. Clarke needs to state definitively that she was wrong at the time and no longer believes what it appears she wrote.  After four years of an administration headed by Donald Trump, a summer of protests of racial discrimination, and a recent attack on American government motivated in part by racial hostility, there is something that Democrats and Republicans should demand of our leaders: racists need not apply.

Consequences, Even For Trump

Well, he certainly got religion, seemingly. The New York Times reports Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said on Tuesday t...