A Conundrum … No Easy Answers

Yesterday, I wrote with some annoyance about the Department of Justice continuing to support the previous administrations claims that … basically, the former guy could do no wrong and was above the law, no matter how many women he raped and then denigrated publicly.  Today, one of my favourite columnists, Eugene Robinson, has given me pause, caused me to perhaps look at it from a slightly different perspective.  One sentence says it all … “The meaning of the law does not change depending on who is in power.”  While I still do not support We the Taxpayers having to pay to defend a rapist madman, I now have a somewhat better understanding of why the Justice Department is doing what they are doing.  Like Mr. Robinson, I hope Trump, and by extension the U.S. Justice Department, lose the suit to Ms. Carroll, for she is deserving of retribution, but I now understand it better.  And I think it only fair that any restitution to Ms. Carroll come out of the former guy’s pocket, not mine and not yours.


Merrick Garland is right to be cautious about breaking with Trump’s Justice Department

Opinion by 

Eugene Robinson

Columnist

June 10, 2021 at 4:05 p.m. EDT

As frustrating and galling as it may be to see President Biden’s administration make anything less than a clean break with its predecessors, Attorney General Merrick Garland is right not to peremptorily reverse positions taken by the Justice Department during the Trump era. And his caution is appropriate even if those positions, such as continuing to represent a certain Mar-a-Lago resident in a defamation case, are clearly wrong.

The Justice Department never should have tried to defend Donald Trump in a civil lawsuit filed by advice columnist E. Jean Carroll, who says that Trump, back in his real estate mogul days, raped her in a department store dressing room. When Carroll made her rape allegation public, then-President Trump called her a liar. Carroll responded by suing Trump for defamation, seeking damages.

Trump was initially represented by private counsel. But his Justice Department intervened to have the case moved to U.S. District Court and argued that it should have been dismissed, saying that Trump was a government “employee” acting within “the scope of his employment” when he verbally attacked Carroll, and thus enjoyed immunity for his defamatory words.

U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan ruled against those claims in October and ordered that Carroll’s lawsuit be allowed to proceed. But Garland’s Justice Department is continuing to defend Trump, even though Kaplan determined that the case should be seen as a private matter between two individuals.

I hope the Justice Department ultimately loses the case and Carroll gets her day in court. But Garland, by staying the course, is sending a powerful message: The Justice Department doesn’t “belong” to Trump or Joe Biden or any one president. The meaning of the law does not change depending on who is in power. We should all swallow hard and accept Garland’s general commitment to some measure of continuity, because the alternative can be much worse.

I know that from personal observation. I was The Post’s South America correspondent three decades ago, at a time when most nations on the continent were emerging from long, dark years of military rule and trying to rebuild their democratic institutions. They all found that once faith in those institutions is lost, it is not easy to regain.

I was based in Buenos Aires, and Argentina’s civilian leadership was still finding its bearings. After years of being lied to by the murderous ruling junta, citizens had little faith in what their elected leaders said. And they had even less faith in the ability of the court system to honestly ascertain truth and deliver justice.

One instructive case study was a brutal rape and murder in Catamarca, a province in the Andean foothills. On a Friday night in September 1990, a 17-year-old girl named Maria Soledad Morales went with some friends to a local dance and never came home. Her tortured and mutilated body was found the following Monday in a roadside ditch. The Catamarca police chief initially said only that she had died from cardiac arrest, but it was later found that she had been brutalized and possibly forced to ingest a lethal dose of cocaine.

Suspicion fell on a group of young men with ties to the Saadi family, a powerful dynasty that had been in control of the province since the days of strongman Juan Perón. But none of these men was arrested by local police, whose statements about the case no one trusted.

The Carmelite nun who ran the school Morales had attended began organizing marches calling for justice, and the demonstrations grew so large that the national government had to respond by sending in a strike force of supposedly “untouchable” investigators. But no one trusted anything they said about the case, either.

The problem was that the Saadis had been political allies of then-President Carlos Menem. The universal assumption was that with Menem in power, there would be no honest and thorough investigation that might hold the Saadis or other powerful people accountable.

Finally, eight years later, two men — one of them a well-connected scion — were convicted of involvement in the murder; they each served time in prison and were released. Many Argentines are convinced — as am I — that the justice system never got anywhere near the full truth of the murder. Ramón Eduardo Saadi, who at the time was the provincial governor, was removed from office in 1991 — but only because of how loud the outcry about the case became.

My point is not that Argentina is uniquely flawed, but that we do not want the United States to become a nation where the default assumption is that justice is always political. We don’t want to be a place where culpability and liability depend on who happens to be president.

So if Garland believes there are plausible reasons for the government to keep defending Trump in Carroll’s defamation suit, I’m glad he’s doing so. His job is to follow the law as he sees it — even when I think he’s dead wrong.

WHY???

If you thought I let off all the steam in this morning’s rants, you’d be wrong.  Two things are puzzling me at the moment … puzzling and annoying me … leading me to keep asking over and over — WHY???  The former guy needs to fade into oblivioun … he is, or at least ought to be, irrelevant now, yet he keeps popping back onto the radar.  Somebody please, put him somewhere, like a mental institution or better yet, a prison.


I don’t believe a word of it …

You remember June 1st 2020, right?  That was the day that the former guy, having seen his approval rating drop even lower than usual, decided a photo op was just the thing to boost his ratings.  So, he and his band of merry men (and women) walked from the White House to a church in Lafayette Park so he could hold up a bible and let the press take pictures of him doing so … pictures that would be splashed all over every major news outlet by that evening.  However, his walk was only accomplished after the Secret Service and other federal law enforcement agencies cleared the path of peaceful protestors protesting the brutal police killing of an unarmed Black man, George Floyd, a month prior.

The protests were peaceful, no violence until federal law enforcement officers showed up.  According to The Washington Post the following day …

“In a massive show of force, federal law enforcement officers fired rubber bullets and chemical gas at peaceful protesters outside the White House on Monday evening … Hundreds of protesters were pushed away from Lafayette Square, where they were protesting the police killing of George Floyd, by the National Guard, U.S. Park Police and Secret Service. The ambush began half an hour before the city’s newly imposed curfew of 7 p.m. went into effect.”

There were photos, videos … it cannot be denied.  And yet, yesterday a report by the Interior Department’s inspector general did just that … denied that law enforcement cleared area for the former guy’s ludicrous walk to church.  According to the report, the area was cleared of protestors in order to allow contractors to safely install some fencing.  BULLSHIT!  I believe that just about as much as I believe elephants can fly!

What I don’t understand is why this particular lie?  What is the purpose, one year later, of telling a lie covering up actions that occurred as a result of egomania by the former guy?  Does the inspector general who issued the report honestly think that We the People are so stupid that we don’t remember the scene from one year ago?  And what’s the point?  The former guy is gone, he surely isn’t still pulling strings in the Department of the Interior, is he?  Police do not use violent means to clear peaceful protestors from an area so that they can build a fence.  Period.  Give us credit for a little bit of intelligence!


Defending the indefensible

This week the Department of Justice led by Attorney General Merrick Garland announced that it would continue defending the former guy in the lawsuit brought by E. Jean Carroll.  A bit of a refresher for those who may not remember this situation …

Ms. Carroll has claimed, and for the record I believe her, that the former guy raped her in the 1990s.  More than a dozen others have made the same claim, most quite credible, and I remind you of that old saying, where there’s so much smoke, there’s a fire somewhere.  When Ms. Carroll made her claim, the former guy rudely denigrated her in public, calling her rude names, saying he had never met her (this despite the fact there are photos of Ms. Carroll and her husband with the former guy at a party) and that he couldn’t have raped her because she isn’t his ‘type’.  Ms. Carroll filed a lawsuit against Trump for defaming her character and calling her a liar among other things.  At that point, then-Attorney General William Barr stepped in and said that the former guy was acting in his official capacity as president when he denied ever knowing Ms. Carroll and made statements assaulting her character, and thus could be defended by government lawyers — in effect underwritten by taxpayer money.

Long story short, he lied and called her names, Bill Barr said he had a right to do that because he was the then-occupant of the Oval Office, and that We the Taxpayers should pay to defend him and prove that in his position at the time, he was above the law.

Today, William Barr has left the Justice Department, replaced by a man for whom I have a great deal of respect, Merrick Garland.  However, I am extremely disappointed in the decision by the DoJ to continue defending the former guy at our expense!  WHY???  Is this a democratic republic as stated in the U.S. Constitution, or is this a banana republic that supports egomaniacal dictators???

In 2020, Barr argued that the former guy was a federal employee whose statements were part of his employment duties and who was thus entitled to protection under the Westfall Act, which grants civil immunity to federal employees for actions that are part of their jobs.  Since when is calling a woman a ‘slut’ part of the president’s job?  So, by this standard, if a sitting president kills one of his staff with a knife or a gun, would that be defensible under the Westfall Act?  Where is the line … and when do We the People finally stand up and say, ENOUGH!

Again, I want to know why the current DoJ is still upholding the former guy’s actions.  I just need an explanation … We the People deserve an explanation.

What Are Our Options?

At some point today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer will call a vote to end debate on the creation of a bipartisan commission to study the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6. It will — barring some massive change — fail, doomed by the unwillingness of 10 (or more) Senate Republicans to vote for it.  Mitch McConnell has given Republicans their marching orders:  vote against it, or else.  Mitch and every other Republican are clearly eager to make the events of January 6th disappear.  I believe that if they could, they would remove January 6th from the calendar altogether.

The primary reason Republicans are so damned determined to erase January 6th from our memories is the 2022 mid-term election.  If, when the likes of Kevin McCarthy, Matt Gaetz, Margie Greene and others come up for re-election, January 6th is still clearly in our minds, and if by then some of this crew have been shown to have played a role in the events of the day, their chances for returning to Congress in 2023 are slim-to-none.  Which is as it should be, but … Republicans don’t play by the rulebook, they play for power and are perfectly willing to break every rule in the book, even as it hurts the very people they claim to represent.

So, the idea of a commission to investigate is going to be dead on arrival by the close of today.  What next?  We simply cannot let it drop, cannot ever forget this any more than we can forget 9/11, for it was a threat to our country, our lives.  Washington Post journalist Greg Sargent recently interviewed political scientist Norman Ornstein about the options open to us.  I found it a thoughtful and thought-provoking dialog …


Republicans are likely to kill the Jan. 6 commission. But we have other options.

Opinion by

Greg Sargent

Columnist

May 19, 2021 at 4:56 p.m. EDT

Now that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has come out against the commission to examine the Jan. 6 insurrection, it’s looking increasingly like Republicans will kill it. This is especially likely given that Donald Trump has commanded them to end this entire discussion “immediately.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is set to hold a vote Wednesday on the bipartisan deal reached in the lower chamber to create a commission. That compromise was very fair and made concessions to both Republicans and Democrats.

But with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) opposed as well, it’s unlikely to get the stampede of support from House Republicans that might forestall a GOP filibuster in the Senate.

Now what?

Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein is well positioned to explain this moment and where we go from here. That’s because he was an early and very prescient observer of the GOP’s radicalization against democracy who also happens to be an expert on congressional procedure.

I spoke to Ornstein about what happens now. An edited and condensed version of our conversation follows.

Greg Sargent: What are the chances that 10 Republican senators vote for this commission?

Norman Ornstein: Once McConnell flatly opposed any commission, it created an uphill battle for getting 10 Republicans. If you got 50 Republicans in the House, then maybe it could happen. But it’s not likely.

Sargent: Let’s walk through the alternatives. One would be that Nancy Pelosi could set up a select committee tomorrow if she wanted to, right?

Ornstein: Pelosi could craft a plan for a special committee. We’ve had them many times in the House. You’d undoubtedly have the votes to do it.

Sargent: What would a select committee look like and what might be the problems with it?

Ornstein: Most select committees have an even number of members from both parties, because the whole idea is to take them away from being partisan. But there’s nothing that mandates that a select committee have equal Democrats and Republicans.

You could set it up with a slender majority of Democrats or with a larger majority. But the big challenge is the political one. You’d have to let the Speaker and the Minority Leader, or their representatives, choose the members.

Kevin McCarthy is going to do whatever he can, first, to block a committee, and second, to stack it with members designed to turn it into a farce.

Sargent: How can we have a bipartisan select committee investigate an attack that Trump incited against democracy, when one party was heavily complicit in inspiring that attack, doesn’t want to admit its own culpability for that, and is in the process of abandoning democracy?

Ornstein: It’s why I do not believe a select committee can possibly work. Republicans don’t want information to emerge about what happened on Jan. 6. They don’t want to focus on the role of the president — or their own party members.

Sargent: Could you theoretically construct a select committee to give the chair unilateral control over subpoenas?

Ornstein: Yes, you could give the chair unilateral subpoena power. But remember, congressional subpoena power is theoretically extraordinarily powerful. Practically it can be subverted fairly easily. We’ve seen instance after instance of people defying subpoenas, taking it to court, and stretching it out for years.

Sargent: A select committee would have to consist of current members, correct?

Ornstein: Yes.

Sargent: So what is our alternative?

Ornstein: There are two. One I would not like is to have the president create a group by executive order, a commission.

Sargent: You’re talking about something like the Kerner Commission created by LBJ to investigate the causes of urban rioting?

Ornstein: Yes. You could do a Kerner-type commission. And the president could pick some remarkably distinguished Republicans and Democrats to do that kind of inquiry.

For things like the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President Kennedy, there was national consensus that this was a hugely significant thing that we need to get to the bottom of.

We don’t have a party on the Republican side willing to create that national consensus. [So] it’s better if the president is not directly linked to any of this.

The whole assault was based on the “big lie” that Joe Biden didn’t win the election. If Joe Biden creates the group looking into this, it’s going to provide fodder for Trump and his acolytes to turn it against him.

Sargent: There isn’t going to be a serious inquiry into what happened that’s bipartisan.

Ornstein: The only way to make this work otherwise is if we can find a way to have the attorney general pick a group that uses the power of the Justice Department — not like a special prosecutor that can itself bring actions against people, but that could make recommendations where action by prosecutors was warranted or not. Justice Department subpoena power is a completely different matter.

Sargent: What would be the legal authority or mechanism for creating something like this?

Ornstein: The Justice Department has the responsibility to look at potential criminal violations, especially those that involve sedition. So doing it in an innovative fashion makes sense.

Whether the attorney general can do this on his own, I’m not entirely sure. If you had to have some kind of executive order, I’d rather have it done in a fashion that empowers the attorney general to do this [with] a commitment from the attorney general that he’d be hands off once this group were created.

But it seems to me you could be innovative here. The attorney general under the regulations of the Justice Department has some ability to create groups like this.

Sargent: In essence, it would be an investigation to determine whether there was criminality, and then it would produce a report on what happened, no matter what it recommended in terms of criminal charges?

Ornstein: That’s the idea. You could have a public report.

Sargent: There isn’t going to be a bipartisan effort at accountability as long as one party is committed to covering up what happened.

Ornstein: That’s the tragic and infuriating bottom line here. It’s hard to imagine something like this that doesn’t have full buy in from everybody who has a drop of patriotic blood running through his or her veins.

That you have one party which has as a singular goal evading responsibility and covering up what happened is almost beyond description.

Father And Son … Corruption x 2

Let’s talk about the Giuliani family for a minute.  There was a time when I had the utmost respect for Rudy Giuliani.  In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was the perfect leader.  He offered heartfelt empathy, he was the voice of reason, he so obviously cared what the country, and more specifically New Yorkers were going through.

Unfortunately, that man disappeared shortly thereafter, never to be heard from again.  He was replaced by a Rudy Giuliani who attached himself like a leech to the most corrupt president this nation has ever had, he lied and cheated on behalf of that ‘man’, and he lost every ounce of respect he had ever earned.

Giuliani helped incite the attacks by domestic terrorists, white supremacists, on the Capitol and Congress on January 6th, but that was only the culmination of all his dirty deeds. The New York State Bar Association is investigating his role and it could ultimately lead to his disbarment.

Giuliani is under investigation with the Department of Justice for his dealings with a shadowy cast of characters in Ukraine, attempting to find and distribute material about the relationship between a scandal-plagued Ukrainian energy company and President Biden’s son, Hunter.  Trump famously told Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in July 2019 to get in touch with Giuliani …

“Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.”

And then it came out that the former guy had actually threatened to withhold military aid that had already been approved, unless Ukrainian President Zelenskyy promised to publicly announce an investigation of the company in question.  This, of course, led to the former guy’s first impeachment.

I don’t know what will come of the investigation into Rudy Giuliani and his efforts on behalf of the former guy to help incite an insurrection, but time will tell, and personally I won’t shed a tear if Rudy is disbarred and relegated to the annals of history.  But let’s talk about Rudy’s son, Andrew, for a minute.

When Rudy Giuliani took his oath of office to become Mayor of New York City in 1994, it is said that his son Andrew ruined the moment by repeating parts of the oath along with his father. Andrew was exuberant on the podium beside his father, as he blew kisses to the cameras, mimicked every hand gesture of his father, and shouted out: “It should be so and it will be so!”  Of course, since he was only 8 years old at the time, I guess we can overlook that.

Fast forward to 2017 when the former guy gave Andrew a job at the White House … his official title was Special Assistant to the President and Associate Director of the Office of Public Liaison.  Don’t ask what, exactly, he did, but his starting salary in 2017 was $77,000 and within two years had been increased to $95,000.  Remember, folks, that we paid this salary and as far as I can discern, the only thing he did to earn it was contact sports teams to get them to come to the White House for a photo op with the former guy.

Initially, he was given ‘unescorted access’ to the West Wing, but when John Kelly became Chief of Staff, that was rescinded, then re-instated when Kelly left and was replaced by Mick Mulvaney.  That tells me that his position was largely … nothing more than a favour to his father.  He floated around for his own ego.  Oh … one more thing he did was he golfed with the former guy much of the time!  He was a regular golf partner of Trump, and traveled with him for the sole purpose of playing a round or two of golf with him.  In January 2020, the Irish Times called him “Trump’s most regular playing partner”.  Never forget that We the People paid for this!

Fast forward again to present day when Andrew Giuliani is considering a run for … wait for it … Governor of New York!  He has higher aspirations than his father, and only about one-fourth as much intelligence!  It is reported that he’ll be flying to Mar-a-Lago next week to meet with the former guy to finalize his plans for his campaign.  Says Andrew …

“I will be down there next week for a two to three-day swing where we’ll be meeting with donors, interviewing potential staff and speaking to the former President. From a self-interest standpoint, I want the President to be as involved as he wants to be …”

Oh, my aching head!  He seems to be one of the delusional mass who has forgotten that the former guy is just that … former.  But the good news is that New Yorkers are too smart to be snowed by this young punk-in-a-suit!  At least, I hope they are.  I hope they send Andrew G packing, send him back to the playground, the golf course, or the Ukraine … I really don’t care as long as he never enters the Governor’s mansion!  I strongly suspect he has his eye on the Oval Office somewhere down the road, in which case I would jump off a tall building!

This ‘N That, With Only A Hint Of Snarky

I’m not really being too terribly snarky tonight … just a little bit, ‘k?  After all, if I didn’t snark a little, you’d worry that I was sick!


Finally!  A real Department of Justice with a real Attorney General at the helm!

It sure is good to have a Department of Justice that is no longer the lapdog of a corrupt president, a Justice Department led by a man of integrity.  The Justice Department has opened a number of investigations into police departments to determine if there is a “a pattern of discrimination or excessive force within its ranks”, announced Attorney General Merrick Garland.  One such city, of course, is Minneapolis, Minnesota, where Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd by kneeling on Floyd’s neck for nearly ten minutes.  Another is Portland, Oregon, where police were failing to comply with a previous reform agreement after its officers used excessive force against demonstrators – including firing impact munitions against people suspected of having “furtive” conversations – following the death of George Floyd.

And, at long last, the Department of Justice will also be assessing the police department in Louisville, Kentucky, where police fatally shot Breonna Taylor as she slept in her own bed in her apartment.  It’s about time … these are steps that the former Attorney General should have taken long ago, but he was on a short leash and refused to stand for justice, but rather stood in fear of the former president.  Said AG Garland …

“The investigation will assess whether LMPD [Louisville Metro Police Department] engages in a pattern or practice of using unreasonable force, including with respect to people involved in peaceful, expressive activities.  It will determine whether LMPD engages in unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures, as well as whether the department unlawfully executes search warrants on private homes.”

Two thumbs up to Attorney General Merrick Garland for restoring the ‘Justice’ to the Department of Justice.  Stay tuned …


A nasty voice from the past …

Do you remember Rick Santorum, former Republican senator from Pennsylvania from 1995-2007?  He launched an unsuccessful bid to become the Republican nominee for president in 2012, but was beaten by Mitt Romney, who was then beaten in the general election by the incumbent, Barack Obama.  Santorum has always been a nasty piece of work, but that didn’t stop when he left the Senate.  Since 2017, Santorum has been a political commentator for CNN, go figure.

Last week, speaking to a group of conservative youth, the Young America’s Foundation, Santorum attempted to show off his ‘knowledge’ of history.  Only trouble is, he’s just as ignorant as he acts …

“If you think about this country, I don’t know of any other country in the world that was settled predominantly by people who were coming to practice their faith. They came here because they were not allowed to practice their particular faith in their own country and so they came here mostly from Europe and they set up a country that was based on Judeo-Christian principles — I say Judeo-Christian — the Mosaic laws, Ten Commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ, the morals and teachings of Jesus Christ. That’s what our founding documents are based upon. It’s in our DNA.

We came here and created a blank slate. We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes, we have Native Americans, but candidly, there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture. It was born of the people who came here pursuing religious liberty to practice their faith. To live as they ought to live.”

In our DNA???  Needless to say, that line of bullshit stirred some ire and many are now calling for CNN to oust him.  First of all, this nation was not founded on any particular religion, but rather on a call for freedom of religion.  Half of the country do not identify as ‘Christians’ … and we are people, too!  But his comments on Native Americans were beyond the pale, any way you cut it.

A number of groups and individuals, including politicians, have chimed in regarding Santorum’s racist remarks, but I think my favourite is Mark Pocan, Democratic congressman for Wisconsin, who wrote …

“Native & Indigenous nations lived, governed, and thrived here before their land was stolen and they were murdered in a mass genocide, you ignorant white supremacist.”

Sums it up nicely … need I say more?


Security measures are good, but I’ll still be holding my breath

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden will deliver his first address to a joint session of Congress.  Typically, newly-elected presidents address the joint session in late February of their first term, but a couple of factors delayed Biden’s address.  One, of course, was the coronavirus pandemic, but the other has the potential to be equally deadly:  the threat of violence.

After the fateful January 6th domestic terrorist attacks on the U.S. Capitol and on Congress itself, certain of the groups such as Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters and more, immediately began planning their next attack:  President Biden’s first address to a joint session of Congress.  Capitol Police Chief Yogananda Pittman warned in February …

“We know that members of the militia groups that were present on January 6th have stated their desires that they want to blow up the Capitol and kill as many members as possible with a direct nexus to the State of the Union1, which we know that date has not been identified.  So based on that information, we think that it’s prudent that Capitol Police maintain its enhanced and robust security posture until we address those vulnerabilities going forward.”

That said, security will be tight for this event.  National Guard troops and fencing around the Capitol will remain in place.  There will be limits on the number of politicians who will be allowed on the floor of the House, and some will even be seated in the visitors’ gallery. Senators and Representatives won’t be allowed to invite any guests and masks will be mandatory.

I believe that every possible security measure will be in place on that day.  However, nobody can anticipate everything, and it was proven after the January 6th attack that some members of law enforcement and the military participated in the attack.  Let us hope that the day goes off without a hitch, and that if any insurrectionists attempt anything, they are thrown into a cell and treated like the criminals they are.  Still … I will breathe much easier when the event has passed.

1 Note that the address to the joint session of Congress is not actually a State of the Union address, for it is understood that a president who has been in office only a month or two will not be able to present a full state of the union, but rather will address Congress on the issues at hand.  Many people fail to understand this distinction.

Lookin’ Good, Merrick Garland!

Merrick-GarlandYesterday was the first of the two-day confirmation hearings for Merrick Garland, President Biden’s choice to head the Department of Justice.  I have felt for weeks that Garland would be confirmed by the Senate, for he is both liked and respected by those on both sides of the aisle.  According to an article in The Washington Post …

“… there was little acrimony and many Democrats and Republicans on the panel appeared to treat his confirmation almost as a foregone conclusion.”

Several Republicans seem certain that Garland will be confirmed …

“I believe so. There were people that weren’t totally satisfied with his answers, but i didn’t hear anybody get really irritated. … For the most part, he answered pretty well.” – Senator Chuck Grassley (republican) from Iowa

“That certainly seems likely. I thought he did fine. It was frustrating in that he answered very few questions. He approached it more like a judicial nominee dodging every question.” – Senator Ted Cruz (republican) from Texas

“Judge Garland is about as sure a bet as you can have in the Congress these days that he will be confirmed. He has navigated these questions with extraordinary adroitness and aplomb.” – Senator Richard Blumenthal (democrat) from Connecticut

To be sure, there were contentious lines of questioning, especially from the likes of Senator John Neeley Kennedy, a republican from Louisiana, and the ignoble Josh Hawley who cheered the attackers on January 6th, and did everything in his power to try to overturn our votes on that day.  But, Garland remained cool and his answers brought no rebuttal.  For example, Hawley arrogantly twirled his pencil while attempting to goad Garland into a conversation on defunding the police, and on what constitutes ‘domestic terrorism’.

Garland, who prosecuted the Oklahoma City bombing perpetrators before becoming a federal judge,  looked Hawley straight in the eye and responded …

“As you no doubt know, President Biden has said he does not support defunding the police, and neither do I. We saw how difficult the lives of police officers were in the body-cam videos we saw when they were defending the Capitol.  The use of violence or threats of violence in an attempt to disrupt democratic processes.  So an attack on a courthouse while in operation trying to prevent judges from deciding cases, that plainly is domestic extremism, domestic terrorism.”

Lindsey Graham, who would not allow Garland’s hearing to take place earlier this month, reared his typically ugly head, quizzed Garland on whether he thought James Comey, who was fired by the former guy early in his administration, was a good FBI Director.  Garland calmly replied that the question was not useful and that he didn’t intend to get into critiquing other directors.  Then Graham responded churlishly with …

“Well, you’ve been very political, and appropriately so, at times. I just find it pretty stunning that you can’t say, in my view, that he was a terrible FBI director.”

However, at the end of the day, Lindsey told Garland, “I think you’re a very good pick for this job.”  Even Senator Kennedy, one of the more obnoxious among republican senators, said “You’ll be a good attorney general.”

Perhaps Garland’s most powerful statement, at least in my eyes, was when he said …

“I am not the president’s lawyer, I am the United States’ lawyer.”

Quite the contrast from previous Attorney General William Barr who saw himself and the entire Department of Justice as tools at the former guy’s disposal.

No doubt there will be some Republicans who will oppose the nomination, likely Tom Cotton, Mike Lee, and Josh Hawley among them, but the general consensus is that Garland will win senate confirmation when the vote is taken on March 1st.  Score one for justice.

The 1st Amendment vs Donnie Trump

Imagine, if you will, President Barack Obama, ready to give a press conference, telling his aides that only people who agree with him completely are to be allowed in.  Or, better yet … imagine George W. Bush giving a televised address to the nation after 9/11, but insisting that media companies black out his address to all democratic households.  Fantasy, right?  Silly at best.  And yet, that is exactly what Trump has tried to do.  His preferred venue for communicating his … er, um … thoughts … is Twitter.  I honestly think he must spend 4-5 hours per day tweeting from his throne (bet there’s no shortage of toilet paper there!) 

In 2017, within months of taking the Oath of Office (remember that oath, Donnie?) Trump began blocking Twitter users who dared to disagree with him.  Seven of those users felt that if that is the only means by which he is going to communicate, then We the People must be able to question and yes, even disagree with or criticize him.  And so, those seven convinced the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University to file a lawsuit on their behalf.  Well, the wheels of justice turn pretty darn slowly sometimes, and the case was first heard by Judge Naomi Buchwald in May 2018.  Her 75-page ruling, in a nutshell, said that,  “No government official — including the President — is above the law.”  Hmmmm … perhaps Attorney General William Barr could learn something from her.

Well, Trump and his cadre of lawyers, naturally, appealed the case and in July 2019, a New York-based appeals court upheld Judge Buchwald’s ruling, saying that public officials who take to social media for official government business are prohibited from excluding people “from an otherwise open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”

Judge Barrington D. Parker wrote for a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit …

“In resolving this appeal, we remind the litigants and the public that if the First Amendment means anything, it means that the best response to disfavored speech on matters of public concern is more speech, not less.”

Justice Department lawyers defending Trump said in court that @realDonaldTrump is a personal account on a privately owned digital platform and that Trump may block followers he “does not wish to hear.”  Sounds rather like censorship to me.

And … sigh … of course the lawyers picked up their briefcases and headed back to court to file yet another appeal.  Yesterday, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit denied the Trump administration’s request to revisit the July 2019 ruling.  Of the nine judges who considered the Trump administration’s request, only two said they would have revisited the earlier decision.  The two are both Trump appointees, Judge Michael H. Park and Judge Richard J. Sullivan.  Judge Park wrote in his dissenting opinion …

“The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not include a right to post on other people’s personal social media accounts, even if those other people happen to be public officials.”

Sea ditz.

The last sentence of the article I read … “The Justice Department is reviewing the ruling, a spokeswoman said.”  Translate that as … Trump’s legal eagles will file yet another appeal to a higher court — United States Supreme Court.  Remember something, folks … you and I are paying for all the time these lawyers are wasting, we are paying the judges salary and all their clerks who must review and type their 75-page rulings, we are paying for both legal teams … we are paying through the nose for Trump to have his hand slapped time and time and time again.  And, what happens when the case reaches the U.S. Supreme Court?  Well, let’s see … there are the two Justices he leads around using the rings in their noses – that would be Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.  Then there is  Chief Justice John Roberts who, ever since a few private tête-à-têtes in the Oval Office, has been just as much a Trump boot-licker as Kellyanne Conway.  So, I give you three guesses.

Now, Filosofa, though no legal scholar, is going to weigh in on this one just for a minute.  In the first ruling on this case, Judge Buchwald said that no one, not even the president, is above the law.  And yet, Attorney General William Barr has said that as long as Trump’s fat arse is sitting in the Oval Office, he is above the law.  My best guess is that this will be the argument the high-paid DOJ lawyers will use at the Supreme Court level, and because Bill Barr said it’s so, then … gasp … of course it must be so.

But back to the starting point.  Trump’s attorneys argue that @realDonaldTrump is a private account.  However, I would argue that by default it has become a government account, since Trump conducts nearly all communication with his portion of the public, his 62 million Twitter followers, via Twitter using that account.  The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution gives We the People the absolute right to speak out against our government officials.  If I attend a speech in another venue, I certainly can express my own opinion, so … why not on Twitter.

If the case goes to the Supreme Court and if the Court rules in Trump’s favour, We the People must engage in a very forceful protest.  Coronavirus be damned … this is the future of all Americans that is at stake here, for centuries to come.  We simply cannot let him continue chipping away at our Constitutional rights, my friends … it’s really all that remains between us and a full-blown dictatorship.

Da Snarky Snippets Keep On Coming

I bet you guys thought I had relieved all the angst and snark yesterday afternoon, didn’t you?  Well, think again.  I had hopes of posting something less acerbic this morning, but as fate would have it, the idiots in this nation just keep getting more and more ridiculous and … that low growl has started up in my throat once again.  So … more snippets of snark are in order.


Only in the U.S.

Okay, we’ve all seen the results of the hoarding swine who bought up all the toilet paper and bottled water the first day the word ‘coronavirus’ hit the U.S. news.  Last weekend, it was widely reported that the sales of spirits and cannabis was doing a booming business with revenue 500% to 800% higher than normal.  But guess what the latest item to be snatched up in a surge of panic buying is?  Guns and ammunition.  WTF???????????

guns-lineDo these nutcases honestly think they’re going to have to take to shooting people over a roll of toilet paper?  They cite the potential for ‘social unrest’ as the reason for their fear, and the ‘need to protect themselves and their families’.  Bullshit.

Sales were especially pronounced in North Carolina and Georgia, which experienced a leap of 179% and 169% respectively. Other states with large increases included Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, Illinois and New York.  And guess what kind of guns they’re buying?  They’re not buying hunting rifles, or 6-shooters … noooooo … they’re buying mostly AR-15s and other semi-automatic assault-type rifles.  So apparently, they plan to be able to take out their entire neighborhood if they feel justified in doing so.

Some people (not the gun buyers, obviously) expressed concerns for the safety of children. A sudden increase in guns and rifles in domestic homes could put children at risk through lack of safe storage. Firearms are already the second most prevalent killer of children in the US after car crashes.

Surely the Founding Fathers are now kicking themselves for writing that damn 2nd Amendment into the Constitution.founding-fathers-eyeroll


Ohio’s Dictator DeWine

The governor of the State of Ohio has decided to strip U.S. citizens living in this state of their right to a representative government by postponing the Democratic primary scheduled for today.  Governor Mike DeWine announced yesterday afternoon that he would postpone the primary until June, but he was struck down by Ohio Judge Richard Frye, who said that DeWine waited too late … less than 24 hours before the polls would open. The judge also said that DeWine’s postponement until June was arbitrary at best, as there is no reliable evidence that the coronavirus crisis will have ended by June.

DeWine, however, apparently believes he has some sort of dictatorial executive privilege (perhaps he listened to Trump brag that he can do anything he wants to do) and has decided that the polls will not open today after all.  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

And like his role model, he made the announcement via tweet …

“During this time when we face an unprecedented public health crisis, to conduct an election tomorrow would force poll workers and voters to place themselves at an unacceptable health risk of contracting coronavirus.  As such, @DrAmyActon will order the polls closed as a health emergency. While the polls will be closed tomorrow, Secretary of State @FrankLaRose will seek a remedy through the courts to extend voting options so that every voter who wants to vote will be granted that opportunity.”

This is unacceptable!!!  It’s our choice, Mikey, not yours!!!  If I’m willing to risk sickness and possibly even death to preserve the few democratic principles left in this nation, and I am, then it isn’t your place to rob me of that right!!!  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

Yes, folks, I know this pandemic is serious, but so is our right to a representative government!  If people cannot be bothered to carry hand sanitizer with them and use it as they leave the polling place … if we are thought to be so effing stupid that we cannot take responsibility for taking precautions in order to exercise our RIGHT to cast a vote, then we have lost our nation.  We no longer have any semblance of a democratic republic, at least not in Ohio.

The three other states with primaries today are, sensibly, going ahead, trusting people to look out for themselves.  How many other states are going to usurp our Constitutional rights?  Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.


Department of Injustice strikes again …

Concord Management and Consulting is a Russian-owned company charged with conspiring to defraud the U.S. government by orchestrating a social media campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  The evidence against the company was meticulously detailed in Robert Mueller’s report about Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.  However, yesterday the Department of (In)Justice under Attorney General William Barr dropped all charges.  WHY???

Because … wait for it, you’re gonna love this one … the company failed to comply with trial subpoenas and the submission of a “misleading, at best” affidavit by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a co-defendant and the company’s founder.  The company refused to provide the information requested in the subpoenas, so the prosecutors dropped the charges!

Now let me tell you the real reason the charges were dropped.  Because Vladimir Putin, Trump’s soul brother, told Trump to make it happen, Trump told William Barr to make it happen, and it happened.  Next time you are subpoenaed to testify in any trial, just don’t bother to show up, and all the charges will be dropped, right?  No, folks, there are two sets of laws in this country … the ones that apply to Donald Trump and his cronies, and the ones that apply to all the rest of us.

In a somewhat related story, Trump is “strongly considering” a presidential pardon for Michael Flynn, who has twice pled guilty to lying to the FBI in the case of Russia’s meddling with our election.  Recently, Flynn asked the judge if he could rescind his guilty plea.  If Trump pardon’s Flynn, he will come into a great deal of criticism, but … when has that ever stopped him from doing precisely whatever he wishes?


Okay, folks, I’ve shared my angst with you for now, but I’m betting there will be more by this afternoon.  If not, perhaps I can share something nicer, but … don’t hold your breath.

We The People …

“… government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

The above words were spoken by President Abraham Lincoln on Thursday, November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.  The speech was to become one of the best-known speeches in the history of this nation.  Read the words again, please. lincolnToday, I truthfully and without rhetoric or bombast, state that the government of the people, by the people, and for the people has, in fact, perished from at least the United States.  The word ‘democracy’ is a fantasy that is bandied about by some, but the majority of us can plainly see what is before our very eyes … we have been had.

Earlier this year, four of the world’s largest auto makers — Ford Motor Company, Volkswagen of America, Honda and BMW – struck a deal with the State of California to ignore Trump’s rollback of emissions standards and continue their efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in an effort to stem the tide of climate change.  Our health depends on it.  The air we breathe and the water we drink depends on it.  The lives of 7+ billion people, including you and me, depend on it.  I applaud this cooperative effort between one of the most polluting industries and the State of California.

The federal government does not applaud this effort, and in fact is challenging it.  Today, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it will open an investigation as to whether the four automakers violated federal antitrust laws by reaching a side deal to follow California’s stricter rules.  Additionally, Trump is considering a plan to revoke California’s legal authority to enforce stricter greenhouse gas emissions rules within its state borders.

To put this into the simplest possible terms … California is saying that they want to try to rescue our environment, save lives, and Trump is saying, “No … you must make the air as unhealthy as possible!”.

And, if you aren’t concerned enough about the environment, think of your own wallets!  Trump is actively promoting cars that use more fuel, which means you will be buying more fuel just to get to work and back home each day.

According to the New York Times

Top lawyers from the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department on Friday sent a letter to Mary Nichols, California’s top clean air official, saying, “The purpose of this letter is to put California on notice” that its deal with automakers “appears to be inconsistent with federal law.”

Government for the people?  I think not.  More like … government for the rich fossil fuel barons.  Government by the people?  With a billionaire in the White House and 358 of the 535 members of Congress being millionaires, I don’t think we can say it is a government by the people.  Government of the people?  Our elections are increasingly unfair and dishonest:  think voter disenfranchisement, lack of voter security against outside influences, gerrymandering.  Additionally, once elected, our senators and representatives seem to forget the best interest of those of us who put them in office.  So no, I don’t think our government is of the people, either.  Mr. Lincoln was fortunate not to have lived to see this day.lincoln

 

 

21st Century … or Dark Ages???

“It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer … to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

— Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964

There has been considerable debate about whether Title VII extends protections against discrimination to the LGBT community, and at present, it varies by state and locality, despite the fact that the entire Civil Rights Act is a federal law.  At this time, only 21 states have outlawed discrimination against members of the LGBT community.  A bill, the Equality Act,  was introduced into the House of Representatives in March of this year by Representative David Cicilline. The bill has passed in the House and is now languishing in the Senate committee, but the odds of it becoming the law of the land seem slim at the moment, given the makeup of the current Senate, and the fact that Donald Trump spoke against it after right-wing religious organizations urged the White House to issue an opposition statement to the bill.

There are currently three cases on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court that will be heard on October 8th.  Briefly …

Zarda v Altitude Express:  Donald Zarda was fired from Altitude Express, where he worked as a skydiver. He informed a woman he was gay while they were strapped to each other because he thought it would make her feel more comfortable. She later informed his employer that she wasn’t happy with his sharing his being gay and he was subsequently fired. Zarda died in 2014 but his estate pursued the case.

Bostock v Clayton County:  Gerald Bostock, a child welfare services coordinator, was in a gay recreational softball league. He said his participation in the league and his sexual orientation became a problem with someone at work. Then he was fired for “conduct unbecoming of a county employee,” which he said was tied to his sexuality.

Harris Funeral Homes v EEOC:  Aimee Stephens, a trans woman, was fired from her job at a funeral parlor after she informed the funeral director she worked for that she was transgender. She had worked in funeral services for nearly 20 years and received positive feedback from her employer.

The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in all three cases on the same day, and according to Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, senior attorney at Lambda Legal, a civil rights organization focused on LGBTQ people …

“This is a momentous occasion. It is a pivotal moment and the public should be paying attention.  These cases will affect the ability of LGBTQ people to be full members of society and to contribute to society by entering the workplace and be free of discrimination.”

Meanwhile, the United States Justice Department under Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General William Barr sent a brief to the Supreme Court two days ago stating that they should find in favour of the employer in the Harris Funeral Homes case, arguing that …

“In 1964, the ordinary public meaning of ‘sex’ was biological sex. It did not encompass transgender status. In the particular context of Title VII — legislation originally designed to eliminate employment discrimination against racial and other minorities — it was especially clear that the prohibition on discrimination because of ‘sex’ referred to unequal treatment of men and women in the workplace.”

Since when is it right and proper for the Department of Justice to tell the Supreme Court how to rule???  The Judiciary is an independent branch that is intended to be apolitical, not influenced by partisan politics.  However, the reality does not always match the intent.  Today, there are 5 justices who lean toward conservative opinions, 4 who are more liberal.  Chief Justice John Roberts is typically the more moderate of the conservative-leaning justices, often casting the deciding vote.  It is likely to come down to his single vote, and there are serious concerns, for he wrote a dissenting opinion in the 2014 case of Obergefell v Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage at the federal level.  And lately he has disappointed us a few times, such as his vote to give state lawmakers virtually unlimited authority to draw district lines (gerrymandering) once every 10 years, pick their voters and entrench their political power.

This is the 21st century, not the Dark Ages.  It is time we learn to accept people … ALL people … for who they are.  If the employers in these three cases are allowed to prevail, it will indeed be a dark day in the United States, and no doubt it will then be only a matter of time until we see cases coming before the court dealing with discrimination in housing, in education, in every aspect of life.  I’m convinced that it is only a matter of time until a case comes before the Supreme Court that challenges Obergefell v Hodges.  And then what?  If we strip the LGBT community of their rights, will we soon see cases attempting to strip African-Americans of their rights by challenging other aspects of the Civil Rights Act, or of the Voting Rights Act?

Keep your eyes on this one, folks, for how these three cases are decided will be the best indicator yet whether or not there is still “liberty and justice for all” in this nation.