Presidential Accountability?

We all know of Donald Trump’s demeaning of the office of the president, the many ways in which he has shattered norms and broken nearly every rule in the book.  But more than his own demonic behaviour, has he set the course for the future of the presidency?  Yesterday’s column by Robert Reich examines the ‘legacy’, such as it is, of the Reign of Trump.


Americans’ acceptance of Trump’s behavior will be his vilest legacy

Robert Reich-4Robert Reich

Most of the 74,222,957 Americans who voted to reelect Donald Trump – 46.8 percent of the votes cast in the 2020 presidential election – don’t hold Trump accountable for what he’s done to America. Their acceptance of Trump’s behavior will be his vilest legacy.

Nearly forty years ago, political scientist James Q. Wilson and criminologist George Kelling observed that a broken window left unattended in a community signals that no one cares if windows are broken there. The broken window is thereby an invitation to throw more stones and break more windows. The message: Do whatever you want here because others have done it and got away with it.

The broken window theory has led to picayune and arbitrary law enforcement in poor communities. But America’s most privileged and powerful have been breaking big windows with impunity.

In 2008, Wall Street nearly destroyed the economy. The Street got bailed out while millions of Americans lost their jobs, savings, and homes. Yet not no major Wall Street executive ever went to jail.

In more recent years, top executives of Purdue Pharmaceuticals, along with the members of the Sackler family who own it, knew the dangers of OxyContin but did nothing. Executives at Wells Fargo Bank pushed bank employees to defraud customers. Executives at Boeing hid the results of tests showing its 737 Max Jetliner was unsafe. Police chiefs across America looked the other way as police under their command repeatedly killed innocent Black Americans.

Here, too, they’ve got away with it. These windows remain broken.

Trump has brought impunity to the highest office in the land, wielding a wrecking ball to the most precious windowpane of all – American democracy.

The message? A president can obstruct special counsels’ investigations of his wrongdoing, push foreign officials to dig up dirt on political rivals, fire inspectors general who find corruption, order the entire executive branch to refuse congressional subpoenas, flood the Internet with fake information about his opponents, refuse to release his tax returns, accuse the press of being “fake media” and “enemies of the people,” and make money off his presidency.

And he can get away with it. Almost half of the electorate will even vote for his reelection.

A president can also lie about the results of an election without a shred of evidence — and yet, according to polls, be believed by the vast majority of those who voted for him.

Trump’s recent pardons have broken double-paned windows.

Not only has he shattered the norm for presidential pardons – usually granted because of a petitioner’s good conduct after conviction and service of sentence – but he’s pardoned people who themselves shattered windows. By pardoning them, he has rendered them unaccountable for their acts.

They include aides convicted of lying to the FBI and threatening potential witnesses in order to protect him; his son-in-law’s father, who pleaded guilty to tax evasion, witness tampering, illegal campaign contributions, and lying to the Federal Election Commission; Blackwater security guards convicted of murdering Iraqi civilians, including women and children; Border Patrol agents convicted of assaulting or shooting unarmed suspects; and Republican lawmakers and their aides found guilty of fraud, obstruction of justice and campaign finance violations.

It’s not simply the size of the broken window that undermines standards, according to Wilson and Kelling. It’s the willingness of society to look the other way. If no one is held accountable, norms collapse.

Trump may face a barrage of lawsuits when he leaves office, possibly including criminal charges. But it’s unlikely he’ll go to jail. Presidential immunity or a self-pardon will protect him. Prosecutorial discretion would almost certainly argue against indictment, in any event. No former president has ever been convicted of a crime. The mere possibility of a criminal trial for Trump would ignite a partisan brawl across the nation.

Congress may try to limit the power of future presidents — strengthening congressional oversight, fortifying the independence of inspectors general, demanding more financial disclosure, increasing penalties on presidential aides who break laws, restricting the pardon process, and so on.

But Congress – a co-equal branch of government under the Constitution — cannot rein in rogue presidents. And the courts don’t want to weigh in on political questions.

The appalling reality is that Trump may get away with it. And in getting away with it he will have changed and degraded the norms governing American presidents. The giant windows he’s broken are invitations to a future president to break even more.

Nothing will correct this unless or until an overwhelming majority of Americans recognize and condemn what has occurred.

The Rich Must Do Their Share!

Way back in 2017, I wrote a post titled It Trickles Up … Not Down! in which I de-bunked this theory that if you give the rich more money, they will use it to improve the lot of the other 99% of us … it just doesn’t happen that way, folks, for the rich delight in seeing their investment portfolios grow and largely don’t give a damn about the rest of us.  In today’s column, Robert Reich explains it in a bit more detail …


Trickle-down economics doesn’t work but build-up does – is Biden listening?

A new study confirms tax cuts for the rich do not benefit the rest. Recovery from the pandemic is a chance to change course

Robert Reich-4Robert Reich

How should the huge financial costs of the pandemic be paid for, as well as the other deferred needs of society, after this annus horribilis?

Politicians rarely want to raise taxes on the rich. Joe Biden promised to do so, but a closely divided Congress is already balking.

That’s because they’ve bought into one of the most dangerous of all economic ideas: that economic growth requires the rich to become even richer. Rubbish.

Economist John Kenneth Galbraith once dubbed it the “horse and sparrow” theory: “If you feed the horse enough oats, some will pass through to the road for the sparrows.”

We know it as trickle-down economics.

In a new study, David Hope of the London School of Economics and Julian Limberg of King’s College London lay waste to the theory. They reviewed data over the last half-century in advanced economies and found that tax cuts for the rich widened inequality without having any significant effect on jobs or growth. Nothing trickled down.

Meanwhile, the rich have become far richer. Since the start of the pandemic, just 651 American billionaires have gained $1 trillion of wealth. With this windfall, they could send a $3,000 check to every person in America and still be as rich as they were before the pandemic. Don’t hold your breath.

Stock markets have been hitting record highs. More initial public stock offerings have been launched this year than in over two decades. A wave of high-tech IPOs has delivered gushers of money to Silicon Valley investors, founders, and employees.

Oh, and tax rates are historically low.

Yet at the same time, more than 20 million Americans are jobless, 8 million have fallen into poverty, 19 million are at risk of eviction, and 26 million are going hungry. Mainstream economists are already talking about a “K-shaped” recovery – the better-off reaping most gains while the bottom half continue to slide.

You don’t need a doctorate in ethical philosophy to think that now might be a good time to tax and redistribute some of the top’s riches to the hard-hit below. The UK is already considering an emergency tax on wealth.

The president-elect has rejected a wealth tax, but maybe he should be even more ambitious and seek to change economic thinking altogether.

The practical alternative to trickle-down economics might be called build-up economics. Not only should the rich pay for today’s devastating crisis but they should also invest in the public’s long-term wellbeing. The rich themselves would benefit from doing so, as would everyone else.

At one time, America’s major political parties were on the way to embodying these two theories. Speaking to the Democratic National Convention in 1896, populist William Jennings Bryan noted: “There are two ideas of government. There are those who believe that, if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous, their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous, their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

Build-up economics reached its zenith in the decades after the Second World War, when the richest Americans paid a marginal income tax rate of between 70% and 90%. That revenue helped fund massive investment in infrastructure, education, health, and basic research – creating the largest and most productive middle class the world had ever seen.

But starting in the 1980s, America retreated from public investment. The result is crumbling infrastructure, inadequate schools, wildly dysfunctional healthcare and public health systems, and a shrinking core of basic research. Productivity has plummeted.

Yet we know public investment pays off. Studies show an average return on infrastructure investment of $1.92 for every public dollar invested, and a return on early childhood education of between 10% and 16% – with 80% of the benefits going to the general public.

The Covid vaccine reveals the importance of investments in public health, and the pandemic shows how everyone’s health affects everyone else’s. Yet 37 million Americans still have no health insurance. A study in the Lancet estimates Medicare for All would prevent 68,000 unnecessary deaths each year, while saving money.

If we don’t launch something as bold as a Green New Deal, we’ll spend trillions coping with ever more damaging hurricanes, wildfires, floods and rising sea levels.

The returns from these and other public investments are huge. The costs of not making them are astronomical.

Trickle-down economics is a cruel hoax, while the benefits of build-up economics are real. At this juncture, between a global pandemic and the promise of a post-pandemic world, and between the administrations of Trump and Biden, we would be well-served by changing the economic paradigm from trickle down to build up.

Welcome to America, Where the Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Poorer

Yesterday, I wrote of my frustration with this nation’s apparent inability or unwillingness to unite — left vs right, Republican vs Democrat.  Today, Robert Reich’s column in The Guardian shows us that the divide is a calculated one, a manipulation by those with billions of dollars in their portfolio, aided and abetted by the GOP.  Reich proposes that the real division is the 1% vs 99% and that a middle ground no longer exists, nor can it.  Take a look …


Trump’s refusal to concede is just the latest gambit to please Republican donors

Robert Reich-4by Robert Reich

Millions who should be ranged against the American oligarchy are distracted and divided – just as their leaders want

Leave it to Trump and his Republican allies to spend more energy fighting non-existent voter fraud than containing a virus that has killed 244,000 Americans and counting.

The cost of this misplaced attention is incalculable. While Covid-19 surges to record levels, there’s still no national strategy for equipment, stay-at-home orders, mask mandates or disaster relief.

The other cost is found in the millions of Trump voters who are being led to believe the election was stolen and who will be a hostile force for years to come – making it harder to do much of anything the nation needs, including actions to contain the virus.

Trump is continuing this charade because it pulls money into his newly formed political action committee and allows him to assume the mantle of presumed presidential candidate for 2024, whether he intends to run or merely keep himself the center of attention.

Leading Republicans like the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, are going along with it because donors are refilling GOP coffers.

The biggest beneficiaries are the party’s biggest patrons – the billionaire class, including the heads of the nation’s largest corporations and financial institutions, private-equity partnerships and hedge funds – whom a deeply divided nation serves by giving them unfettered access to the economy’s gains.

Their heist started four decades ago. According to a recent Rand study, if America’s distribution of income had remained the same as it was in the three decades following the second world war, the bottom 90% would now be $47tn richer.

A low-income American earning $35,000 this year would be earning $61,000. A college-educated worker now earning $72,000 would be earning $120,000. Overall, the grotesque surge in inequality that began 40 years ago is costing the median American worker $42,000 per year.

The upward redistribution of $47tn wasn’t due to natural forces. It was contrived. As wealth accumulated at the top, so did political power to siphon off even more wealth and shaft everyone else.

Monopolies expanded because antitrust laws were neutered. Labor unions shriveled because corporations were allowed to bust unions. Wall Street was permitted to gamble with other people’s money and was bailed out when its bets soured even as millions lost their homes and savings. Taxes on the top were cut, tax loopholes widened.

When Covid-19 hit, big tech cornered the market, the rich traded on inside information and the Treasury and the Fed bailed out big corporations but let small businesses go under. Since March, billionaire wealth has soared while most of America has become poorer.

How could the oligarchy get away with this in a democracy where the bottom 90% have the votes? Because the bottom 90% are bitterly divided.

Long before Trump, the GOP suggested to white working-class voters that their real enemies were Black people, Latinos, immigrants, “coastal elites”, bureaucrats and “socialists”. Trump rode their anger and frustration into the White House with more explicit and incendiary messages. He’s still at it with his bonkers claim of a stolen election.

The oligarchy surely appreciates the Trump-GOP tax cuts, regulatory rollbacks and the most business-friendly supreme court since the early 1930s. But the Trump-GOP’s biggest gift has been an electorate more fiercely split than ever.

Into this melee comes Joe Biden, who speaks of being “president of all Americans” and collaborating with the Republican party. But the GOP doesn’t want to collaborate. When Biden holds out an olive branch, McConnell and other Republican leaders will respond just as they did to Barack Obama – with more warfare, because that maintains their power and keeps the big money rolling in.

The president-elect aspires to find a moderate middle ground. This will be difficult because there’s no middle. The real divide is no longer left versus right but the bottom 90% versus the oligarchy.

Biden and the Democrats will better serve the nation by becoming the party of the bottom 90% – of the poor and the working middle class, of black and white and brown, and of all those who would be $47tn richer today had the oligarchy not taken over America.

This would require that Democrats abandon the fiction of political centrism and establish a countervailing force to the oligarchy – and, not incidentally, sever their own links to it.

They’d have to show white working-class voters how badly racism and xenophobia have hurt them as well as people of color. And change the Democratic narrative from kumbaya to economic and social justice.

Easy to say, hugely difficult to accomplish. But if today’s bizarre standoff in Washington is seen for what it really is, there’s no alternative.

What’s Next?

Okay folks … we’ve danced in the streets, popped the champagne corks and celebrated Joe Biden’s win in the presidential election.

Now it’s time to get serious, for what lies ahead is a 73-day transition period that presents a number of pitfalls & perils, given the contentious nature of the incumbent and his loyal lapdogs.  We need to prepare ourselves to survive these next two-and-a-half months with our country and our sanity relatively intact.

In his column today, Robert Reich tells us what we can likely expect over the coming weeks leading up to inauguration day.  I have no doubt that despite all of Trump’s machinations, temper tantrums and legal challenges, Joe Biden will take office on January 20th, but what happens between now and then, and even beyond?  Let’s hear what Reich has to say …


How can Biden heal America when Trump doesn’t want it healed?

The nearest thing America has had to a dictator is beaten but unbowed. He will disgrace the national scene for some time yet

Robert Reich-4Robert Reich

It’s over. Donald Trump is history.

For millions of Americans – a majority, by almost 5 million popular votes – it’s a time for celebration and relief. Trump’s cruelty, vindictiveness, non-stop lies, corruption, rejection of science, chaotic incompetence, and gross narcissism brought out the worst in America. He tested the limits of American decency and democracy. He is the closest we have come to a dictator.

Democracy has had a reprieve, a stay of execution. We have another chance to preserve it, and restore what’s good about America.

It will not be easy. The social fabric is deeply torn. Joe Biden will inherit a pandemic far worse than it would have been had Trump not played it down and refused to take responsibility for containing it, and an economic crisis exacting an unnecessary toll.

The worst legacy of Trump’s term of office is a bitterly divided America.

Judging by the number of ballots cast in the election, Trump’s base of support is roughly 70 million. They were angry even before the election (as were Biden supporters). Now, presumably, they are angrier.

The nation was already divided when Trump became president – by race and ethnicity, region, education, national origin, religion, and class. But he exploited these divisions to advance himself. He didn’t just pour salt into our wounds. He planted grenades in them.

It is a vile legacy. Although Americans have strongly disagreed over what we want the government to do, we at least agreed to be bound by its decisions. This meta-agreement required enough social trust for us to regard the views and interests of those we disagree with as equally worthy of consideration as our own. But Trump continuously sacrificed that trust to feed his own monstrous ego.

Elections usually end with losing candidates congratulating winners and graciously accepting defeat, thereby demonstrating their commitment to the democratic system over the particular outcome they fought to achieve.

But there will be no graciousness from Trump, nor a concession. He is incapable of either.

He will be president for another two and a half months. He is still charging that the election was stolen from him, mounting legal challenges and demanding recounts, maneuvers that could prevent states from meeting the legal deadline of December 8th for choosing electors.

If he continues, America could find itself in a situation similar to what it faced in 1876, when claims about ballot fraud forced a special electoral commission to decide the winner, just two days before the inauguration.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Trump refuses to attend Biden’s inauguration and stages a giant rally instead.

He’ll send firestorms of aggrieved messages to his followers – questioning Biden’s legitimacy and urging that they refuse to recognize his presidency. This will be followed by months of rallies and tweets containing even more outlandish charges: plots against Trump and America by Biden, Nancy Pelosi, “deep-state” bureaucrats, “socialists,” immigrants, Muslims, or any other of his standard foes.

It could go on for years, Trump keeping the nation’s attention, remaining the center of controversy and divisiveness, sustaining his followers in perpetual fury, titillating them with the possibility he might run again in 2024, making it harder for Biden to do any of the national healing he’s promised and the nation so desperately needs.

How can Biden heal the nation when Trump doesn’t want it healed?

The media (including Twitter, Facebook, and even Fox News) could help. They have begun to call out Trump’s lies in real time and cut off his press conferences, practices that should have started years ago. Let’s hope they continue to tag his lies and otherwise ignore him – a fitting end to a reality TV president who tried to turn America into a reality warzone.

But the responsibility for healing America falls to all of us.

For starters, we’d do well to recognize and honor the selflessness we have observed during this trying time – starting with tens of thousands of election workers who have worked long hours under difficult and sometimes dangerous circumstances.

Add to them the hospital workers across the nation saving lives from the scourge of Covid-19; the thousands of fire fighters in the west and the emergency responders on the Gulf coast battling the consequences of climate change; the civil servants getting unemployment checks out to millions of jobless Americans; social workers dealing with family crises in the wake of evictions and other hardships; armies of volunteers doling out food from soup kitchens.

These are the true heroes of America. They embody the decency of this land. They are doing the healing, rebuilding trust, reminding us who we are and who we are not.

Donald Trump is not America.

Food For Thought …

Today it is likely that Amy Barrett will be confirmed by a majority in the U.S. Senate.  Unconscionable?  Yes, for many reasons, but nonetheless inevitable.  In yesterday’s edition of The Guardian, Robert Reich wrote about what needs to happen next, assuming that Joe Biden is the next president and that the democrats can keep a majority in the House and gain a majority in the Senate – once considered unlikely, but far more realistic today.


Trump assaulted American democracy – here’s how Democrats can save it

Amy Coney Barrett is heading for confirmation but supreme court and Senate reform is possible if Biden wins and acts fast

Robert Reich-4Robert Reich

Barring a miracle, Amy Coney Barrett will be confirmed on Monday as the ninth justice on the US supreme court.

This is a travesty of democracy.

The vote on Barrett’s confirmation will occur just eight days before election day. By contrast, the Senate didn’t even hold a hearing on Merrick Garland, who Barack Obama nominated almost a year before the end of his term. Majority leader Mitch McConnell argued at the time that any vote should wait “until we have a new president”.

Barrett was nominated by a president who lost the popular vote by nearly 3m ballots, and who was impeached by the House of Representatives. When Barrett joins the court, five of the nine justices will have been appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote.

The Republican senators who will vote for her represent 15 million fewer Americans than their Democratic colleagues.

Once on the high court, Barrett will join five other reactionaries who together will be able to declare laws unconstitutional, for perhaps a generation.

Barrett’s confirmation is the culmination of years in which a shrinking and increasingly conservative, rural and white segment of the US population has been imposing its will on the rest of America. They’ve been bankrolled by big business, seeking lower taxes and fewer regulations.

In the event Joe Biden becomes president on 20 January and both houses of Congress come under control of the Democrats, they can reverse this trend. It may be the last chance – both for the Democrats and, more importantly, for American democracy.

How?

For starters, increase the size of the supreme court. The constitution says nothing about the number of justices. The court changed size seven times in its first 80 years, from as few as five justices under John Adams to 10 under Abraham Lincoln.

Biden says if elected he’ll create a bipartisan commission to study a possible court overhaul “because it’s getting out of whack”. That’s fine, but he’ll need to move quickly. The window of opportunity could close by the 2022 midterm elections.

Second, abolish the Senate filibuster. Under current rules, 60 votes are needed to enact legislation. This means that if Democrats win a bare majority there, Republicans could block any new legislation Biden hopes to pass.

The filibuster could be ended with a rule change requiring 51 votes. There is growing support among Democrats for doing this if they gain that many seats. During the campaign, Biden acknowledged that the filibuster has become a negative force in government.

The filibuster is not in the constitution either.

The most ambitious structural reform would be to rebalance the Senate itself. For decades, rural states have been emptying as the US population has shifted to vast megalopolises. The result is a growing disparity in representation, especially of nonwhite voters.

For example, both California, with a population of 40 million, and Wyoming, whose population is 579,000, get two senators. If population trends continue, by 2040 some 40% of Americans will live in just five states, and half of America will be represented by 18 Senators, the other half by 82.

This distortion also skews the electoral college, because each state’s number of electors equals its total of senators and representatives. Hence, the recent presidents who have lost the popular vote.

This growing imbalance can be remedied by creating more states representing a larger majority of Americans. At the least, statehood should be granted to Washington DC. And given that one out of eight Americans now lives in California – whose economy, if it were a separate country, would be the ninth-largest in the world – why not split it into a North and South California?

The constitution is also silent on the number of states.

Those who recoil from structural reforms such as the three I’ve outlined warn that Republicans will retaliate when they return to power. That’s rubbish. Republicans have already altered the ground rules. In 2016, they failed to win a majority of votes cast for the House, Senate or the presidency, yet secured control of all three.

Barrett’s ascent is the latest illustration of how grotesque the power imbalance has become, and how it continues to entrench itself ever more deeply. If not reversed soon, it will be impossible to remedy.

What’s at stake is not partisan politics. It is representative government. If Democrats get the opportunity, they must redress this growing imbalance – for the sake of democracy.

A Matter of Principles

Today, while the nation mourns the death of one of the most consequential figures on the Supreme Court in modern times, other forces are working to further decimate the democratic processes and take this nation another step closer to an autocracy.  Robert Reich, as always, sums it up well.


Rushing to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg, McConnell shows power trumps principle

The justice who died on Friday night stood for the integrity of democracy. The Senate leader stands only for Republican gains

Robert Reich-4Robert Reich

People in public life tend to fall into one of two broad categories – those motivated by principle, and those motivated by power.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died on Friday night at the age of 87, exemplified the first.

When he nominated her in 1993, Bill Clinton called her “the Thurgood Marshall of gender-equality law”, comparing her advocacy and lower-court rulings in pursuit of equal rights for women to the work of the great jurist who advanced the cause of equal rights for Black people. Ginsburg persuaded the Supreme Court that the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection applied not only to racial discrimination, but to sex discrimination as well.

For Ginsburg, principle was everything – not only equal rights, but also the integrity of democracy. Always concerned about the consequences of her actions for the system as a whole, she advised young people “to fight for the things you care about but do it in a way that will lead others to join you”.

Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, exemplifies the second category. He couldn’t care less about principle. He is motivated entirely by the pursuit of power.

McConnell refused to allow the Senate to vote on Barack Obama’s nominee to the supreme court, Merrick Garland, in February 2016 – almost a year before the end of Obama’s second term – on the dubious grounds that the “vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president”.

McConnell’s move was a pure power grab. No Senate leader had ever before asserted the right to block a vote on a president’s nominee to the supreme court.

McConnell’s “principle” of waiting for a new president disappeared on Friday evening, after Ginsburg’s death was announced.

Just weeks before one of the most consequential presidential elections in American history, when absentee voting has already begun in many states (and will start in McConnell’s own state of Kentucky in 25 days), McConnell announced: “President Trump’s nominee will receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate.”

This is, after all, the same Mitch McConnell who, soon after Trump was elected, ended the age-old requirement that supreme court nominees receive 60 votes to end debate and allow for a confirmation vote, and then, days later, pushed through Trump’s first nominee, Neil Gorsuch.

Ginsburg and McConnell represent the opposite poles of public service today. The distinction doesn’t depend on whether someone is a jurist or legislator (I’ve known many lawmakers who cared more about principle than power, such as the late congressman John Lewis). It depends on values.

Ginsburg refused to play power politics. As she passed her 80th birthday, near the start of Obama’s second term, she dismissed calls for her to retire in order to give Obama plenty of time to name her replacement, saying she planned to stay “as long as I can do the job full steam”, adding: “There will be a president after this one, and I’m hopeful that that president will be a fine president.”

She hoped others would also live by principle, including McConnell and Trump. Just days before her death she said: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”

Her wish will not be honored.

If McConnell cannot muster the Senate votes needed to confirm Trump’s nominee before the election, he’ll probably try to fill the vacancy in the lame-duck session after the election. He’s that shameless.

Not even with Joe Biden president and control over both the House and Senate can Democrats do anything about this – except, perhaps, by playing power politics themselves: expanding the size of the court or restructuring it so justices on any given case are drawn from a pool of appellate judges.

The deeper question is which will prevail in public life: McConnell’s power politics or Ginsburg’s dedication to principle?

The problem for America, as for many other democracies at this point in history, is this is not an even match. Those who fight for power will bend or break rules to give themselves every advantage. Those who fight for principle are at an inherent disadvantage because bending or breaking rules undermines the very ideals they seek to uphold.

Over time, the unbridled pursuit of power wears down democratic institutions, erodes public trust and breeds the sort of cynicism that invites despotism.

The only bulwark is a public that holds power accountable – demanding stronger guardrails against its abuses, and voting power-mongers out of office.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg often referred to Justice Louis Brandeis’s famous quote, that “the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people”.

Indeed.

May we honor her legacy with action.

Going Once, Going Twice …

Arguably the single most important issue facing the world today is climate change.  In the throes of the current pandemic, and amidst the undeniably craziest election the U.S. has ever seen, we in this country seem to have largely forgotten about the damage that we humans have done to this planet over the past 100 years or so.  The wildfires on the West Coast and the onslaught of hurricanes in recent years should have been a wake-up call, but … we are still focusing on other things, while the world burns.  We are nearing the point of no return in our wanton disregard for the environment, yet few seem to care.  Robert Reich speaks wise words …


Trump doesn’t care if wildfires destroy the west – it didn’t vote for him

Robert Reich-4Robert Reich

The climate crisis is upon us all but the president pursues more rollbacks. This election offers an existential choice

The air outside my window is yellow today. It was orange yesterday. The Air Quality Index is over 200. The Environmental Protection Agency defines this as a “health alert” in which “everyone may experience more serious health effects if they are exposed for 24 hours.” Unfortunately, the index has been over 200 for several days.

The west is burning. Wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington are incinerating homes, killing scores of people, sickening many others, causing hundreds of thousands to evacuate, burning entire towns to the ground, consuming millions of acres, and blanketing the western third of the United States with thick, acrid, and dangerous smoke.

Yet the president has said and done almost nothing. A month ago, Trump wanted to protect lives in Oregon and California from “rioters and looters.” He sent federal forces into the streets of Portland and threatened to send them to Oakland and Los Angeles.

Today, Portland is in danger of being burned, and Oakland and Los Angeles are under health alerts. Trump will visit California on Monday, but he has said little.

One reason: these states voted against him in 2016 and he still bears a grudge.

He came close to rejecting California’s request for emergency funding.

“He told us to stop giving money to people whose houses had burned down because he was so rageful that people in the state of California didn’t support him,” said former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor.

Another explanation for Trump’s silence is that the wildfires are tied to human-caused climate change, which Trump has done everything humanly possible to worsen.

Extreme weather disasters are rampaging across America. On Wednesday, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration released its latest State of the Climate report, finding that just in August, the US was hit by four billion-dollar calamities. In addition to wildfires, there were two enormous hurricanes and an extraordinary Midwest derecho.

These are inconvenient facts for a president who has spent much of his presidency dismantling every major climate and environmental policy he can lay his hands on.

Starting with his unilateral decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, Trump has been the most anti-environmental president in history.

He has called climate change a “hoax.” He has claimed, with no evidence, that windmills cause cancer. He has weakened Obama-era limits on planet-warming carbon dioxide from power plants and from cars and trucks. He has rolled back rules governing clean air, water and toxic chemicals. He has opened more public land to oil and gas drilling.

He has targeted California in particular, revoking the state’s authority to set tougher car emission standards than those required by the federal government.

In all, the Trump administration has reversed, repealed, or otherwise rolled back nearly 70 environmental rules and regulations. More than 30 rollbacks are still in progress.

Now, seven weeks before election day, with much of the nation either aflame or suffering other consequences of climate change, Trump unabashedly defends his record and attacks Joe Biden.

“The core of [Biden’s] economic agenda is a hard-left crusade against American energy,” Trump harrumphed in a Rose Garden speech last month.

Not quite. While Biden has made tackling climate change a centerpiece of his campaign, proposing to invest $2 trillion in a massive green jobs program to build renewable energy infrastructure, his ideas are not exactly radical. The money would be used for improving energy efficiency, constructing 500,000 electric vehicle charging stations, and increasing renewable energy from wind, solar, and other technologies.

Biden wants to end the use of fossil fuels to generate electricity by 2035, and to bring America to net zero emissions of greenhouse gases by no later than 2050. If what is now occurring in the west is any indication, his goals may be too modest. 2050 will be too late.

Nonetheless, Americans have a clear choice. In a few weeks, when they decide whether Trump deserves another four years, climate change will be on the ballot.

The choice shouldn’t be hard to make. Like the coronavirus, the dire consequences of climate change – coupled with Trump’s utter malfeasance – offer unambiguous proof that he couldn’t care less about the public good.

Where Is The Real Threat?

This week there has been enough news to boggle the mind, to make one want to hide in a closet until sometime after November 3rd … maybe even until around 2025.  The coronavirus is out of control in the U.S., but we no longer get accurate numbers of new cases because testing has slowed to a crawl.  The shitshow last week put on at our expense by the Republicans was depressing … was naught but an expensive circus with the nastiest clowns ever seen, half of them with the last name “Trump”.  Multiple times during that circus, we were told that only Trump will bring “law and order” to the streets of the nation, but … it is he and his enablers who have created the most disharmony and disunity this nation has seen in more than 100 years.  Robert Reich, a man with much more experience and understanding than most, sums it all up nicely for us, thankfully, for I am too tired to do so today …


The real threats to American law and order are Trump’s craven enablers

The president railed against ‘violent anarchists, agitators and criminals’ but he surrounds himself with lawless lackeys

Robert Reich-4By Robert Reich

One week ago, Rusten Sheskey, a seven-year veteran of the Kenosha, Wisconsin, police department, fired at least seven shots at the back of a Black man named Jacob Blake as he opened his car door, leaving the 29-year-old father of five probably paralyzed from the waist down.

After protests erupted, self-appointed armed militia or vigilante-type individuals rushed to Kenosha, including Kyle Rittenhouse, a white 17-year-old who traveled there and then, appearing on the streets with an AR-15 assault rifle, allegedly killed two people and wounded a third.

This is pure gold for a president without a plan, a party without a platform, and a cult without a purpose other than the abject worship of Donald J Trump.

To be re-elected Trump knows he has to distract the nation from the coronavirus pandemic that he has flagrantly failed to control – leaving more than 180,000 Americans dead, tens of millions jobless and at least 30 million reportedly hungry.

So he’s counting on the reliable Republican dog-whistle. “Your vote,” Trump said in his speech closing the Republican convention Thursday night, “will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens.”

“We will have law and order on the streets of this country,” Vice-President Mike Pence declared the previous evening, warning “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”

Neither Trump nor Pence mentioned the real threats to law and order in America today, such as gun-toting agitators like Rittenhouse, who, perhaps not coincidentally, occupied a front-row seat at a Trump rally in Des Moines in January.

Pence lamented the death of federal officer Dave Patrick Underwood, “shot and killed during the riots in Oakland, California”, earlier this year, implying he was killed by protesters. In fact, Underwood was shot and killed by an adherent of the boogaloo boys, an online extremist movement that’s trying to ignite a race war.

Such groups have found encouragement in a president who sees “very fine people” supporting white supremacy.

The threat also comes from conspiracy theorists like Marjorie Taylor Greene, the recently nominated Republican candidate for Georgia’s 14th congressional district and promoter of QAnon, whose adherents believe Trump is battling a cabal of “deep state” saboteurs who worship Satan and traffic children for sex. Trump has praised Greene as a “future Republican star” and claimed that QAnon followers “love our country”.

And from people like Mary Ann Mendoza, a member of Trump’s campaign advisory board, who was scheduled to speak at the Republican convention until she retweeted an antisemitic rant about a supposed Jewish plan to enslave the world’s peoples and steal their land.

Clearly the threat also comes from hotheaded, often racist police officers who fire bullets into the backs of Black men and women or kneel on their necks so they can’t breathe. Needless to say, there was little mention at the Republican convention of Jacob Blake, and none of George Floyd or Breonna Taylor.

And the threat comes from Trump’s own lackeys who have brazenly broken laws to help him attain and keep power. Since Trump promised he would only hire “the best people”, 14 Trump aides, donors and advisers have been indicted or imprisoned.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W Giuliani – who ranted at the Republican convention about rioting and looting in cities with Democratic mayors – has repeatedly met with the pro-Russia Ukrainian parliamentarian Andriy Derkach, whom American intelligence has determined is “spreading claims about corruption … to undermine former Vice President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party”.

In addition, federal prosecutors are investigating Giuliani’s business dealings in Ukraine with two men arrested in an alleged campaign finance scheme.

Trump’s new postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, who had been a major Trump campaign donor before taking over the post office, is being sued by six states and the District of Columbia for allegedly seeking to “undermine” the postal service as millions of Americans plan to vote by mail during the pandemic.

Not to forget the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who spoke to the Republican convention while on an official trip to the Middle East, in apparent violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits officials of the executive branch other than the president and vice-president from engaging in partisan politics.

You want the real threat to American law and order? It’s found in these Trump enablers and bottom-dwellers. They are the inevitable excrescence of Trump’s above-the-law, race-baiting, me-first presidency. It is from the likes of them that the rest of America is in serious need of protection.

Words of Wisdom … But Will We Listen?

Once again, Robert Reich has wise words, but will this nation listen?  That, my friends, is the $64 million question.


Voters can replace a party that knows how to fight with one that knows how to govern

Robert Reich-4Robert Reich

As America heads into its quadrennial circus of nominating conventions (this year’s even more surreal because of the pandemic), it’s important to understand the real difference between America’s two political parties at this point in history.

Instead of “left” versus “right”, think of two different core competences.

The Democratic party is basically a governing party, organized around developing and implementing public policies. The Republican party has become an attack party, organized around developing and implementing political vitriol. Democrats legislate. Republicans fulminate.

In theory, politics requires both capacities – to govern, but also to fight to attain and retain power. The dysfunction today is that Republicans can’t govern and Democrats can’t fight.

Donald Trump is the culmination of a half-century of Republican belligerence. Richard Nixon’s “dirty tricks” were followed by Republican operative Lee Atwater’s smear tactics, Newt Gingrich’s take-no-prisoners reign as House speaker, the “Swift-boating” of John Kerry, and the Republicans’ increasingly blatant uses of racism and xenophobia to build an overwhelmingly white, rural base.

Atwater, trained in the southern swamp of the modern Republican party, once noted: “Republicans in the south could not win elections by talking about issues. You had to make the case that the other guy, the other candidate, is a bad guy.” Over time, the GOP’s core competence came to be vilification.

The stars of today’s Republican party, in addition to Trump, are all pugilists: Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio; Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Georgia’s Brian Kemp; Fox News’s Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson; and attack dogs like Rudolph Giuliani and Roger Stone.

But Republicans don’t have a clue how to govern. They’re hopeless at developing and implementing public policies or managing government. They can’t even agree on basics like how to respond to the pandemic or what to replace Obamacare with.

Meanwhile, the central competence of the Democratic party is running government – designing policies and managing the system. Once in office, Democrats spend countless hours cobbling together legislative and regulatory initiatives. They overflow with economic and policy advisers, programs, plans and goals.

But Democrats are lousy at bare-knuckles political fighting. Their presidential campaigns proffer policies but are often devoid of passion. Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid was little more than a long list of detailed proposals. Democrats seem stunned when their Republican opponents pillory them with lies, rage and ad hominem attacks.

This has put Democrats at a competitive disadvantage. Political campaigns might once have been about party platforms, but today’s electorate is angrier and more cynical. Policy ideas rarely make headlines; conflict does. Social media favor explosive revelations, including bald lies. No one remembers Hillary Clinton’s policy ideas from 2016; they only remember Trump’s attacks on her emails.

As a result, the party that’s mainly good at attacking has been winning elections – and pushed into governing, which it’s bad at. In 2016, the Republicans won the presidency, along with control over both chambers of Congress and most governorships. On the other hand, the party that’s mainly good at governing has been losing elections – pushed into the role of opposition and attack, which it’s bad at. (The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, however, seems to have a natural gift for it.)

This dysfunction has become particularly obvious – and deadly – in the current national emergency. Trump and Senate Republicans turned the pandemic and economic downturn into American catastrophes. They have no capacity to develop and implement strategies for dealing with them. Their kneejerk response is to attack – China, Democrats, public health officials, protesters, “lazy” people who won’t work.

Democrats know what to do – House Democrats passed a comprehensive coronavirus bill in May, and several Democratic governors have been enormously effective – but they’ve lacked power to put a national strategy into effect.

All this may change in a few months when Americans have an opportunity to replace the party that’s bad at governing with the one that’s good at it. After all, Joe Biden has been at it for most of the past half-century.

Trump and the Republican party will pull out all the stops, of course. They’ve already started mindless, smarmy attacks. That’s what they know how to do.

The big question hovering over the election is whether Democrats can summon enough fight to win against the predictable barrage. Biden’s choice of running mate, Kamala Harris, bodes well in this regard. Quite apart from all her other attributes, she’s a fierce fighter.

The State Of The Nation …

A number of serious issues are deeply concerning in the U.S. today, and obviously the coronavirus pandemic is at the top of the list.  Well, it’s obvious to some of us, at any rate. Trump’s horrific bungling of the pandemic has caused the U.S. to have the absolute worst record on the globe, with now 27% of the world’s cases, while we only account for over 4% of the world’s population.  With less than 100 days until the November election, Trump apparently decided it would be easier  to draw public attention away from the virus, than to try to allow the experts to take over and fix the problem.  His distraction?  Attack the cities and the people who live in them. Today, I would like to share the esteemed Robert Reich’s Sunday column from The Guardian on this topic …


Trump can’t shift public attention from coronavirus to the streets of America

Robert Reich-4Robert Reich

Donald Trump has said he has “no responsibility” for the coronavirus pandemic, fobbing it off on governors and mayors whose repeated requests for federal help he’s denied. Yet he’s now sending federal troops into cities he says are controlled by the “radical left”, whose mayors and governors don’t want them there.

The president wants to shift public attention from the virus, which he can’t “dominate”, to the streets of America, which he and his secret police can.

It’s an especially cynical re-election strategy because coronavirus deaths are rising again. More Americans are on track to be hospitalized with the virus than at any other point. Rates of new infections repeatedly shatter single-day records. As a result, the US economy is backsliding.

Trump has never offered a national strategy for testing, contact tracing and isolating those who have the disease. He has provided no standards for reopening the economy, no plan for national purchasing of critical materials, no definitive policy for helping the unemployed, no clear message about what people and businesses should do. He rushed to reopen without adequate safeguards.

The hapless White House “coronavirus taskforce” is in perpetual disarray. Trump has downgraded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). His Department of Labor hasn’t even put out standards for workplace safety.

Trump won’t use the Defense Production Act to secure supplies to perform tests – swabs, chemicals, pipette tips, machines, containers – so public health officials can’t quickly identify and isolate people who are infected and trace their contacts.

It’s been an abominable, chaotic mess – which is why the virus is back.

Yet when it comes to assaulting Americans, Trump has been asserting strong leadership. He’s deploying unidentified federal agents against protesters in Portland, Oregon: attacking them, pulling them into unmarked vans, detaining them without charges.

Trump is also sending troops to Kansas City, Albuquerque and Chicago. He says he’ll send them to New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Baltimore and Oakland as well – not incidentally, all cities with Democratic mayors, large black populations and no violent unrest.

Trump can’t find federal personnel to do contact tracing for the coronavirus but has found thousands of agents for his secret police, drawn from the departments of Justice and Homeland Security.

Trump doesn’t want to know about the coronavirus but he’s keeping careful track of the battles in the streets, demanding up-to-the-minute briefings from the front.

Public health authorities don’t have adequate medical equipment to quickly analyze coronavirus tests but Trump’s police have everything they need to injure protesters, including armored vans, teargas, and tactical assault weapons – “the best equipment”, Trump boasted last week.

There is no legal authority for this. The founders denied police power to the national government. The local officials in charge of keeping public order reject Trump’s troops. The mayor of Portland was teargassed this week. The mayor of Kansas City calls them “disgraceful”. Albuquerque’s mayor announced: “There’s no place for Trump’s secret police in our city.” Chicago’s mayor does “not welcome dictatorship”.

The one encouraging note – analogous to Sherlock Holmes’ dog that didn’t bark – is the absence of the US military. Unlike Trump’s lapdog attorney general, William Barr, the generals don’t want any part of it.

The Trump campaign is running fictitious ads portraying cities as overrun by violent leftwing mobs, and Trump’s shameless Fox News lackeys are depicting protesters as “rioters” and the “armed wing of Democratic party”.

At the same time, Trump is trying to suppress the truth about the coronavirus. The White House is instructing hospitals to report cases to the Department of Health and Human Services rather than to the CDC. Trump has muzzled the federal government’s most prominent and trusted virologist, Dr Anthony Fauci, while the White House tries to discredit him. In the upcoming coronavirus relief bill, Trump doesn’t even want to fund more testing and tracing, or the CDC.

After railing against the CDC’s guidelines for reopening schools as “very tough [and] expensive”, Trump this week pressured the CDC to issue more lax guidelines, some of which were written by White House officials instead of CDC experts.

Yet Trump won’t be able to shift public attention from the virus to the streets of America. The violence he’s trying to fuel and exaggerate is far less frightening to average voters than the virus, which is worsening by the day, especially in Texas, Florida, and other states that went for Trump in 2016. His blatant failure to contain it is causing people to die.