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 Former Guy

I took a brief hiatus yesterday … my sanity depended on it.  But today I return … renewed, refreshed, and …. Oh heck, it’s all a lie. Who do I think I’m kidding?  I am neither renewed nor refreshed … I am, rather, exhausted and depressed, but for better or for worse, I am back with my usual … um … bit of ‘tude.

Trump is now “the former guy”

Remember January 20th, 2017 when President Obama left the White House, attended the inauguration of Donald Trump, and then was rarely in the news?  His time in the limelight was over, it was time to pass the baton, and move on with his life.  That is as it should be, folks.  So why the Sam Hell is Donald Trump’s face continually splattered over every media site, and his every word published ad nauseam?

It is time to step away from Donald Trump, my friends.  It is time for the media to focus on today’s reality, not yesterday’s lies.  I call on the press to stop … cease and desist … before they make the same mistake they made in 2016 of giving him so much free airtime that ultimately he was seen as something he wasn’t:  human.  A few days ago, Biden chose not to refer to Trump by name, and called him ‘the former guy’.  I suggest that become his new moniker … it suggests his current irrelevance, and that is what is needed right now if this nation stands a chance of healing.  He has no meaning to us, is naught but a private citizen like you and I.  I hope to be writing about the charges, both federal and state, against him over the coming year, but that’s about all I care about regarding him or his activities or rhetoric.

I and other bloggers have focused on the attacks of January 6th, incited and financed by the former guy, and the related impeachment trial, in hopes he would be held accountable for his actions for once.  The impeachment is over, the Republican Party is forever stained for their refusal to hold him accountable, and no, we won’t forget … ever.  However, it’s time now to realize that the former guy is no longer relevant to our lives, and focus on what is happening in our government, in the world today.  The former guy is history, he is boring for he is a broken record with only 5 phrases on his track.  A recent survey, taken 3 days after the pathetic impeachment vote, claims that 54% of republicans plan to back Trump as a presidential candidate in 2024.  Okay, fine, wonderful, but the election is not for another three-and-a-half years, some 45 months from now. There is work being done by the Biden administration that is far more important than what the former guy does or says.  And frankly, I think the squirrel on my back porch has as much chance of winning in 2024 as Trump.  So, let’s put the ugly man aside, leave him to languish in his fancy digs or rot in prison, and let us focus more on the things that matter in our lives.

Joe Biden brings to our government fresh blood, people who are intelligent, educated, and knowledgeable in their fields, and he brings policies that will make positive contributions to our lives, our health, and our environment.

The Biden cabinet

To date, seven of President Biden’s nominations for cabinet positions have been confirmed, most by a significant majority:

  • Tony Blinken, Secretary of State, was confirmed on January 26th by a vote of 78-22
  • Janet Yellen, Secretary of Treasury, was confirmed on January 25th by a vote of 84-15
  • Lloyd Austin, Secretary of Defense, was confirmed on January 22nd by a vote of 93-2
  • Pete Buttigieg, Secretary of Transportation, was confirmed on February 2nd by a vote of 86-13
  • Denis McDonough, Secretary of Veteran’s Affairs, was confirmed on January 27th by a vote of 87-7
  • Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security, was confirmed on February 2nd by a vote of 56-43
  • Avril Haines, Director of National Intelligence, was confirmed on January 20th by a vote of 84-10

Next week, confirmation hearings are scheduled for …

  • Merrick Garland, Attorney General, February 22-23
  • Debra Haaland, Secretary of the Interior, February 23
  • Xavier Becerra, Secretary of Health and Human Services, February 23

The Biden cabinet is coming together nicely, and I’m pleased that there has been no significant disruption in the process, apart from the time spent in the impeachment trial.  Every one of these people have the background, education and experience to handle the job, unlike their counterparts in the previous administration.  I don’t foresee a problem with the confirmations of Garland, Haaland, or Becerra, though I could always be overlooking something.  After all, it was me who declared 5 years ago that the former guy didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning the presidency.  Sigh.  Sooner of later I’ve got to be right … right?

Senators, Please “Just Say NO”

Donald Trump has a heavily vested interest in the U.S. court system.  I mean, anyone who has sued or been sued some 5,000+ times, surely knows his way around the courts, right?  Just since he took that oath of office that he has failed miserably in upholding, he has been involved in more than 100 lawsuits … in under three years, and that is not counting personal or business lawsuits, only the ones that involve his office.

Numerous times, judges have ruled against Trump, and his lawyers have filed appeals, so it stands to reason that, as there is currently a vacancy on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, he would nominate a candidate he felt would be on his team, in his court, so to speak.  Enter one Steven James Menashi, Trump’s current nominee to fill the vacancy.  Let’s learn a bit about Mr. Menashi’s career thus far …

  • Menashi graduated from Stanford Law School in 2008 with a Juris Doctor (JD)
  • Menashi served as a law clerk to Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit during the 2008–2009 term, and to Associate Justice Samuel Alito of the Supreme Court of the United States during the 2010–2011 term
  • He has been a partner in a law firm, and an assistant professor of law at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School
  • He served as general counsel on an acting basis to the Department of Education from mid-2017 to mid-2018
  • In September 2018, Menashi moved to the White House to become a Special Assistant to the President and Associate Counsel to the President

You may note that he has never been a judge.MenashiIn September, Trump sent his nomination for Menashi to fill the seat on the Appellate court.  Now, you might say that he sounds well enough qualified, even though he’s never been a judge before.  And the American Bar Association has rated him as “well qualified”.  So, where’s the beef?

On September 11, 2019, a hearing on Menashi’s nomination was held before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  It did not go well.  Menashi declined or outright refused to answer many of the committee’s questions.  Even Trump sycophant Senator Lindsey Graham appeared antagonistic toward Menashi …

“That’s not an unfair question. Did you work on the subject matter? I’m not asking you to talk about what you did in terms of legal advice, I’m asking did you work on the topic.”

Senator Richard Durbin also lost patience with Menashi …

“We’re trying to understand if you have any values that are consistent with the awesome responsibilities you are seeking, and I’m hoping you would show some candor and honesty.”

Senator John Neely Kennedy:

“Counsel, you’re a really smart guy, but I wish you’d be more forthcoming. This isn’t supposed to be a game; we’re supposed to try to understand not how you’re going to rule but how you’re going to think.”

But perhaps even more disturbing than his obfuscation are some of his beliefs as expressed through his prior writings.  One in particular titled “Ethnonationalism and Liberal Democracy”, has drawn concern and criticism. In a nutshell, the piece argues that “ethnonationalism remains a common and accepted feature of liberal democracy that is consistent with current state practice and international law.”

Just to clarify, the term ethnonationalism is defined as “a form of nationalism wherein the nation is defined in terms of ethnicity. The central theme of ethnic nationalists is that “nations are defined by a shared heritage, which usually includes a common language, a common faith, and a common ethnic ancestry”.  While this may well be the case in many nations, it should not ever be considered to be in the United States, the melting pot of the world.  The U.S. is a nation founded on the principles of openness, of welcoming all to its shores, of religious freedom.  Ethnonationalism promotes bigotry in all its ugly forms and certainly has no place in the Courts of the land!

But wait … there’s more.

  • He has spoken strongly against abortion, likening it to infanticide
  • Menashi had a history of denouncing feminists, diversity efforts and gay rights groups in his college columns and other writings
  • He has a history of denouncing women’s marches against sexual assault, dismissing education about multicultural awareness and accusing a major LGBTQ group of exploiting the brutal murder of a gay student for political ends

In a word, Mr. Menashi is a bigot.  If confirmed to the Second Court of Appeals, it would be a lifetime appointment.  Menashi is only 40 years old, so conceivably his bigoted, misogynist, racist ideology could shape the face of the court for as long as the next 40 years.  Given that quite a few senators were displeased with his performance at the confirmation hearing, there is some hope that this nominee will not be rubber-stamped as so many have been in the past 33 months.  Since the confirmation hearing was more than a month ago, I’m guessing there is a good chance that this nomination will fail.  I certainly hope so, anyway.

He Sure Can Pick ‘Em …

I’ve frequently written about Trump’s staff picks, for they all seem to be the most un-qualified people for the jobs they are assigned.  I mean, he hired Scott Pruitt, a man who had sued the EPA numerous times, to head the EPA!  He chose Betsy DeVos, a woman who doesn’t believe in public schools, to head the Department of Education! It doesn’t get much more buffoonish, does it?  Anyway, I haven’t written about any of his recent staff pics, but since a couple of them are cluttering up my radar screen, it seems a good time to do so!

Mark Morgan …

Typically, we wouldn’t pay much attention to a new Director of Ice (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), but in the era of Trump, we pay attention to things we never needed to before.  And so it was that Trump’s latest staff pick, Mark Morgan, flew across my radar.  Well, truth be told, he rather flopped onto it like a dying bird.


Mark Morgan

The thing that brought Morgan flopping onto my radar screen was his claim that he can look into the eyes of a child and know if that child will grow up to be a criminal.  Say WHAT???  In an interview with Fox News’ resident moron Tucker Carlson, Morgan said …

“I’ve been to detention facilities where I’ve walked up to these individuals that are so-called minors, 17 or under. I’ve looked at them and I’ve looked at their eyes, Tucker — and I’ve said that is a soon-to-be MS-13 gang member. It’s unequivocal.”

Morgan likes to be on television … a lot.  In addition to at least three appearances on Tucker Carlson’s show, he has racked up more than 100 television appearances on other shows such as those of Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.  He sure knows how to pick ‘em, yes?

Morgan was head of Border Patrol for the last four months of the Obama administration, but was almost immediately fired by Trump once he took office.  Perhaps solely on the basis that he had been hired by President Obama … we all know how jealous Trump is of anything with Obama’s name on it.  However, he has proven his worth to Trump by being a cheerleader for Trump’s ignominious border wall, and Fox News refers to Morgan as a former Obama administration official who “saw the light”.

Morgan has also applauded the administration’s policy for keeping immigrant children in cages, saying how wonderful it is that the cages were designed with the occupant’s safety in mind.  Seriously???

His nomination will have to be confirmed by the Senate, and that, believe it or not, is not a certainty.  Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado, both of whom will be up for re-election next year, are treading softly on the issue of immigration, as they have come under fire from their constituents over the abominably cruel policy of separating children from their parents at the border.  Other republicans in the Senate have also expressed concerns, such as Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.  Let us hope that at least 5 of the 54 republican senators find a bit of a conscience and refuse to confirm this animal.  Of course, it won’t matter, for Trump will no doubt find another who is just as unacceptable.

Steve Dickson …

And then there is the position of FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Administrator.  The purpose of the FAA in a nutshell is to regulate all aspects of civil aviation.  This includes airline safety.  Remember the Boeing crashes in recent months?


Steve Dickson

For this crucial post, Trump has nominated Steve Dickson, a former Air Force fighter pilot who went on to become a commercial pilot for Delta, where he has worked for 27 years. Dickson retired as the company’s senior vice president for flight operations last year.  Okay, so he knows how to fly a plane, but frankly those ties to the airline industry seem a built-in conflict of interest to me.

Initially, Trump had planned to name his own personal pilot, an employee of Trump’s company, to head the FAA, but even senate republicans balked at that one.  So, last fall, Dickson stepped down from his position at Delta almost at the same time that Trump announced his decision to nominate him.

On the surface, there isn’t a lot to dislike, but … something is niggling at me.  Perhaps it is the fact that he just left Delta as a senior V.P. … it’s rather like having people in the interior department and the EPA with ties to the fossil fuel industry.  Inherent conflict of interest.

But perhaps the thing that is causing my antennae to twitch is that two days ago, Nicholas E. Calio, President and CEO of Airlines for America (A4A), the industry trade organization for the leading U.S. airlines, sent a letter to Senators Roger Wicker and Maria Cantwell, the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, calling for the quick approval of the nomination of Steve Dickson to serve as the next Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration.  I tend to twitch these days when somebody calls for “quick approval” … remember Brett Kavanaugh?

I would urge caution and research on the part of the Senate, but of course he will be confirmed hands down, in all likelihood, and no doubt quickly.  The FAA dropped the ball on holding Boeing to the industry standards when they rolled out their 737 MAX fleet, and as a result, 346 people died in two crashes within a few months of each other.  The U.S. was the last country to ground the MAX 8 after the second crash, once again putting corporate profit ahead of human lives.  We need to ensure that whoever heads the FAA is independent of Trump and able to stand against industry pressure for profit.  I’m not so sure Steve Dickson is that man.

This administration is looking more and more like a circus every day, but do you notice anything?  Take a look at this picture … granted, some of these are gone and have since been replaced, but you can still see what I’m driving at in this picture, and then look at the statistics chart at the bottom.


He’s got his ‘token black (male)’ in Ben Carson, but Ben is … well, let’s just say he is a poor representation of his race.  And a smattering of women, but not nearly representative of the population of women, and as far as DeVos, I’m not convinced that she is a woman at heart.  Oh yeah, folks, we definitely have a racist, misogynistic bigot in the White House, and he is surrounding himself with people who look just like him.  Think about that.

Walking, Talking Conflict of Interest

David-BernhardtHis name is David Bernhardt, and he is Trump’s latest pick to head the Department of the Interior, since Ryan Zinke resigned last year in the spotlight of several ethics probes.  Zinke was bad enough … Bernhardt, if confirmed by the Senate, may well be worse.  Bernhardt has been serving as Deputy Secretary of the Interior since August 2017, and thus has been acting secretary since Zinke’s departure.

Where to even start?  This guy is, like so many of Trump’s other cabinet choices, the worst possible candidate for the job!  First, he is a former oil lobbyist, which sets up potential conflicts of interest in itself.  If confirmed, he will become one of two former fossil fuel lobbyists overseeing the nation’s top environmental agencies. The other is Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who heads the Environmental Protection Agency.  Between them, these two are in a position to cause much destruction to our environment.

As a partner in the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Bernhardt lobbied for the oil companies Cobalt International Energy and Samson Resources. His legal clients included the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents dozens of oil companies, and Halliburton Energy Services, the oil and gas extraction firm that was led by Dick Cheney before he became vice president to George W. Bush.

Thus far, while overseeing the Department of Interior, Bernhardt has …

  • Put forth a plan that opens up more land to oil and gas drilling than any other single policy action by the Trump administration, while at the same time stripping away protections from about nine million acres of wild life habitat.
  • Put forth a plan that would allow the federal government to lease almost any part of the United States coastline to oil and gas companies for offshore drilling.
  • During last year’s 35-day government shutdown, Bernhardt managed to obtain approval for 15 new leases for drilling on public lands as well as 71 new permits for offshore drilling. More than 50 recipients of the offshore drilling permits were companies that sit on the board of directors of the National Ocean Industries Association, a former client of Mr. Bernhardt’s. (Note that while his department is also responsible for conservation, maintaining national parks and permitting renewable energy programs, none of those functions were operative during the shutdown)
  • Intervened to block the release of a scientific report revealing the threat presented by three widely used pesticides to hundreds of endangered species (See New York Times investigative report). Bernhardt claims the NYT article is “not even close to true”, however I would disagree, knowing full well the integrity with which the Times do their research.
  • Has worked to loosen key provisions of the Endangered Species Act and to weaken safety and environmental rules on oil and gas drilling equipment.
  • Proposed a budget that would cut funding for the National Park Service by nearly $500 million, cut the budget for the Fish and Wildlife Service by $267 million, as well as cuts to other services including wildfire management (remember last year’s wildfires in California?)

Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing was held in the Senate on Thursday.  Predictably, he was praised by republican senators.

“David Bernhardt is an honest man who puts all his cards on the table and keeps his word. He is a champion of conservation. There is zero question that Mr. Bernhardt is qualified to do this job.” – Senator Cory Gardner, Colorado  (An “honest” man???  HAH!!!  Trump would never nominate an honest man!)

It should be noted that Senator Gardner has received $47,000 in campaign donations from Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm.

“I intend to move Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination as expeditiously as possible. He is ready for this job and has demonstrated he can handle everything it entails.” – Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska (How much money did you receive from Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm, Ms. Murkowski???)

However, the democrats in the senate were a bit more discriminating.  Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon mentioned Bernhardt’s blocking of the previously mentioned scientific report, saying …

“Mr. Bernhardt, you came to my office to tell me that you were the guy who stood up for ethics in the George W. Bush administration. You asked to come to my office to say your ethics are unimpeachable. But these documents make it look like you’re just another corrupt official. Why would you come to my office to lie to me about your ethics? Just like Julie MacDonald, you meddled in the science.”

Environmental groups are speaking out against Bernhardt’s confirmation as well.

David Bernhardt“Bernhardt got this nomination as a reward for months of work cramming America’s natural heritage into a wood chipper. He’s already done more damage to our environment than anyone else in Interior Department history. Confirming him as Interior secretary would be a boon to polluters and a colossal disaster for our public lands and endangered species.” – Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity

“With nearly two dozen former clients that have business before the agency, David Bernhardt is a walking conflict of interest who is uniquely unfit to serve as Interior Secretary.” – Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities.

Three Greenpeace activists donned ‘swamp monster’ masks as they sat in the audience at the hearings …

swamp-monster-1          swamp-monster-2

Perhaps Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said it best …

“Let’s not put big oil in charge of the Interior Department. Today’s Senate confirmation hearing shows that oil lobbyist David Bernhardt is dangerous to America’s public lands and waters and can’t be trusted to be our Interior Secretary. Big oil is literally laughing about the access they have to this administration. His answers today demonstrated his deep conflict of interest and his unwillingness to come clean about his record of mothballing an analysis of dangerous toxic chemicals. The Senate should reject this deeply flawed nomination and prevent this ethics nightmare.”

In the end, none of his conflicts of interest will matter to the republican-dominated, boot-licking, ass-kissing senate who are nearly certain to confirm Bernhardt, but it should matter to We the People, for we are the ones who will suffer from the destruction of our home, planet Earth.

Finally … A Good Pick? Maybe …

Last night (Wednesday), Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labour, Andrew Puzder, withdrew from consideration. The reason is likely that he did not have a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving his confirmation hearing, scheduled for Thursday, after even Mitch McConnell, the chief boot-licker in Congress, said that Puzder could not possibly win enough votes for confirmation.  I wrote about Puzder  back in early January, and did not view him as a good fit for the office.  But my concerns, such as the fact that he is against raising minimum wage rates, supports repealing ACA, criticizes sick leave policies, and uses sexist advertising in his businesses, are not what doomed his nomination.  No, what doomed his nomination was that he came out in support of legalized immigration!  The man finally said one thing that made sense, and he is politically murdered for it!  No less than seven Republican senators said they would not vote to confirm Puzder.  Five of these seven actually voted to confirm the likes of DeVos and Sessions, however.

But Puzder is gone … good riddance … and this brings me to a potential bright spot on the otherwise dark horizon:  Alexander Acosta, Trump’s choice to replace Puzder as nominee for Secretary of Labour.  Everything I have read about Mr. Acosta points to a man who seeks to serve justice rather than to ‘win at all costs’.  He appears to be a man who has the courage of his convictions, and I only wish he had been nominated for the position of Attorney General rather than the racist lout who was placed in that all-important position.

A bit about Acosta’s background:

  • He is a Harvard Law School graduate who clerked for Judge Samuel Alito, at that time a judge for the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, for a year after graduation.
  • He then worked for a D.C. law firm where he specialized in employment and labor issues.
  • Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2002 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he served on the National Labour Relations Board.
  • In 2003, he was appointed Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice.
  • In 2005, he was appointed United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, where he served until 2009.
  • Since 2009 he has served as Dean of dean of Florida International University College of Law.
  • In 2012, Acosta participated in a panel discussion called Immigration Policy and the Hispanic Workforce, and he talked about the importance of creating a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.

I am particularly impressed by the stands he has taken in the area of civil rights, particularly the rights of immigrants.  In 2011, Acosta testified before Congress about the importance of protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans. He said to the committee that “we are a nation build [sic] on principles of freedom, and high on the list of freedoms is freedom of religious expression. Indeed, as is well known to this Committee, this freedom pre-dates our Constitution.”  He goes on to talk about the importance of the president speaking up to defend Muslims.

“Our nation is strong because we respond to attack with resolve. History has shown the need, however, for leadership that tempers resolve with wisdom. President George W. Bush understood this, when on September 17, 2001, he visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. to remind a resolute nation that ‘those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger…should be ashamed of that kind of behavior.’ This was not the message many Americans wanted to hear at that time, but the President chose to lead, rather than to be led.” 

The senate has confirmed Acosta three times in the past, which is certainly encouraging, however the Acosta nomination is not without problems.  The main one is likely to be the controversy over a plea bargain his office arranged in 2008 when he was a federal prosecutor in Miami.  A case was brought against wealthy financier, Jeffrey Epstein, a billionaire investor accused of having sex with underage girls.  Acosta agreed not to file any federal charges if Epstein pled guilty to state charges involving soliciting prostitution and soliciting a minor for prostitution. Epstein served 13 months of an 18 month sentence.  The controversy came about because the teenagers Epstein paid for sex were never adequately consulted about the plea deal or given an opportunity to object to it. Not surprisingly, Trump has ties also to Epstein and while some claim that Trump and Epstein were friends, Trump denies it.

Setting the above controversy aside for the moment, it would otherwise seem that Acosta is, unlike all other Trump nominees, a good fit for the job.  He is an advocate of civil rights, and has served in various labour-related positions, including the NLRB. So what, exactly, does the position of Secretary of Labour involve?

According to the United States Department of Labour:

“The Department of Labor (DOL) fosters and promotes the welfare of the job seekers, wage earners, and retirees of the United States by improving their working conditions, advancing their opportunities for profitable employment, protecting their retirement and health care benefits, helping employers find workers, strengthening free collective bargaining, and tracking changes in employment, prices, and other national economic measurements. In carrying out this mission, the Department administers a variety of Federal labor laws including those that guarantee workers’ rights to safe and healthful working conditions; a minimum hourly wage and overtime pay; freedom from employment discrimination; unemployment insurance; and other income support.”

I am not sure to what extent the Epstein controversy will play a role in Acosta’s confirmation hearings.  For the final conclusion, you will have to … stay tuned!

Dumb, Dumber and … Betsy DeVos

Senate confirmation hearings for Trump’s cabinet picks have been underway since January 10th, and frankly do not seem to be going well, overall.  Under normal circumstances, I would say that at least 75% of his selections will be unconfirmed, but as we are all aware, we are in the post-truth, topsy-turvy world of Trump, and nothing is normal.  Trump was hoping all his nominations to be confirmed today, the day of his inauguration, but Republicans in Congress were more realistically hoping for seven confirmations today. I will be very surprised to see that happen.

Technically, his nominations cannot be put to a vote by the senate until after Trump takes the oath of office at noon.  Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer has indicated that the only two that will be voted upon today are:

  • Retired Marine Corps General James Mattis, Trump’s nominee for Defense secretary
  • Retired Marine Corps General John Kelly, Trump’s choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security

Ethical questions about the others will likely keep their nominations from coming to a vote just yet, if ever.  Tom Price, the nominee for Health and Human Services secretary has been questioned about his investments in health care stocks. Then there are Mick Mulvaney, the nominee for budget director who failed to pay required taxes for a babysitter; Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO and secretary of State nominee who has refused to recuse himself from future issues involving the company; and Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs partner and Trump’s nominee for treasury secretary, who failed to disclose $100 million in assets on forms he gave the Senate Finance Committee. As Senator Schumer remarked, “The president-elect is not draining the swamp … he’s filling it up.”  I would agree … filling it with rich, white, greedy men and women. Republicans, who hold a 52-seat-majority in the Senate, need only 51 votes to confirm Trump’s nominees. However, Democrats have the power under Senate rules to drag out the process by insisting on days of debate before a vote.

Interestingly, nominees Mattis, Pompeo, Tillerson and Kelly all veered somewhat from Trump’s positions in their confirmation hearings last week on issues of trade, border security, foreign policy, Iran, and — perhaps most frequently — Russia.  But that is a story for another day, as today I wish to use my time and words to address one nominee and her hearing, specifically Betsy DeVos.  I recently wrote about DeVos and her high level of incompatibility and incompetence for the job of Secretary of Education.  The woman has never been either a teacher or an administrator, never even attended public schools, has worked to take funding away from public schools for charter schools and private/religious school vouchers.  Presumably Trump’s reason for nominating her was, a) the fact that she and her husband are billionaires many times over, and b) that she is the least qualified person he could find for the position.  Both of those seem to be his leading criteria in most of his selections.

Ms. DeVos has taken a page from Trump’s playbook … the page that says “answer no question directly, but always circumvent.” Let us take a quick look at some of the answers she gave to questions during her three-and-a-half hour confirmation hearing:

Q: “Can you commit to us tonight that you will not work to privatize public schools or cut a single penny from public education?”

DeVos: “I’m hopeful that we can work together to find common ground and ways that we can solve those issues and empower parents to make choices on behalf of their children that are right for them.”

I told you … she took a page right out of Trump’s playbook! Never, ever, give a direct answer.

Q: “Do you think that guns have any place in or around schools?”

DeVos: “I think that’s best left to locales and states to decide. I would imagine that there is probably a gun in the school to protect from potential grizzlies.”

It happens that the Senator who asked this question was Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, where, in 2012, a gunman shot and killed 20 children and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Really smart answer, Betsy.

Q: “Do you think K-12 schools that receive federal funding should meet the same accountability standards, outcome standards?”

DeVos: “Yes. Although, you have different accountability standards between traditional public schools and charter schools.”

Q: “And, if confirmed, will you insist upon that equal accountability in any K-12 school or educational program that receives federal funding whether public, public charter or private?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Q: “Equal accountability for all schools that receive federal funding.”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Q: “Okay, is that a yes or a no?”

DeVos: “That’s a, ‘I support accountability.’ “

Q: “Do you not want to answer my question?”

DeVos: “I support accountability.”

Can we say “I am a broken record, I am a broken record, I am a broken record …”? It is to be noted that DeVos fought against accountability and oversight for charter schools in the past.

Q: “Should all K-12 schools that receive taxpayer funding be required to meet the requirements of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act?”

DeVos: “I think that is a matter that’s best left to the states.”

Q: “So some states might be good to kids with disabilities, and other states might not be so good. And then, what?”

DeVos: “I think that’s an issue that’s best left to the states.”

Q: “What about the federal requirement? It’s a federal law — the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act. Let’s limit it to federal funding. If schools receive federal funding should they be required to follow federal law — whether they’re public, public charter, or private?”

DeVos: “I think that is certainly worth discussion.”

Q: “So were you unaware, when I just asked you about the IDEA, that it was a federal law?”

DeVos: “I may have confused it.”

Filosofa has no comment on this because … she is still picking her jaw up from the floor.

Though full transcripts of the Q&A portion of the hearings are not available at this time, I suggest for more of DeVos’ questions and answers, you check out this article in NPR … it is the most comprehensive I was able to find.

Surely nobody, after hearing three-and-a-half hours of this gibberish, can believe that this woman is in the least bit qualified to make top-level decisions regarding our public school system!  I was already convinced, based on my research into her background and policy stances, that she was unqualified, but if I had doubts, this hearing would have put them all to rest.  This woman is among the most unqualified of Trump’s nominees to perform a job that is arguably one of the most important to the survival of our democracy.  I hope that there are at least three Republican senators out of 52 who are willing to stand up for what is right, stand up for the future of this nation, follow their conscience and refuse to confirm Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education.

Two Good Men

Yesterday, during the second day of the senate confirmation hearing for Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, two men in particular spoke up for justice, for humanity, and against Senator Jeff Sessions.  It is yet to be seen whether their voices made a difference in the outcome, but I am proud of both and think they deserve a two thumbs up for their courage and dedication to the seemingly obsolete concept of “doing what is right”.  The two men are Senator Cory Booker and Representative John Lewis.     doffing-hat

Senator Booker’s speech, parts of which I have quoted below, mark the first time a sitting senator has testified against a colleague’s nomination for a Cabinet post!  In way of an explanation for his break in tradition, he said, “In the choice between standing with Senate norms or standing up for what my conscience tells me is best for our country, I will always choose conscience and country.”

“I know that some of my many colleagues aren’t happy that I’m breaking with senate tradition to testify on the nomination of one of my colleagues. America was founded heralding not law and order, but justice for all. And critical to that is equal justice under the law. Law and order without justice is unobtainable. They are inextricably tied together; if there is no justice there is no peace. The Alabama State troopers on the Edmund Pettis bridge were seeking law and order. The marchers were seeking justice, and ultimately a greater peace. In that office the responsibility to pursue civil rights and equal protection for all of America, Senator Sessions has not demonstrated a commitment. In fact at numerous times in his career he has demonstrated a hostility towards these convictions and has worked to frustrate attempts to advance the ideals. If confirmed Senator Sessions will be required to pursue justice for women. But his record indicates that he will not. He will be expected to defend the equal rights of gay and lesbian and transgender Americans but his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to expand voting rights. But his record indicates that he won’t. He will be expected to defend the rights of immigrants and affirm their human dignity but the record indicates that he won’t. His record indicates that as attorney general he would object to the growing national bipartisan movement towards criminal justice reform. His records indicate that we cannot count on him to support state and national efforts towards bringing justice to the justice system and people on both sides of the aisle.”

Mr. Booker will no doubt face criticism for his courage, but those of us who agree that Jeff Sessions is not the right person for Attorney General will applaud his actions.

Representative John Lewis, already much admired for his role as a civil rights leader for many years, also spoke against Sessions’ nomination:

“A clear majority of Americans say they want this to be a fair, just, and open nation. They are afraid this country is headed in the wrong direction. They are concerned that some leaders reject decades of progress and want to return to the dark past, when the power of law was used to deny the freedoms protected by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and its Amendments. These are the voices I represent today.

We can pretend that the law is blind. We can pretend that it is even-handed. But if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are called upon daily by the people we represent to help them deal with unfairness in how the law is written and enforced. Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Sen. Sessions’ call for “law and order” will mean today what it meant in Alabama, when I was coming up back then. The rule of law was used to violate the human and civil rights of the poor, the dispossessed, people of color.

We have come a distance. We have made progress, but we are not there yet. There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward. As the late A. Phillip Randolph, who was the dean of the March on Washington in 1963 often said, ” our foremothers and forefathers all came to this land in distant ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.”

It doesn’t matter whether Sen. Sessions may smile or how friendly he may be, whether he may speak to you. We need someone who will stand up and speak up and speak out for the people who need help, for people who are being discriminated against. And it doesn’t matter whether they are black or white, Latino, Asian or Native American, whether they are straight or gay, Muslim, Christian or Jews We all live in the same house, the American house. We need someone as attorney general who is going to look for all of us, not just some of us. I ran out of time. Thank for giving me a chance to testify.”

It is doubtful, given that the Republican senators appear poised to rule favourably on anything proposed by Mr. Trump, including his cabinet nominees, that either Senator Booker’s or Representative Lewis’ words will have an effect on the final outcome.  They should, if the senate were comprised of men and women of conscience, men and women who took seriously their commitments to represent ALL the people of this nation.   Nonetheless, I applaud the efforts of these two gentlemen who followed the dictates of their conscience, men of high values, for their efforts.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Cory Booker and John Lewis!


Links to video clips:

Cory Booker video (7:46)

John Lewis video (7:02)


Will Jeff Sessions, Racist, Be Confirmed This Week?

This morning at 9:30 the Senate Judiciary Committee will open the senate confirmation hearings for Trump nominee Jeff Sessions for the position of Attorney General.  The hearings will be held over a two-day period, concluding on Wednesday.  You can find a full schedule of hearings for the week here.

I have mentioned Sessions in numerous posts, and in late November I wrote this one detailing the reasons I am against his nomination.   There is no need to re-hash old ground, so suffice it to say that Sessions is a proven racist who will likely set civil rights back 100 years if confirmed.  How likely is his confirmation? Let us look at some of the things that may affect the process.

First, each nominee is required to be cleared by both the independent Office of Government Ethics (OGE) and the FBI.  There is concern because a number of Trump’s nominees have not yet completed the process nor filed the appropriate financial paperwork, though apparently Sessions is not among those, which would indicate that he has already been cleared by both agencies.  The purpose of this OGE review is to review potential conflicts of interest and determine the course of action the nominee must take in order to resolve such conflicts.

Second, on Tuesday, Sessions will face questions on his 20-year tenure in the Senate, including his staunch stances on immigration, mass incarceration and civil rights. Then on Wednesday the second part of Sessions’ confirmation hearing follows very public pushbacks from the NAACP, whose members staged a sit-in at his Alabama office last week and were arrested, and by more than 1,400 faculty members from 180 law schools in 49 states, all of whom signed a letter opposing his nomination for attorney general. Other groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have publicly opposed Sessions’ appointment on the grounds of his stance on police reform, voting rights, immigrants’ rights, criminal justice reform, Muslims’ rights, racial justice, LGBT rights, women’s rights, privacy rights, torture, and abortion rights. Frankly I have to wonder if two days will be enough to cover all the questions he should be made to answer.

Once the hearings are complete, the Judiciary Committee can either move the nomination to the Senate floor for a vote, or decide not to, which in essence kills the nomination and it would be back to the drawing board for Trump. If the nomination is moved to the Senate floor, the Judiciary Committee makes a recommendation, either pro, con, or neutral.

Third, this is the makeup of the Senate Judiciary Committee that will conduct the hearings and make a recommendation to the entire Senate:

Majority – Republican

Minority – Democrat

Chuck Grassley, Iowa, Chairman Dianne Feinstein, California, Ranking Member
Orrin Hatch, Utah Patrick Leahy, Vermont
Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Dick Durbin, Illinois
John Cornyn, Texas Sheldon Whitehouse, Rhode Island
Mike Lee, Utah Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota
Ted Cruz, Texas Al Franken, Minnesota
Ben Sasse, Nebraska Chris Coons, Delaware
Jeff Flake, Arizona Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut
Mike Crapo, Idaho Mazie Hirono, Haiwaii
Thom Tillis, North Carolina  
John Neely Kennedy, Louisiana  

The present modus operandi seems to be that most all Republicans in Congress are supporting Trump in all things.  Good little lap puppies they are.  One concern is that Senator Cruz is vociferously supporting the nomination.  He wrote a piece for Politico  that I encourage you to read.  I found it highly offensive, given Sessions’ history. I suspect that Cruz will sway any errant Republican members of the committee who might be considering voting ‘nay’ with his strong-arm, bullying tactics.

Fourth, there is the composition of the entire Senate.  The Senate is comprised of 52 Republicans and 48 Democrats. If every senator votes along party lines, then the simple majority will be made and Sessions will become the next Attorney General of the United States.  If, however, just three Republican senators vote against the confirmation, then he will not be confirmed.  In the event of a tie, Mike Pence will cast the tie-breaking vote, and we all know how he will vote.  The simple fact that there is a Republican majority in the Senate would likely indicate that Sessions’ hearing and subsequent confirmation will go through with little or no resistance from the majority. My hope is that, given the past history and contentiousness of this particular nominee, one might hope that there are at least three Republican senators who would follow their conscience, if in fact they are possessed of one. (One interesting aside:  Senator Sessions can actually vote for himself, as he no doubt will.) The Washington Post predicts that most of Trump’s nominees, including Jeff Sessions, will be confirmed with few problems, and I am inclined to agree.  But we shall see.  Perhaps there are a few good men sitting on the right in the Senate.

***ABC News has an excellent, informative article titled Senate Confirmation Hearings: Everything to Know.  It is a plain language, understandable explanation of the process that I highly recommend.