30 October 2018

Gaming out the slide into dictatorship

 OK, hive mind, let's game this out. (This is a follow up to my post on the WaPo article saying that the great legal mind, Donald Drumpf, has floated his intention to end birthright citizenship by decree, which I find alarming even in an era of daily alarms).

So here's the scenario. Let's posit that Democrats manage, despite lack of message and feckless political organization, to take back the House next week. But Trump just doubles down. Realizing he can't get an (also equally and obviously unconstitutional) bill through a lame duck or later divided Congress to purportedly overturn the 14th Amendment grant of citizenship to anyone born in the US, he just issues an imperial edict purporting to do so. And of course he precipitates a Constitutional crisis in doing so. It's pretty clearly an opening salvo in an attempt at a coup, where he will gradually become a dictator and ignore the Congress.

If you doubt the great legal mind Trump could actually do this, here are his own words:

«"It was always told to me that you needed a constitutional amendment. Guess what? You don't," Trump told Axios.

When told that view is disputed, Trump asserted: "You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they're saying I can do it just with an executive order."

"It's in the process. It'll happen . . . with an executive order," he said, without offering a time frame.»

So, maybe this is just Trump blather. He says all kinds of crazy shit, admittedly. But let's just say he actually does this. What might he be thinking?

The Right has undeniably been working assiduously for decades to get a majority of right wing ideologues on the Court. Can there be any doubt that with Kavanaugh they have finally succeeded in this? The question is just how far will the majority go? Will they endorse Trump's plan to become a dictator without firing a shot? Because that's what he just said, in his own words, in effect. Pretty clearly a post-midterm Congress will not go along.

But are there five votes on the Court? To just let him govern by decree? I wish I could confidently say no, but I'm honestly not sure. Adept legal minds without principles or morality (Alito, Thomas, Kavanaugh, Gorsuch pretty likely... Roberts, maybe not)... can rationalize almost anything.

So this happens. Some elements in the law enforcement establishment are ready to enforce the decree, and on an emergency basis no doubt, it comes before the court. And the court, by 5-4 goes along.

I think at that point, we are all but overwith as a Constitutional republic. Trump could issue edicts canceling elections, making any kind of laws he cares to, overriding the sovereign power of states to make laws he disagrees with... really at that point there is no limit. Congress could really not do anything, because he'd just nullify their acts and dissolve the Congress, maybe forever. Think not? Study history, my friends. All of this has happened before, and not just in third world countries, and not just in the distant past, either.

But change things a little. Very good likelihood that this is too much even for our present court. Even Gorsuch and especially Roberts might not go along with this. So, let's say Trump doesn't do this yet (this is his best opportunity, arguably, but nonetheless...)

Let's say he waits until the Democratic House is at least seated. And then all of the above happens. And let's say after he has issued his edict, and it becomes clear (as it would) that he intends to become a dictator by increasingly inclusive rule by decree. At that point, might it not be at least conceivable that a majority of the House and 2/3 of the Senate would be either ready to impeach him, and/or ready to impeach any Supreme Court justices who vote with him? Because, I would argue, finding such a decree constitutional despite the black and white language of the 14th amendment* would be grounds for impeachment. There are limits to the ability of the Court to simply ignore the plain meaning of the Constitution they are sworn to uphold. Or we would like to think so.

*"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Very clearly upheld in United States v. Wong Kim Ark (1898) 169 U.S. 649.

So there it is. Can our republic be saved from Donald Trump? Already, my friends, I really do fear that the best answer we can give is "maybe."

Josh Marshall: No, Trump cannot end birthright citizenship by decree

 For the most part, the fact that it has been virtually impossible to amend the Constitution since the failure of the EPA in the 1980s has worked against the more progressive interests in American politics and in favor of the Right Wing, which tends to benefit from the status quo and the outsize power of the low population states. (Which also tend to be Right Wing states). But this preposterous notion on the right that the Congress, or even worse, the president by mere edict, can eliminate birthright citizenship is an illustration of how the present Constitution does at least protect some of the basic norms and formal law that makes our country a republic (of sorts).

Birthright citizenship is based on the crystal clear wording of the 14th Amendment: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

The fact that Trump and his administration are floating the idea that the would be dictator for life can change this by executive order (also known as "totalitarian decree") should be of deep concern to anyone, right or left, who basically believes in the continuity of small-r republican government in America.

27 October 2018

Our house piano recital 10/26/2018

House Recital "Air Check" 10/26/2018 

Here are TEMPORARY links to an "air check" recording of the extraordinary house recital of pianist William Koseluk in our house last night.  The links are to dropbox files. The will probably not play directly from Dropbox; you'll need to download them to a local hard drive first, then play them with any app that will play mp3 files. There are two parts. The first part consists of Beethoven's "Les Adieux" sonata, op. 81a in E-flat, plus 4 pieces, op. 119, of Brahms. The second consists of the Paderweski E-flat minor piano sonata (1903, op. 21), which is monstrously difficult. There is some commentary on the audio files. 

We were elated and very grateful to Bill for making the trip to Portland to play this recital in our house. 

16 October 2018

What should we do about the Republican power plays when (if) we regain power?

A friend sent out an email to his "group" posing the rhetorical question, just how aggressive should Democrats get, in light of the hyperagressive, norm-destroying power politics being played by Republicans ever since Gingrich. (I'm paraphrasing liberally). Here's my response. 

My view on this very important question will surprise no one who's read what I've had to say on this subject before. I think we lost something when we lost the "meta-stable" system of norms that kept especially the Senate working with a certain amount of give and take and civility for more than a century (think of the cooperation between Orrin Hatch and Teddy Kennedy, or the way Everett Dirksen cooperated with Democrats in the 1960s to pass Medicare, Civil Rights, Voting Rights, etc. ) But pretending we're going to get that back any time soon is a fool's errand. The Republican party has been entirely taken over by power politics players, who care nothing for anything but their own power, and that of the elite class of economic oligarchs whom they represent. Ideology, even, which we who care deeply about public policy tend to overemphasize, is less important to them than raw power. They want to restrain government from infringing on their ability to control most of the wealth in this country, and they care virtually nothing for good government or social justice. They will lie, cheat, steal, suppress votes, burn down unwritten laws, take advantage of every quirk of law and the Constitution to maximize their power, and see to it that justices who think like them control the courts... all to the end of destroying and defeating what they see as a threat to their power. (Because it is). Which, that is, is democracy. The oppose democracy and intend to destroy it in our country. And think about it a bit. They have already come very close to succeeding on all fronts. We are fighting a rear guard action. We hope to be able to recoup and advance, and take it all back... but it requires an awful lot of optimism to think our chances are better than fair. 

So, hell, yes. We must do absolutely everything we can, including playing power politics better than they do, to defeat them and burn their anti-democratic faction to the ground. Don't worry, they'll rebuild a coalition on the right. No worries there. But to avoid the permanent takeover of oligarchy, we must defeat them everywhere. 

So, I favor using every trick we can think of. Sue, try to outlitigate them. GOTV, and win back the House and Senate. If we can't do that, and no later than 2020, all will be lost. Once in power, increase the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. Make PR and DC states. Pass the NPVC (look it up) in enough states to nullify the Electoral College's undemocratic impact. Kill the filibuster once and for all. Consider very seriously rethinking the power of the legislative branch to determine what the courts have jurisdiction over, to make sure they can't use the Kavanaugh court to hobble all progressive legislation. (Don't think that's not their plan... they already have a case out of TX that would've been considered crackpot ten years ago but which is all too likely to result not only in important provisions of the ACA being declared unconstitutional, but which may be used by them to establish a precedent that the Federal government cannot enact universal health care). And, of course, hit the ground running. In 2021, if (and we'd the hell better), we have both houses and the presidency, we should pass, within 90 days, a raft of progressive legislation that will make the first few months of the FDR administration in 1933 look like a boating party. 

12 October 2018

World Famous Kefta Meatloaf

In case anyone's interested 

World Famous Kefta Meatloaf
1.2 lb regular ground beef
½ cup grape nuts
½ med onion diced
½ bell pepper diced
1 egg
Heavy Whipping Cream to consistency
Enchilada sauce to consistency, and as topping
2 tsp. Kefta seasoning
1 tsp. Dry mustard
1 tsp. Ground sage
Minced or powdered garlic to taste
1 tbs. Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper to taste

Beat egg and add other liquids with grapenuts. Blend with immersion blender or whisk till the grapenuts are soggy. Should be a little thick... don't add too much liquid
Add all other ingredients and blend with clean hands and shape into ovoid blob
Place in clean ungreased glass meatloaf pan. Top with more enchilada sauce.

Bake at 325°F for 1½ hours  


09 October 2018

What to do about Kavanaugh?

 I actually don't think it's a good idea for Democrats to get bogged down with Kavanaugh. Better to concentrate investigations on Trump, and concentrate on procedural reforms, such as increasing the size of the Federal Judiciary including the Supreme Court, to balance the strongly biased judicial appointment hijacking that's been carried out over the last number of years by the Republicans. One thing that should be done, however, is for the New House Judiciary Committee (assuming it's majority Democratic), to subpoena the documents setting forth the scope of the FBI sham investigation ordered by Trump, to add yet another piece of evidence of what a dishonest liar he is.

Kavanaugh should probably be impeached, on the basis of perjury to the committee if nothing else. But I don't think that should be the highest priority in the New Congress. For the reason that even if we take back the Senate as well, which looks unlikely, we would still not have enough votes to convict any of the Republican evildoers in the Senate. So impeachment will be only a statement... it will not result in removal from office. And given the almost incredible blasé attitude of Congress and the media to Trump wrongdoing, it's hard to see how the Senate will impeach Trump for anything short of a complete psychotic meltdown or issuing edicts so brazenly unconstitutional that even the Repubs can't swallow it. All of which is, I admit, possible.

05 October 2018

The Fix was in but we need to start preparing NOW to fight back

 The fix was in when they decided to merely PRETEND to have an FBI investigation. It was a play. We were played. And there's nothing we can do about it until we regain both houses and the presidency, but when that happens we have to be READY and WILLING to play power politics that will make their heads spin. I wish I could say I was confident that Democratic leadership was prepared to do that!

Let me spell it out. This is all procedural, in ADDITION to a Progressive policy agenda not seen since 1933.

  • Shitcan the filibuster on Day 1 permanently
  • Outlaw gerrymandering (laws on Federal and State levels)
  • Engage constitutional scholars to determine exactly to what extent the Article II powers of Congress allow them to limit the ability of the Supreme Court to undo legislation then put those reforms into effect to the maximum extent possible, to ensure that things like Medicare for All, voting rights, reproductive rights, etc. are not undone by a right wing court.
  • Increase the size of the Federal judiciary across the board (only takes a statute) by 25%, including the Supreme Court (to 11 at least).
  • Effectuate PR, DC and Guam statehood.
  • Introduce Constitutional Amendments to eliminate Electoral College, overturn Citizens United, and change senate representation to 1 per state with the remaining 50 allocated by population, plus comprehensive Voting Rights and Privacy Rights amendments (these will be tough, as the Red States hold the cards, but we have to get the process started).
  • National Popular Vote Compact (state level) to defang the electoral college until the Amendment abolishing it takes effect
  • War Powers law making it illegal for the president to commence a war without congressional approval, including NO FIRST USE of Nuclear weapons
  • Make explicit that president not above the law, and must divest to blind trust all financial interests over minimal amount prior to assuming office

We could, if we only had the political will, do every single one of these things, and ensure the survival of our democratic republic for the foreseeable future. But will we?