23 January 2021

What if....?

I had rather hoped that VP Harris would take a radically new approach to being the tie breaking Senate President. Namely, just say, well..... "given the fact that the two parties are tied 50/50, I will simply follow the plain words of the Constitution, and preside over the Senate. All the time. Forget about the "president pro tempore," and organizing rules. I will preside, thank you very much. And you, Senator McConnell, may sit down."

It's never been done before. And, alas, she did not take this step. But I wonder what it would've been like had she done so. She would only vote when there was an actual tie, but as far as I am aware, there is nothing actually stopping her from asserting her constitutional prerogative to preside over the Senate at all times. 

11 January 2021

Truly excellent presentation by physicist Sean Carroll on the predicament of American Democracy at the present moment • HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Farflung correspondents, 

I'm not particularly shy about recommending podcasts and other media presentations, but this one is truly special. It is one of the episodes of the excellent Mindscape podcast presented by the theoretical physicist Sean Carroll. But it is not in any way about physics.

 We've all heard a ton of commentary on the events of 1/6/21 and the threat to our democracy, etc., but this one, which is incredibly thoughtful and explicitly takes the point of view of discussing our predicament as if explaining it to people in the distant future, is just excellent and not to be missed. Carroll is a physicist, but he's also a philosopher and polymath, and what he says, and the people he interviews, are almost always incredibly interesting and well-informed. In this case, he does all the talking himself, but what he has to say should be given some thought by literally everyone living through this moment in time in the history of the world. 

Thanks for considering giving it your attention.


07 January 2021

Fwd: January 6, 2021

Even if you've been following the horrific events of yesterday's insurrection and coup attempt, this "first draft of history" by America's historian, Heather Cox Richardson, is worth reading, and I commend it to all my farflung correspondents. We are in an inflection point. If we get through the next two weeks, we may well be in a position to break away from Trump and Trumpism once and for all. But this is not yet over. Hang on.

From: Heather Cox Richardson from Letters from an American <heathercoxrichardson@substack.com>
Date: Thu, Jan 7, 2021 at 12:55 AM
Subject: January 6, 2021

Today the Confederate flag flew in the United States Capitol. This morning, results from the Georgia Senatorial runoff elections showed that Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff had beaten their Republican opponents—both incumbents—by more than the threshold that would require a recount. The Senate is now split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, so the position of majority leader goes to a Democrat. Mitch McConnell, who has bent the government to his will since he took over the position of majority leader in 2007, will be replaced. ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌ ‌

Today the Confederate flag flew in the United States Capitol.

This morning, results from the Georgia Senatorial runoff elections showed that Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff had beaten their Republican opponents—both incumbents—by more than the threshold that would require a recount. The Senate is now split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats, so the position of majority leader goes to a Democrat. Mitch McConnell, who has bent the government to his will since he took over the position of majority leader in 2007, will be replaced.

With the Democrats in control of both Congress and the Executive Branch, it is reasonable to expect we will see voting rights legislation, which will doom the current-day Republican Party, depending as it has on voter suppression to stay in power.

Trump Republicans and McConnell Republicans had just begun to blame each other for the debacle when Congress began to count the certified electoral votes from the states to establish that Democrat Joe Biden won the 2020 presidential election. The election was not close—Biden won the popular vote by more than 7 million votes and the Electoral College by 306 to 232—but Trump contends that he won the election in a landslide and "fraud" made Biden the winner.

Trump has never had a case. His campaign filed and either lost or had dismissed 62 out of 63 lawsuits because it could produce no evidence for any of its wild accusations. Nonetheless, radical lawmakers courted Trump's base by echoing Trump's charges, then tried to argue that the fact voters no longer trusted the vote was reason to contest the certified votes.

More than 100 members of the House announced they would object to counting the votes of certain states. About 13 senators, led by Josh Hawley (R-MO) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), agreed to join them. The move would slow down the count as each chamber would have to debate and take a separate vote on whether to accept the state votes, but the objectors never had anywhere near the votes they needed to make their objections stick.

So Trump turned to pressuring Vice President Mike Pence, who would preside over the counting, to throw out the Biden votes. On Monday, Trump tweeted that "the Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors." This would throw the blame for the loss onto Pence, but the vice president has no constitutional power to do any such thing, and this morning he made that clear in a statement. Trump then tweeted that Pence "didn't have the courage to do what should have been done."

It seemed clear that the voting would be heated, but it was also clear that most of the lawmakers opposing the count were posturing to court Trump's base for future elections. Congress would count Biden's win.

But Trump had urged his supporters for weeks to descend on Washington, D.C., to stop what he insisted was the stealing of the election. They did so and, this morning, began to congregate near the Capitol, where the counting would take place. As he passed them on the east side of the Capitol, Hawley raised a power fist.

In the middle of the day, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani spoke to the crowd, telling them: "Let's have trial by combat." Trump followed, lying that he had won the election and saying "we are going to have to fight much harder." He warned that Pence had better "come through for us, and if he doesn't, that will be a sad day for our country." He warned that Chinese-driven socialists are taking over the country. And he told them to march on Congress to "save our democracy."

As rioters took Trump at his word, Congress was counting the votes alphabetically by state. When they got to Arizona, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) stood up to echo the rhetoric radicals had been using to discredit the certified votes, saying that public distrust in the election—created out of thin air by Republicans—justified an investigation. 

Within an hour, a violent mob stormed the Capitol and Cruz, along with the rest of the lawmakers, was rushed to safety (four quick-thinking staffers brought along the electoral ballots, in their ceremonial boxes). As the rioters broke in, police shot and killed one of them: Ashli Babbitt, an Air Force veteran from San Diego, QAnon believer, and staunch Trump supporter. The insurrectionists broke into the Senate chamber, where one was photographed on the dais of the Senate, shirtless and wearing a bull costume that revealed a Ku Klux Klan tattoo on his abdomen. They roamed the Capitol looking for Pence and other lawmakers they considered enemies. Not finding them, they ransacked offices. One rioter photographed himself sitting at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's desk with his feet on it.

They carried with them the Confederate flag.

Capitol police provided little obstruction, apparently eager to avoid confrontations that could be used as propaganda on social media. The intruders seemed a little surprised at their success, taking selfies and wandering around like tourists. One stole a lectern.

As the White House, the FBI, the Justice Department, and the Department of Homeland Security all remained silent, President-Elect Joe Biden spoke to cameras urging calm and calling on Trump to tell his supporters to go home. But CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins later reported that she spoke to White House officials who were "genuinely freaked… out" that Trump was "borderline enthusiastic" about the storming of the Capitol because "it meant the certification was being derailed."

At 4:17, Trump issued his own video, reiterating his false claims that he had been cheated of victory. Only then did he conclude with: "Go home, we love you, you're very special." Twitter immediately took the video down. By nighttime Trump's Twitter feed seemed to blame his enemies for the violence the president had incited (although the rhythm of the words did not sound to me like Trump's own usual cadence): "These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!"

Twitter took down the tweet and banned the president for at least twelve hours for inciting violence; Facebook and Instagram followed suit.

As the afternoon wore on, police found two pipe bombs near the headquarters of the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee in Washington, D.C., as well as a truck full of weapons and ammunition, and mobs gathered at statehouses across the country, including in Kansas, Ohio, Minnesota, California, and Georgia.

By 5:00, acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller issued a statement saying he had conferred with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley, Vice President Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and Representative Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and had fully activated the D.C. National Guard.

He did not mention the president.

By late evening, Washington, D.C., police chief Robert J. Contee III announced that at least 52 people had been arrested and 14 law enforcement officers injured. A total of four people died, including one who died of a heart attack and one who tased themself.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone urged people to stay away from Trump to limit their chances of being prosecuted for treason under the Sedition Act. By midnight, four staffers had resigned, as well as Deputy National Security Adviser Matthew Pottinger, with other, higher level officials also talking about leaving. Even Trump adviser Stephen Miller admitted it was a bad day. Quickly, pro-Trump media began to insist that the attack was a false-flag operation of "Antifa," despite the selfies and videos posted by known right-wing agitators, and the fact that Trump had invited, incited, and praised them.

Former Secretary of Defense James Mattis laid the blame for today's attack squarely at the feet of Trump himself: "Today's violent assault on our Capitol, and effort to subjugate American democracy by mob rule, was fomented by Mr. Trump. His use of the Presidency to destroy trust in our election and to poison our respect for fellow citizens has been enabled by pseudo political leaders whose names will live in infamy as profiles in cowardice."

The attempted coup drew condemnation from all but the radical Trump supporters in government. Former President George W. Bush issued a statement "on insurrection at the Capitol," saying "it is a sickening and heartbreaking sight." "I am appalled by the reckless behavior of some political leaders since the election," he said, and accused such leaders of enflaming the rioters with lies and false hopes. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) was more direct: "What happened here today was an insurrection incited by the President of the United States."

Across the country tonight are calls for Trump's removal through the 25th amendment, impeachment, or resignation. The Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee have joined the chorus, writing to Pence urging him to invoke the 25th. Angry at Trump's sabotaging of the Georgia elections in addition to the attack on our democracy, prominent Republicans are rumored to be doing the same.

At 8:00, heavily armed guards escorted the lawmakers back to the Capitol, thoroughly scrubbed by janitors, where the senators and representatives resumed their counting of the certified votes. The events of the afternoon had broken some of the Republicans away from their determination to challenge the votes. Fourteen Republican senators had announced they would object to counting the certified votes from Arizona; in the evening count the number dropped to six: Cruz (R-TX), Hawley (R-MO), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), John Kennedy (R-LA), Roger Marshall (R-KS), and Tommy Tuberville (R-AL).

In the House, 121 Republicans, more than half the Republican caucus, voted to throw out Biden's electors from Arizona. As in the Senate, they lost when 303 Representatives voted in favor.

Six senators and more than half of the House Republicans backed an attempt to overthrow our government, in favor of a man caught on tape just four days ago trying to strong-arm a state election official into falsifying the election results.

Today the Confederate flag flew in the United States Capitol.


06 January 2021

An Open Letter to Vice President Elect Kamala Harris and President Elect Joe Biden

On an ignominious day for our democracy, the good news that the Democratic Party has regained control of the U.S. Senate going forward was almost completely eclipsed. But, of course, it is of paramount importance.

I will be brief. As an engaged citizen, I want to urge you to recognize that after four years of the most destructive administration in recent history, there is very considerable urgency facing your incoming administration. We need a bold legislative agenda, and as well as a bold regulatory and executive agenda.

The pandemic requires a response that is the near-equivalent of a full-scale war. Not to carp on the matter, but 100 million vaccinations in 100 days is not enough. We need an all-out war on the virus, on all fronts, with the goal victory and the timeline just as soon as humanly possible. A commission to create detailed plans and put them into effect, including invoking the Defense Production Act of 1950, needs to be created.

Bold action on reversing Trump's tax cuts for the very rich, climate change, global alliances and security, environmental protection, jobs and mitigation of the economic impact of the pandemic, and 21stcentury infrastructure will pose tremendous and urgent challenges that call for the most activist and energetic administration at least since 1933. You are capable of this. This is your challenge. The American people are counting on you.

Vice President Harris should come to the Senate and announce that given the 50/50 split, she will sit and preside over the Senate just as the Constitution provides for. The filibuster must be immediately done away with, and the rules of both bodies need to be modified to make efficient and practical legislation possible, without unnecessary and counterproductive obstruction from any faction or party.
As president, Mr. Biden must call for the elimination of the Electoral College by amendment or interstate compact as an interim solution. A recommitment to democracy and service to all the people will go a long way to disabusing followers of the former president of the delusions the deliberate false propaganda which was his stock in trade. When Democrats achieve real results which benefit the great majority of Americans, support for our policies will grow and our ability to further our policy agenda will be well established for years to come.

Thank you.

02 January 2021

War on the Virus

Don't want to start carping on Biden already, but the goal of 100 million vaccinations in 100 days isn't adequate or good policy. He should be lobbying Astra Zeneca, J&J, and especially Moderna and Pfizer to prepare themselves for a major Defense Production Act push to ramp up production. Even if it means building whole new plants with government funding... it's worth it. We can use them for aggressive public health projects in the future. Meantime plans to roll out the most aggressive vaccination outreach project in human history should be honed and in place on Day 1. The goal should not be a certain number of vaccinations but ALL OUT WAR on the virus, the goal VICTORY and the timeline ASAP.