Merrick Garland: Asleep at the switch
He's still at it. On October 7, former President Donald Trump instructed four former White House staffers -- Chief of Staff Mark Meadows; Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino; Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel; and adviser Steve Bannon -- not to comply with subpoenas from the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.
Sound familiar? This is a clear case of "obstruction of Congress," one of two charges for which Donald Trump was impeached, for the first time, on Dec. 18, 2019 -- and clearly against the law. According to 18 U.S. Code Section 1505, whoever "influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law" by government departments, agencies, and committees is subject to a fine and five years in prison.
He's still at it. Trump's doing the same thing to the House Select Committee today that he did back in 2019 to the committee investigating his offer of a bribe to the president of Ukraine. He's interfering with the work of Congress. He's breaking the law again. And it looks like he might get away with it again.
Trump escaped the last time because the Republican-controlled Senate refused to convict him. The big question is: This time around, why's Attorney General Merrick Garland letting him get away with obstructing Congress again?
Legal experts that I've interviewed on my podcast, including UC Irvine Professor of Law Rick Hasen, agree that on the most serious threat facing this country -- Donald Trump's continued attempts to undermine our democracy -- Merrick Garland's asleep at the switch. The Department of Justice should already be investigating Donald Trump for repeatedly breaking the law -- on several fronts. In addition to obstruction of Congress, three other examples.
52 U.S. Code 10307 makes it a federal crime for any federal official "to fail or refuse to permit any person to vote who is entitled to vote ... or to willfully fail or refuse to tabulate, count and report such person's vote." It sure looks like Donald Trump broke that law when he encouraged election officials in Pennsylvania and Georgia not to "tabulate, count, or report" certain votes.
Under 18 U.S. Code 595, it's a crime for any person employed by the United States who "uses his official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector" or other office. Isn't that exactly what Donald Trump is doing, trying to undo the election of Joe Biden?
Under 18 U.S. Code 371, it's a federal crime for two or more persons to conspire "for the purpose of impairing, obstructing, or defeating the lawful functions of any department of the government," including the election of presidential electors -- which Trump deliberately attempted by inviting Michigan election officials to the White House and encouraging them to ignore the official vote count and appoint their own slate of pro-Trump electors.
To which we can now add, as revealed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, a three-hour Oval Office meeting on January 3 where Trump threatened to fire Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen unless he agreed to order the Justice Department to pressure states to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
In every case, and many more, there is evidence that Donald Trump did, in fact, break the law. But certainly, sufficient evidence to merit an official Justice Department investigation. Yet Merrick Garland has done nothing.
The Justice Department's doing a good job of tracking down those who stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6. So far, the FBI's arrested and filed charges against 674 Trumpers in over 40 states and arrests continue, almost daily.
But what's missing -- and where Merrick Garland's AWOL -- is any action to hold accountable the man behind it all. It's not enough to round up the rioters. What about their ringleader?
For almost a year now, Trump has led efforts to overturn the last election and undermine any future elections. This is sedition. This is an attack on the United States itself. What's Garland waiting for? The official DOJ policy about not indicting a sitting president no longer applies to Trump.
Attorney General Garland should have already appointed a special prosecutor to investigate possible criminal charges against Donald Trump. This is not about playing politics. This is about defending democracy. And for our democracy to survive, Trump must pay the consequences.
Merrick Garland, get to work. Do your job. Name a special prosecutor!
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
What Democrats Could Learn From Republicans
It seems counterintuitive, I know, but it’s still true: Sometimes, the farther away we go, the closer we are to home. Or, to put it another way, the more distance we have from things, the more clearly we see them.
I learned that lesson again over the last couple of weeks – did you miss me? – while combining a study-tour of magnificent French Gothic cathedrals with pure relaxation in the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Despite best efforts not to think about my regular beat – the maddening, meaningless ups and downs of Washington – news of infighting among Democrats over their own legislative agenda still occasionally managed to sneak through. And every time, with the advantage of 3,000 miles distance, I came to the same conclusion.
It’s the single most frustrating question I’ve wrestled with in years of political commentary: Why can’t Democrats behave more like Republicans?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fervent life-long Democrat. A true believer. I’m not one of those cynics who claim there’s no difference between the two parties. On policy, there’s a huge difference. Democrats are the party of workers’ rights, women’s rights, civil rights, voter rights, universal healthcare, environmental protection, combatting climate change, investing in renewable energy, creating green jobs, and tuition-free community college. I support that agenda 100 percent.
Meanwhile, to tell the truth, it’s hard to tell what Republicans in Congress stand for anymore, except: they’re for whatever Donald Trump wants, and against everything else. Under feckless leaders like Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy, and Mitch McConnell, it’s been decades since Republicans have put forth any ideas of their own.
No, no. Where Democrats fall short is not a question of political policy. It’s a matter of political power. Unlike Republicans, when Democrats gain power, either they don’t know how, or they’re afraid, to use it. There are two big lessons Democrats can learn from Republicans and should have learned a long time ago: fierce loyalty and ruthless determination.
LOYALTY. You’ve got to give Republicans credit for that. Their agenda may stink, but once they decide on a course of action, they all rally behind it. They stick together. They form a team. They’ll die for the team. They’ll even oppose something they once enthusiastically supported, if that’s what the team wants. And anybody who breaks from the team – Mitt Romney, for example – is treated like an outcast.
Contrast that with Democrats. They’re all over the place. There’s no loyalty. There’s no team. It’s every man and woman for themselves. Democrats spend more time fighting with each other, over their own good ideas, than they do fighting Republicans over their bad ideas. And the most disloyal, outliers like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, who reject any semblance of teamwork, are treated like gods. They should be branded as traitors.
DETERMINATION. Here again, give Republicans credit. Once they get the power, they’re not afraid to use it. Three examples. He only made it to the Oval Office thanks to the Supreme Court, but George W. Bush acted like he had a mandate, pushing his tax cut for the rich through Congress by May 2001. Donald Trump didn’t win the popular vote, either, but by December 2017, he’d rammed through his own version of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. Mitch McConnell, under the lamest of excuses, single-handedly prevented President Obama from filling a vacancy on the Supreme Court.
All three are cases of raw abuse of political power for bad public policy. But the point is, Republicans didn’t hesitate to use their power. And, once the decision had been made, like teamwork, every last Republican rallied behind it.
Again, contrast that with Democrats today. For years, their top priorities have been infrastructure, climate change, universal childcare, clean energy, affordable housing, and lowering the cost of prescription drugs. Now they have all the power they need to deliver – Democratic control of both houses of Congress, a Democratic president who supports the entire package, two historic infrastructure bills – and they still can’t deliver. Why? Don’t blame Republicans. Democrats are too busy fighting each other: centrists v. progressives, both willing to destroy Biden’s presidency and their own legacy unless they get 100 percent of what they want. It’s embarrassing. It’s pathetic.
Sadly, Democrats have never learned the basic imperative of political power: Use it or lose it. Which is what Democrats are bound to do, unless they stop the infighting, bind together, seize the moment, and boldly use their power. If only Democrats would start acting like Republicans!
Anti-vaxxers get COVID-19: Serves them right
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I entertained bad thoughts about other people. Not only that, I wished bad things would happen to them, and rejoiced when it did. I know it's wrong, but I can't help myself.
No doubt, you've heard about some of the people I'm talking about. They're all anti-vaxxers. I never met any of them in person, you probably didn't either. Four of them, like me, were radio talk show hosts. But all four of them, unlike me, downplayed the danger of the coronavirus and urged their listeners not to wear a mask or get vaccinated.
Phil Valentine, king of Nashville's Super Talk 99.7 WTN, spent a year and a half telling listeners not to take COVID-19 seriously or get vaccinated. Until he was diagnosed with the coronavirus on July 12. By late July, he was telling friends and family he regretted his decision. Too late. He died of COVID-19 on August 21 at the age of 61.
Same story with Florida talk show host Dick Farrel, known as "the other Rush Limbaugh." A vocal opponent of Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom he called a "power-tripping lying freak," Farrel, too, dismissed the importance of the vaccine until he came down with COVID-19 in late July, when he texted a friend: "I wish I had gotten it." Again, too late. He died of COVID-19 on August 4.
No such second thoughts for Tennessee talker Jimmy DeYoung, who compared the vaccine to the "mark of the beast" in Revelation 13: 16-17, or for Florida's Mark Bernier, who called government officials urging people to get vaccinated "Nazis." Neither was vaccinated, both got COVID-19, and both died of COVID-19 last month.
Those four talk show hosts are hardly alone. Every day we hear of more COVID-deniers brought down by the disease. Add to the list: Scott Apley, member of the executive committee of the Texas Republican Party, who insisted that "vaccines don't work." Dead of COVID on August 25 at age 45. And Caleb Wallace, leader of an anti-mask "Freedom Rally" in Texas on July 4. He came down with COVID symptoms on July 26, was hospitalized on July 30, and languished in the ICU before dying of COVID-19 on August 28 at age 30, leaving behind a wife pregnant with their fourth child.
Health officials report countless cases of unvaccinated people being admitted to the hospital with very serious COVID-19 infections. "One of the last things they do before they're intubated is beg for the vaccine," Alabama physician Brytney Cobia told the New York Times. "I hold their hand and tell them I'm sorry, but it's too late."
It's too bad. I know they've all left behind family and friends, spouses and children. As a Christian, I know I'm supposed to feel sorry for them. But the truth is: I don't. I don't shed any tears for them. Instead, I resent the harm that they've done.
By rejecting science, they've not only written their own death sentence they've deliberately endangered the lives of their spouses, children, family, friends, co-workers, and fellow citizens. Anybody who comes into contact with them.
At the same time, they've put an incredible strain on the American economy: driving up the cost of health care; straining the capacity of clinics and hospitals; delaying elective surgery for millions; forcing large and small businesses to adopt special practices to protect their customers; drastically slashing business on airlines and cruise ships; wreaking havoc on public schools; and making it impossible to put the coronavirus pandemic behind us.
And all because these people refuse to get a simple shot in the arm. There's no action more selfish, greedy, thoughtless, or uncaring. And, worst of all, they claim to do so in the name of "freedom." Hogwash! Freedom does not include the right to kill your neighbor. Freedom does not include the right to infect your loved ones with a fatal disease.
It's time we stopped tolerating the indifference and irresponsibility of anti-vaxxers. Yes, they can choose not to get vaccinated. But if that's their choice, they should be banned from all places where they interact with the public: offices, work sites, buses, trains, planes, retail stores, restaurants, coffee shops, schools, gyms, stadiums, movie theaters, or public parks. Ban them from all human contact.
My own final word to anti-vaxxers: If you refuse to get vaccinated and come down with COVID-19, don't expect any sympathy from me. You asked for it. You got it. You deserve it.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
If you can't win fair and square, cheat
On Sept. 14, millions of Californians will march to the polls -- if they haven't already mailed in their ballots -- to vote in one of the most ridiculous and unnecessary elections in the state's history: whether or not to recall Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Here's how insane this is. One, under terms of the recall, a governor elected by a margin of nearly 3 million votes in 2018 could be tossed out of office for no apparent reason. The only issue driving the recall against Newsom is that Republicans don't like him because he's a Democrat. Two, if recalled, Newsom could be replaced by a total nobody with no political or business credentials -- to lead the world's fifth-largest economy.
On the recall ballot, California voters are presented with two items. First, "Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled from the office of governor?" Yes or no? Second, "Candidates to succeed Gavin Newsom as governor if he is recalled," followed by a list of 46 candidates -- all self-appointed, none nominated by any party, most of whom nobody has ever heard of.
They range from politicians such as former gubernatorial candidate John Cox and former San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer; to media celebrities such as Caitlyn Jenner and radio talk show host Larry Elder; to a posse of average Joe and Jills: real estate agents, car dealers, pastors, teachers and hair stylists; to billboard celebrity Angelyne, always scantily dressed in shocking pink, whose slogan is "We've had Gray and Brown (Jerry Brown and Gray Davis), what about blonde and pink?"
While I wouldn't vote for him, my "favorite" candidate is Adam Papagan, a celebrity home tour guide in Los Angeles, who's running because he says he's "curious how government works." Which might have been a good thing to find out before running for governor.
But here's what's really wrong about the recall. It's not only a waste of taxpayer dollars, it's fundamentally undemocratic. To escape the recall, Newsom must get at least 50.1 percent of the vote. If he does not, whoever polls highest among the 46 self-declared candidates automatically becomes governor - even if he or she gets only 25% or less of the votes. It's virtually certain that if Newsom is recalled, he will still get far more votes -- maybe twice as many -- than whoever would replace him.
That violates all the basic notions of democracy, but Republican organizers don't care. That's the entire point of the recall. Having shrunk to only 24% of the state's electorate, California Republicans know they could never win the governorship in a fair two-party matchup. So they've cooked up the phony recall as an end run around traditional politics, trying to unseat Newsom in 2021 via a rigged election because they know they could never defeat him outright when he's up for reelection in 2022.
The California recall election is a direct assault on democracy. But it hardly stands alone. It's only the latest manifestation of an organized, concerted effort by Republicans nationwide to undermine the democratic process. Faced with the reality that the Republican Party base is growing older and getting smaller, Republican leaders have dug in their heels. Rather than change their policies to attract more Republican voters, they've decided to rewrite the rules instead, in order to disenfranchise more Democratic voters.
Their anti-democratic efforts can be seen on several fronts. According to the nonpartisan Brennan Center for Justice, more than a dozen GOP-led states have already enacted more than 30 laws this year making it harder to vote, especially for traditionally Democratic voters: eliminating or shrinking early voting; banning or severely limiting vote-by-mail; ending same-day voter registration; requiring college students to vote in their home precinct and not on campus.
Republican state legislators in Arizona forced a recount, now delayed, of 2020 returns in Maricopa County, even though the secretary of state had already certified the election for Joe Biden. GOP legislators are now trying to launch similar recounts in Georgia and Wisconsin. Republicans in at least 14 states have introduced legislation that would seize power from local election officials and allow the state legislature to overturn election results and appoint their own group of presidential electors. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress block passage of any voter reform legislation.
It's all part of the Republican Party's new election strategy: If you can't win fair and square ... cheat! The California recall does not stand alone. It's part of a nationwide, Republican Party-led, anti-democratic crusade. It's not just Gavin Newsom who's on the ballot. It's democracy itself.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Afghanistan: Biden got it wrong - and right!
When it comes to Afghanistan, it's hard to believe how President Biden could get it so right and so wrong at the same time. I'm talking about two issues: the war in Afghanistan, and how it ended. Most of the media has been - wrongly, I believe - focused on the second.
On that point, no doubt about it. Biden ended this war in the worst possible way: badly underestimating the Taliban's strength to take over; trusting the corrupt Afghan government to show at least a little resistance; having no plan in place to extricate thousands of American diplomats and contractors and Afghan civilians who worked with American troops; and showing little regret or empathy when things went south.
Thankfully, after three days of chaos, the situation has improved. American troops control both Kabul airports. Commercial and military flights are leaving around the clock, jammed with refugees. Thousands have already been rescued, and the Taliban has been warned not to interfere until the evacuation is complete. But Biden still gets the blame for not acting sooner. It happened on his watch. As he admitted in his address to the nation, "The buck stops with me."
Without absolving him of blame for getting the exit from Afghanistan so wrong, you must admit Biden was dealt two bad hands: one, by Donald Trump; the other, by U.S. intelligence agencies. It was Trump who legitimized the Taliban by signing a deal with them in February 2020, without involving the Afghan government.
Under terms of that agreement, Trump promised to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021. It was "time for someone else to do the work," Trump declared, "and it will be the Taliban." He even floated the idea of inviting the Taliban to Camp David! Once that deal was made, Afghan tribal leaders knew U.S. forces would soon be gone, and they started making deals with the Taliban. From then on, the fall of the Afghan government was inevitable.
Biden was also undermined by U.S. intelligence agencies. According to sources I spoke with, the CIA warned that the Taliban was stronger than we realized and urged getting Americans out of the country immediately. Meanwhile, Pentagon generals insisted they'd have weeks to organize an orderly withdrawal. Unfortunately, Biden believed the generals, leading directly to the mess that happened.
But here's what's getting lost in all the hand-wringing over the disaster at Kabul airport. And here's what's more important: While nobody can defend how Biden ended the war, nobody can dispute this central fact: He was absolutely right to pull the plug.
The war in Afghanistan lasted too long, almost 20 years. It cost too much, over $2 trillion. It took too many lives, almost 2,500 Americans and some 200,000 or more Afghan casualties. And it accomplished absolutely nothing. The Taliban were in charge when we arrived in Afghanistan; they're back in charge today.
The fact is, we should have ended the war in Afghanistan in six months, once our initial mission of routing al-Qaida was accomplished. Instead, having learned nothing from history, and in a classic case of American hubris, we launched a fruitless exercise to build a strong central government in a country that's never known or wanted one.
Forget those Monday morning quarterbacks who now argue: "If Only." If only we'd kept troops there for another five months or a year. Nonsense! The Pentagon's been making that same argument for 20 years. There's no way that staying any longer in Afghanistan would have changed the outcome, especially when the Afghan military showed no willingness to defend their own country.
We gave it our best. Twenty years! But the cold, hard truth is: We can't fight for a country that refuses to fight for itself. It's immoral to send any more of our sons and daughters to do so.
Again, as fun as it is to cast blame - and there's plenty of blame to go around: from the Afghan government and military to Trump, our own intelligence agencies, and Biden himself - let's not lose sight of what's most important. Here's the good news: America's longest war is finally over! Now we can divert the resources we've so long wasted in building Afghanistan into rebuilding America.
The overwhelming majority of Americans don't want this war. Three presidents promised to end it, but didn't. Joe Biden did. And in the end, that's what counts. History will remember that Joe Biden ended the war in Afghanistan. History will not remember two days of chaos at the Kabul airport.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Breaking News: Senate Gets Something Done
You'd never know it from the flood of media coverage, but the resignation of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo wasn't the only big news this week. YES, Cuomo got all the headlines. But something else even more important happened: For the first time in years, the Senate actually did its job and passed a bill. Cuomo deserved less attention; the Senate deserved more.
Which is not to discount the significance of Cuomo's pulling the plug. What a stunning fall from the adulation Cuomo was basking in just a year ago. And there are at least a couple of lessons to be learned from it.
Lesson number one: Don't give any politician a third term in office. No matter how much you like them. No matter how well they do in their first two terms, they're bound to mess up in their third. Make two terms the limit. And stick to it.
Next. Look at the recent history of New York politicians. Gov. Eliot Spitzer, "Client Number 9," resigned in disgrace in 2008 after being linked to a prostitution ring. Congressman Anthony Weiner stepped down in 2011 after admitting exchanging sexually explicit texts with underage girls. Attorney General Eric Schneiderman quit in 2018 after being accused of sexual abuse. And now there's Cuomo. What do they all have in common? They're all men.
In fact, I recently did a search of politicians accused of sexual misconduct in the last decade. They include Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives. But guess what they all have in common? They're all men! So, lesson number two. Isn't it obvious? Elect more women to high office. Female politicians consider winning elections as a way to get things done, not as a free pass for sexual abuse. They don't view political power as penis power.
But again, as newsworthy as Cuomo's resignation was, something far more significant happened this week. Something we haven't seen in a long time. The Senate actually passed a major piece of legislation: the $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, delivering the biggest upgrade to the nation's roads, bridges, pipes, ports and broadband in decades.
Make no mistake about it. This is a big deal that will touch on almost every aspect of American life. Its reach is stunning. With $550 billion in new federal spending, the bill's fix-it list includes: $110 billion for building new roads and bridges; $73 billion for modernizing the electric grid; $65 billion for expanding broadband access; $66 billion for improving rail service; $55 billion for new water treatment plants; $47 billion for cybersecurity and climate change mitigation; $39 billion for public transit; $25 billion for airport improvements; $7.5 billion for electric car charging stations; and $7.5 billion for new, zero-emission school buses.
What's even more stunning is that the infrastructure package passed 69-30, with bipartisan support. 19 Republicans actually voted for it, including Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who'd earlier pledged to block President Biden from achieving any legislative victory. And, most noteworthy of all, 19 Republicans voted for the bill even though former president Donald Trump begged them not to.
There's no exaggerating the importance of that Senate vote. It proves that, with the right amount of patience, determination, and willingness to compromise, government can work again. It proves bipartisanship is not dead. It proves that Donald Trump's grip on the Republican Party is starting to slip. It's a tribute to the band of Democratic and Republican senators who worked so long and hard to make a deal. And it's a big win for Biden, who was scoffed at for giving bipartisanship a chance, and delivered.
And that's not all. Approval of the infrastructure bill was soon followed by passage, strictly along party lines, of a $3.5 trillion budget plan, containing almost everything progressives ever fought for, including: extended family and medical leave; expansion of Medicare to cover dental, vision, and hearing; universal pre-K; and continuation of the $300/month child tax credit enacted during the pandemic. Which represents, says Senator Bernie Sanders, "the most consequential piece of legislation for working people, the elderly, the children, the sick and the poor since FDR and the New Deal of the 1930's."
Granted, there's a lot of work between now and the finish line. Neither bill's final passage is guaranteed. My point is simply this: After complaining so long that the Senate was doing NOTHING, we should applaud the moment when they finally accomplished SOMETHING. Those new roads and bridges will be around long after Andrew Cuomo's forgotten.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Sexual Assault: Only Democrats Take it Seriously
Nobody feels sorry for Andrew Cuomo, and nobody defends him. We knew the final report into allegations of sexual assault against him would be bad. We didn't know it'd be such a disaster: explicit details of sexual harassment and assault against 11 women over several years. Given that documented barrage of unacceptable and, most likely, illegal behavior, there's no way Cuomo can continue as governor. He should resign immediately - or become only the second governor in New York's history to be impeached.
But notice the chorus of voices demanding the Democratic governor's resignation: New York attorney general, Democrat Tish James; speaker of the House, Democrat Nancy Pelosi; Majority Leader of the U.S. Senate, Democrat Chuck Schumer; every Democratic member of the New York congressional delegation; and president of the United States, Democrat Joe Biden.
What a contrast with the way Republicans handle accusations of sexual assault. The difference is clear: Democrats take sexual assault seriously; Republicans do not. Democrats are quick to condemn the actions of one of their own; Republicans are quick to defend their own. Democrats cast sexual predators out. Republicans elevate them to the highest levels of government: the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Oval Office itself.
Consider Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz. He's under criminal investigation by the Justice Department for alleged sex trafficking, recruiting women online and offering them lavish gifts in exchange for sex, including sex with a 17-year-old girl. His associate Joel Greenberg has already pleaded guilty to the same charges and is reportedly cooperating with authorities in the Gaetz investigation.
Sex trafficking. Lavish gifts for sex. Sex with a minor. Serious stuff. But have you heard any leading Republican demand that Matt Gaetz resign? No way. Instead, he's out there with GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy's blessing, holding frequent news conferences, as one of the most outspoken Members of Congress downplaying the insurrection of January 6 and defending terrorists who attacked the Capitol as "patriots."
How about Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan? According to USports, eight members of the Ohio State University wrestling team in the '80s have reported that they informed Jordan, then an assistant coach at OSU, of sexual abuse by team physician Richard Strauss - but that Jordan did nothing about it. It's the same charge of cover-up that brought down Penn State's legendary Joe Paterno.
But Jordan's still riding high. As ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, Jordan's one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. Donald Trump awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And Leader McCarthy tried to make him a member of the Select Committee on January 6.
And we'll never forget the way Republicans rallied behind Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Shortly after his nomination, Christine Blasey Ford accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault, later telling the Senate Judiciary Committee how a drunken young Kavanaugh had pinned her down on a bed, groped her, and tried to remove her clothes at a high school party. Two other women came forward with similar complaints of sexual assault.
In response, the FBI spent one week in a perfunctory investigation of the charges, during which they later admitted receiving over 4,500 tips, which they dutifully relayed to the Trump White House, Kavanaugh's principal backer! After receiving the FBI's non-conclusive report, the Senate confirmed Kavanaugh 50-48. Every Republican senator (and one Democrat, Joe Manchin) voted to confirm him.
The worst case is the Republican Party's embrace of serial sexual predator Donald Trump. Let's not forget. Donald Trump was accused of far worse crimes than Andrew Cuomo - and by twice as many women. On the "Access Hollywood" tape, Trump even bragged about assaulting women, insisting he could get away with grabbing their private parts because he was a celebrity. And it's not over. To this day, two different sexual abuse lawsuits against Trump, filed by E. Jean Carroll and Summer Zervos, are still underway in New York courts.
And yet, rather than reject sexual predator Trump, Republicans accepted his behavior, nominated him for president, defended him for four years, and now even want him to run for re-election. They make a mockery of the entire #MeToo movement.
Of course, Republicans talk a good game. They're quick to condemn every allegation of sexual assault - as long as it's directed against a Democrat. But on this issue of such paramount importance, the respectful treatment of women, Republicans have zero credibility - until they stop putting their own predators on a pedestal.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
On Team USA: Give Nancy Pelosi a Gold Medal!
Even without crowds in the stands, it's still exciting to watch the Summer Olympics. Despite disappointments like in women's gymnastics, at least we've seen intense competition. Unlike Washington, D.C.
Take the House of Representatives. In the Summer Games between House Republicans and Democrats, there's zero competition. And it all boils down to this: Nancy Pelosi is the smartest leader in the history of the House. And Kevin McCarthy is the dumbest. Absolutely. Amazingly. Frighteningly. Dumb as a fence post. It's hard to imagine how McCarthy could have mucked up the Republicans' response to January 6 worse than he has. Is he really the best the Republican Party has to offer?
From the moment polls closed on November 3, 2020, McCarthy decided that the best bet for Republicans would be to put loyalty to Trump over loyalty to democracy. On Thursday, November 5, like the Trump puppy dog he is, McCarthy went on Fox News to declare: "President Trump won this election, so everyone who's listening, do not be quiet."
He then led 126 House Republicans in supporting the Texas attorney general's zany request that the Supreme Court invalidate the electoral votes of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Wisconsin. And on January 6, even after Trump's armed mob had forced McCarthy, along with every other member of Congress, to run for his life, he nevertheless voted to decertify Arizona's electoral votes and overturn the election.
Immediately after the insurrection, a shaken McCarthy lashed out. "The President bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters," he said at the time, in a rare moment of sanity. But within days, doubtlessly after a tongue-lashing by Trump, McCarthy was back to his subservient self. "I don't believe Trump provoked, if you listened to what he said at the rally," McCarthy told reporters on January 21.
Again, albeit so briefly, McCarthy rallied, supporting a bipartisan, September 11-like commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol. He appointed New York Republican John Katko to hammer out a deal with Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the Homeland Security Committee. But even after Katko got everything the Republican leader demanded, McCarthy - no doubt after checking in again with Trump - made his most stupid mistake of all. He pulled the rug out from under Katko and refused to participate in a bipartisan investigation - thereby giving up any power he once held and handing the entire matter over to Speaker Pelosi.
At which point, Pelosi, again showing her leadership mastery, did what the times demanded. Named a select committee to investigate January 6, which she would control, but in which Republicans, now subject to her veto, were invited to participate. Again, she set a trap for the hapless McCarthy, who walked right into it by appointing Trump sycophants Jim Jordan and Jim Banks - whom Pelosi immediately vetoed. In their place, she nominated conservative truth-seekers Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL).
All of which led to this week's dramatic hearing, where four police officers related their horrific experience of being brutally assaulted, beaten, tased, and gassed in the Capitol on January 6 by armed Trump supporters wearing military gear and Trump campaign clothing, all insisting that they were invading the Capitol because Trump told them to.
Called "traitors" by the mob, the officers were lucky to survive. Yet every one of them said that, even worse than the physical abuse they suffered was the fact that so many of the people they put their lives at risk to defend are downplaying or outright denying what happened. "I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room," said Officer Michael Fanone, "but too many are now telling me that hell doesn't exist or that hell isn't that bad."
At the end of the day, Nancy Pelosi showed that Democrats were clearly embarked on a serious, historic, bipartisan effort to get to the bottom of what happened on January 6. Meanwhile, thanks to Kevin McCarthy, House Republicans were exposed as anti-police, anti-law and order, anti-learning the truth, and anti-democracy. With the exception of Cheney and Kinzinger, Republicans, who used to be the party of law and order, lined up against police officers and on the side of terrorists.
What can you say about a so-called leader who put Republicans in such a suicidal political position? Ask Speaker Pelosi. When asked her reaction to Kevin McCarthy's bizarre behavior, she said it best: "He's such a moron."
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
The Earth Burns While Billionaires Take a Joy Ride
Watching two billionaires blast off into space this month was both impressive and maddening. Impressive to see the perfect execution of Virgin Galactic's mission to near-space, with founder Richard Branson on board. And even more impressive, just a few days later, to witness Blue Origin's flawless leap into space, with founder Jeff Bezos, the world's richest man, along for the ride.
But it was also maddening to think of how much money the two missions cost and what good purpose those funds could have been used for back here on terra firma: paying off all student loans; providing housing for the homeless; finding a cure for cancer; or fueling the fight against climate change.
Before either mission launched, in fact, critics tried to shoot them down. Financial analyst Ken Herbert derided Virgin Galactic as "Disney for the 1 percent of the 1 percent." And Bezos was blamed for a giant ego trip that was nothing but a "joy ride for rich guys," - an image not helped when it was revealed that one fan had paid $28 million for a seat on the New Shepard space craft, only to bow out at the last minute over an unknown "scheduling conflict."
One thing for sure: It's a far cry from May 1961, when President John F. Kennedy challenged America to land a man on the moon before the end of the decade: a goal achieved by Astronaut Neil Armstrong in 1969. For decades thereafter, America's space program was government's finest achievement: led by the White House, carried out by NASA, and proudly supported and tax-funded by the American people. Today, NASA's no longer in the pilot's seat. Space travel is now a for-profit enterprise, led by three billionaires: Branson, Bezos, and Elon Musk, founder of Space X, where anybody can hitch a ride into outer space, as long as you have a spare $28 million.
All of which has renewed a lively debate, first raised in the '60s, on two big questions: Who should be leading America's space program, the government or the private sector? And how should America's wealth be spent, exploring space or improving life on planet Earth? That debate's stirred up a lot of controversy this week. Bezos, particularly, has come under criticism for spending more on leaving Earth than improving it. But, in truth, the debate's a phony one. Because the only answer to both questions is: "Both!"
Yes, government should have the primary role in space exploration. It always has, and always will. Neither Branson nor Bezos could have achieved so much, so fast, without the pioneering work in space exploration technology developed by NASA and military engineers - and paid for by American taxpayers. Regardless of the billionaires' success in space tourism, NASA will continue to lead America's space program with its dual mission of landing Americans on Mars and establishing a human colony on the moon in the next seven years.
Indeed, this is nothing new. In almost every endeavor, private enterprise has always led the way. European merchants paid for the first trade routes to Asia. As detailed by Andrea Pitzer in her new book "Icebound," Dutch investors bankrolled the first polar expeditions. Henry Ford made automobile travel affordable. Industrialist Henry Flagler built the Florida railroad. And, more fittingly, two bicycle mechanics from Dayton, Ohio, pioneered today's vast world of commercial air travel. In many ways, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos are today's Orville and Wilbur Wright.
Nor does spending on space conflict with spending to solve problems on Earth. Throughout history, civilizations have always felt the urge and recognized the need to explore the new frontier. Otherwise, there'd be no Straits of Magellan, no Northwest Passage, no discovery of America, no Lewis and Clark, no deep-sea exploration, no International Space Station. We are not built to remain static.
Shortly after returning to Earth from his 10-minute, 20-second taste of space, Bezos responded to critics for spending so much money on space when there are still so many problems at home. "They're largely right," he told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "We have lots of problems here on Earth and we need to work on those. And we always need to look to the future. We've always done that as a species, as a civilization. We have to do both."
Bezos is already putting money where his mouth is, recently giving $200 million to the Smithsonian and $100 million each to chef Jose Andres and activist Van Jones. That's a good start. Now if Bezos would only pay his fair share of taxes.
(C)2021 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.