Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Is This R Future?

It’s a serious question, the answer to which is of consequential importance to our country: Is the Republican Party past the point of no return to normality? It feels impossible, by now, to think it ever could. What would need to happen?

Consider Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA). Suddenly powerful, the empress of election denial and vaccine refusal, she considered 9/11 an “inside job,” suggested no plane crashed into the Pentagon, blamed California’s forest fires on space lasers controlled by Jews. Who, the minute she slithered into D.C., filed articles of impeachment against President Biden, under whose leadership Trump’s failing economy has turned around (35% of America’s total debt was added during Trump’s single term), the pandemic was brought under control, unemployment is at record lows, who hasn’t yet fomented insurrection or tried to bully a foreign leader into getting dirt on an opponent. 

Plus, her posts on social media are among the most inflammatory, conspiratorial, and false of any right-winger. Which is a very high bar.

“I will never leave that woman,” said caponized Kevin McCarthy. “I will always take care of her...” What better example of decline is there than the elevation of such a person, not to mention McCarthy himself, to a position of controlling influence in that party? And whereas he has the title, having agreed to populate the Rules Committee with people of her ilk, he retains little of the power of the Speakership. “Rules” is the committee that, among other powers, decides which legislation makes it to the floor.

Say what you will about Nancy Pelosi, considered, even by many on the right, one of the most effective Speakers in history, she’d have never let it happen to her. Will that group of hostage-taking radical nihilists ever produce legislation that becomes law? More importantly and even less likely, legislation that will benefit any but themselves and their dark money benefactors? We’ll find out soon enough. Enough, one expects, to turn control of the House back to Democrats in two years.

Because they can’t help themselves. Lies and promises of retribution (and sub-rosa deals) got them where they are. In their safely gerrymandered districts that elected them because of, not in spite of, their mendacious cruelty, there’s no going back. Their act plays well locally, but even with their nationwide voter suppression, to believe it’s winning national strategy is to have given up entirely on what’s left of American conservatism. Their trademark hypocrisy is already showing.

When Trump was “president,” the debt ceiling was raised three times without controversy. Now, presumably to cause economic pain for which they'll blame on President Biden for not “negotiating” with their hostage demands, they’re using it like kidnappers. And, as more documents are turning up in strange places, they’ve turned their hypocrisy up to eleven. Silent about Trump’s behavior, MTG said Biden’s is treason, a capital crime.

Mike Pence, who harshly criticized President Biden for having them, answered “I did not,” when asked if he took any classified documents home. About which Ted Cruz said this: “Oh look, the Mike Pence story, it’s still early. You know, Mike Pence, as you noted he is a good friend, he’s a good man. ... That is very different from what Joe Biden has done.”

But no one can flip the script like Trump, who counts on and still receives unwavering support from his party, if less unanimously than previously. When it was revealed that the FBI agent in charge of investigating Russian influence and found “nothing” was on the take from Russian agents, Trump shouted, on his “truth” platform, “The FBI guy after me for the Russia, Russia, Russia HOAX, long before my Election as President, was just arrested for taking money from Russia, Russia, Russia. May he Rot In Hell!”

Think about that for a moment, longer than which it ought not take. Maybe Trump figures Hell is where they’ll meet so he can thank him. But he definitely figures MAGA Republicans will fall for his Orwellian double-speak.

Meanwhile, Ron DeSantis, number two in polling for 2024’s Republican presidential nomination, seems to believe even more than House Republicans, that authoritarian thought control is the road to power. In his Florida, teachers feel obligated to remove books from classrooms. Not “some” books. All. And AP courses on Black History are banned, “because lessons on race must be taught in “an objective manner,” and not “used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.” That slavery was bad, for example? 

What would need to happen to return that party to sanity? As red states continue efforts to suppress Democratic voters, actual conservatives would need to dissociate from the insanity and, if only for nowvote Democratic. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Oh. No. Joe. Also, George.

The Biden documents thing is maddening, disappointing, frustrating. The obverse is that, for people as-yet unacquainted with the hypocrisy of Republican electeds and their media mouths, it provides an enlightening introductory course. Hypocrisy 101.

The best that can be said about President Biden’s situation is that it was careless. Unlike Trump’s, there’s no evidence (so far) of criminal intent, the critical criterion for prosecution. In fact, we only know about it because upon discovery, Biden did everything the law demands. Trump, by contrast, denied, lied, refused, excused, ignored, and stored; forcing FBIntervention.

But those differences don’t matter to the McCarthyite hostage-takers of Congress, who are in strategic, stratospheric dudgeon. Even higher are their media. Both, in times unmentioned, did everything possible to transport Trump’s criminality to Nothingburg, calling it a fake, partisan affair, saying he had every right to do what he did. Does that define hypocrisy? Answer correctly, show your work, pass the course.

If there’s a process for keeping track of classified government documents, it doesn’t work. If President Biden, now or as VP, checked out the documents as (you’d think) required, why wasn’t their non-return noted years ago? The ineffectiveness of whatever system exists, or doesn’t, needs critical attention. Who knows, after all, what Jared Kushner gave China and Saudi Arabia in return for the billions he got from them? And, as General Kelly worried, what secrets Trump shared, with whom and for what purpose. Or allowed easy access to at Security-sieve-a-Lago, as has been suggested.  

Because the two are separate, the to-be-determined but unlikely criminality of President Biden’s situation ought to play no role in the decision to prosecute Trump for his. That it might is what makes it so maddening, disappointing, and frustrating.

Therefore, preserving mental health, let’s consider another lesson with which the Republican Party has schooled us: the same party that, in the receding shadows of times past, got Richard Nixon to resign. It’s not mysterious why they’re refusing to chastise or expel George Santos. Who volleyballed so hard at a school he never attended that, unlike anyone else who ever played the game, he had to have both knees replaced. Maybe it was while recuperating from those operations that he became a leading contributor to the technology of carbon capture

Penalizing or expelling a man whose election depended on outrageous lies would be akin to praising Liz Cheney, a definitional, true conservative, for telling the truth. They can’t. It would call into question everything about the perfidious path they’ve taken to get where they are. Even more impossible, it would require abrogating their acceptance of Trump’s endless stream of lies, beginning decades before winning the Electoral College, after which his mendacity led, demonstrably, to thousands of lost lives; especially, ironically, among his believers

Truthfulness about their agenda is Republican legislators’ enemy: more tax cuts for the wealthy, cutting benefits for regular people, ending actions to mitigate climate change (that they state honestly, but it’s based on the homicidal lie that climate change is fake and fossil fuels are harmless). Because most Americans disagree with everything Republicans propose, the party recognizes the primacy of falsehoods to win votes. Case in point, as mentioned in last week’s column: fulfilling a hard-pushed, nationwide campaign promise, their very first legislative action was based on their thoroughly debunked IRS lie.

Less outlandish but no less effective than George Santos', such lies got them elected. He lies about himself; they lie about everything else. Especially Trump’s Big One, leading to aggressive and effective voter suppression, about which they’ve taken to bragging

Sometimes it feels like piling on poor George, though, as his lies bespeak a pathologically unwell mind. They flow through him like water from a burst dam. He should receive therapy, not security clearance, and shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near legislation. Not even Trump’s confabulations are as bizarre. 

Republican legislative item number two was based on an even more contemptible lie: imaginary infanticide. Killing babies born alive after a failed abortion or with unsurvivable birth defects. Already illegal. Doesn’t happen. But, because they know their voters will believe any lie that stokes preprogrammed outrage, they touted their bill against the nonexistent as if they’d solved cold fusion.

Following suit, Arkansas’ new Governor Sanders’ first act was banning nonexistent CRT in schools. Shameless. And they’ve just put election deniers, 9/11 hoaxers, white supremacist coddlers, space laser believers, and insurrectionists on the House Homeland Security Committee. How reassuring.

These are dangerous people, trading in lies, protecting liars, inflaming believers to violence. Next, we’ll learn whether they’re willing to cause worldwide economic collapse by using the debt ceiling to push their self-enriching, regular-American-harming goals. Predictions?

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Rs In Charge

So obvious is the corruption of Kevin McCarthy and the process that dangled him above the Speaker’s podium fifteen times in four days, that everything about it has already been said. I disagree, though, with those saying he sold his soul. If any remained, that happened two years previously. For the briefest of moments back then, he blamed the insurrection on its source: Trump.

Only hours later, he backtracked and made tracks to Mar-a-Lago. And now, nearly his first words after glomming the gavel were in groveltude to Trump, whose pathological election lies are responsible for everything that happened before and since. Including Ashli Babbitt, who died for his sins.

Voters against certification of the fraud-free election, which includes McCarthy, now control the “people’s chamber,” representatives whose disrespect for democracy was and remains writ largesse. “It was democracy in action,” they professed, referring to the fifteen votes and physical confrontations preceding Kevin’s Peter-principled installation. Like the gerrymandering, voter suppression, and lies that elected them to Congress, it was, in fact, the opposite: a ten-percent minority demanding and receiving concessions they tried to keep secret

Tonguing Trumpofoxian lies one by one, McCarthy Speakered the scheme: We’ll defund those 87,000 IRS agents, he said, resurrecting the debunked. We’ll end “woke” grooming in schools. (Who groomed the six-year-old that shot his teacher? In Trumpist family photos featuring children holding ARs, who’s gr-zooming who?) We’ll close “wide-open” borders, he promised, repeating the lie that, every time it’s delivered, encourages more asylum-seekers, whose arrival Rs gratefully demagogue.

We’ll return to respect for law enforcement and the law, he mouthed, after he and the entire “Freedom” caucus boycotted President Biden’s ceremony honoring capitol police and other brave souls who didn’t capitulate to Trump’s illegality. And they’ll investigate “weaponization of the government,” which is what they call it when government enforces our laws; but not Trump’s DOJ firing US Attorneys investigating him and having his IRS punitively audit James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and others.

Newly-empowered Dentifricial-American Paul Gosar, whose siblings begged the electorate to reject him, announced, “We will conduct a real investigation into J6. The effort to attempt a coup between traitor General Mark Milley and Pelosi will be reviewed and exposed.” Sounds Q-legit. Like insurrection-planner Andy Biggs before him, just-elected Cory Mills made a crude joke about the attack on Paul Pelosi. Asked if being an election rejector was important to her base, MTG answered, “Oh, very important.” Deservedly under investigation, Scott Perry opined that Nancy Pelosi ran Congress “like a prison camp.” Preternatural liar George Santos, who’d have been expelled immediately by any party with a thimbleful of integrity, appeared to flaunt a white-power sign as he oathed another lie. These are but some of the quality people onto whose hands McCarthy grafted the levers of governance.

Then he kicked effective Democrats off important committees, putting subjects of investigations, who won’t recuse, in charge of investigating investigations. Want to see “weaponization”? Just watch. It’s all about protecting Trump and elected Trumpists. 

Fomenting lawlessness at the highest levels of government has other consequences, too. To the expressed disgust of leaders of every Western democracy, and after forceful condemnation from President Biden and Leaders Schumer and Jeffries, R leaders were silent on the Trump-inspired coup attempt in Brazil. Having gone all in with rejecting democracy, how could they criticize its direct result elsewhere? Admittedly, it’d have been interesting to see.

Who could miss the contrast between Trump’s people letting the insurrectionists disappear into the wind, leaving it for President Biden’s DOJ to bring them to justice, and how every Brazilian counterpart was arrested and cuffed on the spot? Which government showed more respect for the will of its people? It’s no mystery why Jair Bolsonaro fled to Florida, the swamp containing two of America’s greatest threats to democracy.

So, what shall we expect from House Republicans when they’re not busy “investigating”? Well, the first bill they passed, based on that “87,000 IRS agents” lie, cuts funding for the agency by $71 billion, which will decrease revenue by $186 billion. Wealthy tax cheats wouldn’t face audits after all. (It was never going to be regular income people.) Given their way, McCarthy’s controllers would make up the difference by cutting Social Security and Medicare. They’ve said so

Republican legislative priorities: benefitting themselves and their donors, not the majority of Americans from whom they’ve attempted to withhold the truth. They’re nothing new. They’ll go nowhere as long as Democrats have the Senate and White House, but there it is. Welcome to 2023.

Also: yes, it’s weird that ten government documents were found in Vice-President Biden’s old office, immediately reported and returned. And, no, it’s nothing like the hundreds Trump stole, hid, lied about, and refused to return. In case anyone’s wondering. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

42 And In With The New

Readers of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy” know that the answer to the “ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything” is 42. It’s also the number that removed residual doubt that the radical right members of our Supreme Court have taken that body far beyond claims of “legislating from the bench” that conservatives liked to toss at more liberal courts, and about which they’ve gone mute.

Title 42 is the policy imposed during Trump’s “presidency” which suspended the legal asylum system at the height of the pandemic. It allowed expelling seekers without a hearing, to mitigate, purportedly, the spread of the virus. We won’t argue the effectiveness of Title 42; certainly won’t disagree that our asylum and immigration policies need fixing. But, because the CDC had ended various other protective requirements as the pandemic wound down, and because the legislative language justifying 42 was specific about the pandemic, the Biden administration, via the CDC, ordered its end.

Border states objected, and took it to court; not arguing pandemic protection: immigration issues. Correctly noting it was no longer being used as written, a US District Court agreed it should expire. On appeal, the Supreme Court, 5-4, ordered the policy continued; not bothering to pretend their decision had anything to do with the pandemic. Saying, in effect, if Congress won’t fix immigration, we will. Which isn’t the Court’s job, even if Congress won’t do its. That’s where the Court is headed: enrobed, autocratic law-making. But it provided an undeniably clever lead-in to this column. We agree on that.

If there’s no likely-to-happen recourse to the Court’s anti-Constitutional authoritarianism, there is to the coming legislative dysfunction, inevitable under Republican control in the House of Representatives. Namely, after witnessing their predictably kangaroid, non-stop “investigations” and non-start useful legislation, voting them out. If their uselessness isn’t obvious after two years of nothing but performative inaction, well... let’s not think about that.

Head of the RNC, Ronna “What-middle-name?” McDaniel says their first priority ought to be Hunter Biden’s laptop. Because what else is that important? Maybe they’d start with whether it even exists and, if so, how Rudy got it. But, to Ms. McDaniel’s disappointment, that won’t be number one. Per the caucus of their craziest, to whom the term “far right” is wrongly applied, because they’re anything but conservative, “accountability” means pursuing every Q-anon hallucination they hold dear.

But there’ll be no accountability for themselves: their published legislative intentions include gutting the Office of Congressional Ethics, to which the J6 Committee had referred Jim Jordan and others for ignoring subpoenas, and which would, if truth mattered, expel mega-liar George Santos, who was welcomed, instead, with partially open arms.

Serious accountability would start with the derelict manner in which Trump and the man he went to, Jared, handled the pandemic. “Absolutely not” was Kushner’s response when asked by Dr. Deborah Birx if Biden’s transition team should be read into Trump’s pandemic responses. This we’ve learned from a recent tranche of documentation released by the J6 Committee. It tells us everything about the MAGA mindset: no concern for the well-being of the American people as long as they achieve power and vengeance, and score political points for themselves. Willingness, if acting would give the other side a win, to accept deaths. And not only from Covid: poverty, back-alley abortion, forced birth, lack of healthcare, pollution, climate change.

There’s an excellent argument to be made – it has been – that their deliberate downplaying of and lying about Covid-19 fulfills a legal definition of criminality. Homicide, even. So says Glenn Kirshner, former federal prosecutor.

There are, however, several less controversial crimes, easier to convict, committed by the former “president.” The definition of “clear cut,” those secret government documents he stole and lied about top the list. And Trump’s finally-released tax forms show how brazenly he’d lied about them: that he was under audit (like the rest of his corrupt top-level appointees, his IRS head ignored the law – in this case, requiring annual tax audits of presidents); that he’d given millions to charity and paid millions in taxes; and (no tax expert, I) the many questionable deductions he’d claimed, including, brazenly, the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels.

It’ll be a challenging couple of years, as the DOJ and state prosecutors in New York and Georgia decide about charging Trump for his cornucopia of crime, while House Republicans do everything they can to distract from it. Including, if the crazy caucus has its way, defunding the FBI and DOJ. They’ve already accomplished something, though: getting rid of metal detectors at the Capitol. When Joe shows up for the SOTU, they’ll be packing.

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