Tag Archives: McConnell

While We Are Distracted….

For years, I believed that most politically-active people were working for policies consistent with their conception of the good society. We were all well-meaning; we just had different points of view, different visions of what the good society should look like, and we obviously differed on how to get there.

The past few years have disabused me of that belief. Incredible as I still find it, the evidence is too clear to ignore: the political establishment of today’s GOP is not composed of people who are well-meaning but deluded. These are people–mostly but not exclusively male–who truly do value their own wealth and power above the lives of others.

The evidence is simply too copious to dismiss, and the moral rot isn’t limited to a few appallingly bad actors like Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump and William Barr.

Think about it.

When Wisconsin’s Democratic Governor wanted to delay his state’s primary election so that voters wouldn’t need to choose between risking their health and exercising their right to cast ballots, the Republicans in the state legislature appealed to the Republican majority on the state Supreme Court, which ruled that the election must proceed. When Democrats appealed that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, the five judges appointed by Republicans obediently voted their politics over their humanity.

In the end, the judge the Wisconsin GOP was trying to re-elect still lost–bigly— because voters risked contagion to exercise their franchise. But the risk was real. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinal now reports that

Officials have identified seven people who appear to have contracted COVID-19 through activities related to the April 7 election, Milwaukee Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik said Monday.

Six of the cases are in voters and one is a poll worker, Kowalik said.

Lest you conclude that this was a “one-off” or limited to the State of Wisconsin, allow me to remind you of the sorts of things this administration has been doing while the GOP’s head clown has been keeping us distracted.

A recent New York Times headline asks “Why Is Trump Gutting Regulations That Save Lives?”

Since Jan. 30, 2017, the Trump administration’s approach to federal regulation has been defined by a simple requirement: “one in, two out.” The basic idea, set out in one of President Trump’s first executive orders, is that whenever a federal agency issues one regulation, it has to take at least two regulations away — and produce an incremental cost, on the private sector, of zero.

The idea was absurd from the very start.

It was profoundly demoralizing to experts in federal agencies, who know a lot about science and who have plenty of good ideas about how to protect public health and safety. But its absurdity has been put in a whole new light by the Covid-19 pandemic, which demonstrates that the regulatory state is no enemy of the people — and that smart safeguards, designed by specialists, save lives.

If there are regulations on the books that are outmoded, or have proved to be more onerous than necessary, they should be eliminated. If existing regulations are demonstrably protecting people–worker safety regulations that prevent illnesses and death,  air pollution regulations that protect public health, restrictions on the use of chemicals that have proved dangerous or cancer-producing–arbitrarily removing them to keep the number of rules down is insane.

Unless, of course, protecting the pocketbooks of your donors is more important than protecting the lives and health of your constituents.

Trump’s behavior during the pandemic has been perfectly compatible with GOP priorities–lifesaving equipment stolen from (Democratic) states that desperately need it and doled out to “friendlier” Governors. “Briefings” that are ill-disguised, nauseating political rallies. A complete absence of expressions of empathy for those suffering and dying.

As numerous political scientists have pointed out, as repulsive as Trump is–as morally and intellectually defective–he is simply the visible product of what the Republican Party has become.

For those of us who served a former iteration of that party–a very different iteration–what it has become is heartbreaking.

 

 

 

Gameplaying While Americans Were Dying

I rarely refer to Mitch McConnell without adding the entirely appropriate descriptor “most evil man in America.” There are probably people even more reprehensible, but so long as McConnell holds his current position in the Senate, he has an unequalled ability to indulge his consistently despicable instincts–to use that position to corrupt government institutions in service of money and power with no regard for the collateral effects on American lives.

By himself, the lunatic buffoon in the White House would be unable to inflict the widespread damage that McConnell aids and abets.

The New York Times, along with numerous other publications, has been reporting on Congressional efforts that preceded the critical emergency legislation intended to avert at least some of the  consequences of the Coronavirus pandemic.  A bill has finally passed, but the path to its enactment tells us everything we need to know about Mitch McConnell and today’s Republicans.

Speaking of that path…Once the nation’s businesses were mostly shut down, the Democratic House passed a bailout bill almost immediately, and sent it to the Senate–which delayed consideration because Mitch had given the Senate the weekend off..

According to several media outlets, when McConnell and the GOP did draft a bill, it contained no guaranteed aid to state governments, despite the fact that economists tell us that state aid is one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus, and among other things, it allowed corporations to continue laying off and firing people while they were taking bailout dollars. That isn’t just patently unfair– it would be likely to cause unemployment to rise, although a major purpose of a bailout is to prevent precisely that.

Paul Krugman noted that the GOP’s bill also denied “aid to many nonprofit institutions like nursing homes and group homes for the disabled.”

McConnell’s  bill did virtually nothing  to safeguard November’s election. It gave wealthier Americans more relief than poorer ones. It would have bailed out corporations without  requiring that money they received be used to pay workers, and without prohibiting its use for stock buy-backs.

Worst of all–the “cherry” on the top of McConnell’s corrupt sundae–the bill included a $425 billion fund for businesses that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin could “do basically whatever he’d like with,” as Amanda Fischer of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth explained. The bill established the fund with no oversight provisions. Not only would the $425 billion essentially be a slush fund for a thoroughly corrupt administration, the bill would have allowed Mnuchin to delay reporting distributions for six months.

As Paul Krugman wrote, in a column titled “Adding Insult to Illness,”

If you want a quick summary of the state of play over fiscal stimulus legislation, here it is: Republicans insist that we should fight a plague with trickle-down economics and crony capitalism. Democrats, for some reason, don’t agree, and think we should focus on directly helping Americans in need.

Krugman had particularly harsh words for the Mnuchin “slush fund.”  As he noted, it would be difficult to justify giving that much unrestricted money to any administration. Krugman found it “almost inconceivable” that anyone would propose giving the demonstrably corrupt Trump administration the authority to help its friends and punish those it considers enemies.

Remember, we’ve had more than three years to watch this administration in action. We’ve seen Trump refuse to disclose anything about his financial interests, amid abundant evidence that he is profiting at the public’s expense. Trump’s trade war has been notable for the way in which favored companies somehow manage to get tariff exemptions while others are denied. And as you read this, Trump is refusing to use his authority to require production of essential medical gear.

So it would be totally out of character for this administration to allocate huge sums fairly and in the public interest.

Cronyism aside, there’s also the issue of competence. Why would you give vast discretionary power to a team that utterly botched the response to the coronavirus because Trump didn’t want to hear bad news? Why would you place economic recovery efforts in the hands of people who were assuring us just weeks ago that the virus was contained and the economy was “holding up nicely”?

Only someone a thoroughly evil as McConnell could look into the cameras with a straight face and complain that– by refusing to go along with this travesty–the Democrats were delaying relief to struggling Americans.

 

Yang Was Right

The Guardian recently ran a headline that made me chuckle: “California Mayor Has Tried Universal Basic Income. His advice to Trump: Go Big.” The chuckle wasn’t due to the California Mayor’s conclusions about Universal Basic Income (UBI); it was a response to the demonstrably ridiculous idea that Trump would take advice from anyone about anything.

As federal lawmakers continued to squabble over the form of the zillion-dollar intervention(s) that are clearly required if we are to have any chance at all to avert a depression, the Mayor of Stockton, California was the latest to sing the praises of a UBI–the proposal that formed the centerpiece of Andrew Yang’s Presidential campaign.

Stockton launched a basic income experiment last year, and Michael Tubbs, Stockton’s mayor, has become an ardent advocate of providing direct cash assistance to people.

The idea of providing a universal basic income to citizens is not new, but it has found new supporters in recent years, as some tech industry leaders have embraced “UBI” as a possible response to rising inequality and a growing number of American jobs lost to automation. The Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes is among the proponents of the policy; the Economic Security Project, which he co-chairs, is helping fund basic income experiments in Stockton and elsewhere.

Stockton is just the latest in a global string of experiments with no-strings cash assistance. Results of those experiments have been extremely positive, as is the early data from this one, according to the academic researchers  running the evaluation of the program.

“If you give people free cash, how do they spend it? They’re very rational about it, and they make great decisions,” said Stacia Martin-West, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee College of Social Work and one of the lead researchers.

Labor leader Andrew Stern has pointed out that, with a UBI, in contrast to welfare, there’s no phase-out, no marriage penalties, no people falsifying information. And support for the concept isn’t limited to progressives. Milton Friedman famously proposed a “negative income tax,” and F.A. Hayek, the libertarian economist, wrote “There is no reason why in a free society government should not assure to all, protection against severe deprivation in the form of an assured minimum income, or a floor below which nobody need descend.”

In 2016, Samuel Hammond of the libertarian Niskanen Center, noted the “ideal” key features of a UBI: its unconditional structure avoids creating poverty traps; it sets a minimum income floor, it raises worker bargaining power without wage or price controls; it decouples benefits from a particular workplace or jurisdiction; since it’s cash, it respects a diversity of needs and values; and it simplifies and streamlines a complex web of bureaucracy, eliminating rent seeking and other sources of inefficiency.

Hammond’s point about worker bargaining power is especially important. Today’s work
environment is characterized by vestigial unions and the growth of the “gig economy.” Employee bargaining power has eroded; wages  have been effectively stagnant for years, despite significant growth in productivity. In 2018, Pew Research reported that “today’s real average wage (that is, the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. And what wage gains there have been have mostly flowed to the highest-paid tier of workers.”

If the U.S. had a UBI and single payer health coverage, workers would have the freedom to leave abusive employers, unsafe work conditions, and uncompetitive pay scales. A UBI might not level the playing field–but it would sure reduce the tilt.

It is also worth noting that a UBI would have much the same positive effect on economic growth as a higher minimum wage. When poor people get money, they spend it, increasing demand.

This is all, of course, pie in the sky so long as we have a self-absorbed, monumentally ignorant, mentally-ill President, and a Republican Senate led by the irredeemably  corrupt Mitch McConnell. It remains to be seen how the Coronavirus pandemic will affect November’s election, but if these men–representing the utter detritus of humanity–are still in office in January, the lack of a rational social-safety net will be the least of our problems.

Playing The Culture-War Card

In 2004, when John Kerry was running against George W. Bush, my youngest son was a Kerry volunteer. On Election Day, he worked at polls in Ohio, having (quite reasonably) concluded that Indiana was a lost cause. I still remember his description of the turnout in the precinct to which he’d been assigned; the culture war that year had targeted LGBTQ folks, and Mitch McConnell’s GOP had made support for a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage a major Republican talking point.

My son said a number of voters came to the polls “dripping animus” and eager to “vote against the gays.”

Now, I have no idea where that polling place was, or how representative those voters were, but post-election analyses did suggest that anti-gay bigotry had driven increases in GOP turnout.

I thought about that election when I read a New York Times report to the effect that McConnell is going back to the culture war well in 2020

Senator Mitch McConnell is about to plunge the Senate into the nation’s culture wars with votes on bills to sharply restrict access to late-term abortions and threaten some doctors who perform them with criminal penalties, signaling that Republicans plan to make curbing a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy a central theme of their re-election campaigns this year.

After months of shunning legislative activity in favor of confirming President Trump’s judicial nominees — and a brief detour for the president’s impeachment trial — Mr. McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, is expected to bring the bills up for votes on Tuesday. Both lack the necessary 60-vote supermajority to advance, and the Senate has voted previously to reject them.

But by putting them on the floor again, Mr. McConnell hopes to energize the social conservatives who helped elect Mr. Trump and whose enthusiasm will be needed to help Republicans hold on to the Senate this year, while forcing vulnerable Democrats to take uncomfortable votes on bills that frame abortion as infanticide. The rhetoric around the measures is hot; Mr. Trump, for instance, has pointed to one of the bills to falsely assert that Democrats favor “executing babies AFTER birth.”

The bills are–surprise!–deeply dishonest. But the content is irrelevant–McConnell isn’t trying to pass them. He’s playing the political game that has characterized his entire career–a game in which “winning” has nothing to do with responsible governance or the common good, but is solely about gaining and retaining political power.

There are good reasons for dubbing McConnell “the most evil man in America”–or, as one magazine headline put it “The Man Who Broke America.”

Since the 2018 midterms, the House has passed hundreds of bills–many of them bipartisan–addressing climate change, voting rights, background checks, paycheck fairness, the minimum wage and numerous other issues that affect American citizens. McConnell has refused to even hear any of them. In fact, he has not allowed any Senate legislative activity other than hearings on Trump’s right-wing (and frequently incompetent) judicial nominees.

Some of those House bills would pass; others wouldn’t. Some may be well-thought-out, others may not be. The only way that citizens can evaluate their merits is if the Senate conducts reasoned debates leading to those determinations.

McConnell doesn’t care. His decision to hold hearings on bills that everyone knows won’t pass–and would do nothing to improve the lives of Americans if they did–is intended only as political theater that he believes will generate passion among the culture warriors and thus increase turnout by the far fringes of his increasingly toxic party.

It’s shameless, morally depraved, and entirely typical.

As much as I want to see Donald Trump perp-walked out of the White House, his manifest stupidity and incompetence makes him less dangerous than Mitch McConnell, who is, unfortunately, very smart.

And more despicable than words can convey.

 

 

Corrupting The Judiciary

There is a bedrock principle of ethical behavior that requires avoiding conflicts of interest. If someone serves on a board or commission, for example, and a pending case has been brought by a relative or close friend,  we expect that person to recuse–to abstain from participation in the decision.

When the issue is judicial behavior, it is even more important to avoid even the appearance of bias or impropriety, because the legitimacy and effectiveness of the judicial system depends upon public confidence in the probity and disinterestedness of judges.

One of the (multitude of) problems with Trump’s nomination of unqualified judicial candidates that Mitch McConnell then rams through the confirmation process is that ethical behavior is one of the qualifications a number of them appear to lack.

A recent report originally penned by David Badash for The New Civil Rights Movement is a troubling example.

Legal experts are scratching their heads after a federal judge appointed by President Donald Trump announced on Tuesday he is delaying handing down his decision in a Trump tax returns case until other federal judges hand down their decisions in other Trump cases. That judge is a former Trump transition team volunteer and has donated to the Trump campaign.

District Judge Trevor McFadden of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia announced he will hold up his ruling in a case brought by the House Ways and Means Committee against the U.S. Treasury Dept. The case involves gaining access to six years of Trump’s tax returns. The law clearly says the IRS “shall” hand them over to Congress. The Trump administration says Congress has no right to investigate.

This is not a case where legal or factual complexities require time-consuming analysis. This is a case in which a judge has a blatant conflict of interest, and should have recused himself.

Judge McFadden has already exhibited bias in his handling of the case, which was originally brought last  August. According to Politico, he denied House Democrats’ request to expedite consideration of the case as well as their request to rule on its merits, despite the fact that this would seem to be a textbook case for summary judgment.

Now, he has informed the parties that he will not rule on the matter until the court that is considering a challenge to the subpoena of former White House lawyer Don McGahn has ruled. He has not offered an explanation for that delay, nor indicated what the McGahn case has to do with the litigation before him–undoubtedly because (as lawyers and legal commentators have noted) there is simply no connection between the issues in the two cases.

The only explanation that makes sense is that Judge McFadden is trying to help the President avoid disclosure of his taxes. Since the law is clear and unambiguous– a ruling in favor of Trump would be a too-obvious gift to a favored litigant–he is apparently trying to avoid ruling at all until after the election.

The Executive Editor of Above the Law summed it up as a “Trump judge trying to look for a way to prop up Trump’s terrible arguments without looking like he’s a Trump judge.”

It is no longer possible to ignore the fact that Trump, Barr, Pence, Pompeo and others in the administration are deeply corrupt. We are just beginning to realize just how much Trump’s terrible judicial choices have added to the rot and corruption.

And according to the Washington Post, one in every four circuit court judges is now a Trump appointee …