These GOP grifters will be the death of this republic

This article was first published on The Hartmann Report.

Trump just unleashed an unhinged, barely coherent rant about the possibility President Biden might reveal what was going on in the White House on January 6th, the day Trump tried to finally end, once and for all, any possibility of governmental oversight of his ongoing criminal career. He believed he could follow in the footsteps of grifters before him who've taken control of and then drained dry countries from Hungary to Russia, Brazil to Turkey and The Philippines.

Thus it surprises nobody to discover that when Donald Trump and the people around him learned, in mid-November of 2020, that there was absolutely no meaningful voter fraud in that month's election, they chose, instead of acknowledging the truth, to go ahead with a plan to raise over $200 million dollars (and counting). That even today "President Trump" is sending out one or two fundraising emails a day, each one with the tiny "make this a recurring donation" box pre-checked.

Grifters occupy a unique niche in the world of criminals: they avoid direct violence, but live and act only to enrich themselves, whether it's with money, sex, power or all three. They're typically high-functioning sociopaths who sneer at the rules of civilized society the rest of us take seriously.

Republican appointees on the US Supreme Court cracked open the door for professional grifters in 1976 when, for the first time in American history, the Court redefined politicians taking money from billionaires away from being "political corruption" and "bribery"—what such behavior had been called since the beginning of the republic—to instead say it was a mere "exercise of free speech" on the part of the morbidly rich.

Two years after the Buckley decision, in 1978, Justice Lewis Powell (author of the infamous 1971 Powell Memo) pushed the door even farther open when he wrote for the Republican majority a decision granting giant corporations the same "free speech right" to own politicians in Boston v Bellotti.

And in 2010, with Citizens United, Republican appointees on the Court didn't just blow the doors open; they tore down the entire building of "good government" in America, reaffirming that any billionaire or corporation that wanted to own their very own pet politician—or, if rich enough, own an entire political party—was totally legal and not at all corrupt.

Which is why Richard Nixon, who resigned in 1974, was one of the last Republican politicians who actually believed that politics in America had something to do with governing the nation (even if he did it poorly). Ever since then, the GOP has been composed almost exclusively of professional grifters (which is a somewhat different type of cat from an ordinary criminal like Nixon who just took bribes, blackmailed people and lied about it all).

Grifters occupy a unique niche in the world of criminals: they avoid direct violence, but live and act only to enrich themselves, whether it's with money, sex, power or all three. They're typically high-functioning sociopaths who sneer at the rules of civilized society the rest of us take seriously. They combine the not-uncommon skill set of being charming and great salesmen and storytellers, but have no conscience or respect for the truth.

Grifters believe they're the only "real" people in the world and all the rest of us are here for their entertainment, satisfaction or to pluck clean of whatever we have that they want. They view us as cardboard cutouts; their pains and loves and desires are real while ours are merely background noise.

And the entire Republican Party has become one giant in-crowd of professional grifters, most all of them getting rich, getting famous and/or getting laid in the process.

Ronald Reagan grew up during the Great Depression, became a Democrat who loved FDR, and once believed in government and that hard work and talent would get him ahead. Then Nancy Davis introduced him to her wealthy father, who let Ronnie in on the grift. Shill for General Electric and the GOP and he could marry Nancy, get rich, and might even have a bright political future. He was the first professional grifter president of the modern era.

Newt Gingrich was primed for the grift, screaming about Bill Clinton having an affair with Monica while porking Calista down the hall and fending off calls from his then-second wife. He got into the grift in a big way when he rolled out his "Contract With America" that was almost entirely tax cuts for giant corporations and the morbidly rich. Hell, he's still in on it; I'm getting an email almost every week from Trump with Gingrich's picture and signature asking for money.

Paul Ryan pimped tax cuts for the obscenely rich his entire career, knowing when he left office there's be massive paychecks waiting for him the rest of his life.

Dick Cheney knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that Saddam Hussein not only had nothing to do with 9/11 but actively hated and hunted down Bin Laden's Al Qaeda operatives so he could imprison or kill them. But Cheney had run Halliburton into trouble, betting that if he picked up Dresser Industries on the cheap that the Clinton administration would cover their asbestos liability. When he lost that bet and Halliburton was in trouble, a nice war with billions in no-bid contracts for the oil-company-turned-defense-contractor was just the grift he needed to both bail him out and make him fabulously rich.

Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia both knew that if any other federal judge were to go quail hunting with a defendant before the Court three weeks before trial or allow his spouse to take hundreds of thousands a year from a think tank with business before the Court, there would be hell to pay. But they were in on the grift and simply exempted themselves from the Federal Code of Judicial Conduct. Hell, they helped write the grift with Citizens United.

Since Citizens United the Republican grift has fully gone party-wide and even picked up a few Democrats along the way.

Some members of Congress get rich with money from Big Pharma, others choose to make their money with Big Oil or Big Coal, others are deeply in the pockets of airlines, telcom companies, the tobacco industry, banks, insurance companies or the food and hospitality monopolies.

Some Republicans even ran day-trading operations on insider information out of their offices until then-Democratic Congressman Brian Baird tipped off the world on my show and Air America's Majority Report 14 years ago.

They all believe, as Bob Dylan famously sang, "You've gotta serve somebody." And the "somebody" they all choose to serve are always the ones who pay the most.

Which is why it only makes sense that the Republican Party would put up a lifelong grifter as their nominee for president in 2016. And that he'd surround himself with grifters like Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who Forbes magazine said would, by any measure, "rank among the biggest grifters in American history," having scammed business partners out of at least $120 million.

Everybody in the GOP is either stuffing their "Leadership PACs" with money they can dip into after they leave office, living high on the hog, using their position to become famous or get into the pants of underage girls, or preparing for their well-feathered-nest after leaving politics.

I've been running a contest on my radio show since it started in 2003 offering a prize to anybody who can identify even one single piece of legislation that was originally sponsored by a Republican, passed Congress with a Republican majority, and was signed into law by a Republican president that primarily helped average working people or poor people instead of the rich or giant corporations.

Nobody has ever won the prize, and I'm betting nobody ever will.

This is not to say the Democratic Party doesn't have its share of grifters (two publicity-hungry senators come to mind). After all, when the Supreme Court legalized political grifting they didn't limit it to one party or the other.

But the single largest caucus in the Democratic Party is the Congressional Progressive Caucus (co-founded by Bernie Sanders) and its members generally refuse corporate PAC money and don't usually hang out with lobbyists. Former co-chair of the Caucus, Representative Mark Pocan, has joked on my show that "they say there are three Big Pharma lobbyists for every member of Congress, but I have no idea who mine are."

While Democrats are trying to legislate around the corrupting landmines laid by conservatives on the Supreme Court, Republicans are expanding on Donald Trump's "voter fraud" and "antifa" grifts to raise money and consolidate their own power in the face of an American electorate that's starting to figure out their game.

Trump and a handful of his grifter buddies who were up for full-out treason thought they could pull off the ultimate grift and seize the trillions in assets of the entire country. They only failed, we're learning, by a whisker.

Next time we may not be so lucky. Congress must grift-proof our politics by getting billionaire and corporate money out of politics, as Democrats tried to do when the House of Representatives passed the For The People Act that arguably Democratic grifters Manchin and Sinema are blocking in the Senate.

Perhaps the 2022 election will bring Democrats a large enough progressive majority that they can work around their own grifters. Or maybe it'll signal the death knell of the republic.

To an extent largely unprecedented in American history, that decision will be in the hands of activists and voters like you and me. We have a big job ahead of us.

The myths and lies about Afghanistan's role in 9/11 live on — and Bush and Cheney escape justice

The big question in the media today is, "Will Afghanistan again become a 'breeding ground' for terrorists who may again attack America?" It's the wrong question.

We've all heard that question asked, in a dozen variations, probably a hundred times in the past few months in the media. And it's not just the wrong question: it strengthens the GOP frame that lets George W. Bush off the hook for many of his worst failures and crimes.

Afghanistan had little to nothing to do with 9/11.

It's time to put this tired and deceptive canard to bed. The 9/11 attacks were not planned, hatched, developed, funded, practiced, expanded, worked out or otherwise devised in Afghanistan. That country and its leadership in 2001, in fact, had pretty much nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11.

But wasn't Bin Laden running a "terror training camp" in Afghanistan? Yes, he was, but, again, it had little to nothing to do specifically with 9/11. It was more like the backwoods training camps that various US rightwing militias run, teaching low-level soldier-wannabee grunts (with the money to pay) how to use weapons and get into physical shape.

But an operation as detailed, well-funded and sophisticated as 9/11 had nothing to do with those yahoos. Bin Laden, who we generously funded during the Reagan administration to help evict the Soviets from Afghanistan, was running Al Qaeda at the time, and while he wrote the checks to pay for 9/11, the actual planning and management of the operation was done out of Pakistan and Germany by Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Even the 9/11 Commission Report notes that one of the German plotters, Zakariya Essabar, became the courier to update Bin Laden that the attack was imminent. "Shortly before the 9/11 attacks, he would travel [from Germany] to Afghanistan to communicate the dates for the attacks to al Qaeda leadership" notes the Commission report on page 165.

From Germany, the plotters moved to Florida, where they organized the final plans and Mohammed Ata and others trained and received their pilots' licenses. Of the 19 hijackers, 15 were Saudi citizens, 2 were citizens of the UAE (that funded Jared Kushner), and one each were from Egypt and Lebanon. None were Afghans.

Further, none of the money came from the government of Afghanistan or Afghan nationals; Bin Laden had a substantial family fortune, and the Reagan administration had given him additional millions of dollars. And, increasingly, it appears that some of the funding may have come from Bin Laden's native Saudi Arabia. Afghanistan had nothing to do with it.

But doesn't Afghanistan hate America?

But, the "Afghan connection" press will ask, didn't "they" hit us on 9/11 because the Taliban hated American "values"?

First, the Taliban had nothing to do with 9/11 other than tolerating Bin Laden's presence in their country, something for which some corrupt officials were apparently well compensated. They really didn't care much at all about "American values" as long as we stayed the hell away from their country.

They'd just driven out the Soviets, and done so to the British, Greeks, Mongols and Persians in the centuries before that. They just wanted to be left alone. (This is the big battle between the Taliban and ISIS-K right now: the former wants to run Afghanistan while the latter wants to become a regional/international caliphate.)

It was all about sacred Saudi soil!

Bin Laden, though, was upset with the United States in September of 2001; it was because we were defiling the holy land of his home country, Saudi Arabia, a leftover from pappy Bush's "little war" in Iraq.

GHW Bush had put US soldiers on the ground in Saudi Arabia for the first time in generations to stage the invasion of Iraq, and those soldiers stayed long after pappy Bush's 3-day war was long over.

That infidel men, US soldiers who were Christian or Jewish were watching porn and drinking alcohol on holy Saudi soil was intolerable to Bin Laden and his fellow fundamentalists. And the fact that "loose" American women were also there, showing their elbows and driving cars in clear violation of Saudi law and customs, was doubly infuriating.

As early as 1998, Bin Laden threatened to strike America if we didn't withdraw Bush's troops and stop "defiling" Bin Laden's native holy land, Saudi Arabia. On September 2, 1996, he publicly threatened to "launch a guerrilla war against American forces and expel the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula."

As he told a reporter for The Guardian in 1998: "We believe that we are men, Muslim men, committed to defend the grandest house in the universe. The Holy [Saudi] Kaaba [land] is an honour to die and defend. So this is our aim—to liberate the lands of Islam from the sinners."

In a "letter to America," Bin Laden wrote: "Your forces occupy our countries; you spread your military bases throughout them; you corrupt our lands, and you besiege our sanctities, to protect the security of the Jews and to ensure the continuity of your pillage of our treasures."

This was, he said repeatedly, the reason why he ordered America struck in what we now refer to as the 9/11 attacks. He wanted us to remove daddy Bush's troops from the Bin Sultan Air Force Base in Saudi Arabia.

George W. Bush gave Bin Laden what he wanted.

As a result, Bush Jr. withdrew US those troops soon after 9/11: he was no dummy. Again, it had nothing to do with Afghanistan.

George W. Bush was warned multiple times that 9/11 was coming. Richard Clark told me, live on the air, that he told Condi Rice; he also said that he knew Al Gore had told Cheney and Bill Clinton had told Bush that Bin Laden was coming after us if we didn't pull out of Saudi Arabia.

Bush put Cheney in charge of a task force to follow up on the warnings, but Cheney was so busy planning his attack on Iraq and dividing up its oil fields among international buyers in anticipation of that 2003 invasion and oil-well-theft that his Al Qaeda task force never met until late August of 2001—and then did nothing.

But after 9/11 Bush and Cheney had to do something!

America had suffered a big bloody nose, an attack even more audacious than Pearl Harbor, and admitting that they'd ignored the intelligence warnings—particularly at a time a majority of Americans had doubts about the legitimacy of Bush's Supreme Court-appointed presidency itself—would have been politically disastrous.

And Bush and Cheney were seriously interested in getting re-elected in 2004, and Bush had told his biographer, Mickey Herskowitz, back in 1999 that being a wartime president with an active war going on at the time was the very, very best way to get re-elected.

Afghanistan was, at that time, the second poorest country in the world, with an average per-person income of around $2 per day. Their entire GDP was less than $2 billion a year. Their army was a joke, their air force almost non-existent, and their alliances were frazzled; in short, they were a sitting duck for a US president looking to make a name for himself on the cheap.

Which is exactly what Bush did. He sold us the fiction that 9/11 was planned and executed out of Afghanistan (much easier than attacking Hamburg, Germany or Venice, Florida), lied that it was funded by Afghans (much easier than biting the Saudi hand that fed the Bush family and Al Qaeda), and said that a revenge strike there by the world's largest military force would satisfy America's need for "closure."

Bush and Cheney ignored (indeed, they actively ridiculed) the threat Bin Laden presented to the US; then, after 9/11, they directed blame away from their friends in Saudi Arabia and toward the dysfunctional Taliban government of Afghanistan.

That Afghan Taliban government, hit hard with our initial bombing, then offered to arrest Bin Laden and turn him over to a third country for prosecution but, as The Washington Post's 9/15 headline noted, "Bush Rejects Taliban Offer On Bin Laden."

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney wanted a war and they got it.

For Bush, it ended speculation about his Supreme Court-assisted illegitimate claim to the White House. For Cheney, it meant hundreds of billions in no-bid contracts for his failing Haliburton company, which he had formerly led and was heavily invested in.

The war was over in less than three weeks when the Kabul government fell, and then began a 20+ year occupation that's just now coming to an end, another important distinction almost never mentioned in the media.

It's time to end the fiction that poverty-ridden failed states run by throwbacks to Bronze Age versions of modern religions were or are the source of well-funded and sophisticated attacks on fully developed countries like the United States.

It all goes back to Pappy Bush's "Gulf War"

Had George HW Bush not lied us into the first Gulf War as a failed 1992 re-election stunt (there were no babies being thrown from incubators: that was a lie told to Congress by a daughter of the Kuwaiti royal family at the suggestion of a US PR firm) and stationed US troops in Saudi Arabia to prosecute his "little war" (much like Reagan's "little war" in Grenada) Bin Laden never would have had the least concern with us.

It's said that nations that don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

We should have learned from LBJ lying us into Vietnam that false wars and long occupations never work out well. Hell, we should have learned that from the Mexican American War and the Spanish American War, both also conflicts American presidents lied us into.

But we hadn't learned any of that as of 9/11, and news coverage today suggests we still haven't learned the clear lessons of our own history.

As a result, the reputations of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are enjoying a revival and those two and their defense contractor friends are laughing all the way to the bank.

Our media need to start asking the right questions:

  • How did Bush and Cheney get away with lying us into a war and 20-year occupation with Afghanistan—and nearly that long in Iraq—without political or historic consequences?
  • Why did the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations, all knowing these occupations were a lost cause and a waste of American blood and treasure, not get us out before now?
  • And what can we do in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world, if that is our goal, to promote peace, modernity and democratic values without using warplanes, drones, soldiers and bombs?

This article, which appears here with permission, was first published on The Hartmann Report.

Trump's shadow Cabinet is part of his ongoing coup

Even though the number of dying Trump followers increases daily, his coup rolls on.

Now, in the Trump shadow-universe he's created a shadow-government for his shadow-fans. It's not as wacky an idea as it seems and suggests Trump's solidifying his control over the GOP going toward 2022 and 2024.

This article was originally published at The Hartmann Report

Last November, on election day, I suggested on my radio program that if the Biden ticket were to lose (something we did not expect, but after 2016 who knows what can happen) they should set up a "shadow government" to be a visible and ongoing opposition and alternative to Trump's second term.

Apparently, somebody on Team Trump was listening. Or they copped the idea from the same place I did — the UK, Canada and Australia, all countries where the party out of power assembles a "shadow government" with a "shadow cabinet" that regularly informs voters of how and why they'd run the government differently were they in power.

Friday, Trump's last Chief of Staff, former Tea Party Congressman Mark Meadows, appeared on a fringe rightwing TV internet show and repeatedly referred to Trump's "Cabinet."

"We met with several of our Cabinet members tonight," Meadows said. "We actually had a follow-up ... meeting with some of our Cabinet members."

Referring to Trump as "the president," just as Trump does himself in the daily fundraising emails I receive from him, Meadows added, Trump is "a president who is fully engaged, highly focused and remaining on task."

In other words, the coup rolls on.

Voltaire's old quote, that "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities," is playing out right in front of our eyes.

People are dying for Trump, getting into fights with hospital staff as they're about to be intubated, insisting that Trump was right when he said that Democrats' reaction to the growing pandemic was just their latest "hoax."

Jim Jones, as I noted in an earlier op-ed, was a piker by today's standards: he only convinced 913 people to commit suicide. Trump has convinced millions to expose themselves to a deadly virus, and at least 400,000 who didn't need to die are now no longer with us.

Across America mini-Jim Jones' like Pastor Greg Locke are rising up to preach the gospel that vaccines and masks are the work of the devil and getting sick or dying for Trump is a sure path to heaven.

Meanwhile, the coup rolls on.

Florida, although not alone among Red states and counties in encouraging death and disease, is apparently leading the nation both in megalomaniac preachers and Covid deaths.

Ron DeSantis, who won his election by only 32,463 votes (after his party purged more than 7 percent — over one million — of Florida's voters from the rolls in the preceding 2 years) has now overseen the death of over 39,000 people in his state alone.

And now DeSantis, apparently trying to live up to his moniker of "DeathSantis," has issued an executive order forbidding Florida public schools from requiring schoolchildren to wear masks. Voltaire had nothing on this guy, and he's #2 behind Trump in the race for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

But no matter how many they kill, the coup rolls on.

It also turns out sedition and treason are pretty profitable. Bizarre scam notwithstanding, Trump, DeSantis and the entire Trump contingent in Congress are making big bucks off saying that avoiding Covid is for pansies and that Trump actually won an election he lost by 7 million votes in 2020.

Trump is sitting on over $100 million from his grift just in the 6 months since he lost the election, and DeSantis has raised over $44 million. Marjorie Traitor Greene raked in over $3 million in the first three months of this year while she did virtually nothing in Congress (having lost all her committee assignments for lying to voters) while other "Trumpy" Republicans are rolling in the dough as well.

As they drain their followers of cash, the coup rolls on.

But no part of the Trump scam is as troubling as is its potential to ultimately end democracy in this country (and, eventually, around the world).

A recent CBS News poll found that about half of all registered Republican voters thought rigging elections for their own party was a better idea than promoting ideas that would win elections.

"Almost half of Republicans admit they're ready to ditch democracy" read the ominous headline in The Washington Post.

The rightwing billionaire oligarchs' best bet for eliminating democracy and keeping their regulations and taxes low is to make sure Trump's coup rolls on.

While "shadow" governments in the other three big English-speaking countries are all designed to simply inform voters about the differences between the parties and how the out-of-power party would govern given current circumstances, Trump's shadow Cabinet is part of his ongoing coup attempt.

He began his coup attempt the day after he lost the election, when he publicly repudiated the election results and began harassing the Department of Justice and multiple Secretaries of State and election officials to declare that Biden only won because of "fraud."

All he needed, he told them, was for the DOJ to declare official doubts about the outcome and he and his "R congressmen" would take care of the rest.

"Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen," Trump told then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

Rosen and the DOJ didn't go along, so Trump simply switched strategy from coercion to an outright murder attempt on Vice President Pence and Speaker Pelosi as his coup rolled on.

The high point of his coup was on January 6th when he encouraged his followers to attack the Capitol to "stop the steal," and refused to mobilize the DC National Guard until long after his terrorists had left the building. (Unlike every other state, the DC National Guard can only be activated by the President because DC has no governor.)

Making sure the coup never ends but keeps rolling on is probably Trump's best chance to avoid going to jail for crimes ranging from rape to bank fraud, sedition and treason. Running for office gives him both some political and legal immunities and access to more cash, so he's going to persist and amp up the volume of his efforts.

But Trump's neofascist coup is no longer limited to himself and his fellow DC insiders.

State after state is being taken over from the ground up by Trump supporters who want to end multiracial democracy in America and turns us back into a white-supremacist ethnostate.

From Oregon to Florida and all across states in between, local school boards are being seized by anti-American supporters of the former reality TV star.

The world watches with horror and our actual president, Joe Biden, finds himself, along with Democrats in Congress, frustrated at every turn by Trump's loyalists and a few Democratic senators who are taking money from the same billionaires who fund the GOP and empower Trump.

Meanwhile, the coup rolls on.

'There is but one remedy': It's time for the Senate to trigger the nuclear option

The US Senate is back in session this week, as Texas Republicans prepare to pass another massive voter suppression bill. The only remedy available to the American people is for the federal government to use its constitutional authority to regulate federal elections to block what President Biden has referred to as the GOP's "Jim Crow in the 21st century."

The House of Representatives passed a law that would block much of the damage done by Texas' and other Red states' laws — the For The People Act (HR1 and SB1). But Republicans in the Senate are blocking it with a filibuster.

But the filibuster is not inviolable.

The Senate has drilled three major holes in the filibuster since 1917, each time citing the Constitution as their rationale, and if they're not able to end this arcane, historically racist device then it's time to drill another "constitutional" hole in it for voting rights.

About those already-passed "constitutional" holes:

The filibuster was made possible by a Senate rule change in 1806, but didn't actually get used as a serious way to block debate on legislation until the arrival of "Father of the Confederacy" John C. Calhoun in the Senate; he began using it aggressively in 1837 to block any discussion of the abolition of slavery. (The year before, in 1836, the House had banned any discussion of slavery at all, a law John Quincy Adams delighted in breaking every day the House was in session.)

When a senator invoked a filibuster, it ground the entire Senate to a halt until the original proposed legislation was withdrawn, causing the near-instant death of numerous attempts by Northern senators to weaken or cripple laws relating to slavery in the South. There was quite literally no way around it, or to continue Senate business, other than to withdraw the proposed legislation.

By 1917, it had mostly been used to block discussion (post-Civil War) of Civil Rights legislation, although with World War I looming and German submarines regularly torpedoing US commercial ships, President Woodrow Wilson wanted Congress to appropriate money to arm some of those Merchant Marine ships with anti-submarine depth charges.

Southern members of Congress, led by House Majority Leader and notorious white supremacist Claude Kitchin (D-NC), opposed the measure because he and his southern buddies were still essentially fighting the Civil War and didn't want to "further enrich Wall Street."

Over a dozen of Kitchin's allies in the Senate declared a filibuster and President Wilson, furious, went to the public.


"The Senate of the United States is the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action," stormed President Wilson. "A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible."

The nation erupted.

Filibustering senators were burned in effigy in multiple states and newspapers across the nation called for their defeat in the next election. People were outraged. It was the talk of barbershops and Grange halls and the VFW.

President Wilson demanded action, saying, "The remedy? There is but one remedy. The only remedy is that the rules of the Senate should be so altered that it can act…and save the country from disaster."

To resolve the crisis, Senator Thomas Walsh (D-MT) proposed what he called a "Constitutional Option." His logic was straightforward.

The Constitution:

  • Requires each body of Congress to reset or re-ratify its rules at the beginning of every Congress (every 2 years)
  • Requires Congress to conduct the people's business in a republican fashion (by vote)
  • Requires elections every two years for 1/3 of the Senate, and the newer senators are freshly representing the most recent "will of the people"
  • Therefore anything that can permanently block the Senate from doing any constitutionally-mandated business is blocking republican democracy and thus the will of the people in violation of the spirit, if not the text, of the Constitution itself

Walsh laid it out clearly: "It is because the new members, coming fresh from the people, ought to have the right to be heard and be accorded the opportunity to vote in the light of information gleaned at every stage of the passage of a bill or resolution."

A filibuster that couldn't be overcome, Walsh said, effectively blocked "[t]he sense of the people ... concerning measures passed as well as those proposed."

The Senate re-convened and passed Walsh's "Constitutional Option," putting it into the Senate's rules later that week so, going forward, a 2/3rds supermajority of senators could overcome a filibuster so the Senate could resume business.

In response, Americans stopped burning senators in effigy and America entered World War I the following month.

Over the years since, the 2/3rds requirement was reduced to 3/5ths, senators can now invoke a filibuster with an email, and "two-track" was introduced so filibusters don't slow down other Senate business, but the filibuster remained.

In 1980, Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker (R-TN) amended the "Constitutional Option" to exclude taxing and spending legislation from being filibustered.

His rationale was that, because spending money to do the nation's business is a defined responsibility of Congress in Article I of the Constitution, taxing and spending legislation (within limits) could ignore the filibuster and be passed with a simple majority vote.

Today we call this "Budget Reconciliation" or just "reconciliation" and it's been used over 25 times.

The 1917 "Constitutional Option" — that a filibuster could be overcome with a supermajority vote — stands to this day, but using the Constitution as a rationale for blowing holes in the filibuster like the Senate did in 1917 and 1980 got a name change more recently.

Eighteen years ago, in 2003 when Democrats were filibustering one of George W. Bush's judges, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott renamed the Constitutional Option as the "Nuclear Option" and suggested it should be expanded from just Article I work (taxing and spending) to include Article III types of work (approving judges).

Senator Lott didn't get his way; it took Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to include approving federal judges (with the exception of the Supreme Court) under the Constitutional Option/Nuclear Option. On November 21, 2013, after years of Obama's judicial nominations being routinely blocked by Republican filibusters, Reid pushed through a new set of Senate rules that exempted judges from the filibuster.

Approving judges, after all, is also an explicit duty of the United States Senate found in the Constitution.

Mitch McConnell expanded the Constitutional Option/Nuclear Option in April of 2017 when Democrats declared an intent to filibuster Trump's first SCOTUS nominee, Neal Gorsuch, who replaced Merrick Garland as the nominee-in-waiting when President Obama's term in office expired.

Thus, today the Senate has an exclusion to the filibuster so that all the Senate's advise and consent obligations can be performed with regard to judges with a simple majority vote.

Thus, two of the duties of the Senate listed in the Constitution — appropriating and spending money, and ratifying the President's judicial nominees — are today exempt from the filibuster.

It's time to add a third.

The Elections Clause of the Constitution empowers Congress to "make or alter" state regulations with regard to elections.

If the filibuster itself can't be done away with or turned into a "Jimmy Stewart filibuster," then — argues Congressman Jim Clyburn — another constitutional obligation of Congress should be included in the "Constitutional/Nuclear Option" Senate rules, this one to protect citizens' constitutional right to vote.

"We need to get rid of the filibuster for constitutional issues," Clyburn said, "just as we have done for budget issues. If you want to argue about how high a wall ought to be, whether or not you ought to build a wall, those are issues that are political… but you ought not be filibustering -- nobody should filibuster anybody's constitutional rights. We have done it for the budget under reconciliation. And reconciliation is a much better word to apply to constitutional issues than it is to the budget."

Clyburn is right. As Thomas Paine pointed out, the right to vote is foundational to all other rights and is what gives legitimacy to our government itself. In 1795, in his Dissertation on the First Principles of Government, Paine wrote:

"The true and only true basis of representative government is equality of rights. Every man has a right to one vote, and no more in the choice of representatives. … To take away this right is to reduce a man to slavery, for slavery consists in being subject to the will of another, and he that has not a vote in the election of representatives is in this case. The proposal therefore to disfranchise any class of men is as criminal as the proposal to take away property."

Paine was right, as is Clyburn. Senator Schumer, if he can't get his caucus to go along with more forceful actions like eliminating the filibuster altogether, should do what his predecessors Senators Baker (1980), Reid (2013) and McConnell (2017) did: drill another "Constitutional" hole in the filibuster.

The right to vote is far more important than Congress spending money or approving judges. It deserves at least equal treatment, and, like in 1917, the crisis is upon us.

How the Reagan Revolution collapsed America — and the Florida condo

The collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo building in Florida, the deterioration of infrastructure all across America, and our failure to plan for or respond to the threat of climate change all have the same source: greed. And it's killing us.

Prior to the 1980s, Americans understood the need to keep a healthy cash-flow going or set aside reserves to cover the future cost of maintaining things. We had a top personal federal income tax bracket on the morbidly rich of around 74% and an almost-50% top corporate income tax bracket for those corporations that were essentially money machines.

As a result, infrastructure dating all the way back to the transcontinental railroad system built during the administration of Abraham Lincoln were well-maintained and reliable. Roads, schools and hospitals were shiny-new and state-of-the-art; even the older buildings constructed during and before FDR's New Deal were well-maintained. And, although we hadn't yet heard of the need to concern ourselves with climate change, our government was able to fund itself to deal with crises.

When Ronald Reagan took office in 1981, for example, the US budget deficit stood at a mere $908 billion; we funded things with taxes and mostly maintained a necessary national debt so savers and federal and state agencies would have a safe place to park cash in treasuries.

And we understood that investing in America produced great returns on that investment. When World War II ended and our national debt was 119% of GDP (about where it is now), President Dwight Eisenhower borrowed even more money to build the interstate highway system, which produced such an explosion of economic activity that the added tax revenues paid down the national debt to 60% of GDP by the end of his presidency.

Similarly, the GI Bill that gave 7.8 million mostly young men free college and low-interest home loans proved a fabulous investment.

Since college graduates make so much more than people who only have a high-school education, and higher-income people pay higher tax rates, every $1 invested in the educational part of the GI Bill during its life from 1944 to 1956 produced an additional $7 dollars in tax revenue to our government over the lifetime of those now-well-educated veterans.

Condos have a slightly more checkered history, but it parallels the mentality of the "greed is good" Reagan Revolution. While the idea of condominiums goes back to the 19th century, the first modern condo built in America was Graystone Manor in Utah in 1960.

When a developer builds and then sells condo units, there are two parts to the selling price that buyers take into consideration: the sale price and the HOA (Home-Owners Association) fee. That fee covers maintenance and operation of the condo, from painting and landscaping to replacing carpeting to fixing leaky pipes, and is typically a few hundred dollars a month.

From a buyer's point of view, the monthly HOA fee is mentally added to the monthly mortgage payment to determine how much they can afford to borrow to buy the condo. Thus, the lower the HOA fee, the higher the mortgage the buyer can afford and the higher the initial price the developer can charge — money that the developer walks away with.

Therefore, for most of the 80 years developers have been selling condos, they've ignored long-term maintenance costs when calculating HOA fees to keep them low, making the sale of the condos more profitable to the developer. And, for similar reasons, HOA boards are often reluctant to raise monthly fees to build a reserve for future major maintenance projects because it lowers their own resale values.

The problem comes 20, 30 or 40 years down the road when the condo needs a new roof or major repairs and there's nothing in the reserves to pay for it. Which is why the residents of Champlain Towers South were, just in the past few months, hit with an $80,000-per-unit one-time assessment to pay for the structural deterioration the 2018 survey found.

The developer walks away with the initial cash, previous homeowners got a free ride, and people who bought-in during later years get hit with the costs of major repairs, particularly when HOA boards choose to run the condo with no consideration of the future like Republican's have run the country since 1981.

Which is pretty much the same thing that Reaganomics brought us with the entire nation. The billionaires who owned Reagan didn't want to continue paying a 74% top tax rate, so they got him and Congress to drop that top rate all the way down to 25%.

To deal with the loss of revenue, we essentially stopped maintaining the country while Reagan and the first President Bush subsidized the wealthy by more than tripling the national debt to $2.6 trillion in their 12 years.

Which is why today our rail system can't support a fast train, our water systems are polluted and unreliable, our schools and bridges are collapsing, and our electric grid can't handle a winter storm or summer heat in Texas.

Meanwhile, the billionaires of the fossil fuel industry have known for over 50 years that their product would produce a global climate emergency that would cost trillions (indeed, has already cost America trillions).

Instead of planning to shift to green power over time, though, they funded a multi-decade national campaign to lie about global warming so they could keep churning their profits, leaving future generations — and us, now — to deal with the costs and consequences, including millions of annual deaths worldwide.

Several states have changed their condo rules to either require (Florida has not) or "recommend" that developers write HOA rules that require a reserve fund for future major repairs, although enforcement is rare and these rules simply don't apply for substantial long-term needs in most states. (Hopefully the Champlain Towers South experience will cause some states to wake up and change these laws and rules.)

Similarly, some states (almost exclusively Blue States) have raised state taxes enough over the years to be able to continue to repair and rebuild their states' infrastructure, given that the federal government has largely abdicated that responsibility ever since 1981's Reagan Revolution.

Red states, with their infamously low taxes, have become sacrifice zones when it comes to infrastructure and, ironically, will benefit the most from President Biden's infrastructure proposals.

Looking forward, condo developers should be required to set HOA fees high enough to build long-term reserves, our nation and the world need a carbon tax on the fossil fuel industry, and federal and red-state governments have to raise taxes on wealthy people and corporations back to pre-1981 levels to cover improvements and long-term maintenance.

If we fail to reverse the Reagan Revolution and again plan/build for the future, this 40-year con by wealthy developers, fossil fuel companies, and morbidly rich billionaires who'd rather shoot themselves into space than pay their taxes will continue.

And more people will die.


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