Terry H. Schwardon

Attempts to read broad political conclusions into these 3 jury decisions feel like overreach

Legally speaking, the jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha, Wisc., only cleared him of the specific charges of intentionally killing two and injuring a third. Whatever way the verdict is being celebrated in conservative quarters, it was not a blanket promotion of self-defense laws as a blind for carrying semi-assault weapons in a protest over another racial policing incident.

In Charlottesville, Va., the jury decision in a lawsuit that slapped $25 million in penalties on nine white supremacists for organizing hate rioting that ended in a fatality specifically stopped short of finding broader hate crimes at play.

What we should take away from all three trials is that race is a live issue in America, critical theories taught or not. Our state and federal lawmakers and courts are ill-prepared or ill-motivated to fix the root problems.

And in Brunswick, Ga., on Wednesday, state prosecutors won guilty findings against three white defendants who chased and killed Ahmaud Arbery for jogging while Black. But race was specifically downplayed through a trial that almost never came about. The jury decision could not be read as a broad rejection of laws allowing citizen arrest.

What we should take away from all three trials is that race is a live issue in America, critical theories taught or not. Our state and federal lawmakers and courts are ill-prepared or ill-motivated to fix the root problems.

There are those who want to pat the justice system on the back a couple of times in praise that the system worked as intended. If anything, the system barely worked in each case.

Taking a Closer Look

On cue, after each individual decision, we see the pundits, the hangers-on and the official trial watchers take the verdicts as a Go sign to launch broadsides about the state of American values. It may be a valiant effort to find meaning, but these are opinions based on too little information.

In Kenosha, the prosecutors proved inadequate, and the defense managed to turn a story about a teen crossing state lines to pick up a rifle into a specific couple of moments before the gun went off – three times – in self-defense.

Donald Trump unartfully even told his followers that Rittenhouse never should have been prosecuted in the first place. The political Right is falling over itself to make Rittenhouse a hero rather than worrying about the obvious conclusion that the self-defense argument is going to spawn more incidents.

In Charlottesville, the lawsuit seeking financial penalties came about because the feds could not prosecute a criminal case.

There is no chance that a white nationalist movement will go out of business; it will continue to return, as it is in Europe, under different stripes.

And in Brunswick, Ga., the county district attorney who had original control of the case did not bring charges at all, botched the investigation and now faces criminal charges herself.

The prosecution itself flowed by several offices before a state agency took it out of the hands of local district attorneys.

It doesn’t sound like the justice system working as intended. It sounds more like something between luck and persistence to even get these cases to court.

And it will require another federal prosecution of the same circumstances to even air the arguments about race and seeing this killing as a hate crime.

Perhaps the best television comment was that the guilty verdicts in Georgia represented relief, not rejoice.

Hyper-Sensitivity on Race

We’ve become hyper-sensitized to these individual trial outcomes, just as we are to so many localized election decisions, state laws or protests that become nationalized by television. They have become our surrogates for national discussions and our leaders, our businesses, our academicians all become invested in using their pretext to push a point of view.

Just as America complains through school board protests and book bans that it is upset just to hear about Race and Divide, we are fixated exactly on Race and Divide.

So, half the country is delighted that there is no legal problem with teen Rittenhouse deploying and shooting a semi-assault rifle to defend against Black Lives Matter protesters. Half the country celebrates joyously that three self-styled enforcers are convicted for hunting down Arbery in a mostly white neighborhood.

  • The difference between conviction and blanket release may rest:
  • in the weirdness of jury makeup
  • whether the prosecution picked the right charges for this jury
  • over the procedural rulings of the individual trial judge
  • over whether there were enough citizen-generated video to show more than one version of events

The trials are not national votes about policing, race or public policies over stand-your-ground laws.

The sad truth in all these trials is that the incidents should never have happened. The teen had no business being in Kenosha in the first place. The three guys in Georgia had no business stalking Arbery.

We continue to see these aberrant trials because we have accustomed ourselves to fear of The Other and the need for self-protection and self-comfort in all things.

That, in turn, has created an interpretation of the Second Amendment to:

  • allow and encourage vigilantes
  • spread concealed carry permissions for legal guns
  • put police and protesters alike in personal danger
  • create laws that should have no need to exist, particularly with loose language that can be stretched to absurdity

It’s time for some critical justice thinking.

When Trump abandoned the Kurds

While a majority of Americans say they continue to react poorly to an apparent lack of planning in the hastened, chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, maybe we should be looking more closely at the distinctly Republican attempt to politicize the efforts of the Biden administration to quickly organize an unprecedented airlift rescue of 120,00 under fire as a disastrous failure.

Those same polls say we should be out of Afghanistan.

Americans are reacting to images that are embarrassing not to executing U.S. strategy.

No one, including Team Biden, would argue against the argument that withdrawal should have gone better, for all the reasons that by now we can all recount. The Afghan government and army collapsed, and within several days, created conditions that made a pullout of military and civilians dangerous and nearly impossible.

No one, including Team Biden, disputes that perhaps 100 to 200 individuals holding U.S. citizenship, shared citizenship, or special status for expedited removal, remain in Afghanistan. What Biden and company dispute is whether various diplomatic and economic levers will suffice to get those people, at least those who want out, a chance to leave under Taliban aegis.

Somehow, magically, the argument is, we should have poured more U.S. troops in, one way or another, to have them stay until all who wanted out – perhaps 300,000 Afghan citizens whom many in the U.S. don't want to provide a new home – could be airlifted out with no harm even from rogue Taliban forces or unaffiliated terrorists who showed us with a bomb and other threats that they were not heeding any Taliban orders any more than quaking under threat of American weapons.

But missing in the various explanations is a quick look back at the last two years, when Donald Trump, who now insists that any Afghan pullout he had worked out with the Taliban would be conditioned by events on the ground, pulled out from Syria and Iraq. That rewrite of recent history by Trump, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and a bevy of Republican congressional leaders whose opinions were not part of any practical discussions towards pullouts, rather overlooks Trump's history here – which is still fresh in memory.

That withdrawal in Syria and Iraq abandoned Kurds – American allies in the fight against the Islamic caliphate – in the face of oncoming conflicts with the Turks, who historically have seen the Kurds as domestic rebels, if not terrorists. It will be interesting how Trump retells his own story as his all-but certain candidacy emerges.

In other words, can we look at what happened?

Abandoning Kurds

In October 2019, Trump, and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper basically declared victory over an Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq and ordered a withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria. About 1,000 American troops, mostly Special Operations forces, left quickly, following a period in which the Pentagon had slow-walked compliance with Trump's directions to move towards withdrawal, remaining inside Iraq or southern Syria.

But the decision drew criticism, now apparently forgotten, that doing so effectively ceded control of the area to the Syrian government, Russia, and the Turks, and resulted in abandoning the Kurds, America's allies in actual combat in the area. By comparison, the current debate involves rescue of local Afghans who worked as interpreters, drivers, clerical help, and cooks. There was no airlift at all of civilians who had worked with the U.S. forces; indeed, Trump barred Syrian immigration totally.

And, critics made clear, the abandonment of the area would allow renegade, fleeing ISIS fighters to regroup elsewhere to fight another day. That's exactly the current week's criticism for Biden returning Afghanistan to a would-be teeming training ground for international terrorists, including those same fleeing ISIS fighters.

Whatever rebound terrorists might make, one thing was clear: American forces would not be coming to the aid of their Kurdish allies in the face of the Turkish-backed offensive. Trump went defended the abandonment, saying he was fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from "endless war" in the Middle East (familiar?), "appearing largely unconcerned at the prospect of Turkish forces attacking the Kurds, who include a faction he described as "natural enemies" of the Turks," and saying he would use economic leverage over the Turks to keep Turks from killing too many Kurds. He didn't.

How are we supposed to take current Republican criticism seriously now when they left American allies to die on the same battlefield?

Setting Up Afghan Problems

In November 2020, right after the election, the Trump White House announced that it would pull thousands of troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan by Jan. 15. In January 2021, as the new administration was just coming in, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced that the U.S. had withdrawn forces in Iraq and Afghanistan down to 2,500 in each war zone.

It was an unusual major policy shift announced during a lame duck period, clearly setting up problems for the incoming Biden administration.

It also was a change that defied clear instructions from Congress in its broadly bipartisan military budget bill not to use that money to withdraw forces in either Afghanistan or Iraq below 4,000 without providing clear evidence to Congress about the viability of the plan.

In February 2020, Pompeo and Trump completed a negotiation with the Taliban, after even considering inviting the Taliban leaders to Camp David. So much for outrage over Biden now talking with the Taliban about security arrangements during the pullout.

As one analyst wrote in a New York Times op-ed this week, "Trump agreed to withdraw all coalition forces from Afghanistan in 14 months, end all military and contractor support to Afghan security forces and cease "intervening in its domestic affairs." He forced the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban fighters and relax economic sanctions. He agreed that the Taliban could continue to commit violence against the government we were there to support, against innocent people and against those who'd assisted our efforts to keep Americans safe. All the Taliban had to do was say they would stop targeting U.S. or coalition forces, not permit Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to use Afghan territory to threaten U.S. security and subsequently hold negotiations with the Afghan government.

Not only did the agreement have no inspection or enforcement mechanisms, but despite Trump's claim that "If bad things happen, we'll go back with a force like no one's ever seen," the administration made no attempt to enforce its terms.

Read it. There are no conditions on the ground outlined.

They Agree, Even if We Don't

Biden's arguments are about what we are doing overall in Afghanistan. So are Trump's.

For good or bad, the two political ends are arguing over something for which they both agree on the fundamentals. We can, and are, having a ruckus over how well the mechanics of pulling out went, but few Republican opponents are suggesting that we re-commit the kind of numbers to Afghanistan to make a major difference. From polling and endless interviews, it is clear that Americans don't have the stomach for generations-long wars to prevent possible terrorism, insisting instead that a vibrant and strong military and an effective intelligence array can respond as needed, anywhere in the world.

We can and will argue endlessly about that too.

But we should dismiss this notion that Trump, the magician, was going to extract hundreds of thousands from Afghanistan in any manner that was without the messiness of these last two weeks. And we should dismiss the defensiveness of the Biden team in insisting that the inevitability of chaos absolved them from better preparations about the processing and withdrawal of populations of this size from halfway around the world.

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J.D. Vance thinks George Washington wasn’t fit to be president

Unless we are pursuing politics for a living, we generally try to avoid spending actual time outside of elections thinking about individual candidates.

That is, we ignore them unless they do and say things that are just so nuts that we question whether we live on the same planet.

Enter venture capitalist, author and Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance, the emergent conservative in next year's race who has landed on a core issue. Democrats have "become controlled by people who don't have children," he says.

Thus, as he explained in a speech to the Future of American Political Economy Conference hosted by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the politicians running the country do not have a "personal indirect stake" in improving it because they do not have children.

It's not quite Jewish space lasers starting wildfires in the West or seeing Capitol rioters as "loving people," but it comes close.

Vance himself adopted belated love for the Donald Trump he used to detest. He noted that potential presidential candidates in the Democratic Party including Vice President Kamala Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) do not have children.

Don't Harris' step-children count? What about adopted kids?

Why, he asks publicly, is it just a "normal fact of American life that the leaders of our country should be people who don't have a personal indirect stake in it via their own offspring, via their own children and grandchildren," Vance asked.

He says he was not referring to people who are unable to have children.

In Vance's world, apparently, only pols with kids who have their DNA can think seriously about the national debt or committing U.S. troops to foreign locations or whether we should erect, and I choose that word carefully, Border Walls.

By the way, George Washington had no children of his own, but did have a step-daughter via Martha. But isn't he father of the country? Didn't he sleep around?

Children, No Children?

Wait a minute! Isn't the Republican line on Democrat Joe Biden a constant near-impeachment because he does have a son Hunter who possesses an unerring ability to stick his business foot in his famous-name-influenced mouth?

And is Vance really arguing here that Trump, who loves to claim that he knows nothing of how government actually works or how policy is made, is more responsible because he has three millionaire children who run his businesses and violate every ethical line government lawyers can invent?

Skipping over the fact that Harris has two step-children from her husband Doug Emhoff's previous marriage, the Vance doctrine seems to be that parents who go to the polls should have more power than adults who do not have children.

"When you go to the polls in this country as a parent, you should have more power, you should have more of an ability to speak your voice in our Democratic republic, than people who don't have kids," he said.

"Let's face the consequences and the reality; if you don't have as much of an investment in the future of this country, maybe you shouldn't get nearly the same voice."

So, parents with several children should get yet more votes, right?

Maybe the Republican stereotype of a welfare queen mom with a hive of kids should then have multiple votes as opposed to say a single, unattached big financial guy and would-be predator like, say, Jeffrey Epstein, who long was befriended by Donald Trump and Bill Clinton. Is that what Vance wants?

In a conversation with conservative media personality Charlie Kirk earlier this year, Vance explained, "We need more American children because American families, American children are good for us.

"They make fathers more invested — there's all kinds of research on this. They make our economy more dynamic. They make fathers more empathetic, more invested in their communities." And so they should have more votes?

But, he noted, he is always accused of being racist for elevating new children over population increases through immigration because "just no comparison between the positive effects of children and the positive effects of an immigrant."

Immigrants apparently don't have children, but then again, non-citizens don't vote at all, unless Donald Trump is counting their imagined ballots as part of fraudulent elections.

So, is Vance just arguing that we need more white children, more white politicians with children? Or is he actually ready to acknowledge that demographic shifts show more children in non-white families?

Who's Got Children?

Just as a reality check: The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago conducts a biennial national General Social Survey. It is a broad poll of Americans on a range of social issues that includes questions specifically about politics and children.

The most recent data says conservatives are more likely to have children than liberals — and are also more likely to have more children—but not children at home because conservatives also tend to be older.

Families with children at home are more or less equal between liberals and conservatives.

None of that explains how people vote or how they view the current culture wars.

Do you have to have aging parents to be able to vote about Medicare? Do you have to be an excluded voter of color to consider national questions of voting rights?

If we were really voting with children in mind, wouldn't we be seeing wide votes of support in Congress for widening child care, adding to food stamps, public education and health care?

As a party, Republicans, kids or not, obviously don't think so on any of these issues.

Maybe Vance should be graded on his support for actual policies relating to the well-being of children and the future, from economic justice to climate.

Vance believes that conservatives "have lost every single major cultural institution in this country. Think about it. Big Finance, Big Tech, Wall Street, the biggest corporations, the universities, the media and the government…

"There is not a single institution in this country that conservatives currently control, but there is one of them, just one, that we might have a chance of actually controlling in the future and that's the constitutional republic that our founders gave us," Vance said.

"My argument is that we need to fight woke capital, woke corporations and the governments that enable them, because we can't win anywhere else."

Maybe we should skip the middleman and give the votes directly to kids.

Vance said that the culture war is a class war against middle- and working-class Americans, and also claimed that it's an economic war against conservatives.

Vance wrote a memoir called Hillbilly Elegy, about the Appalachian values of his Kentucky family and their relation to the social problems of his hometown of Middletown, Ohio, where his mother's parents moved when they were young. He now is a principal at Peter Thiel's venture capital firm, Mithril Capital, far from Appalachia, where he took interest in biotechnology issues before entering a primary to succeed retiring Sen. Rob Portman.

Thankfully, he has two sons and therefore can be a serious candidate.

Why Congress and the White House aren't treating the Colonial Pipeline security breach seriously enough

Whether the cyber-attacks that shut 5,500 miles of oil pipeline this weekend are coming from private crooks or a state-sanctioned effort is almost beside the point. Somehow our response to this attack, as the big one apparently triggered by what looked like Russian-sponsored hackers on government agencies and companies last month, ought to be generating a lot more urgency.

The idea that a small group of bad guys in a faraway darkened room can control our electric grid, our fuel supplies, our business functions, our very defenses virtually at will should be as frightening as the prospect of powerful bombs in the likes of Iran or North Korea.

In 10 minutes, these same people will be in a position to send electric cars and trucks awry or kill appliances of industrial-scale built with Internet or network connections.

Instead, what we're hearing is much concern about whether oil and gas costs are going to go up in the next weeks as the result of immediate shortages in delivering 2.5 million barrels of oil a day or almost half of production across the East Coast. Actually, if operations are restored within a week, even that result is unlikely.

What we're not hearing our Democratic and Republican leaders on the barricades over cyber at anywhere near the volume we hear harangues about nonexistent election fraud already six months old or whether so-callef socialism is going to end the American Dream as we know it or about a dozen cancel culture disasters that some perceive.

Instead, our Congressional leaders seem content holding occasional check-in hearings and leaving the actual work to the Cyber Command agencies to resolve.

One might even call such defenses critical to, um, infrastructure in a realistic look at current technology.

It might be nice to see an approach to international policing approach the fervor of our continuing community policing debate.

Colonial Pipeline system map (CP)

In the next week, the administration is expected to issue an executive order intended to bolster the security of federal and private systems after two major attacks from Russia and China in recent months caught by surprise American companies and intelligence agencies.

Meanwhile, Colonial Pipeline, a private company, is being tight-lipped over whether it plans to pay a ransom demanded by the suspected criminal hacker group, or has already paid, or when normal operations will resume from closings ordered to prevent further problems from the hackers.

The FBI, the Energy Department and Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Md., all have dived into the detective work, along with FireEye, a private security company hired by Colonial.

This time, officials said they believed the attack was the act of a criminal group, rather than a nation seeking to disrupt critical infrastructure in the United States. But at times, such groups have had loose affiliations with foreign intelligence agencies and have operated on their behalf. That doesn't make it better.

Breaking In

Ransomware is the uncharted attempt by evildoers to threaten damage to computers connected into a network, encrypting the business data that control increasingly vast operations in return for payment of millions of dollars and the decryption code. It's kidnapping without emotion. When backed by state powers, it veers into somewhere beyond espionage and into an actual act of war.

The recent disclosure of a massive breach of government agencies and corporations explains sanctions against Russia last month. If there is more retaliation planned, we won't know about it until Moscow's red lights turn green. We still don't even know how deep and wide the break was. In either case, this is where I'd like to see all that Law & Order haranguing wasted on suppressing votes and threatening jail time for peaceful protests go instead. Where's the Blue in these cases? Where's the send-troops-to-Afghanistan-for-20-years demand?

Colonial Pipeline, based in Georgia, said the ransomware attack Friday affected information technology systems and that the company moved proactively to take certain systems offline, halting pipeline operations, to forestall further damage.

I've worked in news companies that dealt with hackers who entered networks that were private and not connected to the Internet, and experienced both in the fear that our newsroom operations could be touched—they weren't—and in the difficult creation of defensive shields and practices. Hackers often can find doors opened through getting an employee to unintendingly allow a malicious piece of software to enter through an otherwise innocent-looking email. Or they can criminally seek to obtain employee identification information allowing more direct access.

It can be hard to protect against in a working environment or a society that prizes individualism over security, which is exactly where America finds itself. We're relying more and more on machinery and the networks that increasingly operate it, often without human intervention. That creates opportunity for bad guys.

The Associated Press notes that while there have long been fears about U.S. adversaries disrupting American energy suppliers, ransomware attacks by criminal syndicates are much more common and have been soaring lately. The Justice Department has a new task force dedicated to countering ransomware attacks across types and size of businesses or agencies.

So far, the advice in the security industry and government alike is akin to coronavirus—take heed of the problem and take common-sense steps toward hardening network defenses. There are no vaccines that outlast the latest and greatest hacker attempts.

Rising Attacks

Attacks by criminal syndicates operating out of Russia and other countries reached epidemic proportions last year, costing hospitals, medical researchers private businesses and state and local governments and schools 10s of billions of dollars, AP reports. Average ransoms paid in the United States tripled to more than $310,000 last year, as compared with the cost of an average outage of business for 21 days for each incident, according to security firm Coveware.

American cyber folks say that some of these criminals have worked with Russia's security services and that the Kremlin benefits by damaging adversaries' economies and cover for intelligence-gathering.

Anne Neuberger, the Biden administration's deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity and emerging technology, told AP that the government has an effort under way to help electric utilities, water districts and other industries defend themselves. The goal seems to be to ensure that control systems serving 50,000 or more Americans have the core technology to detect and block attacks. The White House has announced a 100-day initiative aimed at protecting the country's electricity system by encouraging owners and operators of power plants and electric utilities to improve capabilities for identifying cyber threats to their networks.

U.S. Cyber Command and the Department of Homeland Security last month released details on eight code files attributed to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service that were used in the so-called Solar Winds attacks discovered earlier this year. The disclosure was described as part of "Hunt Forward" operations to generate insights to understand the source of attacks.

It's not exactly 100 million shots of vaccine in the arm in 100 days, but it is a start. I'd prefer that we wipe out the bad guys rather than issuing sanctions and warnings to protect ourselves.

Republican House Leader McCarthy plays his partisan cards — and folds

There was another skirmish on the floors of Congress this week that made no sense other than the endless outpouring of partisanship.

This time it was a vote forced by Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), to drop Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California, from the House Intelligence Committee. The conflict was about allegations that a Chinese spy had raised funds for Swalwell's congressional campaign in 2015. The measure lost, with all Democrats and Republicans voting on party lines.

It's not a vote that would change anything. Speaker Nancy Pelosi would appoint a potential replacement.

Apart from the idea that it was a futile effort if you are the minority party, it was simply a partisan slap that follows the pattern of knocking the other guy.

Just what passes as Republican ideology other than saying 'No' has become massively unclear.

But in this case, the underlying thought – that a foreign power is trying to have an influence on choosing our leadership – struck as particularly galling. Remember we just had that declassified national security assessment that Russia, and to a lesser degree, Iran, had a huge campaign under way to use our legislators and members of the Donald Trump campaign team to funnel disinformation to the American public.

Those figures include Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who openly talked loudly about information fed him by an identified Russian agent Andrei Derkach, a Ukrainian lawmaker, and Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking minority Intelligence Committee member, for work to spread disinformation about then-candidate Joe Biden and family. Both Johnson, who also has repeatedly offered his racist defense of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and Nunes, who has opposed Biden's certification as president, remain active in their public damnations on behalf of Trump.

These people have drawn no response from McCarthy.

I'm not big on "whataboutism" as tit-for-tat partisanship is termed, but the coincidental timing here seems unusually gross.

The Swalwell Case

McCarthy sponsored his resolution to oust Swalwell over the fact that he has not denied "public reporting that a suspected Chinese intelligence operative helped raise money" for his campaign and helped interns seek potential positions in his congressional office. Since the fall, McCarthy has targeted Swalwell, one of the Trump impeachment managers, after Axios published information about Swalwell's relationship six years ago with a suspected Chinese operative known as Fang Fang or Christine Fang.

According to the story, Swalwell was among several California politicians reportedly pursued by Fang, who did fund-raising work for his campaign and was photographed alongside Swalwell at a political function and reports that they had dated. When the FBI reported its suspicions in 2015, Swalwell cut off contact.

House leaders were told in 2015, and Swalwell was allowed to serve on the Intelligence Committee. There was another review with McCarthy and Pelosi last year, with opposing views from the two.

McCarthy charged that based on what has been publicly reported, Swalwell "cannot get a security clearance in the private sector" — and thus had no business being on the intelligence panel.

"Only in Congress could he get appointed to learn all the secrets of America — that's wrong," McCarthy told reporters. "If you can't meet that bar, you shouldn't be able to meet a bar to serve on the intel committee." McCarthy tweeted out a picture of the form upon which individuals are required to disclose relationships with foreign nationals.

Hmm. Then what are we to make of Johnson and Nunes, their staff members and non-congressional figures.

Figures include:

  • Michael Flynn, who served as national security adviser despite foreign entanglements
  • Paul Manafort, Trump campaign chair despite his foreign contacts
  • Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner who did not always report contacts with foreigners

Republican Outliers

Naturally, Swalwell and Democratic defenders noted that McCarthy failed to mention that Swalwell changed his behavior after the FBI alert to him. The same cannot be said of Johnson, Nunes and the others.

Of course, all this may be in response to the vote by Democrats and 11 Republicans last month to remove Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) from two committees for her extremist QAnon ideologies and threats to other members of Congress. A new effort was introduced yesterday to oust her altogether.

McCarthy wrote on Twitter that "Every Democrat is now on the record. They chose politics over national security."

Well, yeah, as Republicans have been doing as well. These guys seem to do so on every question, real or not.

A dozen Republicans voted this week to oppose honoring police from the Capitol and the city for defending the Capitol on Jan. 6 because the resolution contained the work "insurrection."

Then, yesterday, 172 Republicans voted against renewing the so-called defense against violence to women act. They found the bill unneeded even in the week following the shooting of two men and six women massage parlor workers in Georgia. The act did have an anti-gun ownership clause for boyfriends found guilty of domestic violence.

Just what passes as Republican ideology other than saying "No" has become massively unclear.

Even on a straight partisan basis, how does knocking Swalwell off this committee make anyone more likely to vote Republican than Democratic?

What has been gained here? If anything, shouldn't we thank Swalwell for heeding an FBI alert and ask why Johnson and Nunes continued to carry water for identified Russian agents despite intelligence warnings? How does anything in all this help with coronavirus, economy, the border, education, environment or anything that we actually care about?

Republicans just revealed their deplorable new priorities

By now, we know that the overly loud ruckus raised by Congressional Republicans criticizing too much spending and a growing deficit is a message leveled only when that spending is aimed at those of us at the bottom and middle.

As progressives have argued endlessly, there was no Republican concern about lowering tax rates for the wealthy and corporations.

Nevertheless, it is now clear that "centrists" in the Congress, regardless of party, are those who believe that there should be limits on all government spending. For most Republicans, it is enough to oppose anything from Joe Biden, so, the idea Biden's $1.9-trillion coronavirus aid and economic plan actually will squeak through the divided Congress mostly unscathed when the House likely votes today is close to miraculous – or specifically thanks to Georgians who elected two Democrats in January.

Actually, there's another, lesser-discussed of the many pending legislative battles that will put this thinking to a test – approval for some billions this year to upgrade nuclear weapons, as part of some proposals to boost defense spending by an estimated 3% to 5%.

According to the Arms Control Center, the government is on track from the previous administration to spend more than to $1.5 trillion over several years to overhaul the nuclear arsenal by rebuilding each leg of the nuclear triad of ballistic missile submarines, silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, a new nuclear cruise missile, a modified gravity bomb, a new stealthy long-range strike bomber and warheads. Cost estimates for this year alone are $16 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration systems and about $29 billion for the modernization of aging delivery systems.

In other words, it is on the scale of changes in the range of this current contention. But this time, expect the sides of the ruckus to be reversed.

Spending Priorities

Democrats have been introducing bills to curtail costly nuclear modernization programs. Republicans want Biden to continue spending on defense and weapons modernization, with no concern yet about cost and have included questions about this issue to Cabinet defense nominees.

Indeed, Republicans, as always, are pushing an increase in defense spending overall, though the Trump administration budget for defense for this year was more modest than its $740 billion for the previous year. To pay for it, they propose cuts in social spending.

The Biden White House is starting work on its first budget, with some expectations to keep funds for weapons flat against last year, which is still an increase..

We should note that at the same time, we are hearing repeatedly that the biggest threats we face are domestic terrorism, climate change, cybersecurity hacks and international economic warfare. None of those are addressed by better nuclear weapons, of course.

Even among specific military priorities, there are questions about priorities other than more modern nukes – including the number of Navy ships, actually being able to launch and maintain the expensive fighter jets developed over the last years, military pay and benefits. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks apparently has directed a review of selected programs, including low-yield nuclear warheads and nuclear command and control. The Trump administration developed and deployed a submarine-launched, low-yield nuclear warhead, called W76-2, that Democrats argue raises the risk of nuclear war by potentially lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons. There now is a bill to stop a new sub-launched cruise missile from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.).

Feels Like an Old Argument

Actually, it was the Obama administration that had started the modernization program, out of the belief that aging weapons might prove dangerous to have deployed, and that while treaties have called for fewer nukes, they should be in good shape. None of that has stopped the Russians, and now the Chinese, from bringing out new generations of nukes.

So, what we can see brewing is kindling over old issues on spending on weapons over social issues, varying and convenient use of the deficit monster as a threat, and partisan maneuvering.

Democrats Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) argue that the real issue here is the over-emphasis of nuclear weapons as well as the cost. They are lobbying Biden to abandon some of the programs underway and to revisit our actual defense priorities. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate counterpart, argue against efforts to "cripple the U.S. nuclear deterrent forever."

House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith, D-Wa,, says that the defense budget ought to be the result of effective spending, whatever the total is.

Hear that silence? No one is talking about deficits.

At best, what we have is a nice distillation of just when deficits do and don't matter.

Who made Joe Manchin 'The Decider'? Here's why West Virginia's centrist senator has too much clout

We spent hundreds of millions, talked endlessly, suffered generally insulting campaigns to elect a president, withstood months afterward of one side denying results and endured an attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Where in all this was the decision to elect the winner to be Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.?

Forget competing personalities, ideologies, even skills. What we effectively have wrought is that the decisions about whether we extend unemployment or try to save restaurants or pay to widen federal research into coronavirus mutations don't sit in the White House or in the leading majority leaders of Congress. It is with Manchin. He is the self-described centrist, so moderate a Democrat that he is always a threat to vote for Republican policies. He hails from a state that he sees as unready to embrace climate change or big investment in recovery. And, as we found out this week, a Biden Cabinet-level nominee.

Manchin says he is opposing Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget because she tweeted too harshly about political opponents.

Maybe now he opposes the nomination of Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., as secretary of Interior, who thinks drilling for oil on public lands is a bad idea. Manchin headed the committee holding this hearing.

As an aside, when compared with colleagues in the Congress who have tweeted and worked hard to ignore years of public insult tweets of Donald Trump, the argument against Tandem seems pretty limp.

Still, among Tanden's tweet targets was Manchin's daughter, Heather Bresch, former CEO of Mylan, a company that made EpiPens and raised its price substantially over 10 years. Bresch defended the higher prices as less than that of others and said she also raised financial assistance for patients.

The key vote?

It's not so much that we may find ourselves agreeing or disagreeing with Manchin. But rather, we have given the car keys to a single individual who may be voting only to support the local interests of a 93% white state. It is a state still waiting for coal mining to come back, that votes Republican, that has the nation's worst record on opiate usage and whose small business owners mostly reject raising the minimum wage.

With the U.S. Senate split down the middle, Manchin's vote has become The Vote for a Democratic agenda, followed closely by the support of sorta Democrat Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and one or two others. Indeed, one hears Manchin's vote more linked to that of Maine Republican Susan Collins than to the Democratic majority.

Would an LBJ or even a Harry Reid have allowed the Senate majority to have allowed a critical vote like Manchin to run free from issue to issue, from more liberal to more conservative, but outside the party attitudes? No, they would have found a way to pressure his votes with something that West Virginia needs, like energy jobs, or found a threat that worked. A weaker Chuck Schumer just seems to believe that repetition of arguments alone will win the day.

One friend proposes that Democrats offer a trade of Manchin to the Republicans, baseball style, for Collins or Lisa Murkowski of Alaska), though I doubt that Joe Biden or Schumer would count on that outcome as any more dependable.
Manchin is insisting that calling yourself a Democrat does not necessarily mean anything.

Most valuable target

Manchin has become the most sought-after target for lobbyists, reports The Hill, because he is seen as the swing vote in the 50-50 Senate on many bills and nominees. And he has to watch his own political back in a Republican-leaning state.

Actually, only a small group of former staffers and ex-senators-turned-lobbyists have a chance to influence Manchin, who prefers to listen to groups that have established direct interests in West Virginia. That has included more liberal groups like the Poor People's Campaign and unions, or those with ties to local businesses.

It's also true that Manchin voted with the Trump administration half the time.

Manchin, fully aware of his sudden celebrity status, talks a lot about the need for bipartisanship and listening to the other side, no matter what it is, before coming out with what he sees as his more common-sense solutions. It all must come as a bit of upbraiding for Biden, who considers himself a centrist, and floats the question of what it is that makes Manchin want to identify as Democrat in the first place.

"He's kind of the Democratic version of John McCain," Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., told Politico. "I say that partially in jest. But partially it's true: Joe's a hard guy to figure out how to lead. He dances to his own music."

Actually, Manchin favors raising the minimum wage, but more slowly and as not part of a coronavirus aid bill. He generally favors gun rights, though he backs "sensible" registration efforts, and he opposes killing the Senate's filibuster rules to make decision-making into simple majority votes. He sleeps on a houseboat, occasionally swigs moonshine from a jar, was a college football quarterback and ran a coal brokerage before running for governor.

As The Washington Post noted, Manchin is a coal-country native come to power as Biden is proposing vast climate changes. As governor, he sued the Environmental Protection Agency. He has scuttled efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, criticized the Paris climate agreement and famously shot a copy of a cap-and-trade carbon proposal full of lead. "There's nobody I know in my state that wants to drink dirty water, to breathe dirty air, I can assure you," Manchin told the Post. "I'm as environmental as anyone else. I'm pretty rational, practical about it, too."

The decider?

Based on reports from his Senate colleagues, Manchin often does succeed at changing minds, including getting Republicans Steve Daines of Montana and James Lankford of Oklahoma to stand down from their election challenges in the hours following the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Manchin is the ultimate gradualist, making Biden look as if he is speeding toward some progressive goals in immigration, race relations, environment and economic policies aiming to reset built-in inequalities. Manchin's support — and those middle positions on every sizable issue he brings with him — is the reason behind the agonizingly slow response from Congress on coronavirus and economy alike.

At least with the main body of Republicans in the Senate, we know there is straight opposition to virtually any Biden policy, and we expect the tight majority to work around whatever those limitations set. So, expect to see Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., the new head of the Budget Committee, for example, maneuvering to use the more arcane rules of reconciliation to move Democratic bills through the process.

But it is annoying to me to see a single individual, Democrat or Republican, insisting that he or she is the center of the political universe. It's more annoying when I thought I had voted for the program of a party that I favored. I didn't like it when Trump insisted that he was the sole voice to hear, even from the White House, I didn't like it with chief obstructor Mitch McConnell deciding to forgo Senate votes on more than 300 House-passed bills.

Schumer plays his weak Senate hand — badly

Days into the new government, it's clear that Joe Biden is running an energetic, activist White House. But the new Democratic majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is still stuck in the same stalled Senate where he served in the ever-victimized minority.

Whatever else you want to say about Schumer, he's no Lyndon Baines Johnson, who dominated as a Senate majority leader from 1957 to 1961. He's not even Harry Reid, who had the job from 2007 to 2015.

From the outside, it looks like majority-leading-by-pleading, not arm-twisting.

You don't hear that other senators fear Schumer as much as they hope that he can stand up to the ever-manipulative tactics of a crafty Mitch McConnell. The Republican has lost the majority leader title, but not his magic to set the agenda.

It could be because Schumer got the majority leader office by the barest of margins – the potential tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris.

Or perhaps it is because the real majority leader emerging is centrist Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Manchin repeatedly seems to forget that he is a Democrat and doesn't mind thwarting Schumer and Democratic goals. It might even be because Biden, himself, a long-time senator, has personal relationships to pursue in the chamber.

Whatever.

Somehow, everyone in the House knows that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with her narrowed Democratic majority, is still the swaying voice for everything from impeachment votes to requiring that members leave their guns at the door. It is the deference of others to her power that we are examining.

We recognize in Schumer a certain caution in trying to get the most from a split, now-stuck Senate. He got to this day in a plodding manner, using congressional rules and his ever-present microphone rather than any sense of authoritative aggressiveness.

Maybe the issue is his speaking voice, which borders on annoying rather than inspiring; or his pleading tone. Maybe he was just better at offering obstructions as a minority leader than serving at the front of the Senate.

Of course, maybe he'll settle in and be more effective. Right now, the focus for political wins in the Senate still seems to be on McConnell.

Deftness?

On ABC News recently, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, commented on the continuing Schumer-McConnell wrangles over the timing of the impeachment trial, the makeup of Senate committees and the rules governing a 50-50 Senate split. Christie said, "The one thing Chuck isn't is deft. Definitely not deft."

Politico's take: "Chuck Schumer has finally realized his dream of becoming majority leader. And given the circumstances, it's a bit of a nightmare." Without an agreement on new rules, for example, Republicans maintain most of the committee leadership, reviewing confirmations and legislation.

There is a lot to get done at once in a Biden presidency both to reverse what are seen as bad mistakes from the Donald Trump years and to be aggressive about preparing for another election that will put the Senate majority on the ballot again.

The healthy argument between Schumer and McConnell about whether to eliminate filibuster rules – rules that effectively require 60 votes for any substantial legislation rather than a simple majority — are going McConnell's way. That is partly because Schumer does not have the votes of Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

The impeachment trial for Trump has been delayed – just as McConnell had asked. The committees needed for confirmation hearings and to review the immediate demands for Biden-proposed legislation on COVID-19 aid, on extending jobless benefits and on immigration changes are being held hostage to the inside game.

Again, filibuster rule debates are inside baseball. They don't get jobs or food or vaccines done.

It looks as if what drives Republicans' votes in the Senate is fear: from McConnell over life his as a senator and from Trump whose continuing influence is in aiming his insults and primary threats for re-election.

By contrast, what seems to drive Democratic votes is a general plea to reason rather than the use of power.

As the opposition party, Republicans, of course, already are lining up to give Trump a pass on impeachment conviction and a permanent bar to run for office again. While open to approving Biden's cabinet, generally Republicans are vocal about a too-large investment in anti-COVID efforts based on caring about the national debt, which they forgot about in the Trump era.

Title without authority

The new heavyweight in the Senate is the center, with Manchin Democrats meeting up with Susan Collins (R-Maine) and a smallish group from Republicans. Somehow, they want to buck both parties with insistence on moderation and politeness – even as the Capitol is assaulted, the coronavirus deaths soar again and hunger is growing.

Schumer himself is up for re-election in 2022 and could face a long-shot primary challenge from the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

CNN said: "The talks of bipartisanship are quickly getting ensnared by must-move Senate business, not the least of which is getting an agreement on how the Senate will be run over the next two years. It seems simple, but it's a big deal and it's proving far harder to secure than anyone had anticipated."

Schumer is seeing pressure from his left to dump the filibuster to make it easier to pass improvements in health, infrastructure, environment and national security issues. Biden, again, thinks that bipartisanship can be made to work, but needs a strong Schumer.

So, Schumer's time is short to prove effectiveness. He did not win his title until Georgia improbably elected two Democrats on Jan. 5, and it has been a race to get the new rules in place at a time of simultaneous public tidal waves. Succeeding as majority leader has meant going toe-to-toe with McConnell over arcane rules.

McConnell simply is acting as if he gets a veto over all that passes to the Senate. He is still acting as majority leader without the title.

Schumer needs to step up to his new job.

Democrats are the new Senate majority — so why is Mitch McConnell still running the show?

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Terry H. Schwadron, DCReport @ RawStory

Days into the new government, it's clear that Joe Biden is running an energetic, activist White House while new Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is still stuck in the same stalled Senate that he served in the ever-victimized minority.

Whatever else you want to say about Schumer, he's no Lyndon Baines Johnson, who dominated as a Senate majority leader, or even Harry Reid.

From the outside, it looks like majority leading by pleading, not arm-twisting. You don't hear that other senators fear Schumer as much as hope that he can stand up to the ever-manipulative tactics of a crafty Mitch McConnell, who has lost the majority leader title, but not its magic to set the agenda.

Schumer got to this day in a plodding manner, using congressional rules and his ever-present microphone rather than any sense of authoritative aggressiveness.

It could be because Schumer's gotten the majority leader office by the barest of margins – the potential tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala Harris when it will be needed. Or perhaps it is because the real majority leader emerging is centrist Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who seems repeatedly to forget that he is a Democrat, and who doesn't mind hanging Schumer and Democratic goals in thin air. It might even be because Biden himself, a longtime senator, has personal relationships in the chamber to pursue himself.

Whatever.

Somehow, everyone in the House knows that Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with her narrowed Democratic majority, is still the swaying voice for everything from impeachment votes to requiring that members leave their guns at the door to the chamber. It is the deference of others to her power that we are examining.

We recognize in Schumer a certain caution in trying to get the most from a split, now-stuck Senate, someone who got to this day in a plodding manner, using congressional rules and his ever-present microphone rather than any sense of authoritative aggressiveness. Maybe it is his speaking voice, which borders on annoying rather than one inspiring attention, or his pleading tone. Maybe he was just better at offering obstructions as a minority leader than serving at the front of the Senate.

Of course, maybe he'll settle in and be more effective, but right now, the focus for political wins in the Senate still seems to be on McConnell.

Deftness?

On ABC News recently, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, commenting on the continuing Schumer-McConnell wrangles over the timing of the impeachment trial, the makeup of Senate committees and the rules governing a 50-50 Senate split said, "The one thing Chuck isn't is deft. Definitely not deft."

"Chuck Schumer has finally realized his dream of becoming majority leader. And given the circumstances, it's a bit of a nightmare," noted Politico. Without an agreement on new rules, for example, Republicans maintain most of the committee chairmanships, reviewing confirmations and legislation.

What does seem apparent are that there is a lot to get done at once in a Biden presidency both to reverse what are seen as bad mistakes from the Donald Trump years and to be aggressive about taking advantage of the next two years until another election will put the Senate majority on the ballot again.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demands hearings over whistleblower complaint — says the Republican-led Senate has 'remained silent and submissive'

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer demands hearings over whistleblower complaint — says the Republican-led Senate has 'remained silent and submissive' Royalty-free stock photo ID: 596958572 Washington, DC - February 27, 2017: Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to a press conference at the National Press Club

The healthy argument between Schumer and McConnell about whether to eliminate filibuster rules – rules that effectively require 60 votes for any substantial legislation rather than a simple majority are going McConnell's way – in part because Schumer does not have the votes of Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.). The impeachment trial for Trump has been delayed – just as McConnell had asked, though a week earlier. The committees needed for confirmation hearings and to review the immediate demands for Biden-proposed legislation on COVID-19 aid, on extending jobless benefits and immigration changes are being held hostage to the inside game in the Senate.

Again, filibuster rule debates are inside baseball, they don't get jobs or food or vaccines done.

From the outside, it looks as if what drives Republicans' votes in the Senate is fear – from McConnell over life as a senator and from Trump, whose continuing influence is in aiming his insults and primary threats for reelection. By contrast, what seems to drive Democratic votes is a general plea to reason rather than the use of power.

As the opposition party, Republicans, of course, already are lining up to give Trump a pass on impeachment conviction and a permanent bar to run for office again, and, while open to approving Biden's cabinet, generally are vocal about a too-large investment in anti-COVID efforts based on the new-found need to care for the national debt.

Title Without Authority

The new heavyweight in the Senate is the center, with Manchin from Democrats meeting up with Susan Collins (R-Maine), and a smallish group from Republicans. Somehow, they want to buck both parties with their insistence on moderation and politeness – even as the Capitol is assaulted, even as the coronavirus deaths soar again, even as hunger is growing.

Schumer himself is up for reelection in 2022 and could face a long-shot primary challenge from the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

"The talks of bipartisanship are quickly getting ensnared by must-move Senate business, not the least of which is getting an agreement on how the Senate will be run over the next two years. It seems simple, but it's a big deal and it's proving far harder to secure than anyone had anticipated," noted CNN.

Schumer is seeing pressure from his left to dump the filibuster to make it easier to pass improvements in health, infrastructure, environment and national security issues. Biden, again, thinks that bipartisanship can be made to work, but needs a strong Schumer.

So, Schumer's time is short to prove effectiveness. He did not win his title until Georgia improbably elected two Democrats on Jan. 5, and it has been a race to get the new rules in place at a time of simultaneous public tidal waves. Succeeding as majority leader has meant going toe-to-toe with McConnell over arcane rules.

McConnell simply is acting as if he gets a veto over all that passes to the Senate. He is still acting as majority leader without the title.

Schumer needs to step up to his new job.

Just another wacky weekend in Trump land

Even for Donald Trump and the Republican Tabernacle Choir of the Senate, this weekend was an all-star level of crazy-making. The White House again ignored a pandemic killing 3,000 Americans a day, widespread misery and an attack on the nation while discussing the possibility of martial law over Trump's election loss.

What saved it was the last-minute, roller-coaster deal in the Congress for a coronavirus aid bill, as ugly a compromise as possible, but an agreement nevertheless. Stand by for the conflicting credits and new discoveries about what actually passes today in the multi-hundred-page bill.

The whole weekend made me, at least, feel as if I live on a different planet – with theirs being one in which it is impossible to separate the important from the inane. We all can agree the White House continues to make seeing the news an emotionally exhausting experience.

Just a sampling:

Transition interruptus: Trump ordered halted any transition meetings between the Defense Department and the incoming Joe Biden team for the next few weeks. In what universe other than the Trump ego-fantasy does it make any sense for incoming Pentagon leadership not to know about the readiness of military forces, the global danger signs that the Pentagon is tracking, even the Defense spending patterns. Apparently, such meetings were halted because Trump was angered by seeing a Washington Post article that suggested the Biden team was looking at how many billions of dollars could be saved from re-routing money taken from the Pentagon for the border wall construction back to the military. I would hope that is something they should be considering.

Screwing up coronavirus economic aid: Even to their own members, the movement among Republican senators to find new religion for relief from debts and deficits by blocking coronavirus aid to Americans reportedly was being seen as nuts. The situation was fluid, but barely, as Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), led a late charge to stop lending by the supposedly independent Federal Reserve for businesses that need credit to stay afloat. A compromise finally got through around narrowing the proposal, setting Congress toward bill approval. Once again it put hunger and evictions over non-payment of rent for millions on real display and requiring a third, brief reset of the deadline clock for the final votes. Republicans had seen it as a fiscal necessity; Democrats saw a bid to throttle the incoming Biden administration even before it takes office. Though the participants will see it as a victory, it was politics at its worst.

Ignoring cybersecurity hacking: Even after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it was the Russians who broke through software walls guarding the Pentagon, the Treasury and Commerce Departments and the nuclear areas of the Energy Department, Trump still insisted Saturday it could have been the Chinese. He added they could have skewed voting in the election to account for his loss. Trump thinks we are idiots.

Trump's never-ending election challenges: More than six weeks after the election, Trump met in the White House on Friday night with the Sidney Powell, the lawyer who's outlandish arguments about election fraud were considered too far out of line for him to even keep her on as a personal lawyer. They discussed making her a special counsel investigating voter fraud, according to two people briefed on the discussion. Even Rudy Giuliani, present by phone, said no, as did White House counsel Pat Cipollone. Apart from all else, declaring a special counsel is the jurisdiction of the Justice Department, not the Oval Office. Powell is the one arguing conspiracy theories about a Venezuelan plot to rig voting machines in the United States. It was unclear if Trump will move ahead on it. Meanwhile, Trump associate and the disgraced but pardoned former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, is going around the country telling Trump to declare martial law over the election results.

The pending pardons: Politico reported that Trump is considering preemptively pardoning as many as 20 aides and associates before leaving office, even to the frustration of Senate Republicans who are arguing that strategy could backfire politically. Again, pardons are supposed to move through the Justice Department and a review process, and again Trump is insisting on his own rules for family and friends. Those under consideration include Giuliani, campaign staff and several members of his family. Of course, accepting a pardon includes the assumption that there was a crime committed. Perhaps the smartest move Trump might make is to offer Hunter Biden the same pre-criminal pardon he apparently is considering for his own kids.

Fast and loose money: It turns out Trump will be leaving with 10s of millions of dollars with few legal limits on how he can spend it. And, records now show that his family members managed to interfere with campaign funds to direct hundreds of millions into slush funds controlled by Trump. This brazen attempt to siphon reportable campaign money into accounts for which there is no accounting is questionable on lots of grounds. The reports extend the pattern of loose financial ethics marking the Trump presidency. It was common for Trump to use his official office and functions for personal money-making activities. Everything occurred from spending his time golfing at Trump resorts to re-routing foreign trips to the benefit of his own properties.

Expanding Mining: Despite the timing, Trump is moving to open up vast amounts of federal land to widespread mining and drilling, The New York Times reported. It is a move bound to create yet more consternation and problems for the Biden administration. The new administration, for procedural reasons as well as political ones, is bound to challenge a number of the individual sites involved. Again, whose interests are being served here?

And in possibly the dumbest attack of the week: Trump supporters took up the challenge to knock the doctorate earned by Dr. Jill Biden, defending and outdoing a particularly sexist, silly and anti-intellectual column from a Wall Street Journal op-ed that asked her to drop the honorific unless she was going to treat coronavirus patients. Go stuff it, kiddo.

Meanwhile, at far ends of the news worlds, both The New York Times and Lou Dobbs ran apologies for getting things wrong. The Times said sorry for trusting a source on ISIS without proper investigation. Under legal threat, Dobbs (or his employer Fox News) gave a mea culpa for allowing unsubstantiated lying about conspiracy theories about election fraud.

On the other hand, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence reached the enormously important and contentious decision to label members of Space Force as "guardians," rather than airmen, sailors, soldiers or Marines. Wasn't that the name of the universe-traveling robot Gort in "The Day the Earth Stood Still"?

Klaatu barada nikto.

You think we will miss these weekends after Jan. 20?

Maybe the best thing a new Attorney General can do is nothing

This week, we're expecting to hear about a new attorney general nominee with more than average attention on the candidate's ethnicity and desire for justice.

We know the outlines of the bigger issues. There will be more emphasis from the Joe Biden administration on civil rights and policing changes than on restoring firing squad executions and attacking so-called sanctuary cities.

What faces any candidate for the Justice job is a long list of challenges toward re-balancing what the department is there to do. He or she must restore any sense of public trust in an agency that has been openly dismissive and even deceitful in public and in court on cases that have had perceived bearing on Donald Trump's political fortunes, about the work of its professional legal staff and the work of the FBI.

What faces any new candidate for the Justice job is re-balancing what the department is there to do and restoring any sense of public trust.

The serving attorney general lied publicly to mislead about the findings of the Mueller Report, tried to defend Trump's against mpeachment and argued against existing law to denounce Obamacare in federal suits. Attorney General William P. Barr ultimately may be tossed from his job for failing to find legal grounds to make criminal filings about Trump's fantasies about election fraud.

Hearings on the new appointment will force public attention on all that.

What attracts my attention today are actions that new Justice leadership can take toward righting the listing ship by simply standing down.

Just Stand Down

Here are several examples, that don't involve some giant legislative or prosecutorial shift:

  • Against all legal or political logic, Barr decided to commit the Justice Department to intervene in the New York state civil suit over charges of defamation from columnist E. Jean Carroll. She alleged Trump raped her in a Bergdorf Goodman department store long before he was president. This is a civil complaint that in calling her out, Trump had defamed her. She claims the truth of the original details and is seeking both a Trump deposition and DNA. Barr decided that it was the business of the Justice Department to protect the president – despite the fact that this is not in federal court and happened before Trump was in office. The judge in the case has refused to throw out the complaint, as Trump and Justice asked. But a new attorney general should simply stop – and butt out of the case.
  • The same is true for New York State demands for tax returns from Trump and his companies – all from years preceding the presidency. The new attorney general should simply get out of the way and let the state courts operate. Those tax returns would seem evidence for schemes to avoid paying taxes both to the federal government and to the state. There are other lawsuits pending as well – all of which should proceed without the involvement of the Justice Department. Just doing nothing to insist that the White House disregard for law here would be an action worth note. It applies to policies as well.
  • The decision in a federal court in Brooklyn ordering the Trump administration to restore fully restore the DACA Dreamers (Deferred Action against Childhood Arrivals) case would be appealed immediately under Barr. An incoming attorney general can simply let it exist and follow the law.
  • Likewise, the incoming attorney general should halt the efforts of the Justice Department in a case accepted for argument before the U.S. Supreme Court over-interpreting the Medicare and Medicaid statutes. Trump sees the programs as tools to require efforts to get work – during a pandemic and widespread joblessness – in return for health benefits. The timing is such that the case likely will proceed, of course, but the point is that the federal solicitor general who argues these cases can stand down in the name of making Trumpism into law.

Attitudes on Political Prosecution

The Washington Post editorial board pointed at another such case. Under Trump, the administration "has thwarted justice at every turn for Bijan Ghaisar, the unarmed 25-year-old accountant shot to death in 2017 by two U.S. Park Police officers following a fender bender near D.C. despite the fact that he posed no threat." The editorial advised the Biden administration could send an early signal that it is committed to accountability when police wrongly kill civilians — even or especially if the police happen to be federal officers – by dropping the case for a negotiated settlement.

Biden himself has said he has little personal interest in pursuing prosecution of Trump administration officials. He has said forcefully that Trump is abusing pardon powers by protecting his own campaign associates and friends, as illustrated by the pardon for former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn.

Yet, in a note of special obsession, Barr has extended the term of U.S. Attorney John Durham by making him a special counsel in continuing to investigate the origins of the Russia investigations growing out of Trump's 2016 campaign. That effort is aimed, of course, right at adversary and predecessor Barack Obama and Biden, James Comey and the FBI.

What one side sees as political prosecution apparently doesn't apply to the other side.

Today's homily: Maybe doing nothing in these politically tinged cases is sufficient at this point.

Trump's saboteur strategy: The president continues to actively sabotage US policies

Any thoughts that Donald Trump is just trying to polish his perceived presidential legacy with his late-game administration moves is giving way to a darker idea. He is planting boulders in the path of Joe Biden and the incoming group, "salting the earth," as one headline declared this week.

It's a ridiculous process that sneers at the MAGA America Trump professes to love. Apart from ignoring the overwhelming coronavirus issues, Trump's strategy is to continue hobbling the federal government from addressing what it needs to face.

Separate from petulance over losing the election and not starting a transition, Team Trump continues to be actively sabotaging U.S. policies that – at least according to campaign promises – are bound to change with an incoming opposition political party.

To show what he sees as toughness, Trump considered attacks on Iran; ordered a sudden but telegraphed withdrawal of troops in Afghanistan, Iraq and Somalia without condition; launched further curbs on immigration; and ordered, again, prescription drug price cuts he ordered, then suspended, a month ago, without a plan.

Now, his folks are doubling down elsewhere, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo going to the West Bank in effect to endorse Israeli takeover of Palestinian property; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin cutting off Federal Reserve from helping markets, businesses and municipalities weather the pandemic; and there is a plan afoot for a late order to halt birthright immigration – the extension of citizenship upon American birth.

These are all moves in the category of anger-making contention. Even if Joe Biden did not want them overturned or challenged in court, his group is not in a position to carry them out through a federal government that has been hollowed of employees and will find itself at the apex of the pandemic as a full-time problem.

Delay, Delay

Trump's insistence in refusing the reality of the election is more than annoying, and seems to put the country in actual danger. But I have to believe that eventually even fantasy resistance has to give way to grudging acknowledgment of certified results.

At this point, the focus should be on the actions – or inactions – of his government.

Refusing to acknowledge the explosion of COVID-19 across all states is, of course, a statement that this is perfectly OK. Deaths can pass 250,000, 300,000, even 400,000 without moving Trump to act in a more presidential manner, coordinating state response, pushing for aid or using his position to promote the public health standard measures. We're left thinking he does not care; we are on our own.

Firing top personnel in national security, defense and through other agencies over personal pique are actions that add up to undercutting the power of government to carry out everything from vaccine deliveries to making real renewed call for prescription drug price cuts.

Trying to appoint an unqualified Judy Shelton, an advocate for returning the country to the gold standard, to the Fed was too much even for the Senate Republican majority. It fell short of confirming her.

The foreign policy moves don't change overall administration policies toward the Middle East or Afghanistan, but they will hamper the Biden counterparts considerably. That seems to be the exact point.

These moves, too, reflect more tantrum than they do American influence in the world. They appear meant for something Trump to put in a dictated book that tells the story of his presidency in glorious America First terms speaking only of wild success.

For Pompeo to endorse grabbing Arab lands is writing a guarantee for more generations of discord beyond the relative short life of the current Israeli government. For this administration to declare that questioning Israeli right-wing politics as "anti-Semitic" is simply false and misguided.

Lame-Duck President

OK, we all understand Trump does not want to be sidelined. But acting in ways to ensure that he is undermining national institutions hardly seems the way to want to be remembered.

A rational outgoing president would be working twice as hard as normal to get an aid package through the Congress, that the states understand how emergent vaccines will be distributed and ensuring that the incoming bureaucrats understand how Team Trump sees the issues we face.

Those close to Trump are saying that former President Barack Obama treated his group poorly in a transition – claims that run counter to what happened – because in the end, the FBI and national security folks were investigating the undue contacts between his campaign and Russian operatives.

This recalcitrance is payback, they say. The mind boggles.

If Trump's people had not been using underhanded methods with Russians, they would not have attracted FBI attention in the first place. But whatever that effort entailed, it had nothing to do with an outgoing person at the Pentagon talking with an incoming person about the details of U.S. defense issues.

It's too late to stop the tantrum. But it's not too late for those who believe in having a government to stop or delay consideration of policies that are bound to be overturned in two months.

Here's why so many white women voted for Trump: analysis

One unresolved mystery of the relative closeness of the presidential election has been the vote among women, particularly white women.

Listening to the elation in the streets about having our first woman vice president in Kamala Harris and the supportive calls of healing from Joe Biden, you might have thought this was evident in the voting patterns.

But despite Donald Trump's long record of misogynistic statements, policies and personal acts:

  • While women voters backed Biden, it was by the same proportion as in 2016, a 13% majority.
  • More than half of white women voted for Trump, according to exit poll data. So did white men.
  • Black women voted much more for Biden, even more strongly than Black men.

From all the polling information and actual campaigning before the election, it seemed certain that women were expected to reject Trump in large numbers.

It is so unsettling to consider that many of our fellow countrymen and women are either racists or accommodate racists or acquiesce to racists.

What analysis there has been says Joe Biden won votes from all women by about the same proportion as had Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. In other words, in the Centennial year for white women's suffrage, there was no tidal wave among women voters here for the slate that had a woman vice-presidential candidate.

Now, exit polls are rough – this year even shakier with changes in voting shifts and pandemic. They combine in-person interviews with Election Day voters and telephone polls of mail voters and early voters. Still, they give us some information toward understanding the who and why.

It appears that other factors, including partisan orientation, rural vs. urban location, race and age showed more variation than did gender. There appears to be a slightly lower gender gap in the presidential vote, though the variation better reflects changes in voting by men.

So, we're left with a conundrum: Over a lifetime, Trump regularly demeaned and insulted women, he faces multiple charges of assault, he has paid off porn stars for sex, he campaigned by telling suburban women he would find jobs for their husbands, he promoted policies attacking women of color, Muslim women, immigrant women.

Women mobilized with pink pussy hats and huge protests.

But on Election Day, a majority of white women ignored that and voted Trump.

Institutional Bias

So, is it engrained white entitlement—the public shaming of "Karens" too quick to call the police for minor or no issues involving Black passersby—or are we confusing the efforts to categorize voters? How do we explain voting behavior from what people say they care about?

Charles Blow, The New York Times columnist, was direct here:

"Let me be specific and explicit here: white people — both men and women — were the only group in which a majority voted for Trump, according to exit polls. To be exact, nearly three out of every five white voters in America are Trump voters. It is so unsettling to consider that many of our fellow countrymen and women are either racists or accommodate racists or acquiesce to racists… In any case, white women vote for Trump at higher rates than all other women, despite the fact that Trump has spent his first term, indeed his whole life, denigrating women."

Political analysts offer some other thoughts here: Year after year, political party shows itself a stronger force in presidential politics than gender, for example—partisan identity, as it were. And voting patterns among women, or white women, move less over years than male voters for reasons that are not obvious.

These questions about understanding votes by women presage wider questions for Democrats, who already are showing the pressures of just how progressive this new administration will prove to be, how assertive about structural ills.

The Trends; the Campaign

This year's campaign focused a lot on suburban voters, who had been said to be moving toward Biden. That cut both ways: Trump appealed directly to white suburban women with messages of fear and property loss, arguing Democrats want to destroy suburbs with more affordable housing.

College-educated white women and white men were split fairly evenly between Biden and Trump, with more women leaning toward Biden.

However one defines it, a majority of white women voted for Trump to protect what they have – status, income, tax advantage, whatever – despite Trump's anti-woman attitudes and record. That is the exact thought at the center of the many books, training classes and symposiums going on across the nation about the nature of institutional racism.

Meanwhile, Black women got the vote out in urban centers, in particular, making for the close results in Georgia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and other states. Black women went for Biden in a slightly greater proportion than Black men; there were similar numbers among Latino voters. Black women organized communities to vote.

For historical note, women narrowly have backed the Democratic candidate in every election since 1996. On average, women have been 8% more likely than men to support Democrats since 1980, according to the Pew Research Center.

Studies have suggested that causes for the gender gap in the last several decades are almost never issues like abortion rights and sexual harassment, as much as feelings about government involvement in care and education. The economy and likely coronavirus would be more at the center of votes for women, a Pew analyst wrote.

But apparently not if one candidate could label those ideas socialism, toss in a lot of fear and salt it all with debasing invective.

In voting, white women apparently ignored insults to their personal dignity.

Biden says he wants to focus on healing rifts that Trump widened. One way to start is to stop insulting half of Americans who are women. But another is to persuade all of us to recognize how deep the racial divide runs through all of our social institutions.

Why flip-flopping Trump needs Democrats more than boot-licking Senate Republicans

Donald Trump was against a new coronavirus aid package before he was for it. And now, with time running out before the elections, we're actually unsure of what the White House wants – other than a second term.

It would seem that the easiest explanation for all the back-and-forthing is that it suddenly has occurred to Trump that giving out relief checks to Americans who have lost jobs to coronavirus might be a good idea after all.

We're left watching solely for the imperial word from Donald Trump as to whether people forced from their jobs can pay rent, eat and pay for health care in the midst of a pandemic.

The timing, days before the election, clearly is not coincidental.

It's not as if Democrats suddenly told the airlines to start layoffs of thousands, or for landlords to start demanding the rent from people put out of work with extra unemployment benefits running out by Labor Day.

Maybe the Republicans should keep a calendar for aid expiration.

Nevertheless, Trump has been far better at negotiating medical all-clear notes from his doctor than he has in forming anything that will get through Congress.

Last week, Trump shifted from withdrawing from any negotiation with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the shape and size of an aid package to a total turnaround promoting a package for which he claims ownership. He's offering far more agreement with Pelosi than with Senate Republicans, who oppose any substantial aid, though Pelosi thinks she already has compromised.

So, somehow this week, we can hope that there is an actual tangible deal for Congress to accept or reject.

The quick background here: As coronavirus continues to trample jobs around the country and forces a too-slow rebound, Pelosi and Democrats have been pushing for the big package they passed three months ago for individual checks, small business aid, education funds and help to depleted state and local government coffers. The White House, represented by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, has insisted on no aid for local governments, which Trump says will benefit what he sees as irresponsible spending by blue states.

In other words, what has held all this up is just plain partisan politics. Over the weekend, the maneuvering on all sides confirmed the primacy of finding a clause here or there that was objectionable, further dooming agreement.

Now, in the last days, Trump told his negotiators to "go big" in securing a package that will allow him to take credit for sending aid checks out just before the election – something that puts him at odds with Senate Republicans.

Spotlight on Trump

As usual, we're left watching solely for the imperial word from Trump as to whether people forced from their jobs can pay rent, eat and pay for health care in the midst of a pandemic.

"I would like to see a bigger stimulus package, frankly, than either the Democrats or the Republicans are offering," he said in a two-hour interview with conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. His $1.8 trillion proposal isn't actually larger than the $3 trillion voted by the House but represents far higher figures than those promoted by his own Republican majority in the Senate.

Trump has managed once again to have the spotlight, but he also has left pretty much all sides confused.

Perhaps Trump is more interested in his political image as a deciding voice than in the outcome. Still, media coverage of the issues here shows stacks and stacks of people who are pretty desperate for aid and financial markets that need certainty.

With any number of Republican senators insisting that they oppose the idea of adding trillions of dollars to the national debt, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has taken the odd role of simply looking at anything that can pass the Senate.

Plus, McConnell has indicated he is far more interested in using Senate time to confirm the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court than on argument, brief or prolonged, over an aid package.

With Trump trailing in the elections, it is not immediately clear that Trump's position even will result in a uniform Senate Republican response that helps him.

It's a mess, and whatever we call leadership is missing.

The Current Offer

In its $1.8 trillion offer, the White House made concessions to Pelosi and the Democrats, though apparently more will be needed.

For those wanting detail, the proposal includes $300 billion in emergency aid for cities and states, up from $250 billion, and money for airlines, restaurants, small businesses, unemployment insurance, food stamps and additional food aid for low-income women and children. Republicans also are offering direct payments of $1,000 per child — up from $500 — in addition to the $1,200 stimulus checks for individuals, rather than rely on future tax credits. But who knew a clause about health care money would raise objections from anti-abortion forces, for example?

What's noteworthy is that Trump needs the Democrats more than his Republican allies.

All parties are being pushed toward compromise.

The clearest reading here is who wants to avoid blame from voters for failing to deliver needed aid ahead of the election.

News outlets are reporting that there are plenty of private lobbying efforts under way on Trump, Pelosi and McConnell to provide some form of aid.

Stay tuned.

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