hearings

We arrived home from the UK just in time for the first primetime hearing of the findings of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Since that hearing held on June 9th, there have been three more during the daytime with several more on the schedule.

Because I follow the news closely, I had thought that the hearings might not be very revelatory for me but I have found them to be very powerful. Part of the impact is that the testimony is all under oath. While some of the information had been revealed by investigative reporting or published in books by various participants, one was never quite sure of the veracity of claims. Knowing that witnesses are sworn to tell the truth makes it more likely that they are, given that committing perjury before Congress or a court can result in imprisonment. The vast majority of the 1000+ people who have been interviewed in the investigation came forward voluntarily without being compelled by subpoena, so they intended to tell what they had seen and heard for the good of the country. The committee also has access to hundreds of thousands of pieces of evidence, enabling it to stitch together a detailed timeline of the web of activities that led to the January 6th attack as well as what happened on that day and in the aftermath.

In the daytime hearings, a different member of the Committee has taken the lead in questioning, sometimes paired with a member of the staff. The staff includes experienced lawyers and investigators who have done the lion’s share of the work with witnesses and evidence.

At this point, the Committee is providing a preliminary review of its findings; a written report will be issued later in the year. They are doing a very comprehensive job of laying out evidence in an organized and cogent way. It probably helps that many of the committee members are themselves lawyers with courtroom experience. Their questioning of live witnesses is very straightforward so that each witness can tell their story without the distraction of political grandstanding. Most of the witnesses, whether appearing live or in recorded clips, are Republican officeholders, officials, or staff, so that it is clear that the Committee is not just interviewing critics of the Trump administration or engaging in hearsay. The Committee is putting forth actual evidence that you would expect to find in a court of law.

Chair Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, presides and does opening and closing statements at each hearing; Vice-chair Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, also does opening and closing statements each time. She has been particularly vocal in calling out Trump and the Republicans who assisted him in the lies about the 2020 election that led to the Capitol attack.

The testimony has revealed some previously undisclosed details. For example, in the hearing that centered on threats to then Vice-president Mike Pence, we learned that attackers got within forty feet of him as he was being evacuated, that he refused to leave the Capitol grounds, and that he was acting as commander-in-chief in calling in the National Guard as Trump refused to act.

It’s sobering and terrifying to see through this evidence how close our country came to an actual collapse of our democracy. If Pence and Republican members of Congress had delayed certification in violation of the Constitution, there would likely have been widespread violence in all regions of the country; Trump would have declared martial law and it would have been very difficult to recover our democracy. It’s also chilling to see the continuing impacts on our electoral process. A number of states have enacted provisions that make it easier to disenfranchise voters or ignore their legally cast ballots. Supporters of the lies about the 2020 election are winning elected office in some states, enabling them to interfere with government from within.

It’s very tense to be in the middle of all this, gaining all this knowledge but not knowing if/when there will be consequences for those who engaged in wrongdoing. We know the Justice Department is investigating but we don’t know if they will charge Trump, members of his administration and staff, and members of Congress with crimes pertaining to attempts to stage a coup. The Committee will make recommendations for legal reforms to the Electoral Count Act and other measures to try to avert another attempt to interfere with the certification of the election. These should be widely endorsed and enacted with large majorities of both parties but it remains to be seen if they will.

It scares me that so many current Republicans still cling to lies about the 2020 election and refuse to take responsibility for their activities that supported it. Even after the attack, eight senators and 139 representatives voted against acceptance of some of Biden’s electors, even though there was no factual basis to do so. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, a Georgia Republican who led a group on a long tour of the House office buildings the day before the attack though the entire Capitol complex was closed to visitors due to the pandemic, is denying he did anything wrong, even with evidence that a member of the tour group was part of the January 6 mob. There are dozens of members of Congress who should resign over their shameful disregard for their oath to uphold the Constitution but there is not even the possibility of Republican votes in favor of censure, much less removal from Congress.

I’m trying to remain hopeful that these hearings will break through the denial bubble that surrounds many Republican voters. After being the only major broadcast/news outlet to not air the initial primetime hearing, Fox News has begun to provide some coverage. I think that the powers that be at Fox News knew that the hearings would be important because during the primetime hearing, they did not take their usual commercials breaks so that their viewers wouldn’t be tempted to check in on the hearings. It’s also important to remember that Fox News, despite its name, is not really a news channel. While there are actual journalists who work for Fox News, they only have a few hours of airtime per week. The vast majority of their programming is classified as “entertainment” with pundits/personalities who are not constrained by any standards of truthfulness or propriety. The breath-taking amount of fear-mongering that Fox News and other right-wing outlets echoes and engenders the civic divide that Trump and the Republicans created and which threatens our democracy.

If Republicans watch the hearings, they will hear a number of familiar people and themes. Retired Judge J. Michael Luttig, one of the most revered conservative jurists, was featured in one hearing, speaking about the current dangers to our democracy. A number of the witnesses have spoken about the role of their faith in their actions. Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers was particularly eloquent in this regard.

I have been moved by the real-world consequences for those who protected the integrity of the election and of the Capitol. Speaker Bowers’ account of the threats against him and his family, including harassment at his home as he and his wife attended to their terminally ill daughter. US Capitol Police Officer Caroline Edwards’ testimony on being injured on January 6th and still trying to aid her fellow officers in what amounted to hand-to-hand combat, not the policing work for which they had been trained. The appalling loss of any sense of safety or security for election workers Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby Freeman, including even the ability to use their own names in public for fear of being attacked after being repeatedly vilified by Trump, Giuliani, and their followers.

I will continue to watch the hearings and the analysis and urge all the people of the United States to do the same. I hope that they will mark a turning point for the electorate so that we can root out all those who have failed in their oaths to uphold the Constitution before it is too late.

The hearings are showing us how close we came to disaster and how little time we have to strengthen our democratic institutions against attack.

voting in the US

I’m tired of politicians in Republican-led states that are restricting voting practices boasting that their policies still make voting easier than in “liberal” New York.

I live in New York state and here’s the deal. New York has long had very cumbersome voting rules. Registration and changes in party affiliation had to be completed months in advance of election day. Absentee voting by mail was only for medical issues with a doctor’s letter or being out of the county on election day. Until the pandemic, there were no early voting days. When we did have some early voting for the November 2020 election due to the pandemic, I waited in line for three hours to cast my ballot. Fear of COVID was allowed as a medical exemption so voting by mail was easier in 2020 but those ballots were not counted for over a week.

I envied family and friends in other states where most of the voting was done by mail, often with ballots mailed routinely to registered voters. States with open primaries, same-day registration, weeks of early voting days. States where it was not as cumbersome to fulfill the fundamental responsibility of being a citizen.

Because of the election interference problems of 2016, there had been a lot of preparations done to make the 2020 election more secure. The pandemic added another layer of complexity but the election was very successful with high turnout and accurate results reported. There were only scattered instances of voter fraud. Despite the vociferous and continuing lies from the former president and other Republicans, the election was free and fair. Dozens of recounts, audits, and court cases have upheld the results.

That is not to say that there were no problems. In my Congressional district, New York 22, the vote count was so close that it had not been certified when the new Congress first met in early January. During the January 6 attack, there was no representative from my district huddled in the House chamber and then evacuated to a safer location. The contested election results wound up in court. One of the main issues was that one of the counties did not process new voter registrations even though they arrived before the deadline. When those people appeared to vote, they were not allowed to cast ballots, which was significant in a district where only a few dozen votes separated the candidates. The court allowed the vote count to stand, seating the Republican candidate who had won in 2016 in place of the Democratic incumbent who had beaten her in 2018.

In a way, this foreshadows some of the efforts underway in various states to make registering and voting more difficult for people who are deemed likely to vote for Democrats. This has variously been applied to people of color, urban dwellers, elders, college students, and Latinx populations, depending on the state. For example, in Texas, a handgun license is accepted as identification for voting but a student ID is not. There have also been moves to close polling locations in certain areas, for example, to create long lines to vote in majority black neighborhoods while white neighborhoods have more polling places with only a few minutes’ wait. We also see increased amounts of gerrymandering, whereby districts are drawn in convoluted ways to dilute the voting power of a group, whether that is regarding political party, race, or ethnicity.

These kinds of voter suppression tactics and interference in representation have been around for a long time but are worse now than in recent US history due to Supreme Court decisions in 2013 and 2021 which made much of the 1965 Voting Rights Act unenforceable.

What is even more unsettling are the new laws in some states that are empowering partisans to determine which of the votes cast get counted and which get thrown out. The counting of valid votes should be totally straightforward and non-partisan. It’s math. Inserting politics means that it’s possible for electoral college votes to be awarded to the candidate who lost the popular vote in the state, perhaps overseen by the state legislature. We have seen a frightening example of this already with several states sending fraudulent slates of electors for Trump in states where Biden won the popular vote. We have just learned that these cases are being investigated by the Department of Justice.

There have been several bills in Congress to try to address these problems. They have passed the House but not the Senate where they have been impeded by the filibuster that would need ten Republicans to join with the Democratic caucus to advance the bills for a vote.

It’s shameful that Republicans are not standing up for democracy and the right of all citizens to participate in free and fair elections. They are apparently afraid that, if everyone votes and all the votes are counted accurately in fairly drawn districts, they will lose elections and power.

They should, though, be prioritizing our democratic principles and highest ideals. The last time the Voting Rights Act was re-authorized in 2006 it passed in the Senate 98-0 with 17 currently serving Republican senators supporting it. The Voting Rights Act originally targeted black voter suppression in certain jurisdictions with known discriminatory practices and the Supreme Court considered these formulae outdated. The current legislation under consideration goes further in securing voting rights for all in that it addresses a wider range of problems over the country that have appeared or been threatened over time. It would help voters in Democrat-led states like New York as well as Republican-led states like Florida.

Some have argued that the courts will prevent injustice but that does not always happen, as we found in the case in NY-22 where voters were disenfranchised without redress. We are also seeing, unfortunately, cases where judges are acting in a partisan way rather than an impartial, merits-of-the-case way.

Our Constitution begins, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union”. Over our history, voting has been restricted by race, age, gender, and wealth. As we strive to “form a more perfect Union,” we must ensure that all adult American citizens have equal access to voting, whatever their race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, political opinions, education, place of residence, or health status. We need just and enforceable laws to make that possible. I call on all members of Congress to support their fellow citizens in order to make our union stronger and “more perfect”.
*****
Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2022/01/27/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-27th-2022/

what?

After the January sixth insurrection and the inauguration of Joe Biden, I thought that most Republican members of Congress would decide to fulfill their Constitutional duty and cooperate in governing the nation.

I was spectacularly wrong.

Instead, the vast majority of the Republican members have decided to lie about the fact that the insurrectionists were supporters of Donald Trump who injured police officers and sought to intimidate and harm the vice president and Congresspeople. They are also lying about the integrity and outcome of the election, despite the fact that there were Republican observers and officeholders who oversaw the election and certified the results in every locality and state.

Joe Biden is the duly elected and serving president of the United States under the Constitution and the laws of the United States.

Any member of Congress who does not give assent and support to that should resign immediately as they have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution.

For the House members, all of whom run for two-year terms and so were also in races in November 2020, how can they say with a straight face that the results in the presidential race were fraudulent but that their own elections were valid? They ran on the same ballot.

The few Republicans who are standing up for election integrity are being maligned by their colleagues and the state Republican apparatus. The most salient battle at the moment involves Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming. She is the current House Republican Conference Chair, the third highest leader of the caucus. She is also the daughter of Dick Cheney, who was vice president under George W. Bush. She is very conservative, which used to be a hallmark of the Republican party. Because of her principles, she weighed the evidence and voted to impeach Donald Trump for inciting the insurrection. She also acknowledges that Joe Biden won a free and fair election and is now legitimately serving as president.

Although she retained her leadership post in a secret ballot of the caucus in February, there is likely to be another vote in the coming week that will remove her from the House leadership.

Given that the Republican party has overwhelmingly turned into the Trump party, I think that Liz Cheney and the handful of other Republicans in Congress that have retained their Constitutional and conservative principles should create a new conservative Congressional caucus. This caucus could engage in good faith negotiations with the Democratic leadership to give input and amendments to legislation with the prospect for voting in favor of the legislation when it gets to the floor.

While there are currently some Republican members of Congress talking to the Democratic leadership and the White House on bills, the Republican leadership, especially in the Senate, have made clear that no Republicans will vote in favor of any legislation proposed by Biden and the Democrats. I don’t know what would happen if Cheney in the House and Senators Romney, Collins, and/or Murkowski in the Senate formed a conservative caucus. The Republican party might throw them out, saying they could no longer run as Republicans in their states. In that case, they could either run as independents or form their own conservative party. Indeed, Murkowski has previously won an independent write-in campaign in Alaska and Collins, who just won re-election and won’t be on the ballot again until 2026, serves the state of Maine whose other senator, Angus King, is an independent who caucuses with the Democrats.

Anyone who joined the conservative caucus might lost their next election because of it.

At least, they would lose knowing that as public servants they had stood up for their country and their principles at a time when our democracy is under grave threat.

It’s what patriots do.

Biden’s speech

Last night, President Biden addressed a joint session of Congress, although only a fraction of the members and a few guests and the press were present because of COVID limits on large indoor gatherings.

The real intended audience, though, is the American public among whom the president’s speech was well-received. A CBS/YouGov poll found 85% approval among Americans who watched the speech.

For me, it was easy to see why.

For over forty years, the federal government has been characterized as an obstacle rather than a solution to the problems everyday Americans face. We were told that tax cuts for wealthy corporations and individuals would “trickle down” to create more jobs, that spending on public projects was wasteful “pork barrel”, that our education and health systems were unparalleled, that hard work led to personal prosperity, that is was okay for Republican administrations to run huge deficits – in part to wage unfunded wars – but not for Democratic administrations.

Although many of us understood that the country was in trouble before the pandemic, 2020 revealed the weak state of our national government and the precariousness of most people’s lives. It showed the nation how dependent we are on what are now called essential workers, most of whom are poorly paid and who often don’t have even basic benefits like paid sick leave and health insurance. We saw the rates of illness and death, staggering in and of themselves, disproportionately higher among people of color and those in the lowest socioeconomic circumstances. We saw that most of our school buildings could not be made safe for staff and students and that many students and families did not have the proper resources available for remote learning. We saw our medical systems pushed beyond their limits. We saw vast inequality in outcomes among states because the Trump administration refused to lead in a time of national and international crisis.

I could go on but I think that this sets the stage for those who may not be familiar with life in the US.

After a major presidential address to Congress, the opposition party gives a response. Last night, this task fell to Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. He claimed that, as Biden was inaugurated on January 20th, the nation was on the upswing. If the Republican leadership truly believes that, they are delusional. January 20th was only two weeks after the insurrection that breached the Capitol building where they meet for the first time in over 200 years. The country suffered 4,380 COVID deaths on January 20th, on its way to what would become the deadliest month of the pandemic in the US to date.

The country was in a fragile, precarious state.

One hundred days of competent and compassionate national leadership makes a huge difference.

Experiencing that change is what made Biden’s speech so popular and, more importantly, what makes his policy proposals and how to pay for them popular, as well. The American people want good transportation systems, water/sewer systems, electrical grid, communication systems, and fast internet service. They want high-quality affordable health care. They want a strong education system available to everyone regardless of where they live. They want high-quality care for children, elders, and anyone who is sick or vulnerable. They want to be treated with dignity. They want to live in safety. They want to be paid wages that can support themselves and their families in the present and that enable them to save for the future.

They see other advanced democracies manage to do those things, while the United States has been falling behind. Instead, wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the top 1% of individuals and corporations, some of whom pay their executives huge sums while some of their employees need public assistance programs to have enough to eat and to pay rent. Many of the wealthiest people make most of their income from investments rather than from salaries, so they pay tax at a much lower rate.

This is why the Biden proposals to raise revenue from the highest income earners are popular with the public. All of the revenue for the programs would be raised from those with income over $400,000. The changes in the capital gains rates would only impact those over $1,000,000 in income. There is also a proposal to increase audits for high-income earners and to make it harder to avoid income taxes by using off-shore tax shelters. The corporate tax rate which was slashed by the Republicans in the 2017 tax bill would rise, although not to the level it was before that bill was passed.

This all strikes most Americans as fair.

We are in a bizarre situation where many Republican voters and local/state officeholders are in favor of Biden’s proposals but Republican members of Congress are opposed. The national Republican party is beholden to rich donors and is going to need to decide if they want to get on board and seriously negotiate with Democrats on these bills and then support the final product to benefit the people of their districts or if they are going to obstruct everything the Democrats try to do.

Now is the time that each member of Congress needs to remember that they are sworn to uphold the Constitution and are there to serve the people, not their party leadership.

It’s time to fulfill their promise in the Preamble to “promote the general welfare.”

filibuster update

Here at Top of JC’s Mind, I sometimes – and more frequently in recent years – wade into the political waters of the US. Last October, I mentioned the Senate filibuster and my hopes that is would be reformed, tangentially in this post and fleshed out a bit in the comments.

Remarkably, these early weeks of the Biden administration have given rise to a lot of public discussion of the filibuster and how this arcane Senate rule might be reformed or eliminated so that legislation can pass the Senate by majority vote rather than needing 60 of 100 senators to end debate and proceed to a vote. This is called “invoking cloture.”

For decades, filibusters and cloture votes were rare. Maddeningly, filibusters were used to attempt to derail legislation on civil rights, voting rights, labor rights, and anti-lynching. (Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell has tried to argue that the filibuster was not used as a racist tool, but this twitter thread from Kevin Kruse proves him wrong with a long, but not exhaustive, list of past racially-motivated filibusters.)

During the Obama presidency, McConnell and the Republicans frequently used the filibuster to slow or prevent approving appointments and to keep legislation from reaching the floor for a vote. This was possible because all a senator needed to do was to say they wanted to filibuster and it would take sixty votes to end it, which, with all the Republicans sticking together, meant that there were never enough votes to invoke cloture and proceed to a vote. This led to a rule change that appointments were not subject to the filibuster, though other kinds of legislation still were.

One of the reforms to the process currently being discussed is to require that a senator wanting to filibuster must stay on the Senate floor and speak on the bill being debated. This revives the practice that was in place until 1975, although senators then weren’t required to speak on the bill and could read from the phone book or cookbooks or talk about totally unrelated topics.

There is also a proposal to change the cloture vote. Rather than needing sixty votes to end the debate, which puts the burden on the majority, the new rule would be that 40 or 41 senators would need to vote to continue the debate. This preserves the ability of the minority to put forth their arguments on something they feel strongly about but requires them to put forth effort to do so.

The hope is that these two reforms would break the stranglehold on bills that became so stark during the Obama administration. It might also engender more bipartisan bills actually making it to the Senate floor for a vote. (Mitch McConnell famously once filibustered his own bill when it became clear that President Obama would sign the bill into law. McConnell valued gridlock over governing.)

Or, given that it is just a Senate rule and not a law, the filibuster could be eliminated. Many think this would be the simplest path, but a few Democratic senators are vehemently opposed to ending it totally, although the impetus for reform is definitely gaining momentum.

While I had hoped that, under President Biden who was a long-time senator, some of the more moderate Republicans would want to vote for common-sense and popular bills such as the American Rescue Plan, we have yet to see that happen. The American Rescue Plan, despite its popularity with the public and its many provisions that benefit people in their states, garnered no votes from Republicans in Congress; it passed with a simple majority in the Senate due to special budgetary rules that prevented a filibuster.

There are now some popular and much-needed bills that have passed the House that will become test cases on whether or not bipartisan support is possible or whether it will take filibuster reform or elimination to get them on the floor for a vote. The For the People Act (H.R. 1/S. 1) addresses voting rights, campaign finance reform, government ethics, gerrymandering, and election security. Further voting rights issues are addressed in the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would help to restore provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which the Supreme Court struck down in 2013, on the grounds that these racial provisions were now obsolete. Sadly, we have seen evidence that they are not, as efforts are now underway in 43 states to restrict voting access to certain groups of people, including by making it harder for people of color to vote or by making it more difficult for students or elders to register and vote by mail.

There are two House-passed gun safety bills, one on universal background checks and one extending the time the FBI has to vet purchasers to ten days instead of the current three. Both of these measures have broad public support, including among Republicans and gunowners. An increase in the federal minimum wage is very popular with the public, as are bills to re-build our infrastructure, increase our production of goods and green energy to create sustainable jobs, and to increase taxes on the very wealthy.

If bills like these pass the House and appear on the Senate floor, what will the Republicans do? Will they vote yes in accord with their constituents? Will they filibuster to stop a vote from occurring? If they do decide to filibuster, they risk the Democrats reforming the filibuster, voting that certain kinds of bills such as voting rights are not subject to it, or eliminating it all together.

Fingers crossed that whatever scenario unfolds, these laws will be enacted for the common good. We have been waiting for Congress to actually participate in governing in the way the Constitution sets before them.

One-Liner Wednesday: Liz Cheney

There has never been a greater betrayal by a President of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution.
~ Rep. Liz Cheney (Republican of Wyoming) from her statement saying that she will vote in favor of the impeachment resolution against Donald Trump over his “incitement of insurrection”

This sobering quote is part of Linda’s One-Liner Wednesdays and Just Jot It January. Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2021/01/13/one-liner-wednesday-jusjojan-the-13th-2021-snow-carolers/

Calling on Republican Senators

As I write this, the US presidential race has not yet been called, although it is likely to be called later this weekend for Joe Biden. This would mean that Kamala Harris, as vice president, would preside over the Senate, with the power to break tied votes.

We also don’t know what the final make-up of the Senate will be and we won’t know until January as the state of Georgia, in a highly unusual circumstance, will have run-off elections for both of their Senate seats in January.

Regardless of the final composition of the Senate in 2021, I am making a plea to those Republican senators who actually want to help craft legislation and govern the country rather than engage in obstruction under the leadership of Sen. Mitch McConnell.

I think that those senators should form their own caucus. Their first act would be to vote for Sen. Chuck Schumer as majority leader, so that House-passed legislation would actually be considered in the Senate rather than gathering dust on McConnell’s desk as it has been.

They would then meet with the Democratic caucus on a regular basis to offer their ideas for advancing bipartisan solutions to the nation’s problems, which could then be enacted and signed into law. I’m sure that the Democrats would gladly agree to this solution to the Senate gridlock that has prevailed for years.

In my mind, some senators who might consider such an initiative are Sen. Romney of Utah, Sen. Collins of Maine, Sen. Murkowski of Alaska, and Sen. Toomey of Pennsylvania. Perhaps Sen. Sasse of Nebraska. They would not necessarily have to leave the Republican party to become independents, although some with strong support in their home states might be able to do that, thus obviating the threat of a primary challenger.

A lot would depend on what becomes of the Republican party without Trump as president. Will it attempt to revert to being a traditional conservative party or continue in the rather haphazard counter-factual populism it has exhibited in recent years? Would even the willingness to engage in bipartisanship be enough for the Republican leadership to kick out any senators who dared to attempt it?

In the House, the Democrats will still hold a small majority, but there might be some Republicans willing to form a similar caucus to help craft and advance bipartisan legislation.

Joe Biden has a long history of bipartisan cooperation as a senator and as vice president and has been speaking for months about restoring unity to our deeply fractured country.

Republican members of Congress, how do you respond to this call? You swear an oath to the Constitution which proclaims that our government is to “form a more perfect union” and to “promote the general welfare”.

Are you willing to act for the good of all people or only that segment that voted for you?

Update: A few minutes after I posted this, Joe Biden was projected the winner and is now President-elect. This will mean Vice-President Kamala Harris will preside over the Senate and have the power to break tie votes.

JC’s Confessions #16

In the first few seasons of The Late Show, Stephen Colbert did a recurring skit, now a best-selling book, called Midnight Confessions, in which he “confesses” to his audience with the disclaimer that he isn’t sure these things are really sins but that he does “feel bad about them.” While Stephen and his writers are famously funny, I am not, so my JC’s Confessions will be somewhat more serious reflections, but they will be things that I feel bad about. Stephen’s audience always forgives him at the end of the segment; I’m not expecting that – and these aren’t really sins – but comments are always welcome.

JC

I should be watching the Senate Judiciary committee’s hearings on the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court right now.

I can’t bring myself to do it.

There are a lot of reasons.

First, it renews my sorrow at the loss of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Second, it is difficult to cope with the nomination going forward under the current circumstances. There is the proximity to the election with voters already casting their ballots and the hypocrisy of the Republicans in moving forward with the confirmation process when they would not allow a hearing for President Obama’s nominee in 2016 many months before the election. There is also the fact that the Senate is not in session due to several senators being COVID positive; if it isn’t safe to be in session, in-person hearings should not be held, either.

Third, I’m leery of how the subject of religion will be handled. Like me, Judge Barrett is Roman Catholic, as are five current members of the Supreme Court with a sixth having been raised Catholic. In a country that is predominantly Protestant, it seems odd to have so many Catholics on the Court. I realize that justices make determinations on the basis of the law, but there are times that some of the arguments made in cases cross into religious belief and the Catholic hierarchy sometimes makes arguments that are factually incorrect. For example, some recent cases have upheld employers’ refusal to offer birth control in the medical insurance of women employees on the grounds that birth control is abortifacient, which, while taught by the Catholic bishops, is not medically true. Likewise, you see arguments that same-sex marriage is an assault on religious freedom even though it is a civil law; while some religions choose to offer ceremonies for same-sex couples, no religion is compelled to do so.

Fourth, I remain suspicious of the originalist/textualist bent that Judge Barrett exhibits. That judicial philosophy fails to account for how the meaning of words changes over time. In my view, one of the strengths of our Constitution and laws is that it can be interpreted in the light of new circumstances. Let’s face facts: many of the men who wrote the Constitution were slaveholders who never envisaged that one day Blacks, women, and people who don’t own property would be voters. Many modern issues could not have been imagined by people in the 18th century.

However, some issues that were clearly spelled out in the legal writings of the 18th century are ignored by originalists when it suits them. For example, the second amendment very clearly places the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia” but originalists often ignore that part of the text and original intent. It’s also very clear that the Founders understood that corporations are not people; a future Supreme Court may someday strike down the Citizens United ruling on that basis.

I don’t know what will happen with this nomination or with the Court in the coming years, but, right now, I can’t bear to watch.

DT and COVID

As I’m sure the whole world knows, the president of the United States is hospitalized with COVID-19. It’s been a bit difficult to get the straight facts on his condition, but it is increasingly looking like his case is on the more severe side.

He does have multiple risk factors, including his age, gender, and weight. He is being treated aggressively by his medical team, including with an experimental antibody treatment and with remdesivir. These are both given early in the course of the disease to help the body fend off the virus.

Today, though, it was revealed that the president is being given the steroid dexamethasone, which is usually given only to more severe cases later in the disease course, when there are significant lung complications and/or the need for a ventilator.

The medical team is even talking about the possibility of discharging him back to the White House, which does have its own sophisticated medical unit, tomorrow.

This doesn’t seem to add up. If his condition warrants dexamethasone, it would seem best to keep him in the hospital for close observation.

Another concern is that days seven through ten of COVID often see an exacerbation of symptoms. The president is only on day four. It seems it would be much safer to keep him in the hospital. It’s not as though he is cramped for space or lacking amenities in the presidential suite at Walter Reed; besides medical care, it also has its own secure conference room and kitchen/dining space.

I also wish that the president would temporarily sign over powers to Vice-president Pence in accordance with Article 25 of the Constitution. We know that the president has suffered with a high fever and times when his blood oxygen level has dropped below normal. COVID is nothing if not unpredictable. Foreign powers could take a provocative action, surmising that the president would not be well enough to respond appropriately. I think it would be safer for the country to have the vice-president, as long as he remains well, exercise the presidential powers until the president is fully recovered. Pence can always confer with president when his symptoms are well-controlled, but he would have the power to respond on his own if the president were to be unwell when a crisis arose.

The president and First Lady’s illness with COVID would be problematic enough, but a number of senators and other government and campaign staff and advisors have also been infected or exposed. Because the incubation period can extend to fourteen days, there are many people who should be in quarantine to make sure they don’t expose others while pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic. Somehow, despite the seriousness of the situation, Sen. Mitch McConnell plans to push ahead with the confirmation hearing of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. He considers that worth the risk, while he won’t put the latest House-passed coronavirus relief package up for a vote.

Voters, pay attention to how candidates on your ballot are handling this health and governmental crisis. Are they prioritizing your and the country’s health and well-being or their own power?

SoCS: mail

One of the big news stories in the United States this week has been changes in the postal service.

Let’s start with the cons.

The postmaster general, a recent Trump appointee who is a major Trump donor and who has no experience with the postal service other than owning stock in USPS competitors and contractors, has implemented allegedly cost-cutting measures, among them removal of large sorting machines that are especially useful for large mailings, removal of postal boxes where folks can mail envelopes and small packages without having to go to the post office, sending letter carriers out on their routes even when the mail has not all been sorted so that mail is getting left behind, and not allowing letter carriers to go back out on a second pass.

This results in mail delivery being delayed, which is annoying for senders and recipients. Sometimes, it is even dangerous as many seniors, veterans, and just members of the general public receive medications through the mail. It’s also difficult for the many, many businesses and consumers who are using delivery of goods rather than shopping in-person. It affects even businesses that use private carriers like United Parcel because many of them use the USPS as a so-called “last mile” service, delivering the packages to the local post office rather than to the door of the final recipient.

The postal service also informed at least 46 states and the District of Columbia that it might not be able to delivery ballots for the November election in a timely way, risking the integrity of accurate counting of votes.

The removal of postal boxes makes it difficult for people to get mail sent, especially if they can’t get mail picked up from their home and don’t live within walking distance of their post office.

Removing equipment is causing delays in delivery. While the changes were supposed to result in cuts to overtime, in many places the changes have resulted in increased overtime because things are not able to be done in the most efficient way.

I can’t come up with a single “pro” for the public, who overwhelmingly approve of the USPS, which is unusual for any part of the government. The postal service is as old as the country and is established in the Constitution itself!

The president in an interview this week described/admitted to a “pro” for him – that the election in November that is anticipated to involve lots of voting by mail due to the pandemic making in-person voting more risky will not be able to move forward effectively. The president opposes increased funding for the postal service which is included in the HEROES Act that has passed the House but is not being considered in the Senate, which is now on break through Labor Day in September.

The general public and some members of Congress are pushing back. Yesterday, the USPS postmaster general halted the removal of mail collection boxes until after the election. This is a start, but much more needs to be done to reverse the other changes and to make sure that all ballots (and other mail) gets delivered in a timely way.

The sad and infuriating thing is that the president himself revealed that the whole thing is a con.

Which many of us suspected.

You’re also not a very good con man if you give the con away.

*****
Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week is “pro/con.” Join us! Find out how here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/08/14/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-aug-15-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

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