Another “week that was”

I’ve been meaning to write a post all week, but couldn’t settle my mind enough to do it.

Now it’s Saturday and I probably still have not settled my mind enough, but am plunging in regardless.

I’ve written often about how disconcerting and bizarre it is to be living in the United States in 2020. The national government is dysfunctional, although I am fortunate to be living in New York State with a competent governor, Andrew Cuomo, so there is some sense of stability, despite the public health and economic fallout from the pandemic.

The sad news on the national pandemic front this week was surpassing seven millions known cases. This comes on the heels of passing 200,000 known COVID deaths, which means that the United States, with about 4% of the world’s population, has suffered about 20% of global deaths. This is a result of the incompetence of the president and his administration. The staggering news this week is that the administration is saying that they could overrule the Food and Drug Administration and grant an emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine even if the FDA does not feel that there is enough data yet to show that the vaccine is safe and effective. The president has been hinting about having a vaccine approved before the November third election, even though phase three trials only began in the United States in July. (My spouse, daughter, and I are part of the Pfizer vaccine study. You can find my posts about it by using the search box here at Top of JC’s Mind.) This threat of political interference from the White House comes on top of recent revelations that political appointees have interfered with what the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publish on their official website and the stunning statements by Olivia Troye, a national security specialist who until recently served on the staff of Vice-President Mike Pence and was assigned to the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

This week also saw the public memorials for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. There was a remembrance service at the Supreme Court to open two days of public viewing there, followed by a service and a day of lying in state at the Capitol building where Congress meets. She was the first woman and the first person of the Jewish faith to be so honored. Her burial will be at Arlington National Cemetery next week, after the conclusion of the High Holy Days. Meanwhile, the president and Republican senators are intent on rushing through a replacement even though the election is so close. This is against Justice Ginsburg’s dying wish that the president elected in November choose her successor and against the path that those same Republican senators took when Justice Scalia died in early 2016, when the election was much further away.

What has been most disheartening is that Trump, Attorney General William Barr, and others in the administration has increased their rhetoric about the unfairness of the election itself. Even though absentee voting by mail is a long-established, safe, and secure practice in the United States, they are trying to say it is a source of wide-spread fraud. It is not! The head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and state and local election officials have said over and over that they have procedures in place to verify ballots and that election fraud is exceedingly rare and small-scale when it has occurred.

There will likely be many, many more citizens voting by mail this year because the public health risk of crowded polling stations has led millions of people who would ordinarily have voted on election day to request absentee ballots. Because of state laws, most of these ballots that arrive by mail or by delivery to election boards will not be counted until after election day. This means that, absent a clear landslide victory, the winner won’t be known for some number of days after the election. People will need to be patient while votes are counted and certified.

Trump has seized on the delay, intimating that not knowing the outcome immediately means that there is fraud. What it really means is that each state is carefully following their rules to ensure a full and free count. The count could have proceeded more quickly if the Senate had passed and the president signed the House’s HEROES Act, which included money to help states with additional machinery, training, and staff to deal with the expected increase in mail-in ballots. Instead, the Trump administration further gummed up the system by slowing mail delivery, which caused problems in the primaries in some states by delaying election mail so much that ballots were thrown out for arriving too late.

The presidential election system in the US is complicated. The winner is not necessarily the one who wins the popular vote, but depends on the winner of each state and how many members of Congress they have. This gives more power to small states and was how Trump became president even though he lost the popular vote by three million. There are reports that Trump and Barr are looking at a scenario where they would file court cases to try to throw out absentee ballots and allow Republican-controlled state legislatures to choose Republican electors, even if Biden wins the vote within the state. The level of corruption involved is staggering.

Meanwhile, the president is giving away the plan by refusing to say there would be a peaceful transfer of power, intimating that “the ballots are a disaster.” Trump and the Republicans also seems to be in a hurry to have nine justices on the Supreme Court so that there wouldn’t be a tie if the election lands there as the 2000 Bush-Gore race did.

It seems that the president’s re-election strategy isn’t to convince the majority of citizens to vote for him but to find loopholes to stay in power even though the majority want Biden to become president. It’s especially terrifying because the president’s rhetoric has become even more disconnected from reality. He tells his supporters lies about Biden’s positions on issues. He encourages violence against those who disagree with him and says that he will give legal protection to those who are caught in wrongdoing on his behalf. And, by the way, Russia and other state actors are also throwing misinformation into the mix.

Almost five hundred national security experts endorsed Joe Biden this week, saying that the current president is not up to “the enormous responsibilities of his office.” It’s hard to conclude otherwise when I look at the millions of folks who are suffering from COVID impacts, injustice, hunger, and lack of livelihood. That there might be election shenanigans that continue the Trump presidency is more than I can bear to contemplate.

And the hits just keep on comin’…

Our wonderful family news has been a welcome distraction from the ever-evolving disaster of living in the United States right now.

We now have had over 5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States, which is appalling and could and should have been averted. (For perspective, the US has about 4% of the world’s population but about 23% of the world’s cases.) I live in New York State and have posted a number of times how Governor Cuomo and his team followed the science and data to bring our once highest in the world levels down to about a 1% positive test rate. The daily fatalities once in the hundreds, is down to single digits. Businesses and services have been re-opening carefully and slowly, so our transmission rate has stayed very low for weeks. In September, schools will be allowed to re-open, with most choosing a hybrid model with a small subset of students in physical attendance on any given day with the bulk of instruction still happening online. As with everything else the state has done, data will determine if adjustments or temporary closures are needed to keep students, staff, and their families as safe as possible.

Many other states are having large numbers of cases, overwhelmed hospitals, and deaths, but are still opening schools, bars, gyms, and other businesses as though there wasn’t a pandemic going on. It’s as though they live in an alternate reality promoted by the president where coronavirus is just “sniffles” and the virus will “just disappear.”

Meanwhile, people are sick and dying.

Millions more are unemployed and/or impoverished. Most of the previously passed federal relief measures expired at the end of July. The House had passed the HEROES Act in May, which would have extended and expanded them, but the Senate didn’t take up the bill or craft a comprehensive plan of their own, despite the fact that the vast majority of economists, even conservative ones, say that a large-scale plan is needed to keep the economy from sinking into a depression.

Strangely, negotiations were going on between the Democratic Congressional leadership and White House chief of staff and Treasury Secretary; you would think that the Congressional Republican leadership would have been there as well, but they left town instead. Yesterday, the president announced some executive orders to address some of the issues, but they will almost certainly by found unconstitutional because Congress controls federal taxes and spending. We are dealing with not only the pain of the pandemic and its consequences but also with the shredding of our Constitutional federal government.

On top of this, the intelligence community has announced that several foreign powers are interfering in our upcoming election, partly be spreading and amplifying misinformation. Meanwhile, the president is casting doubt on the validity of our voting process, undermining confidence in voting by mailing in ballots (except in states with Republican governors, some of whom have purged large numbers of minority, student, and potentially Democratic voters from the rolls), and, through a crony as Postmaster General, slowing down the mail service. The president even floated the idea of delaying the election, something that is not at all in his power.

With both domestic and foreign interference at play, it may be difficult to mount a fair election. (By the way, the HEROES Act allocates money for both the postal service and for state election boards.) I am hoping that the vast majority of people will behave in a responsible, ethical, and legal way, so that the election really does reflect the will of all the citizens.

I don’t want to imagine what will happen if the election is unfair or disputed.

awesome

I have been watching major chunks of the impeachment proceedings against Donald John Trump, as he is officially referred to in the impeachment and trial.

The House managers, members of the House of Representatives who act a prosecutors, have been impressive in presenting their case, as well as pointing out which documents and testimony they have subpoenaed, but not received, which relates to the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress. (The first article is abuse of power, which, in this trial, is related to solicitation of Ukraine for help in the president’s election bid.)

The House managers take turns presenting evidence in a very methodical way, using video clips, emails, phone records, etc. to make their case. They are all well-prepared and well-spoken, but one is especially awesome – Representative Adam Schiff of California.

Rep. Schiff was a federal prosecutor and has comprehensive knowledge of the law. He chairs the Senate Intelligence committee, which did most of the fact-finding in the case, and was named lead House manager. As such, he has acted as the “closer” for the presentations, speaking with conviction and, at times, passion about the United States, our laws, and our futures. I found the closing of the second day of testimony to be especially powerful.

There was some talk, although not from him, that Adam Schiff might run for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. I’m glad that he didn’t, because he is exactly where our country needs him the most right now, speaking up for the Constitution and laws and against corruption.

The case that he and the other House managers have made is so compelling that I am frightened when I hear that some Republican members of Congress are dismissing them totally and that the president will engage in even more corrupt behavior, knowing he will not have to suffer the consequences for his actions.

I am terrified for both the short-term and the long-term consequences for our democracy if a president is allowed to be so openly corrupt and is not removed from office. With Rep. Schiff, I believe, “Right matters and the truth matters.”
*****
Usually when I post on Saturdays, I follow Linda’s Stream of Consciousness prompt. This week’s involved writing about the last unsolicited business call we received, but, between caller id, do not call registry, and new spam blocking, I don’t receive those kinds of calls anymore. Instead, you are subjected to more non-stream-of-consciousness posting on the ongoing impeachment trial of Donald John Trump. I’m sure that is more painful than unsolicited business calls.

But, please visit Linda here, and join the fun for Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January.

Blowout by Rachel Maddow

One of the most impressive parts of Rachel Maddow’s book Blowout is the end. No, not the index, but the twenty pages of “Notes on Sources.” I had often found myself thinking as I read the text, “How could she possibly know this level of detail?” but I know that Rachel Maddow and her staff are very dedicated to research and accuracy, so I didn’t doubt the veracity of the stories she was relating. I was pleased to see the “Notes on Sources” because she lists the books, papers, interviews, news stories, videos, magazines, etc. that she had used to find the facts, giving readers a chance to learn more and showing that she and her staff had, indeed, been diligent in their research.

The full title of the book is Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. That industry is, of course, the oil and gas industry.

Because of my many years in the anti-fracking and climate justice movements, I was familiar with the broad outlines of much of the oil and gas industry story. I appreciated the abundance of details on topics such as Oklahoma, the depths to which it rises or falls on fossil fuel dollars, earthquakes and induced seismicity, and the rise of Oklahoma City, including its entance into the world of big-league sports. I knew that Russia used its fossil fuel exports as a cudgel and that Putin and his oligarchs ran roughshod over whomever stood in their way, but hadn’t realized all the factors involved, including the immensity of the impact of US sanctions that stopped Rex Tillerson’s ExxonMobil from assisting Russian Arctic drilling and spearheaded Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

I was less familiar with the expressions of the “resource curse” in other parts of the world, such as Equatorial Guinea. These stories illustrate how the proceeds of the oil and gas industry flow to the already powerful leaders of government and industry and not to the general populations of the countries, who often remain mired in poverty and ecological devastation.

While I brought a considerable amount of personal background/geekery to my reading, the book is equally as enjoyable and informative for those who know little of the industry. Maddow’s writing is clear and compelling. Much of the book reads like literature, with compelling, recurring characters, rich details, and unexpected plot twists. That the stories are all true heightens their impact.

That we are continuing to deal with the repercussions of the events in this book makes reading it that much more important.
*****
Please join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out more here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/06/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-6th-2020/

uncharted territory

I can’t even count how many times during the Trump campaign and presidency I have heard historians, policy experts, and commentators say that we are in “uncharted territory.” It’s bewildering as each new scandal breaks, only to be swallowed up by the next one.

The story that has been breaking over the last few days is that a whistleblower from the intelligence community went to the inspector general with an issue of concern. The inspector general found the issue credible and urgent and, as statute dictates, told the (acting) Secretary of Homeland Security who was supposed to send the information on to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, who have oversight duties. Instead, he brought the concern to the executive branch, in this case to the White House and the Department of Justice. He is now refusing to pass the information on to the committees because the person under question is not part of the intelligence community, even though the  statute is clear that the information must be handed over regardless of who is the subject.

Partial information about the case has been sussed out by the press. Apparently, the whistleblower was alarmed by a pattern of behavior by the president toward Ukraine. Part of the problem seems to be that Trump pressured the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation of former vice-president Joe Biden and his son; Joe Biden is one of the top tier Democratic contenders vying to run against Trump for the presidency in 2020. Trump now admits discussing the matter with the president of Ukraine, although he says he didn’t “pressure” him. If, however, the allegation is true that DT did pressure the Ukrainian president, he could be investigated for extortion, campaign finance violations, and courting foreign influence in a US election. He could also be charged with obstruction for not turning over evidence in a Congressional investigation.

And this new issue is on top of the possible obstruction of justice acts described in the second half of the Mueller report.

And the emoluments case wending its way through the courts and under investigation by the House.

And keeping members of his cabinet and staff, present and former, from cooperating with document requests and testimony, which is also obstruction.

And he hasn’t turned over tax returns for himself and his businesses, despite valid Congressional requests and New York state court subpoenas.

This is not a complete list.

The level of corruption is staggering.

What is needed at this point is for Congressional Republicans to step up and hold the president accountable for his actions. It is their duty to uphold the laws of the United States. So far, almost no Republicans have supported Congressional investigation which could lead to impeachment and removal from office. You can be sure that if a Democratic president had engaged in any of the actions that Trump appears to have taken, the Republicans would have investigated and impeached him/her long ago. During the 2016 campaign, there were Republicans saying that they would file articles of impeachment immediately after Hillary Clinton was sworn in as president, although it isn’t clear what grounds they thought they had. That Congressional Republicans are failing to hold Trump accountable only because he is a Republican is unconscionable and un-American.

What happens next? Who knows?

We are in uncharted territory.