New York State update

The first topic of my (hopefully brief) updates is the state of affairs in New York, where I live near Binghamton.

Governor Cuomo is resigning effective August 24th in the wake of an investigative report from the attorney general about allegations of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. While the governor still contends that he did nothing criminal, he has decided to resign rather than face impeachment by the State Assembly and a trial in the State Senate.

Cuomo has almost no support from any Democrats in state or national office. He actually hasn’t had their support for months, as I alluded to in this post from March. Now, though, the outcry is even greater, so he decided he could no longer be effective as governor, and thus, resigned, giving two weeks notice, which allows time for Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to prepare to take over the governorship.

In practical terms, the state is in a better time to transition to a new governor now than it was in March. The budget is in place and, while the delta variant has driven up case numbers in recent weeks, New York is in a much better position than many other states with lower vaccination rates. Lt. Gov. Hochul has been very actively involved in policy against the pandemic, particularly in her home region of western NY, and has long been “on the road” for the administration, visiting all sixty-two counties every year. She has often represented the governor’s office on economic development issues.

She will be the first woman to serve as New York’s governor and is known for her collaborative style of leadership, which will be a stark contrast to Gov. Cuomo. Unfortunately, she is taking over the governorship in the third year of a four-year term, so she will almost immediately face having to gear up a campaign for the Democratic primary next spring.

I wish her well with the New York State motto “Excelsior” which is usually translated as “ever upward.” Despite the challenges of 2021, I look forward to her tenure as governor and to her leadership as we continue to deal with the pandemic.

Valentine’s Day

The usual greeting for today would be “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

Not this year.

I’m having a difficult time using “happy” as an adjective after the last week.

My family has been struggling with caretaking issues for Paco, complicated by the pandemic. I’ve spent this weekend feeling as though I want to cry, but not quite being able to let myself do it.

It’s the opposite of “happy.”

The United States is also dealing with the first day after the second impeachment trial of our former president. The trial was sobering, as it drove home the extent of death, injury, and damage done during the insurrection and how very close the vice president and members of Congress came to being injured or killed. Somehow, even though more than 67 senators said that DT was responsible for inciting insurrection, only 57 voted to convict falling short of the two-thirds majority needed for conviction. There are likely to be legal repercussions for the former president coming through the judicial system, possibly both federal and state. Meanwhile, he is likely to seek revenge against those Republican members of Congress who voted for impeachment or conviction by advocating that their state parties censure them, by advertising against them, and by funding primary opponents.

Let me be clear that even if DT had been found guilty in the Senate trial, it would not have been an occasion of happiness. It is impossible to feel happy in the face of so much suffering, pain, and fear.

I am trying to find comfort in the message of Valentine’s Day that love is strong, enduring, and the most important aspect of our lives.

May it be so.

May it overcome our present situation.

JC’s Confessions #17

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

Today is Super Bowl Sunday, which means that is it the championship of American football.

And I don’t care.

I’m not planning to watch the game or the halftime show or the commercials, which have become an attraction of their own.

I don’t enjoy watching football games. They are very slow; one hour of actual playing time takes at least three hours to accomplish. I am not attracted to watching heavily padded men run around and knock each other down and sometimes sustain injuries.

This year, the Super Bowl is being looked at as a few hours of national unity in the midst of division and I hope that that is true. Personally, I don’t need a game to make me feel like an American. After the attempted insurrection of January 6th, my level of commitment to the country has never been higher.

The sad thing will be that, after the game, the anticipated national unity will revert to what it was yesterday and will be on full display for the rest of the week as the Senate trial over the former president proceeds.

It’s also possible that millions of people will defy public health warnings and meet with people outside their households for Super Bowl parties, which might cause another COVID-19 spike, with attendant hospitalizations and deaths, in the coming weeks.

That would be the saddest Super Bowl result ever.

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/

What a week!

I started the year by posting for 33 days in a row, thanks largely to Linda’s Just Jot It January.

Then, I fell off the wagon.

Today, though, I am taking advantage of being kept inside by a snowstorm to try to process what has been a surreal week into a post.

On the personal side, my spouse B has been involved in a major workshop week with co-workers from the US and Germany, so he has been working loooong days, sometimes capped off by group dinners that run late into the evening. Between his schedule and working around the weather, things were already feeling unsettled here.

This just added to what has been a very unsettling week here in the United States. T and I had watched giant swaths of the impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The House managers who served as prosecutors were very methodical in laying out their case. The president’s defense team was much harder to follow and tended to be in conflict with both some of the evidence and some of what other members of the team had presented. Their arguments were often circular.

For example, one of the arguments that the president’s team was making against the second article of impeachment for obstruction of Congress was that the House should have gone to court to enforce their subpoenas. Meanwhile, a court case that the House had brought trying to enforce subpoenas in the ongoing investigation of Russian election interference saw the Justice Department lawyers arguing that the courts weren’t the proper remedy, that impeachment was! As Rep. Adam Schiff, who was leading the House managers, said, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Because the Senate had voted not to call witnesses or request documents, the first part of the week was about senators being able to speak for ten minutes about their reasoning behind their upcoming trial vote on Wednesday. However, on Tuesday night, President Trump gave his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress.

The State of the Union is usually a very formal and solemn opportunity for the president to lay out their agenda for the coming year, including what legislation they would like to see taken up by Congress and passed. It was obvious from the start that this address was not going to follow that norm, when the Congressional Republicans started chanting “four more years” before the president even began speaking.

Much of the president’s message mirrored his campaign speeches. As a reasonably well-informed citizen, I knew immediately that some of the things the president was claiming were not true. He tried to take credit for things that actually happened during the Obama administration. He said he would always protect health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions at the same time the Justice Department is in court trying to have those protections under the Affordable Care Act thrown out.

It was surreal.

The State of the Union often features special guests of the president who sit in the gallery near his family. Their stories are inspiring and heart-warming. President Trump added a twist, though, in that most of the people received a surprise reward.  This seemed to harken back to Donald Trump’s experience as a “reality show” celebrity. A couple of these surprises made me cringe. There was a girl, attending with her mom, who received a scholarship to attend a private school. Education is a wonderful thing and I am happy for this girl, but the president framed it as her leaving “a failing government school.” In the United States, we don’t call them “government schools”; we call them public schools. One of the responsibilities of our government is to provide free public education through primary and secondary school. If a public school is doing poorly, it is up to our government at all levels, working on behalf of the taxpayers, to ensure that the school is brought up to a high standard – for the good of those students and the general public. To see the president totally abrogate responsibility for our public schools, which serve the vast majority of US students, was disheartening.

The shocking part of the evening was the “surprise” awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh. This is the highest civilian honor in the United States and is usually given to individuals who have brought people together in a positive way. By contrast, Rush Limbaugh has been sowing division for decades. He regularly belittles people who don’t follow his particular brand of conservatism. [Fun fact: He once railed against a women’s prayer group of which I was a member. We were a small, local group getting lambasted on nationally syndicated radio. It was ironic, because his actions gave us more power and visibility and led to a 60 Minutes interview.] Limbaugh has recently revealed a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis; it is appropriate to ask for prayers and well wishes on his behalf, but the Medal of Freedom is not an appropriate honor for so divisive a figure.

Speaking of prayer, yesterday was the National Prayer Breakfast, which is sort of an unusual occasion in and of itself, but I can’t give its history here as this post is already shaping up to be long. First, though, there needs to be a wrap-up of the impeachment trial.

As expected, Trump was not removed from office. All the Democratic and independent senators voted for removal on both counts. There had been hope that some of the more moderate Republicans would join them, especially on the abuse of power article. Several Republican senators, in opposition to the president’s assertion that his behavior was “perfect”, issued statements saying that what the president did was inappropriate but didn’t warrant removal from office so they were voting for acquittal.

In the end, one Republican, Utah senator and former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, did vote to remove the president on the abuse of power charge. In his ten-minute floor speech, he spoke about how difficult this decision was. He is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and because he had sworn an oath to God to deliver “fair and impartial justice” and because the House managers had put forward convincing evidence of the president’s abuse of power, he decided that he must follow his conscience and vote to convict. He did not let political expediency deter him from his obligation to follow the dictates of his faith and the Constitution. He has faced immediate backlash from the president and other members of the Trump family, as well as from some of the conservative media. I appreciate Romney’s integrity. It took a lot of courage to vote against a president of one’s own party in an impeachment trial. Indeed, this is the first time that that has happened in the United States.

Which brings me back to the prayer breakfast…

The keynote had been on the subject of love and, in particular, the Christian call to love one’s enemies. When President Trump, who is ostensibly Christian, spoke, he proceeded to attack the faith of those he considers his enemies. After speaking about the impeachment, he said, ” I don’t like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong.  Nor do I like people who say, ‘I pray for you,’ when they know that that’s not so.” This was a thinly veiled attack on Sen. Romney for his impeachment vote and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who, in answering questions from reporters has revealed that she prays every day for the president. Speaker Pelosi was sitting at the head table, only a few feet away from the president as he spoke. As a fellow Catholic, I admire Nancy Pelosi’s prayer life and don’t doubt for a minute that she sincerely prays for the president and for our country every day. That the president dismisses people of faith, equating his own viewpoint as being right and theirs as being “wrong”, compounds the damage that he has done to our country.

After President Clinton’s impeachment and trial, he apologized again to the country and made a plea for reconciliation and moving forward as a nation. (He was impeached for lying under oath about an affair.) By contrast, when President Trump spoke later in the day after the prayer breakfast, he did not admit any wrongdoing and blamed everything on Democrats and anyone else he considers an opponent.

At this point, without a unifying leader, I don’t know how Americans can fully come together as a nation to meet our challenges. I do want to point out, however, that, under Speaker Pelosi’s leadership, the House of Representatives has passed over 300 bills, the vast majority of which are bipartisan, that Majority Leader McConnell has refused to take up in the Senate. I am a member of NETWORK lobby for Catholic Social Justice. Every Congressional session, NETWORK scores the votes on ten bills that deal with social justice issues, such as fair pay, access to medical care, and equal justice. For the first time ever, this year they were unable to score the Senate because they hadn’t held votes on the bills that were companions to the House-passed bills. I and millions of other Americans expect and deserve more.

I swear that I did not spend the whole week on nothing but politics. I wrote a new poem in response to a challenge on The Ekphrastic Review. If it gets accepted, you can be sure there will be a link here at Top of JC’s Mind – and a mini-celebration that I managed to get a poem published in 2020.

Now, I think there is a snow shovel that is calling my name…

 

 

finished and unfinished

The opening statements are finished.

The presentations from the House managers (the prosecutors) and the President’s counsel (the defense) are finished.

The two days of questions from the senators and answers from the teams are almost finished.

Tomorrow, there will be votes to consider hearing from witnesses and obtaining documents from the executive branch. The vast majority of US voters want there to be witnesses and documents as part of the trial. Many of us have been called to jury duty and know that fair trials always have witnesses and documentary evidence. Unlike presidential impeachments of the twentieth century, this one was not preceded by a special or independent counsel investigation, so there were not tens of thousands of pages of documents, depositions, and testimony already assembled. In the current impeachment, this was compounded by the blanket assertion of the president that he did not have to turn over any documents or allow any testimony from anyone in his administration. This is totally unprecedented. During the impeachment investigation of Richard Nixon, he directed all of his staff and Cabinet to testify before the Congressional committee and turned over documents. Some of the staff went to prison because of their wrongdoing. When the Oval Office tapes were revealed and Nixon tried to not turn them over as evidence, the Supreme Court quickly ruled that they must be turned over to the Congress. Hiding evidence of a corrupt act is also a corrupt act.

Still it appears that the Republicans want the trial finished this week before the Super Bowl, the Iowa caucuses, and the President’s State of the Union address.

If the Republicans vote to not have witnesses called and vote to acquit, the trial will still feel unfinished. More evidence will come out in the days and weeks ahead and people will rightly ask why the evidence was not presented at the trial. They will also rightly ask if the senators upheld their oath to do “impartial justice.”

When things are left unfinished, there is a sense of unease.

I think uneasiness lies ahead for the US.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Following prompts is not required, but I chose today to use the prompt “finished.” Find out more about Just Jot It January here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/30/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-30th-2020/

the other side

Because I want to be informed, even when it is scary, I listened to the first day of Trump’s defense in the impeachment trial.

It was puzzling.

A lot of what the president’s team spoke about wasn’t related to the case. It seemed that they were bringing up a lot of different issues in order to distract from the evidence that the House managers had presented over the three days of their presentation.

There were also a number of instances in which the defense would quote a certain person’s testimony and say, because that person didn’t know a certain piece of information, then it must not be true, failing to note that another witness or piece of evidence did provide that information. They also complained about there not being proof of such-and-such, which would be either proven or disproven if the administration hadn’t blocked all document requests and subpoenas for testimony.

It’s also confusing when the president’s lawyers try to draw parallels between this impeachment investigation and prior ones that had had a justice department investigation prior to Congressional proceedings. Other things are just strange, such as the defense saying that Congressional committees need a vote in the House before issuing subpoenas and/or document requests. Congressional committees routinely issue document and testimony requests in their oversight investigations.

If I, a citizen with no legal training, can notice these things, how can the senators, many of whom are lawyers or who have staff with legal expertise, fail to notice these problems?

I don’t know if the president’s team will make more sense in the next two days of the trial or not, but their first day is not at all convincing.
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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.”
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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.

trepidation

As I am starting to write this, it is about 8 AM EST, which is the same time zone as Washington, DC and I am watching the morning news. The lead story is the impeachment trial, which will begin at 1 PM. The reason it needs to start in the afternoon is that Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the Senate trial while still presiding over the Supreme Court for its sessions that are held in the morning.

Beyond that, there are many unknowns.

Last evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell finally released his proposal for the ground rules of the trial. Although he has been saying they would be like the last presidential impeachment trial, which was President Clinton’s in 1999, they differ in significant ways.

Perhaps what I find most shocking is that the evidence from the House impeachment investigation is not going to be automatically entered into the record. In the Clinton trial, there were hundreds of pages just from the Starr report, plus underlying evidence, that were entered into the record. I hope that there will be an amendment for evidence inclusion while the rules are debated. Even though Republicans have the majority, they should all vote for evidence! How can there be a trial without evidence?

Sen. McConnell has said that he is coordinating with the White House whose strategy appears to be to argue that the House didn’t have legal and Constitutional grounds for impeachment. Even so, I think evidence is important to make that argument. I myself am curious about how they can argue no laws were broken when withholding Congressionally approved aid is illegal according to the Government Accountability Office (first article) and Roger Stone was recently convicted of obstruction of Congress (second article).

Another strange thing about McConnell’s rules is that the timeline is so condensed. Each side has 24 hours – but only two days – for opening arguments. [Update: McConnell extended this to three days, just as the trial began.] Given that the proceedings can’t start until 1 PM and there will need to be some breaks for participants to attend to personal needs, the trial could go into the early morning hours. This is a punishingly long day, especially for Chief Justice Roberts, who needs to be at the Supreme Court for morning session. It also makes it nearly impossible for the public to watch the entire trial, although some media specialists have pointed out the trial will be ongoing during television prime time. This could lead to the legal teams timing their strongest arguments to coincide with when more voters would be available to watch.

When the rules for the Clinton impeachment were passed, the vote was 100-0. The senators had worked together to come up with the rules. This time, McConnell has drafted the rules himself with no input from Democrats. Given that the Republicans hold 53 seats, McConnell’s rules could pass without amendment. This would fly in the face not only of fairness but also of public sentiment. Support for impeachment and removal from office is about 50%. Support for a fair trial with witnesses is even higher, about 70%. By contrast, only a third of Americans wanted Clinton removed from office. While additional witnesses were not initially allowed, there was a vote for additional witnesses during the trial; they gave written testimony.

In the current trial, unless there is a surprise in the rules vote today, the vote on additional witnesses can’t take place until both sides have presented opening arguments and the senators have had 16 hours of questions. Witnesses are especially important in this trial because the White House has blocked testimony and documents from the House investigation. There has been a lot of circular reasoning from the Republicans on the impeachment and trial.  They are saying that the Democrats haven’t proven their case but the House’s requests for documents and witnesses have been blocked, so how could they prove the case, especially if they won’t accept the evidence that the House was able to obtain, including from some witnesses who honored House subpoenas, even when the White House told them not to?

This is mind-boggling. It’s one thing for the White House to argue that the behavior doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment. It’s quite another to not allow the House to make their case based on facts from evidence, testimony, and the Constitution and laws.

Given that all senators took an oath to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws,” they should vote no on anything that restricts evidence.

I won’t hold my breath…

[Note: this is a synopsis of what I am seeing on the news, with a bit of my reaction. It is certainly at the top of my mind today, but I am also including it because there are people who get news from blogs rather than more traditional media who might be interested, as well as people outside the US who might not have as much access to this information.]
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and so it begins…

Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signed the articles of impeachment and named seven impeachment managers, House members who will act as prosecutors in the Senate trial. The managers ceremoniously walked the articles through the Capitol to the Senate Chamber, starting a 24-hour clock in which the trial must begin.

Much is being made of the way Speaker Pelosi signed the bill, using a different pen for each letter. That is often done when signing historic legislation, so that people who are important to that piece of legislation have a memento of it. I remember the ceremony when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in this fashion; one of the pens went to the head of the Catholic hospitals who had publicly advocated for passage of the bill.

Some have questioned the solemnity of the procession through the Capitol building, but this is part of the Congressional tradition, seen most recently after the impeachment of President Clinton. Among the House managers, who will act as prosecutors in the trial, are Representatives Adam Schiff and Zoe Lofgren. Rep. Schiff is a former prosecutor who is chair of the House Intelligence committee, which is conducting an ongoing investigation of the Ukraine situation at the heart of the impeachment articles. This is the third impeachment on which Judiciary committee member Rep. Lofgren has worked. As a law student, she assisted the Judiciary committee in drafting the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon. She was a member of the Judiciary committee during the Clinton impeachment.

Speaker Pelosi has been criticized for not sending the articles to the Senate immediately after the House passed them in December, but, at that point, Congress was getting ready to adjourn for a long holiday break. During the break, more evidence in the case became public and even more has come to light in recent days. This is important particularly if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocks new evidence at the trial. It has also given the public a chance to see more of the evidence, which puts pressure on senators to actually consider the evidence instead of voting only by party.

Today, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will swear in each senator to “do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws.” Some senators, most notably Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, have stated publicly that they are not impartial. Other senators have made a point of not reading the depositions and testimony gathered by the House. There is a question of whether or not there will be new evidence accepted or if there will be subpoenas for additional witnesses to testify. The House investigation was impeded by the White House and the rest of the executive branch, which refused requests for documents and testimony, even when it had been subpoenaed. A few officials chose to honor the subpoenas on their own and gave valuable testimony to the House investigation. Some documents were released through Freedom of Information requests from non-governmental organizations. The way the president and his staff have treated legitimate requests from Congress seems to me to prove the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress.

I hope that, now that the time has come, each senator will treat their oath seriously. If they do not, I hope that they will either not run for re-election or will be defeated if they do. The public deserves a full and fair trial. If the president is not removed from office, “we the people” need to know the extent of the evidence against the president and his team, including the vice-president, in order to inform our voting decisions in November.

The senators should also soberly consider the impact of their decisions in this case on the country’s future. The president has publicly called on foreign powers to interfere in both the 2016 and 2020 elections. Evidence already available supports this. A vote against the first article of impeachment means that the senator believes that an attack on our national sovereignty is not a “high crime or misdemeanor” – or is only a high crime or misdemeanor if the president is not a member of their party. A vote against the second article of impeachment means that it is okay with that senator for a president to defy all requests for documents and testimony, making constitutionally mandated oversight of the executive branch by the Congress impossible. It means that there is no longer a system of checks and balances among the three branches of government and that the president can get away with any action, however illegal, immoral, or unethical it may be – again, presumably, if the president is a member of your party.

That kind of political expediency may save a Congressperson’s seat for now, but will most likely be judged harshly by history.
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