The Problem with Joe Biden

I received a mailing (pictured here) from former Vice President Joe Biden. I admit, I live in a conservative voting district in Maryland, so it’s understandable that his appeal for donations was misdirected. I registered Independent three years ago, but I re-registered Democrat ahead of the 2016 Maryland primaries so that I could vote for the one candidate in my lifetime for whom I have attended a political rally. And donated money.

BidenMailing
But I digress. Joe Biden wasn’t running in 2016. He is running in 2020. And he is running not only on his record, but on (former president) Barack Obama’s record. I believe it might be useful to point out that, for Joe Biden, there are a few problems with both records, problems that he and his supporters need to own—

• In 1991, at the Supreme Court confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas, Mr. Biden gave Thomas the benefit of the doubt regarding sexual harassment allegations by Anita Hill. He refused to call corroborating witnesses on her behalf. Mr. Biden now says, “To this day I regret I couldn’t give her the kind of hearing she deserved.” He may have forgotten that, at the time, he was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Now-Justice Thomas’s rebuttal, consisting of outrage rather than argument, was effectively echoed by Brett Kavanaugh 27 years later. Thanks, Joe.

• In 1994, Senator Joe Biden co-wrote and sponsored a crime bill, which, to this day, he calls his “greatest accomplishment.” What his greatest accomplishment accomplished was a dramatic rise in mass incarceration, especially among black people.

• In 1995, Mr. Biden wrote the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act that later became the core of the USA Patriot Act – permitting secret evidence to be used in prosecutions, expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and wiretap laws, classifying “terrorism” as a federal crime (that could be invoked based on political beliefs), permitting the U.S. military to be used in civilian law enforcement, and allowing permanent detention of non-U.S. citizens without judicial review. In 2001, Mr. Biden completed his destruction of civil liberties by voting for the USA Patriot Act.

• In 1999, Mr. Biden supported the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act that repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, effectively demolishing a Depression-era fire wall that had separated investment banks from commercial banks. With no legal limits on gambling with federally insured money, this paved the way for the 2008 financial crash.

FavoriteJoeBiden

• Mr. Biden, since 2002 one of the Iraq War’s most enthusiastic backers, is currently the only candidate in the field to have voted for that illegal war. Worse, Mr. Biden fought against provisions that would have required President Bush to first win U.N. authority for an invasion, or else seek a war resolution from Congress, apparently forgetting that only Congress has war-making power.

• While Mr. Biden makes much of working “across the aisle” to get things done, in 2005, he voted with Republicans to end bankruptcy protection for students. Worse, as he said in a speech in May 2018, “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys.” Mr. Biden has a record reaching back to 1978 of making it more difficult for poor and working people to declare bankruptcy and get a fresh start. For corporations, however, no problem.

Embracing the Obama Legacy

*There is more: While Joe Biden clings to the “Obama Legacy,” that legacy is tainted. Mr. Biden must own many more problems. As Barack Obama received more in campaign contributions from Wall Street sources than his Republican rivals during both the 2008 and 2012 campaign cycles, it should not be surprising that Mr. Obama’s economic policies were a continuation of the neoliberalism of his predecessor, George W. Bush. Joe Biden must own this.

• Mr. Obama made permanent Mr. Bush’s temporary tax cuts for the wealthy. He continued Mr. Bush’s bank bailout following the financial crisis of 2018 – and failed to put even one banker in jail. In fact, Mr. Obama instituted a process Noam Chomsky has called “socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor.” Joe Biden must own this.

• Mr. Obama supported the secretly negotiated TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), a disastrous international deal that would have made investor profits supreme over national law, and scuttle environmental protections and labor regulations. Working-class hero Joe Biden must own this.

• Mr. Obama failed to shut down the illegal Guantánamo torture site and failed to prosecute anybody who committed “enhanced interrogation” (i.e., torture) in the pursuit of terrorists. Indeed, the torture, renditions and indefinite detention-without-trial initiated under George W. Bush continued under Barack Obama. Joe Biden must own this.

• Mr. Obama failed to shut down our forever wars. Indeed, he started a few of his own (even after winning the Nobel Peace Prize). He doubled U.S. troop numbers in Afghanistan, ramped up Mr. Bush’s campaign of covert drone strikes, doubled down in support of the two greatest human rights violators in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel, and played a hand in the coup against the democratically-elected government of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras. Joe Biden must own this.

On the contrary, instead of owning any of this, Mr. Biden has voiced not an ounce of regret over the Obama Legacy.

Biden MentalIf that were not enough, there is this: Joe Biden is a two-time loser: In 1987, he quit the Democratic primary race within three months, after being accused of plagiarizing parts of his speeches. Mr. Biden dropped out in 2008, after coming in fifth in the Iowa caucus and winning less than 1% of the vote.

Yes, his current poll numbers are high, but they are declining. And with his inability to formulate coherent sentences and to recall basic facts, he is not just prone to gaffes. Although he never claimed to be a “very stable genius,” Mr. Biden, mentally, is quite clearly declining. There is no reason to believe former Vice President Joe Biden will even be in the race when the first primary season ballot is cast. That’s why the voices in Hillary Clinton’s head keep telling her to run; and that’s why Republican convert Michael Bloomberg wants to run: class solidarity. That is, any blue will do. Unless the blue is progressive.

Has the Democratic Party learned nothing from 2016? They still think they can win by running a corporatist against a populist? If we vote for Joe Biden, or anybody of his class, we all must own the fallout of a second term for Trump.

*Still more—
• In 1996, Mr. Biden voted for the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman. He also supported the Clinton-era “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays in the military. He has since “evolved” on the issue, but not before great harm was done by his repudiation of gay rights.
• How about saving the Supreme Court from its rightward decline? As Counterpunch pointed out, “There will be one salutary effect of Biden becoming the Democrats’ nominee. It should obliterate the old sawhorse that, no matter how odious the candidate, we must hold our noses & vote for him because the future of the Supreme Court hangs in the balance. Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and [Samuel] Alito have their seats largely thanks to Biden, who was one of the ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.” Joe Biden must own this.
• How about regime-change wars? On Venezuela, Joe Biden said, “The violence in Venezuela today against peaceful protesters is criminal. Maduro’s regime is responsible for incredible suffering. The U.S. must stand with the National Assembly & Guaidó in their efforts to restore democracy through legitimate, internationally monitored elections.” Joe Biden must own this.
Almost every statement in this quote is false or context-free. The protesters were not peaceful – they were counter-revolutionary thugs; the incredible suffering was caused by a drop in world oil prices coupled with crippling US sanctions originating under Obama and ramped up by Trump. As for the 2018 Venezuelan election, the opposition declined to participate and Maduro won a victory that was internationally recognized as more open and honest than the 2016 US elections!

Posted in Politics, Rant

Bill Maher is a Republican

The supposed ‘left’ comedian is left behind

I keep watching Bill Maher’s “Real Time” show on HBO, and have done so, Religulous-ly, almost since its inception in 2003. Although Maher was always irreverent toward religion, this was made crystal clear in his 2008 documentary, Religulous. I liked that about him, especially when he criticized the Big Three religious delusions pretty much equally. He was especially snarky toward Mormonism and Scientology, which they richly deserve. I also like his progressive political stances on social issues I care about, such as abortion, gun control, drugs, and racism. Bill Maher is political without being politically correct, a concept he also disparages with regularity – but, as a comedian, he has a dog in that fight.

RealTimeBillMaherOne question nagged me over the years: although his guest list often includes conservatives, people to the right of him, he somehow never invites anybody to the left of him. That, for me, progressively tarnished Bill Maher’s progressive halo over the years. He can deliver insightful comedy. But more and more, over time, while Bill Maher sucks the wind out of windbags and blowhards, he has demonstrated that he sucks at politics.

Case in point, Maher’s October 25 episode of “Real Time.” His big-name guest was entrepreneur and former ad executive Donny Deutsch, star of the failed TV shows “Saturday Night Politics,” “The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch,” “(Get to) The Point,” and the sit-com “Donny!” This is the same Deutsch who said, “I find Trump reprehensible as a human being, but a socialist candidate is more dangerous to this country as far as the strength and well-being of our country than Donald Trump. I would vote for Donald Trump, a despicable human being.”

Both Maher and Deutsch warned us not to go for the socialist alternative to capitalist greed, exploitation and violence (i.e., Bernie Sanders). That would be so much worse, it seems, than running a centrist against Trump in 2020. Maher wants a centrist like, say, the Minnesota Senator who has never polled above 5%, Amy Klobuchar.

Wait. Democrats ran a centrist in 2016. Democrats lost.

Last Friday night on “Real Time” (November 1), Maher goofed up real time. First, in his opening interview, he interviewed anti-vaxer Dr. Jay N. Gordon to confirm his own anti-vaccination talking points from years past. He even brought up the supposed link between MMR vaccines and autism, based on a since-retracted 1998 study of only 12 children – a study conclusively debunked by 16 more studies conducted in seven countries across three continents involving hundreds of thousands of children. It isn’t worth discussing settled science; it isn’t even good entertainment. And children dying of preventable diseases like measles isn’t funny – even for a politically incorrect comedian.

In his signature segment called New Rules – which really aren’t new—or rules – Maher tells those damn, stupid voters that it’s their fault we have Trump as president because Democrats “got nowhere else to go” – as Richard Gere wailed in An Officer and a Gentleman. Yes, nothing succeeds like blaming the voters for failing to turn out for a repulsive candidate who promises nothing to make their lives better. Better to blame Susan Sarandon and Jill Stein. Or the Russians.

In fact, the largest voting bloc in 2016 was people who stayed home. The next-largest bloc were independents. Where were the Democrats? Most of them believed the “nowhere else to go” lie because we have only two parties (when other countries have many). And both of our parties are pro-war and pro-corporate. What Bill Maher doesn’t get, and as Jimmy Dore pointed out in his October 31 podcast: when voters have nowhere to go, they go nowhere.

I think Bill Maher has demonstrated time and again that he is a Republican pretending to be a liberal. And he’s also more pussy than pushback. On his November 1 show, Dennis Prager, one of his conservative panelists, matched Bill Maher crazy for crazy. A Daily Beast article by Marlow Stern, reprinted by Yahoo News, recapped the episode. After exposing Dennis Prager’s nutcase curriculum vitae, and giving some well-deserved criticism of his other points, Stern called Prager’s denying the evidence-free Russiagate conspiracy theory “a stunning denial of reality.”

Waiting For EvidenceI hate to agree with a conservative on any point, but on this one Prager was right. As Aaron Maté and others have demonstrated, the influence of Russian government actors over the 2016 election was negligible, at best, based on the evidence. I keep waiting for Maher to put this in his “I Don’t Know It For a Fact… I Just Know It’s True” segment – but no. Rather than face the fact that American voters wanted the change that Obama promised but never delivered – a disappointment that cost the Democratic Party almost a thousand seats at all levels of government during Obama’s eight years, which he devoted to protecting corporate interests and ignoring voter interests – the Democratic party settled on the failed Russiagate conspiracy theory to evade self-examination.

Bill Maher could benefit from some self-examination. I’d like to ask the privileged pseudo-liberal, who has no problems government can fix, what he asked of journalist Ronan Farrow on that same episode: ‘You do own a mirror?’

Posted in Famous Freethinkers, Politics, Rant, Religion

“Forced to Use Transgender Pronouns”


That was the breathless headline in RT (Russia Today) on October 4. But other news outlets started hyperventilating, as well, in characterizing the decision of the Birmingham employment tribunal of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as anti-religious discrimination. These included the BBC, Pulpit and Pen, Red State, American Thinker, and even the New York Times.

Starting off with a lie, RT reports in its second paragraph, “Dr. David Mackereth was fired from his job… .” Actually, no: Dr. Mackereth resigned. But that detail aside, RT reports only Dr. Mackereth’s perspective on the conflict, as if there is no documentation of the DWP Tribunal’s decision, and the reasoning that got it there. Journalism can be so hard.

David MackerethIf we are to believe the news reports, Dr. Mackereth’s victimization under the government’s anti-Christian bigotry began this way: In 2017, Mackereth was training as a Health and Disabilities Assessor for the Department for Work and Pensions, as a contract worker. In December 2018, Dr. Mackereth complained, under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA), that he had been subjected to harassment and direct and indirect discrimination because he was expected to assess transgender individuals and to use the gender pronoun of his client’s choice.

In sum, said Dr. Mackereth, in words he never actually used before the Tribunal, he “would never ‘call any 6-foot tall bearded man madam.’” The news report goes on to say, “Speaking to RT, Mackereth said that the ruling has profound and troubling implications for freedom of speech and conscience in the UK … He said that the judgment means that ‘you’re not allowed not to believe the transgender movement’s maxims,’ while ‘core’ Christian beliefs have been labeled as unfit for modern life.”

But the Tribunal recorded the facts, and testimony under oath, and these diverge from the accounts disclosed by both RT and Dr. Mackereth.

Dr. Mackereth said he was pressured to renounce his beliefs in order to continue working for the DWP. The Tribunal found that not to be true: instead, “his memory was in error.” Indeed, as Dr. Mackereth admitted under oath, contrary to statements in the media, that the DWP was making every effort to retain his services. Furthermore, Dr. Mackereth and the DWP could not agree on an alternative role within the organization which would be more compatible with his religious beliefs.

In the end, the Tribunal made an important distinction between freedom of religious expression and individual rights. Citing Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights, the Tribunal pointed out that freedom of religious expression has some common-sense limits.* One of those limits – and conservatives on this side of the pond should take note – is when the exercise of your rights restricts the rights of others. Put another way, my right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins.

Although the entire claim by Dr. Mackereth was based on a hypothetical – he was not found to have actually discriminated against a transgender individual – it was enough that he maintained from beginning to end that that will be the outcome, should he be kept to his contract with the DWP, even if that was not his intent. The DWP accepted that assertion and Dr. Mackereth was allowed to leave the service. He was not fired. Dr. Mackereth plans to appeal.

Genesis 1:27

Gen1-27The other inflated claim of most news reports is that the Tribunal declared that Bible-based beliefs about gender are “incompatible with human dignity.” But news organizations (such as American Thinker) conflate this with saying belief in the Bible is “incompatible with human dignity.” As an atheist myself, I’m inclined to agree to some extent, but that is not what the Tribunal ruled.

Dr. Mackereth appears to believe that his Christian belief “that there was no scientific evidence a person can change sex” is a protected characteristic that outweighs the protected characteristic of being transgender. “Transgenderism in Dr Mackereth’s words” is a “delusional belief[s]” by reference to the use of the word “impersonation” … and do[es] not relate to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behavior…”

The DWP countered that “at the heart of those [Christian] beliefs is intolerance towards transgender people… ” and that the EqA “prohibit[s] doctors from discriminating directly or indirectly, against others, or from harassing them, on grounds of a protected characteristic. … [and that doctors must] treat patients with respect whatever their life choices and beliefs.”

The Tribunal agreed: “[B]elief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals.” Basing their decision on “the protection of the rights and freedoms of others,” the Tribunal concluded that Dr. Mackereth’s objection to treating transgender people with the respect they deserve is “inherent” (rather than explicit) in his Christian beliefs, inasmuch as many Christians believe otherwise: “Dr. Mackereth accepted that not all individuals who describe themselves as Christians have the same beliefs as he.”

Yes, there are many interpretations of Christianity. And Genesis 1:27 is a troubling verse on which to base transphobia, especially if you read only one book. For example, does Genesis 1:27 mean that God is both male and female? If so, why is God referred to, three times in one verse, using male pronouns? In Genesis 2:18-20, doesn’t God create “man” first, then animals, then woman? If so, don’t Genesis 2:18-20 and 2:21-22 contradict Genesis 1:27?

Transphobes as a protected class

NoCrossPulpit and Pen would have its readers believe the Tribunal’s judgment “puts ‘transgender rights’ ahead of Christian freedoms and in effect forces Christians to use compelled speech…” This is pure nonsense. The Tribunal clearly stated that there are no limits on religious beliefs; there are limits only on discriminatory religious practice. Furthermore, Dr. Mackereth was never entitled to his job at DWP, nor obligated to keep it, so there was no compelled speech. Even if this were not true, and he wanted to keep his job, this so-called “compelled speech” amounted to nothing more than being polite.

Red State claims that Dr. Mackereth told the Tribunal, “What I object to is being forced to do violence to language and common sense, in a ritual denial of an obvious truth, for the sake of an ideology which I disbelieve and detest.” Those words appear nowhere in the Tribunal’s 42-page decision. But even if he said them, his claims that transgenderism is untrue and based on an “ideology” are demonstrably false: his Christian ideology is the issue, not science or truth. It appears that calling the acceptance of transgenderism an ideology is accepted by some, but those groups appear to be almost entirely, patriarchally Christian-oriented. This would seem to include the traditional-family based REAL Women of Canada, another of Dr. Mackereth’s supporters.

Dr. Mackereth went on to summarize, “I believe that I have to appeal in order to fight for the freedom of Christians to speak the truth. If they cannot, then freedom of speech has died in this country, with serious ramifications for the practice of medicine in the UK.” Here Dr. Mackereth has conflated freedom of speech with freedom to discriminate. Put simply, free speech is about what you say; discrimination is about what you do. Inasmuch as law is a code of external conduct, it cares only what you do with what you believe.

Let me be clear: What Dr. Mackereth argues is not that he be allowed to speak freely. That is already guaranteed under the laws of Great Britain and under the Equality Act. What Dr. Mackereth argues is that he get a special religious exemption from his obligation not to discriminate in the public health service, so that he may discriminate against trans people. That is tantamount to making transphobes into a protected class. To preserve the spirit and letter of the law, not to mention human dignity, we should all say no.


*Article 9

    “1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
    2. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

 

Posted in Law, Rant, Religion, Science

Where was Nancy?


Pelosi-Impeach

(Updated 10/27/2019) Nancy Patricia Pelosi, 52nd Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, as of Tuesday (9/24/19) is talking tough about impeachment and the rule of law. She thinks Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America, should be subject to an impeachment inquiry for violation of campaign finance laws via asking a foreign leader to help him in his campaign against a political rival., former Vice President Joe Biden, something Ms. Pelosi calls “betrayal of [Mr. Trump’s] oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”

Sure… NOW Ms. Pelosi talks tough on impeachment and rule of law, but where was the tough-talking Speaker when Mr. Trump committed other high crimes and misdemeanors? Such as…

• Obstruction of Justice by frustrating law enforcement investigations into potential crimes, regardless of whether there is an underlying crime, e.g., by firing James Comey (as Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox in 1974), trying to fire Robert Mueller, appointing William Barr as AG, who in turn shut down investigation into violations of campaign finance laws, ordering former staff to ignore subpoenas to testify before Congress, refusing to obey subpoenas for documents related to Congressional investigations (NB: “executive privilege” does not apply here). Also, by intimidation of a government whistleblower, in violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act, suggesting that he or she should be executed as a traitor, and by Obstruction of Congress in the exercise of their Constitutional power to impeach (Art. I Sec. 2) via ignoring subpoenas for testimony and documents.

• Profiting from the Presidency by violation of the Foreign Emoluments Clause (Art. I Sec. 9 clause 8) of the U.S. Constitution via (a) failing to divest of business interests affected by his government service and (b) accepting enrichment from foreign governments and persons through his business interests. And violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause (Art. II Sec. 1 clause 7) by treating the Presidency as a profit-making enterprise, beyond his federal salary, without Congressional approval (e.g., Trump Hotel near the White House).

• Abuse of Pardon (Art. II Sec. 2), especially those pardons extended to conservative political commentator Dinesh D’Souza; to former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, Scooter Libby; to Sheriff Joe Arpaio for contempt of court; and the suggestion of a pardon for anybody who obstructs justice out of loyalty to Mr. Trump.

• Abuse of Power generally, including targeting Amazon.com for special treatment, as well as engaging in “dragnet” surveillance without a judicial warrant, in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA); violating the spending power of Congress by diverting appropriated funds to unauthorized uses (building his border wall, suspending foreign aid, etc.) under the federal Antideficiency Act (aka Section 3679); violation of the Faithfully Executed Clause (Art. III Sec. 3) by putting officials in office who refuse to enforce statutes passed by Congress (e.g., at the EPA, OSHA, FDA, FAA, FCC, Interior, CFPB, etc.) and undermining constitutional protections of equal protection under the law by inciting violence against his political opponents (giving aid and comfort to white supremacists and neo-Nazis; the El Paso shooter, etc.).

• Persecuting Political Opponents by having the Department of Justice, under his toady AG William Barr, investigate the investigators of Russiagate (a conspiracy theory which I and many journalists smarter than me have debunked) and to investigate supposed corruption by presidential candidate Joe Biden.

• Attacking the Free Press by denying press credentials to reporters who report unfavorable but truthful things about him. In addition, and in my opinion most egregiously, Mr. Trump has directed the extradition from England of publisher Julian Assange for revealing war crimes committed by the US in Iraq – something for which Mr. Assange should be celebrated, not reviled.

• Violating Due Process for Asylum-seekers and Refugees by overseeing and encouraging cruel and unconstitutional imprisonment of children and their families at the southern border, via denying due process and the right to apply for asylum (U.S. Code Title 8 § 1158)

• Violating Campaign Finance Laws by directing a criminal conspiracy to pay “hush money” to two women with whom he had adulterous affairs (for which his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, is in already jail).

• Undermining the Federal Judiciary by personally attacking judges and rallying his supporters to oppose the rule of law when the judiciary rules unfavorably toward him.

• Subverting Congressional Oversight by usurping the power of Congress to make war via pursuing conflicts (many of which he inherited from past presidents, including Nobel Peace Laureate Barack Obama) in Afghanistan, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and Pakistan, in violation of Art. I, Sec. 8 clause 11.

• Subverting Sovereign Nations such as Iran and Venezuela. We do not own these nations and they have chosen their governments and their economic systems for themselves. We have as much right to intervene in their domestic policies and elections as the Russians have to interfere in ours.

Ms. Pelosi herself has said that she held off on an impeachment inquiry because the Senate will never vote to convict. I find this explanation suspect, but let’s assume for the sake of argument it is true. Failure in the Senate is still far from a sure thing because (1) the High Crimes and Misdemeanors will be exposed to the American people in the case actually made against Donald J. Trump. It is highly likely that televised hearings will go a long way toward changing public opinion, as they did in the case of Richard Nixon; (2) each Senator will be on record for how they vote on the Articles of Impeachment; (3) each Senator will be voting with full knowledge that they will be held accountable at the ballot box for their vote. Furthermore, it is not a political calculation of the House to initiate impeachment proceedings: it is a Constitutional duty to do so. And even if removal is not approved by the Senate, the precedent will be set for future impeachment proceedings.

RussiagateFailedSoIt appears that evidence of impeachable offenses by Donald J. Trump is, as it were, unimpeachable. Ms. Pelosi did not ask for my advice, but I will give it, anyway: even though past presidents, both Republican (G.W. Bush) and Democrat (Obama) have violated the rule of law – even to the point of committing war crimes – the House must go all in on all of Mr. Trump’s impeachable offenses. What remains to be seen, now, with what should be a slam-dunk from the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, is not how they will win over the American public to support the removal by the Senate of the most impeachable president in history, but how Congressional Democrats will fuck it up.

Posted in Politics, Rant, Uncategorized

My Ray of Sunshine


“On the morning of 14 September, 18 drones and seven cruise missiles – all cheap and unsophisticated compared to modern military aircraft – disabled half of Saudi Arabia’s crude oil production and raised the world price of oil by 20 per cent.”

This is a strictly factual claim, so I can’t disagree with it. But I wonder if even the leftist website from which I copied this sentence, and many others I have read, have missed or underplayed an important point. Yes, this air strike at the Abqaiq and Khurais oil facilities, almost certainly committed by Yemei Houthis (clients of Iran), represents an abject failure of the US to protect Saudi oil fields – in spite of the $67.6bn the kingdom spent on US arms last year alone. Yes, the destruction of the Saudi oil fields is nothing compared to the destruction of human lives and the humanitarian crisis in Yemen caused by Saudi Arabia (clients of the US). Most of the mainstream media never use that information to frame and contextualize violence in the Middle East, by the way.

Here’s a thought experiment

Desert_SunsetSuppose US energy needs were being met, not by poking holes in the ground, laying waste to the landscape in the form of “sacrifice zones,” while bullying and extracting resources from foreign countries – but instead by capturing energy from the sun and wind, on our own soil, then using what is needed and storing the rest? That would eliminate the mindset that “our oil is under their sand,” as well as eliminating the need for deadly and most assuredly very expensive foreign fighting and planetary pollution. In fact, I’m quite certain diplomacy in trade is far cheaper than conquest. Furthermore, I’m quite certain that if we stopped bombing the freedom into so many middle-eastern countries, we just might make a more effective, less expensive reduction in terrorism against us. But, as I said, it’s just a thought experiment.

Yes, the US is #1 when it comes to blowing stuff up. But the Yemenis (or whoever) have just demonstrated that the most expensive military in the world can have its defenses crippled by cheap shots. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be out in the world, talking to people and making deals with them. I’m just saying we should check our weapons at the door. And when we enter that door, let the sun shine in behind us. It’s a dirty world, but call me a dreamer, sunshine really is the best disinfectant.

Posted in Politics, Rant, Uncategorized

Tom Perez and the DNC Want My Money and My Vote—they’re just not that into me and my needs

 

MEMORANDUM

TO: Thomas Edward Perez, Chair of the Democratic National Committee
FROM: Ronald Bruce Meyer, Citizen of the United States of America
DATE: September 8, 2019
RE: Your recent fundraising letter

PerezLetter

I feel your pain, Mr. Chairman. In your letter you say, “RIGHT NOW is a critical time for the Democratic Party…” Acknowledging that this is boilerplate fundraising language, I agree that defeating Donald Trump is important for the 2020 election cycle. But when I weed my garden, I have to plant something in place of the weeds or the weeds pop right back. Weeds are like that.

So are corporate shills and con-men.

So, when I read, “We depend on grassroots support from people…” without a hint of what the DNC stands for or, more important, what the DNC will fight for, I have trouble taking you and the DNC seriously.

You say you and the DNC want to “Strengthen State Parties…” Does that mean you won’t actively sabotage primary challengers, as your party is doing and has done in the past, when they happen to be both popular and uncorrupted by corporate donations? Do you even understand that when a politician takes a corporate donation, he or she is expected to do something for the corporation in return? Do you understand that in any other realm but politics, this would be called bribery?

I don’t want to be divisive within the party, but it seems from the opinions of your colleagues that there is never an appropriate time to criticize the Democratic Party. This works out well for incumbents, for sure, who never have to “evolve” on the issues. But it’s not so evident how it helps Democratic voters like me. And I have found that there is no empirical evidence supporting the assertion that intra-party rivalry – like between the progressive wing and the corporate wing of the party – actually benefits the Republicans. Likewise, there is no empirical evidence supporting the notion that the “centrist” policies you and your establishment colleagues support are the most popular policies with Democratic voters!

Your letter says you want my opinion on various topics. I’m happy to share, but I observe that the needs and concerns of the Democratic many are typically ignored in favor of the needs and concerns of the corporate Democratic few. I’m not making this up: the Gilens & Page study shows that the opinions of the bottom 90% of income earners in America have a “statistically non-significant impact” on legislation, but that economic elites, business interests, and people who can afford lobbyists hold major influence over policy.

The issues

Furthermore, 67% of Americans say that the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of Americans like me. For example—

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 8.56.36 PMOn the environment: The Speaker of the House calls aggressive action on human-caused climate destruction “The green dream or whatever they call it.” How can we take seriously a party that can’t take seriously the existential threat of our time? The cost of the climate bill offered by Sen. Sanders is in the trillions. Does the DNC not understand that the cost of inaction is death?

And Reuters/Ipsos polling shows 72% of Americans consider climate change to be a moderate, serious, or imminent threat. A January 2019 Yale University and George Mason University poll shows 69% of Americans are “somewhat worried” about climate change and 29% are “very worried.” Are Democratic leaders worried? Or are you and the DNC only worried that if you take climate destruction seriously, fossil fuel donors will cut off the money flow?

Let’s bring this home: The Democratic National Committee determined in August notto host a debate focused solely on climate change, despite a series of protests around the country led in part by youth activists with the Sunrise Movement. This was directly your (un)doing, Mr. Chairman, even though 64% of Democratic-leaning voters support a debate on this existential crisis. Please explain: In what sense is your party “democratic”?

On impeachment: In an August Monmouth University poll, 59% overall said Trump should not be impeached and compelled to leave office – which comes as Trump’s approval rating remains at 40% or below. The poll shows a clear partisan divide on whether the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee should pursue an impeachment inquiry. While 39% of independents and only 8% of Republicans believe an impeachment inquiry is a good idea, 72% of Democrats support that idea – just not the Speaker of the House, who seems to live in the land of 28%.

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 8.41.38 PMHere’s a fun fact: Impeachment proceedings began against Richard Nixon when the idea polled at only 19%! Do you get the picture, Mr. Chairman? If Democrats want to win their case against Mr. Trump, they must make their case against Mr. Trump.

On healthcare: Medicare For All is supported by 70% of Americans (85% Democrats, 52% Republicans, 66% Independents). According to government projections, if things stay as they are, by 2026, the combined health care spending by the private and public sectors is expected to reach $45 trillion. The projected cost of Medicare For All would be $25T to $32T over 10 years. That sounds like a cost savings to me. Are Democratic leaders listening to voters about Medicare For All? Or should you see a doctor to determine if corporate cash leads to hearing loss?

On education: Nearly 70% of millennials with student debt pointed to the $1.4 trillion student loan crisis as scarier than North Korea. In fact, student debt stifles the American Dream: it depresses home ownership, defeats automobile and large appliance purchases, delays childbearing. Polling suggests that 66% of Democrats either strongly support or somewhat support student debt cancellation; even 41% of Republicans agree. And overall, 87% of Democrats want their state to provide free tuition at public college or university to any academically qualified student. Are the Democratic establishment listening to the voters on education? Or does a cacophony of corporate cash drown us out?

On unemployment and jobs: While the official unemployment rate is 3.7 percent as of July 2019, and continues to drop, the number is deceptive. The official number doesn’t count those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, those who are working part-time because they cannot find full-time work, and “discouraged workers.” A better measure would be the “Labor Force Participation Rate,” which was only 63% in July. I know you and your donors are fully employed. Where is the Democratic jobs program for the rest of us?

On immigration: Most Americans oppose the separation of immigrant families at the border, and a larger share of people than at any point since 2001 (70%) say immigration is good for the nation. And yet your members voted on a $4.6 billion border security appropriations bill, while the Speaker (aided by Chuck Schumer in the Senate) dropped any protections for migrant children in overcrowded border shelters – “a betrayal of our American values,” according to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Are the Democrats with the majority or with the Republicans on immigration reform?

On racism and criminal justice reform: 64% of Americans, in a Quinnipiac poll, say racism remains a major problem in the USA. Furthermore, polling shows 91% of Americans say the criminal justice system has problems that need fixing. And 71% say it is important to reduce the prison population in America – not just 87% of Democrats, but 67% of Independents, and 57% of Republicans, including 52% Trump voters. A majority of 84% believe that people with mental health disabilities belong in mental health programs instead of prison.

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 8.43.32 PMWhile the Democrats cower to the NRA on gun control issues, and every week there are preventable mass shootings, the USA has a murder rate that keeps us at Number One. Democrats fold under pressure from police organizations and continue to support a failed Drug War, which was designed to imprison black and brown people. Where are the Democrats on fixing racial disparities in American domestic policy? Where are the Democratic alternatives for criminal justice reform?

Lessons not learned

These are just some of the reasons, Mr. Chairman, that I cannot take you and the DNC seriously. And I heave a sigh when I reflect that you have learned nothing from 2016. For example—

Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 8.46.37 PM

  • You foisted on Democratic voters in 2016 the only candidate, the most unpopular in my 64 years on earth, who could possibly have lost to Donald Trump.
  • You cheated the more popular 2016 Democratic candidate out of the presidential nomination through the party’s very undemocratic Superdelegate system. I ask you, why did Debbie Wasserman Schultz have to resign?
  • You failed to listen to the people, who were in great economic pain, and instead demanded that Democrats vote for a status-quo candidate, when a populist candidate was an obvious choice.
  • You listened only to the voices inside your own corporate/Wall Street bubble, instead of the cries of working people who used to support, and be represented by, the Democratic Party – many of whom voted for the only candidate who at least pretended to care about them.
  • You are determined to repeat the mistakes of 2016 in the general election of 2020 by getting behind yet another status quo candidate.
  • When Mr. Obama started the Democratic Unity Fund, with the stated intent to support Democrats up and down the ballot, this appeared to be the first time it occurred to you that, during the ex-President’s eight years in office, your party lost about 1,000 Democratic seats – up and down the ballot.
  • And by wasting over two years not pushing Democratic policies with majority Democratic support, but instead buying into the (mercifully debunked) conspiracy theory of “Russiagate,” in the vain hope that the Mueller Report would save you from your misplaced priorities, you seemed to think there was more Russian hacking in the 2016 election than Republican shenanigans.

And you will continue to lose, Mr. Chairman, if your organization continues not being a resistance by…

  • Voluntarily supporting Republican fiscal austerity measures that frustrate progressive change (“pay-go”).
  • Actively undermining progressive voices in your own party. As Michael Bennet said, “If we wanted to be the party that excluded people, we’d be Republicans.”
  • Quietly acquiescing to voter suppression – such as gerrymandering, racially biased voter purges, voter ID laws, “provisional” ballots, closing polling places in minority districts, preventing ex-felons from voting, disallowing absentee voting by students – in states you need to win, instead of reversing by federal law the ruling in Shelby v. Holder and making voting a citizen right.
  • Vowing, as Sen. Chuck Schumer, said, to “work with” (i.e., cave in to) Mr. Trump on policies such as immigration and infrastructure, especially during the 2017-2018 government shutdown.
  • Voting by 60% in the House and 89% in the Senate in favor of a $716 billion military spending bill for the 2019 federal fiscal year – as if to say, “Sure, Trump is a madman and a racist, but let’s give him everything he wants to continue endless wars on black and brown people.”
  • Allowing with impunity three Democrats (Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Donnelly) to vote in favor of awarding the stolen Supreme Court seat to Neil Gorsuch.
  • Allowing with impunity one Democrat (Joe Manchin) to vote in favor of putting accused sex offender Brett Kavanaugh onto the Supreme Court. (By the way, why is Manchin a Democrat?)

A piece of resistance

WeAre99pctAs for being resistance, I should point out that as of August 14, 2019, the United States Senate has confirmed 146 Article III judges nominated by President Trump. And I should remind you that the Senate is 49 Democrats and 51 Republicans: seeing as how Mr. Obama’s choice of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court was stolen from him, why were almost none of the votes on Mr. Trump’s choices 51-49? And why did Democrats cave on Mr. Trump’s judicial nominations in favor of going on vacation in August 2019 – effectively surrendering an entire branch of government for generations?

If I understand the word, “Resistance,” it should be defined the way Republicans defined it under President Obama: uncompromising opposition. And I hope you understand that a single-minded focus on defeating Mr. Trump, while important – but without an agenda of your own – will leave the Democratic Party without a mandate after he’s gone. Failure to “replant” after “weeding” will guarantee that any Democratic victories will be short-lived. It is not enough to be against Trump; you have to be for something. You have to earn our votes. You have to give voters a reason to go to the polls.

We already have a Republican party. And we know what they stand for. You don’t want to be Republican-lite. Tell us: What Democratic policies will you fight for to bring voters to the polls?

Coda

By the way—

In your PS, you ask, “Will you… accept my invitation to become a member of the Democratic National Committee?”

I’ll make a deal with you, Mr. Chairman. If I become a member of the DNC, will you and your party quit undermining progressives and Justice Democrats, who have vowed to work for their voters rather than for their donors?

Yes, I still hope to vote for candidates of the Democratic Party. I agree with you, Mr. Chairman: Right now is a critical time – for democracy. I just wish my party were more, you know, democratic.

Posted in Rant, Reflections

Lies My Newspaper Tells Me

Guardian HeadlineThe Guardian article, by Joe Parkin Daniels (in Bogotá, Columbia – one wonders why it wasn’t Joe Parkin Daniels in Caracas, Venezuela), is headlined, “Red Cross brokers Maduro-Guaidó deal to allow aid delivery,” already apparently siding with the 25% of the world that recognizes some legitimacy in Juan Guadó’s claim to leadership in Venezuela.

But from the first, I know I’m being lied to. The picture at the top of the article shows Las Tienditas Bridge, which links Venezuela and Colombia, with cargo containers blocking the three spans. The caption says the bridge “was blocked off with containers earlier this month.” This is true but misleading: the bridge has been blocked off since 2016 – because the bridge has never been opened! Only the containers were added. I know this because I found an older picture, from 2016, at La Opinion. But maybe the Guardian can’t use Google?

Tienditas BridgeThe article gets worse from there. The first paragraph reads—

The Red Cross has brokered a deal with representatives of Venezuela’s embattled leader, Nicolás Maduro, and his rival, Juan Guaidó, to allow humanitarian aid into the country, indicating a seldom-seen middle ground between the two men that contest the presidency.

This is again misleading. Nicolás Maduro was re-elected President of Venezuela on 20 May 2018 (sworn in on 10 January 2019), an office in which he has served since 2013, after the hugely popular Hugo Chávez died. Juan Guaidó declared himself “interim president” of Venezuela on 23 January 2019. To put this in other terms, I could declare myself a “rival” of President Trump, but that doesn’t make it so. The article, however, seems to equate the claims of a previously unknown politician who believes himself entitled to an office for which he never ran and to which he was never elected.

The article goes on—

The first shipment of aid for about 650,000 vulnerable people could reach Venezuela in two weeks, Francesco Rocca, the president of the International Federation of the Red Cross, told a press conference on Friday.

Again, the article misleads. This is only the “first” shipment of aid if you don’t count ongoing aid from Russia and China and ignore aid that might have come from other countries had not the USA bullied them into line. It is a fact that the UN and the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) would have nothing to do with assisting US aid efforts to Venezuela because they saw right through the cynical politics of it. The IFRC (International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), a related organization, operated here. This is not to suggest that aid is a bad thing, but there are multiple reasons why some of it is necessary.

More from the article—

Venezuela has been mired in an economic, political and humanitarian crisis for five years. Shortages and hyperinflation – set to reach 10m% this year – have made medicines and even basic foodstuff hard to obtain for most people.

Saying there has been a problem for five years without giving context and background is at best lazy reporting, at worst agenda reporting. Venezuela was hit hard twice: first in January 2016 by an oil price drop to less than $30/barrel, then in August 2017 by Trump Administration economic sanctions, preventing the cash-strapped nation from borrowing money in the usual way. As one commentator noted, “the sanctions made it virtually impossible for the Venezuela government to take the measures necessary to eliminate hyperinflation or recover from a deep depression.”

MintPressChartSanctions do not hurt the leaders or the economic elite (mostly white), which comprise most of those who are fleeing the country: instead, they hurt the Venezuelan people (mostly people of color). Sanctions are a form of warfare, if not a war crime. As another source puts it, “The record of economic sanctions in forcing political change is dismal, but as a way of reducing a country to poverty and misery it is difficult to beat.”

One final note on the article—

The new effort seems more likely to succeed in large part because of the involvement of the Red Cross, which had distanced itself from the previous attempt to shift the aid into Venezuela.

The reason previous aid from Western governments failed to make it through was because the aid was not even remotely what Francesco Rocca stressed it must be: “independent, neutral, impartial and unhindered.” And please note this: There are more people in need of “humanitarian aid” in the USA than there are people in Venezuela!

Maduro and his state are far from perfect, but they do not live in a state of amnesia, or in an alternate universe. They well remember that it was Elliott Abrams, now Mr. Trump’s Special Representative for Venezuela, and his fellow war criminals, who hid weapons of war in shipments of humanitarian aid to the Contra criminals in Nicaragua. They’ve seen this regime-change script before.

Posted in Politics, Rant, Uncategorized
John Mill