Sunday, January 16, 2022
The following op-ed on Krysten Sinema's stance on the filibuster is by Ja'han Jones at MSNBC.com:
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s rambling speech Thursday defending the filibuster and refusing to bypass it to advance voting rights legislation was a total dud. With the warmth and sincerity of a Frigidaire, the Arizona Democrat spoke from a lectern on the Senate floor about the merits of a racist relic historically used to beat back civil rights measures.
The filibuster, she claimed, is “a tool that requires new federal policy to be broadly supported by senators representing a broader cross-section of Americans — a guardrail, inevitably viewed as an obstacle by whoever holds the Senate majority, but which in reality ensures that millions of Americans represented by the minority party have a voice in the process.”
And if millions of Americans in the minority party believe in creating obstacles for the opposing party to vote, or the minority party wants to gerrymander districts that diminish the power of Black and brown voters? So be it, according to Sinema’s logic.
But her rationale for defending the filibuster is as inconsistent as it is immoral. Sinema, as some have noted, supported bypassing the filibuster just over a month ago in order to raise the debt ceiling on a party-line vote. She doesn’t think Republicans should be allowed to damage America’s credit, but she thinks allowing them to damage American democracy is a virtue.
It’s a contradiction Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., called out during his own Senate speech last month after the debt limit vote:
Be very clear, last week we changed the rules of the Senate. To address another important issue, the economy. This is a step, a change in the Senate rules we haven’t been willing to take to save our broken democracy, but one that a bipartisan majority of this chamber thought was necessary in order to keep our economy strong. We changed the rules to protect the full faith and credit of the United States government. We’ve decided we must do it for the economy, but not for the democracy.
Sinema may well succeed in thwarting voting rights legislation due to the outsize power she wields in the Senate, but the more she explains her stance, the more incoherent it becomes.
Saturday, January 15, 2022
The chart above reflects the results of the new Quinnipiac University Poll -- done between January 7th and 10th of a nationwide sample of 1,313 adults, with a 2.7 point margin of error.
I have to admit I find these results puzzling. Republicans have been trying to suppress voting in many states, and the Republicans in the U.S. Congress have prevented Democrats from passing legislation that would protect the right to vote for all citizens. Yet, only 45% say Democrats are protecting the right to vote and 43% say it's the Republicans. That's within the poll's margin of error, which means it's a virtual tie!
How can this be? Are these people not watching any news? Or is this the country's racism showing up? Whatever the reason, it's not good for the country.
Sirhan Bishara Sirhan murdered Senator Robert Kennedy in 1968. He has now spent more than 50 years in a California prison. Recently, California's state parole board recommended Sirhan be paroled. Governor Newsom has rejected that recommendation. Sirhan will stay in prison, and likely die there.
Here is the op-ed Governor Newsom wrote for the Los Angeles Times explaining his decision:
In 1968, Sirhan Sirhan assassinated Sen. Robert F. Kennedy just moments after Kennedy won the California presidential primary. Sirhan also shot and injured five bystanders. Decades later, Sirhan refuses to accept responsibility for the crimes.
California’s Board of Parole Hearings recently found that Sirhan is suitable for parole. I disagree. After carefully reviewing the case, including records in the California State Archives, I have determined that Sirhan has not developed the accountability and insight required to support his safe release into the community. I must reverse Sirhan’s parole grant.
Kennedy’s assassination not only changed the course of this nation and robbed the world of a promising young leader, it also left his 11 children without a father and his wife without a husband. Kennedy’s family bears his loss every day. Millions of Americans lost a unifier in a time of national turmoil and grief, just nine weeks after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and four-and-a-half years after the murder of Kennedy’s brother, President John F. Kennedy.
Yet, after decades in prison, Sirhan still lacks the insight that would prevent him from making the kind of dangerous and destructive decisions he made in the past. The most glaring proof of Sirhan’s deficient insight is his shifting narrative about his assassination of Kennedy, and his current refusal to accept responsibility for it.
The evidence that Sirhan assassinated Kennedy is overwhelming and irrefutable. Before the assassination, Sirhan recorded his plans to kill Kennedy, writing, “RFK must die. RFK must be killed. Robert F. Kennedy must be assassinated.” At the time of the assassination, Sirhan accepted sole responsibility. In a televised interview, Sirhan confirmed that he assassinated Kennedy and acted alone.
Incredibly, in the 1990s, Sirhan began dodging responsibility. He claimed he could not remember the crime, then stated he was innocent. In 2016, Sirhan said he believed he did not kill Kennedy based on what he had read in his attorney’s legal briefs. As recently as last year, Sirhan portrayed himself as the victim, claiming he “was in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”
It is abundantly clear that, because of Sirhan’s lack of insight, his release on parole would pose a threat to public safety.
Sirhan is now 77 years old, but he remains a potent symbol of political violence. In the past, terrorists took hostages — and ultimately killed some of them — in Sirhan’s name. Despite inciting violence in the past, recently Sirhan laughingly dismissed the current relevance of his status as an ideological lightning rod. He does not understand, let alone have the skills to manage, the complex risks of his self-created notoriety. He cannot be safely released from prison because he has not mitigated his risk of fomenting further political violence.
Over the years, Sirhan and his advocates have churned false claims about Kennedy’s assassination. Each claim of Sirhan’s innocence has been investigated and disproved. These falsehoods fuel Sirhan’s denial of accountability. Their repetition also perpetrates an additional and ongoing harm by keeping open and unhealed the wound that the assassination inflicted on the Kennedy family and the American public.
Friday, January 14, 2022
The charts above reflect the results of the new Quinnipiac University Poll -- done between January 7th and 10th of a nationwide sample of 1,313 adults, with a 2.7 point margin of error.
It shows Americans currently have a pessimistic view of what's happening in the country. They support the January 6th Select Committee and its work. But they think our democracy is in danger of collapse, domestic political instability is a bigger danger than foreign enemies, and they expect those political divisions to get worse in their lifetime. It's no wonder that their faith in government is very low.
The chart below was also in the poll. Most Americans do not want Trump to run for president again in 2024.
The Labor Department released its weekly unemployment statistics on Thursday. It showed that another 230,000 workers filed for unemployment benefits in the week ending on January 8th. That's about 23,000 more than the previous week, and the highest number in the last eight weeks.
Here is the Labor Department official statement:
In the week ending January 8, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims was 230,000, an increase of 23,000 from the previous week's unrevised level of 207,000. The 4-week moving average was 210,750, an increase of 6,250 from the previous week's unrevised average of 204,500.
A few days ago, the Justice Department announced creation of a new Domestic Terrorism unit. This was badly needed, since domestic terrorism is more dangerous to Americans than terrorism from abroad. Will the new unit be effective?
Former assistant director for counter intelligence at the FBI, Frank Figliuzzi, says three things must happen to make the unit effective. Here is part of what he says:
The Department of Justice has a new domestic terrorism unit, a response to a threat that The Washington Post noted “has intensified dramatically in recent years.” It sure has. Matthew G. Olsen, head of DOJ’s National Security Division, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday that since Spring 2020, the FBI’s domestic terrorism investigative caseload has doubled. But it took a full year after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on our U.S. Capitol for DOJ to get around to forming a unit of lawyers to deal with the kinds of threats that Jill Sanborn, the FBI’s head of national security, calls “the most lethal” facing the country. . . .
If the new unit is to be a harbinger of serious efforts to detect, deter and defeat a domestic threat that FBI Director Chris Wray once said had become equal to the threat of international terror, then we need answers from DOJ to three important questions.
First, will there be an enhanced staffing level of prosecutors exclusively dedicated to domestic terrorism? Olsen told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department previously had counterterrorism attorneys who worked both domestic and international cases and that the new unit would “augment our existing approach.” Is DOJ augmenting its “approach” or is it augmenting its staff with increased numbers? If the new approach doesn’t come with increased staffing, then it’s not sufficient. . . .
Second, will this new unit come with any new tools in the investigative or prosecutive tool kit? More than 25 years after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City by domestic terrorists, we still don’t have a federal law against domestic terrorism. There are only laws against international terrorism, despite calls from some lawmakers and even the FBI Agents Association for domestic terrorism to be crime. Something called a “terrorism enhancement” permits prosecutors to ask for increased sentences for an underlying crime — say trespass or assault — if it’s connected to domestic terrorism, and Wray has testified that the violence at the Capitol was domestic terrorism, yet DOJ isn’t even asking for enhanced sentences against Jan. 6 defendants. At Tuesday’s hearing, Senators vented their frustration that available enhancements aren’t being requested in the Capitol cases. If the new unit doesn’t come with a willingness to call political, anti-government violence "terrorism," then what’s the point?
Third, will the new unit be engaged with implementing the White House national domestic terrorism strategy? Released in June 2021, with great fanfare, the strategy to combat the domestic threat was a mile wide but an inch deep. It spoke of enhanced government and law enforcement partnerships with social media platforms, battling disinformation by teaching Americans to be more savvy consumers of information, and it promised to at least look at the need for a domestic terrorism law. So far, we’ve heard nothing but crickets on any of these initiatives.
Prosecuting domestic terrorism after it’s already happened is like cleaning up the wreckage after a train derailment — it must be done, but the carnage has already occurred. That’s why new proactive investigative techniques, the kind lawfully permitted in properly predicated international terrorism investigations — informant development, electronic surveillance, undercover agents — should come with the new DOJ unit. The unit should also have staff dedicated to helping lead a whole-of-society approach to mitigating the threat by supporting implementation of President Joe Biden’s strategy. Let’s get it right this time. Before our train goes off the rails.
Thursday, January 13, 2022
There is a belief going around that Donald Trump changed the Republican Party. This is especially popular among the few moderates left in that party. They would like you to believe that after Trump is gone, the GOP will return to normalcy and work in a bipartisan fashion again (like it did several decades ago). There's only one thing wrong with that idea -- it is just NOT TRUE!
The party has not been bipartisan for years now. During the term of President Obama, the Republicans opposed everything he tried to do -- even when he moderated his agenda in the hopes they would compromise. They were even honest about it. Some of the moderates were honest enough to admit the party's congressional delegation met after Obama's election and decided to oppose anything he tried to do, whether it was good for the country or not.
Trump did not create the partisanship of the GOP. He just recognized it and used it.
The same was true of race. The GOP had a large part of its base that was racist and white supremacist. Back in the 60's, millions of racists abandoned the Democratic Party after President Johnson pushed three civil rights bill through Congress and signed them. The Republican Party welcomed those racists with open arms, giving them a majority in the South (something they had never had). Party leaders may have thought they could control the racists after admitting them, but they were unable to do that. And the party became a comfortable home for racists and white supremacists.
Trump did not create the racism in the GOP. He just recognized it and used it.
The same is true of misogyny and homophobia. Thanks to the inclusion of the white evangelicals in the party, it has long been anti-woman and anti-LGBT. Republicans consider women second class citizens, and won't even let them control their own bodies. Republicans also opposed giving the LGBT community the same rights that other Americans enjoyed (including the ability to marry the person they loved).
Trump did not create the GOP's misogyny and homophobia. He just recognized it and used it.
Trump was also very anti-immigrant while campaigning and serving in office. But he didn't create that either. The GOP was anti-immigrant long before Trump. The GOP killed several attempts to reform our immigration laws long before Trump became a politician. In fact, Trump used many immigrants in his businesses. But he changed when he decided to run as a Republican.
Trump did not create the GOP's anti-immigrant fervor. He just recognized it and used it.
The Republican Party had a dark and ugly core in its base. That had been true for a long time. And it's why Trump decided to run as a Republican. Although he was a moderate Democrat for most of his life, Trump knew he could not win a Democratic nomination. But he saw the ugliness in the Republican base, and he knew he could use that to make himself popular among Republicans. And he had the lack of character and morals to do that.
The Republican Party will not return to a bipartisan "normalcy" when Trump is gone. The racists, misogynists, homophobic, and immigrant haters will still be there, and they will still make up the majority of the party's base. Having Trump appeal to their base instincts has emboldened them -- and they are not going to be quite or go away.
The Republican Party is the party of hate. That's not going to change anytime soon.
The chart above reflects the results of the new Economist / YouGov Poll -- done between January 8th and 11th of a nationwide sample of 1,500 adults (including 1,258 registered voters). The margin of error for adults is 2.8 points, and for registered voters is 3.0 points.
It is just a few days before the MLK Jr Holiday. You Gov found that most Americans consider his "I Have A Dream" speech to still be relevant in today's United States.
Joe Manchin is still refusing to do anything about the Senate filibuster, and his excuses for protecting the filibuster are making no sense at all. The following is part of an op-ed on this by Greg Sargent in The Washington Post:
Everyone had a grand old time mocking Sen. Joe Manchin III for claimingon Tuesday that we’ve had the filibuster for 232 years. This is historically false. What’s more, the West Virginia Democrat’s deeper argument here — that in some sense the filibuster preserves a vision of the Senate in keeping with that of the framers — is also profoundly off-base.
But now Manchin has expanded even further on that deeper argument. And the case he made in this regard captures the essential fallacy of the pro-filibuster position as clearly as one could possibly expect.
The stakes are high. Democrats are making one final push for a package of protections for voting rights and democracy. Given uniform GOP opposition, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will hold a vote soon on whether to suspend the filibuster to pass them. . . .
Manchin has now offered a new justification for this position.
“I mean, voting is very important. It is a bedrock of democracy,” Manchin told reporters Tuesday. “But to break the opportunity for the minority to participate completely — that’s just not who we are.”
This idea, that even a temporary filibuster carve-out betrays “who we are,” essentially posits that the Senate supermajority requirement is in some sense more faithful to American liberal constitutionalism than protecting voting rights is.
This is absurd. First, the idea that nixing the filibuster would “break the opportunity for the minority to participate completely” is unintentionally revealing about Manchin’s true stance. It’s false on its face: Needing a simple majority to pass legislation doesn’t stop senators from the minority party from entering into negotiations with the majority party to try to influence said legislation.
In fact, ending the filibuster might increase the incentive for a bloc of GOP senators to seek such negotiations. Without it, bills could pass with a majority of fewer than 60 votes, meaning, say, five moderate Republicans would have more opportunities to get on legislation with a real chance of passage, burnishing their bipartisan cred while delivering for constituents. Moderate Democrats who want to be seen working with Republicans would help that happen.
What ending the filibuster actually would stop is the opportunity for the minority party to participate entirely on its own terms. With the filibuster, virtually nothing can pass. This facilitates and encourages a deliberate opposition strategy of denying the president’s party legislative victories to make the government under that party more dysfunctional.
This is the reality of the “opportunity for the minority to participate” that Manchin is personally enabling. And it actually reduces the opportunity for more bipartisan legislation to pass — the opposite of what he suggests.
Second, you know who is actually working hard to “break the opportunity of the minority to participate”? GOP-controlled state legislatures are. They are passing restrictions on voting access in many states, and they’re doing so by simple majority — on a largely partisan basis.
Manchin himself agrees this is a serious problem. That’s why he supports the Freedom to Vote Act, which would curb such GOP efforts by creating baseline standards for early voting, same-day registration and voting by mail, while also limiting partisan capture of election machinery.
What Manchin opposes is achieving those monumentally important things on a partisan basis. But here’s the rub: Either Republicans will keep restricting voting on a partisan basis, or Democrats will protect and expand voting access on a partisan basis. Partisanship will prevail either way. The only question is which partisanship prevails.
Wednesday, January 12, 2022
The charts above are from the Pew Research Center. They show that those who are on the ends of the political spectrum (both left and right) are more likely to be politically engaged. They are also the most likely to post their views on social media.
Our Founding Fathers did not include a filibuster in the Constitution, and they left it out intentionally. They did not think it should require a "super majority" to pass laws. That brings up the question -- is the modern Senate filibuster (especially considering how it is used) even a constitutional concept?
Here is part of what former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has to say about this:
Yesterday, a member of our group named Emmet Bondurant, a distinguished constitutional lawyer from Georgia, commented on this page about the filibuster:
The biggest lie of all is the Senate’s claim that it “is the greatest deliberative body in the world.” The filibuster makes the Senate the least deliberative legislative and least democratic legislative body by allowing a minority of Senators to prevent the Senate from debating, much less voting on, any legislation that is opposed by the minority party.
A decade ago, when Emmet and I served on the board of Common Cause, he brought a case before federal courts, arguing that the filibuster is unconstitutional. He didn’t get very far. (The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia decided that Common Cause lacked standing to make the argument, and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.) But this was before the high court became crammed with so-called “originalists” who believe the Constitution should be interpreted to mean what the Framers thought when they drafted it.
Originalism is an absurd position, of course. American society is so different today from what it was in the eighteenth century that any attempt to apply precepts from that time to this time is doomed to failure. But why not test the sincerity of the originalists sitting on today’s Supreme Court with an issue that the Framers would find a no-brainer? All evidence suggests they would agree with Emmet that the filibuster violates the Constitution.
The Framers went to great lengths to ensure that a minority of senators could not thwart the wishes of the majority. After all, a major reason they convened the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was because the Articles of Confederation (the precursor to the Constitution) required a super-majority vote of nine of the thirteen states, making the government weak and ineffective.
This led James Madison to argue against any super-majority requirement in the Constitution the Framers were then designing, writing that otherwise “the fundamental principle of free government would be reversed,“ and “It would be no longer the majority that would rule: the power would be transferred to the minority.” And it led Alexander Hamilton to note “how much good may be prevented, and how much ill may be produced” if a minority in either house of Congress had “the power of hindering the doing what may be necessary.”
This is why the Framers required no more than a simple majority in both houses of Congress to pass legislation.
They carved out only five specific exceptions requiring a super-majority vote only in rare, high-stakes decisions: (1) impeachments, (2) expulsion of members, (3) overriding a presidential veto, (4) ratification of treaties, and (5) amendments to the Constitution. By being explicit about these five exceptions to majority rule, the Framers underscored their commitment to majority rule for the normal business of the nation. They would have rejected the filibuster, through which a minority of senators continually obstructs the majority.
So where did the filibuster come from? The Senate needed a mechanism to end debate on proposed laws and move to a vote. The Framers didn’t anticipate this problem. But in 1841, a small group of senators took advantage of this oversight to stage the first filibuster. They hoped to force their opponents to give in by prolonging debate and delaying a vote.
This was what became known as the “talking filibuster” — as popularized in Frank Capra’s other great film, “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” (a perfect compliment to his “It’s a Wonderful Life”). But contrary to the admirable character Jimmy Stewart plays in that film, the result was hardly admirable.
After the Civil War, the filibuster was used by Southern politicians to defeat Reconstruction legislation, including bills to protect the voting rights of Black Americans. Finally, in 1917, as a result of pressure from President Woodrow Wilson and the public, the Senate adopted a procedure for limiting debate and ending filibusters with a two-thirds vote of the Senate (67 votes). In the 1970s, the Senate reduced the number of votes required to end debate down to 60, and no longer required constant talking to delay a vote. 41 votes would do it.
Throughout much of the 20th century, filibusters remained rare. (Southern senators mainly used them to block anti-lynching, fair employment, voting rights, and other critical civil rights bills.) But that changed in 2007, after Democrats took over the Senate. Senate Republicans, now in the minority, used the 60-vote requirement with unprecedented frequency. . . .
Now we have a total mockery of majority rule. McConnell and his Republicans are stopping almost everything in its tracks. Just 41 Senate Republicans, representing only 21 percent of the country, are now blocking laws supported by the vast majority of Americans. This is exactly the opposite of what the Framers of the Constitution intended. To repeat: They unequivocally rejected the notion that a minority of Senators could obstruct the majority.
My humble suggestion, therefore: Senators whose votes have been blocked by the senate minority should themselves take the issue to the Supreme Court. If anyone has standing to make this argument, they surely do. If the conservative majority on the Court stands by its “originalist” principles, they’ll abolish the filibuster as violating the Constitution.
Tuesday, January 11, 2022
The charts above are from the Gallup Poll -- done between December 1st and 16th of a nationwide sample of 811 adults, with a 4 point margin of error. It shows that Americans are reading fewer books than at any time in the last 30 years.
President Biden has finally realized that bipartisanship is impossible with this current crop of Republicans. That's a good thing. If anything is going to get done, it will have to be done by Democrats alone.
The following is part of an op-ed by Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post:
President Biden spent a year trying to extend olive branches to Republicans, refusing to call out their lies about covid-19 and the 2020 election and pursuing deals with a group of Republicans on his agenda. He got a bipartisan infrastructure bill and not much else.
With the only conceivable bipartisan win already in his pocket, Biden has shifted to a feistier, more confrontational tone with Republicans. It’s about time.
In remarks about the December jobs numbers on Friday, Biden made clearthat whatever economic progress has been made came over the objections of Republicans. He took credit for robust job creation and rising wages, arguing, “How did that happen? Well, the American Rescue Plan got the economy off its back and moving again, back on its feet, getting over 20 — 200 million Americans fully vaccinated; got people out of their homes and back to work, even in the face of wave after wave of covid.”. . .
He also returned to a theme that has consistently helped Democrats win elections: Republicans are for the fat cats; Democrats are helping the little guy. “For too long, Republicans have thrown around terms like ‘pro-growth’ and ‘supply-side economics’ to drive an economic agenda that didn’t deliver enough growth and supplied more wealth to those who were already — were very well off.” Biden repeated a line he used to great effect during the campaign: “I’m determined to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out because, when we do, we get more growth, higher wages, more jobs and, over time, lower prices.”
Coming on the heels of his fiery Jan. 6 speech, Biden’s criticism of the GOP is noteworthy. A few things are going on here.
First, with all the legislative sausage-making and fights with Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), Biden and fellow Democrats have allowed Republicans’ obstructionism and plutocratic economics to go unchallenged. Shifting focus from the stalled, ungainly and poorly understood Build Back Better bill to an economic recovery that Democrats jump-started through the American Rescue Plan without the help of Republicans is long overdue. Talking about a success rather than an incomplete legislative effort makes perfect political sense.
Second, even if Build Back Better does not get through — or is dramatically downsized — Biden will want to run on his party’s economic record. Democrats need to take credit for job and wage gains if they are going to convince voters not to turn Congress over to the GOP. Especially because Republicans opposed any tax hikes for big corporations or the super-rich, Biden can help Democrats recapture their favorite populist message. (Once upon a time, “live like a Republican, vote Democratic” summed up Democrats’ success in delivering for working- and middle-class voters.)
Third, inflation is largely within the purview of the Federal Reserve, although Biden continues to work on untangling supply chains and cracking down on monopolistic pricing. His ability to influence inflation is minimal, but what is within his control is the ability to remind voters that Republicans oppose things that would reduce health-care, child-care and prescription drug costs. He should stress to Americans that he has held down health-care insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have tried to destroy.
Biden’s legislative slog has largely obscured his impressive economic results. His fight with Manchin has convinced many voters that the Democratic camp is the problem, not the Republicans who insist on protecting big corporations and the very wealthy from paying taxes. If Democrats are going to survive the 2022 midterms, they will do so because the economic and covid crises have receded, and because voters understand that Republicans have never been on their side.
Monday, January 10, 2022
The following is from Ja'han Jones at MSNBC.com:
Several large corporations that previously condemned the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, including some who pledged not to fund its sympathizers in Congress, have resumed donating to Republican lawmakers who tried to overturn the 2020. election.
That’s according to a report from the corporate watchdog Accountable.US, the same group that previously outed corporations for similar hypocrisy on voting rights. The new report, titled “In Bad Company,” includes Boeing, UPS, FedEx, Cigna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson among a list of companies that claimed to support democracy in public only to quietly continue funding its biggest opponents.
“CEOs were quick to forgive and forget the election objectors’ rhetoric and actions that were a major escalation factor in the lead up to the assault on democracy,” the report says. “The question is, did these companies honestly care about preserving our democracy in the first place?”