Archives for the month of: November, 2020

The Detroit Free Press reported today that Trump lawyers asked a federal court to set aside the certified election results and give the state’s electoral votes to Trump. They never give up, despite their many losses and their lack of any evidence of fraud. Are these billable hours? There must be a reason they ignore their humiliating setbacks and soldier on. Trump continues to insist that he won the election, on Twitter and in a FOX interview. Michael Isikoff (@Isikoff) tweeted: “Post-pardon Mike Flynn says in radio interview: “I do not believe for a second the country will accept Biden as the next president based on what we know is probably the greatest fraud our country has ever experienced.” Says…”

TrumpWorld is cultivating a fascist “stabbed in the back” scenario to undermine our democracy. Trump’s chief cyber security expert Chris Krebs said the 2020 election was the fairest ever. Trump fired him.

The Detroit Free Press wrote today:

Allies of President Donald Trump want a federal court in Michigan to force state leaders to set aside election results and award its 16 electoral votes to the president. 

A separate conservative group also wants the Michigan Supreme Court to invalidate the results that show President-elect Joe Biden won the state. 

The latest lawsuit, filed in the Eastern District of Michigan and before the state’s highest court, rely on unfounded allegations of widespread fraud and misconduct that judges in the state and across the country have previously rejected. Neither has a high likelihood of success. 

There is no evidence of mass fraud or wrongdoing that affected election operations in Michigan or elsewhere. Biden earned roughly 154,000 more votes than Trump in Michigan.

When the Trump team and the president himself pressured Michigan Republican officials to overturn the vote in their state, only one man said no. He said he had to follow the law. He was a hero of democracy.

His name is Aaron Van Langevelde.

“We must not attempt to exercise power we simply don’t have,” declared Van Langevelde, a member of Michigan’s board of state canvassers, the ministerial body with sole authority to make official Joe Biden’s victory over Trump. “As John Adams once said, ‘We are a government of laws, not men.’ This board needs to adhere to that principle here today. This board must do its part to uphold the rule of law and comply with our legal duty to certify this election.”

We need more like him.

The Supreme Court has taken a dangerous rightwing turn since the addition of Trump’s three religious zealot. Poor Chief Justice John Roberts has lost control. He is no longer the deciding vote. In the latest decision, he joined with the Court’s three liberals in a vain effort to say that public health requires all of us to accept limits and restrictions, even houses of worship. Several people tweeted to tell me that their churches encouraged masks and social distancing. But many others do not. See the photograph in Mike Klonsky’s post of a Brooklyn synagogue where thousands of congregants were packed together, maskless.

Thousands of unmasked Hasidic sect members squeeze inside the Yetev Lev temple in Brooklyn for the wedding of a chief rabbi’s grandson. Similar weddings have been happening in Brooklyn for months in violation of city ordinances — with precautions such as covering windows with paper and guards at the doors in case an inspector shows up to keep them from being detected.

The Supreme Court’s 5-4 midnight ruling, which prevents New York city and state officials from imposing limits on the Roman Catholic Diocese or Brooklyn’s Hasidic sect during the pandemic, had little to do with the broad issue of religious freedom. Rather it was a signal to Trump’s MAGA death cult and his evangelical base that the extreme right-wing majority, led by DT’s newly-appointed religious cultist, Amy Coney Barrett, was on the job and will be for decades to come. 

The Court already ruled that a baker in Colorado did not have to bake a wedding cake for a gay couple. What will the Court rule when a shopkeeper refuses to serve women or blacks or Jews because of his religious beliefs? This Court is certain to say that religious beliefs “trump” civil rights law.

The Washington Post published an editorial by Fred Hiatt, editor of the editorial page, excoriating Senator Rubio for his unprincipled remarks about President-Elect Biden’s first appointments. He seems to think they are too well-qualified, too well-informed, too well-educated to serve.

Let’s say you’re a Republican senator who claims to support democracy and U.S. leadership in the world.

Let’s imagine, too, that you’ve spent four years excusing and supporting a president who fawned over North Korea’s odious dictator, encouraged China’s ruling tyrant to build his concentration camps, took the word of Russia’s strongman over U.S. intelligence agencies and celebrated the Saudi despot who orchestrated the dismemberment of a dissident journalist.

And let’s posit that, on top of all that, you’ve been a profile in cowardice as your president tried to nullify a democratic election here at home.

Now the president-elect appoints a team of seasoned, moderate foreign policy experts who support democracy and American leadership in the world.

How do you respond?

Like this, maybe? “I’m sure I will have my differences with President-elect Joe Biden and his team over the coming years. But we share many fundamental principles. His nominees are beyond well-qualified.“For the good of our country, I wish them every success.”

In our dreams.

Here is the way Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) actually greeted the new team: “Biden’s cabinet picks went to Ivy League schools, have strong resumes, attend all the right conferences & will be polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline.”

I suppose this sour, graceless tweet shouldn’t surprise us. It shouldn’t surprise us to see Rubio, along with Tom Cotton (Ark.), Josh Hawley (Mo.) and other Republican senators, disparaging the incoming Biden team. They are now in the opposition, after all.

In an ideal world, constructive criticism from the opposition might help keep an administration sharp and focused. In a USA Today op-ed following the tweet, Rubio said his main concern is the new team will be too soft on China.

But there is something particularly galling about this instant pivot to attack mode from senators who couldn’t even bring themselves to acknowledge the results of the election — who have stood by or cheered as President Trump has attempted to overturn those results.

Rubio obviously knows that Trump lost clearly and convincingly, in the electoral college as well as the popular vote. Rubio has been silent as the president claims, with no basis, that the election was stolen.

He applauded as Trump attempted to make that case in court, where his lawyers were turned away again and again because they had no evidence.

And when Trump then pressed state and local officials — the secretary of state in Georgia, legislators in Pennsylvania, the Board of State Canvassers in Michigan — to nullify the results, Rubio offered no objection.

If Trump’s coup attempt has failed, it is because his defeat was so decisive — and because those state and local officials had the integrity and courage to resist Trump’s pressure.

But here’s the essential point: Almost no Republicans on the national stage had the integrity or courage to offer backup for these local officials. Almost none of them gave the public any reason to hope that if Trump’s effort to steal the election state by state had gained traction, they would have stood against it.

It wouldn’t have been difficult. Rubio only had to say, “My fellow Americans, this election was not rigged or stolen. There was no communist conspiracy to alter the results. We should be proud that, in the face of a pandemic, we turned out to vote in record numbers, and our votes were counted conscientiously and honestly by thousands of fair-minded Americans across the country.”

Instead, he followed the standard evasive Republican script, legitimizing Trump’s conspiracy theories without parroting them word for word. “Democrats have contested & gone to court after many elections,” he tweeted. “Like any candidate, President Trump is well within his legal rights to request recounts, contest unlawful votes and if he has clear evidence of widespread misconduct or irregularities take them to court.”

After such a near-miss of a constitutional crisis, you might hope Rubio would opt for a few days of quiet self-reflection — or at least abashed silence.

You might hope that he would reach out with an offer of cooperation to Secretary of State-designate Antony Blinken — a man with a long record of bipartisanship and commitment to human rights and free speech, values Rubio claims to champion.

You might hope Rubio would at least wait until the current president had the decency to concede before pronouncing the next one a failure.

But no. Rubio is already suiting up for the politics of destruction, already certain that this new team will preside over America’s decline.

It’s enough to make you despair that he may be right, though not for the reasons he would have us believe.

After President-Elect Biden announced his new national security team, a group of experienced, highly competent professionals, Senator Marco Rubio mocked them in a tweet, mostly because they are well-educated. Presumably he’s trying to grab Trump’s mantle as champion of the uneducated.

Brianna Keillor of CNN shredded Rubin’s baloney, pointing out that the Trump administration included many Ivy League graduates, such as Trump, who went to Penn and frequently boasted about his Ivy League credentials. Neither Biden nor Harris are Ivy Leaguers. Marco Rubio of full of baloney, even if it’s shredded.

Timothy O’Brien, a biographer of Trump, wrote the following at Bloomberg News:

Now that Donald Trump’s administration has allowed Joe Biden’s team to formally begin its transition into the White House, the president is running out of overt ways to disrupt an election he clearly lost 18 days ago.

His flimsy and misbegotten lawsuits challenging the vote are all but deflated and he’s been less activethan usual on TV and Twitter. Perhaps he’ll make his traditional visit to Mar-a-Lago for the Christmas holidays and then stay put, preferring to endure his humiliation over Biden’s Jan. 20 inauguration outside the capital.

Out of sight shouldn’t mean out of mind, however. Even if he’s off sulking, Trump has ample opportunity over the next two months to abuse his powers or throw sand in the federal machinery Biden will inherit. In this context, Trump loyalists overseeing the bureaucracy, including Attorney General William Barr, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and senior adviser Stephen Miller, may be just as important to watch as the president.

Trump’s clemency powers enable him to issue potentially undeserved pardons at the last minute (think back on the 176 pardons Bill Clinton issued just two hours before exiting the White House in 2001). Seven of Trump’s political advisers have been charged with crimes since his own inauguration, and he’s already commuted the sentence of one them, Roger Stone. Trump is also mired in ongoing civil and criminal probes, and he’ll undoubtedly be tempted to pardon himselfand family members for potential federal crimes, such as obstruction of justice. (His pardoning power doesn’t extend to the possible state charges he faces in New York.)

Trump also can deploy executive orders, which he has already used to great effect to roll backenvironmental regulations and change immigration rules. In June, he signed an order instructing federal agencies to drop environmental laws that slow approvals for oil pipelines, mines, highways and other projects in protected areas. That same month, Trump issued an order suspending new work visas for foreigners and their dependents — making it impossible for American companies to hire skilled immigrants. His administration is now reportedly considering an order meant to end birthright citizenship and challenging whether it’s protected by the 14th Amendment.

A couple of weeks ago, Trump moved to lock down his tough trade stance toward China through an order banning U.S. investments in companies linked to China’s military. The day after Election Day, the Health and Human Services Department introduced a new rule that would suspend thousands of its own regulations automatically after granular reviews — a move the New York Times reported was likely meant “to tie the hands of the next administration.”

Last week, the Treasury Department successfully clawed back $455 billion in Covid-19 relief funds from the Federal Reserve, a move it said was designed to sunset unused rescue programs. But it also gave the incoming Biden administration less flexibility and resources to combat any further economic downturns stemming from the pandemic. On Tuesday, Mnuchin placed the fundsin an account that his likely successor, Janet Yellen, can’t access without approval from Congress.

Trump still holds the nuclear weapons codes (try not to think about that one) and also has the latitude to pursue covert special operations and military confrontations overseas. Christopher Miller, the interim defense secretary Trump installed after canning Mark Esper recently, has been rushing policy changes that will be thorny for Biden to manage — including a Jan. 15 troop drawdown in Afghanistan. On Nov. 12, Trump reportedly asked senior advisers, including Miller and Pompeo, about options for a military strike against Iran. (The group advised against it.)

Shortly after Election Day, Barr gave Justice Department prosecutors the authority to probe Trump’s claims of voting fraud, a move that roiled the agency and broke with longstanding federal policies aimed at keeping law enforcement authorities from influencing election outcomes. Given his track record running interference for Trump in the Mueller probe and other matters, it’s possible that Barr could use his agency’s Office of Legal Counsel to draft memos in coming weeks that protect Trump from future Biden administration investigations.

What about recordkeeping? I imagine Barr and others in the executive branch might tell the West Wing that, despite the legal perils, it’s well within the president’s rights to shred or retain files that outsiders, such as law enforcement officials, journalists and historians, might otherwise want preserved.

Executive orders can be unwound, of course, and policies eventually can be retrofitted by the Biden team, but some of Trump’s personnel moves may be longer-lasting. For all of its complaints about a “deep state” of civil servants set against it in the federal bureaucracy, the Trump White House has been determined to leave an indelible imprint on the federal workforce. It has hollowed out agencies such as the State Department and Justice Department, and spread Trump loyalists across the rest of the government and federal judiciary — some of whom may prove hard for Biden to ignore, much less dislodge.

Trump has nominated or installed supporters on such government panels as the Federal Election Commission, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission who will enjoy lengthy terms that may outlast Biden’s presidency.

In October, Trump issued an executive ordermaking it easier to fire civil servants critical of the president, stripping them of protections meant to guard against partisan meddling. Ronald Sanders, a Trump appointee who oversaw a government panel that sets compensation for civil servants, quit after the order was issued.

The order was “nothing more than a smokescreen for what is clearly an attempt to require the political loyalty of those who advise the President,” Sanders wrote in his resignation letter. “I simply cannot be part of an Administration that seeks to do so, to replace apolitical expertise with political obeisance.”

The House of Representatives temporarily blockedthe order, so for now Trump can’t use his remaining time in office to purge naysayers. But would he have liked to? You bet. And does he want to make life as hard as possible for his successor? You bet.

Some of this isn’t new. Herbert Hoover went out of his way to stymie Franklin D. Roosevelt’s policies before they traded places in the White House in 1933. But as with all things in the Trump era, the wrecking ball is now swinging with far more force. What began with Trump’s efforts to overturn a presidential election will end in a flood of policy and personnel decisions grounded in resentment and retribution.

From Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac”:*

It’s the birthday of poet and artist William Blake (books by this author), born in London (1757). He was four years old when he had a vision that God was at his window. A few years later, he went for a walk and saw a tree filled with angels, their wings shining. He had other visions, too: he saw the prophet Ezekiel sitting under a tree, and angels walking with farmers making hay.

When Blake was 10 his parents sent him to drawing school, and at the age of 14 he was apprenticed to an engraver. After seven years, he went into business for himself, and a few years later he privately printed his first book, Poetical Sketches (1783). It was a total flop — it wasn’t even mentioned in the index of London’s Monthly Review, a list of every book published that month.

Not long after that, Blake’s beloved brother, Robert, died at the age of 24. Blake spent two sleepless weeks at his deathbed, and when he died, Blake claimed that he saw his brother’s spirit rise through the ceiling, clapping its hands with joy. From then on, Blake had regular conversations with his dead brother. A year later, Robert appeared to William in a vision and taught him a method called “illuminated printing,” which combined text and painting into one. Instead of etching into a copper plate, Blake did the opposite: he designed an image in an acid-resistant liquid, then etched away everything else with acid, leaving a relief image, and he applied color to both the raised and etched parts of the copper plate. Illuminated printing — or as it’s now known, relief etching — was a huge breakthrough in printing. Blake wrote: “First the notion that man has a body distinct from his soul is to be expunged: this I shall do by printing in the infernal method by corrosives, which in Hell are salutary and medicinal, melting apparent surfaces away and displaying the infinite which was hid.”

Blake used this technique for many of his great works, including Songs of Innocence (1789), Songs of Experience (1794), The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790), and The Book of Los (1795). Throughout his career, he continued to see visions — in addition to communing with the spirits of relatives and friends, he claimed to be visited by the spirits of many great historical figures, including Alexander the Great, Voltaire, Socrates, Milton, and Mohammed. He talked with them and drew their portraits. He was also visited by angels and once by the ghost of a flea, whose portrait he drew. He wrote: “I assert for My Self that I do not behold the outward Creation [..] ‘What,’ it will be Question’d, ‘When the Sun rises, do you not see a round disk of fire somewhat like a Guinea?’ O no, no, I see an Innumerable company of the Heavenly host.”

Blake died at the age of 69. He spent the day of his death working on a series of engravings of Dante’s Divine Comedy. That evening, he drew a portrait of his wife, and then told her it was his time. A friend of Blake’s who was there at his deathbed wrote: “He died on Sunday night at 6 o’clock in a most glorious manner. […] Just before he died, His Countenance became fair. His eyes Brighten’d and He burst out into Singing of the things he saw in Heaven.”

At the time of his death, Blake was an obscure figure, best remembered for his engravings of other peoples’ work, or maybe his one famous poem, “The Tyger.” Among those who knew more about his life’s work, the consensus was that Blake was insane. Songs of Innocence and of Experience, which he had engraved and painted by hand, had sold fewer than 20 copies in 30 years. It wasn’t until more than 30 years after his death that a husband-and-wife team, Alexander and Anne Gilchrist, published a two-volume biography of Blake that firmly established him as a brilliant and important artist.

He said, “Without minute neatness of execution, the sublime cannot exist! Grandeur of ideas is founded on precision of ideas.”

This entry had to appear today because it is Blake’s birthday.

The New York Times published an essay by Pope Francis about the COVID crisis. He seems to disagree with the Supreme Court decision opposing limits on the number of people who may congregate in houses of worship because such limits restrict “freedom of religion.”

Pope Francis wrote (in part):

With some exceptions, governments have made great efforts to put the well-being of their people first, acting decisively to protect health and to save lives. The exceptions have been some governments that shrugged off the painful evidence of mounting deaths, with inevitable, grievous consequences. But most governments acted responsibly, imposing strict measures to contain the outbreak.

Yet some groups protested, refusing to keep their distance, marching against travel restrictions — as if measures that governments must impose for the good of their people constitute some kind of political assault on autonomy or personal freedom! Looking to the common good is much more than the sum of what is good for individuals. It means having a regard for all citizens and seeking to respond effectively to the needs of the least fortunate.

It is all too easy for some to take an idea — in this case, for example, personal freedom — and turn it into an ideology, creating a prism through which they judge everything.

The coronavirus crisis may seem special because it affects most of humankind. But it is special only in how visible it is. There are a thousand other crises that are just as dire, but are just far enough from some of us that we can act as if they don’t exist. Think, for example, of the wars scattered across different parts of the world; of the production and trade in weapons; of the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing poverty, hunger and lack of opportunity; of climate change. These tragedies may seem distant from us, as part of the daily news that, sadly, fails to move us to change our agendas and priorities. But like the Covid-19 crisis, they affect the whole of humanity.

Look at us now: We put on face masks to protect ourselves and others from a virus we can’t see. But what about all those other unseen viruses we need to protect ourselves from? How will we deal with the hidden pandemics of this world, the pandemics of hunger and violence and climate change?

If we are to come out of this crisis less selfish than when we went in, we have to let ourselves be touched by others’ pain. There’s a line in Friedrich Hölderlin’s “Hyperion” that speaks to me, about how the danger that threatens in a crisis is never total; there’s always a way out: “Where the danger is, also grows the saving power.” That’s the genius in the human story: There’s always a way to escape destruction. Where humankind has to act is precisely there, in the threat itself; that’s where the door opens.

This is a moment to dream big, to rethink our priorities — what we value, what we want, what we seek — and to commit to act in our daily life on what we have dreamed of.

God asks us to dare to create something new. We cannot return to the false securities of the political and economic systems we had before the crisis. We need economies that give to all access to the fruits of creation, to the basic needs of life: to land, lodging and labor. We need a politics that can integrate and dialogue with the poor, the excluded and the vulnerable, that gives people a say in the decisions that affect their lives. We need to slow down, take stock and design better ways of living together on this earth.

In a ridiculous 5-4 decision released Wednesday, the Unitedla States Supreme Court ruled that Governor Cuomo’s limits on the number of people who may congregate in houses of worship are unconstitutional. The deciding vote was that of Trump’s appointee Justice Amy Coney Barrett.

Just a few months ago, the same Court ruled that limits on the number of people in religious gatherings were appropriate because of the pandemic.

The death of Justice Ginsberg and her replacement by Justice Barrett means the right to practice religion is more important than public health. All three of Trump’s choices—Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, and Barrett—are religious extremists. Their votes, plus those of Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, made this lethal decision possible.

Justice Gorsuch said it was unfair to allow hardware stores and ice cream shops to open while limiting religious services. But how many hardware stores or ice cream shops have hundreds of customers at the same time, congregating for hours, and singing?

Those who worship in a sanctuary with dozens or hundreds of others, singing, praying, chanting, breathing in each other’s exhalations—will go out into their communities and spread disease.

This is a terrible decision that will contribute to the pandemic. People will die because of it. We can anticipate more extremist decisions in which religious beliefs take precedence over other constitutionally protected rights as well as public health.

Even worse decisions lie ahead, in which religious beliefs will distort the law.

This is the first time that any of us has experienced Thanksgiving in the midst of a national pandemic. Many people will heed the advice of doctors and cancel their family get-togethers. Others will gather in small groups, hopefully with masks and social distancing. A strange holiday, as will be Christmas and New Year’s.

I want to wish you and your families a Happy Thanksgiving and wish you the strength and good health to persevere. The pandemic will not last forever.

On a personal note, I want to let you know that I am taking a weekend break. It’s something I have not done since I started the blog in April 2012. Right now, there are only a limited number of topics that seem relevant. Whether schools should be open or closed; the joy in seeing Betsy DeVos no longer in charge of the U.S. Department of Education; speculation about who might replace her; and intense concern about whether President-Elect Biden will resurrect the failed Race to the Top strategies or whether he will forge a new path that actually supports students, teachers, and schools instead of punishing them.

These are all important issues. I will turn to them again on November 30, when I resume blogging. If something important happens in the next few days, like Biden naming the new Secretary of Education, you will hear from me. Or if I want to share something. If not, silence.

Stay well. Protect your health and that of your loved ones.