Saturday, March 21, 2020

A Virus Unleashed


Coronavirus. It is the dominant word of our time. The centerpiece topic of politicians and government administrators, medical and public health officials, and business owners and entertainment providers. It has swallowed up most all of the media attention, leaving other issues of importance near-voiceless. The major events just past – impeachment, weather catastrophes, election primaries, border wall immigration – seem years ago.

There is also the general public messaging, which similarly dominates space in the non-social media platforms. Typically, many (not all) Americans are aligning in polarized opposite camps of opinion. On one side are the doubters. For them, the whole coronavirus issue is simply overblown. Statistics are quoted comparing current/projected low coronavirus cases and deaths with our substantial cancer, heart disease, and “winter flu” (influenza) numbers. They dismiss – if not ridicule – people’s “herd mentality” and concerns as being out of proportion to “the facts.” Given this perspective, they report making minimal changes in their daily life due to this virus threat.

On the other side, people are expressly fearful, based on images seen and stories heard across the globe. Face masks, mandatory home confinement, deserted tourist venues, overloaded hospitals and medical facilities, empty grocery shelves. Charts with ever-growing, spiking numbers. In spite of other countries’ experiences, America wasted two months doing little to prepare for this eventuality. We had a “see no virus / hear no virus / speak no virus” phase; followed by no information, conflicting information, or inaccurate information; infused with misstatements, fantasy scenarios, and future promises (versus current actions). Few have been reassured, leaving people feeling on their own, dependent upon varying initiatives of individual state/local governments and officials left driving our response. In the midst of such confusion, fear set in.

As America finally begins in mid-March to truly gear up for this public health issue, there are several elements we should keep in mind in developing our perspective.

1. While statistics about other killer diseases are important to keep in mind, they are essentially irrelevant to this current experience. These other diseases are largely known items. We have years of study and mountains of data about them; they are generally predictable as to how they proceed; protocols for successful treatment – including some vaccines – are known or are continually emerging. Coronavirus – more specifically this Covid-19 strain – has none of this. It is a totally new sickness, with no track record, no data, no protocols, no “facts” of where it comes from or how it moves. We have no built-in antibodies, no vaccines, no known treatments. The real danger is not what this coronavirus IS, but what it COULD BE. It is this unknown-ness that is our real crisis, which means we are forced to “wing it” in the short term with educated guesses between worst case / best case scenarios. We are not just fighting a disease; we are fighting an unknown enemy – the hardest battle to fight and the hardest to organize against.

2. That said, data is coming in rapidly, and we are sorting through it as quickly as possible. Each day we know more, but it is an elusive, moving target. China and Italy give us a starting point of experiences – IF we elect to learn from them.

3. Are we overreacting to the significant closures and social distancing being rapidly introduced? It may seem so, especially in geographic areas (like mine) where there are (as yet) no confirmed cases. But Covid-19 is a stealth contagion. Once infected, it can take up to two weeks to show itself. It may even show no symptoms at all, but in that invisible state can still infect others. As it travels on its human host, this insidious disease is unknowingly transmitted to an increasingly wider audience – a sleeper cell that results in the sudden spiked curve of cases as seen elsewhere. Because one is “not sick” does not mean one is not contagious.

4. What is clear is that the relatively low number of current Covid-19 cases is statistically meaningless as a basis for projection and planning. We do not know the true number of cases because we have still not adequately tested our population – in spite of the early warnings we had. This is a collective failure of federal government (mis-)management. It reflects a lack of timely preparedness, collective organization, effective leadership, with scattershot solutions focused more on avoiding blame than solving problems. As of this writing, we are still well behind the demand for testing, analysis, planning, and delivery of needed resources to where they are needed. Planning accurate strategies to fight this virus is highly difficult when one lacks adequate intelligence about who the enemy is.

5. Much more could be said about this public health case study. The “lessons learned” post-crisis debriefing and analysis will be important to do. But the immediate conclusion for each of us is that we are in unknown territory here. We are fighting blind with inadequate knowledge and insufficient resources. Once again we face the age-old American conflict of values: do I do what is right for me, or do I do what is right for the community of which I am a part? If I think I am fine – even though I might not be – do I ignore the guidelines and go about my business? Or do I consider those who might be far more vulnerable to, and potentially injured by, my singular action? That is the moral question each of us faces.

For now, responsible state and local political and health leaders will continue to fight this battle as best they can – hopefully with increasing resources and support. Six months from now, perhaps we will know this virus more fully, and we can then judge how well we responded to this crisis with what we knew. Depending upon our outcomes, we may never know whether the Covid-19 threat was overblown, or our collective mitigating efforts stopped it in its tracks (as our “victim of our own success” experience mitigating the “Y2K” computer flaw threatening to shut down the world economy.) Knowing the reasons for “success” can be as elusive as knowing the causes of disease.

In the meantime, we need to remember our health professionals and volunteers, and our service workers who are keeping our country semi-functioning. They are seeking to defend us and provide comfort during these times. We are obligated to do the same for them. Simultaneously, we express our compassion to all the people being significantly impacted by this crisis.

©   2020    Randy Bell            https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Democratic Primary Strategies


The American constitutional ritual of voting has begun. Five months of primary campaigning and voting will lead to a presidential nominee for each of the major parties. The Republican nominee is presumed already known. Yet in the crazy political world of Donald Trump’s daily turns and surprises, who continually snatches defeat by stepping on his own victories, anything is possible. (Future essays will discuss separately the Trump candidacy.) On the Democratic side, the ultimate victor is far from clear. Who the Party’s voters will choose, who the Party’s convention will select, can still go a number of different directions – and will be subject to the same currently-unforeseen twisting and turning events as Trump’s campaign.

Unlike the few Republican challengers against Trump, the Democrats started this campaign season with over two dozen candidates. By any criteria, it was as diverse a pool as could be imagined: age, race, gender, background, political / governmental experience, issue priorities, name recognition. By the start of primary season in February 2020, that number has narrowed to approximately six viable candidates: Joe Biden, Mike Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren (with Tom Steyer in the wings).

From the initial pool of diversity, the survivors include:
-4 are aged 70+, 1 in her 50s, and 1 only slightly above the minimum age of 35
-4 are males, 2 are females
-all 6 are white, with no minority candidate
-4 are married, 1 is in a gay marriage, 1 has a long-term life partner
-3 are former mayors, 4 are current or former U.S. senators, 1 is a former Vice-President
-2 are from New England, 2 are from the Middle Atlantic states, 2 are Midwesterners
-2 are former Republicans, 1 an Independent (making his 2nd try), 3 are long-term Democrats
-all but 1 are millionaires through mega-billionaires
It is diverse, but hardly the expected resulting profile from the original candidate pool.

All candidates agree that priority #1 is to beat Trump in November. But who is best qualified to accomplish that goal is not clear among the candidates, the Party, and the voters, as each candidate has different strengths and weaknesses to match up against Trump. Huge turnout is accepted as the key to victory (as proven in the 2018 midterms). The ability to get that turnout will likely depend on several strategy considerations:

1. Hillary lost some key traditionally-Democratic states (e.g. PA, MI, WI) by narrow margins. Those states were key to Trump’s win. Some of that loss reflected Hillary’s neglect of those states and taking them for granted in her campaign. Some loss was simply Trump’s appeal to a portion of those voters. Then there was a large number of voters who were deeply opposed to Hillary personally and voted against her. How do Democrats get these voters back?

2. “Bread and butter / dining room table” issues won for the Democrats in 2018. While anti-Trump opinions were high, in the important Midwest it was moderate candidates stressing these close-to-home issues who won in previous Republican districts. They won enough to flip the House to Democratic control, and in 2020 they need to win those seats again to keep control.

3. Some Democratic voters are passionate about achieving a “radical change / big ideas” agenda on a quick timeline for America. The changes include economic restructuring, income redistribution, social justice and equality goals. Moderate Democrats also seek economic and social changes, but on more of a building-block basis of accumulating changes. Revolution versus evolution. Nether camp has sufficient numbers alone to win the November election outright. How will these two camps reconcile their differences and unify for November? In truth, all candidates agree on virtually all programmatic OUTCOMES, but simply differ in their methods. For example, Democrats share a desire for all children to receive needed healthcare, and there are multiple good ways to accomplish that. Quibbling now over mechanics and details is not helpful, versus demonstrating the leadership that will be needed to bring America together to accomplish these things later.

4. Each candidate has pledged to support the ultimate nominee, whomever wins. But which nominee(s) can unite the party, bridge the Left-vs-Moderate agenda divide, while still energizing an across-the-board turnout? Will Sanders’ and Warren’s supporters follow a moderate nominee? Will supporters of the four moderates follow a radical change nominee?

5. All candidates acknowledge defeating Trump is Priority #1. There are certainly many line-item reasons to do so. Who can most skillfully make the case AGAINST Trump’s actions and words over the past four years? Who can make the case to America FOR a Democratic alternative – a clear, clean, simple, succinct , but cogent case?

These are some of the overall strategy considerations for the candidates, their advisors, and the political consultants to consider. However, there are two overall dominating factors that loom over this election, and what can then be accomplished over the next decade.

First, the American public is tired. They are worn out and exhausted from the endless national political arguing and chaos. The constant Tweets, political maneuvering, personal attacks in lieu of serving constituents. The negative changes in the essence, ethics, and conduct of the Presidency. The dropping of yet one more bombshell shoe after another. The headline-dominating daily conversations about “what did the President do or say today?”

The vast majority of Americans are not looking to be so consumed by political or governmental conversations. They are looking to live lives focused on nurturing and providing for their families. Engaging with friends and their communities. Pursuing their personal, professional, and recreational goals. The “Washington Drama” is not where they want to put their attention. They long for the politicians to take care of the necessary political business, the government to provide the services promised, while the rest of us get on with our lives. The “Theater of the Absurd” has simply gone on too long. And Americans have always had a short attention span.

Second, as important as such topics as healthcare, climate change, immigration reform, economic fairness, and a host of other issues are, they are necessarily secondary to an even greater priority. Before taking on these notable issues, Trump’s replacement is necessarily going to have to face the need to first rebuild the foundations and structures of our government after all the change and damage that has been inflicted upon them. Trust in our governing institutions, respect for the rule of law versus person, and the everyday functioning of our governmental bodies and agencies – all carefully developed over 230 years – have all been strangled or ripped apart in just four years. We are now looking at a federal government hollowed out and decimated of knowledgeable professionals, and the breaking or elimination of orderly processes.

Before any grand agenda of new policies and programs can be put into place – no matter how seemingly desirable on their face – this destruction must be reversed and rebuilt. It will be slow, unglamorous, detailed, and painful work, requiring a steady hand. This work will likely consume the entire next presidential term – a significant factor for Biden and Sanders who would likely be a one-term president due to their age. (It is a transitional role similar to that admirably performed by Gerald Ford following the “long national nightmare” of Richard Nixon.) But until that reversal is done, and pride and integrity are restored, and American confidence and leadership are renewed, and our many competing groups find a way to respectfully talk and actually WORK together – we will be stuck where we are. One cannot build policy and program castles on a foundation of sand using broken tools with no workers on hand to operate them.

Until we restore America’s faith and trust in each other, along with the mechanics needed to accomplish the next extraordinary dreams of America’s story, talking about specific ideas and detailed programs is a fool’s journey aiming at a brick wall. Measured against that true priority, which one of those speakers on the Democratic debate stage can best lead us to our future? Which one has best demonstrated an ability to be truly inclusive and join people in working together? That is the important question for each of us to thoughtfully answer.

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Impeachment Recap And Reflections


At 4:32pm on Wednesday, 2/5/2020, the Constitution of the United States was rushed to the Library of Congress and placed in intensive care, suffering from significant assaults against its Principles and Values. Concurrently, the spirits of the 39 Founders who signed the Constitution gathered in an impromptu vigil, waiting to see whether or not the Patient would survive its injuries. The outcome for the Republic is in doubt.

There is much to take away from these past five months of Impeachment and Trial.  The specific takeaways will vary considerably depending on the lens of our varying perspectives through which we view these events, shaped by our widely varying life experiences. In many respects, our concerns are not over what was specifically said and done. Instead, our greater concerns should likely focus more around issues of “rules of law and rules of order,” new precedents being established, and our basic assumptions about our government’s commitment and responsiveness to “We, the People.” Space limitations of this essay does not allow for in-depth discussion of these events; that will be left to the historians. Meanwhile, perhaps the following reflections may be helpful.

1. It is a violation of federal law to solicit or receive assistance from foreign entities for a political campaign. All discussion starts with that legal reality. Donald Trump admitted in the notes of his July 2019 call to the new President of Ukraine that he did solicit such election help by demanding a foreign investigation of his primary potential election rival. [Such admission was also consistent with his public call for assistance to Russia in 2016 (“Russia if you are listening…”), his interview with George Stephanopoulos in June 2019 expressing his willingness to accept political dirt from foreign entities (“I would look at it and decide whether to use it…”), and his 2019 request of China made on the lawn of the White House inviting them to “also look into corruption by the Bidens.”] These public/confessed actions broke the law. He reinforced his demands by acts of bribery/coercion in holding up a White House show-of-support meeting, along with illegally (per the General Accounting Office) holding up $250M+ of military aid appropriated by Congress. These actions constituted Impeachment Article 1.

2. The violation of the foreign interference law was not an accidental, one-time event, but was a deliberate campaign authorized and orchestrated by Trump that went on for nearly a year. It involved numerous employees and non-employees of the government to either obtain the Biden investigations, and/or to hide these secretive efforts. As was said, “everybody was in the loop” –cabinet secretaries, department heads, and outside players. It significantly included Devin Nunes (House Intel Committee ranking Republican) and Pat Cipollone (lead counsel on Trump’s defense team) – two significant conflicts of interest. Keeping these secrets hidden included a total refusal to comply with any legal Congressional subpoenas for testimony by participants, along with relevant documents. The defense argued that “there was no first-hand testimony about the president’s actions,” yet Trump refused to let firsthand witnesses testify. If Trump was truly innocent of these charges, why did he not flood the Senate with witness testimony and documents that would rebut the prosecution and prove his case? This, blanket refusal to cooperate with the House investigation constituted Impeachment Article 2.

3. The House Managers prosecuting the Senate trial were well-organized in laying out the detailed course of events underlying Impeachment Article 1. Their presentation earned compliments from a number of senators from both parties. This was in stark contrast to Trump’s legal defense team which never seemed to settle on a consistent line of defense.

4. The facts upon which the impeachment charges were based proved unarguable and uncontestable. This led Trump’s defense team to pursue an evolving line of defense. First: he did not seek a “political favor” from Ukraine. Second: well, he did, but what he did was not wrong. Third: well, his actions may not have been the best to do. Fourth: well, he asked Ukraine for a “favor,” but there was no quid pro quo – in spite of the substantial testimony to the contrary. Fifth: well, he committed no actual crime. Sixth: well, yes, he may have committed a crime, but it is a crime that does not rise to the “High Crimes and Misdemeanors” level of impeachment. Besides, ultimately a) Ukraine announced no prosecutions and b) they got their money. (Is the burglar who doesn’t find the jewels therefore innocent of the break-in?) Various Trump supporters tried to denigrate the significance of Trump’s solicitation of political help from Ukraine (and Russia and China). But for the Constitutional Founders, resisting any interference by foreign entities was a high priority and concern.

5. Twenty years ago in the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, Senator Lindsey Graham and constitutional professor Alan Dershowitz separately argued that impeachment does NOT require the commission of an explicit statutory criminal act. In this trial on behalf of Trump, they each reversed course and said that impeachment DOES require a criminal act (an opinion rejected by the vast majority of legal scholars and Constitutional Founders). So which is it? Is legality based upon the law, or who the defendant is (and what political party s/he belongs to? Founder Alexander Hamilton wrote in “The Federalist” that impeachment applied to “the abuse or violation of some public trust” and “injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

Professor Dershowitz went on to offer a painfully nonsensical legal argument that if whatever the president does is for what s/he concludes is in the best interest of the country as s/he sees it, it is not illegal or impeachable. This includes concluding that if s/he is the best person to be president, then whatever s/he does to get elected is permissible. It is a discredited reasoning reminiscent of President Nixon’s statement during Watergate that “If the President does it, it is not a crime.”

6. One example of how far integrity has disappeared from Congress was the abdication of the Impeachment Oath. All one hundred senators swore an oath to their god committing them to approach this senate trial, and review the accusations and defense, from a perspective of “impartial justice.” Nevertheless, some senators from both parties announced their decision and intended vote well before the trial started. In particular, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went even further by stating his intention to shut down and dismiss the trial as soon as possible, and that he was “in total coordination with the White House” (i.e. Trump) as to how the trial would be conducted. Hypocrisy reigned supreme.

7. To justify his decisions about the trial rules, McConnell (and other Republican senators) claimed that this trial was following the same rules as the Clinton impeachment. This was wrong. Clinton’s trial was based on the findings of an “Independent Counselor” (Ken Starr, now a part of Trump’s defense team) appointed by the Attorney General, who spent several years investigating Clinton. Starr turned over boxes of his interviews and supporting documentation – including sealed grand jury testimony – to the House, which formed the basis of the House’s Articles of Impeachment. This was supplemented by three witnesses called to the Senate. No such Independent Counselor or grand jury testimony was allowed for the trial of Trump. Trump’s trial was the first to include no witness testimony or additional documentation (though 70% of the public supported such input).

8. Some Republican defenders of Trump made the argument that this impeachment “was a partisan affair from the get-go in the House, an attempt to reverse the results of the 2016 election; the guilt/innocence of Trump should be left to the voters in November.” First, if it was a partisan affair in the House, would not the country be best served by rising above partisanship in the Senate and conducting a demonstrably model impartial trial– instead of tit-for-tat partisanship? Second, the Constitution assigns responsibility to the Congress for determining whether a president should be impeached and removed. It does not assign that responsibility to election day voters. Congress needed to step up to the job rather than pass the buck. Third, the basis for the Article 1 charge was that Trump sought to illegally tamper with the 2020 election. How does one defer his trial to the very process corrupted by his guilt?

In the end, this entire episode was not a proud moment for an America that has been an aspiration and role model for democracy for the world.  Trump broke at least two federal laws, threatened the security of both a European ally and America, and then tried to hide his actions from Congress and the citizenry. Virtually no Republican senator disputed that Trump committed these actions; rather, the trial was reduced to the subjective question of “how important” was it. The Senate “trial” proved to be no trial at all based upon many Americans’ understanding – by their own experience – of what constitutes a trial. In the process, the Senate effectively announced that: a) the President IS in fact above the law; b) House and Senate Republicans will back Trump in virtually whatever he chooses to do; and c) Congress has surrendered its oversight role over the Executive Branch – access to testimony, documents and information will henceforth be limited to only what a President allows.

Where this takes us from here, and what Trump will now feel free to do, is anyone’s guess. Now it is the People’s obligation to speak its impeachment judgment at the polls in November. What will America’s verdict be in November 2020?

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Saturday, January 18, 2020

2020 Vision


A new year is upon us. Not just a new year, but also a new decade. As it turns out, a decade as important and significant as was anticipated, a decade that will be defined by its first year. The events and the language are going to set our table, and define our future, more so than any year since 1945. Faced with a variety of choices, directions and alternatives, this is the year that will call the questions of who we are as a people and a country, and ask us to clarify what kind of country we want to live in, based upon what values and principles are truly most important.

We have been entrenched in uncivil conflict for 20 years, conflict now coming into open headlong collision. As a country, we have been arguing among ourselves about America’s purpose and promise since the very beginning of the Republic. We have been through and survived even worse times and fissures in our relationships. But not since our American Civil War has there been such a concerted attack on the institutions and principles that have held this country together in spite of our arguments. We argue about government programs, policies and priorities. We file endless lawsuits to try to clarify our laws, many of which are in fact clear in their intention. We elect leaders who do not lead – and do not even follow – but rather pursue their own personal agenda (or enrichment) with little regard for “the greater good.” Our conversations with each other have become superficial and outright mean, making societal progress and solutions to problems nearly impossible. Our Constitution – that marvelous expression of social and governmental creativity built upon our population’s better nature – is being chewed up by our population’s worse nature. We are drowning in fighting each other while we ignore the opportunities that are possible if we instead worked together. This dysfunction is funded by outlandish amounts of money spent to benefit self-interests in governmental, non-profit, cultural, religious, and corporate realms. And there seems no end in sight to this toxic and counterproductive environment.

Right out of the chute in 2020 will be the Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump. Will this process be a political sham? Or will one hundred senators ignore the Politics of Power and, instead, act in an ethical exercise responsible to their special oath as “impartial impeachment jurors?” Separate from the ultimate verdict, will our citizens (and the world) watch our democracy in action, or will they see only political grandstanding and theater. Depending upon the outcome of the Senate vote, what actions will then follow, what forces will be unleashed?

Immediately thereafter (or even concurrently), the citizenry will begin to speak through the sacred voice of their vote. They will pick their candidates, and then their final choice, for president, but also for thousands of other federal, state, and local representatives. How will we conduct this election process, given that our experience suggests that this will be a very hard fought and ugly process, filled with exaggerated mistruths? Who will we choose, based upon what criteria: proposed policies; demonstrated competency; evidence of Character? Will this election be governed by fair rules that welcome all eligible voters, or corrupted by partisan misdeeds, perhaps even sabotaged by foreign adversaries intent on disrupting our faith in the results – if not the results themselves?

Alongside this internal journey, there will be incidents, threats, opportunities and conflicts happening across the globe. Ones we may be able to anticipate through today’s eyes; others not yet even a blip on our radar. Who will we entrust to navigate these events in the deeply interconnected world we now live – a world where isolation is no longer an option and cooperation is mandatory. Who will make friends and build partnerships, who will confront enemies appropriately, and who will be unable to distinguish between “friend and foe”?

Running in and out of these major narratives will be a continuing parade of investigations – federal and state prosecutions, judicial rulings, congressional oversight, and media reporting. There seems no end to the list of questionable actions and falsehoods still being continually uncovered. In 2020, some of these investigations will be concluded, some will continue to slowly unfold drop by drop, and (amazingly) some new ones will arise. For many Americans, it is nearly impossible to keep track of all of the separate cases now in process, much less the details embedded in each. But we have to try if we are to be informed voters trying to make good and rational decisions for our country.

Meanwhile, our many divisions continue to get bigger and deeper. We are building barriers over just about every facet of our society with an intention to dominate each other and establish one single “what’s right” for everyone. We are split between two political parties, and split even further within each. Many of our religions are dividing into more narrow denominations and branches over issues of faith, dogma and operational control. Economic goals conflict with social aspirations amid wide-spread debate about the role of government. Divisions over social, religious, gender and immigration questions are “negotiated” in seemingly daily barrages of bullets and violence. Meanwhile, “truth” and “facts” are strewn alongside the highway, roadkill casualties to our efforts to win at all costs. Potential progress is lost because it is “the other guy’s” fault.

Depressing? Yes, quite so. But it does not have to be this way. Our future is our choice – a choice to continue as we are or to make it different. What kind of America do we truly want? What American message do we wish to speak – to ourselves and to the world? When will we get tired of the fighting, and move to a renewed spirit of reconciliation and cooperation? What are we willing to give, and to give up, to achieve a renewed America?

In 2020, we will answer these fundamental, critical questions not by our words, but by our participatory engagement and our actions. It starts with our taking responsibility for the political and cultural environment we find ourselves in. It is not the other guy’s fault; it is our collective fault. The way out requires us to commit to truly staying informed, as difficult as it may be in these times when major events and headlines arrive on a seemingly daily basis. It requires us to reintroduce ourselves to our “opponents” and remember that these are our neighbors whose needs and aspirations should be our concern. It requires us to change the nature of our conversations from throwing bricks and hurling insults at each other, to listening to one another so as to understand why our worldviews differ. It requires us to reject lies, to speak from reasonable facts, to demand truth, and to insist on ethical behavior. It requires us to sit together, work together, and find the many middle grounds that are necessary to make living together possible. It requires us to move away from “my way” and to find “our way” by Compromising with each other – the very foundational and essential principle that our Founders had to draw upon to create this Republic in the first place.

Change does not start in the White House or Congress. Nor in governors’ mansions or state legislatures. It starts in each of our living rooms. Around our dinner tables. It is, as it was designed to be in the beginning, upon us – “We, the People.” What will we do with what we have been given?

©   2020   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Impeachment Deja Vu


For those of us that lived through the turmoil of the late-1960s/1970, I have previously remarked that our current times have an eerily familiar sound and feel to that time. So it is with the current drumbeat marching us undeterred towards our fourth instance of presidential impeachment proceedings. This fourth instance (out of 45 presidents) seems like a drama we have already seen before, a repeat of history with minimal rewrites of the script. Consider the following:

1. The President:
1974: Republican President Richard M. Nixon (RMN).
2019: Republican President Donald J. Trump (DJT).

2. The President’s Goal:
RMN: To obtain political dirt on his reelection Democratic opponent, George McGovern.
DJT: To obtain political dirt on a leading reelection Democratic opponent, Joe Biden.

In both instances, the central issue was/is about using illegal “dirty tricks” to win reelection.

3. The Crime:
RMN: The break-in and wiretapping of the DNC headquarters (June 1972), and using the power of the federal government to cover it up for two years.
DJT: Soliciting help from a foreign leader in generating political dirt, coerced by illegally withholding Congressionally-mandated military aid to that leader, and using the power of the federal government to cover it up (April October, 2019)

4. The Perpetrators:
RMN: His reelection committee; Howard Hunt, Gordon Liddy, several Cuban freedom fighters.
DJT: His personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, multiple Ukrainians (foreign and naturalized citizens) now under indictment.

5. Principal Enablers:
RMN: Aides Haldeman, Ehrlichman, ex-AG Mitchell, Acting FBI Director Gray; other staffers.
DJT: Secretary of State Pompeo, Acting Chief of Staff/Director OMB Mulvaney; AG Barr; various other staffers.

6. The Congressional Investigation:
RMN: Senate Watergate Committee, conducted on a bipartisan basis. Assisted by Special Prosecutor appointed by Department of Justice.
DJT: Joint House Intelligence Committee (lead), Foreign Affairs Committee, Oversight Committee, but not conducted on a bipartisan basis. No special prosecutor made available by DOJ for House committees; seeking the details of the prosecutorial work of Robert Mueller.

7. Revealing The Inside Story – Breaking Through The Wall Of Silence:
RMN: John Dean; Jeb Magruder; Alexander Butterfield; others then followed.
DJT: An unnamed CIA whistleblower; Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch; Ambassador William Taylor; others then following.

8. The Guilty  Confession (“The Smoking Gun”):
RMN: The “White House tapes,” recorded in the Oval Office, Cabinet Room, and Nixon’s private office.
DJT: The “notes” of Trump’s phone call to Ukraine president. (Official transcript remains hidden on private server and unreleased.)

9. The Firings:
RMN: Fired his Attorney General (Elliot Richardson), the Deputy Attorney AG (William Ruckelshaus) in order to force the Solicitor General (Robert Bork) to fire the investigating Special Prosecutor (Archibald Cox) pressing for the release of the White House tapes. The pushback was so strong that Bork appointed Leon Jaworksi as replacement Prosecutor, who then continued (successfully) to go after the tapes. (The “Saturday Night Massacre.”)
DJT: Has fired more of his appointees at this point in his term than any other president to this date, including numerous senior members of the DOJ, FBI and CIA who have not supported his defense claims.

10. The Stonewalling:
RMN: Fought turning over any documents under “executive privilege,” until overruled by the courts. Tapes turned over by Supreme Court ruling.
DJT: Citing “executive privilege,” fighting turning over any documents; forbidding any Executive Branch testimony (people testifying anyway); claiming a president cannot be subject to ANY step in the judicial process (including being investigated); claiming impeachment process itself is illegal; appealing (mostly losing) adverse court decisions.

11. The Impeachment Charges:
RMN: Charged with obstructing justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.
DJT: Likely to be the same; other charges potentially to be added.

12. The Outcome:
RMN: On July 30, 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three Articles of Impeachment and sent them to the House floor for a vote. On August 7, senior Republican Senators Barry Goldwater, Hugh Scott, and Representative John Rhodes advised Nixon that he had no chance of surviving an impeachment vote by both political parties. Nixon resigned as President the next day, before the full House could formally vote on the Impeachment charges. President Gerald Ford issued a full and unconditional pardon of Nixon on September 8. In all, 69 associates of Nixon were indicted on various charges; 48 were found guilty. After his resignation, around 1/3rd of the American voters continued to express support for Richard Nixon.

DJT: To Be Determined.

*****

How this current impeachment process, or the election in November 2020, will ultimately work out is unknown. Virtually nothing has been foreseeable and expectable for the past three years. Will it follow historical precedent? Will it chart a brand new course? What is assured is that America’s structures will be further pulled apart, our relationships with each other will be even more deeply divided, and our country’s core values will be tested as never before. This course of events will prove unhealthy and dangerous regardless of one’s political views and positions, requiring years of deliberate work thereafter to set right. In the end, will facts, the rule of law, and our principles of Constitutional government prevail? The jury is literally still out on these critical questions.


©   2019   Randy Bell               https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Friday, October 4, 2019

Invitation To Impeachment


For months, Donald Trump taunted Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats by daring them to impeach him. When the day came that Pelosi decided to open an Inquiry into his conduct, Trump was surprised and caught entirely flatfooted in his response. His surprise was somewhat surprising itself, because Trump is inevitably his own worst enemy and brings most of his bad press on himself. In this case, if he wanted to start an impeachment inquiry into himself, he certainly took the steps necessary to do just that.

Step 1: Announce in a nationally broadcast interview for all to see and hear that, if offered political dirt (“oppo research”) on an opponent by a foreign entity (ILLEGAL), you would certainly take it, and “maybe” tell the FBI after you reviewed it.

Step 2: On a phone call, solicit help from a foreign leader to dig up political dirt on a potential political opponent in your 2020 reelection campaign. It is a CRIME for foreigners to involve themselves in a U.S. election – as well as to request such involvement from them.

Step 3: Add emphasis to your request by holding up Congressionally budgeted and authorized foreign aid until that leader “plays ball” with your requested help. Congress has the exclusive power to appropriate taxpayer funds per the Constitution. Holding up (or redirecting) such funding, as well as hiding that fact from Congress, is Constitutionally ILLEGAL. Trading that funding as an inducement for that leader to commit an illegal action is somewhere between Extortion and/or Bribery – a CRIME.

Step 4: Hide the evidence of your criminal conversation with that foreign leader. Hiding or destroying evidence of criminal conduct is a CRIME of cover-up. Misclassifying the security level of the transcript of your phone call in order to further hide evidence is a CRIME.

Step 5: When a whistleblower reports your criminal activity through established and protected legal channels, threaten to a) disclose his/her identity, and b) retaliate &/or arrest &/or execute that person. Threatening a whistleblower with exposure and/or retaliation is a CRIME.

Step 6: Threaten those persons who gave information to the whistleblower with similar retaliation / arrest / execution for being “spies.” Attempting to influence testimony, tamper with or block witnesses from testifying freely and honestly in court or to Congress is a CRIME.

Step 7: Assert “executive privilege” to keep administration personnel from revealing actions, or conversations, about illegal activity. Similar to the restriction on attorney-client privilege, if the conversation is in regard to the commission of a crime, the right to executive privilege is VOID.

Step 8: Accuse the whistleblower of being a “partisan hack” driven by political motives, and basing his/her accusation on “2nd-hand knowledge”(i.e. hearsay). Then release your own “Notes” from the phone conversation that corroborates the whistleblower’s accusations nearly 100%. If the accusation is proven true, it does not matter what the whistleblower’s motivation was or what was the source of the allegation. The only relevant issue is that you admitted to being GUILTY as accused.

Step 9: Extend a web of conspiracy to achieve this political “dirt digging” objective by referring the foreign leader to various personnel within the U.S. State Department as well as the U.S. Attorney General for follow-up. Government employees are prohibited from doing political campaign work on business time; to do so is a CRIME. Assisting anyone in the commission of a crime is also a CRIME.

Step 10: Send your unpaid “personal attorney,” who is not a government employee and was supposedly hired to defend you against the Mueller investigation, overseas to work out with relevant people the details of the foreign political interference. Non-governmental, private citizens who purport to be acting for the government and seek to conduct foreign policy affairs with other countries are committing a CRIME.

Beyond the above CRIMINAL steps, not all bad decisions are a crime. Sometimes those bad decisions are just plain stupid.

Stupid 1: For three months, wage a reasonably successful media campaign to convince your base voters that the Mueller Report (erroneously) “exonerated” you from colluding with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. Then do a national television interview and say you would absolutely accept opposition research from a foreign power even though it would be ILLEGAL – such illegality supposedly made clear to you at the time. (See Step1 above.)

Stupid 2: Two months later, actually solicit such dirt from a different foreign leader, and then confirm that in your phone call Notes. This essentially said to American voters that, “I got away with it once. Why not do it again?” This arrogance made the allegation of 2016 cooperation with the Russians all the more plausible – if not likely.

Stupid 3: Continue to deny that Russia took actions to help with your 2016 election. The entire American intelligence community – along with several foreign intelligence agencies – as well as the Senate Intelligence Committee have all agreed that Russia did so. Your continued rejection of their conclusions, and (mis-)using the Attorney General of the United States to discredit all of these agencies, only confirms voters’ doubts about your intentions and your inexplicable continued fealty to Vladimir Putin. However it happened, you won the 2016 election. Declare victory once and for all and move on. Trying to rerun the 2016 election is likely to defeat you in the 2020 election.

*****

It is truly sad, even if somewhat inevitable, that the last three years have brought us to this place. This impeachment inquiry is not just a matter of Donald Trump. There are many other casualties that are, and will be, caught up and hurt in this event. One is American democracy and our shared citizenship. Another are the various civil servants across the government who have been, or will be, dragged into this. Some will be innocent of motivation, simply trying to do their jobs as they know it, with their reputation shattered nonetheless. They deserve our compassion. Others will be active perpetrators, blinded by ambition for power and fame, their reputations deservedly shattered.

The biggest loser is Ukraine and Europe. For around 70 years, America has been the backbone of European peace and security – to our great benefit – by its NATO commitment to aid others if they are attacked. That commitment was extended to Ukraine on a bipartisan basis in 2014 when it was attacked by Russia. It is a “hot war” that Ukraine continues to fight to this day for its very existence. By his series of actions, Trump has pulled the rug out from  under Ukraine in favor of satisfying Vladimir Putin. That alarming message to Ukraine and Europe – that America no longer has your back and can no longer be counted upon – will take years to correct. That is the biggest loss of all.

Taking all of the above together, this is why the Impeachment Inquiry is underway. Mr. Trump, you asked for this. You created the means for this. You got what you wished for. Now what?


©    2019   Randy Bell            https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Descent Into Inhumanity


In early August 2019, a form letter was sent out by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to a targeted group of non-citizens currently living in the U.S. The letters served as official notification to revoke the special exemption immigration visa status that these recipients are currently under. This program is being completely and immediately shut down, even though there has been no advance announcement or public discussion about such a policy change. The recipients have been given notice to leave the country within 33 days of the mailing date – a chunk of that time already having expired as a result of the bureaucratic mailing process itself.

Who are these dangerous and fearsome targets of this policy change? Mostly children, and their families that have accompanied them, who legally entered the U.S. to receive life-saving medical treatment needed due to their otherwise fatal disease. They include children with such things as cystic fibrosis, heart disease, transplant recipients, and cancer. All would-be fatal conditions except for the care they are receiving, care not available to them in their home country. Care that their doctors say is vitally needed, without which their short-term death is assured.

Take one case that has surfaced in the unfolding news stories relating to this situation. Years ago a seven-year-old girl came to the U.S. from Guatemala, suffering from a very rare enzyme disease certain to kill her. The research hospital affiliated with the University of California-San Francisco invited her to come here to voluntarily participate in a clinical trial being established to find a cure for her disease. Her participation in this group was critical, because given the very rarity of the disease, assembling such a trial group would be very difficult. Fortunately, she was granted legal entry; she came; she participated. Thanks to her contribution, a life-saving treatment (not a cure) was developed. For most of these afflicted children, seeing teenage years is a highly unlikely prospect. However, thanks to this treatment program, she is now 24 years old, recently graduated from college, and thinking about attending graduate school. But to accomplish all of this, she must receive a drug injection on a weekly basis to keep her alive. In thanks for her contribution to health science and helping others to live, she has now been given 33 days to leave the country. 33 days to return to Guatemala, which has no such requisite medical facilities. 33 days not to look forward to the rest of her emerging life, but 33 days to begin her deathwatch. Some may argue that the people on our southern border seeking entrance to the U.S. may or may not be truly in fear for their lives in their home country. There is no such debate about these “33-day people,” Send them home; sentence them to their death.

The DHS visa termination letter not only unilaterally ends this humanitarian visa program, it makes no case-by-case distinction regarding the individuals involved and their respective situations. It further states that there is no appeal to this decision, and thereby no appeal process in place. Upon inquiry from media reporters, DHS cannot even clarify whose idea this was, where it came from, how the decision was reached and by whom, and what supposed objective is to be accomplished. Within the Department, different agencies are pointing fingers at each other as to who was and will be responsible for this program; apparently no one wants to take the heat for this cruelly inhuman decision and non-process.

For several years, we have witnessed our country sink further and further into a sinkhole of national amorality. A sinkhole that has rapidly expanded over these last three years. A sinkhole drawing our citizenry into a daily exercise of hate, anger, and violence toward one another. And just when we want to believe we have finally hit rock bottom, we discover that some unnamed individual, hiding in anonymity, has taken us to yet another new low. This is not an immigration issue, a solution to a national security threat. This is simply meanness for the sake of being mean. It is just exercising power for the sake of power.

We were once the America of hope, of opportunity, of compassion for other human beings, of welcoming arms, of neighbors who looked out for one another. Where has all that gone? I know it still exists in pockets, though increasingly shouted down and hidden in the shadows of our anger. Why are all of our political representatives and religious leaders not standing on the barricades of human decency, reminding us of what is truly important in living our human life. Where are the voices of the citizenry saying that these kinds of actions “are not who we have been, nor who we are, nor who we seek to be.”

Perhaps we thought that separating young children from their families, planting potential seeds of a lifetime of trauma, was bad enough. The bottom of our collective amoral barrel. Apparently it was not. Closing our doors, turning off life supports, deliberately sending sick children home to most assuredly die, is not the America we thought we knew.


©   2019   Randy Bell             https://ThoughtsFromTheMountain.blogspot.com