The false equivalencies of the Biden documents case

When news broke the other day that President Joe Biden’s lawyers had found a documents with classified markings in a think-tank office he once used, and his home in Wilmington, Del., we all knew that MAGA’s false equivalence cops would spring into action.

Their predictable message, aimed primarily at low-information nitwits: Trump is innocent because he and Biden did the same thing!

Um, no. They didn’t do the same thing.

This is bad for Biden, purely from a bare-knuckle political perspective. The disclosure of the Biden documents (including a second batch that Biden’s people have now found on his Delaware property) has gifted the MAGA Republicans a propaganda weapon when they needed it most – as Trump potentially teeters on the cusp of indictment.

This week, via spin and innuendo, Republicans are busy asserting – with zero evidence – that the two cases are equivalent, as a way to absolve Trump of any criminal wrongdoing.

This muddying of the waters may well strike a chord with the millions of Americans who have problems processing facts, or who simply don’t pay attention. But if only a few of them are reading these words, here’s a simple primer on how the cases fundamentally differ, based on what we actually know:

The documents in the Biden case total roughly 12. The documents in the Trump case total at least 220, including at least 60 labeled “Top Secret.”

When Biden’s lawyers discovered the office documents, they immediately notified the National Archives and handed over the material a day later. Trump, for months, repeatedly defied requests from the National Archives that he hand over everything he was hoarding in Mar-a-Lago.

Biden’s Justice Department has named a Trump-appointed U.S. attorney to review the Biden office documents. Trump’s long pattern of obstruction – refusing to comply with a federal subpoena; handing over some classified documents while hanging onto others – compelled the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation and execute a search warrant.

Indeed, there was a great exchange the other day on Fox News. Host Dana Perino tried to goad Republican strategist Karl Rove into playing the false-equivalence game – but Rove didn’t take the bait. When Perino said that the Biden case “sound a little similar” to the Trump case, Rove succinctly replied:

“But there are differences. For example, how many documents in Biden’s case? There appear to be about 10. In the case of President Trump, hundreds…We know that President Trump ordered the removal of the documents to Mar-a-Lago. How responsive were (the two camps)? When the Biden people found out about (the office documents) they immediately called the local authorities and turned them over. We spent a year and a half watching the drama unfold in Mar-a-Lago, and it had to end in a police search to recover the documents.”

Nevertheless, Rove said that MAGA Republicans have been handed an opportunity to spin a false-equivalence narrative – and thus, “in the minds of a lot of ordinary Americans,” the two cases “are going to be conflated as being roughly the same.”

Rove got that right. Trump’s hacks on Capitol Hill are busy rooting for an FBI raid on Biden. Trump himself, on his social media site, is already claiming (with his usual attentiveness to facts) that all the Joe Biden office documents were “HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL” and had something to do with Hunter Biden and China and “Old Crow” Mitch McConnell and McConnell’s Asian-born spouse, “Coco Chow.”

It’s only a matter of time before the “narrative” asserts that the Biden office documents reveal a plot to seize everybody’s gas stoves.

How refreshing it’d be, even in our nutcase political climate, if people could muster the ability to put things in perspective, to grasp the concept of proportionality. There’s a difference between a guy who forfeits stuff that doesn’t belong to him, and a guy who takes stuff and refuses to give it back. There’s a difference between a guy who negligently leaves a store without paying, and a guy who robs the place. There’s a difference, as former Bush pollster Matthew Dowd points out, “between an accidental fender bender who stays to file report, and a homicidal maniac who purposely runs through a crowd of people then leaves scene of the crime.”

We can only hope that Jack Smith and his federal prosecutors will spot the difference.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

With Trump’s Mar-a-Lago stash, every picture tells a story. This one writes itself

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. This one is worth a stint in jail.

Trump’s sweat-soaked defenders are freaking out about a FBI photo of classified documents from Mar-a-Lago and fumbling for fresh rationalizations – they say it’s “staged” and “dishonest.”

Meanwhile, the thief-in-chief is veritably chewing his grandiose carpet about the way “his” top-secret documents were treated during the Aug. 8 search: “They (FBI agents) took them out of cartons and spread them around on the carpet, making it look like a big ‘find’ for them. They dropped them, not me – Very deceiving.”

Why are they all so upset? Because they respect – and, in this case, they fear – the power of the visual image. Because now the average American who has no time to read abstruse court filings can measure the depth of Trump’s crimes with merely a glance.

Psychologists have long concluded that humans are far more likely to remember something they see, as opposed to what they read or hear. Historians have long noted that even Cicero, the legendary Roman orator, brought visual props to enhance his eloquent speeches. But we need not reference ancient history. Richard Nixon “lost” the 1960 presidential debates in part because his TV makeup made him look more haggard than JFK. Mike Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic candidate, was forever branded as a dork because he looked diminutive while riding in a military tank.

The late French philosopher Jacques Ellul said that the visual image “locks us up…and obliges us to look. The visual image is always rigorous, imperative, and irreversible…You cannot dispute with an image.” And that’s why Team MAGA’s attempts to dispute the FBI’s image have been so desperately hilarious.

Start with the complaint that the photo was “staged.” Of course it was! It’s standard law enforcement practice for federal agents to lay out the evidence seized in a legal search – and to catalogue those seized materials by snapping evidentiary photos. Imagine how stupid it would sound if drug dealers, after being raided by police, tried to complain that their guns and cash were being unfairly depicted in “staged” photos.

But what’s most delicious are some of the last-ditch defenses that have only made Trump look more guilty.

When Trump fumed on his social media site that the FBI agents took the classified documents “out of cartons and spread them around” in his office, he basically confessed that he’d been hoarding the stolen goods in those cartons in his office. And his fourth-tier lawyers are just as dumb as he is. Alina Habba told Fox News that her client would never have strewn those documents on the floor: “That is not the way his office looks. He has guests frequently there.” Thank you, Habba, for confirming that national security materials stolen from Washington were stashed in an office where “guests” came and went.

(Hanna also said that the FBI is trying to persecute Trump with “three mundane statutes: espionage and the two others – obstruction.” It’s news to me that espionage is a “mundane” offense; during the Cold War, it was serious enough to fry the Rosenbergs in the electric chair.)

And the Trump camp has only itself to blame for the release of that evidentiary photo. The Justice Department shared it with the public only because Trump keeps going to court seeking to impugn the legal search. As the government’s rebuttal, that photo is a smoking gun. One marketing expert has pointed out: “We respond to and process visual data better than any other type of data. In fact, the human brain processes images 60,000 times faster than text, and 90 percent of information transmitted to the brain is visual.”

So when a visual image speaks for itself, there’s only so much one can do to spin it away. Karl Rove, the ex-Bush Republican swami, didn’t even bother to try. He told Fox News on Wednesday: “Let’s be clear on this. None of these government documents are his to have taken. A lot of the former president’s problems are of his own creation. Under the Presidential Records Act of 1978, you cannot take original documents out of the White House when you leave, whether it’s the president of the United States or any of his aides. It’s verboten under the law.”

In fact, let’s contrast that evidentiary photo with something Trump said at a campaign rally on Aug. 18, 2016: “In my administration, I’m going to enforce all laws concerning the protection of classified information. No one will be above the law.”

Yes indeed, some spoken words are memorable after all.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

For America's best lawyers, Trump is radioactive

I’ve had some good yuks lately – starting with quack doc Mehlmet Oz screwing up his Man of the People Act in the “Wegner’s” supermarket, and lightweight Jared Kushner getting reviewed for his new book: “Kushner looks like a mannequin, and he writes like one…Kushner’s fealty to Trump remains absolute. Reading this book reminded me of watching a cat lick a dog’s eye goo.”

But for sheer legs-in-the-air hilarity, I nominate this new Washington Post report:

“Donald Trump and close aides have spent the eight days since the FBI searched his Florida home rushing to assemble a team of respected defense lawyers. But the answer they keep hearing is ‘no.’… The former president’s current legal team includes a Florida insurance lawyer who’s never had a federal case, a past general counsel for a parking-garage company and a former host at far-right One America News.”

It’s the August dog days, we’re all on vacation or wish we were, so I promise not to tax your sun-splashed cognitive faculties: Care to guess why Trump on the cusp of indictment is having trouble hiring crackerjack criminal lawyers, only duh best lawyers?

To answer that, it helps to remember that in the last five years, Trump has cycled through lawyers as if they were Kleenex. In fairness, it’s hard to represent a client who sues without a scintilla of evidence (his “stolen election” won-lost record was 1-61);

Five of Trump’s lawyers resigned in tandem on the eve of the second impeachment trial, and one of his former lawyers (Michael Cohen) went to prison. Two others (Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis) have been sucked into the Georgia grand jury’s probe of Trump’s coup bid, and another ex-Trump lawyer (Emmet Flood) is now defending a key member of the Mike Pence team.

Ty Cobb, another ex-Trump lawyer, recently had this to say: “(Trump) is a disaster for the Republican party…The Big Lie, and the related violence, election interference and other perceived misconduct, was and is an affront to this nation and its first principles. It has permanently soiled the history pages and deepened the abyss that divides our country.”

In short, as veteran Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer David Rudovsky told me back in 2018, “We’re talking about the client from hell.”

That jibes with John Dowd’s assessment. He was the top Trump lawyer during the Robert Mueller probe, but quit in March of 2018 because (according to Bob Woodward) he had concluded that Trump was “a f–king liar.” That also jibes with Mark Corallo’s assessment. He was the spokesman for Trump’s legal team, but quit in 2017 because, in the reported words of a close friend, he could no longer tolerate his job “on a moral and professional level.”

Three key characteristics of this client from hell: He doesn’t listen to professional advice (one former lawyer advised Trump to stay off Twitter, whereupon Trump tweeted anew before the lawyer was back in his car), he wants his lawyers to amplify his whopping lies (Rule 3.1 of the American Bar Association’s Rules of Professional Conduct stipulates that lawyers shall not bring an action that has no grounding in law or fact); and (last but surely not least), and he often doesn’t pay them.

Trump himself has reportedly whined about his representation. According to Bob Woodward’s 2018 book “Fear,” he ranted in the White House: “I’ve got a bunch of lawyers who are not aggressive, who are weak, who don’t have my best interests in mind, who aren’t loyal. It’s just a disaster. I can’t find a good lawyer.”

“Who aren’t loyal” is the key phrase. He demanded then, and still demands, lawyers who swear personal fealty, even at the expense of the profession’s code of conduct and their own reputations. Consider, for instance, the unnamed Trump lawyer in Mar-a-Lago who, in a signed letter two months ago, falsely told the Justice Department that all stolen classified materials had been returned.

At this stage in our endless psychodrama, what top quality criminal lawyers are eager to sign up for Trump, at great risk of burning themselves down? Four long years ago, Rudovsky told me that “for any lawyer, this relationship is so fraught with difficulty, a nightmare. You just know it’s going to end in a bad way.” It already has, uncountable times.

To tweak John Kerry’s famous Vietnam-era quote: How do you ask a lawyer to be the last to die for a mistake?


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Joe Biden has been on a winning streak of late — never mind what the media says

I fail to understand why so many people have long made such a big deal about Joe Biden’s lousy poll numbers.

Don’t they know their history? Haven’t they bothered to research recent presidents’ first-term performance ratings? It just so happens, for instance, that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama took deep plunges during their first terms, that Ronald Reagan’s favorability share plummeted to 35 percent during his first term, and that even though Abe Lincoln didn’t have to worry about Gallup, it’s an historical fact that the “baboon” (as he was so relentlessly labeled) was widely perceived as a first-term screwup until the Union army won some key battles late in 1864.

So, a little perspective on Biden seems wise – especially now that he’s racking up enough wins to demonstrate, against some heavy odds, that he indeed does deliver in the realm of policy, that democracy can actually still function for the betterment of the nation. As Democrats prepare for the autumn midterm elections, with their thin House and Senate majorities hanging by a thread, Biden’s late-summer success surge certainly won’t hurt their prospects. They may even help.

If the blue party can get its act together with some effective repetitive messaging (no guarantees on that), it can hike the odds of beating the red cult in November. Believe it or not – and all the carping has obscured the truth – Biden is poised to post one of the most productive legislative records in roughly half a century, and he’s doing it with congressional majorities thinner than dental floss.

For instance:

– The Inflation Reduction Act, which will land on Biden’s desk after the House passes it soon, boasts by far the biggest investment ever to fight climate change. Policy analyst Michael Tomasky points out that the imminent law “establishes the principle that the government has a role to play in setting industrial policy and creating growth, and in determining what kind of growth we want.” The bill also extends Obamacare subsidies for three years, authorizes Medicare to negotiate lower prescription drug prices for seniors, imposes billions in taxes on big corporations, and much more.

– The new CHIPS and Science Act will boost the domestic manufacture of semiconductor chips, creating jobs and helping us compete with China.

– The new PACT Act, which finally passed last week after Senate Republicans finished their obstructive hissy fit, will make it far easier for our servicemen and women to get health coverage for illnesses suffered after being exposed to the military’s toxic burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.

– The jobless rate is 3.5 percent, a 50-year low. Plus, there’s a hiring surge.

– Gasoline prices have fallen steadily for the last 50 days in a row.

– Biden’s intelligence operatives located and killed Ayman al-Zawahiri, the co-mastermind of 9/11.

– Biden recently signed the most extensive gun reform law in three decades.

– Pushing back on Putin’s war in Ukraine, Biden has led the expansion and strengthening of NATO.

– Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which earmarks billions for roads and bridges over the next 10 to 12 years.

– Biden signed the American Rescue Plan, which put money into the pockets of tens of millions of workers who were financially hurt by the Covid pandemic. Among its many other provisions, it also earmarked money to save union pension plans that were on the verge of going under.

All told, John Harris of Politico has a good line: “Biden is looking a little like the student who is failing his class for most of the semester, then pulls an all-nighter and slips the paper under the professor’s door at 6 a.m. It turns out the paper is actually pretty good… A solid B is within reach.”

The problem with the 24/7 media, especially its twittery component, is that we always risk being trapped in the exigencies of the instant moment. Alas, a democracy doesn’t move nearly fast enough to satisfy those who pine for quick gratification. It takes time to craft the big picture.

Biden and his blue legislative allies – despite predictable missteps, despite settling for less than their ambitions visioned – still believe in something important. It’s called governing. It’s the wild and crazy notion that, if you’re elected to public office, you should try to do something substantive for the people you represent. Whereas the opposition cult is bent on doing nothing – aside from thumbing demagogic tweets to the nutcase base, and cheering on a Hitler-lite lunatic who’s on the cusp of indictment.

That contrast should be enough for Democrats to campaign on.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Rupert Murdoch is scraping you-know-who off the sole of his shoe

The grinding sound you’re hearing is the Rupert Murdoch propaganda machine chewing up Donald Trump and spitting him out.

That’s the good news. We’ll get to the bad news shortly.

What a miraculous coincidence it was last Friday when Murdoch’s New York Post editorial page and Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal editorial page eviscerated Trump for abetting deadly violence on Jan. 6. The right-wing outlets didn’t denounce Trump’s behavior as criminal in nature – that would’ve been too much to expect – but they signaled nonetheless that they’re done with the demagogue once and for all.

Granted, Murdoch’s outlets have sent up signal flares before. Six weeks ago, his Post penned an editorial lamenting Trump’s fixation on the 2020 election and urged Republican voters to consider alternative candidates “who embrace conservative policies without the preoccupations of the Don.” And lest we forget, Murdoch in the past has reportedly referred to Trump as a “f—ng idiot.”

Nevertheless, the latest salvos are startling. From the Wall Street Journal:

“Mr. Trump took an oath to defend the Constitution, and he had a duty as Commander in Chief to protect the Capitol from a mob attacking it in his name. He refused. He didn’t call the military to send help. He didn’t call Mr. Pence to check on the safety of his loyal VP. Instead he fed the mob’s anger and let the riot play out.”

The New York Post editorial was even more withering:

“Trump didn’t lift a finger… He was the only person who could stop what was happening. He was the only one the crowd was listening to. It was incitement by silence… His only focus was to find any means – damn the consequences – to block the peaceful transfer of power.”

Meanwhile, Murdoch’s Fox News appears to be filing for divorce.

This week, Trump’s usually reliable doormats on “Fox & Friends” posted new poll numbers showing Trump’s grip on the GOP loosening in the early matchups for 2024 – prompting Trump to whine on his social media account. And last week, the Fox News website posted a montage of Trump voters who are pining for a less “polarizing” hero. And last Friday, when Trump was in Arizona staging his latest hate/self-pity rally, Fox News counter-programmed by airing an interview with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Ah, here’s where we spotlight the bad news.

Murdoch is ditching Trump not because of any sudden moral epiphany that Trump is a clear and present danger to American democracy. As a rank opportunist, he has merely calculated that Trump is fatally damaged goods; that the ever-mounting evidence from the Jan. 6 committee, the Georgia grand jury investigation, and the Justice Department’s expanding criminal probe are rendering Trump increasingly unelectable, and that Trump’s clout even within the GOP is likely to wane further. Therefore, Murdoch has decided that Trump is expendable.

A source in the Murdoch orbit recently told Vanity Fair magazine: “Rupert’s a pragmatic guy. He knows better than anybody how to read political tea leaves. It’s fairly self-evident that quite a few people in the firmament have begun to challenge the previously supported collective viewpoint about Trump. It’s understood now that the gloves are off.”

Hence, the bad news: Murdoch is rebooting his empire to promote Trumpism without Trump.

At this point, his vehicle of choice is Ron DeSantis, who is smarter than Trump and is full MAGA without Trump’s serial imbecilities. Murdoch’s strategy was previewed last month, again in the New York Post, when Piers Morgan, one of his multi-platform mouthpieces, wrote a rapturous huzzah about DeSantis: “He’s just younger, fresher, and more exciting than the aging, raging gorilla who’s become a whiny, democracy-defying bore.”

Unlike Trump, DeSantis also has the discipline to market the MAGA movement’s rage – as evidenced by his “don’t say gay” law, his law restricting classroom discussion of race, and his creation of a so-called “election security” agency to police (non-existent) voter fraud.

As historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, an expert of authoritarianism, recently remarked: “DeSantis has already absorbed all the lessons of Trump…And he’s a very dangerous individual. He’s dangerous because he is equally repressive, but doesn’t have the baggage of Trump.”

So before any of us cheers Murdoch’s takedown of Trump, let’s all be careful what we wish for.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Willful blindness is no defense when you summon a mob to wreak havoc

At the start of last Tuesday’s Jan. 6 hearing, U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney sent a critically important message to the Justice Department: “Like everyone else in this country, (Trump) is responsible for his own actions and his own choices … Trump cannot escape responsibility for being willfully blind … He is a 76-year-old man, he is not an impressionable child.”

Translation: Don’t let Trump off the hook just because he’s a lunatic living in a fantasy world. For weeks and months, he was repeatedly told that he’d lost fair and square, but refused to face the truth.

Given the choice between conceding the race, as tradition required in a democracy, and summoning a violent mob to desecrate democracy, he opted for the latter. But willful blindness is not a defense against criminality.

Cheney got that right. As the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 2011 case (with Justice Samuel Alito writing for the majority), criminal defendants cannot escape responsibility “by deliberately shielding themselves from clear evidence of critical facts that are strongly suggested by the circumstances…defendants who behave in this manner are just as culpable as those who have actual knowledge.”

What we learned, in infuriatingly excruciating detail, was that over a span of six hours on the night of Dec. 18, 2020, Trump met with three of his favorite grifters – Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and Michael Flynn – in the hopes of reversing his defeat despite the dearth of election fraud.

Trump, by this point, had been told for many weeks that his prospects were nil; indeed, two White House attorneys, Pat Cipollone and Eric Herschmann, crashed the grifter bull session and stressed, yet again, that election fraud evidence did not exist.

It was a climactic showdown between the realists and the crazies. There was lots of insults and cursing, with Rudy yelling that Cipollone and Herschmann were “pussies.” Cipollone, in his videoed testimony, recalled that the crazies floated the idea of having the U.S. military seize the voting machines. (I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence.)

Cipollone’s reaction, as shared with the Jan. 6 committee: “Having the federal government seize voting machines? That’s a terrible idea for the country. That’s not how we do things in the United States.”

What was Der Leader doing while all this was going on? Weighing which side to embrace – the realists or the crazies. The realists had repeatedly told him there were no legal options, but he was willfully deaf to their counsel.

So he chose the crazies; as ex-aide Katrina Pierson later remarked, he “loved the crazies.” Shortly after that grifter bull session ended, in the early hours of Dec. 19, 2020, he posted his now-infamous tweet summoning his acolytes to march on Jan. 6, with the promise “will be wild!”

That tweet prompted his pet demagogues (Alex Jones, et al) to spread the word, and ordinary folks were duly incited. Stephen Ayres, an Ohio cabinetmaker who recently pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct at the Capitol, testified in person: “I followed President Trump on all the websites. He basically put out (word of) the rally, I felt I needed to be down there…We were basically just following what he said…I was hanging on every word.”

Others in Trumpworld knew exactly what he was doing. Brad Parscale, one of Trump’s many former campaign managers, lamented in a Jan. 6 text to Pierson that he was witnessing “a sitting president calling for civil war…I feel guilty for helping him win.” Pierson contended that Trump’s rhetoric wasn’t responsible for the violence and deaths on Capitol Hill, but Parscale tweeted back: “Yes it was.”

It’s gratifying that nearly six in 10 Americans now believe (finally!) that Trump should be criminally charged. And now, as Liz Cheney pointed out, there is bountiful evidence that he was willfully blind to the irrevocable facts and truth of his defeat; that he opted instead for havoc, in violation of numerous federal statutes.

As Barbara McQuade, a law professor and former U.S. attorney, said in a recent New Yorker interview, prosecutors have the easiest time if a defendant confesses that he consciously knew his actions were wrong – but “you can still obtain a conviction (when) a jury is told that they should look at the totality of the circumstances and draw reasonable inferences based on their own common sense and life experiences. If someone tells you 100 times that the world is round and you think, ‘Geez, the world looks flat to me,’ at some point, if you continue to deny the world is round, you really know better. You are engaging in willful blindness to say the world is flat, and to sell people things on the basis that the world is flat.”

In the best of all possible worlds (to quote Voltaire’s Candide), Trump will sell his grifts only to fellow inmates.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Hillary Clinton keeps getting it right

Just as it’s a waste of time for Republicans to refight the results of the 2020 election, it certainly does no good for anti-MAGAs to refight what happened in the previous race. Nevertheless, I wince on occasion when I contemplate how our country would’ve been far better served if the popular vote winner in 2016 had ascended to the Oval Office.

Last Wednesday was one such occasion, truly wince-worthy.

While eulogizing Madeleine Albright at Washington’s National Cathedral, I was struck by these passages:

“Freedom can’t be taken for granted. Democracy must be defended. Peace must be won. And there is no time to waste doing any of that…(Albright) continued to issue blunt warnings about the dangers posed by authoritarianism and fascism with undeniable moral clarity … She talked about the importance of what President Biden is doing to rally the world against Putin’s horrific invasion of Ukraine and the urgent work of defending democracy at home and around the world. She knew better than most and she warned us in her book on fascism, that yes, it can happen here, and time and courage are of the essence … This must be a season of action. And yes, once again, we must heed the wisdom of her life and the cause of her public service. Stand up to dictators and demagogues, from the battlefields of Ukraine, to the halls of our own capital. Defend democracy at home, just as vigorously as we do abroad.”

Albright indeed warned us about encroaching fascism – in 2018, she said: “There are conditions out there that provide the petri dish for something terrible to happen” – but let’s not forget that back when it mattered most, with America at a crossroads,

Hillary Clinton warned us, over and over, about what would happen if the opposition’s demagogue was handed the reins of power. She had faults as a candidate, but ultimately it was not her fault that a small but fatal share of clueless, oblivious, feckless, or willfully deaf Americans stayed home in the handful of states that swung the antiquated Electoral College.

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She got it right during the 2016 debates when she spoke directly to Trump: “(Putin) would rather have a puppet as president. (We know) that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do. And that you continue to get help from him, because he has a very clear favorite in this race.”

She got it right in 2016 when she warned about the MAGA movement’s animosity toward people of color: “Trump is reinforcing harmful stereotypes and offering a dog whistle to his most hateful supporters. It’s a disturbing preview of what kind of president he’d be.”

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She got it right in 2016 when she warned that the GOP would target gay people all over again, regardless of “the progress that we fought for, that many of you were on the front lines for. It may not be as secure as we once expected.”

She got it right in a 2016 speech when she warned that “a fringe element has effectively taken over the Republican Party. And this is part of a broader story – the rising tide of hardline, right-wing nationalism around the world…So no one should have any illusions about what’s really going on here.”

She got it right in 2016 when she warned about a fragile future for women’s reproductive rights: “The fact that our next president could appoint as many as three or four justices in the next four years (demonstrates) that we can’t take (those rights) for granted. Just consider Donald Trump, the Republicans’ presumptive nominee…He has pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade…And that’s why this election is so important. The outcome of November’s contests is going to be a deciding factor in whether our elected officials and our courts defend or attack a woman’s right to health care for generations to come.”

She’s still getting it right, by the way. Last year she noted: “There is a plot against the country by people who truly want to turn the clock back. They believe that the progress we’ve made on all kinds of civil rights and human rights, the cultural changes that have taken place, are so deeply threatening that they want to stage a coup.”

If that coup is completed in 2024, don’t say that Hillary didn’t warn us.


Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

How much more evidence does Merrick Garland need to indict Trump?

If or when Merrick Garland bestirs himself to action, he’d do well to ponder the new federal court ruling that drops the hammer on coup conspirator John Eastman.

Last week, the case for indicting Donald Trump was succinctly framed and arguably wrapped in a bow. And this was without even knowing what Trump may have said to fellow conspirators during seven key hours on Insurrection Day, the 7 hours and 37 minutes that are mysteriously missing from the White House phone logs.

Seriously, folks. What is it gonna take?

First, some quick housekeeping: Eastman, you may recall, is the Better-Call-Saul lawyer who’s been outed for concocting a “legal” memo that was designed to help Trump overturn his election loss. Sort of a fascist instructional sheet for dummies.

The court ruling, authored by U.S. District Judge David Carter (a former decorated Marine), commanded Eastman to cough up 101 emails – mostly exchanges with Trump – and to share them with the House’s Jan. 6 Committee. That was the narrow issue at hand. But, fortunately, Carter took it upon himself to connect the dots that situate Trump at the center of the blessedly failed coup. Carter’s warning was an implicit plea for Merrick Garland to wake up:

“If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution. If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the Court fears January 6 will repeat itself.”

It would seem that our accountability sleuths at the Justice Department still need to be enlightened about the evidence that shines with the strength of 100 suns. Whatcha got for us, Judge Carter?

“Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history…Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower – it was a coup in search of a legal theory. The plan spurred violent attacks on the seat of our nation’s government, led to the deaths of several law enforcement officers, and deepened public distrust in our political process.”

As Judge Carter reminds us, Eastman insisted in his Jan. 3, 2021 memo that Mike Pence, during his ceremonial task of counting the Electoral College votes, could simply throw out seven Biden states, thus reducing the tally to 232-222; and that Pence could then announce that since no candidate had reached the magic 270, the election would decided by the House, where each state would get one vote – and since the GOP at that time controlled 26 of the 50 state delegations, presto! Trump would win the election.

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The problem, of course, was that Pence had no power to toss Electoral College votes, because there’s no such provision in the Constitution. But that mattered not a whit to Trump, who spent days trying to muscle Pence into executing the plan that Eastman had touted as “BOLD.”

The judge zeroed in on one particular provision of the federal criminal code – 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2) – which, as he explained, “criminalizes obstruction or attempted obstruction of an official proceeding. It requires three elements: (1) the person obstructed, influenced or impeded, or attempted to obstruct, influence or impede (2) an official proceeding of the United States, and (3) did so corruptly.” He thus concluded:

“Because President Trump likely knew that the plan to disrupt the electoral count was wrongful, his mindset exceeds the threshold for acting ‘corruptly.’…After filing and losing more than 60 suits (in court), this plan was a last-ditch attempt to secure the Presidency by any means.”

The potential hitch in all this evidence is that to prove Trump’s criminality to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt, prosecutors need to successfully argue that Trump knew in his mind that his coup conspiracy was wrong. Hence the potential problem: This mope doesn’t have a moral compass. He tends to believe that whatever he wants or says at any given moment is right and true.

For instance, one possible explanation for the seven-hour gap in the White House phone logs is that Trump communicated with fellow conspirators by using burner phones. In a statement, he denied doing that because, he insisted, “I have no idea what a burner phone is, to the best of my knowledge I have never even heard the term.”

I’m sure he believes that lie in his mind. The problem is, he used the term “burner phones” at least three times in his recent lawsuit against niece Mary Trump. And former national security adviser John Bolton told CBS News, “Wait a minute, Trump knows burner phones.”

The Jan. 6 Committee members have been calling on the Justice Department “to do its job,” but alas it’s possible that Garland is hesitating to indict Trump precisely because it’s so hard to prove that someone so amoral has any consciousness of wrongdoing. Heck, just this week Trump asked his 2016 campaign ally, war criminal Vladimir Putin, to release some dirt on Hunter Biden.

I know, I know. Just like you, I’m rolling my eyes. Again.

Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

As usual, Republicans are wrong about gas prices

When I hear Republicans blaming President Biden for high gas prices, I’m reminded of what scribe Mary McCarthy once said of her rival Lillian Hellman: “Every word she writes is a lie, including and and the.”

I wouldn’t go quite that far in condemning Republicans for their current propaganda. But aside from those two little words, they’ve been weaving a panoply of lies that would make Putin envious.

The propaganda about gas prices – “Joe Biden caused this and doesn’t seem to care,” bleats the Republican National Committee – is all about hoodwinking voters in advance of the November midterm elections, a neat trick designed to turn the House and Senate red.

But it may well work like a charm, because for the average citizen swallowing lies is a lot easier than fact-checking. Besides, it’s always easiest to lash out at the incumbent party. As Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said the other day, “Historically, people automatically blame presidents for (high) gas prices.”

So it’s may well be a waste of time for me to parse the GOP’s BS, but hey, refuting lies is an old habit of mine, regardless of whether any gullible voter may happen to read this.

For instance, Republicans on Capitol Hill are falsely contending that the current gas price spike is all Biden’s fault because he’s not letting the oil companies do enough drilling. Senator Bill Cassidy says Biden has launched “an all-out assault on the development of U.S. oil.” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise tweets that gas price spikes are “what happens when you destroy America’s energy industry.”

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But the truth – for what it’s worth – is that oil barrel production has actually increased since Biden became president, as have the number of oil rigs. There are also roughly 9,000 wells that have been federally-approved, but have not yet been drilled because key oil companies, flush with recent profits, have decided to instead return cash to their shareholders.

It’s the drillers – not Biden – who have been holding back.

In truth, Biden has been so oil-friendly that environmentalists and climate change experts have become demoralized. Contrary to the Republican lie that Biden has killed domestic energy production, the truth is quite the opposite.

“Biden has done nothing to halt oil leasing. In fact, the Biden administration has outpaced Trump in issuing drilling permits on public lands and water in its first year,” according to federal data analyzed by the Center for Biological Diversity.

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Here’s another metric: According to the conservation group Center for Western Priorities, the Biden administration approved more drilling permits during his first year in office than Trump did in any of his first three.

My favorite Republican lie, however, is how the current gas price spike wouldn’t be happening if only Biden hadn’t “killed” the Keystone XL pipeline that was gonna bring crude oil from Canada.

Biden indeed canceled it, but the pipeline was never “operating” in the first place. At the time Biden canceled it, only eight percent of it had been built – and the original target date for completion, barring all holdups and court battles, would’ve been 2023 at the absolute earliest. Besides, we currently get lots of Canadian crude oil anyway. It arrives by rail.

But that’s all nuance, whereas the Republicans are masters of lying simplicity. As Joseph Goebbels infamously said, “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.” Indeed, Republicans are reportedly selling stickers that motorists can slap on gas pumps, with Biden pointing and saying “I did that.”

Will their lies snow enough voters to triumph in November?

I’ll answer that with a question: Have you lived in America lately?


Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

NOW WATCH: Ted Cruz uses Supreme Court hearing to flip out on Democrats in breathless rant

Ted Cruz uses Supreme Court hearing to flip out on Democrats in breathless rant www.youtube.com

In a time of war, Republicans are giving aid and comfort to the enemy

I’m old enough to remember when rabid rightist Republicans proclaimed “Better Dead Than Red” and insisted that anyone who was “soft” on Russia should leave this country and go live over there.

I never imagined, back when they paraded themselves as America’s true patriots, that they’d ever pull the ultimate switcheroo and morph from patriots to appeasers.

But hey, you live long enough and I suppose anything is possible. Now they’re scorning an American president in time of war, while sending love and kisses to a murderous Russian imperialist. As veteran political analyst Stuart Rothenberg sardonically noted on Twitter, “And you thought Republicans might rally around a sitting president during an international crisis, when the U.S. and our allied need to be unified. Not a chance.”

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Of course not, because Vladimir Putin’s western branch manager – who sets the tone for the GOP – just won Employee of the Month for the umpteenth time. Trump praised Putin as “savvy” and “a genius,” in contrast to the president “who shouldn’t be there (and) has no concept of what he’s doing.”

When Trump watched Putin’s invasion of eastern Ukraine on TV, his reaction was: “This is genius. Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine…as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful. I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s going to go in and be a peacekeeper.”

A peacekeeper. It’s like the Kremlin is broadcasting propaganda to Trump via the fillings in his teeth. And his mouth dutifully keeps moving: “(Putin) liked me. I liked him…Got a lot of the great charm and a lot of pride. But the way he – and he loves his country, you know? He loves his country.”

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We’re also saddled with Mike Pompeo, a Republican presidential aspirant and the only former Secretary of State who’s out there calling Putin “savvy.” Just so you know, the Oxford English Dictionary defines savvy as “having common sense and good judgment.”

But in the Orwellian world of MAGA, “good judgment” is defined as flexing military muscle against a sovereign nation that’s trying to transition to democracy. MAGA Senator Josh Hawley, one of the pro-insurrectionists on Jan. 6, recently offered his definition of bad judgment: “global, multilateral cooperation, underwritten by American military might.” Putin couldn’t have said it better.

Alexander Vindman, former staff member of the National Security Council, singled out Hawley and other appeasers in a tweet the other day: “These people and a great deal of the GOP leadership will have blood on their hands. They’re fanning flames, encouraging Putin to attack Ukraine.”

Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman, shakes his head in wonderment: “When I was a little boy, both Republicans and Democrats believed that democracy was good and the Soviet Union was bad. Now I’m an old fart and Republicans believe Russia is good and democracy is bad.” I feel you, Joe. Back when I was a little boy in 1962, and a Democratic president had to confront the Russians during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Republicans didn’t try to undercut their commander-in-chief.”

But times have changed. The official House Republican Twitter feed posted a photo of President Biden and messaged: “This is what weakness on the world stage looks like.” That tweet puzzled me. I was not under the impression that rallying the western alliance and slapping economic sanctions on the aggressor meets the dictionary definition of weakness.

It would nice to believe that the GOP’s MAGA wing will sink the party in the 2022 and 2024 elections. It would be nice to believe that most Americans will recoil at this perfidious – and potentially traitorous – behavior. But rest assured that Duh Base at this point will swallow whatever bilge it is offered.

And as for a broader swath of Americans, their concerns are frankly quite parochial: As long as a lot of Americans aren’t being killed faraway, a foreign crisis is at most a mere annoyance. And if that foreign crisis does trigger discomfort on the home front – like, in the present case, higher gas prices and more inflation (Biden warned that defending Ukraine’s freedom “will have costs for us as well”) – rest assured that people will take out their frustrations on him, further crashing his poll ratings in the run up to 2024.

The GOP appeasers want that. Putin wants that. It’s a new shared definition of savvy.


Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

An American merchant of death has finally been held accountable – thanks to Sandy Hook parents

We who abhor gun violence and loathe gun merchants have been dreaming of the day when a few aggrieved parties pull off a miracle and gain a small measure of justice.

So it was sweet last week to learn that nine families devastated by the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 2012 had extracted a $73 million settlement from Remington Arms, the company that had manufactured and hyped the Bushmaster AR-15 that enabled some loser to decimate 20 little kids and six grownups with 154 bullets in a span of 264 seconds.

The settlement, after more than five years of litigation in the Connecticut courts, is downright historic. There are no guarantees that such justice can be replicated in other mass shootings, for reasons I will explain, but a moment of celebration is certainly warranted.

To this day, I can’t bear to look at pictures of those Sandy Hook kids, but that’s just me. The Senate Republicans who stonewalled gun reform after the massacre were apparently less moved. So was Remington Arms, which fought the Sandy Hook lawsuit tooth and nail for years. Their predictable instinct was to defend their Bushmaster ad campaign – the one it featured in civilian catalogues with slogans like these:

The uncompromising choice when you demand a rifle as mission-adaptable as you are …

Military-proven performance …

The ultimate combat weapons system …

Forces of opposition, bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered …

Consider your man card reissued …

Remington believed the Sandy Hook parents had no power to sue and that they had total immunity from lawsuits thanks to a 2005 federal law, pushed by the NRA, that blessed Big Gun with blanket protection. What a great deal it was and continues to be, courtesy of President Bush (who signed it) and the Republicans in Congress (along with help from some Democrats, like Bernie Sanders). The law is creatively named “The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.”

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Well, those little kids in Connecticut – those so-called “forces of opposition” – were indeed “single-handedly outnumbered.” But the good news is that the parents found a loophole. The federal act said it was still OK to sue gunmakers for “knowingly” violating state laws that address the “sale or marketing” of a firearm.

And it just so happens that Connecticut has an Unfair Trade Practices Act, which bars deceptive and unfair conduct of trade or commerce. Under that state law, a commercial practice is deemed unfair if it is “immoral, unethical, oppressive, or unscrupulous.”

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Turns out, according to the Connecticut courts that handled the Sandy Hook lawsuit, that selling “mission adaptable” military hardware to civilians for offensive (pun intended) combat purposes indeed met the definition of immoral and unethical.

So Remington decided to throw in the towel and settle (without formally admitting any guilt, naturally). Or, to be more precise, Remington’s insurers are paying the $73-million tab because Remington as an entity went bankrupt a few years ago.

Legal niceties aside, it’s the first time that an American merchant of death has ever been held accountable.

The big question is whether this is the dawn of a new day for the families of mass shooting victims – or a rarity. Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor and gun policy specialist, said this week in an Axios broadcast: “This settlement is going to encourage more lawsuits…The kinds of advertising that were used by Remington in this case were not unique to that company. Many of the gunmakers have marketed these AR-15 style military assault rifles in ways that emphasize combat violence, and appeal to the kind of hyper-masculinity that the families accused Remington of doing.”

But the 2005 federal immunity law will still be a huge hurdle for aggrieved families elsewhere, especially in states that have weak unfair trade laws – or no such laws at all. State courts may be less amenable than the Connecticut courts. And ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court has the final word on gun rights, and we’re all familiar with its ideological composition.

The 6-3 right-wing majority can’t touch the Remington settlement, but it takes little imagination to guess how it would rule if a similar lawsuit crossed its radar. Besides, the gunmakers can always devise new ways to advertise their deadly goods so as not to run afoul of other states’ laws.

Nevertheless, if the settlement in Connecticut makes it even a wee bit harder for some loser somewhere to attain his “man card,” then perhaps some innocent lives will be saved. As Joseph Marshall III, a Native-American historian, has wisely remarked, “Success is rarely the result of one swell swoop, but more often the culmination of many, many small victories.”

On the gun violence front, may we celebrate many more.


Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Rand Paul is suddenly in favor of big government after disaster strikes in his backyard

Rand Paul has long been a laughable lightweight – at Senate hearings, Dr. Fauci beats him up on a regular basis – but now he has outperformed even himself.

Republicans like him always equate “big government” with “socialism” and routinely condemn it as a matter of principle – until catastrophe hits their own backyard, and then suddenly, without even a scintilla of embarrassment, they dump their doltish boilerplate and plead for big government socialist money to rescue them.

Look, the tornado victims in Kentucky deserve all the help that Joe Biden can possibly provide, and he’s already doing it. But we can still take a moment to laugh ourselves silly at the letter Paul sent to the president over the weekend, where be begged for federal assistance and asked Biden to “move expeditiously to approve the appropriate resources for our state.”

Isn’t it amazing how all the idiot talk about the evils of “socialism” gets blown away as soon as killer weather ( the “new normal,” thanks to climate change) comes calling?

If memory serves, Paul is the purportedly principled “libertarian” who voted in 2013 not to send billions in federal relief aid to the New Jersey victims of Hurricane Sandy, who voted in 2017 not to send billions in federal relief to the Texas victims of Hurricane Harvey, who voted in 2017 not to send federal relief money to the Puerto Rico victims of Hurricane Maria, and who voted in 2019 not to appropriate billions in new relief money to several federal agencies.

As he once explained, “This (relief spending) has to stop. We spend too much. We owe too much. We cannot keep spending money we do not have.”

But now that his state has been hit hard, he wants to spend as much as possible with all expeditious speed. In the past he always insisted that if the feds wanted to hike disaster spending, they should offset those costs by cutting the budget somewhere else. But lo and behold, you can read the entire letter that Paul sent to the president, and not once is there any insistence that Kentucky should be helped only if the federal budget is cut elsewhere.

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No amount of air freshener can erase the stench of his hypocrisy.

Actually, that’s standard Republican behavior. Mick Mulvaney, the Trump budget director, was a congressman who voted in 2013 not to send money to New Jersey, insisting that Sandy relief should happen only if budget cuts were made elsewhere. But in 2015, when his state of South Carolina was flooded by a killer storm, he pleaded for federal money without first insisting on other budget cuts: “There will be a time for a discussion about aid and how to pay for it, but that time is not now.”

The state’s senior senator, Lindsey Graham, did the same thing. He’d voted No on the Sandy package, but suddenly, after his flood, he declared: “Rather than put a price tag on it, let’s just get through this, and whatever it costs, it costs.”

There’s much more. Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator, voted No on the Sandy package, but pleaded for expeditious federal money a few years later after Arkansas was hit by floods. Four House Republicans from Colorado voted No on the Sandy package, but a pleaded for socialist help a few months later when Colorado was hit by floods. In 2011, the two Republican senators from Oklahoma voted No on the Sandy package and in 2011 they tried to cut the Federal Emergency Management Agency budget – only to pull a miracle switcheroo in 2013 when Oklahoma was hit by tornadoes.

One of those senators, Tom Coburn, told his constituents: “As the ranking member of the committee that oversees FEMA, I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay.”

So Rand Paul is merely one rotten egg in the basket of deplorables. Nevertheless, he was still a committed scrooge as recently as last month. When Biden’s infrastructure package reached the Senate floor – with its $47 billion outlay to combat climate change; with its $6.8 billion for FEMA – Paul again voted No. How fortunate for his benighted citizens of Kentucky that he was powerless to stop its historic passage.

And how fortunate Kentuckians are that Paul’s hypocrisy has been trumped by Biden’s sense of responsibility. The president has already approved massive federal relief aid with all deliberate speed – without fuming that the state’s red electorate had voted against him, without ranting that the state’s two red senators were horrible people or whatever, without offering to throw paper towels, without telling Kentuckians that maybe the tornadoes would’ve never happened if they’d bothered to rake their forests.

That’s called governing.


Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

We are suffering fresh breakthrough infections of idiocy

If only I had a magic wand, I would henceforth consign all conspiracy freaks and vaccine refuseniks (78 million in number) to some distant desert isle where they could breathe free upon each other until God sorts them out. I know that sounds harsh, but I am beyond fed up. I suspect you are, too.

Right now, in the wake of the discovery of the variant Omicron, we are suffering fresh breakthrough infections of idiocy that prove, yet again, that the MAGA loons have learned absolutely nothing – despite a death toll of nearly 900,000, driven ever higher by the unvaccinated.

For instance, it’s a disgrace to the human species that Fox News hack Lara Logan can appear on camera and equate Dr. Anthony Fauci with Nazi doc Josef Mengele (she did that yesterday), thereby schooling the network’s credulous couch potatoes that someone who’s dedicated to saving lives is the same as someone who abetted the murder of six million lives.

What a message for Hannukah week.

Elsewhere, Texas congressman Ronny Jackson (who was Trump’s White House doctor, and who, amazingly enough, still has doctor creds) tweeted on Sunday that news of the Omicron variant is just a Democratic plot to win the midterms in 2022: “Here comes the MEV – the Midterm Election Variant! They NEED a reason to push unsolicited nationwide mail-in ballots. Democrats will do anything to CHEAT during an election.”

I tend to doubt that the South African scientists who shared their evidence with the world, in the hopes of saving lives with an early warning, were thinking about what balloting options Americans might have one year from now. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the whole world is in on the Democratic plot.

That’s how the tinfoilers “think” – clearly it’s a tribal disease that defies treatment – as evidenced on Sunday by Kari Lake, a Republican gubernatorial candidate in Arizona, who said of the Democrats, “They are going to try and sell us new ‘variants’ for the rest of our lives if we don’t tell them to shove it.” On Saturday, another Fox host, Pete Hegseth, insisted that Democrats will keep cooking up variants on the eve of every election: “You can count on a variant about every October, every two years.” But their logic (and I use the word advisedly) makes no sense. Fox host Rachel Compos-Duffy said (lied) that the Democrats are exploiting variants in order to justify “more lockdowns,” but wouldn’t more lockdowns hurt the Democrats at election time?

There’s no point in parsing these people. They’ve whined that Trump didn’t get any credit for speeding some of the vaccines to market…then they decided to pride themselves on not getting the vaccine. They’ve periodically insisted that Covid is overhyped, that it’s no worse than the flu…but now they’re complaining that President Biden isn’t getting Covid under control. (Yesterday, on the official GOP Twitter account: “Joe Biden promised he would shut down the coronavirus. He failed.”)

Of course he’s having trouble getting Covid under control – because the Covidiots refuse to cooperate. Urging them to do the right thing, to protect themselves and their fellow Americans, clearly hasn’t worked. And requiring them to do the right thing, via federal mandates, triggers rants about their vanishing Freedom. The right-wing Wall Street Journal editorial board complained the other day that “Mr. Biden had no plan to deal with the large numbers of vaccine holdouts.” What, pray tell, would Rupert Murdoch’s minions suggest that he do?

Statistics don’t seem to matter. Only 59 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated – lagging far behind countries like Cuba, Costa Rica, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Aruba, and Ecuador – and those who refuse the jabs are disproportionately Republican. (Shocking, I know.) The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation reported in October that the unvaccinated are three times more likely to be GOPers than Democrats, and that the ratio has widened since the spring, when vaccines became widely available. Indeed, the redder the counties (in terms of their fealty to Trump), the higher the Covid case rate.

It’s hard to foresee how we can fight new variants, and curb the virus long term, when so many millions of Americans are a clear and present danger to public health – and still function as dumpsters for conspiracy garbage. Biden said yesterday, “I expect this not to be the new normal. I expect the new normal to be, everyone ends up getting vaccinated and the booster shot.” Good luck with that.

I was thinking that perhaps Fiji, a nation of 300 islands, would be willing to take our Covidiots…But nah. Fiji’s fully-vaccinated rate is notably higher than ours. A MAGA infestation would only lower its quality of life.

Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Chris Christie's rehabilitation tour is embarrassing

If Bill Murray were to star in a sequel to Groundhog Day, he'd wake up to the Sonny and Cher alarm clock, take the cold shower, step in the puddle, parry the insurance agent, trudge to the gazebo…and see Chris Christie doing his same old song and dance.

Seriously, him again?

Didn't this guy end his gubernatorial tenure with a 15 percent approval rating, then crash and burn as a 2016 presidential candidate?

Wasn't it Christie who morphed from Trump foe to toadying manservant, then contrive to write a spin memoir and launch a rehabilitation tour just two short years ago?

Didn't Christie hit the road with a media blitz in 2019, sort of praising Trump (“he has many of the qualities that define America's leaders") while sort of knocking Trump (it was a “tragedy" that he was so ill-served by his aides), in the hopes of grabbing a piece of the action?

Apparently it's time to rinse and repeat. Christie has a new book out now about how Republicans should reboot themselves by flushing all the lying sewage of recent years and rediscover the virtues of truth. Which is fine as far as it goes.

Naturally, he thinks of himself as the 2024 nominee who can lead the party back to sanity, and you can't blame him for salivating at the prospect. But because Christie is always trying to keep all his options open, he still can't explain why in 2016 he endorsed the con artist most responsible for the lying sewage… or why he's unwilling to rule out endorsing exactly the same con in 2024.

Christie still seems to think Trump is capable of being a better person. If only Trump would stop obsessing about his re-election defeat, things would be just ducky. In Christie's words the other day, “If he wants to be a positive force in the future, he's got to let this other stuff go." Right. And if dog poop tasted like ice cream, it would be on dessert menus.

Christie's game is obvious. He's trying to stuff himself through the eye of a needle, damning Trump with faint praise and praising Trump with faint damns in order to (theoretically) woo the Republicans who are discomfited by Trump's fascist excesses – without quite alienating the MAGAts who still march in lockstep.

I guess we should give him points for trying. But good grief, it sure gets embarrassing.

Take, for instance, what happened on MSNBC this week when he ran into the buzzsaw best known as Nicolle Wallace. As my dear departed mother would have said, “It was a scream!"

Christie's new book laments about all the lies and disinformation that circulates in the media. But somehow, he just plumb forgot to mention the ceaseless contributions of Fox News. Wallace, the former Republican aide, decided to ask him why so-called media bias is more dangerous than conspiracy theories spouted by the likes of Tucker Carlson.

Wallace: “I don't think it's an intellectually honest case to make against conspiracy theorists without taking on Fox News."

Christie: “Well, then listen, you can write that in your book."

Wallace: “I'm not the one trying to 'rescue' the Republican party."

She continued:

Wallace: “So you may or may not support Donald Trump in 2024, you may or may not run for president, and a book about liars and conspiracy theorists doesn't have anything to say about Fox News."

Christie: “No, the book – you're conflating it."

Wallace: “If you want to solve the proliferation of conspiracy theorists without dealing with Fox News – it's like solving terrorists, without dealing with the terrorists."

Suffice it to say Christie's dumbo act with respect to Tucker Carlson – who has the highest rated show on Fox News – is more than a tad disingenuous. And suffice it to say that he omitted Fox News from his book because as a perpetual Republican candidate he can ill afford to alienate fans of the infauxtainment network. His whole shtick is quite tiresome.

Only fans of The Sopranos will get this closing reference, but so be it: I wish Bobby Bacala would just go away and play with his trains.

Opinion contributor Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page. Readers may email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

Don't look now, Democrats, but winter is coming

Democrats can certainly try to convince themselves that the Virginia gubernatorial defeat is no big deal. All kinds of rationales are available.

For instance, the incumbent president's party has lost 11 of the last 12 gubernatorial races. Virginia, when choosing its chief executive, tends to vote against Washington's “in" party.

And Terry McAuliffe, the losing Democratic candidate, has never been super popular – he's from the old-school Democratic establishment, with leftover Clinton ties, and when he won his previous gubernatorial race in 2013, he only managed to beat a right-wing nutcase by two percent. And it just so happens that deep blue states do elect red governors from time to time – most recently, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

Nevertheless, if we point forward to the 2022 midterms and beyond, the likeliest forecast for Democrats is that winter is coming. And we know what that likely portends for the future health of democracy itself.

A president's party almost always loses seats in midterm elections – there were recent exceptions in 1998 and 2002 – and some of the rumblings Tuesday night in Virginia fit that pattern.

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President Joe Biden's poll numbers have slid in Virginia (a state he won by 10 points) and nationally as well. We can debate whether he deserves such a fate, but fairly or not, it's been happening. And the issue mix that helped propel Glenn Youngkin to victory in Virginia – worries about the economy, general parental frustration with schools (some of it idiotic, but cleverly exploited by the GOP) – has potential national resonance. At the Democrats' expense.

Youngkin also hit on a winning formula that conceivably could work for House and Senate Republican candidates next year: Be Trumpish on the stump without the baggage of Trump. Make all the requisite MAGA noises, especially in the suburbs – “I'm gonna abolish critical race theory!" (Even though it's not taught anyway) – but do it with a friendly face. Ensure that Trump stays away, but say the stuff he says in ways that can woo back the Republican-leaning college-educated suburbanites that voted against Trump in 2020.

Meanwhile, if the current Republican minority on Capitol Hill (with the help of Joe Manchin, Krysten Sinema, and the usual Democratic infighting) can continue to stymie Biden's ambitious attempts to make life better for average Americans, then presto!, the Democratic base voters, who always stand ready to be apathetic and disillusioned, will be increasingly inclined to sit on their butts on midterm election day – just as they did when Barack Obama's party was routed in 2010 and 2014.

The result, of course, would be GOP takeovers of the House and Senate, and the death of any progressive agenda in advance of the 2024 presidential contest.

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Oh, and did I mention that Biden's poll slide in deep blue New Jersey briefly imperiled its Democratic governor, Phil Murphy, whose re-election bid remained a nail-biter well into Wednesday? Murphy narrowly won re-election in the end.

Granted, there are scenarios that could save the Democrats in time for the midterms. The pandemic could be in the rear view mirror next fall, especially now that vaccines for kids have been approved – a move that could drastically reduce parental tensions about the schools.

And Democrats on the Hill this week even managed to revive a Build Back Better provision that would lower prescription drug prices, and, who knows, maybe they'll even finally manage to pass something big that swing voters will notice. Because they need to prove they can govern; it ain't enough to just be anti-Trump.

Democratic pollster Geoff Garin tweeted a plaintive plea Tuesday night: “Hey Democrats, the circular firing squad is the problem, not the solution. Stop. We need to pass the strongest bills we can pass with our current majorities." Indeed. As two Democratic sources told the Politico website last night, everything “will get so much worse if we don't pass the agenda and aren't able to run on it…Democrats need to stop fighting each other and start delivering for voters. If we don't, 2022 is going to be brutal."

Gee, ya think?

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. His work appears on Mondays on the Capital-Star's Commentary Page. Readers may email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.


Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.