Republicans are from Mars -- but too many of them are running things on planet Earth

We expect that a political opposition party will generate arguments against the sitting administration, against their political foes. That's why it seems predictable that Sen. Mitch McConnell or Rep. Kevin McCarthy, leaders of the Republicans in Congress, will take stands against policies or proposals from Joe Biden and Democrats.

Still, what we don't expect is that even in the name of passionate politics, Republican leaders will suggest that they live on another planet altogether.

That's why when Rep. Margorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) talked of "Jewish space lasers" and any number of her colleagues suggested that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists simply were "visitors" to the Capitol that day, we just close our ears and wait until they stop talking.

With would-be Republican candidates for president sound as if they are on Mars, we must take notice – these people could be running the country. The trick is in assuring ourselves that we're not just seeing a "gaffe" remark, but something that represents sustained thinking.

Here are a few that seem to do just that:

In Texas

Faced with questions about why the state's new restrictive law about abortions and vigilante justice deny medical treatments for victims of rape, Gov. Greg Abbott came up with a humdinger: He will eliminate rape in Texas – by aggressively prosecuting rapists after the fact.

Right. We will eliminate rape by arresting suspects after the rape has occurred. Skip over whether this makes any sense. My question is why isn't he eliminating rape now, without using a new abortion-restricting law as an excuse?

"Rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets," Abbott said, without explaining how he would do so or why now.

That promise has drawn more than the usual amount of notoriety and scorn, even from people who are not necessarily speaking for pro-choice movements. The new Texas law, hurriedly allowed to take effect by a U.S. Supreme Court in the middle of the night, makes no exceptions to setting a six-week deadline for victims of rape or incest. Joe Biden and Democrats have said they will consider federal measures to secure access to abortion nationwide with the Justice Department said to be exploring legal challenges, based, in part on civil rights laws.

Here was Texas Democratic Rep. Gene Wu: "Wait," Wu said in a tweet mocking Abbott's answer, "Governor Abbott had a solution to end all RAPE and he sat on it until now?"

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough said, "Why don't we start by showing how Texas fares when it comes to rapes—more reported in the state of Texas than any other state in America . . . and a governor saying we're going to stop all rapes. . . We're in a preposterous state here."

Meanwhile, the copycat anti-abortion actions are continuing to spread quickly in Republican-run states. Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem this week issued an executive order restricting abortion medications usually purchased over the Internet and delivered by mail, requiring that they be picked up in person at a doctor's office. In April, the Food and Drug Administration lifted restrictions on sending abortion-inducing medications through the mail, determining that sending the medicine remotely through telemedicine did not increase risk.

Noem dictated that abortion-inducing medications such as mifepristone may be given by a physician licensed in South Dakota only after an in-person examination. Data on the number of chemical abortions performed and any complications as well as information to indicate if the woman was "coerced or sex trafficked and forced to take the pills" will also be collected, per Noem's order. Again, there was no indication of how and why this will be enforced.

In California

Conservative Republican radio host Larry Elder, who is seeking to knock off California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, in next week's recall election, told a radio interviewer, again, that if we are discussing reparations, it is slaveholder families and not former slaves who deserve payments.

Again, no gaffe here. Elder has been arguing such a position for quite a while.

"When people talk about reparations, do they really want to have that conversation? Like it or not, slavery was legal," Elder, who is Black, said. "Their legal property was taken away from them after the Civil War, so you could make an argument that the people that are owed reparations are not only just Black people but also the people whose 'property' was taken away after the end of the Civil War."

Elder said slave owners lost a significant amount of money and resources after the Civil War and the passing of the 13th Amendment in 1865, which partially abolished slavery. He noted that other countries, such as the UK, "compensated slave owners" with "substantial sums of money" after losing their "legal property," adding, "That's why there was no war in the UK: slave owners received huge sums of money," he said. UK leaders provided former slaveholders with 20 million pounds in compensation from the British Slave Compensation Commission following the abolition of slavery in the country in 1833, Yahoo News reported.

Let's just say that it is difficult to see this candidate as a healer in our divided country. Maybe it would sound better in the original Martian.

In Florida

Consistently now over months, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has distinguished himself in his stands against taking coronavirus seriously. He has declined to promote vaccines and masks – though himself getting vaccinated – even going so far as punishing school districts and cities for adopting mandates for mask-wearing. He has used manipulated data to insist that death counts from covid are falling at a time when death counts are rising sharply.

We learned more this week about why he feels the way he does. He opposes creating a "biomedical security state" through vaccine passports and mandates. Next week, Florida will start to levy $5,000 fines on businesses, schools and government agencies that require visitors to show proof of vaccination.

"At the end of the day . . . it's about your health and whether you want that protection or not," DeSantis said. "It really doesn't impact me or anyone else." In other words, would-be doctor DeSantis has determined that there is no problem with carrying viruses, that you shouldn't care if others are protected. Natural immunity, he asserted, supersedes the immunity a vaccine provides.

As it happens, I have a daughter who teaches at Florida State University, which apparently can require in-person classes, but not masks or vaccines, or even ask who is vaccinated. So, when a student popped up positive for covid last week, having exposed all, the university had no procedures in place other than for the student to voluntarily choose to seek medical advice or drop out of class to go home, since there are no quarantine facilities on campus.

Principles, yes, aplenty. Practicalities, none. How would you grade the governor as an effective leader? Approval polls have taken a dive.

While we do not understand a lot about covid, we do get that its variants spread most quickly in an unvaccinated population and that allowing a substantial minority of Americans to go unvaccinated and unmasked keeps the mutating virus around to hunt for more victims. As Washington Post columnist Philip Bump noted this week, there is such a thing as the common good. You would hope that someone wanting to be president would be stressing what the unvaccinated can do in the name of social responsibility rather than the opposite.

Maybe everyone on Mars can remain unvaccinated and unmasked.

When Trump abandoned the Kurds

While a majority of Americans say they continue to react poorly to an apparent lack of planning in the hastened, chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, maybe we should be looking more closely at the distinctly Republican attempt to politicize the efforts of the Biden administration to quickly organize an unprecedented airlift rescue of 120,000 under fire as a disastrous failure.

Those same polls say we should be out of Afghanistan.

Americans are reacting to images that are embarrassing not to executing U.S. strategy.

No one, including Team Biden, would argue against the argument that withdrawal should have gone better, for all the reasons that by now we can all recount. The Afghan government and army collapsed, and within several days, created conditions that made a pullout of military and civilians dangerous and nearly impossible.

No one, including Team Biden, disputes that perhaps 100 to 200 individuals holding U.S. citizenship, shared citizenship, or special status for expedited removal, remain in Afghanistan. What Biden and company dispute is whether various diplomatic and economic levers will suffice to get those people, at least those who want out, a chance to leave under Taliban aegis.

Somehow, magically, the argument is, we should have poured more U.S. troops in, one way or another, to have them stay until all who wanted out – perhaps 300,000 Afghan citizens whom many in the U.S. don't want to provide a new home – could be airlifted out with no harm even from rogue Taliban forces or unaffiliated terrorists who showed us with a bomb and other threats that they were not heeding any Taliban orders any more than quaking under threat of American weapons.

But missing in the various explanations is a quick look back at the last two years, when Donald Trump, who now insists that any Afghan pullout he had worked out with the Taliban would be conditioned by events on the ground, pulled out from Syria and Iraq. That rewrite of recent history by Trump, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and a bevy of Republican congressional leaders whose opinions were not part of any practical discussions towards pullouts, rather overlooks Trump's history here – which is still fresh in memory.

That withdrawal in Syria and Iraq abandoned Kurds – American allies in the fight against the Islamic caliphate – in the face of oncoming conflicts with the Turks, who historically have seen the Kurds as domestic rebels, if not terrorists. It will be interesting how Trump retells his own story as his all-but certain candidacy emerges.

In other words, can we look at what happened?

Abandoning Kurds

In October 2019, Trump, and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper basically declared victory over an Islamic caliphate in Syria and Iraq and ordered a withdrawal of American forces from northern Syria. About 1,000 American troops, mostly Special Operations forces, left quickly, following a period in which the Pentagon had slow-walked compliance with Trump's directions to move towards withdrawal, remaining inside Iraq or southern Syria.

But the decision drew criticism, now apparently forgotten, that doing so effectively ceded control of the area to the Syrian government, Russia, and the Turks, and resulted in abandoning the Kurds, America's allies in actual combat in the area. By comparison, the current debate involves rescue of local Afghans who worked as interpreters, drivers, clerical help, and cooks. There was no airlift at all of civilians who had worked with the U.S. forces; indeed, Trump barred Syrian immigration totally.

And, critics made clear, the abandonment of the area would allow renegade, fleeing ISIS fighters to regroup elsewhere to fight another day. That's exactly the current week's criticism for Biden returning Afghanistan to a would-be teeming training ground for international terrorists, including those same fleeing ISIS fighters.

Whatever rebound terrorists might make, one thing was clear: American forces would not be coming to the aid of their Kurdish allies in the face of the Turkish-backed offensive. Trump defended the abandonment, saying he was fulfilling a campaign promise to withdraw from "endless war" in the Middle East (familiar?), "appearing largely unconcerned at the prospect of Turkish forces attacking the Kurds, who include a faction he described as "natural enemies" of the Turks," and saying he would use economic leverage over the Turks to keep Turks from killing too many Kurds. He didn't.

How are we supposed to take current Republican criticism seriously now when they left American allies to die on the same battlefield?

Setting Up Afghan Problems

In November 2020, right after the election, the Trump White House announced that it would pull thousands of troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan by Jan. 15. In January 2021, as the new administration was just coming in, acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller announced that the U.S. had withdrawn forces in Iraq and Afghanistan down to 2,500 in each war zone.

It was an unusual major policy shift announced during a lame duck period, clearly setting up problems for the incoming Biden administration.

It also was a change that defied clear instructions from Congress in its broadly bipartisan military budget bill not to use that money to withdraw forces in either Afghanistan or Iraq below 4,000 without providing clear evidence to Congress about the viability of the plan.

In February 2020, Pompeo and Trump completed a negotiation with the Taliban, after even considering inviting the Taliban leaders to Camp David. So much for outrage over Biden now talking with the Taliban about security arrangements during the pullout.

As one analyst wrote in a New York Times op-ed this week, "Trump agreed to withdraw all coalition forces from Afghanistan in 14 months, end all military and contractor support to Afghan security forces and cease "intervening in its domestic affairs." He forced the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban fighters and relax economic sanctions. He agreed that the Taliban could continue to commit violence against the government we were there to support, against innocent people and against those who'd assisted our efforts to keep Americans safe. All the Taliban had to do was say they would stop targeting U.S. or coalition forces, not permit Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations to use Afghan territory to threaten U.S. security and subsequently hold negotiations with the Afghan government.

Not only did the agreement have no inspection or enforcement mechanisms, but despite Trump's claim that "If bad things happen, we'll go back with a force like no one's ever seen," the administration made no attempt to enforce its terms.

Read it. There are no conditions on the ground outlined.

They Agree, Even if We Don't

Biden's arguments are about what we are doing overall in Afghanistan. So are Trump's.

For good or bad, the two political ends are arguing over something for which they both agree on the fundamentals. We can, and are, having a ruckus over how well the mechanics of pulling out went, but few Republican opponents are suggesting that we re-commit the kind of numbers to Afghanistan to make a major difference. From polling and endless interviews, it is clear that Americans don't have the stomach for generations-long wars to prevent possible terrorism, insisting instead that a vibrant and strong military and an effective intelligence array can respond as needed, anywhere in the world.

We can and will argue endlessly about that too.

But we should dismiss this notion that Trump, the magician, was going to extract hundreds of thousands from Afghanistan in any manner that was without the messiness of these last two weeks. And we should dismiss the defensiveness of the Biden team in insisting that the inevitability of chaos absolved them from better preparations about the processing and withdrawal of populations of this size from halfway around the world.

Get ready for what's next: Supreme Court will go far beyond women’s health decisions

We should stop and shudder about the consequences for state-sanctioned intimidation by bullies who don't like your decisions – something that did not seem to concern our esteemed Supreme Court justices one bit.

That law SCOTUS just permitted to take effect in a hurry-up midnight decision lets private citizens – vigilantes by any other name – intimidate anyone aiding an abortion. They can file lawsuits to stop Uber drivers, doctors, clinics, funders, anyone but the patient herself, for helping to make that abortion come about.

The state is even baiting that behavior with cash payments.

Once again, we have a court majority acting on some perceived moral principle without looking at the effects of the decision.

Forget lawsuits. This is the same Texas that has loosened gun laws to allow open carrying in bars, schools and churches. This is the same Texas that has declared open season on voting rights and against immigrants, so far asking its own state troopers to arrest migrants for trespassing and then offering them for deportation.

This is a state that looks kindly on protests of same-sex marriage and unkindly on protests organized by Black Lives Matter. It is among those states that allow gun owners to shoot people to stand their defensive ground.

How far away are we from having "self-anointed enforcers," as President Joe Biden called them, perhaps with guns, showing up with threats and private lawsuits or in-your-face enforcement of whatever they think voting rights should be, never mind what even the new laws are still allowing?

We've been seeing the fistfights of would-be enforcers at school board meetings over mask mandates; we've seen intimidation against gender-fluid lifestyles; we've noticed the rifles borne by white supremacist enforcers at Black rallies.

Why are the immigration arrests still being limited to state troopers; how about anyone with a gun?

In the Wild West days, it was not uncommon to take out one's six-shooter to settle some perceived dispute – ideological, personal or just plain hubristic. Then we thought we civilized ourselves.

Now when there is a weekend of gun violence in our cities, people's hair lights on fire to call for more policing.

But what the court just did was to arm private enforcement of viewpoints that happen to run counter to current federal law.

How, then, can SCOTUS allow the prosecution of the hundreds of arrested Jan. 6 insurrectionists, private citizens, for going the next, illegal step with their desire to stop a social wrong?

Following the Absurd

Where's the line here? The mere threat of litigation has prompted abortion clinics in Texas to immediately limit services in compliance with the new state law.

There are other laws that have provisions that allow private citizens to enforce them, including various environmental laws such as the Clean Air Act, as well as statutes that encourage whistleblowers to report fraud and abuse within the government.

But these laws do not give people the power to sue to prevent someone else exercising a right recognized by SCOTUS.

What about vaccine or mask mandates? Do I now have the right or responsibility to sue the school or restaurant or subway if someone is not complying with a mask rule? Can I threaten the hardware store selling a flashlight to someone who is resisting a hurricane evacuation order?

The state government of Texas, Republicans of the sort who block school districts and cities from mandating masks in the name of choice, is running a sly, under-handed and hypocritical game on U.S. law. It is handing its enforcement to the public and then throwing up its hands and insisting that the state has nothing to do with the issue.

In Texas, choice is for masks, not reproductive health. That is BS.

There was an Associated Press article this week about the Chinese government running its own version of cancel culture, cracking down on revolutionary culture and broadening a campaign to tighten control over business and society to enforce an official view of morality.

The Chinese Communist Party is reducing children's access to online games, insisting that broadcasters end the hiring of effeminate men, shunning a celebrity culture and others who "violate public order" or have "lost morality."

This is weird, and highly objectionable, but at least the Chinese take responsibility for these outrageous acts (though we all would be much better served if the Chinese were equally forthcoming about Covid origins.)

Absurdities Follow Us

Juxtapose Texas law essentially disenfranchising women from their ability to make an individual choice and the re-imposition of Taliban rules over women's choices. It is openly hypocritical.

It always has been my view that abortion, like any hospital procedure, may need to be regulated for safety conditions, but not for the essential decision. That indeed should be a matter of choice, and it should be an informed one. Women considering it should seek medical, religious and family counsel.

Indeed, for all sorts of contributing reasons including health insurance coverage of contraceptives, abortions in the United States have been in decline for two decades.

But it was never a consideration – any more than dealing with cancer or a broken leg – that needs the unwanted intervention of some would-be private detective watching the Ubers dropping patients off at a Planned Parenthood clinic with a tort lawyer on speed-dial.

This is raw politics in pursuit of a singular view of morality, one that feels that conception is the start of life, but that government's responsibility to mothers and children ends at birth, not with the lifelong support of food, health and education required by that child.

We've learned the hard way that even trained police officers must adjust their attitudes and outlooks to achieve effective community policing. Even the most highly trained and focused military professionals can make mistakes in targeting. Bad assumptions about individual decision-making by people we don't know can end in tragic circumstances.

Vigilantism solves nothing. If it did, I'd make a citizen's arrest of the Texas Republican governor and attorney general for crimes against humanity.

Building fear: The real radical Republican agenda

Republicans obviously don't like being in the minority. When they can stop fighting amongst themselves or with shadows in the corner, they are already heavily under way with literal campaigning and supportive efforts in Washington aimed at the next election cycle.

Unfortunately, they're walking away from dealing with actual problems the country faces today to worry instead about being sufficiently obstinate. That's different from Democrats when they were out of the majority. It is so widespread that it deserves a spotlight.

Simply put, before the Big Steal and when there was any substance to the last election, what voters were talking about included:

  • Covid
  • healthcare access and costs
  • income inequality and jobs
  • climate change
  • race relations
  • immigration
  • returning to some semblance of normality post-Covid

You know, things that we expect from government.

Look at where we now find the political conversation. it's obvious that we're featuring discussion about anything but government, mostly centering on staying in office, anger toward all institutions and building fears of one another.

Any expectation of calming the conversation to actual issues is consistently now giving way to grievance, to say nothing of trying to get Big Solutions through a badly split Senate.

If you don't play at policy, you can't win. It is not government, but posturing that is the goal of Republicans.

The posturing about mask-wearing and vaccines alone say the great bulk of Republican leadership have power on the brain rather than disease-prevention. They spend every moment blaming Dr. Anthony Fauci for causing coronavirus and the Centers for Disease Control for flip-flopping its mask advice as the disease mutates.

Sure, you can blame Democrats for pushing for too much spending, but at least they are focused on making government services work.

For Republicans, the dissension is mostly built into the program to stop anything President Joe Biden wants to pursue, from appointees to policies to daily behaviors.

The split deepens between moderate Republicans who simply prefer tax cuts over helping people and the increasingly wacky Donald Trump majority. Trumpers may be a sideshow, politically, but a sideshow is what the GOP spends time on.

What Is the GOP Doing?

There are lots of current examples of what Republicans are doing, all in the name of individual decisions that all happen to line up in a partisan pattern. It is a kind of coordinated, if not required, version of individualism that has conformity at its base.

1. In the face of rising cases of coronavirus, particularly among the unvaccinated, Republican leaders have once again retreated to attacking the CDC and Biden's White House for "failures" to control the disease and bring on a new round of mask-wearing and to enable more mandated vaccination programs. That's
despite the idea that it has been Republican leaders who have insisted on individual responsibility rather than government mandates to control the pandemic mutations.

Donald Trump emerged to insist that "We will never go back" to mask-wearing" as if wearing a mask for self-protection, even among the vaccinated, is some kind of expression of weakness. Republicans were resisting a call for the renewal of mandated mask-wearing in the House, of course, but also in cities and counties of high case counts and for businesses to protect employees and customers. Kevin McCarthy tweeted on behalf of his colleagues that "the threat of bringing masks back is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state."

More importantly, we're seeing state Republican governors and leaders stopping cities and businesses from seeking protections, while also not pushing more vaccines. My reality is that my grandchildren can't get vaccinations, and thus, you and I need to wear masks.

2. Withdrawing from governing. McCarthy has pulled all six Republican lawmakers off of Democrats' special committee on economic disparity in continuing protest of Speaker Nancy Pelosi's move to reject two Republicans who promised to mock the Jan. 6 proceedings from that unrelated panel. Pelosi, of course, answered by naming anti-Trump Representatives Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., to the investigating group.

We're waiting to see if McCarthy withdraws Republicans from other committees.

If you don't play at policy, you can't win. It's further evidence that it is not government, but posturing that is the goal of Republicans.

3. 'America is not racist' has become the GOP 2024 mantra, reports The news outlet adds that lightning-rod issues such as "critical race theory" and "defund the police" are now a staple for Republican candidates across the country. No matter that top Democrats, including Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have said publicly they don't believe America is a racist country. Republicans are hoping to portray the party as out of step with the thinking of mainstream America.

I get that Republicans want a banner of patriotism to wave, but using a motto like "I am not fat" never seems to get anyone back into trim shape. How about some effective policy answers instead?

4. Donald Trump supporters calling themselves an "election integrity committee" are going door to door in Pennsylvania and demanding to know whom residents voted for in the November election. Apparently it is an attempt to shore up a claim for an Arizona-style private election recount for the never-ending claims of fraudulent voting.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, the actual Republican officials who had lined up to create that state's errant revisit of all Maricopa County votes have resigned. They said the company involved, Cyber Ninjas, is working in secret doing who knows what with ballots to justify the millions of dollars spent (though none from the Trump campaign, which has not supported the effort financially) on a seemingly fruitless venture.

Whatever else one might say about it, these are efforts not dealing with any of the fundamental policy questions facing the country.

5. Playing Fast and Loose with the Law. While Republicans present themselves as supporters of Law and Order, their actions show something different.

Increasingly they want laws overturned or just ignore current-day law for political ends. So, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered the National Guard to assist state law enforcement officers in stopping civilian drivers and contractors who they believe are transporting migrants to Texans. If drivers refuse to cooperate, Abbott's executive order instructs, officers may seize their vehicles. Such moves are blatantly illegal.

Some 228 members of Congress have asked the Supreme Court to overturn abortion laws.

Republicans in the House are resisting Capitol Police who are seeking to enforce mask enforcement for staffers and visitors.

In other words, Law and Order is for chumps. Backing the Blue is enforcement when convenient, as in Black Lives Matter protests, not Capitol rioting.

Good Politics?

I don't mind debate. But ignoring what government is for – other than launching criminal probes of your political enemies — seems beyond the pale.

Maybe it all still makes for good politics. People like sticking needles in the Other Guy's voodoo dolls. A steady diet of opposition to actual governing policy, backed by right-leaning media reports that only describe the opposition in glowing terms, may be a formula for electoral success.

But, on its face, deciding that no governing should be happening seems just as outlandish as insisting that only one party's viewpoint should mandate time after time. Sure, elect a Republican House majority again, and replace Pelosi with McCarthy, and then what?

McCarthy is making clear that he doesn't want Congress to do any of its real work other than cut taxes. During the Trump years, Republicans shucked off oversight duties, ignored social and economic inequalities, allowed debt to build (only now to blame Biden and Democrats), and chose not to resolve immigration, health, education, climate or international problems any more than they now complain that Biden is not.

Coronavirus is not a Republican or Democratic issue, any more than changing climate or even marketplace inflation. What is a government issue is what to do about them. Give the Trump team credit for pushing for vaccine development, and Biden for getting them out there, over Republican-led hesitancy and outright resistance, which is worsening the situation.

Hurling slogans about patriotism and engaging in culture war skirmishes actually resolves nothing toward the goals we say we want.

'A hitman sent them': Trump broadly hints at trying it again as Capitol riot hearings begin

The formal Jan. 6 investigation by Congress kicked off Tuesday and was, of course, made almost secondary by fighting over who's doing the investigating.

The first hearing of the new, select, 13-member House committee heard from four police officers who made clear that:

  • The Jan. 6 attacks were by Donald Trump supporters, not random leftist posers
  • It was dangerous, not a gathering of "love," as Trump himself has described
  • It was out of control for hours

We heard ad nauseum from Trump's side that Speaker Nancy Pelosi is a rotten person because the Democrat rejected obstructionist nominees to the committee who were out to make a mockery of its proceedings. She dared in their view to reach into Republican ranks to name two members who have publicly opposed Trump on the insurrection attempt and the continuing Big Steal campaign to declare the last presidential election a fraud.

Both Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois are paying a price among Republican colleagues for even agreeing to sit on a panel that thinks there is something more important here than party politics. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy promised retribution against "Pelosi Republicans," even as Pelosi gave Cheney a prime opening speaking role which she used to lambast her GOP colleagues.

Republican mainstay thinking is that Pelosi had wrought a biased investigation panel of specific Democratic interest and majority to bear – even though they, as a group, resisted any attempt to create a more independent, bipartisan group of investigators.

Underscoring Purpose

Kinzinger's public statements after his selection by Pelosi were in stark contrast with those of Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana or Jim Jordan of Ohio, whom he essentially replaced. "We are duty-bound to conduct a full investigation on the worst attack on the Capitol since 1814 and to make sure it can never happen again."

Banks and Jordan, by contrast, had attacked the premise of even looking at Jan. 6 is a renewed attack of Trump. They wanted rather to investigate street violence surrounding Black Lives Matter protests and why Pelosi herself had not secured the Capitol rather than look at how Team Trump had assembled and incited armed supporters and sent them to the Capitol – delaying any action to stop the rioting. Five people died in the attacks and scores were injured.

Pelosi tossed the pair and offered to keep three other nominees. Then Republicans chose not to nominate new investigators.

The purpose of the Jan. 6 committee, of course, is to examine how the riot came about, what happened and to recommend steps to stop a repeat.

Because Pelosi insisted on that purpose for inclusion on the committee, Republicans walked away – only now to bleat that the investigation is unfairly biased because Pelosi didn't include those bent on changing the purpose.

But it is literally bipartisan, if you still count being non-Trump Republicans as party members.

Rep. Bennie Thompson, Democratic head of the committee, opened with frankness: "Some people are trying to deny what happened. To whitewash it. To turn the insurrectionists into martyrs. But the whole world saw the reality of what happened on Jan. 6th. . . And all of it: for a vile, vile lie. Let's be clear. The rioters who tried to rob us of our democracy were propelled here by a lie. As chairman of this committee, I will not give that lie any fertile ground."

The hearing itself featured the emotional testimony of four law enforcement officers, particularly in annotating video clips.

  • U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Aquilino Gonell told how he was beaten, had his hand sliced open and was doused in chemical spray during the attack
  • Private First Class Harry Dunn said was called racist slurs and has experienced post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Metropolitan Police Department Officer Michael Fanone said he faced death threats with his own gun
  • Officer Daniel Hodges told of being crushed in a door by rioters and beaten.

This was no lovefest.

Rockiness Ahead

This effort is bound to prove controversial at every step. Every statement of "fact" about Jan. 6 will elicit countercharges of presumption, prejudice and denial by the non-participating Republicans. Expect constant attacks on the people asking the questions, on staffers, on versions of the story that don't begin with allegations that voters were rightfully angry because millions of votes for Trump were magically turned into votes for Joe Biden.

Four Republican congress members — Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert, Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Greene – held a press conference to decry that Jan. 6 arrestees are political prisoners, for example.

Still, despite court proceedings for now 500 rioters, we continue to have big gaps in the public understanding of what actually occurred, where the money and planning came from, what was going on in the White House while insurrectionists ran riot, why federal response was delayed. We can expect a lot of howling over whether the committee tries to subpoena Trump or his top aides and Trump family members to answer questions about what the expectations were in calling that midday Jan. 6 rally and sending them to the Capitol. The Justice Department decided yesterday that they could testify without the protection of executive privilege.

If Trump were as big a guy as he presents himself, you'd think he would want to face down this committee. But that has not been his pattern, and he certainly won't willingly agree to be under oath. And what of the Republican members of Congress who supposedly conducted Capitol reconnaissance tours just before the attacks?

We should probably be content to see it all as political theater rather than fact-finding, but who knows? Maybe we'll be surprised to learn that there are any number of individuals who participated or who are uncovering actual fact that can provide some answers.

As the hearing was happening, we were seeing evidence across town about why it is needed:

The Justice Department was filing a brief on arguments about whether then Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala was within his official duties as a congressman to promote the riot. He was among the speakers at the rally denouncing his colleagues for failing to overturn the election results.

As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin noted, "This sounds absurd, but in effect, Brooks is asking the Justice Department to certify that he was acting in the scope of his duties when he tried to overthrow the government. If he succeeds, he would be immune from suit."

She said it is "akin to saying Gen. Robert E. Lee was acting within the scope of his duties in the U.S. Army when he attacked Union troops. Sedition is not within the scope of any official's duties."

Meanwhile, Trump himself broadly hints at trying again. He claims the large sums of money he is raising through front-man groups are for recounts and audits. He's apparently using the money for business and legal bills.

So much for bipartisan wondering about the future of democracy.

South Dakota's governor raises the bar on Republican crazy

Sometimes the news is so outlandish, we have to stop and consider whether we're actually living in the same world as these people.

Is Fox News' Tucker Carlson really so strapped for policies to criticize that he has decided that the NSA, the National Security Agency, is spending its efforts reading his email? Or just maybe does he cite his unshared whistleblower report to remind us all just what an important critic he is that he would draw special attention from those who spy on foreigners?

Just what is Tucker emailing that needs the attention of the NSA? He blurts it all out nightly, and maybe he should worry more that his insulting lack of professionalism, sourcing or rigor can ever get me to tune in, to say nothing of his repetitious opinions.

I, for one, hope the NSA has better things to do.

Does Keven McCarthy, the House Minority Leader, really expect us to follow his logic in linking "Critical Race Theory" with alignment with the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow because they all are about race? Yes, Mr. Leader, we do need to talk about race in this country, and to do so critically. If all talk about race makes one a racist, perhaps you need to look in the mirror.

This is talking about talking about race.

But the gold star this week goes to South Dakota's radical Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, who is parading early as a possible part of any 2024 White House ticket. She announced that she is accepting private donations to deploy state National Guard troops to the Texas border to protect us from the hordes storming the country's porous barriers.

That's right. A partisan governor is sending uniformed troops, pulled from their normal jobs, to unknown tasks that are legally questionable anyway, halfway across the country, paid for by an auto scrap billionaire who thinks Joe Biden "would rather help other countries than help America.".

When this happens in, say, Afghanistan, we generally refer to these great private army thinkers as "warlords."

At the Border

We all recognize that with the changing of administrations from Donald Trump to Biden, there has been a swell of people coming from Central America toward our border. Some of it is seasonal, some of it is pent-up hope that Biden would open borders, some of it is a huge backload of asylum cases, and some of it rank opportunism by border coyotes to fleece and harm migrants desperate for a way to feed and protect their families.

Even the Biden administration recognizes that it has a problem trying to be more humane in strictly enforcing procedures that seem hopelessly out of step with the size of the problems. And law enforcement at all levels understands that there are increases in fentanyl and other serious drugs being moved surreptitiously across the border.

Still, since numbers seem to have subsided since the annual Spring rise, it remains a bit unclear just how more personnel will translate into the no-one-can-enter policies that seem so popular with the Reoublican base, since, among other things, the people entering have no interest in following rules.

Governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Doug Doucey of Arizona have started deploying law enforcement to beef up border patrols, and asking other governors to consider doing the same. So far, Florida, Nebraska and Iowa have pledged to send law enforcement officers.

Noem appears to be the only one sending state National Guards for up to two months. The deployment is being funded by a GOP megadonor, auto salvage billionaire Willis Johnson, a resident of Tennessee and founder of auto-salvage company Copart, as funneled through his family foundation. Johnson told TalkingPointsMemo.com that, as a Vietnam vet, he is upset that "we've got people saying we can't even protect our own borders. . . God gave America to us and God can take it away," Johnson added. "I feel sorry for the Mexicans, but they need to come through the right channels," Johnson added. "I love 'em, I just think they ought to follow the rules," including Covid-9 protections.

Most coming to the border are not Mexicans, but skip that. Skip, too, that people are being quarantined for Covid testing and vaccines, or, for that matter, that coming to the border to file for asylum is perfectly legal.

Raw Politics

How about using uniformed troops at the border for actual enforcement is prohibited by law? How about this is a federal law enforcement issue and not one for the South Dakota governor? How about considering what is nutty here about using a privately funded state military agency against any target?

Indeed, why limit raising a private army only for immigration? What about sending a private army to arrest deadbeat dads or provide safe places for domestic violence victims? How about targeting corporation executives who pay no taxes? How about sending armed South Dakota troops to read Tucker Carlson's emails?

This, of course, is straight, raw politics. Noem may as well unfurl banners saying: Biden and immigration, bad, Republicans, good.

Actually, it is hard to see immigration as an issue without seeing partisan interests right up front. Of course, we could say the same about climate, environmental rules, the economy or a Congressional select committee to examine what gave rise to the Jan. 6 insurrection.

The auto salvage guy made no bones about it. He called Biden an "idiot," saying that the President "just wants to do everything that Trump didn't try to do — he doesn't care if it's right or wrong . . . It's just chaos with this President, and he doesn't care."

If it all didn't matter so much, it would be easy to dismiss Noem and all the partisanship. We have real problems requiring real solutions.

Senate Dems face the ultimate test this week as Mitch McConnell stands firm

We get another peek on Tuesday at just what an upsidedown world the U.S. Senate represents with a test vote on voter rights legislation that is being washed twice, rinsed and hung out on a bipartisan clothesline just in time for Republicans to knock it down.

For weeks, we have watched Sen. Joe Manchin, (D-W.Va.) maneuver, delay, twist and turn to try to make the For the People Act appeal to a bipartisan coalition. Tomorrow, we will confirm two things:

  • Democrats will negotiate endlessly among themselves to present a bill they think should draw 10 Republican votes
  • the reality that the Republican minority will just slam the door

Without the 10 votes, Democrats will fall short of the 60 required, renewing the endless debate over changing the filibuster rules – which actually can be done with a simple majority. But centrists like Manchin and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) say such action will carry bad consequences into the future.

Instead, they insist on turning every substantial Democratic proposal from coronavirus aid to infrastructure projects into mincemeat to lure would-be right-leaning centrists.

Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., simply says no. "I've taken a look at all the new state laws—none of them are designed to suppress the vote," McConnell said this week. "There is no rational basis for the federal government to take over all of American elections."

What tomorrow will show is that Democrats can at least hold the 50 votes of their own tiny majority in the hope that by banding together they can shift the public spotlight onto GOP opposition after weeks of headlines about their own divisions.

By bending over backward to accommodate Manchin, Democrats can at least avoid the embarrassment of not keeping their own party in check.

Of course, dealmaking by constant self-negotiation only serves the specific needs of the Senate world itself. It may or may not address actual problems in the real world where Republican-majority legislatures in state after state are passing at least two dozen laws to restrict voting. The largest effects are predicted in areas with large numbers of voters of color.

Amid the bipartisan appeal, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) continues to argue that "the Democratic Party is the only party standing up for democracy right now."

Manchin's Move

Until Manchin came out with his list of what he would support as a voting rights bill, the effort looked to be dead. Simply because Manchin's changes made some kind of progress possible, it quickly gained traction with progressive Democrats and activists, most notably Stacey Abrams, the voting rights champion in Georgia.

But as reporters are noting, the Manchin effort actually has done nothing to improve the chances that the legislation could get through the Senate's 60-vote requirement. Manchin and Sinema also oppose dumping the filibuster rules.

What's weird about the reactions in both parties is that Manchin has allowed for some specifics that Republicans say they want, including provisions allowing for voter ID requirements, and, of course, the Democrats want provisions to counter those new state laws that Manchin has dropped.

Basically, Manchin had publicly criticized the bill as overly broad and spent a session with fellow Democrats last week to outline specifics.

Manchin supports:

  • making Election Day a public holiday
  • mandating at least 15 consecutive days for early voting in federal elections
  • banning gerrymandering
  • making voter registration automatic through state departments of motor vehicles
  • tightening campaign finance requirements like requiring online and digital ads to disclose their sources, similar to TV and radio ads
  • enacting stricter ethics requirements for presidents and vice presidents
  • requiring campaigns and committees to report foreign contacts

He opposes public financing of campaigns and no-excuse absentee voting, and sees no problem in requiring voter ID requirements or alternatives like a utility bill to provide proof of identity.

Showing Unity

The vote on Tuesday is to advance the bill for consideration, not the actual vote. But it should be a marker on where all parties stand.

For Democrats, being able to show a unified from would cement Republicans as the opposition to guarantees for voting rights. That, in turn, will renew calls from progressives to end the filibuster rule.

Still pending is the somewhat easier so-called John Lewis voting rights bill that would renew the requirement for federal review of state election law changes to assure that they are not discriminatory. Still, as Talking Points Memo points out, Manchin's notes last week about this bill would largely undercut the point of the legislation.

"But Manchin's changes, almost all erring on the side of concern that the measure overreaches, would defang many of the tools the bill provides to identify discriminatory voting practices and force those localities to obtain preclearance," the website reported.

And, of course, we still have an array of pending challenges to the November 2020 election results in Arizona and other states that want to claim retroactive election fraud.

In recent weeks, lawmakers had passed 22 new laws in 14 states to make the process of voting more difficult, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, a research institute. Restrictions vary by state but can include:

  • limiting the use of ballot drop boxes
  • adding identification requirements for voters requesting absentee ballots
  • doing away with local laws that allow automatic registration for absentee voting.

Some measures go beyond altering how one votes, including:

  • tweaking Electoral College and judicial election rules
  • clamping down on citizen-led ballot initiatives
  • outlawing private donations that provide resources for administering elections

Sounds like it's time to vote.

Here is the real reason Republicans say Fauci has to go

Leading Republicans in Congress are calling for Dr. Anthony Fauci to resign or be fired as the nation's top virologist.

They have a bunch of different reasons, but what they argue in common is that Fauci should have backed Donald Trump's move to blame China for either accidental or intentional leak of coronavirus from a Wuhan lab. Joe Biden's White House says Fauci is here to stay and live with it.

Eventually, cooler heads might actually get together to decide what this fuss is all about.

But for me, at least, absolutely nothing good for public health happens if this 80-year-old icon of a research doctor decides to stay home tomorrow. Fauci's would-be hastened departure might make selected Republican leaders feel good about the empty echo of their voices, but were Fauci to concede that he doesn't need these public whippings, the nation will solve exactly no problems.

If anything, Fauci's resignation would merely add to the now long-list of I-wish-it-were-so thinking that substitutes for rigor these days. We'd still face the prospects of annual vaccines, we'd still have confusion about whether in-store shopping is fully safe from covid, and we would be absolutely no closer to knowing whether coronavirus leaked from that Wuhan lab or what to do about it even if it did.

Why are they bothering to bark at this wrong tree? Now that we are emerging from the worst of coronavirus, what is to be gained from dumping Fauci besides some perceived political standing.

Noise vs. Substance

Basically, there is a lot of noise here, with few trying to separate what matters from what does not.

More than a week ago, The Washington Post and BuzzFeed News published previously unreleased. Fauci emails obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Those emails gave conservatives who have long questioned Fauci's covid handling something to latch on to beyond the shifts in his public comments to which Fauci has freely discussed as changing views with changing medical information.

The argument is that emails show Fauci wasn't forthcoming or curious enough when he cast doubt on the lab leak theory and argued for a more cautious covid response than did Trump, who wants to send the Chinese a $10 trillion bill to cover economic losses. Conservative media keeps referring to them as "smoking guns," prompting. Rand Paul, R-Ky, who argues with Fauci about everything from masks to vaccine safety, and now House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who basically sees all issues as political, calling for Fauci's head.

Looking at the Emails

The Washington Post actually went through the disclosures in the heavily redacted emails, which you can do too. You can pull out a phrase here or there that seems to suggest that Fauci too early dismissed a leak, followed by the news media reports quoting him, but basically Fauci keeps saying we need more information.

Other conservative media quotes have highlighted changing views on masks, and one with redacted emails with Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg that is suggested to de-emphasize mentions of anti-vaxx ideas, alternative treatment ideas pushed by Trump, and the like. The redactions make it difficult to see what the case here is. But when it came to the use of Hydroxychloroquine, but again, what Fauci said, essentially, was, show me the data.

One America Network is beating the drum over documents disclosed by right-leaning Judicial Watch that show the Wuhan lab received $800,000 over six years from the Department of Health and Human Services. Fauci has owned up to that too, arguing with Senator Paul over the nature of the research before Congress, and Fauci has countered that that the criticism is "anti-science."

Why Attack Fauci?

This what-to-do-about-Fauci is not actually about Fauci, of course, which makes this vilification campaign even more useless. It's about politics to make Trump look better in retrospect, and to tag the Biden team or Democrats or Fauci himself as the standard-bearer for disease and shutdown.

It's about anti-elitism and anti-government-sponsored lockdowns and rules. It's about coronavirus bullyism, almost regardless of what side you back.

We should be fighting about that, not about trying to tag a single guy as representing everything that a portion of the public really dislikes. The Rand Pauls want Science to say what they think it says, most of the medical and research.

Indeed, in recent days, we've learned that there was a major dispute within the State Department, not the National Institutes of Health, over how hard it is to pursue the lab leak theories. The contents of the classified document prepared by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California in 2020 were the basis for the State Department investigation begun under former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, according to The Wall Street Journal, but there was debate from others, and Biden first halted the effort over disagreements, then ordered intelligence agencies to come up with a view within 90 days.

But that's not Fauci.

Fauci heads a whole agency that pursues vaccine development, and he hobnobs with his counterparts the world over. To my understanding, he doesn't conduct investigations in other countries. Rather we have depended on the World Health Organization, which has proved pretty tepid as investigators, and our own intelligence agencies, which seem divided without first-hand knowledge.

What exactly do these Republican leaders think is going to happen differently if Fauci disappears? For that matter, what exactly happens on the day that we decide the disease did leak from the lab – accidentally or intentionally.

Whatever the response, it won't come from Fauci.

Big Oil executives are being forced to pull their heads out of the sand

Last week, oil companies were hit by simultaneous business decisions by climate activists to force rethinking their strategies towards reducing emissions much more quickly than had been planned.

In The Hague, a Netherlands court insisted that Royal Dutch Shell make immediate changes to comply with the Paris climate accords that would require Shell to nearly halve emissions for which it is responsible by 2030. Shell would most certainly have to reduce oil in its energy portfolio and halt growth in liquefied natural gas.

The groups suing Shell argued successfully that the company has a legal duty to protect citizens from looming climate risks.

Denial and delay, the stand-by attitudes for decades, do not seem the best approach.

For ExxonMobil, an activist hedge fund that owns a small amount of the company's stock will get to name two green-minded board directors, likely pressuring that firm to invest in technologies that address climate issues more directly and rapidly.

Chevron's shareholders also were active, voting for the company to slash its emissions.

As with any precedent, the court and shareholder decisions could pave the way for more.

So, after letting the dust settle, is there any noticeable policy change?

After all, we still need oil – and as the recently forced shutdown of the Colonial Pipeline that interrupted gas deliveries to the East Coast showed, we will not brook shortfalls or delays without it all turning political in near moments.

Still, there seems an important message here in the dangers of continuing to stick one's environmental head in the sand, whether governments, polluting businesses, the transportation industry or financial institutions.

Denial and delay, the stand-by attitudes for decades, do not seem the best approach, particularly as economic marketplaces are simultaneously moving toward electric cars and alternative fuels. In that regard, Joe Biden's move to suspend oil drilling leases in Alaskan waters seems of more than passing interest, to spur investment in alternative fuels.

The Shell Game

It's probably safe to assume that Shell and other oil companies have inside teams scurrying to assemble a load of competing plans; what we have for now is what they say publicly. The Shell Oil website is gussied up plenty with self-congratulatory plans and eventual targets for dealing with climate change, but there is little direct practical information about what the judicial orders will change operations, other than the transcript of their lawsuit response in court.

Shell basically had three answers: Appeal the ruling, which could take years, and is a process that has become the lifeblood of modern business politics; tinker around the edges of emission reduction in current production and refinement by 3%-6%, and invest in alternative energies.

The investment option pays off by positioning the company for future energy needs and also broadens the company's outputs, basically easing the standards by which the energy company is judged as being compliant. Shell already had said that global oil demand had likely reached a peak in 2019 and would slowly wane in the coming years.

Shell reports that putting into operation a second wind farm, working with a partner on a third, and is building a fourth solar park with more to come. It has built 200 fast-charging points around Europe and offering 100% green electricity for electric driving in the Netherlands, and underwriting home charging equipment throughout Europe through a subsidiary. It is developing hydrogen fueling stations for cars and buses that it promises will reduce industry emissions and provide new jobs. And it is developing biofuels for more sustainable freight transport.

Viewed in total, these are impressive statements that seem serious in purpose and somewhat fascinating to see. It is in the smaller print that we get to the technical difficulties, and the need to trim emissions at the edges rather than take it on head-on.

The goal here seems to be legal compliance rather than building a new world.

The issue seems to center on how fast all this is happening. Targets listed by the company point towards net-zero emissions by 2050. The court decision says make more happen sooner.

Of course, this case about Shell is in Europe rather than the United States, and there seems more desire on the part of governments to serve up heavier enforcement in Europe, particularly in the courts.

You can see similar plans from the U.S.-based company websites. It turns out that climate politics may be a bonanza for website public relations.

Nevertheless, the issues and outlined solutions are similar in the United States, where auto makers already are committing to electric vehicle production long before the American public will be ready to accept energy efficiency.

Lacking Will

"The science of climate change is clear, severe consequences are already visible, and rising generations will not tolerate inaction," reports The Washington Post. "Society will force businesses to face up to climate change sooner than they may imagine, and it is in their best interest to advocate aggressively for policies that make the forthcoming energy transition predictable, economically rational and effective."

From the difficult negotiations underway now in Washington over including climate projects in the Biden administration infrastructure proposals, that assessment seems a tad shy of reality itself. Too much political money, too much industry lobbying, too much bullheadedness about perceived liberal bias seems to say otherwise.

The arguments over strong carbon taxes, for example, go nowhere.

Without government sanctions or government investments, we're asking the marketplace to sort it all out – on their own profit-laden schedule. Meanwhile, the reported effects of climate change, from storms of increasing ferocity to rising coastal waters to measurable effects on agriculture and droughts are growing.

Why in the world is the topsy-turvy DOJ defending William Barr?

What a weird legal battle we are witnessing—one that is making any link of Donald Trump to credible obstruction of justice charges more confusing than clear.

At issue this week is full disclosure of the memo that former Attorney General William P. Barr used in his opening days in office to declare that Trump had not obstructed justice as part of the Russia coordination by his election campaign personnel. Barr drew his conclusion of what Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III had never put into specific language—that despite detailed attempts to twist justice to his own protection there was insufficient grounds for prosecution.

Instead, the current Justice Department, which inherited this legal messiness, tantalizingly released just the first two pages of the internal memo, but is sitting on the rest. There is a legal appeal to be heard, basically on whether internal legal thinking is subject to full public disclosure.

The Biden Justice Department is now defending the actions of the Trump Justice Department over its reasoning rather than training its attention on the central still-pending questions.

This strangeness came about after an angry a federal judge excoriated Barr and the Justice Department for explanations of how and why it decided not to pursue a criminal case against Trump. U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson scathingly ruled that she had read the memo, and it showed that Barr was disingenuous when he cited the document as key to his conclusion that Trump had not broken the law. Jackson ordered the public release of the still-secret portions of her opinion and the memo.

Of course, a lot of us, including Mueller himself, believe that Barr turned the Mueller Report inside out to support the idea that the 2016 Trump campaign never conspired with Russia to interfere in the election and that Trump never tried to obstruct that investigation.

But what an oddity: The Biden Justice Department is now defending the actions of the Trump Justice Department over its reasoning rather than training its attention on the central still-pending questions.

The Background

Just to review, Mueller took almost two years and 448 pages for a long-awaited report that was meant to prove or dispel allegations, suggestions, leads and fragmented but repeated incidents of coordination between the Trump campaign and various Russian intelligence operatives, all in support or denial of a generalized belief that beyond Russian interference in U.S. elections, there is a special relationship between Trump forces and Russia.

Mueller came close, documenting tons of contacts, warranted or not, and a whole separate chapter on Trump's various attempts to block any investigation – leading to consideration of actual obstruction of justice charges for a number of actions. Included were the firing of James B. Comey Jr. to trying to dismiss Mueller. But the special counsel refused to step up, leaving it to the Justice Department, Barr and a Justice Office of Legal Counsel to make the conclusions—the same group that advised Barr and Trump that seeking a Ukraine quid pro quo for political gain was perfectly OK.

Barr did, too quickly even to have fully absorbed the Mueller material, badly misstating the findings of the report, which never "exonerated" Trump, but said an effective prosecution was not possible.

None of that stopped Trump and friends from shrieking a clean bill of health, leading inevitably to impeachable behaviors, ethics violations, a variety of good and poor policy choices and a presidency and post-presidency based on adoration of Trump rather than on what the country needs.

"Not only was the Attorney General (Barr) being disingenuous then, but DOJ has been disingenuous to this Court with respect to the existence of a decision-making process that should be shielded by the deliberative process privilege," Jackson wrote.

Move to Now

So, now, with new Attorney General Merrick Garland, a new office of legal counsel and the hang-around lawsuit from CREW, Citizens Responsible for Ethics in Washington, the nonprofit ethics group, to open up that justifying memo – and the judge's supportive order to do so. But Garland's Justice Department is sticking by legal principle and procedure, that decision-supporting memos are not the decision and are not subject to public disclosure.

The open question is why.

Why are we seeming to still protect Trump by protecting the strange doings that enveloped Justice Department decision-making?

Neal Katyal, the former solicitor general, argues in a New York Times essay that it is to protect Justice Department protocols, ignoring the wider Trump issues here, an argument with which he disagrees.

But the best answer would seem to be that if Justice were to do so, it would set up a chance to revisit the decision not to prosecute. And that would force Garland, Justice and the White House to decide that they indeed could, and should prosecute Trump today on obstruction of justice charges that Barr had thrown aside.

And that would cause political chaos, of course, or a repeat on a larger stage of the Jan. 6 insurrection attack on the U.S. Capitol.

In other words, if partisan politics got us into this mess, it sure looks like partisan politics of a different stripe is trying to keep the lid on a potentially boiling kettle.

It stinks, old administration or new. Ultimately, this debate may prove moot in practical terms if, on its unrelated track, a newly named New York special grand jury moves ahead on criminal charges investigating alleged fraud in Trump's business dealings rather than obstruction over probing Russian cooperation.

Wake up, people -- we're under attack: America isn't treating the Colonial Pipeline security breach seriously enough

Whether the cyber-attacks that shut 5,500 miles of oil pipeline this weekend are coming from private crooks or a state-sanctioned effort is almost beside the point. Somehow our response to this attack, as the big one apparently triggered by what looked like Russian-sponsored hackers on government agencies and companies last month, ought to be generating a lot more urgency.

The idea that a small group of bad guys in a faraway darkened room can control our electric grid, our fuel supplies, our business functions, our very defenses virtually at will should be as frightening as the prospect of powerful bombs in the likes of Iran or North Korea.

In 10 minutes, these same people will be in a position to send electric cars and trucks awry or kill appliances of industrial-scale built with Internet or network connections.

Instead, what we're hearing is much concern about whether oil and gas costs are going to go up in the next weeks as the result of immediate shortages in delivering 2.5 million barrels of oil a day or almost half of production across the East Coast. Actually, if operations are restored within a week, even that result is unlikely.

What we're not hearing our Democratic and Republican leaders on the barricades over cyber at anywhere near the volume we hear harangues about nonexistent election fraud already six months old or whether so-callef socialism is going to end the American Dream as we know it or about a dozen cancel culture disasters that some perceive.

Instead, our Congressional leaders seem content holding occasional check-in hearings and leaving the actual work to the Cyber Command agencies to resolve.

It might be nice to see an approach to international policing approach the fervor of our continuing community policing debate.

One might even call such defenses critical to, um, infrastructure in a realistic look at current technology.

It might be nice to see an approach to international policing approach the fervor of our continuing community policing debate.


In the next week, the administration is expected to issue an executive order intended to bolster the security of federal and private systems after two major attacks from Russia and China in recent months caught by surprise American companies and intelligence agencies.

Meanwhile, Colonial Pipeline, a private company, is being tight-lipped over whether it plans to pay a ransom demanded by the suspected criminal hacker group, or has already paid, or when normal operations will resume from closings ordered to prevent further problems from the hackers.

The FBI, the Energy Department and Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Md., all have dived into the detective work, along with FireEye, a private security company hired by Colonial.

This time, officials said they believed the attack was the act of a criminal group, rather than a nation seeking to disrupt critical infrastructure in the United States. But at times, such groups have had loose affiliations with foreign intelligence agencies and have operated on their behalf. That doesn't make it better.

Breaking In

Ransomware is the uncharted attempt by evildoers to threaten damage to computers connected into a network, encrypting the business data that control increasingly vast operations in return for payment of millions of dollars and the decryption code. It's kidnapping without emotion. When backed by state powers, it veers into somewhere beyond espionage and into an actual act of war.

The recent disclosure of a massive breach of government agencies and corporations explains sanctions against Russia last month. If there is more retaliation planned, we won't know about it until Moscow's red lights turn green. We still don't even know how deep and wide the break was. In either case, this is where I'd like to see all that Law & Order haranguing wasted on suppressing votes and threatening jail time for peaceful protests go instead. Where's the Blue in these cases? Where's the send-troops-to-Afghanistan-for-20-years demand?

Colonial Pipeline, based in Georgia, said the ransomware attack Friday affected information technology systems and that the company moved proactively to take certain systems offline, halting pipeline operations, to forestall further damage.

I've worked in news companies that dealt with hackers who entered networks that were private and not connected to the Internet, and experienced both in the fear that our newsroom operations could be touched—they weren't—and in the difficult creation of defensive shields and practices. Hackers often can find doors opened through getting an employee to unintendingly allow a malicious piece of software to enter through an otherwise innocent-looking email. Or they can criminally seek to obtain employee identification information allowing more direct access.

It can be hard to protect against in a working environment or a society that prizes individualism over security, which is exactly where America finds itself. We're relying more and more on machinery and the networks that increasingly operate it, often without human intervention. That creates opportunity for bad guys.

The Associated Press notes that while there have long been fears about U.S. adversaries disrupting American energy suppliers, ransomware attacks by criminal syndicates are much more common and have been soaring lately. The Justice Department has a new task force dedicated to countering ransomware attacks across types and size of businesses or agencies.

So far, the advice in the security industry and government alike is akin to coronavirus—take heed of the problem and take common-sense steps toward hardening network defenses. There are no vaccines that outlast the latest and greatest hacker attempts.

Rising Attacks

Attacks by criminal syndicates operating out of Russia and other countries reached epidemic proportions last year, costing hospitals, medical researchers private businesses and state and local governments and schools 10s of billions of dollars, AP reports. Average ransoms paid in the United States tripled to more than $310,000 last year, as compared with the cost of an average outage of business for 21 days for each incident, according to security firm Coveware.

American cyber folks say that some of these criminals have worked with Russia's security services and that the Kremlin benefits by damaging adversaries' economies and cover for intelligence-gathering.

Anne Neuberger, the Biden administration's deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity and emerging technology, told AP that the government has an effort under way to help electric utilities, water districts and other industries defend themselves. The goal seems to be to ensure that control systems serving 50,000 or more Americans have the core technology to detect and block attacks. The White House has announced a 100-day initiative aimed at protecting the country's electricity system by encouraging owners and operators of power plants and electric utilities to improve capabilities for identifying cyber threats to their networks.

U.S. Cyber Command and the Department of Homeland Security last month released details on eight code files attributed to the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service that were used in the so-called Solar Winds attacks discovered earlier this year. The disclosure was described as part of "Hunt Forward" operations to generate insights to understand the source of attacks.

It's not exactly 100 million shots of vaccine in the arm in 100 days, but it is a start. I'd prefer that we wipe out the bad guys rather than issuing sanctions and warnings to protect ourselves.

The Republican Party's insane and accelerating implosion is amusing -- but dangerous

The implosion that is today's Republican Party, choosing Trumpism – whatever it means beyond blind personal loyalty to a would-be king – and principled conservatism that veers from the idolatry is growing in intensity.

It is something to heed as another signal for the triumph of emotion over serious information.

Normally, I try to stay away from the tactical inside-baseball stuff of politics; it is not that interesting or determinative unless one is part of that game. But discussions with friends have underscored value concerns about the effects of a continuing downward spiral among Republicans.

The changes were most recently highlighted in an article in The Daily Beast that tracked the ouster of longtime, regular, conservatives Republican party stalwarts – people who had personally supported Donald Trump – from local party organizations in South Carolina, itself hardly a swing state. The new, self-appointed inheritors of the GOP mantle were a number of political newcomers who had no agenda other than support for Trump, the Big Lie, and a hatred for those reflecting the status quo.

The woman leader thrown out of her local political organizing job and all possible secondary roles "seemed to offend simply by having a whiff of experience in local politics, a black mark that was linked to the worst possible offense to the GOP base: not doing enough to support Donald Trump in the wake of the 2020 election." The incoming replacement explained that Trump's instructions to the faithful were clear. "He said, 'Go purge, get rid of the RINOs (Republicans in Name Only) in the Republican Party.' So, we took him seriously."

Truth, notwithstanding.

So, the target now is not just Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and the nine others in the House who supported impeachment. It is all Republicans in sight unless they are outspoken allies of the Jan. 6 insurrection attack on the Capitol and all things Trump – the only real political religion of this newest version of Tea Party/Freedom Caucus right-leaning authoritarians.

Showing Your Beliefs

It is this active show of support for the gone-but-not-forgotten Trump that is prompting the sudden splurge of anti-democratic voter suppression bills around the country, that is prompting even longtime conservative members of Congress to just call it quits, that is going to fuel a bottom-up takeover of GOP party apparatus.

Antipathy for immigrants, gun control, Black Lives Matter, gays and transgender rights and abortion are expected but not unique to this group, though wider acceptance if not fealty to white supremacy, anti-Semitism, and claims of victimhood by a perceived cultural elite (and journalists) certainly are part of the picture.

Still, the question here is basic: Do I care what crazy Republicans are doing to one another? Does it make a difference to the country beyond the chances of one conservative Republican to outlast the purge of other conservative Republicans?

Of course, Democrats argue all the time, though they generally don't throw each other out of all political roles if they are more centrist or more progressive than the other guy. Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Joe Manchin all seem to share a belief in the same facts, just not necessarily what to do about them. Not so these newcomers, who have learned from Trump and right-leaning news outlets how to turn events inside out to come out with a totally different story – as in blaming the Jan. 6 attacks on left-wing antifa rather than Trump supporters, and to insist that it was a peaceful get-together when five deaths showed the opposite.

The voluntary departures of senators like Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania and Rob Portman in Ohio, and a host of "moderate" congress members like former Rep. David Jolly of Florida or Charlie Sykes of Wisconsin are seen as losses to the ability of government debate and compromise. All parties except Trump claim to miss John McCain, whose voice and influence were strong.

So, we're now moving to replace thinking lawmakers with Trump puppets – and we have a generation of the disgraced Matt Gaetz of Florida, fun-toting Lauren Boebert from Colorado, the vocal Jim Jordan of Ohio and Marjorie Taylor Green of Georgia of Jewish-space-laser fame, all willing to stand tall for QAnon, conspiracy theories, anti-everything and to threaten anyone who criticizes them or policies that defend and defer any loss of White, Christian right power – whether the issue at hand is taxes, border walls or public health. There is no compromise with the incoming group, as former Speaker John Boehner outlines in his new book, "On the House: A Washington Memoir."

How's this new generation of No working out?

Does It Matter?

On some level, it's amusing to see Republicans who oppose anything I seek from government in disarray. And I can see the danger in replacing even committed small government conservatives with authoritarian yahoos who know nothing about the issues, the processes and reject the values of democracy.

But here's the snag: What's to happen with these Republicans pros ousted by Trump? Do they drift leftward, and find themselves supporting a Joe Biden? Doubtful. Do they turn against Trump, should he run again? Again, doubtful.

No, they are likely to keep on as they have, albeit from corporate jobs to which they will turn or return, and vote again for Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott as Republicans from South Carolina, in this case, and Trump whenever they can.

The group formerly known as Republicans and its plasticized replacement vote the same way. They are going to support the full anti-immigrant, anti-voting rights, anti-health, anti-environment agenda they always have.

Meanwhile, state legislatures and Congress will become more a house of extremes and untruths. That's hardly a formula for dealing with the nation's most pernicious issues. In realpolitik terms, what actual policy changes do these purges achieve?

"Trump's toxicity continues to poison the Republican Party," writes columnist Greg Sargent of The Washington Post, one of a slew of articles on dozens of publications about the problems of trying to de-Trump the party. Among the political pundits, the consensus is that Trump's very possibility of running again is freezing other potential candidates in place, and Trump himself is using all of the turmoil to siphon more money to himself—outside campaign fund review -- than to Republican coffers

We are getting different faces, likely less proficient, as political figures, who come into office already ready to say No to anything that even Joe Manchin suggests. They are carrying water for white supremacy, for nationalism and tribalism, for uncaring isolationism, indeed for everything we find objectionable in our value systems, anything even remotely touching racial or even legal justice, public health or a reckoning with climate.

The only difference is that they also bring a personal loyalty to King Trump, who would throw out democracy too. It is hard to see the political gain of purging people who already vote the way these folks want.

Republicans are playing hardball -- and are striking out

Republicans aren't trying to squash voting rights for people of color, explains Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Apparently, Baseball is, "caving to fears and lies."

And his Republican teammates in the U.S. Senate are backing the play, now finding time once again for an irrelevant threat to withdraw anti-trust protections for Major League Baseball in retaliation for pulling its annual All-Star Game from Atlanta in protest of the new voting changes in Georgia that, well, tend to squash voting rights for people of color.

The Former Guy went even further, not only trashing organized baseball but calling for a boycott of those Georgia-based corporations like Coca-Cola and Delta that belatedly criticized the new voting restrictions after allowing most of them to become law. In their defense, those corporations note that they lobbied to keep yet worse restrictions from taking hold. This is the same Donald Trump who never showed up to throw out the Opening Day pitch for any of his four years in office, the same Trump who makes no effort for public health or coronavirus relief but who comes to life again to push his own election fraud nonsense.

Nearly 200 companies have joined in a strong statement against proposals that threaten to restrict voting access in dozens of states, in a further sign of corporate willingness to speak out on social justice issues.

Meanwhile, here were Joe Biden, Barack Obama, and a host of others saying that moving the All-Star Game was just the right touch to honor Hank Aaron and lots of other Black ballplayers – and voters – for working off the field for expanded voting rights.

Of course, the week before, voting advocates were threatening a similar boycott over corporate silence,

Now, nearly 200 companies have joined in a strong statement against proposals that threaten to restrict voting access in dozens of states, in a further sign of corporate willingness to speak out on social justice issues. Just for the record, the NBA, the basketball equivalent with teams made up of a majority of Black players, is already on record opposing these Republican legislative restrictions in 47 states, and the NFL has been slapped repeatedly by Trump and Republican leaders over kneeling incidents during the national anthem to protest racism.

Customers and Conscience

Baseball has plenty of other issues, starting with the pandemic, but also including a dwindling audience, its persistent desire to change its rules to speed up the game, and way too much trading of players among teams to inspire local loyalty. But this one stands out, of course, for the social justice statement behind it. (This is to say nothing of the tragic start of a new season in which my team has lost its first games.)

Naturally, the hope of the joint statement by businesses, organized by Civic Alliance, a nonpartisan focused on voter engagement, is as much about keeping employees and customers as about racism. But it is an action that is meant to speak to the commitments those companies made last summer after the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police, and the need to show corporate accountability for the effects of policy on minority communities in particular.

Ultimately, activists want corporations to withhold campaign money from those supporting these voter restriction bills, promoting the baseless election fraud allegations or refusing to pursue the origins of the Jan. 6 insurrection swarm of pro-Trump forces at the U.S. Capitol.

Though Georgia has voted, other states with Republican state legislative majorities are teeing up similar bills mostly drafted by national groups to ensure Voter ID rules and to restrict mail voting. In Georgia, Governor Kemp rightly notes that an additional Saturday of early voting would expand voting, but there are many provisions that appear aimed directly at making voting easier or at damping voting in majority Black areas.

Indeed, the entire Trump campaign of Stop the Steal has been aimed at challenging votes in cities with substantial Black voting populations.

In Texas, where 49 restrictive bills have been filed, the state Senate passed one that would ban overnight early voting and drive-through early voting. That drew critical remarks from Texas-based businesses, including Dell and American Airlines.

The sheer number of companies coming out with statements about the need to expand voting should be attracting attention from the very Republican leaders who cite these businesses as demanding tax cuts or other legislation that happens to fit more neatly into their ideology.

But Kemp and others are pushing back instead, saying companies will "have to answer to their shareholders," for example. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick responded to American Airlines, saying: "Texans are fed up with corporations that don't share our values trying to dictate public policy."

Whom to Boycott

No decision has been made about a new location for the All-Star Game, said to be worth $100 million in local business impact, but logic says it likely will move to a more identifiably Blue state—home stadiums for the Yankees/Mets, Dodgers, Cubs/White Sox, or somewhere with a totally neutral focus like Milwaukee, one-time home to the then-emergent Hank Aaron.

Here was conservative Hugh Hewitt: By moving the game, "MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has, in the opinion of many Republicans, declared the league an arm of the Democratic Party and baseball itself to be a blue sport, with values opposed to the Constitution and representative government," and he promised to boycott the season along with all other companies noting unfairness. Okay.

Both politics by boycott and business by protest seem like extreme outcomes. If you don't go Delta, you also don't go American, and the other airlines will follow.

What should happen here is that legislators remind themselves that these debates concern the preservation of democracy, whose practical and moral core is easier voting.

Step One should be an emphatic vote by Congress on its two current bills to step on these restrictive state laws, followed by an equally clear decision from the Supreme Court that acknowledges a mistake in guessing that the era of racial prejudice towards Black voters is over.

Indeed, in a world turned electronic, you wonder why we're insisting either on hours-long, water-free voting lines on a select Tuesday workday or on a slow-moving mail system, and not looking to technologies that allow for electronic voting from wherever we happen to be – reflective of the same kind of identifications and ID challenge questions that the bank and every supermarket now requires and offers.

More to the point, whom do these Republican lawmakers think they are serving other than themselves and their own reelections? Do Republicans think that Stacey Abrams and the voting advocates across the country are going to wither away with new rules in place?

It is refreshing to see corporations speaking up; it is depressing that Republican ears are closed.

When we do vote, under whatever the rules, it would be nice to see the backers of these restrictive bills sent to the showers.

Play Ball.

Reparations for bias and slavery gains momentum

Keep your eye on Evanston, Ill., which this week became the first U.S. city to make reparations available to its Black residents through home loan repairs or down payments on property.

Reparations – financial amends for discrimination and slavery – is among the most controversial of social programs sought by progressives.

Evanston's City Council made it real with a revolving $400,000 fund for qualifying residents. Qualifiers have lived in or been a direct descendant of a person who lived in the Chicago suburb between 1919 and 1969 and who suffered discrimination in housing because of city ordinances, policies or practices against Blacks.

The program will be underwritten through donations and revenue from a 3% tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. The goal is distribution of $10 million in 10 years in chunks of up to $25,000 per household.

In this age of me-first, it is stunning to see some Americans willing to acknowledge with public policy that we of current generations owe something to those who had suffered not only through slavery but decades of approved and formalized discrimination.

Getting policy approved for the elimination of unfair poverty and bias deserves celebration. And the discussion itself feels important, which should inspire us to learn how we got to this point.

So far, these entities are considering providing reparations in some form:

  • California cities
  • Amherst, Mass.
  • Providence, R.I.
  • Asheville, N.C.
  • Iowa City, Iowa
  • Georgetown and Brown universities
  • the Episcopal Church
  • the Jesuit order

Congress is once again debating a federal reparations study, an idea stagnant for decades. President Joe Biden has offered support, unlike the Former Guy, who rejected the whole concept of acknowledging institutional racism in America.

Practical discussion of reparation programs started taking off after last summer's Black Lives Matter protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The arguments for and against are not always straightforward. Debates range from how much the history of slavery is worth to whether reparations are paid to individuals or communities to is there such a thing as payments for historical ill-worth.

Even among Black Americans, programs are seen as paternalistic or segregating. Some ask whether investment in overturning centuries of housing discrimination will make a wide difference in the lives of Black communities that badly trail the ability to build wealth and share fully in the American Dream.

Agreement on Need, Not Payment

Even in Evanston, population 73,000, the liberal home of Northwestern University, debate over how to approach reparations has yielded unusual splits.

Alderman Robin Rue Simmons, an architect of the measure, told The Washington Post, "It is the reckoning.

"We're really proud as a city to be leading the nation toward repair and justice."

But the details show disagreement among officials, residents and activists for racial equity. There was debate about using money for housing grants and mortgage assistance rather than cash payments to individuals. Housing grants are targeted to residents who can show that they or their ancestors were victims of redlining and other discriminatory practices. No one knows exactly how many people that might mean or how to show it.

Another alderman, Cicely L. Fleming, voted no. She said, "I 100 percent support reparations. What I can't support is a housing program being termed as reparations."

In a noteworthy 2014 Atlantic article author Ta-Nehisi Coates used Chicago area neighborhoods to lay out the case for reparations to rebalance the wealth lost by the generations surviving slavery who were made subject to continuing waves of mortgage redlining and discriminatory practices that met with official urban approval over decades. The article helped to update and focus on practical calls for reparation for centuries of bias, and, like others mentioned below, offers loads of scholarly references for learning.

"Chicago's impoverished black neighborhoods—characterized by high unemployment and households headed by single parents—are not simply poor; they are ecologically distinct," he argued. Chicago was not alone. he said.

Carefully exploring sociological studies, he outlined the case that while the daily lives of Black Americans had improved, Black neighborhoods still suffer demonstrably worse performance in income, health, environment, poverty, teen pregnancy and lack of education, among other measures. Wrestling publicly with reparations as policy, he said, "matters as much as—if not more than—the specific answers that might be produced...

"More important than any single check cut to any African American, the payment of reparations would represent America's maturation out of the childhood myth of its innocence into a wisdom worthy of its founders."

A 2020 Brookings Institution study traced much of the economics, finding that the racial wealth gap resulted from a lack of financial capital to provide improvements in social services. It said, "Wealth is positively correlated with better health, educational, and economic outcomes. Furthermore, assets from homes, stocks, bonds, and retirement savings provide a financial safety net for the inevitable shocks to the economy and personal finances that happen throughout a person's lifespan."

The study argued for reparations aimed at improving neighborhoods.

Last summer, New York Times writer Nikole Hannah-Jones, the force behind the paper's 1619 Project, argued that the natural resolution of issues raised by the Black Lives Matter protests must be reparations.

"The process of creating the racial wealth chasm begins with the failure to provide the formerly enslaved with the 40 acres they were promised," one interviewee told her. "So, the restitution has never been given, and it's 155 years overdue."

What's Ahead

Congress has before it H.R. 40, last considered in 2019. It refers to the Civil War-era broken promise to give former slaves "40 acres and a mule." Under the bill, $12 million would be spent to establish a commission to study the history of slavery and discrimination and create a proposal for remedies.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Tex., took up the yearly cause from the late John Conyers, D-Mich., to create the 13-member commission. House subcommittees have retold the stories of slavery in an attempt to win the day. California Secretary of State Shirley Weber who guided a parallel state law as a California assemblywoman to establish a task force to study reparations for descendants of enslaved people argued that the federal government should follow suit.

UCLA School of Law professor E. Tendayi Achiume, an expert in international human-rights law, added that while popular conceptions of reparations tended to be relatively narrow and focus only on financial compensation, the international system emphasizes a more comprehensive approach that may also include transforming political, economic and social institutions.

Opponents have included Rep. Burgess Owens (R-Utah) and former football star Herschel Walker, a Donald Trump supporter, who argued that reparations are divisive.

"Reparations teach separation. Slavery ended over 130 years ago. How can a father ask his son to spend prison time for a crime he committed?" Walker told the committee.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in 2019 he believed reparations aren't a "good idea", and "No one currently alive was responsible for that."

Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican senator, also rejected the idea last year: "I don't think reparations help level the playing field — it might help more eruptions on the playing field."

It would appear that consideration reparations are starting to kick into a higher gear. We should help.

Republicans just revealed their deplorable new priorities

By now, we know that the overly loud ruckus raised by Congressional Republicans criticizing too much spending and a growing deficit is a message leveled only when that spending is aimed at those of us at the bottom and middle.

As progressives have argued endlessly, there was no Republican concern about lowering tax rates for the wealthy and corporations.

Nevertheless, it is now clear that "centrists" in the Congress, regardless of party, are those who believe that there should be limits on all government spending. For most Republicans, it is enough to oppose anything from Joe Biden.

Our government is on track from the previous administration to spend more than to $1.5 trillion over several years to overhaul the nuclear arsenal.

So, the idea Biden's $1.9-trillion coronavirus aid and economic plan actually will squeak through the divided Congress mostly unscathed when the House likely votes today is close to miraculous – or specifically thanks to Georgians who elected two Democrats in January.

Actually, there's another, lesser-discussed of the many pending legislative battles that will put this thinking to a test – approval for some billions this year to upgrade nuclear weapons, as part of some proposals to boost defense spending by an estimated 3% to 5%.

According to the Arms Control Center, the government is on track from the previous administration to spend more than to $1.5 trillion over several years to overhaul the nuclear arsenal by rebuilding each leg of the nuclear triad of ballistic missile submarines, silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, a new nuclear cruise missile, a modified gravity bomb, a new stealthy long-range strike bomber and warheads. Cost estimates for this year alone are $16 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration systems and about $29 billion for the modernization of aging delivery systems.

In other words, it is on the scale of changes in the range of this current contention. But this time, expect the sides of the ruckus to be reversed.

Spending Priorities

Democrats have been introducing bills to curtail costly nuclear modernization programs. Republicans want Biden to continue spending on defense and weapons modernization, with no concern yet about cost and have included questions about this issue to Cabinet defense nominees.

Indeed, Republicans, as always, are pushing an increase in defense spending overall, though the Trump administration budget for defense for this year was more modest than its $740 billion for the previous year. To pay for it, they propose cuts in social spending.

The Biden White House is starting work on its first budget, with some expectations to keep funds for weapons flat against last year, which is still an increase.

We should note that at the same time, we are hearing repeatedly that the biggest threats we face are domestic terrorism, climate change, cybersecurity hacks and international economic warfare. None of those are addressed by better nuclear weapons, of course.

Even among specific military priorities, there are questions about priorities other than more modern nukes – including the number of Navy ships, actually being able to launch and maintain the expensive fighter jets developed over the last years, military pay and benefits. Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks apparently has directed a review of selected programs, including low-yield nuclear warheads and nuclear command and control. The Trump administration developed and deployed a submarine-launched, low-yield nuclear warhead, called W76-2, that Democrats argue raises the risk of nuclear war by potentially lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons. There now is a bill to stop a new sub-launched cruise missile from Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.).

Feels Like an Old Argument

Actually, it was the Obama administration that had started the modernization program, out of the belief that aging weapons might prove dangerous to have deployed, and that while treaties have called for fewer nukes, they should be in good shape. None of that has stopped the Russians, and now the Chinese, from bringing out new generations of nukes.

So, what we can see brewing is kindling over old issues on spending on weapons over social issues, varying and convenient use of the deficit monster as a threat, and partisan maneuvering.

Democrats Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) argue that the real issue here is the over-emphasis of nuclear weapons as well as the cost. They are lobbying Biden to abandon some of the programs underway and to revisit our actual defense priorities. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate counterpart, argue against efforts to "cripple the U.S. nuclear deterrent forever."

House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith (D-Wa.) says that the defense budget ought to be the result of effective spending, whatever the total is.

Hear that silence? No one is talking about deficits.

At best, what we have is a nice distillation of just when deficits do and don't matter.

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