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Colin Powell 1937-2021

Soldier. Diplomat. Politician. America’s First African American Secretary of State. America’s First African American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Colin Powell spent a lifetime setting “firsts.”

President Biden ordered flags flown at half-staff until October 22 in remembrance of Powell, calling him “a patriot of unmatched honor and dignity.”

“Colin embodied the highest ideals of both warrior and diplomat. He was committed to our nation’s strength and security above all,” Mr. Biden added. “Time and again, he put country before self, before party, before all else — in uniform and out — and it earned him the universal respect of the American people.”

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What is a Joe Manchin?

Yeah. I know. An easy one, right?

A Joe Manchin is a United States Senator. Represents the great state of West Virginia. One of two senators representing about 1.8 million people. Claims to be a member of the Democratic party. Loves the spotlight. Is a royal pain in the butt.

Whose butt? Mine for one. I didn’t vote for Manchin. I did vote for Joe Biden. Remember him? He’s the one who ran for president. Got 81 million votes. Won the election. Has promised a wide range of popular reforms on taxation and spending designed to rebuild our aging infrastructure. Prepare us for the competitive world we face. Care for those who have not benefited from the great growth of the American economy in the last century. Narrow, at least a little, the gap between those who have done very, very, very well (and pay little or nothing in taxes) and those who could use a little help.

But we are unlikely to get any of these things, because Joe Manchin doesn’t want us to. In the United States Senate, 1.8 million people outvote 81 million. Or put another way, 41 votes beats 59. That’s because Joe M. believes in the filibuster come hell or high water. The high water will be arriving soon because new laws to help protect us from climate change can’t get 60 votes in the Senate. That’s what the filibuster rule requires and that makes the United States Senate about the least democratic institution in any modern democracy.

Just remember, the filibuster has nothing to do with the Constitution. The framers did not think it up. They clearly believed 51 votes out of 100 should be sufficient to pass new laws through the Senate. If anything the filibuster was a mistake written into the Senate rules controlling debate. The rule went unnoticed until segregationists hit upon it as a way to create a deadlock and prevent anti-discrimination laws from being voted on. That is the great tradition Joe Manchin is upholding.

Of course he’s not the only one. But he is one of two or three Democrats willing to torpedo the entire Democratic platform for…. Actually, I’m not sure what for.

Manchin says he has a strong belief that no legislation should pass unless it is bipartisan. I’ve written before about the days when Everett Dirksen and Lyndon Johnson could get together over a bottle and do some horse trading resulting in compromise legislation. But those days are long gone.

Mitch McConnell, the current Republican leader in the Senate, has dug in his heels on voting reform while Republicans across the country are passing law after law designed to suppress Democratic votes in future elections. McConnell also says revisiting the huge two trillion dollar 2017 Trump tax cuts for the rich and for big business is out of the question, and Democratic plans for increased infrastructure spending and social programs are not going to be paid for with tax increases as long as he has his 41 votes.

Meanwhile the turtle from Kentucky is warning that if Republicans regain control of the Senate in 2022 he’ll keep Joe Biden from appointing anyone to the Supreme Court. Probably from appointing anyone to any other court as well. McConnell is sent to Washington by a state with only about four and half million voters. Still he gets to tell Democratic presidents to go to hell any time he wants. Go figure.

Meanwhile Manchin won’t remove the filibuster to pass the voting rights law, the “For the People Act,” without Republican support. And Manchin won’t support use of the so-called “reconciliation” process to side step that blockade on Democrat’s tax and spending proposals, even though the Republicans used that process to pass the 2017 tax cuts.

There is really nothing one can do to solve the Manchin problem in the near term. The only solution for Democrats is to overcome the odds and win more Senate seats in 2022. A Democratic majority not counting Manchin, or the frequently unpredictable and always strange Krysten Sinema of Arizona, would render those two nominally Democratic senators irrelevant. That’s the title both so richly deserve.

At least good old Joe is keeping the political cartoonists busy:

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Pay to Play: The American Way

Money has always been a big factor in American politics. You can’t outright pay politicians in return for their vote on an issue of interest to you. That’s bribery and it’s a crime. 18 U.S. Code § 201. But you can come very close. That’s because it costs a tremendous amount of money to run for public office and we leave it to the politicians to raise their own funds.

State-wide races for governor, state legislator, or U.S. House or Senate seats can cost hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. A major state-wide campaign requires a hefty advertising budget and paid staff to handle things like communications, strategic planning, finances, and legal compliance.

So the holders of public office, from the smallest local post to the highest in the land, spend a great amount of their time raising money to finance their elections. In fact, both the Republican and the Democratic parties have offices located within walking distance of the Capitol. That’s because it is illegal for members to raise money from offices paid for by taxpayer dollars. The party offices contain phone banks and members are expected to put in time working those phones. Dialing for dollars as it were.

What does the donor get for those dollars? As previously stated it is not as crass as, “You make the donation and I’ll vote your way.” But it’s damn close. Consider this scenario: Two constituents are on the line, both want to talk to you about a piece of pending legislation. One is an individual wage earner who is barely making ends meet and either doesn’t contribute to your campaign fund at all or gives a token $25 each election cycle. The other is a professional lobbyist who represents a Fortune 100 company. That company contributes $250,000 each year to a political action committee which runs negative advertisements about your political opponent. Which call will you take?

The Curse of the First Amendment

It is, I must painfully admit, our wonderful First Amendment which is primarily responsible for this problem. While many countries have limits on how much money can be spent on political campaigns, and restrictions on how much money can be contributed, we have to cope with the wisdom of the framers who wrote:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

U.S. Constitution, First Amendment

There is little question that the right of free speech allows one to stand on the tallest soapbox one can find and speak in favor of one’s favorite political candidate. Or that the right of a free press allows journalists to write what they will about the candidates. And that right to petition the Government? That is the right both our individual constituent and the lobbyist were exercising in the example I described above.

Make no mistake about it. Political speech is exactly the kind of speech the framers were writing about when they drafted the First Amendment. This was the kind of speech that could get your head separated from your body if you uttered it back then in many of the countries of Europe and the reigning monarch happened to take offense. So for our long history as a nation political speech has been some of the most protected.

That makes it extremely difficult to restrict the political speech of individuals and does give the rich an advantage. They can afford to buy expensive television commercials and web advertisements promoting their favorite candidates and policies. At least, that’s how Mister Justice Gurvey sees it.

Citizens Dis-United

But I am unlikely to preside from any bench other than the one in my garden. And those who sit on the federal benches of the United States have a far more expansive view of first amendment freedoms. I read the Constitution to apply to the relationship between people, as in the opening words of the preamble, “We the People,” and their government. Our federal judges have thrown corporations into the mix by ruling that corporations are people.

To me the concept is absurd. Business entities that survive the lives of their owners were well known to the framers who wrote the Constitution. In fact, most of the colonies were themselves business entities in the form of royal charters or grants. If the framers wanted these business entities to have the rights of people they would have said so. They did not. And that should be that for any originalist, textualist, or whatever the term the judges on the conservative right like to cite. Except, that they want corporations to have the rights of people. So consistent judicial logic goes out the window and they wave the rules of textualism where failure to do so might lead to a legal result inconsistent with their overriding ideology. Thus speaks the hypocrite.

All of this came to a head in Citizen’s United v. Federal Elections Commission, a 2010 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated federal election law which Congress had developed over one hundred years and which put significant restrictions on corporate attempts to influence elections. Critics charge the effect has been to greatly increase the already outsized influence of corporations, wealthy donors, and special interest groups. And the Court isn’t finished. Just last month it heard Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez, a case that may make the situation even worse.

The Confession of Ted Cruz

So if you want to play the “let’s write the laws” game you have to pay the law-writers. But while “Pay to Play” is, thanks to the Supreme Court, perfectly legal, there is still one rule most people follow: You pay to play but you don’t talk about Pay to Play. That’s because it looks bad, because it is bad. And politicians are afraid of looking bad. At least in front of the voters.

Unless of course you are Ted Cruz, a man so out of touch with reality, or just so dumb, that he just puts it out there. Texas’s answer to all three stooges recently wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal complaining about corporations that are “woke.” By that he means, corporations like Coca-Cola, whose CEO James Quincey criticized voter suppression laws now being enacted in dozens of Republican controlled states saying he opposed “measures in the bills that would diminish or deter access to voting.” Quincey said Coke’s political action committee will not contribute to the campaigns of politicians who support these laws.

Well then, huffs and puffs Cruz, Senator guy who escaped for a vacation in Mexico while the people of his state were freezing during a power outage, if you don’t pay, don’t expect to play, Yes, Cruz supports voter suppression laws, and he tweeted:

There you have it. Pay to play. The Ted Cruz way.

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The Liar in Chief departs The Stage

I thought January 20 was Joe Biden’s Day. And then came my need to acknowledge the Bernie Memes which have captivated social media. Besides, I figured we’ve had enough of Donald J. Trump.

But eventually I knew it would come time to note that Trump left the stage exactly where he came in four long, dismal years ago. Lying.

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Who the hell are these people?

Embed from Getty Images

What would you do if you saw these people advancing on you? What if they ordered you to stand still, or drop to your knees, or put your hands up in the air? One of these thugs, they do remind me of a motorcycle gang, is carrying a shield marked “police.” But you can buy one of those in any army-navy store. These guys have no badges, no insignia, no nametags, no proof they have the authority to order you or anyone else about. I don’t know about you but facing them I’d be scared stiff.

These ghost soldiers confronted residents of our nation’s capital city and it was a sight unseen in modern times. The residents these stormtroopers confronted were almost all peacefully protesting. That is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. Actually, calling these guys stormtroopers is unfair to stormtroopers, who in Star Wars wore white. They are more like Robocop, the cyborg created by corporations to enforce their interests in a dystopian comic book future.

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The Name Game

Calling another kid by an unflattering nickname is a habit most of us left on the grade school playground. Of course, Donald Trump is not “most of us.” Donald Trump seems to take a particular delight in coming up with a derogatory nickname for people he is not too fond of. “Crooked Hillary” is just one example.

Some of the people he attacks don’t take the bait and engage him in this fashion. I admire them. I don’t think I would capable of that much self restraint. If a punch in the nose wasn’t an available option, and the guy is of course surrounded by Secrete Service agents, I’d at least resort to the obvious retorts. “Donny Draft Dodger” is a good fit. And “Pussy Grabber” would work for an adult audience.

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Losing Earth

I approve of paywalls because I believe content creators deserve to be paid for their efforts. I subscribe to several paywalled services, including The New York Times.
But I rarely recommend to others on social media stories behind paywalls because of the different rules and limits from site to site. For this I make an exception.
Do whatever it takes to get yourself a copy of the story which ran as the cover of the Times’ Magazine last Sunday. That cover was solid black, with the white letters, “Thirty years ago we could have saved the planet.” Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change by Nathaniel Rich is as good as it gets. And as important.

 

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