• A Moment of Silence for the COVID Dead...
• ...And a Very Different Moment of Silence in South Dakota
• Don't Pack the Court
• This Doesn't Look Good for the Biden Administration...
• ...And This Doesn't Look Good for Joe Manchin
• A December to Rhymember (Parts 15-16)
The House Committee that is looking into the 1/6 insurrection said that they were going to recommend criminal contempt charges for former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows once he stopped cooperating. And they were as good as their word, voting unanimously on Monday to send a resolution to the whole House, to be voted on...well, who knows when, since the House is currently in recess.
Since everyone knew this vote was coming, it actually wasn't the thing that made the largest number of headlines on Monday. No, that would be the text messages that the 1/6 Committee included in the report in which they ask the House to support contempt charges. Chair Bennie Thompson (D-MS) & Co. have a bunch of texts sent to Meadows that day, primarily from Fox personalities and from Donald Trump's kids. A selection:
- Brian Kilmeade: "Please get him on tv. Destroying everything you have accomplished."
- Sean Hannity: "Can he make a statement? ... Ask people to leave the Capitol"
- Laura Ingraham: "Hey Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home ... this is hurting all of us ... he is destroying his legacy"
- Donald Trump Jr.: "We need an Oval address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand."
These text messages make three things very clear: (1) Trump Sr. knew full well what was taking place, despite claims to the contrary; (2) Later spin-doctoring/gaslighting, in which Republicans claimed that the insurrectionists were just tourists who got a little boisterous, is bulls**t; and (3) Fox's primetime lineup is absolutely, 100% a mouthpiece for the Republican Party and, in particular, for the Trump wing of the Republican Party. It's no wonder they dropped the "fair and balanced" slogan—even they couldn't say it with a straight face.
At this point, the pressure on Meadows is enormous. He looks to be very badly exposed, as he was right in the middle of what happened on 1/6. He is all but certain to face criminal contempt charges, and he might also face criminal charges for his actions on the day of the insurrection. His assertion of executive privilege is buying him some time right now, but is likely to collapse in the next month or so, once the Supreme Court weighs in on the matter. He can invoke the Fifth Amendment in response to some questions that the committee might ask, but not the ones they really want to know the answers to, like "What did Donald Trump know, and when did he know it?" And depending on how Meadows chooses to answer a question like that, when and if the time comes, he will likely either make himself a pariah in TrumpWorld, or else he will perjure himself.
We're not lawyers, but if we were, and if we were advising Meadows, we'd suggest he try to work out a deal with the Committee where he trades testimony for some level of immunity. This is what Oliver North did during Iran-Contra, to take one notable example. Meadows probably can't keep Trump happy and stay out of prison, and given the choice, well, he wouldn't be the first to throw the former president under the bus in order to save his own hide. In any event, the rubber is going to meet the road sometime very soon. (Z)
Some notable, and mostly grim, COVID milestones will be reached today (or, if not today, in close proximity to today). Namely:
- 800,000 Americans are dead from COVID-19. According to
that number was actually reached a bit over a week ago. According to
it will be reached today. According to
it will be reached tomorrow or Thursday. In truth, it was reached several months ago, and the
real death toll
is closer to 1 million.
- Roughly 1 in 100 senior citizens
from COVID-19. That's about 514,000 reported deaths, or about three-quarters of the official total.
- Also according to Johns Hopkins, the U.S. had its 50 millionth diagnosed COVID infection yesterday. Again, the true
number is certainly higher, likely north of 60 million or even 70 million.
- The very first COVID vaccinations were administered exactly one year ago today. Today, 60% of Americans are vaccinated.
In recognition of the 800,000 dead, Congress will hold a moment of silence this afternoon on the East Front Steps of the Capitol building. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will be there, as will House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). Other members will be in attendance, though it is not known if Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will be among them.
For our part, here's the table that we put together last year and ran several times. Note that it reflects only American fatalities, and that COVID-19 actuals (with one exception) are in red, COVID-19 estimates are in blue, and top causes of death in 2020 are in yellow:
Any way you look at it, it's absolutely stunning how much damage this disease has done. (Z)
There are a lot of Republican voters who would like to turn the United States into a theocracy (while at the same time decrying such governments in the Middle East). There are a lot of Republican politicians who agree with this general goal or who, at very least, see much value in pandering to theocratically inclined voters. And way up on that list is aspiring Trump running mate Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD), who is planning to introduce a bill that will mandate a daily "moment of silence" in South Dakota schools.
In an effort to get around the rules that prohibit school-sponsored prayer, Noem insists that students can use the moment of silence each day in whatever manner they see fit. "Every student deserves the opportunity to begin their day with a calm, silent moment," she explained in a statement. "I hope students will take this opportunity to say a quick prayer or reflect on their upcoming day. However they choose to take advantage of this time, it will be beneficial to students and teachers alike." However, coming from a governor who has already successfully insisted that all classrooms display the motto "In God We Trust," it's clear how she expects the moment of silence to be used. And there will be much peer pressure on non-religious students to conform.
This sort of "moment of silence" approach has been tried before. Back in the 1980s, Alabama adopted a similar law and, in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985), the Supreme Court struck the law down by a 6-3 vote, finding that the purpose of the law was clear enough that it was a violation of the First Amendment. On the other hand, a Virginia law of this sort was less direct in its intent, and has stood up to court challenges. Noem's law is likely to take its cue from the Virginia law, and the current Supreme Court appears to be pretty comfortable with theocracy. So, at such point that a challenge to Noem's schemes reaches them, and it will, the law will probably stand. (Z)
Continuing on the Supreme Court beat, yesterday we had an item about a Washington Post op-ed written by two members of Joe Biden's blue-ribbon panel on Supreme Court reform. The authors, Harvard Law School professor emeritus Laurence Tribe and former federal judge Nancy Gertner, note that they were not previously fans of expanding the number of seats on the Court, but they've now come around to the conclusion that there is no other viable option for fixing the Court.
Yesterday, the Post ran a counterpoint written by panel members and former federal judges Thomas B. Griffith and David F. Levi, under the headline "The Supreme Court isn't broken. Even if it were, adding justices would be a bad idea." Maybe your response will be different from ours, but for our part, we were not impressed by the piece.
We're going to zero in on three passages from the op-ed, starting with this one:
Federal judges are not politicians. They do not identify with political parties or the president who appointed them. Judges are human, though, and some may occasionally fall short of strict political impartiality. But in our experience, the overwhelming majority of judges—who may have different life experiences and different points of view—go to extraordinary lengths to be fair adjudicators.
At best, this is disingenuous. At worst, it's overtly dishonest. It may be true that most federal judges are fair-minded, but the particular concern these days is the Supreme Court. It may also be true that many or most decisions are apolitical, but it is also the case that many or most decisions do not involve overtly political questions. The particular concern these days is the minority of decisions that do involve political questions, and where the judges' personal politics appear to be more significant than the law or past precedent. Failing to acknowledge this, beyond a vague reference to "occasionally fall[ing] short of strict political impartiality," is basically fatal to the op-ed, all by itself.
Contributing to the impression that this op-ed is just empty spin is that the authors note at least three times how much faith the American public has in the judicial system. For example, Griffith and Levi write: "[A]mong the three branches of government, the judiciary is the most trusted by the public." Poll after poll has shown that, in recent years and months, confidence in the judicial branch is at all-time low levels. To take one example, this Gallup Poll from September says that just 40% of Americans approve of the Supreme Court. That might be nominally higher than the abysmal approval ratings that Congress gets, and it's right around where Joe Biden and the executive branch stand at the moment. In any case, for the authors to give the impression that SCOTUS is somehow the bedrock of democracy in the minds of Americans these days means that either: (1) they are not aware of the public opinion polls (which is unlikely), or (2) they chose to gloss over or misrepresent those polls (which is willfully dishonest).
Moving on, Griffith and Levi dismiss the value of term limits for justices, writing:
Term limits, by providing each president with two Supreme Court appointments in every four-year presidential term, would risk enmeshing the appointments in the presidential election cycle, further politicizing the appointment process.
It seems possible, even likely, that presidential candidates would announce their Supreme Court choices as part of the campaign, turning potential nominations into political fodder. Another drawback: The constant turnover of justices, the spectacle of confirmation hearings every other year and the shorter terms in office would likely reduce the court's stature and the stability of legal doctrine, while impairing justices' efforts to remain above the partisan political fray.
This is the strongest argument in the op-ed. That said, is there anything they warn against here that isn't already happening? It was no secret in 2020, for example, that if Joe Biden was elected and was able to nominate a justice to the Court, he would pick a Black woman, most probably Ketanji Brown Jackson.
The authors also address court packing:
We are even more distrustful of court-packing. Ever since President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1937 tried but failed to pack the Supreme Court with justices loyal to his agenda, a consensus that such a move is destructive to the judiciary has discouraged further attempts. This is why Americans oppose the idea and why autocrats around the world embrace it.
The careful reader will note that there isn't really an argument here. They are asserting that court packing is wrong because...most people (except autocrats) know it's wrong. If a student were to write this into their undergraduate-level essay, with no explanation for their assertion nor any evidence, they'd be looking at a "C" at best.
Again, it's possible some readers will find the op-ed, or the passages we've excerpted here, more instructive than we did. However, we will point out that the "Pack the Court" op-ed was written by a noted liberal (Tribe) and a Bill Clinton appointee (Gertner). "Don't Pack the Court" authors Griffith and Levi are, respectively, appointees of George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush. And so, what the two op-eds really do is tell us something we already knew: Liberals think the Supreme Court is badly broken, whereas conservatives think it's fine and dandy. (Z)
Last month, Joe Biden attended a summit on global warming, COP26, where he affirmed that the United States was ready to do its part to save the planet. Then, shortly after he returned home, the federal government held an auction of oil drilling permits for the Gulf of Mexico. The justification for the apparent incongruity was that the administration was bound by existing court decisions, and that it did not want to hold the auction, but it had no choice.
There is one small problem with this explanation, as it turns out: It's not true. And the Department of Justice knew it wasn't true, since it filed a court memo before the sale in which it acknowledged that existing rulings did not compel the administration to move forward with the auctions. Ultimately, the government collected $191.6 million for leases on 1.7 million acres of ocean, an area roughly the same size as the President's home state of Delaware.
This story has not gotten a lot of attention yet, so the White House has yet to explain itself. There appear to be two possibilities. The more damning is that Biden, or some other muckety-muck, decided that short-term political concerns (high gas prices) were more important than long-term environmental concerns. It is true that those leases aren't going to result in any actual oil production anytime soon, but it's also true that petroleum companies have ways of reducing prices if they want. In other words, it could be a "you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours" situation.
The alternative explanation is that the left hand did not know what the right hand was doing. That is to say, the auction was held by the Department of the Interior. On the other hand, the memo acknowledging that the sales were not actually mandated by existing court rulings came from the Department of Justice. It is possible that the two departments did not communicate effectively, and that the folks at Interior didn't know what the folks at Justice were thinking. This would not be a good look for the administration, but it's probably better than the first explanation.
That said, whatever happened here, environmentalists and many progressives are hopping mad. For example, Thomas Meyer, who runs Food and Water Watch, said: "We know this will exacerbate the climate crisis, it undermines U.S. credibility abroad and it contradicts a campaign promise by Biden. If the administration was taking the climate crisis seriously they would be fighting tooth and nail to keep every molecule of fossil fuel in the ground. They are nowhere near to doing that." Needless to say, Democrats need progressives and environmentalists to be highly motivated to turn out next year, and anything that feeds into the argument that both parties are basically the same, and are just in the thrall of Big Oil, doesn't help. (Z)
Quite clearly, fossil fuels are more addictive than crack. And Joe Biden isn't the only politician with that first name who apparently can't quit them. As the President is trying hard to twist Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) arm on the Build Back Better bill, there comes some very problematic news about the Senator's finances, and their connection to coal.
It is not a secret that Manchin and his family make a pretty penny (or, more accurately, hundreds of millions of pretty pennies) from coal processing. He's claimed that he has no idea how much he's making from that particular energy source, since his assets are held in a blind trust. This was always a dubious proposition, since if we know he's raking it in, then surely he must know it, too. Maybe he doesn't read the Washington Post and missed their scoop linked to above. But now, watchdog groups have noticed that the amount of money his trust made last year ($15,000) is rather less than the amount of money he earned from his family's business, Enersystems (close to $500,000). This means that part or all of his holdings in Enersystems are not actually in the blind trust, and that his suggestions otherwise were, to use a technical term, "lies."
Perhaps the Senator deserves the benefit of the doubt, but perhaps not. First of all, the evidence is pretty stark. Second, if you believe the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, he's not the only Manchin to behave in a manner that is less than above-board. The political career of his uncle, A. James Manchin, ended when he blew $279 million of West Virginia's money on bad investments...in 3 months. There was much suspicion that some of that $279 million found its way into Uncle Jim's pocket, but he resigned before a full investigation could be mounted. Meanwhile, the Senator's daughter Heather Bresch is well known for price-gouging people who need EpiPens. Bresch got her start in pharmaceuticals thanks to her father's string-pulling, and in turn has become one of his biggest donors, with money largely funneled through super PACs. Oh, and her various employers have benefited from the Senator's votes on various Medicare-related matters, and will benefit enormously if he kills the Build Back Better provision that would allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices.
In short, as we have now pointed out a number of times, it could be that Manchin isn't worried about red-state politics at all, and that his foot-dragging is all about the grift. That is to say, he could take a hit in the pocketbook if any pro-environment/anti-coal laws are adopted, and his daughter could take a hit if any pro-Medicare/anti-Big Pharma provisions are adopted. Exactly what Biden and Chuck Schumer do with this information, if anything, is anyone's guess. If Lyndon B. Johnson was still occupying either of those jobs, he'd have no issue with punching below the belt, and using the conflicts of interest for blackmail purposes. As in, "Maybe there will be an investigation, and maybe there won't be. How are you voting, again?" That does not seem to be Biden's and Schumer's style, although you never know. They could go carrot and stick, and say, "If we get your vote, we'll put money in the bill to convert Enersystems into a solar-panel maker. And if we don't, then we'll have to let everyone know why you were a holdout. And if AG Merrick Garland hears what happened, who knows what he might do?" After all, influence peddling is a crime, even if you're peddling it to your own company. (Z & V)
We miscounted yesterday, and skipped over #11. Here are the previous entries, with correct numbering:
We had a couple of Nancy Pelosi entries yesterday; let's stay with the same party and do a couple of Joe Manchin limericks today. Spoiler alert: Today's are less flattering than yesterday's were.
The first is from W.S. in Austin, TX:
Though he's gone to great trouble to hide
That his mind's on the dinkier side
The good Manchin, we see,
Has no clear policy:
That sad cup of Joe's empty inside.
And from T.C. in Stone Mountain, GA:
Now Senator Manchin's not bluffing
AOC and the Squad they are huffing
And all of them say
We want it our way
If we can't have it all, we want nothing
And these were actually some of the less scathing ones. (Z)
If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.
- firstname.lastname@example.org For questions about politics, civics, history, etc. to be answered on a Saturday
- email@example.com For "letters to the editor" for possible publication on a Sunday
- firstname.lastname@example.org To tell us about typos or factual errors we should fix
- email@example.com For general suggestions, ideas, etc.
To download a poster about the site to hang up, please click here.
Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec13 What Can People Do If the Supreme Court Repeals Roe v. Wade?
Dec13 Pack the Court
Dec13 Democrats Are Losing the Culture Wars
Dec13 Democrats Are Also Losing the Generic Poll
Dec13 Georgia Republicans Take Aim at Atlanta
Dec13 California Copies Texas
Dec13 Pelosi Will Run for Reelection in 2022
Dec13 What If Biden Doesn't Run in 2024?
Dec13 Chris Wallace Will Leave Fox News
Dec13 A December to Rhymember (Parts 13-14)
Dec12 Sunday Mailbag
Dec11 Saturday Q&A
Dec10 Big News Out of New York
Dec10 Unhappy Legal News for Trump...
Dec10 ...and for Georgia Republicans
Dec10 Senators Are Still Playing Nice
Dec10 German Readers Weigh In
Dec10 This Week in Schadenfreude
Dec10 A December to Rhymember (Parts 11-12)
Dec09 Debt Ceiling Crisis Averted?
Dec09 Senate Pokes Biden in the Eye
Dec09 Meadows, 1/6 Commission to Fight It Out in Court
Dec09 North Carolina Primary Rescheduled
Dec09 Perdue Says What Everyone Already Knew He Was Thinking
Dec09 Meanwhile, Trump Has a Decision to Make in Missouri
Dec09 Angela Merkel Passes the Baton to Olaf Scholz
Dec09 A December to Rhymember (Parts 9-10)
Dec08 Biden Warns Putin Not to Invade Ukraine
Dec08 Biden's Pick for Bank Regulator Withdraws
Dec08 Now Meadows Is Not Cooperating with the Select Committee
Dec08 Democrats Are Getting Tired of Waiting for Godot
Dec08 Manchin and Sinema Are Starring in Pennsylvania
Dec08 The Courts Are Getting Involved in Redistricting
Dec08 Former Democratic Representative Will Run again for Staten Island Seat
Dec08 Democrats Are Having a Problem with Latinx
Dec08 In Defense of Lauren Boebert
Dec08 A December to Rhymember (Parts 7-8)
Dec07 The Walls May Be Closing In
Dec07 Perdue Will Challenge Kemp
Dec07 It's All about the Grift?, Part I
Dec07 It's All about the Grift?, Part II
Dec07 Diplomatic Boycott of the Winter Olympics Is a Go
Dec07 A Date Which Will Live In Infamy
Dec07 A December to Rhymember (Parts 5-6)
Dec06 Manchin and Sinema Are Still Not on Board the S.S. Biden
Dec06 Secretary of State Races Will Get Top Billing in 2022
Dec06 Eastman Takes the Fifth
Dec06 Steve Bullock: Democrats Need to Get Out of the City More
Dec06 Maybe "Roe" Won't Save the Democrats