A call to allies

One of the two best things I learned from watching the major political parties’ national conventions was that a four-night-long television mini-series with no drama about who will win the competition is much better when you concede that the live action in the hall doesn’t matter, so just producing it as a TV show works fine.  Probably better.  The second is that there’s a law called the Hatch Act that was designed to protect government workers from undue pressure and threat to their jobs from political parties and their operatives, but it also prohibits government facilities and workers who are on the clock from being used for partisan political purposes.

Truth is I actually knew that one before.  What I learned last week is that it’s just one more time-honored political tradition that President Trump and his party dumped on because, well, they are who they are.

I watched both major parties’ political conventions because I always do, because I thought I ought to so I’d have first-hand knowledge of what happened, and because I wanted to see what they would do since they couldn’t gather tens of thousands of people together in close quarters during the COVID-19 pandemic.  There was, shall we say, a distinct difference with respect to the medically-accepted protocols on how to fight the spread of a virus that is still killing a thousand Americans a day.

If you needed another opportunity to see the president give a rambling speech that focused on his many personal grievances, you got that.  If you are confused about how the incumbent president could offer a catalog of problems facing our country today—problems that started during his term or which became worse during that time—and try to scare you into believing those things are Joe Biden’s fault and will get worse if Trump loses the election, well, I’m with you on that one.  If you’re wondering how Joe Biden (or anyone, for that matter) could abolish the suburbs, I do not know.

For a faster and more entertaining version of the highlights of those lies, CNN’s Daniel Dale has it nailed.

Facing re-election is when most politicians take time to consider how to broaden their appeal and improve their chances.  Safe to say we can all agree that Donald Trump is not most politicians.  He is not trying to broaden his appeal.  He is counting on frightening those of our fellow citizens who supported him four years ago into doing so again, while taking actions which he thinks will make it harder for those who oppose him to vote at all.  And he’s hoping that his supporters will just overlook the fact that during his three and a half years in office he has weakened if not poisoned our relationships with international allies while sucking up to dictators, that he started trade wars that hurt American businesses and farmers, that his see-no-evil response to the pandemic is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and the cratering economy that was a direct result of our effort to protect ourselves from the virus, that he and his family businesses have siphoned off millions of tax dollars, that he overtly supports and encourages racists while never expressing concern for their actions (should we give him credit for honesty, for not pretending to care?), that he thumbs his nose at the laws of the land when they would inconvenience him and dares anyone to stop him.

To ignore the fact that so many of “the best people” he hired for his administration have ended up guilty of crimes committed in thrall to Trump and have served or are still serving time.  That he was impeached for trying to bribe another country to damage a political opponent.  That he lies to us every day in such an obvious way that it would embarrass a four year old.

Please don’t ignore this: former U.S. ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, now a professor of international studies at Stanford, outlines the signs and symbols from last week’s Republican National Convention that identify Trump as an autocrat in the making:

Are you like me, do you read that list and hear the ring of truth?

For those who want to treat this election in a more traditional way and focus on “the issues,” I found a nice website that will help you with that.  It’s keepamericagreat.com and we’re all for that, right; here’s what you will find:

image

The cool thing is it lays out what Trump promised four years ago in areas such as the economy and jobs, immigration, foreign policy and more, and reports whether he made good on those promises or not.  (Hint: they say he did not.)  The hilarious thing is the site, sponsored by the Biden campaign, snatched up the URL of a variant of Trump’s mantra because, well, the Trumpsters apparently didn’t think to do it themselves.

I am encouraged to read of many Republicans coming out publicly against Trump…too bad there are so few Republicans in federal office who are doing the same.  I sympathize with people like life-long Republican William Treadway, a West Point graduate who swore an oath (as did Trump himself!) to protect this country from enemies both foreign and domestic.

Well, we have met the enemy, and he is a bigoted, failed businessman whose primary use of the American presidency has been to dodge accountability for his own misdeeds, to distract from ongoing Russian attacks on both our election systems and our soldiers, and of course, to line his pockets with money squeezed from the blood and sweat and suffering of Americans nationwide.

He has even sent federal agents, dressed like my soldiers were in Afghanistan, to a city near you with the prime goal of beating, assaulting and abducting women, veterans, and others exercising their First Amendment rights as part of a program of unconstitutional “proactive arrests.” (Never has a more Stalinist term been uttered in this decade.)

Trump is an existential threat to the United States. That is not hyperbole. Many Republican friends will say that they, too, understand that fact, and find his behavior abhorrent. Yet, when it comes to considering Joe Biden, the struggle remains very real.

Their solution instead is to pick a third party, write-in Captain America or simply not cast a ballot at all.

This would be an evasion of civic responsibility. The right to vote is sacred and hard-earned, and to waste it on what amounts to abstention is an insult to those who have given their lives to protect that privilege. (emphasis added)

The only powers we citizens have against such a reckless and cruel administration as Trump’s are the voice and the vote. While one voice and one vote may seem too minimal to have any impact against a government so powerful, if we all join in chorus, a nationwide roar, we can reclaim our America from under the boot of an abusive, corrupt and shameful administration.

Staying home this fall or voting for a write-in under these conditions would be a gutless act. The two-century experiment in self-government that’s given us all so much is in need of just one thing to keep from withering: A sensible vote from responsible citizens.

In the face of a national leader so toxic to the Republic and her people as Trump, the policy goals of his opponent become irrelevant next to the preservation of the Union. What we need right now more than anything is stable, honest leadership and serious accountability for those who’ve wronged this nation and her people. We need a President Joe Biden.

(snip)

I’m willing to announce it, openly and proudly, because while it may not align with my policy goals, it aligns perfectly with my oath to protect this nation from danger. I understand that others cannot take that position publicly. But when you fill out your ballot, whether you do it at home or in a voting booth, remember: I’m on your side, and always have been.

We’ll be secret allies for now, and later, when our country has healed, we will take pride together, knowing that we did our part to save it.

It’s not all about Trump

…even if he thinks it is.  It’s not.  And I ran across an interesting column in today’s Washington Post which offers just six quotations as evidence that the weird-ass dysfunctionality of our politics, if not our society in general, is seen in more than just the batshit-crazy emanations from the Toddler in Chief.

He’s there on the list, of course, at #1, but not quite in the way I would have expected.  Writer James Hohmann turns to this week’s budget submission document from our “I’m all about business and will shrink the deficit and take care of the budget” president for the quote that shows there are still some adults standing watch in Washington who are trying to send a signal to the brainwashed (folks wearing red ball caps, to protect their very clean brains) about what this administration is doing to our economy:

“Even with high levels of economic growth, excessive deficits continue to threaten the Nation’s progress, and any unforeseen shocks to the economy could make deficits unsustainable,” it says. “If financial obligations continue to grow at the current pace, the Nation’s creditors may demand higher interest rates to compensate, potentially leading to lower private investment and a smaller capital stock, harming both American businesses and workers.”

It’s not that this budget submission is going to become law as is; Congress hardly ever passes the budget that any president proposes.  This one came from the man whose most significant achievement of his first year in office (just in under the wire) was to pass a giant tax cut that is already swelling the debt and the deficit.  I’ll admit that my federal income taxes were down for 2018 as compared to 2017 so I’m benefitting, at least in the short term.  I don’t know that any of us benefits in the long haul in an economy in which, as the White House itself warns, deficits are going to stay above a trillion dollars a year “for the foreseeable future” and that the national debt “will soon surpass a percent of GDP not seen since 1947.”  Hohmann notes, “The White House projects that the government will need to spend $482 billion on interest payments for the debt next year alone.  That’s more than the entire budget for Medicare.”  Good allocation of resources, Donnie.

Second quote, from the noted not-Trump hater Dick Cheney, who was talking tough with VP Pence about the administration’s foreign policy at a conservative function in Georgia last weekend:

“We’re getting into a situation when our friends and allies around the world that we depend upon are going to lack confidence in us. … I worry that the bottom line of that kind of an approach is we have an administration that looks a lot more like Barack Obama than Ronald Reagan.”

I first thought the next thing to say here was to marvel that this Republican administration is frightening the previous Republican administration when it comes to dealing with our allies, but I decided that was wrong: it’s not fair to Republicans—the mass of good, not-crazy ones—to label Trump a Republican, and it’s no surprise that former diplomats and officials and the defense hierarchy disagree with Trump’s attitude of telling our allies to just shut up and be grateful we deign to be on their side.

Pence, unprepared for tough questions, mostly shrugged off Cheney’s concerns and praised Trump as a transformational leader. Reading the transcript shows what a total loyalist Pence has become to Trump. He staked out several positions that are at odds with the posture he took as a congressman and governor.

Moreover, the conversation between the two men who have held the No. 2 job underscored the deep fissures that remain inside the GOP over Trump’s foreign policy. It’s the same tension that led to Jim Mattis’s resignation in December as defense secretary after Trump abruptly announced the complete withdrawal of troops from Syria. The president eventually relented under pressure from hawks on the Hill. Some troops will stay.

Consider the other quotes: Nancy Pelosi thinks impeaching Trump is “not worth it” because it’s so divisive, Paul Ryan predicts Trump will lose in 202o if the race turns out to be “about Donald Trump and his personality,” Tucker Carlson doesn’t deny and doesn’t “bow to the mob—ever.  No matter what.” when he’s exposed for hateful comments made more than ten years ago (which should not to be confused with the hateful comments he makes on his Fox News Channel show these days with regularity).   They all offer us a chance to think, if we choose to.

Oh, wait, there was one more quote.  It was reported by people who were in attendance at a GOP fundraiser at Mar-a-Lago, and was flatly not denied by the president’s press secretary:

“The Democrats hate Jewish people.”

Said Donald Trump.  No further discourse required.

Wait, you don’t suppose it really is all about Trump after all?  Do you?

Furlough Journal: Once more into the breach

It never would have occurred to me when this partial government shutdown started more than four weeks ago that it would still be going on today, the day that it turns out is the day before I start on furlough myself because of the inaction of my government representatives obstinacy of my president.  (Lookie there, me being nice to Mr. Trump; let’s see if it lasts.)  Truth is, what really never would have occurred to me was that he would be the president.  Of the United States.  Of America.  Unless maybe it was bizarro America.

Nope, not even then.

I’ve worked as a contractor for NASA at the Johnson Space Center since the summer of 1995, just a few months before the Gingrich Shutdown that had been the longest shutdown in history until last week.  The only other serious shutdown in my experience was the one in October 2013, which sent us all home for a couple of weeks; we were allowed to do things related to our regular jobs, but we were not allowed to work in the office.  I started the Furlough Journal then and found it therapeutic for a guy forced to sit home on an unexpected vacation…yes, I was allowed to use my accrued vacation so I didn’t miss a paycheck.

When this PGS began my civil servant colleagues were sent home without pay and that’s where they’ve remained, except for a few who had permission to come in to do important work for which they would not be paid.  (Until, hopefully, they are reimbursed after the shutdown ends…which would be good for them, but doesn’t help them now with no income to spend on the little extras that make life worth living, like food, and rent, and electricity.)  At that point our contract had already received periodic funding in advance, so we were allowed to continue to do our regular work in our offices so long as it didn’t require a civil servant to participate.

Late last week the bosses gathered us all to let us know the advance funding was about to run out and our furlough was about to begin.  Since I don’t usually work weekends, and today was a funded holiday, tomorrow feels like the first day of furlough for me.  But my company is allowing us to use accrued vacation to keep getting paid, at least for a couple of weeks.  After that, we’ll see.

Let’s give the president a little credit here. After a full four weeks of government shutdown that was caused by him changing his mind and refusing to sign a funding extension passed by the Senate which he had promised to sign (and which the House has subsequently also approved) he made a counteroffer last weekend which Democrats have not embraced (shall we say).  I think “a little” is about as much credit as he should expect for offering to give back something he took away in the first place and which he isn’t now promising to return permanently, in exchange for a down payment on a wall that he promised us Mexico would be paying for anyway but which it says it won’t, and who can blame them.  I think we should also note that the president has proven over and over again that we should never take him at his word, about anything, which of course makes it harder to negotiate a deal and surely says it wouldn’t be smart to agree to the first thing he offers.

(Is the therapeutic-ness kicking in yet?  Keep keyboarding.)

I want the government shutdown to end as soon as possible, for myself and the hundreds of thousands of people who do work that makes our country run…no doubt you’ve got examples of your own of things that aren’t happening because of the shutdown, or have read stories filled with those particulars.  Our representatives in Washington can do their jobs and negotiate about a border wall while the people who process tax returns and staff the national parks and control our air traffic and advance our exploration of space get paid for doing their jobs.  I have confidence that Congress can find a deal that will allow all sides to claim a little victory, maybe even agree to build more border barrier.

But don’t you dare cave in to this crazy man.  If Congress gives Trump this border money, in this way, you and I both know that the next time he doesn’t get something he wants he’ll take hostages again.  We don’t negotiate with terrorists.  And we’re not afraid of bullies.

Furlough Journal: Blaming the guilty

Welcome to the first full day of my unexpected fall vacation.

As a contractor for a federal agency I’m technically not on furlough right now during this partial government shutdown, like my civil service colleagues are, but we can’t use our government offices or any government equipment to do our work, and I’m just not feeling it about doing the work from home.  (Maybe tomorrow, while I wait for the guy to come to service the heater…I, too, have a spouse who has some ideas about the best use of my time!)

First of all, I got to sleep late, and that should never be underestimated as a means of improving your state of mind.  Then I got to read the papers (in print and online) rather than skimming through them.  Not surprisingly, at least in the mainstream press, there seems to be plenty of criticism for the extremist Republicans in Congress who are responsible for more than 800,000 government employees getting some unplanned, unpaid leave.  They constitute well less than one-half of the party that controls one half of one third of the government, and yet their temper tantrum over the Affordable Care Act—a fight they have lost in Congress, at the ballot box, and at the Supreme Court—has brought a good portion of the government to a halt.  On the other hand, it’s bought me extra time for golf, so…

Of particular interest this morning was The Washington Post, where the notoriously-conservative editorial board has finally gotten off the fence and stopped with the “there’s plenty of blame to go around” bull and identified the guilty party: “the Republican leaders of the House of Representatives are failing. They should fulfill their basic duties to the American people or make way for legislators who will.”

Republicans have shut much of the government in what they had to know was a doomed effort to derail the Affordable Care Act. That law, in case you’ve forgotten in the torrent of propaganda, is hardly revolutionary. It is an effort to extend health insurance to some of the 40 million or so people in this country who have none. It acts through the existing private-insurance market. Republicans tried to block its passage and failed; they hoped to have it declared unconstitutional and failed; and they did their best to toss Mr. Obama out of the White House after one term in order to strangle it in its cradle, and they failed again.

They’re entitled to keep trying, of course — though it would be nice if someday they remembered their promise to come up with an alternative proposal. But their methods now are beyond the pale.

After months of refusing to confer with the Senate on a budget proposal, they have demanded a conference committee to keep the government funded for six weeks. They are rejecting a budget extension that includes limits on federal spending — the so-called sequesterthat they insisted on [my emphasis; PR] and that Democrats oppose. In a particularly shabby piece of faux populism, their final proposal Monday night included a measure to deprive congressional aides, many of whom earn considerably less than the esteemed members, of the subsidy to purchase health insurance that employers routinely provide.

E.J. Dionne:

The issue here is not that Congress failed to reach a “compromise.” The Democrats already have compromised, lopping some $70 billion [this number has been updated from an earlier version] off their budget proposal, to the dismay of many liberals. That was meaningless to a tea party crowd that seems to care not a whit about the deficit, despite its fulsome talk. It will be satisfied only if Congress denies heath-care coverage to some 25 million Americans, which is what “repealing Obamacare” really means.

It needs to be said over and over as long as this stupid and artificial crisis brewed by the tea party continues: Financing the government in a normal way and avoiding a shutdown should not be seen as a “concession.” Making sure the government pays its debt is not a “concession.” It’s what we expect from a normal, well-functioning, constitutional system. It’s what we expect from responsible stewards of our great experiment. The extremists who have taken over the House do not believe in a normal, constitutional system. They believe only in power.

Even conservative Michael Gerson, who argues that the tea party elements refuse to accept reality:

We are no longer seeing a revolt against the Republican leadership, or even against the Republican “establishment”; this revolt is against anyone who accepts the constraints of political reality. Conservatives are excommunicated not for holding the wrong convictions but for rational calculations in service of those convictions.

(snip)

This is reinforced by the development of an alternative establishment — including talk-radio personalities, a few vocal congressional leaders and organizations such as FreedomWorks and Heritage Action — that creates a self-reinforcing impression of its power to reshape politics (while lacking much real connection to the views of the broader electorate).

(snip)

The problem for Republicans (as Democrats found in the 1970s and ’80s) is that factions are seldom deterred by defeat. Every loss is taken as proof of insufficient purity. Conservatives now face the ideological temptation: inviting an unpleasant political reality by refusing to inhabit political reality.

If he’s right, imagine what we’ll see just a few weeks from now when Congress comes up against another highly politicized decision: increase the nation’s debt limit or allow the possibility of government default on payments.  I don’t think I’ll be able to just take a vacation from that one.

It’s not as hard as I thought it would be to praise Congress for doing its job

The Senate took action first, agreeing on spending authorizations to keep the government operating until the end of the fiscal year; the House did the same the next day. Thing is, they both did what needed to be done more than a week before the drop-dead-line that would have seen the government start to shut down for lack of operating funds. How uncharacteristic of them.

In the past few years the American Congress has never missed an opportunity to run right up to the brink of any fiscal catastrophe; like the Road Runner being chased by Wile E. Coyote, it safely came to a screeching standstill in a cloud of dust just on the edge of the abyss (beep beep). To what do we owe this unusual display of fiscal responsibility? I don’t know, but I’d like to order another round.

It had become too easy and too predictable for the thousands and thousands of voices online and on air and in print to chastise House and Senate, Republican and Democrat, for failing/refusing to take care of business. I’d begun to think it was ultimately ineffective as well, but maybe–just maybe–there was still some shard of humanness left deep inside our elected representatives that was tired of being ridiculed and abused, that knew that the voices raised in criticism had a point. It’s not that I’m pleased with the details of the budget the government will operate under for the next six months, but that I’m pleased “the government” got off of its ass and made a decision with something less than the usual quotient of bluster and drama…the “sound and fury” that, as is often the case in our politics, signifies nothing.

So, good on ’em for what they done (there, I said it; are you happy?). And fine, let them go ahead and propose future budgets, have debates and secret meetings and public hearings and horse-trading and try to persuade us all of the virtue of their ideas; that’s the way we’re supposed to try to come to a consensus on public issues. Just because I don’t have the heart or the stomach for this circus right now doesn’t mean the rest of you should miss out on the fun.