Acquiescing to Terrorism

I understand that the U.S. House of Representatives has cancelled its session for today, House leaders having moved a vote from today to last night so, the New York Times reports, lawmakers – described elsewhere in the account as “skitterish” – “could leave town.”  The paper further reports that the Capitol Police force is preparing for another assault on the Capitol building today after obtaining intelligence of a plot by a militia group which “appeared to be inspired by the pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon.”

I concede that this appears easy for me to say, sitting safely at home in the middle of the Midwest, but I think House leaders have made the wrong decision.  Given the rumors, surround the Capitol with Capitol Police, the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police, and the District of Columbia National Guard?  Certainly.  Give orders that any individual seeking to forcibly breach any of the Capitol barricades have his/her remains be all that reaches inside the perimeter?  Understandable.  But cancel a session of the legislature of the most powerful nation on earth due to internet chatter?  In my view, extremely unwise.  It appears that our government is acquiescing to terrorism.  Given today’s cancellation, how long will it be before the phantom QAnon designates another day at which Donald Trump is going to be mythically restored to power?  And how long before another day is designated after that?  One might argue that as the months pass and there is no restoration, these unbalanced elements will lose interest.  I would suggest that since it is and always has been obvious to anyone with any level of discernment that Mr. Trump is a charlatan, if these elements had any sense, we wouldn’t be in the situation we find ourselves.

While I consider the decision to cancel today’s session unwise, I refrain from casting any aspersions upon the courage of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team.  I wasn’t there on January 6.  I don’t know the details of the intelligence or advice that the House leadership is receiving.  I do know that it is predicted to be in the 50s and sunny in Washington, D.C. today; balmy weather for a Green Bay Packer game.  If I was a member of the House of Representatives, given today’s session cancellation, I hope that I would put my House pin on my jacket, take a folding chair and a good book – perhaps The Federalist; maybe something by Churchill — and read all day not far from the barricades.

Would I?

I hope I would.  I think I would.

On the Minimum Wage

I got my first job in a book store in Libertyville, Illinois, in April of 1968.  I had no appreciable skills [a condition, TLOML would tell you, that has persisted to the current day 😉 ].  I was started at $1.60 an hour.  My employer – a kindly, and fortunately, also a patient man – had no choice; $1.60 was the federally-mandated minimum wage.

Last week, I saw a CNN spot referring to those very days of yesteryear.  The reporter indicated that adjusted for inflation, the $1.60 I was paid as an awkward teenager equates to $12.27 in today’s dollars.  Such makes patently obvious the gross inadequacy of today’s $7.25 minimum wage.

As all who care are aware, several weeks ago the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued a report estimating that the increase to the federal minimum wage currently proposed by Democrats would lift 900,000 Americans out of poverty, but perhaps cost 1.4 million Americans their jobs.  Intuitively, it seems – as some opposing the Democrats’ proposal have claimed – that the job loss projected by the CBO will fall disproportionately upon minorities.  It might also tip some small businesses, that have barely hung on through the COVID crisis, over the cliff.  Although some economists scoff at these potential adverse effects, I would submit that these concerns need to be considered as part of an appropriate policy assessment.  Despite my belief that the minimum wage needs to be raised as soon as possible, I nonetheless understood the Senate parliamentarian’s ruling that the measure can’t be included within the current COVID relief package under the Senate’s rules.  The mandate is clearly not conceptually integral to COVID relief.  It should be addressed individually on its merits. If Republicans – who voted for an unneeded and deficit-enhancing tax cut in 2017 – are truly willing to vote against such an obviously appropriate measure, Democrats should put a bill on the floor and make them go on the record.

I venture the following hesitantly, since – as those that read these pages are well aware — I don’t know as much about economics as your favorite bartender.  That said, it’s a pleasure to address an actual policy issue, rather than Donald Trump and his sordid antics.

In reflecting upon the relative merits and the ramifications of the Democrats’ proposal, I have found surprisingly little focus in the electronic media outlets I follow on a couple of aspects that I consider important:  that under the proposal, the minimum wage increase will be phased in over four years (the newspaper reports I’ve seen indicate $9.50 upon enactment, $11 in 2022, $12.50 in 2023, $14 in 2024, and $15 starting January 1, 2025); and that 25 of our 51 jurisdictions (including Washington, D.C.) already have minimum wage levels at or above $9.50 – so businesses in those jurisdictions would feel no impact upon the law’s effective date.  Sixteen – almost one-third of our jurisdictions — have minimum wage levels at or above $11, so businesses in those jurisdictions would feel no impact until the start of 2023.  This gives firms of all sizes in those states time to plan for later mandated wage increases.

What of the 26 states, including my own state of Wisconsin, that have clung to the $7.25 federal wage that took effect in 2009?  The immediate reaction – at least mine – is that these businesses have ridden on the backs of their employees for too long; they should get over it, and pay up.  Although there is arguably rough justice in such an approach, I fear that the likely result of such an abrupt increase to $9.50 could cause significant job loss and small business closures.  A couple of notions:

Assuming that a bill would be passed in 2021, push its effective date (i.e., the date the $9.50 would take effect) to January 1, 2022, and slide all the subsequent dates back by one calendar year (meaning the $15 rate would take effect on January 1, 2026).  There are two potential advantages to this.  First, it gives businesses with minimum wage workers some additional time to plan.  Second, and arguably more importantly, it appears highly likely that by the end of 2021, American consumers will be better able to afford – and therefore less likely to recoil at – price increases than at any time in decades.  Former Investment Banker Steven Rattner, who advised President Obama in 2009 on the auto industry’s challenges, has pointed out that while the past Congressional COVID relief packages helped many in need, those not financially affected by the pandemic banked their COVID-related relief checks.  Mr. Rattner has further opined that if, as projected, over 90% of Americans receive checks under the current bill, this will result in yet greater banked savings.  When one combines this forced savings – no one has been able to spend much on activities during the pandemic – with pent-up demand arising from COVID quarantining (If you traveled before, are you raring to travel again?  If you went to restaurants before, are you raring to go to restaurants again?), 2022 and 2023 might be the perfect period to enact significant minimum wage increases, when virtually all economists predict a vibrant economy driven by COVID-vaccinated consumers with money to spend and an avid urge to spend it.  If there is any credence to the premise that the economy is about to enter a period of abnormal consumerism, one might even consider increasing the second hike from $11 to 11.50, evening out the remaining annual raises to $15 to the extent practical.

(Despite his Democratic roots, Mr. Rattner clearly believes, given the amount of previous COVID relief that has gone into savings, that the current bill should be smaller and better targeted.  I agree; but that train has seemingly left the station.  Given currently increasing interest rates, there is clearly also bond market worry that despite Federal Reserve assurances to the contrary, the proposed bill could cause unhealthy increases in inflation; I share those concerns as well.)

There may also be merit to implementing phased-out tax breaks: in 2022, for businesses employing workers at less than $9.50 on January 1, 2021; and in 2022 and 2023, for businesses employing workers at less than $11 on January 1, 2021. [This is the kind of idea one thinks of during tax season  ;)].  It would certainly be a complex calculation, and require detailed verifiable reporting by those seeking the relief, but such a deduction might provide the firms most immediately and dramatically affected by the new law with an additional buffer as they set future business plans.

While the Democrats’ proposal already provides for a Cost of Living increase after the minimum wage reaches $15, I would include an addition to the COLA multiplier that would gradually cause the minimum wage to achieve the buying power $15/hr. had in 2021, rather than the purchasing power of $15 in the mid-2020s, since increased inflation over the next several years might leave minimum-wage workers further behind than now anticipated.

I don’t support the recent counter proposals to cap the minimum wage at $10 or $11, since it seems that such leave the least compensated among us no way to catch up.  At bottom, I believe that American businesses – of all sizes – remain the most innovative and adaptable in the world.  Once an American businessperson is confronted with a fact – that the minimum wage is rising to $X over Y time period – s/he will find a way to accommodate reality.

I have read that the 1970’s were the high water mark of American union strength, and the point of the smallest compensation gap between management and line workers.  Not coincidentally, it was also the period of the highest inflation in modern American history:  more of our people had money to spend, and they spent it, driving up prices.  Although those of us able to remember the pernicious inflation of those days have no desire to see its return,  such concerns need to be balanced against the risks we are running with too many of our people left without hope of a sustainable life for themselves and their children.  While the threat of inflation is consequential, the threat of despair is existential.  Many aren’t, in real terms, earning what I was making as a teenager over 50 years ago. We need to address a situation that fertilizes the recruiting ground of demagogues.

Reflections on a Requiem for a Republic

Requiem

2a. A solemn chant (such as a dirge) for the repose of the dead; [2]b.  Something that resembles such a solemn chant …”

  • Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

For someone who fully anticipated the Senate’s Saturday impeachment acquittal of former President Donald J. Trump, I nonetheless found myself unexpectedly despondent. 

My disappointment, at least on Saturday, surprisingly did not relate directly to the damage to our nation that Mr. Trump himself, given the high likelihood that he will soon start loudly proclaiming that he was exonerated by the Senate, may now seek to wreak.  Although one would certainly never count him out, there seems a substantial chance that the former president, reportedly a pariah among serious financiers, will struggle to find lenders willing to help him address the $400 million debt his businesses face in the next few years; he will undoubtedly be dogged by criminal investigations in the State of New York and other parts of the nation, and perhaps in civil venues by those seeking recompense for his part in the Capitol raid or otherwise; and despite his apparent strength among rank-and-file Republicans, his execrable legacy will forever unite quarrelling liberals and progressives and repulse sensible centrists and conservatives.  These factors will arguably make it difficult for him to mount another winning national campaign.

Nor was my ill humor primarily wrought by the knaves and nincompoops that have enabled Mr. Trump:  malignantly ambitious connivers such as U.S. MO Sen. Josh Hawley and U.S. TX Sen. Ted Cruz, or those that can’t find the bathroom (or, if they can find it, are concerned about being exposed to Jewish lasers while within it) such as U.S. WI Sen. Ron Johnson and U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene.  We have always had and will always have our share of nitwits and nefarious.

Nor did I feel any regret for the rioters who actually genuinely believed they were saving their country and now face lives forever altered, at least one ended.  They are adults who should have recognized the grotesque nature of their enterprise.  (I do wonder whether it will dawn on the elite-loathing segment of the Trump cult that while many who heeded his call will suffer, the former president himself will almost certainly “walk” – i.e., face no criminal exposure for his part in causing the riot.)

What troubled me was the fact that 135 more Republican House Representatives voted by secret ballot to keep U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney, who voted to impeach Mr. Trump and condemned his behavior in the strongest terms, in GOP House leadership than had the courage to vote to impeach him themselves.  What troubled me were credible reports that if the Senate’s impeachment trial vote had been secret, there would have been 80 to 90 votes – i.e., 30 to 40 Republican votes rather than the seven actually cast — to convict Mr. Trump, presumably including Senate Minority Leader U.S. KY Sen. Mitch McConnell, given his dramatic denunciation of Mr. Trump following the Senate trial.

This amounts to approximately 30% of our national representatives who, when facing the most direct internal challenge to our Republic in 150 years, didn’t have the courage to do their duty although they knew better.  Even U.S. AL Sen. Richard Shelby and U.S. OH Sen. Rob Portman, who are retiring from the Senate and are reputed to be serious men – voted to acquit, presumably pulling a Paul Ryan:  finding it safer to abide un-American behavior than risk being exiled from the safe Republican cocoon in which each has dwelt his entire adult life.  It has made me question whether even imposing term limits on Congressional careers will remedy politicians’ urge to prioritize pleasing their supporters above all other values.

I have no illusions that had the demagogue confronting us been a Democrat, that Congressional Democrats would have performed appreciably better than the Republicans have.

I have heard mixed reviews of Sen. McConnell’s comments after the trial even among those that agreed with their substance.  A very close friend noted to me that although – as Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi noted – the blatant hypocrisy existing in the contrast between Mr. McConnell’s vote and his statement were manifest, Mr. McConnell’s remarks were of exactly the nature that I have indicated that I hope will persuade non-cult Trump followers to abandon him.  Perhaps; but what actually came to my mind as I listened to Mr. McConnell was the oft-quoted observation of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg in November, 1863 – words that in their modesty were perhaps the most inaccurate ever publicly uttered by Mr. Lincoln, but ironically apropos to Mr. McConnell’s post-trial protestations and the Republicans’ acquittal votes Saturday:  “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” 

Since Mr. McConnell cannot believe the poppycock he was spouting about the unconstitutionality of the Senate proceeding, it would appear that either he voted in concert with the Trump zealots – after signaling his sentiments in advance — because he feared ever regaining a Republican Senate majority if a substantial number of Republicans voted to convict Mr. Trump, or he feared losing his leadership mantle if he voted contrary to the wishes of his caucus majority.

Sen. McConnell is undoubtedly familiar with the 18th century Irish-Anglo statesman Edmund Burke, one of the founding fathers of modern conservative thought, who embraced the belief that reliance upon traditional institutions, community, and customs is the best way for a society to advance itself.  Addressing his constituents, Mr. Burke once declared, “ [A representative’s] unbiased opinion, his mature judgment, his enlightened conscience, he ought not to sacrifice to you, to any man, or to any set of men living.  Your representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion.”

As all are aware, I never have any sympathy for Mr. McConnell.  That said, I sensed remorse in his rationalizations.  There is no real justification for what the Republicans have done.  He knew – he knew – that when facing the most perilous internal challenge to our nation in his lifetime, he and his caucus abandoned their duty by failing to convict Mr. Trump.  His remarks seemed akin to a chant; perhaps he felt in his own words a Requiem for a Republic.

Pushing the Big Truth: A Postscript

I haven’t watched all of the Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, but have seen much of it.  A few rhetorical questions and observations, although nothing you haven’t thought and heard:

Would the Capitol riot have occurred but for President Donald Trump’s behavior during his presidential term, culminating in his speech before the riot?  I would suggest that no one honestly exerting any level of discernment could think otherwise.

Would those Republican Senators who seem overwhelmingly likely to vote to acquit Mr. Trump – to a person, almost certain to justify their votes behind a cowardly and false rationale of unconstitutionality — be voting for an impeachment conviction of former President Barack Obama if a multi-complexioned mob had sought to overturn the counting of the Electoral College ballots in January, 2017, after Mr. Obama had uttered verbatim the same speech that Mr. Trump rendered on January 6?  I would suggest that only those unfortunate souls who over the years have purchased the Brooklyn Bridge could truly believe otherwise.

Will any Republican Senator that votes to acquit Mr. Trump ever thereafter be able to look a Capitol Police officer in the eye?  I leave that one to you.

What the Senate trial may – may – have done, with the non-cult Trump supporters, is place a political millstone around the neck of Mr. Trump and convicted not only Mr. Trump but Republican Senators of gross dereliction of duty.

Maybe … but it takes no prescience to predict that all references to the particulars of this impeachment trial – save the fact that Mr. Trump was “exonerated” by his acquittal – will disappear from all conservative media outlets as soon as the vote is entered.  Again referring to the words of Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf:

“The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous.” 

Nothing I have seen in the reactions from various quarters to the evidence presented at the impeachment trial has altered my belief that a persistent paid media campaign in conservative outlets against Mr. Trump and his seditious enablers may be vital to prevent the resurrection of his and their political standing with non-cult Trump voters. Hopefully, organizations with the will, creativity and financial means will undertake it.

There is one area in which I agree with Mr. Trump’s Republican defenders:  assuming that we are about to see an acquittal, it will, now, be time to look beyond this shameful exhibition of despicable constitutional malfeasance and manifest display of American political instability, and address COVID and the multitude of domestic and foreign challenges facing us.  We have no choice.

Pushing the Big Truth: Part II

[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which appears below), I would start there.  Please pardon the length of this note; I saw no obvious place to split it; and while I am tired of writing about former President Donald Trump, the inexplicable (to me) manner in which so many Congressional Republicans continue to bend to his perceived desires indicates that the dangers of Trumpism are not behind us.]

I confess that I am deeply concerned about the potential aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s almost-certain acquittal in the Senate impeachment trial beginning this week.  (I put down Mr. Trump’s relative silence since leaving the White House to his desire to avoid unsettling an impeachment process clearly going his way.)  I have heard commentators opine that so many Republican officials’ continued embrace of Mr. Trump will result in a Republican Party schism and reduce the party to a regional movement.  Perhaps; but to me, these pronouncements sound eerily similar to predictions we heard after the 2016 election that Republican Congressional leaders would bring Mr. Trump to heal.  I’m not sure that if not effectively countered, those martialing behind Mr. Trump cannot become a dominating force in this country.  It cannot be forgotten that the former president garnered 74 million votes in the last election, or that political analysts are seemingly unanimous that if any candidate besides President Joe Biden had been atop the Democratic ticket, Mr. Trump – despite his obvious dictatorial tendencies and rank incompetence in addressing the COVID pandemic – would have won in the Electoral College.  A late January Morning Consult/Politico poll found that 81% of Republicans reportedly still have a favorable view of Mr. Trump despite his transparent lies about the election and his obvious mob incitement that caused loss of life, injury, and desecration of our Capitol.  Last week, almost 200 House Republicans refused to vote to strip U.S. GA Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, obviously a QAnon conspiracist despite her protestations, of her House committee assignments.  I submit that these are indicators we ignore at our peril.

It’s time to put aside the notion that Truth can take care of itself.  An advantage possessed by those who believe in democracy is that we can see – like an approaching tsunami – the likely assault on Truth that will start as soon as Mr. Trump is acquitted – again.  Although the Lincoln Project and like organizations have since the insurrection aimed stinging rebukes at the most heinous of Mr. Trump’s seditious cohort – close friends recently alerted me to one by the Republican Accountability Project set to run this week on Fox News’ Hannity Show — I hope that these organizations maintain a broad-scale media offensive aimed directly at the former President by, ironically, employing for Truth the premises outlined by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf and so malevolently utilized by him and by Mr. Trump.  The only way to effectively counter the Big Lie is to effectively push the Big Truth.

The audience for the Big Truth is not the white nationalist fringe nor the national and state Republican Party Trump loyalists.  These are beyond persuasion.  It is the tens of millions of Trump voters who abhor the violence at the Capitol but, presumably due to the media outlets they follow and their own disinclination to educate themselves, tend to believe that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump and/or that he had no part in incitement of the Capitol insurrection.  If these more tenuous Trump supporters can be persuaded of the Truth, I believe that the former President can be decisively discredited.

Hitler indicated 100 years ago that a program of persuasion must involve “emotion” “through a psychologically correct form” and be limited to “a very few points” involving “truth or lie.”  Something not mentioned, but obviously manifest in both Hitler’s and Trump’s records:  the message needs to give the target audience something to be against

I would suggest that a positive message – i.e., that by all impartial measures, Mr. Biden won the election — will continue to be ineffective with the segments of our populace who need to be persuaded to politically cripple Mr. Trump.  I would propose that what will work, if consistently and arrestingly repeated in the appropriate venues, is the dark negative:  that Donald Trump lied to you about the election; that Trump incited the riot; and that cops defending the Capitol were injured and killed as a result.   

In her book, How We Win, Farah Pandith, who led an initiative to counter Muslim radicalization across the W. Bush and Obama Administrations, asserts that the best way to persuade one’s target audience is to speak through “credible voices” – i.e., those that have credibility with the target audience.  The Lincoln Project and like organizations should create spots, directed at persuadable conservative-leaning Americans, showcasing Republican voices that will be credible to them (not to the Trump cultists), citing Mr. Trump’s and his enablers’ lies, and run them incessantly on conservative outlets.  Some potential examples: 

Video of U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney’s statement after the riot:  “Now we gather due to a selfish man’s injured pride and the outrage of supporters who he has deliberately misinformed for the past two months and stirred to action this very morning.  What happened here today was insurrection incited by the President of the United States. … The best way we can show respect for the voters who are upset is by telling them the truth.”

Video of U.S. KY Sen. Mitch McConnell’s statement before the Inauguration:  “The mob was fed lies.  They were provoked by the President and other powerful people.”

Video from U.S. NE Sen. Ben Sasse’s statement last week:  “January 6 … happened because the President lied to you.  He lied about the election results for 60 days despite losing 60 straight court challenges … Lying that an election is stolen is not conservative.  Treating politics like a religion is not conservative. … Politics isn’t about the weird worship of one dude. … We’re going to have to decide between conservatism and madness.”

Spots simply highlighting Mr. Trump’s incendiary tweets before January 6 and video his speech of incitement, contrasted with video of the ensuing riot, clips of Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick’s memorial service, and references to Capitol Police officer suicides, brain injuries, smashed spinal cord discs, eye damage, stabbings and cracked ribs.

Contrasted with riot video, video of Georgia Election Official Gabriel Sterling’s remarks, a month before the riot:  “Mr. President … stop inspiring people to commit potential acts of violence.  Someone’s gonna get hurt, someone’s gonna get shot, someone’s gonna get killed.”

At a later date, creating spots including actual rioters stating – as their lawyers are claiming — that they were inspired by Mr. Trump.

Run them over … and over … and over … and over

The suggestion in this note is certainly not uplifting.  Prior to the election, I expected the frenzy to subside if Mr. Biden won the presidency.  Given the majority of Republicans’ apparent continued allegiance to a defeated and disgraced would-be dictator, and despite the Capitol riot and the inauguration, that hasn’t happened.  In his book, Bear Attacks, Stephen Herrero tells of an Alaskan Athabascan, Alexie Pitka, who believed that he had dropped a black bear.  After waiting a bit, Mr. Pitka approached the bear without ensuring that it was no longer a threat.  When he was only a few yards away, the bear rolled to its feet and jumped on him.  Mr. Pitka suffered terrible injuries because he had let his guard down too soon.  We risk a similar fate if we discount Mr. Trump’s ability, despite his election defeat, to overwhelm Truth.  It’s possible that the evidence Democrats present at the Senate impeachment trial will be so damning that it forever sways public opinion against Mr. Trump no matter the verdict … but I doubt it.  The disinformation salvo likely to attend his Senate acquittal has the potential to be every bit as dangerous to our nation as an act of war committed against us by a foreign adversary.  (What will you wager that Ms. Greene, freed of House committee assignments, will now travel the country, funded by the Trump war chest, riling up Republicans in support of Mr. Trump?)  This salvo will require an equally forceful response.  The enemy – the Big Lie – needs to be vanquished.

The dark impulses manipulated by Mr. Trump are real, and not going away.  That said, he provides the charismatic focal point and sanction for overt expression of grievance and outrage that these untoward elements previously lacked.  I am hoping that if the former president can be discredited among the main body of non-cult conservatives, the remaining malign groups can be systematically addressed.  In accord with the premises that Hitler posed in the 1920s, the message to persuadable Trump supporters must be simple, and run in venues where they will see it:  Mr. Trump lied to you about winning the election.  It is he who got these officers hurt, and killed; our Capitol ransacked; our Congress endangered.  It is he who defiled our Constitution. 

It is he who is the enemy. 

Over, and over, and over.

Officer Sicknick Lies in State

In searching YouTube, one will find many videos, some more than an hour in length, of the ceremony honoring Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, who gave his life in defense of the Capitol on January 6.  The link below is to a few-minute segment from MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning providing scenes of Officer Sicknick lying in state in the Capitol Rotunda.  Officer Sicknick now lies in the very spot shown in countless photographs being desecrated by seditionists during the riot.  Although Joe Scarborough often hyperventilates, in this instance, his remarks are entirely warranted.

Discerning Mr. Biden’s Mandate

[The remainder of the “Pushing the Big Truth” post published on January 29 has not been forgotten, merely deferred  ;)]

Yesterday, ten more or less moderate Republican Senators including U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney, U.S. ME Sen. Susan Collins, and U.S. AK Sen. Lisa Murkowski journeyed to the White House to present an alternate $600B COVID relief package to the $1.9T COVID relief package offered by the Biden Administration.  Tellingly, neither Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell nor any of his Senate Republican Leadership Team were among the ten.  Equally illuminating is the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has reportedly declared that Senate Democratic Leadership is sticking to the Administration package, and, undoubtedly still smarting from being manhandled by Mr. McConnell and his Senate cohort for the last decade, has criticized the attempt to bypass Senate Democrats in COVID negotiations.

The fact that the Republican Senate group numbers ten is vital; if ten Senate Republicans and all 50 Senate Democrats agree to support a given COVID relief bill, it would be filibuster-proof in the Senate.

The Democratic package seems an opening negotiating “kitchen sink” salvo, even including a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 (which, no matter how one feels about the measure on its own merits, presumably not even the most ardent progressive can claim is directly related to COVID relief).  The Republican proposal is, presumably, an opening “low ball” response, and I understand continues Republicans’ reflexive resistance to assistance to state and local governments (which I find silly, and partisan).

There is no dispute that Congress’ earlier COVID relief bills employed a shotgun approach necessitated by the immediacy of the crisis, and left some Americans without the relief that one would have wanted them to receive — which Democrats now seek to remedy through their package — while providing other Americans inappropriate windfalls — which Republicans now seek to avoid through their response.

One can, of course, find an economist on virtually every side of every issue.  Some very reputable economists, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, feel that it is critical for the federal government to provide massive amounts of aid to the economy at this point in order to stave off recession and unnecessary hardship.  Other reputable economists, while acknowledging the necessity of addressing areas of genuine American need, caution that too much indiscriminate aid will overheat the economy, ignite inflation, make our already-huge deficit hole even deeper than it needs to be, thereby endangering our future ability fund other critical programs (see Defense, Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid).

The Republican initiative creates a pivotal dilemma for Mr. Biden.  Much of the actual COVID relief components of his bill can apparently be passed with simple Congressional majorities via a legislative mechanism called, “budget reconciliation.”  As it stands, the GOP overture is too stingy; but if the Republicans are willing to meaningfully increase their offer, if advising Mr. Biden I would suggest that as he weighs the relative political and substantive merits of a compromise with Republicans against budget reconciliation, he should consider:  What exactly does he think his mandate is?  Why did the American people choose to hire him rather than retain Donald Trump?

Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him — due to his pledge to more effectively combat the Coronavirus than Mr. Trump did?  Or to get the minimum wage raised to $15?

Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him – because they want him to seemingly indiscriminately spread money across the economy (virtually everyone has heard of someone who got more from the first COVID packages than they were making before the pandemic)?  Or because they hope that Mr. Biden can restore a sense of decency and decorum to the presidency?

Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him – because they relish the notion that now Democrats can unilaterally impose their policy ideas on America in the same manner as Republicans did while they controlled Congress?  Or because they hope that Mr. Biden could restore a spirit of compromise to our legislative process?

Mr. Biden has thus far issued a slew of Executive Orders that could have come as no surprise to either Mr. Biden’s friends or foes.  For the most part, these Orders were foreseeable and haven’t impaired his overall standing with the American people (he has issued a couple of more controversial Executive Orders that I would have deferred, but that’s for another day’s note).  But he pledged during the campaign and in his inaugural address to be the President for all the people.  He clung to the notion throughout the Democratic presidential nomination contest — a notion that seemed an albatross in the early days of the campaign when contrasted with the more stridently partisan positions of his adversaries — that Republicans could be worked with, and that he had a record of successfully working with them.  (In this one particular, query whether Mr. Biden’s campaign claim was substantively different from Mr. Trump’s 2016 declaration that he “knew how to make deals.”)

Mr. Biden’s obviously genuine belief that progress can be made through amicable compromise – along with an expectation that he would more competently address the COVID crisis — was, I submit, the most important reason he defeated Mr. Trump.  If he turns his back on compromise now, I fear that the parties will immediately return to gridlock.  Granted, he needs to get a bill that addresses the most glaring areas of need, but I believe that Sens. Romney, Collins, and Murkowski are reasonable people [I don’t know enough about all ten ;)].  If Mr. Biden can get a bipartisan package less than his current proposal that nonetheless addresses the nation’s critical COVID needs, I think he should eschew budget reconciliation and do the deal, as long as he also gets – and can publicly recite – a pledge from his “Republican friends” that they will collaborate upon further relief in the future if, as Democrats believe, such proves necessary.  He has the means to avoid Republican stalling through the “hammer” of budget reconciliation, a process already begun; the GOP group is undoubtedly aware that their window to achieve a compromise is short before the substantive and political pressure on Mr. Biden to proceed unilaterally will become too great.

To Mr. Schumer, perhaps to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, perhaps to U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, perhaps to U.S. NY Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, if any are disgruntled with the compromise, Mr. Biden should say:  I got elected.  This is why.  Trump would have beaten any one of you.  My mandate was to treat the nation’s divisiveness as well as its Coronavirus.  Are you going to help me, or not?

Pushing the Big Truth: Part I

Propagandan.  1.  A systematic effort to persuade a body of people to … adopt a particular opinion, attitude, or course of action ….  — Propaganda is now often used in a disparaging sense, as of a body of distortions … calculated to bias one’s judgment of opinions.

  • Funk & Wagnalls Standard Desk Dictionary  

What follows are observations of arguably history’s greatest master of propaganda; its terrible potential for evil was obvious both 90 years ago and in our current day, but I would submit also, as noted in the Funk & Wagnalls definition, its potential power for good if correctly applied:

“The function of propaganda does not lie in the scientific training of the individual, but in calling the masses’ attention to certain facts … whose significance is thus for the first time placed within their field of vision.

 [Since the function of propaganda] consists in attracting the attention of the crowd, and not in educating those who are already educated or who are striving after education and knowledge, its effect for the most part must be aimed at the emotion and only to a very limited degree at the so-called intellect. …

The art of propaganda lies in understanding the emotional ideas of the great masses and finding, through a psychologically correct form, the way to the attention and thence to the heart of the broad masses. …

The receptivity of the great masses is very limited, their intelligence is small, but their power of forgetting is enormous.  In consequence of these facts, all effective propaganda must be limited to a very few points and must harp on these in slogans until the last member of the public understands what you want him to understand by your slogan. …

[Popular sentiment] is not complicated, but very simple and all of a piece.  It does not have multiple shadings; it has a positive and a negative; love or hate, right or wrong, truth or lie ….” [Emphasis Added]

  • Adolf Hitler:  Mein Kampf

Former President Donald Trump has taught us how effectively, even in an open society, the unscrupulous can embed the Big Lie in a significant percentage of our people.  I would submit that this week’s declaration by 45 Senate Republicans that the Senate’s upcoming impeachment trial of Mr. Trump is unconstitutional demonstrated that House Democrats’ passing an impeachment article related to the January 6 storming of the Capitol, while honorable, justifiable, and well-intended, may – since they obviously proceeded without the assurance of a Senate conviction – ultimately prove to have been counterproductive.  Mr. Trump is all but certain to be acquitted – for a second time – and will then undoubtedly claim that the verdict shows that he bears no responsibility for inciting the Capitol riot – a psychologically powerful factor that might well deter prosecutors from pressing criminal incitement charges against him (in my view, the approach that would have greater impact on Mr. Trump and greater deterrent effect on future seditionists seeking to emulate him).  The Congressional proceedings and their outcome will firmly keep the spotlight trained on Mr. Trump and away from President Joe Biden (who, because of impeachment and despite a series of bold policy initiatives, in some outlets currently seems something of a sideshow), and I fear embolden Republican obstructionists. 

That said, what’s done is done.  Part II of this note addresses how those with the desire and the means to defend our Republic against the Big Lie might proceed from here.

Mr. Biden’s Inauguration

Today, Joseph R. Biden, Jr., took the oath of office as the 46th President of the United States.

“My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule.”

  • President Gerald R. Ford, after taking his oath of office

 “Free at last, free at last, Thank God Almighty, we are free at last.”

  • Martin Luther King, Jr.

God Bless America.

Snow Shoveling Reflections

It’s snowed some in Madison during the last week.  Enough to require tending, but insufficient to require focus; the kind of chore that allows one’s mind to wander.

In order to be a successful President, one needs many qualities; some need to be visible, others perhaps best kept from public view.  I would venture that one of those that needs to be apparent to our people, whether real or feigned, is empathy for them.  President-elect Biden clearly genuinely possesses this attribute, to even an unusual degree.  That said, there are other qualities that a President must manifest to our people and the world in order to be successful:  among them, that s/he is decisive; and that s/he is a winner.

When the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) staged a strike in 1981 not allowed by law, believing that President Ronald Reagan had no choice but to accede to its demands, he instead fired the strikers and installed substitutes.  His presidency was then undoubtedly in psychological peril – if a plane had crashed due to the incompetence of a substitute controller, all would have justifiably blamed Mr. Reagan, and his Administration would have been figuratively over. No plane crashed.  Whatever one thinks of what he did – there is much educated commentary to the effect that PATCO’s unauthorized action and Mr. Reagan’s aggressive response had a sharply deleterious long term effect on the American labor movement — the general public perception at the time was that Mr. Reagan had “stood tall”; and – since no plane had crashed – that he had prevailed, was a winner.  After what was considered too much well-meaning but ineffectual equivocation by President Jimmy Carter, the majority of Americans supported it.  It set a tone that despite an outwardly amiable manner, Mr. Reagan was not to be trifled with – an impression that served both him and the country well throughout his presidency.   

Current media reports indicate that Mr. Biden is electing not to “weigh in” on Congressional Democrats’ impeachment efforts.  I would suggest that if such reports are accurate, the President-elect is making a strategic mistake.  I believe that he should indeed carefully weigh, and then weigh in upon, whether he wants the Senate to conduct an impeachment trial of then-former President Donald Trump during the first days of the Biden Administration.  More important than the time that the trial will syphon from Biden priorities, if the trial goes forth, Mr. Biden must win to maintain momentum with the American people, and Mr. Trump must lose – i.e., Mr. Trump must be convicted.  (I give little credence to the argument that no matter the outcome of the impeachment trial, Republicans need to be “put on the record” for supporting Mr. Trump.  Any Senate Republican who places political considerations above Constitutional duty when voting to acquit Mr. Trump will have first calculated that there will be no significant adverse consequence to being “put on the record.”) 

By all accounts, the President-elect enjoys a reasonably amicable relationship with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.  Mr. Biden should call Mr. McConnell directly, and essentially say this:  “Mitch, you want Trump gone as much as I do.  You know he should be convicted.  One thing neither of us want is to have him acquitted at trial – it’ll look like he won and we lost.  If you can guarantee me 20 Republican votes to convict [note:  only 17 Republican votes are needed if all 50 Democrats vote to convict, but in such a toxic environment, a little leeway would seem vital], I’m going to tell Pelosi and Schumer that I think they should get the ball rolling right now, while the iron is hot.  If you can’t, I’m going to tell Pelosi that I strongly believe that she should hold the impeachment article for a while.” 

If Mr. McConnell would say that he could deliver the 20 votes, the impeachment track would be clear.  If he would say that he couldn’t guarantee a Trump impeachment conviction, if I was Mr. Biden, I’d call Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, and strongly encourage her to hold the impeachment article – not send it to the Senate – until a more propitious time; that the important thing was to avoid a political imbroglio that would endanger the COVID relief package and perhaps delay or derail Administration Cabinet appointments.  If Ms. Pelosi at first demurred – either out of understandable desire to see Mr. Trump punished, or out of concern for her ability to hold her caucus in line – I’d point out, as incoming President of the United States, that I considered it to be in the nation’s best interest for her to temporarily defer; that I saw no value in “making a statement” in a losing cause that would give Trump oxygen; that we needed to win — and McConnell couldn’t assure me we would.  If she needed cover, I was ready to say during my inaugural address that while I would put the full support of the Biden Administration behind all law enforcement efforts to immediately bring to justice all those responsible for the storming of the Capitol, I had asked the House of Representatives to delay for a period in forwarding the article of impeachment against Mr. Trump because I didn’t want any attention diverted from Congress’ need to pass a COVID package to combat a disease that had already killed 400,000 Americans. 

I submit that such a declaration would show both empathy and a clear exertion of leadership of his party by Mr. Biden, who at times has appeared an affable “Not Trump” figurehead. It’s hard to believe that Ms. Pelosi would disregard a request from the incoming President of the United States that he indicated he felt was in the best interests of the nation (which I consider a clear contrast to the obsequiousness of the Congressional Republicans over the last four years, who constantly kowtowed to the illiberal actions of a grotesque psyche that they well understood cared only about what was in his own best interest.)  The delay in proceeding with the impeachment trial provides the added benefit of a sword over Mr. Trump’s head, and does nothing to delay the many criminal investigations reportedly hounding him.

To use one of Mr. Trump’s favorite phrases:  we’ll see what happens.

Two ancillary, yet particularly distressing impressions: 

The most grievous accusations I have heard relating to the events of January 6, save those leveled at Mr. Trump himself, are that Republican members of Congress may have assisted rioters by facilitating their reconnaissance of the Capitol layout in the days before the attack, and may have been texting seditionists during the attack regarding the location of Ms. Pelosi.  If/when authorities establish that these accusations are baseless, such should forthrightly be announced.  If, on the other hand, investigators uncover sufficient evidence of such a conspiratorial relationship between any member(s) of Congress and the rioters to support an indictment against the member(s), such member(s) should be immediately expelled from Congress, face the maximum charges – including sedition – that such evidence will support, and if convicted receive the severest sentence allowed by law.

We have heard multiple reports that a number of Republican House members believed impeachment of Mr. Trump was warranted, but nonetheless voted against the article because they feared for their personal safety or that of their families.  I would submit that such failure, although understandable in human terms, nonetheless constituted Constitutional malfeasance.  These politicians, despite their oath of office, seemingly think they have a seat on Student Council rather than in the legislature of the most powerful nation on earth.  They have forfeited the moral standing necessary to render judgment on any President’s recommendation to send our troops into harm’s way.  Although perhaps harsh, I believe that given the importance of their responsibilities, those that have openly admitted that their fears influenced their House impeachment votes should be encouraged to resign and if they refuse, should be expelled for dereliction of duty.

Although it was snowy this week, it wasn’t too cold.  Hopefully, next weekend, it will be very cold and very snowy in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  While there is no chance that Tampa Bay Buccaneer Quarterback Tom Brady, given his years in New England, will be intimidated by Lambeau Field conditions when the Bucs battle the Green and Gold for the National Football Conference Championship next Sunday, hopefully Mr. Brady’s teammates, more acclimated to temperate playing conditions, will be.

In any past year in which the Green Bay Packers were only a game away from the Super Bowl, mullings of their prospects for another Lombardi Trophy would have dominated shoveling ruminations, rather than being mere afterthoughts.  Hopefully, the affairs of our Republic will have stabilized sufficiently during 2021 that customary and more congenial thought patterns will primarily accompany snow shoveling in January, 2022; after all, Packer Quarterback Aaron Rodgers will then be but 38, and Mr. Brady continues to perform at a championship level at age 43.

The driveway and sidewalk are clear.  Time for some hot chocolate.