Doctors Speak Out About Trump’s Response to the Pandemic

Alan Zendell, March 29, 2021

Usually, when embarrassing mistakes are made at the highest level of government, especially when they result in loss of life, the first casualty is truth. We typically wait decades until all the principals involved are dead or otherwise beyond accountability for their actions, for records and personal notes to be declassified and revealed to the public. The good news, if we can call it that, with respect to the pandemic, is that the medical professionals who were ignored by the Trump administration aren’t making us wait that long. Now that they are no longer under threat from a vindictive Trump, they are all speaking frankly about what happened.

CNN’s Sanjay Gupta interviewed the six prominent health professionals who advised President Trump on how to respond to the pandemic. The results aired Sunday night, and were summarized today, here. I drew heavily on that summary in what follows.

Doctor Deborah Birx, the highly respected virologist who once trained under Anthony Fauci, served as COVID Response Coordinator under Trump. That’s the same Dr. Birx who cringed before a worldwide television audience when Trump asked her to confirm his suggestion that drinking bleach would cure COVID. Birx, who also has impressive diplomatic credentials, is normally circumspect, but even her best attempt at a poker face couldn’t stand up to Trump’s idiotic remark.

Two months after Trump left office, with the nation’s death toll rushing toward 550,000, Dr. Birx told Dt. Gupta that all but about 100,000 of those deaths could have been mitigated if the Trump administration had not politicized its response to the virus. In plain English, that means Trump’s decision to prioritize the economy against the advice of most leading economists over the lives of Americans may have been responsible for about 450,000 deaths, to date,.

Trump gambled that an all-out effort to develop a vaccine, as Dr. Fauci urged, would be sufficient. But he ignored everything every other bit of advice from his medical specialists, instead convincing his base that wearing masks and distancing was a socialist infringement of their personal freedom. The result was what Fauci called a horrifying number of avoidable fatalities.

Dr. Birx told Gupta that she joined the Trump administration to spare the United States from the devastation the virus was causing in Europe. She knew we weren’t prepared and she wanted to help.  But “[a]fter speaking out in August about the coronavirus pandemic being ‘extraordinarily widespread’ across both rural and urban communities in the US, Birx received an [angry] call from former President Trump, after which she says she was blocked from speaking about the pandemic nationally.”

Dr. Robert Kadlec and Admiral Brett Giroir, both Assistant Secretaries of Health and Human Services under Trump, reported that they had no idea what was in the supply chain with respect to “personal protective gear, medicines, ventilators and other medical equipment” when the pandemic began, underlining Dr. Birx’s fear that we were unprepared. Kadlec and Giroir said they had to start from scratch, which is odd, because the Obama administration bequeathed them a thorough analysis and pandemic response plan. But Trump cut the staff that prepared them from his national security team because they weren’t necessary.

Both Drs. Fauci and Birx felt undermined by Trump’s late to the game pandemic advisor, Dr. Scott Atlas. While the former were trying desperately to prevent Trump from opening the country too quickly after a brief shutdown in March, Atlas was feeding the President conflicting data, which was far out of the mainstream of what the professional health care community was advising. As a result, Birx said, the president told her in April that the country would never be shut down again.

Former CDC Director Robert Redfield and FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn both complained that HHS Secretary Alex Azar repeatedly pressured them to change the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, to agree with what Trump was saying from the White House. Azar denied the charge although it had been widely reported in the media at the time. Wanting to assure that people called to testify before Congress were armed with accurate data and recommendations, Fauci, Birx, Hahn, and Redfield formed their own doctor’s group in defiance of Trump’s directives during the 2020 presidential campaign. In response, they and their families started receiving death and other threats.

The picture these respected doctors and health administrators painted was a of a president unwilling to accept the reality of the pandemic and its impact on American lives and the economy. It was the ultimate test for a president who claimed to care about the American people, and he failed, utterly. Finally unmuzzled, the doctors confirmed what most of us already believed. Trump was guilty of criminal malfeasance.

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Hypocrisy and the Filibuster

Alan Zendell, March 27, 2021

I’m not an expert in either government or politics, but if there’s anything in our history that has a worse record of hypocrisy than the Senate filibuster, I’m not aware of it. As we learned in seventh grade civics, the filibuster is a procedural mechanism unique to the Senate that prevents a majority party from steamrollering the opposition and effectively governing by one-party rule. There are many arguments for or against, and many claims about what its true purpose is, most of which are hypocritical in the extreme.

For example, in the latest incarnation of the filibuster debate, Democrats are calling the filibuster a racist tool. That’s like calling a knife a tool designed primarily for murder. The filibuster is a parliamentary procedure that is an essential element of the way the Senate does business. Inherently neither good nor evil, how it is used depends on who is in power and what is specifically at issue. Attacking the filibuster on moral or ethical grounds ignores the reality that politicians change their stance on it depending on how the wind blows.

Radical left-wing activists like Al Sharpton argue that the filibuster represents a return to Jim Crow segregationist politics, a sentiment mildly echoed by President Biden, yesterday. The filibuster and Jim Crow politics were synonymous for most of the first half of the twentieth century, when a small group of segregationist Senators were able to block every attempt to pass civil rights legislation. But in recent decades, the filibuster has been an effective tool of obstruction on a wide range of issues.

When he was Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell used the filibuster to block every initiative proposed by President Barack Obama after Republicans took back the majority in 2010. McConnell changed the rules and turned the filibuster into a never-ending roadblock, but when it came time to pass Trump’s 2017 tax law, he had no problem with suspending it.

When Republicans held the majority in the Senate, notable Democrats like Delaware Senator Joe Biden and New York Senator Chuck Schumer defended the filibuster as essential to the survival of democracy. A few years earlier, serving in a Bush Senate with a large Republican majority, Senator Barack Obama argued that eliminating the filibuster would ensure Senate gridlock and kill any chance of bipartisan government.

Today, as the cycle of hypocrisy over the filibuster enters the Biden era, Democrats like Al Sharpton, who never shies away from inflammatory rhetoric, are calling it a tool of White Supremacy. The context of Republicans attempting to assure that Democrats never win another national election, given that that can only happen if the votes of non-white minorities are suppressed, adds credibility to the Jim Crow narrative, but turning up the heat with charges of racism doesn’t help the situation.

The Biden administration faces serious obstacles to passing its agenda on voting rights and immigration. Racism is a subtext in both debates, but it is also a distraction from the more fundamental argument over the meaning of our Constitution and Declaration of Independence. What is at stake is the viability of a representative government based on a two party system.

Republicans are in greater shock at losing the presidency and control of both houses of Congress than Democrats were when Trump pulled off the same feat in 2016, but current Republican concerns are literally existential. Why else, only two months into the Biden Administration would Republican controlled legislatures be engaged in a concerted rush to pass 250 state laws that reduce voter participation?

It’s no accident that this is occurring at a time when we’re all exhausted from the pandemic, and the millions of Americans who will be most negatively impacted by these new state laws are distracted by the need to find jobs and feed their families. If we take our collective eyes off the ball, and allow the disenfranchisement of millions of mostly nonwhite citizens at the lower end of the economic spectrum and the continuation of immigration policies that only exacerbate the situation, our democratic principles could be dealt a fatal blow.

That is what today’s argument over the filibuster is really about. Ignore the political BS from both sides. Our country’s future for at least the decade of the 2020s, and likely much longer, depends on codifying our democracy in federal law to assure that every citizen who wishes to cast a vote is able to. That will neutralize efforts at the state level to restrict voting, since federal law takes precedence over conflicting state laws. The slippery slope arguments about killing the filibuster are irrelevant. We needs these law passed, and we need them passed now before redistricting for the 2022 elections takes place. McConnell has been clear that that will only happen if the filibuster is not in play.

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The Urgent Need to Pass the For the People Act

Alan Zendell, March 25, 2021

The aftermath of the Trump years is a number of genuinely urgent issues that need to be addressed now. Trump was indefatigable in his many and varied attempts to undermine our Constitution, and the damage he did, if not addressed quickly will fester into something truly toxic for our democracy.

President Biden was correct in making the COVID recovery act his first priority. It’s a rare event when economists agree with near unanimity on a subject as complex as recovering from the pandemic. Moreover, it was smart politically. When James Carville said, “It’s the economy, stupid” during the 1992 presidential campaign, he addressed the basic truth that Americans always respond favorably to something that improves their families’ standard of living.

The American Rescue Plan Act did precisely that, and it won approval from more than three fourths of Americans including 59% of Republicans. That’s a landslide number – since World War 2, only Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan won presidential elections by such large margins, and legislation almost never wins that level of universal approval. Biden promised to govern for all Americans, and the Rescue Plan was the first proof of that. Despite the continuing repercussions of the Big Lie that the election was rigged, getting close to 80% of Americans to agree was the best possible start to reunifying the country.

With priority one behind us, several critical issues compete for priority two: jobs, health care, repairing our infrastructure, voting rights, foreign policy, trade policy – where to begin? The answer, without question, is H.R 1, the For the People Act, the full text of which is here. H.R 1 will assure the integrity of future national elections, and it’s essential that it be passed this year, because states must re-draw their voting district boundaries to reflect the 2020 census before the 2022 midterms.

The most time-critical provisions of H.R 1 deal with gerrymandering, the process by which a state legislature can literally rig the playing field for future elections. Gerrymandering is a deliberate action, practiced by both parties, designed to distort election results to favor the party that controls a state’s legislature at the time the redistricting is done. In recent years, gerrymandering was responsible for disenfranchising more than twenty percent of the electorates of some states. There is no clearer violation of the concept of “one person one vote,” no more obvious contravention of the spirit of the Constitution.

Equally urgent is the need to head off attempts to make voting more difficult and suppress the votes of minorities, the poor, and the infirm. For decades, we have condemned and ridiculed elections in other countries. Russian elections, in particular, have been mocked as autocrats like Vladimir Putin do everything in their power to silence political opposition, including the suppression of any opponent who has a following large enough the threaten the existing order. Yet, that is exactly what Republicans in forty three states are attempting to do.

Republicans do best when the majority of voters are white, and it’s no secret that America’s white population is no longer in the majority. Republicans believe that if they are to retain political power at the national level, the nonwhite vote must be held down, and they want nothing less to a return to the Jim Crow era. It’s cynical and it violates the basic principles of our republic.

The For the People Act does a number of other things, too. It limits the power of Super PACs to flood elections with limitless, anonymous contributions, and attempts to reduce the influence of big money on elections. It requires all significant donors to be identified. It maximizes opportunities for voter registration for all citizens, and codifies in federal law that everyone has the right to a reasonable period of early voting and to vote by absentee ballot without providing justification. It prescribes penalties for anyone who willfully aids a foreign power trying to influence the outcome of an election and clamps down on foreign money used to help specific candidates. It requires full transparency by all presidential and vice presidential candidates with respect to tax records and any potential conflicts of interest.

The For the People Act should not be a political football decided by the ability to filibuster in the Senate. It is essential to the future of our democracy, and thus justifies passage by any means necessary. Ask yourself if any of the provisions listed above violate your own notions of how our elections are supposed to function. This is a decision for the voters, not a small number of politicians desperate to retain power. It’s up to us to let them know how we expect them to vote.

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A Nation Spinning Out of Control

Alan Zendell, March 23, 2021

We’re all weary from what we experienced in the last year. We’ve suffered terribly from the pandemic, losing friends and family members, jobs, and careers. Our children’s educations have been disrupted. We talk about things returning to normal eventually, but no one can say with any assurance what the new normal will be.

Those of us who took COVID guidelines seriously and have been vaccinated are cautiously re-opening our lives, even optimistically talking about re-engaging with friends and family next Thanksgiving the way we used to. Those of us who abhorred the previous administration breathed a sigh of relief as Biden’s people quietly took their places. We wanted to relax – everything was going to be all right now that reason re-asserted itself. But has it? We haven’t been in this cocoon of calm very long. We’re not ready to leave it. We need all our physical and emotional energy to recover. We have to rest, but that is exactly what we cannot do.

Donald Trump did not invent racism and he did not cause the pandemic. He did not create Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping, Ali Khamenei, or Bashir Al Assad; he did not create the enormous gulf between rich and poor in America, nor is he responsible for our evolving climate. But in each instance, he either kicked the can down the road or left us with far worse problems than we faced when he took office.

Look at the current state of our country. Seven mass shootings in the past seven days, acts of irrational violence, which though unrelated to each other, suggest that we are nearing a breaking point. While most Americans scramble to be vaccinated against COVID, a shocking percentage say they will refuse the vaccine, endangering themselves, their families, and millions of others whose long-term health may depend on the nation achieving herd immunity.

We are moving in the wrong direction, politically, as Trump supporters and many in Congress continue to perpetuate The Big Lie and worsen rather than attempt to bridge the divide Trump used to promote his own interests. Right wing extremists energized by Trump believe their time has come, and unless law enforcement can shut them down, we will see more violence and intimidation. There is no aspect of American life that is not less stable and secure than it was five years ago, unless you’re a billionaire whose net worth benefitted from Trump’s tax cuts.

The Republican Party, once a symbol of conservative values, is at war with itself, unable to control its destructive elements and united only by a desperate need to obstruct the Biden administration and make it more difficult for minorities and the poor to vote in future elections. President Biden accomplished his first major objective, passing the $1.9 trillion stimulus/recovery act despite failing to achieve even a semblance of bipartisanship. Not a single Republican in either branch of Congress supported it, and Biden was forced to go the reconciliation route to pass it. He still has mountains to climb, and none of them will be easy.

The Biden administration must deal with voting rights, expanding affordable health care to all Americans, a crumbling infrastructure, continuing fallout from his predecessor’s trade wars, gun violence, fractured alliances, and adversaries who believe they have weakened us enough that they we can longer dominate them either militarily or economically. But first things first. We have to get our own house in order. The Democratic majority in the Senate must defang the filibuster. Like most Americans, President Biden believes in bipartisan leadership, but the Republicans, both Trumpers and McConnell followers, have made it absolutely clear that that’s just a pipe dream. Biden must continue to govern by brute force or face the kind of stalemate that plagued Barrack Obama.

Ramming through legislation by a one vote majority is not in the long-term interest of the United States, but allowing obstructionists to stall the vital elements of Biden’s agenda would be a much worse outcome. Our democracy is already in serious trouble. If we do not have the courage to do what it necessary to restore prosperity, health, racial quality, and human rights to our people, we will have little hope of fixing it.

There’s really no alternative. The voting rights bill must pass by any means possible. People must have jobs in the new normal, and the best way to provide them is to pass a massive infrastructure bill, again, by any means possible. If the Biden administration does not do those things, our future as a nation is likely to be a long downhill slide. That must not be allowed to happen.

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Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans

Alan Zendell March 18, 2021

Recently, we have seen a shocking rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans. The media are tiptoeing around the possible cause of this dangerous trend, but it’s not difficult to identify why it’s happening.

The last time there any serious anti-Asian sentiment in this country was during World War II. The 1930s and 40s were a less sophisticated time. Literacy in America was far from universal, there was no television, Internet, or social media, and the Roosevelt administration engaged in deliberate racist propaganda against the Japanese as part of the war effort. Anti-Nazi propaganda focused on the German belief that they were Aryans waging war against “subordinate,” inferior races, and Nazis were seen as so evil, our government had no need to invent hate propaganda to stir up the population against them.

With the Japanese it was different. While Germans and Italian soldiers looked like us, Japanese soldiers were portrayed on posters and billboards by Uncle Sam as degenerate sub-humans. Vicious slurs against everyone of Japanese ancestry were the norm after Pearl Harbor. Given the scare tactics of the FDR administration, the confiscation of the property of Japanese Americans, (American citizens of Japanese descent,) and the removal of thousands to internment camps was achieved with relatively little controversy. In case we forgot, the embarrassment expressed, decades later, by many Americans over that kind of racism should have been seen as a warning of how susceptible our society is to bigotry and demagoguery.

When we occupied Japan after the war, and government propaganda, in typical Orwelllian style, told us the Japanese people were now our friends, the hate that had characterized American attitudes during the war largely dissipated. It never took hold again even during our two Asian wars in Korea and Vietnam. In those wars, South Koreans and South Vietnamese were good, while North Koreans and North Vietnamese were bad. They weren’t wars against Asians – we were told we were fighting against the expansion of Communism.

One example of the change in attitude was the acceptance of thousands of South Vietnamese refugees who had been displaced by the war, who received special dispensation from Congress to settle in the United States. There was so much antiwar sentiment in 1975 that initially there were protests over easing welfare and public assistance rules to allow these people to establish themselves. But the protests never became racist, because we quickly learned that the Vietnamese who came here worked hard, were honest, and quickly became one of the most successful, self-sustaining immigrant groups in our history.

Starting in the nineties, with the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York, the target of racist government propaganda was radical Islam. Our racially motivated anger was so intense we were drawn into conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, that are still going on almost twenty years after nine-eleven. Muslim Americans are still the victims of racial profiling which was brought to a head by Donald Trump. Supported by right-wing extremists, Trump understood Americans’ basic vulnerability to racist propaganda. He based his entire campaign for president in 2016 on enflaming various groups against each other. In addition to Muslims, we were told that Mexicans and African Americans were our enemies, helped along by Russian bots in our social media, whose only objective was creating dissention.

As Americans we must face the truth. Only a thin veneer of civilization and basic morality separates the average American from a member of a lynch mob when charismatic leaders manipulate us for their own purposes. If you’re wondering where all this recent anti-Asian sentiment came from it’s easily explained. First, keep in mind that the average American has difficulty distinguishing different ethnic Asians from each other, and during the previous administration, once Kim Jong Un and Trump exchanged love letters, the notion of “bad Asians” became synonymous with Chinese. Trump spent most of 2020 slinging anti-Chinese slurs, blaming them for the pandemic, his trade war, undermining America’s economy, stealing jobs – whatever met the current objectives of the far right. The anti-China rhetoric was nonstop for an entire year.

With Trump’s demonstrated ability to rile up disaffected people even to the level of an attack on the U. S. Capitol to steal an election, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Asian hate crimes are on the rise. Donald Trump began a divisive movement based on lies and the American predilection to hate anyone who is different when we fall on hard times. Face it – as ugly as it looks, that’s who we are.

You want to know why some degenerate shot and killed six Asian women in massage parlors? Just ask Donald Trump. He’s an expert on that sort of thing.

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Getting Vaccinated

Alan Zendell March 16, 2021

The very notion of politicizing a vaccine for a debilitating disease is beyond stupid, not to mention that it places countless millions of people at risk. It’s a further testament to the danger of having a divisive demagogue who cares about nothing but himself spreading lies that threaten the lives of even more Americans. With blood of half a million already on his hands, what’s another few hundred thousand? It’s criminal behavior. Back in the 1980s, people who deliberately exposed others to the HIV virus were prosecuted and sent to jail. (Hint!)

I’ll put this in the simplest possible terms. Suppose technologically advanced aliens came to Earth. Think Gort, the robot in the classic sci-fi film(s) The Day the Earth Stood Still. Gort’s mission was to find evidence that Earth and humanity were worth saving; otherwise he would destroy the planet and everything on it. What if Gort arrived today and said that all we had to do to save our planet was log on to a website and vote, “Yes”? What if he also said that Earth would be spared if at least 80% of adults did so, but otherwise, it would be the end of humanity?

Yes, that’s a somewhat strained metaphor for getting vaccinated against COVID. The only way to get rid of COVID is for the general population to achieve herd immunity, thus depriving the virus of any further human hosts. Getting 80% of not just Americans, but citizens of all countries inoculated would achieve that. In the face of Gort’s ultimatum, what would you say to people who refused to sign on to his website? Would it matter whether they didn’t believe Gort was real, or some charismatic leader told them not to, or their church told them obeying Gort’s command was a mortal sin? How would government leaders and scientists deal with the situation?

The Washington Post reported today that the Biden administration is in a full court press to change people’s minds. The President, First Lady, Vice President, and First Gentleman will all be on the road this week promoting the need to be vaccinated, particularly in the most vulnerable communities of color. In addition, they will address faith groups by recruiting NIH Director Francis Collins, who is both a respected scientist and a devout Christian as their ambassador to communities of faith. “Collins and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci — joined by 25 interfaith clergy, who will be vaccinated on camera — will lead a live-streamed event at Washington’s National Cathedral tonight.”

To put this into clearer perspective, consider polio, measles, and smallpox. We rarely hear about those diseases today, but that’s not because humans developed immunity naturally. Vaccines were responsible for achieving herd immunity in all three cases. Would you choose not to vaccinate your children against them? Would you want them interacting with other children who weren’t?

That’s enough warnings. If you’re thinking clearly and responsibly, you don’t need them. And if you’re not, they won’t do any good. Perhaps there’s a more positive way to encourage people. My wife and I were both vaccinated in January and February. After the two week waiting period, to allow the Moderna vaccine to maximize our immunity, we decided to travel a thousand miles to visit grandchildren we hadn’t seen in a year, including one we’d never met. The feeling that accompanied that decision was like having been released from prison.

Almost instantly, the weight of the lockdowns, the need to wear a mask whenever we interacted with other people, and the fear of possibly carrying the disease asymptomatically evaporated. In its place was the security of knowing we likely were completely immune, and that with responsible behavior (masks and social distancing where appropriate) for the next few months, until everyone else was, we could begin living normally again. We won’t be eating inside crowded restaurants, boarding cruise ships, or sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with crowds at concerts or nightclubs any time soon. But there is no conflict, no stress – instead a feeling that following the lead of Dr. Fauci and others, we have done our part to protect not only our families, but everyone else as well.

Some people feel good protesting and waving signs, spewing the nonsense they hear from the former president, senators like Rand Paul, (a physician, no less,) and self-serving pundits like Tucker Carlson. I wish there was a way to convince them that being vaccinated feels euphoric. Life is beginning to be filled with joy again. It’s so much better than fear, anger, and vitriol.

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Biden’s Second Fifty Days – Voting Rights

Alan Zendell, March 13, 2021

In her morning newsletter, today, historian Heather Cox Richardson wrote “the American Rescue Plan launched the country in the direction it has avoided since 1981, using the national government not to cut taxes, which favors those with wealth, but rather to support working families and children.” Quietly, needing no ego gratification, and without slinging insults at anyone, President Biden changed the direction of our country for the better. He needed neither hyperbole nor fabrication to push through a law that has the approval of 76% of Americans including 59% of Republicans, both virtually unprecedented numbers.

The Rescue Plan will prevent more than thirty million Americans from falling into permanent poverty because of the pandemic and will enable millions more to pay rent and stop draining their remaining savings to feed their families. Despite congressional Republicans’ anger over its $1.9 trillion price tag, unlike the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act which cost even more, every dollar spent on the American Rescue Plan will quickly flow directly into our staggering economy. The part of the economy that affects most Americans is consumer driven – if consumers don’t have money to spend, the economy flounders. While tax cuts largely wound up in the investment portfolios of the wealthiest Americans and in corporate coffers through stock buybacks, the Rescue Plan will immediately spur the economy like booster cables on a drained car battery.

Republicans are at war internally about whether Donald Trump will continue to dominate the party, but that didn’t stop them from marching in lockstep to obstruct the Rescue Plan. Nothing is more important to them than returning to the policy established by Ronald Reagan, that government’s function is not to provide for the welfare of average Americans. For forty years, Republican controlled legislatures have been committed to the dominance of the wealthiest Americans. The American Rescue Plan could derail that.

The next step in Biden’s plan to return the country to working class and small business oriented Americans is the voting rights bill known as H.R 1, the For the People Act. Democrats passed the Rescue Act despite receiving no Republican votes because they could use the reconciliation procedure, designed to ease passage of federal budgets. H.R 1 will be more difficult because it will be subject to Republican filibuster. Fasten your seatbelts. It will likely be a fight that monopolizes Biden’s second fifty days in office.

It’s a fight that is critical to the survival of the American democracy, as evidenced by the hundreds of bills being considered by Republican dominated state legislatures, all designed to make it difficult for working people, minorities, and the infirm to vote. Every one of those bills is a reaction to the success of Stacy Abrams’ Fair Fight. Abrams used persistent and efficient organization to overcome decades of voter suppression tactics that were largely under the radar. But now, as Republicans believe they are fighting for their survival as a dominant party, they are waging the fight openly and brazenly.

One of the most important things H.R 1 will do is require every state to create an independent, politically neutral commission to redraw its voting districts along representative lines. Currently, gerrymandering allows state legislatures to rig the playing field in advance of elections by cramming dense concentrations of opposition party voters into a small number of districts, thus enabling the majority party to dominate state legislatures and influence which party controls the U. S. House of Representatives. The next round of redistricting, which will be based on the 2020 census, will determine the composition of every legislative body until 2030. Most political scientists believe gerrymandering is the greatest threat to the future of democracy.

H.R 1 would reform our entire election process. You can read an excellent summary of its provisions here. Perhaps most important, it would supersede all attempts by states to make voting more difficult, to assure that no American is prevented from casting a vote. It provides funding to increase voting security and assure that each state maintains a backup system of paper ballots to deal with allegations of fraud. It requires full disclosure of “dark money” contributions and restricts the power of PACs, while creating voluntary matching programs that enhance the power of individual political contributions. Finally, it strengthen ethics laws, forces investigation of financial conflicts of interest, enforces federal divestment requirements for elected officials, and requires all presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns.

If you care about the future of democracy in America, the most important thing you can do is tell your congressional representatives that if they expect your vote the next time they run, they can earn it by supporting H.R 1 and its Senate counterpart S 1.

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The Next Election

Alan Zendell, March 9, 2021

There was never any question about whether President Biden would be able to pass the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill, only whether the Republicans would participate in a bipartisan attempt to restart our economy and help millions of struggling Americans and small businesses. The Republicans are waging an intraparty war that will determine the future of their party. One might expect that under those conditions, a handful of moderate Republicans might have joined Democrats in passing a bill that has the support of more than three in four Americans, as they did when they cast a less popular impeachment vote.

But no. While a number were willing to vote to convict Donald Trump, the cause of their current civil war, they remain steadfast in their determination to blow up the national debt to further enrich the wealthy, but cut corners whenever legislation benefits everyone else. That’s extremely revealing. Republicans are willing to fight to the death over who controls the party, but they won’t break ranks on anything to do with the class warfare that began with The New Deal and becomes more intense as America evolves toward a nonwhite majority.

That’s especially important right now because the next major legislation deals with voting rights. The tsunami of new voter suppression legislation sweeping through Republican controlled states is the last line of defense for a party, that despite talking about having a big tent, has never expanded outward from its white working class base.

According to Wikipedia, the “For the People Act (also known as H.R 1) [would] expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders.” H.R 1 is the acid test of whether Congress can still function in a bipartisan manner, and it is essential that it passes in time for states to enact the anti-gerrymandering provisions before the next election cycle. The House passed the bill in 2019 by a comfortable margin by the Democratic majority, but it was blocked from consideration in the Senate by then Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

The Democratic majority in the House is much slimmer today, while Democrats now hold a razor-thin edge in the Senate. The essential features of H.R 1 (and its accompanying S 1 in the Senate) must pass with a bipartisan vote if we are ever to fix our broken election system. The fifty-fifty split in the Senate is one clear indication of how tilted the voting playing field currently is, as the fifty Democratic senators represent 41 million more people than the fifty Republicans, because every state has two senators regardless of its population. Thus, for example, each senator from Wyoming represents 286,000 people, while each senator from California represents 19,750,000, a ratio of seventy to one in leverage.

We can’t change the composition of the Senate without re-writing the Constitution, but we can assure that every American has an equal opportunity to have his or her vote counted. For the People would authorize same-day registration in every state. That would enable people working multiple jobs with little discretionary time to only have to show up at the polls once, and allow new residents in a state to vote as soon as they establish residency.

There is no rational, unbiased argument against this provision. Likewise, several others whose only purpose is to make it easier for every American to vote: automatic registration for every eligible state resident who is already contained in a state database such as motor vehicles; at least fifteen days of early voting; expanded opportunities for mail-in voting; declaring Election Day a federal holiday.

Equally important is the provision to require that states appoint independent commissions to redraw voting districts and end gerrymandering, the process by which millions of votes are rendered irrelevant. Gerrymandering distorts the representation of different population groups by party affiliation to favor the party in power in each state. Thus, for example, in a recent Wisconsin election, Democrats cast 61% of the votes but won only 49% of the seats in the legislature because Democratic voters were densely packed into fewer districts. The Supreme Court ruled that situations like this can only be changed by legislation.

The issue with respect to H.R 1 is straightforward. We can choose between a system that maximizes every citizen’s opportunity to vote and assures that every vote cast has equal weight, or we can retain a system that allows one party to suppress the power of voters in the opposition party. Shall we have partisan cheating or open free elections?

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The Enemy Within

Alan Zendell, March 5, 2021

Many people in Congress have been tiptoeing around the elephant in the room, but last month, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who at eighty, isn’t intimidated by speaking the truth, said, “The enemy is within.” When asked for a clarification by CBS News, she replied, “It means that we have members of Congress who want to bring guns on the floor and have threatened violence on other members of Congress.” Some, like Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene, refuse to pass through metal detectors at the Capitol. They just walk around them unchallenged, because the Capitol Police have not been ordered to confront them.

A 2,000 page report issued last week by California Representative Zoe Lofgren documented publicly reported contacts between members of Congress and individuals involved in the January 6th demonstration and the insurrection at the Capitol. Representatives Paul Gosar (AZ), Mo Brooks (AL), and Andy Biggs (AZ) were all reported to have been in contact with people who planned the rally in response to former President Trump’s call to action to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. We didn’t need a report to know that Senator Josh Hawley (MO) thrust his fist in the air exhorting the crowd in front of the White House to march on the Capitol and interfere with the constitutionally mandated process of declaring that Biden would be inaugurated two weeks later. We all saw and heard him.

Nancy Pelosi chooses her words carefully. She takes the threats from her colleagues seriously, as she should. People like Hawley, a lawyer smart enough to know where the line between free speech and insurrection is, are careful not to urge protesters to overthrow the government in so many words. They understand that the Constitution defines treason extremely narrowly – to be found guilty of treason one has to either physically participate in an attempt to overthrow the government or personally aid an enemy in time of war. So Hawley, Brooks, Donald Trump, Jr, and Rudi Giuliani, who all clearly incited the crowd to physically act to prevent Congress from  on January 6th, cannot literally be charged with treason for their remarks at the rally. Does that absolve them of responsibility?

Both FBI Director Christopher Wray and soon to be Attorney General Merrick Garland have stated publicly that they consider the White Supremacist Groups who invaded the Capitol to be the most serious terrorist threats in the nation. Garland said DOJ will investigate thoroughly and follow wherever the evidence takes them, no matter how high it leads. All this brings us to the real question: how far are we willing to go and how much are we willing to risk to protect our so-called democracy? As badly divided as we already are, how do we balance the risk of doing nothing in the hope that this will all go away against the risk of pre-emptively removing the worst actors from the scene before they can do irreparable damage?

We need to decide those questions before we go too far down the road, because while it may be impossible to prosecute anyone for treason, it’s quite likely that the FBI will find enough evidence to charge several high-profile people with sedition. On January 14th, The Saturday Evening Post explained exactly what sedition is – a federal crime punishable by up to twenty years in prison:

According to Title 18, second 2384 of the Code of Laws of the United States, sedition can meet any of three conditions.

If two or more people in any place subject to U.S. jurisdiction:

  1. conspire to overthrow, put down, or destroy by force or wage war against the government
  2. forcefully oppose government authority, preventing, hindering or delaying the execution of any law of the U.S.
  3. seize, take, or possess any U.S. property contrary to its laws.

That sounds a lot like what the aforementioned individuals did. Could they be charged with sedition? Perhaps more important, if there is evidence to do so, will our leaders have the courage to act? If history has taught us anything, it is that failing to act preventively when the enemy is gathering at your gates is an invariably losing strategy. When the enemy is already within your walls, there is no choice at all.

What has occurred since the November election was not the protected expression of dissent by a loyal opposition. It is an attempt to undermine our Constitution. The people responsible, no matter who they turn out to be, must be prosecuted with zero tolerance if we expect our republic to survive.

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Biden’s Foreign Policy Challenges

Alan Zendell, February 27, 2021

After Donald Trump’s America First policy, I was glad that President Biden’s first international call was to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. No two countries’ futures are as inextricably tied to each other as Canada’s and the United States’. Twentieth centruy futurists predicted that we would eventually form a North American Confederation with Canada, if not actually merge into a single nation. National pride and cultural differences aside, that made perfect sense fifty years ago; it makes even more sense today.

Fifty years ago, such a confederation would have been one-sided, since Canada’s climate caused chronically high unemployment in seasonal industries like construction and farming. But our evolving climate is leveling the field, if not reversing it. America’s southern farm lands are moving toward another dust bowl, as Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas overheat and experience worsening droughts, while Canada’s agricultural belts benefit from the overall warming trend. Our mutual interests are strong enough that we should be finding more ways to cooperate instead of fighting over dairy products and energy production. As both countries strive to become greener, issues like the Keystone pipeline would be much easier to resolve if we treated Canada like a partner instead of a competitor.

The commendable peace deal between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain brokered by Jared Kushner should expand trade and enrich all parties, always a good thing, but it doesn’t address the Middle East’s worst problems. Barack Obama attempted to project a more even-handed policy toward Arab-Israeli relations, which to the Arab side had always appeared heavily biased toward Israel. I understood his intentions, but he failed, and in doing so convinced strong supporters of Israel that Democrats couldn’t be trusted to support the Jewish state, one of many things that hurt Hillary Clinton and helped elect Trump in 2016. Trump’s close ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worsened prospects for a lasting peace with Israel’s neighbors. Netanyahu has done more to alienate his neighbors than build a lasting peace.

Biden attacked the issue by going after Israel’s enemies. Under Biden, there will be no free passes to the Saudi monarchy, who enjoyed a love affair with Republican administrations going back to George H. W. Bush. Biden withdrew support for Saudi’s war with Yemen, put a large sale of state-of-the-art warplanes on hold, and held Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman responsible for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashogi. MBS will no longer be treated like a golfing buddy. Biden also struck at Iranian installations in Syria that supported attacks on American forces. These actions demonstrate more support for Israel than propping up a corrupt Prime Minister.

With respect to Europe, Biden kept his campaign promises to renew support for NATO, particularly the commitment that an attack on any member nation is an attack on all. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accord and will pursue a renegotiated Iran Nuclear Deal. Good first steps, but it’s unclear how he will address trade relations or whether he will continue troop drawdowns from NATO countries. More importantly, he is hamstrung by domestic politics. Knowing Donald Trump still has a significant voice among American voters, it’s difficult to see how Europe can have confidence in America as a dependable ally. Policies could easily be reversed in 2024.

Turning to our most dangerous adversaries, we may rest assured that Biden’s foreign policy will not be ego-driven. He will not engage in hyperbolic threats and insults, and he will be as transparent as national security permits. Trump’s attacks on the original Iran nuclear deal were disingenuous. He offered no evidence that it hurt American interests, just noise and bluster. The issue is extremely complex, best left to diplomatic and military experts, not someone who flies by the seat of his pants and undercuts his own State Department. I have a degree in nuclear physics, but I freely admit that I have no idea how to best police Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Biden has been silent on North Korea, deflating the elevated status conveyed on Kim Jong Un by Trump, whose theatrics left us no better off with respect to North Korea than we were when Trump took office. Worse, our relations with our staunch ally, South Korea, were damaged when Trump undercut the South Korean government’s attempts to improve relations with the North. The best way to deal with Kim is to ignore him publicly while squeezing him in private.

I don’t know the best way deal with China, but I’m certain that hurling insults at President Xi and continually referring to COVID-19 as the China virus is the worst. Approaching China diplomatically makes more sense than blowing up trade treaties and starting trade wars. Trump likes to posture as a high stakes gambler willing to throw the dice and see where they land. But Biden understands that taking calculated diplomatic risks in negotiation works better than chaos. The best way to deal with China may be to penalize American companies that offload jobs to improve profits. That’s a far better use of tariffs than hurting our farmers’ export markets.

Finally, Russia and Vladimir Putin. Joe Biden doesn’t worships autocrats or wish to become one. Mr. Putin will neither weave a spell over Biden nor keep him in thrall as he did Trump. The way to deal with Russian interference is clear. Cyber wars are analogous to the nuclear standoffs of the last century. No computer system is safe from hacking, and our people are as talented as theirs. In the absence of voluntary disarmament, mutually assured destruction prevented us from blowing up the planet; now, both sides have the capability to destroy the other’s infrastructure and disrupt social and economic systems without firing a shot. Biden should make it clear to Putin that Russia has as much to lose from cyber warfare as we do, and maybe emphasize his point by taking out a power plant or two.

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