“A REPUBLIC, IF YOU CAN KEEP IT”

Adam Schiff

The headline quotes Benjamin Franklin, who, upon being asked by a lady curious to know what sort of government he and his fellow Constitutional Convention delegates had created, responded with those seven words.

“A republic, if you can keep it.”

Franklin might well find that today, we have tossed aside the “if.” The chances are, given what has already happened in the impeachment record, and what is about to happen, that we no longer have a republic. That we no longer have a Constitution, at least not one that means anything. That we now have an anarchy of lawless power in which unrestrained zealots and arrogant oligarchs contend to see which of them can win Thrasymachus’s game (from Plato’s Republic) : that justice is the will of the stronger.

At first it seemed to me that impeachment of Mr Trump would be a serious matter that might well lead to his removal, as it would have done in the case of Richard Nixon 45 years ago. But now there can be no doubt that this impeachment has never had any chance of being taken seriously by anyone except the Congress that filed it; nor can any of the impeachers have any doubt any longer that the accused doesn’t give a damn what they do by the book, because he doesn’t play by the book — by the Constitution — and could care less what consequences his outlawry brings.

It was saddening enough to watch the House’ s impeachment hearings in which the Republican members all, to a man, took Mr. Trump’s side, disregarding the evidence, poo-pooing it, denying it happened, sometimes justifying it and in many cases behaving like rude-bully sandbox kids. I say it was sad enough because at that stage it had not yet become apparent to me — nor to most of us, I dare say — that the Republican plan even then was to sabotage and subvert the Constitution itself, which includes an impeachment provision and sets forth its reasons and its guidelines.

Because I did not then see that the entire Republican plan was to say “f the Constitution,” I was disappointed to hear Congressman Will Hurd describe Mr. Trump’s shakedown of the Ukraine President as merely inappropriate — but not cause for impeachment,. I was disappointed , too, to see Congressman Brian Fitzpatrick, who knows better, say the same thing though more aggressively. I was shocked to see Congresswoman Elise Stefanik , who had seemed a sensible Republican until then, suddenly become a female Sean Hannity, a shill for sabotage. And what of Congresssmen Francis Rooney, and Mike Turner, who both at first expressed anger at Mr. Trump’s extortion, in the end both vote not to impeach ? What was that about ? I had no answer. But now I do have one.

The proceedings in the Senate  make it clear. Mr. Trump is to be acquitted, with no witnesses, no documents — because Mr. trump won’;t allow them — and though it may seem to some unprecedented, it is not. This is the consequence — the magnification — of Senator McConnell’s stonewalling President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland. Just as McConnell spat upon the Constitution’s  direction that, upon Presidential nominations, the senate is to give “advice and consent” — if you don’t even allow the nomination to be brought forward, how can advice and consent be given ? — so the Republicans in the Senate are now spitting upon the Constitution’s impeachment clauses, and upon the rule of law itself by locking the impeachment trial up and throwing away the key.

It is possible that Senators Romney, Collins, and Murkowski may vote to allow witnesses into the trial (and maybe Lamar Alexander as well)  but already the McConnell group has poisoned that initiative by insisting that if the Romney group’s witnesses be called, so must Joe Biden and his son, who were the intended victims of Mr. Trump’s shakedown of Ukraine. Of course this demand is not serious, and it removes all doubt that the Republican plan is, and has been since Day one, to say “f you” to the Constitution and its defenders.

It has made me want to cry, to watch Congressman Schiff deliver his impassioned, eloquent, heart-rending embrace of the Constitution and its intentions, knowing, as he must — as I know — that he is speaking to a body of saboteurs who are laughing at his earnestness, dissing — by snoring in their seats or playing with their cell phones — his naivete in thinking there is any interest on their part in a document they only give a damn about if it can advantage their schemes.

What I still do not understand — and to me it is the heart of the matter — is why the Republicans, who know what Mr. Trump is and who, most of them, despise him, are n’t ready, willing and eager to remove him and make Mike Pence President. Pence would support all the issues they care about and without the corruption, the brutality, the vulgarity, the incompetence. Why not have President Pence ? But perhaps there is an answer. Perhaps they prefer Mr. Trump’s criminality, his lawlessness, his bigotry and his sabotage of everything we have held dear but now consider an inconvenience. Perhaps they do not want President Pence because Pence is a decent fellow, a rule of law man, an obeyer of rules who would govern “by the book.” THAT, I am thinking, is what the Republicans no longer want. They want sabotage. They want subversion. They want lawlessness and all that goes with it because they feel that by waging total guerrilla war they can defeat the Democrats, who refrain from total war.

After all, look at who the Republican “base” voters now are : religious zealots who demand to impose their sex and propagation rules upon the entire nation; nativist bigots who hate brown people, especially brown immigrants; racists afraid of the coming to power of women and people of color; dinosaur industrialists who want to poison the earth if they have to, to squeeze extra gelt out of their products. (You don’t have to be angry Greta to detest the I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude of too many in the fossil fuel industry. It’s right there for all to smell.) The “base” doesn’t stop at lobbying for its policy preferences. Oh no, lobbying is too civil. Rather, say the base, let’s unleash shock and awe upon them.

Well ? It is in fact shock and awe to watch Mr. Trump and his clique explode the Constitution as if it were an Army Humvee and they an IED. It Is shock and awe to watch the impeachment trial be, basically. the opening gambit in the 2020 election — for what other good can Adam Schiff’s great speeches, falling on deaf Senate ears, be if not an argument to the people ? The people, who are our republic’s last line of defense ? And the same is true of Mr,. Trump’s lawyers whose speeches begin today. Full of blather and bullshit, fantasy and fakery, are they not the Mr. Trump method of campaigning to his people ? And so we are moving on to the election even as the actors in Washington pretend that they are carrying out the impeachment trial prescribed by the now scoffed Constitution. Will the rule of law ever revive ? Will the Constitution ever again be honored by those who might chafe at its checks and balances ? I doubt it. I very much doubt it.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

A LOT TO LIKE IN AYANNA PRESSLEY’s CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM. BUT…

Ayanna

^ Ayanna presents House 702, a resolution that has a lot in it to like. And a lot more that makes me go “whaaa ?”

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It took me  a full 15 minutes to read the extensive text — 31 pages — of Congresswoman Pressley’s Criminal Justice reform bill, docketed as House Resolution 702. You are now invited to read it just as I did : https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hres702/BILLS-116hres702ih.pdf.

There’s a lot to like in House 702. There is also a lot that has nothing immediately to do with criminal justice but which seeks, basically, to create an entirely new society than the one we have. Pressley’s press release says that her bill is similar to the infamous “Green New Deal.” She’s right. Her bill is not just a reform but a revolution. You may applaud that; I prefer a more modest tomorrow.

That said, there is indeed a lot to like in House 702. It seeks to reduce incarceration by a lot. This should be everyone’s goal. Why are over 2,000,000 Americans in custody ? Most, as Pressley says, are behind bars because of addictions or because they can’t pay fines, fees, and other costs imposed by criminal courts. Pressley would like to see cash bail eliminated for those who can’t pay or can barely afford it. I support that. People in that degree of poverty aren’t flight risks. If they can’t afford bail, how can they afford travel ? Pressley also wants to see addiction dealt with by treatment, not incarceration. This is hardly a radical proposal. Many states, including our own, have already adopted this procedure. House 702 would apply it to Federal criminal practice.

House 702 also seeks reforms to rules for visiting those who are incarcerated. It would make visits more congenial, especially by family members. Natural light and air would be environed. Phone calls by inmates to family would be free. Similarly, House 702 calls for nutrition standards for foods served to inmates and provides that no item that an inmate purchases at a prison canteen may cost more than in an ordinary store. Next, House 702 directs that prisoners who are required to work must be paid no less than the Federal minimum wage. Lastly, House 702 requires that prison habitation conditions be livable. Prisoners should never be forced to live in filth, 24 hour noise, constant harsh lights, and inadequate bedding and toilet accommodations. Imprisonment is savage enough as is without having conditions that violate of the Eighth Amendment added to it.  All of these provisions are common sense fairness. As House 702 says, most prisoners will return to society, and the goal should be to make their transition from prison to society less difficult than it will be no matter what.

Pressley’s bill also seeks an end to private prisons and to any profit opportunity appurtenant to  imprisonment. I agree. The prison establishment, just for existing, has created a vast vested interest, resistant to reform. The last thing we need is to add a profit incentive to it. Profit should have no place in the criminal justice system, which is about public safety, not moneymaking.

More controversial, but not out of bounds, are House 702’s reforms to sentencing and its consequences. Pressley seeks an end to solitary confinement. She asserts that there are currently 61,000 prisoners living in solitary. Sole confinement is either a disciplinary measure or a protective. For the protected, it’s hard to envision an incarceration that isn’t solitary. As for disciplinary solitary, it too lacks an alternative. A prisoner whose behavior is so dangerous as to threaten other prisoners can’t be let into general population. Yet as Pressley notes, solitary is terrible mentally. Extended solitary can lead to insanity, even suicide. Prison sentences should not be burdened by punishments not included therein, and certainly insanity and suicide violate the Eighth Amendment. Some will say that prison should not be  a vacation and that its harshness is part of “hard time.” well, sure. But is not loss of freedom and constantly being guarded plenty hard enough ? Again I say : most prisoners will return to society. It hardly helps anyone if they return aggrieved, embittered, violated, mentally broken.

House 702 also tries, laudably, to address the matter of 911 calls. As we have seen,. almost every tragic shooting of unarmed people — most of them people of color — began with a 911 call that almost certainly should not have been a 911 call. Pressley’s bill includes the following clause : testing, implementing, and evaluating methods of processing 911 calls that reduce unnecessary contact between law enforcement and community members…

All of these provisions, I can support, and do. They’re being adopted in many States. Why not Federally ?

If House 702 stopped there, it would merit a committee hearing and a vote by the full House, and a favorable outcome likely. But House 702 does not stop there.

The resolution seeks several end of sentence reforms. It would allow most prisoners over age 55 to seek release and those over 60 to have it. It ends sentences of life without the possibility of parole. I doubt that many of us support that. Yes, the costs of maintaining an elderly prisoner are high, even higher once they reach infirmity or terminal illness. But we already have compassionate release provisions that allow for mercy to such prisoners. I don’t see a pressing need for further reform here, certainly not as part of a bill which offers much that most legislators will support.

Still,  one can argue the justice of sentencing clemency. I find the remaining provisions of House 702 mistaken or just plain pie in the sky. It seeks an end to prosecution of “minor” shoplifting. I doubt that merchants whose goods are lifted will like that. Shoplifting increases a merchant’s insurance costs, which she must then pass on to her customers in price increases. Why should we, the public, pay to subsidize shoplifters ? Worse yet, businesses have been known to close down entirely because their theft insurance costs can’t be borne. I don’t think communities are made more desirable by having their major retailers close down. Springfield, for example, is decrying the closing down of a low income neighborhood’s last full service bank. Food retailers have already left. Is this good for that neighborhood ? I don’t know anyone who thinks so.

House 702 also seeks to decriminalize “sex work,” i.e. prostitution. Look — of course the actual sex isn’t the thing, it’s what accompanies so much “sex work” : pimping, sex trafficking, robbery, drugs, and “rolling.” Perhaps in Europe, where “sex workers” are regulated by government as if they were liquor stores, non-criminal “sex work” can be conducted safely without bad stuff (though I doubt it). Here, in America, where such regulation has no political support at all, “sex work” can only be regulated under a criminal law rubric.

There’s more to House 702 as it spins into all kinds of other wish lists : a $ 15/hour minimum wage, immigration reform, family structure integration, a Secure Communities Act, banning the militarization of local police, community review boards for police, limitation of prosecution to crimes of violence and “sexual assault” (which as we see today can be almost anything), a Federal job for everybody, an end to prosecutorial immunity, and much more, all of it more germane to separate legislation for many House committees to think about, and much of it politically impossible, some of it unwise, prejudicial, or much too blanketing.

My headline says ‘a lot to like,” and there IS a lot to like in House 702. Let us hope that a House committee can cut away the merengue and focus on the pie, many slices of which are worth a law enactment lunch.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

AYANNA IS BALD, AND IT’s A BIG DEAL. WHY ?

bald Aaynna

Two Septembers ago, Democratic primary voters of Massachusetts’s Seventh Congress District decided to oust our long-time , Mike Capuano, and send Boston City Councillor Ayanna Pressley to the House in his place. The vote wasn’t close. It seemed that Ayanna was right, that for the voters who cared, change could not wait.

At the time, I questioned why change was even needed, much less that it couldn’t wait. Mike Capuano was a force in Congress, working on basic stuff that wins no glamour prizes but which are vital to the operation of a big city : transportation, utility pipelines, natural gas. He was slated to be a Committee chairman and, with the Democratic takeover that happened in November, would have been a chairman. But no. Instead, we got Congresswoman Pressley.

Yesterday Ayanna revealed to us all that she is bald, a victim of alopecia. She posted a picture of herself in bald mode — the picture I have posted above — quite the surprise to us who have always seen her lavishly and glamorously wigged. I saw her announcement and posted it on my facebook page. As I am 90 percent bald as well, it was a matter for which she and I could walk the same road, a thing which hadn’t yet happened between the two of us since her election. All well and good. Becoming bald does happen to people. You live with it.

And then came yesterday and her posting a picture of herself fully bald. No wig. Just skull. And it went viral. All kinds of people posted that Ayanna post on their social media pages. Why ? Not just because it was a thing but, evidently, because to be bald is to be ashamed, and to let oneself be seen bald is something courageous. I’ll admit to the fact. I don’t like myself bald, which is why I wear a hat in my photos. Yet for me, being bald is also about being old; such little hair as I do have is ice white, and I do not like to appear old, I hate everything about being old. Ayanna. however, is not old, she is young. Plenty of young people, including young women, are bald : has everybody forgotten fiercely bald Grace Jones ?

So why the rush to applaud bald Ayanna ? What is happening here ? Why the talk of pride ?

I have yet to see from Ayanna a legislative accomplishment, yet to read of Federal dollars she has secured for our transportation needs. Fans of public transportation call every day, it seems, for more transit, more rail, more service, and more money : but so far as I can tell, not a peep from Ayanna about any Federal money coming our way to build it or fund it. Mike Capuano would have been on the case with his customary effectiveness.

Yet it is now quite clear that the energy among the Seventh’s Democratic primary voters is not for customary or effective but for something else : personality. Ayanna was the majority’s choice because of who she is : a woman of color. That has been almost her exclusive priority so far : here I am, a woman of color, in the House, a role model for all the young girls of color who can succeed and thus be “Black girl magic” for the thousands of young girls of color who need role models who “look like them.”

Well, I don’t know. I’ve never been a young girl of color, so I can’t say what young girls of color aspire to be, or why. But I can say this : even young girls of color who come to think about Congress think of it as a place to “get stuff done.” Why else do young people (and the rest of us) say “do your job” ? My grand-daughter is a soon to be 18 year old girl of color: and she gussies herself up, just as Ayanna does, in order to look good; but she knows that it won’t be turquoise fingernail polish that gets her into college but her top of the class grades and her two jobs where she gets stuff done. Ayanna playing instagram  princess may infuse her fans with a visual high, but if that’s her primary reason for holding the Seventh’s Congress seat she does us all a disservice. We don’t, or shouldn’t send people to Congress to maximize ego addictions.

I consider Ayanna a friend; we have always enjoyed very cordial relations, she as elected official, I as journalist and centrist political operative. As a City Councillor she worked on actual stuff, good and useful stuff, and got it done. It is understood between us, now, nationally, that we don’t agree on much (though we both oppose 45) : but each of us respects the other’s bona fides. In that vein, I have been puzzled by Ayanna’s performance. I remain puzzled. She may be a freshman in Congress, but she’s of the majority party. Several freshman Democrats have made their mark legislatively : Katie Porter, Lauren Underwood, Abigail Spanberger, Jared Polis, Connor Lamb all come to mind. The voters whom they represent are well served. 

Ayanna has now announced that she is running for re-election. No one is likely to oppose her. Perhaps in her next term she will become bored with imagery and find interest in an actual legislative issue — certainly there are many that the Seventh could benefit by. (Note : Ayanna has proposed  a criminal justice reform bill, whose purposes and provisions you can read here : https://www.congress.gov/116/bills/hres702/BILLS-116hres702ih.pdf  — I shall discuss her bill in a separate article, to be published tomorrow)

Perhaps, too, she will be appointed to a nuts and bolts committee that appropriates Federal dollars. Maybe her criminal justice reform bill will also make it to a full committee hearing. Until these things happen, however, I guess I will have to settle for being a bald person represented by a bald person…..

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

OUR POLITICAL PRINCIPLES

Reagan

^ our principles include the above, an expression upon immigration that is for us a principle.

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Because our views do not mirror the partisan rigidities afoot in today’s America, many who read our columns express puzzlement. “I am trying to figure you out” — I hear that a lot from activists. This is not a mistake. If you’ve hot-wired yourself to expect political people to track the current lockjaw, you’ll definitely find my views peculiar.

Enough then. The following are our core principles of American politics :

( 1 ) We stand on the Constitution and its Amendments, the ideals, covenants, and purposes expressed in it and in its Preamble. We are not ready ever to compromise its divisions of power between branches of government. In particular, the Presidency has acquired far too much a portion of the Constitution’s grants of power. The office needs to be rolled back and limited to the magisterial functions given it in Article 2.

( 2 ) We believe that every person has the right to be who he or she is, and to have full command of his or her own body, and that it is none of anybody else’s business who you are or how you make decisions about your body and its health care.

( 3 ) We believe that every working person living in America has the right to a living wage, at least, and that many working Americans need public assistance in order to pay basic bills is a situation intolerable.

( 4 ) We believe that every resident, and every visitor, to America, has, while on American soil, all of the civil rights guaranteed to us in the Constitution, save only one exception : only citizens may vote in our elections. By “every,” we include immigrants as well regardless of their status at law. Even an undocumented person has, so long as he or she is upon American soil, all of said rights including specially due process rights. We believe that separation of parents from children, at the border, as is happening now, is a violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishments.”

( 5 ) We hold that taxpayer dollars are to be demanded sparingly, allocated transparently, spent efficiently, and their use accounted for with absolute probity.

( 6 ) We are mindful of the legacy of chattel slavery, which even though abolished for good 145 years ago, remains unresolved by way of its virtual continuance under “Jim Crow” regimes until the maid 1960s, and we hold that only full monetary compensation for unjust wage theft — which is what slavery entailed, and Jim Crow perpetuated — can put to rest a legal institution abolished six generations ago.

( 7 ) We believe that continued, intentional, public expressions of racial, sexual, religious, or national origin bigotry renders a person forever unfit for nomination to, much less election for, public office, unless there is a public apology sincerely offered.

( 8 ) That said, we are unimpressed by those who would preach to us, or condescend to us, on account of our opinions on matters of identity: because these sorts of prejudices defy preaching, especially made in the spirit of condescension. Minds are not changed by being shamed, indeed such tactics easily lead to push-back, which defeats us all.

( 9 ) We agree that the climate is changing, but we’re skeptical of predictions of immediate doom and that “there’s no time to lose.” We don’t accept crisis states of mind and certainly not in politics, an arena of infinite complexity and contradiction. History teaches that the opposite often happens to predictions of doom and hurry. The problems created by climate change can be addressed in the ordinary course — planting trees, using innovations to clean the oceans, etc. — without recourse to panic — not to mention calls made by advocates of crisis to impose trillions of dollars of taxes and abolish entire industries. 

( 10 ) The big problem these days is the enormous inadequacy of worker earnings. Prices have grown enormously since 19070, but personal income has not. Workers should be earnings at least $ 25 an hour in economic hot-spots like greater Boston, and at least $ 15/hour in places economically colder. If workers earned this sort of income, economic growth would jump, and people would be able to jump — so to speak — with it.

( 11 ) The Constitution authorizes the office of President, but in no way does the Constitution make the president a king. Mr. Trump is wrong to demand that he can do as he likes. He is subject to the law just like anyone else. He must have no power to block witnesses, or deny properly requested documents. Nor can he or any Executive officer refuse to answer questions of a duly constituted Congress Committee. Only Executive Privilege bars Congressional oversight, and “E P”must be a claim very narrowly construed.

( 12 ) immigrants Are America. To bar an immigrant, except for irrefutable cause, is an act as heinous and dangerous to American liberty and ideals as a mouse capture in a cat pen. Immigration all but defines who are as a people and as a nation; and as Senator Romney has said, “every faith enriches our nation.” So does every immigrant.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere