Saturday, December 12, 2020

Editorial: Biden’s Cabinet Choices

While Joe Biden proceeds to fill his cabinet, lame duck Donald Trump is trying to plant right-wing supporters into federal agencies to sabotage Biden’s presidency. 

Some on the left are concerned about Biden’s picks, but they are relatively predictable as Biden turns mainly to veterans of the Democratic establishment. For example, Antony Blinken, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, served as deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of state and is in the foreign policy establishment.

Blinken broke with Biden to support the armed intervention in Libya and has argued that Israel should keep receiving US military aid even if it refuses to honor international agreements. Blinken believes diplomacy needs to be “supplemented by deterrence” and has shown little interest in reining in the sprawling US global military presence. But this time Biden will be president.

Janet Yellen is a good choice as treasury secretary, if for no other reason than Biden could have done a lot worse. Some on the left had hoped for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but Biden may have figured Warren is needed in the Senate, and Yellen is a respected economist and former Federal Reserve chair who is relatively apolitical. She is not an advocate of austerity policies and has spoken of the need for the government to extend “extraordinary fiscal support” during the pandemic. 

John Kerry as special envoy for climate may show Biden takes climate change seriously, since Kerry does believe climate change is a problem — which is a welcome change from the Trump years — though many environmentalists are concerned that Kerry favors a market-based approach to putting a price on carbon.

Avril Haines is the choice for director of national intelligence, with experience in the intelligence community, working for the Bush and Obama administrations in jobs for the National Security Council, the State Department and the CIA. In her stint as deputy CIA chief during the Obama years, she oversaw the use of drones, which has raised concerns of human rights groups. But her main job will be to restore nonpartisanship to intel agencies after four years of deep partisanship under Trump.

Alejandro Mayorkas as secretary of Homeland Security is likely to roll back the Trump administration’s cruelest immigration policies, in addition to stabilizing the agency after the turmoil and politicization. Mayorkas, who was brought to the US as a baby by parents fleeing Cuba in 1959, was one of the original architects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). But a 2015 DHS inspector general report that found Mayorkas inappropriately helped several companies obtain employment visas — which Mayorkas disputed — may be brought up by Republicans.

Biden reportedly plans to name recently retired Gen. Lloyd Austin III as secretary of defense. As the chief of US Central Command, he oversaw US military operations across the Middle East for three years before his retirement in 2016, but appointing a recently retired general would violate long-standing traditions and a law that stipulates that the Secretary of Defense must be a civilian. That law was waived in 2017 to confirm Gen. James Mattis as Trump’s first defense secretary. We’d rather re-establish the tradition of civilian control of the Defense Department. If Austin’s nomination runs aground, a good alternate candidate would be Jeh Johnson, a former general counsel of the Department of Defense from 2009 to 2012, when he quit. He was nominated as secretary of Homeland Security in October 2013.

Biden may be choosing moderates to avoid tough confirmation fights in an intensely partisan Senate. He also can’t afford to lose any Democratic senators in a chamber that Democrats will only narrowly control if they win the two Georgia runoff races Jan. 5. The close Senate buried lefties’ hopes for Bernie Sanders as labor secretary and Warren’s bid for treasury. Biden also must be careful about promoting House members, as the Democratic majority has narrowed to four seats in the House, with two races remaining to be decided.

Biden has decided on Xavier Becerra, the progressive Democratic attorney general of California, as secretary of health and human services. Becerra has been a leader of the 20 states and D.C. who are trying to protect the Affordable Care Act from being dismantled by Republicans. As HHS secretary, Becerra will oversee the federal effort to acquire and distribute sufficient doses of COVID-19 vaccines to take care of the population, handle insurance coverage and cost issues and work to restore the ACA from years of undermining. The former congressman has also been vocal about fighting for women’s health and advocating for lower drug prices by use of “march-in rights” to effectively rescind exclusive patents for medicines whose research and development was funded by government agencies. 

Becerra has been a supporter of Medicare for All, but he is expected to support Biden’s call for strengthening and preserving the ACA (and possibly reducing the age of eligibility for Medicare). Frankly, progressives are unlikely to have the votes to get Medicare for All passed in the House, much less the Senate, even if Vice President Kamala Harris is available for the tie-breaking vote. Democrats will need reinforcements in the 2022 election.

One of the Republican targets is likely to be Neera Tanden, Biden’s choice for Office of Management and Budget. Tanden is a moderate liberal who heads the Center for American Progress, but some on the left see her as too moderate, and her advocacy for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries grated on many Sanders supporters. She also has made snarky tweets during the Trump years that have riled some thin-skinned Republican senators.

Former neocon Max Boot wrote in the Washington Post Nov. 24 that, after the past four years, “it was a disorienting experience to read the rundown of President-elect Joe Biden’s selections for senior national security posts. Where, I wondered, were the unqualified businessmen? The grifters with the FBI hot on their tails? The Twitter trolls? The fanatics? The sycophants? The relatives of the president?” 

Even though Trump is still spouting lies about vote fraud, he’s on his way out and it’s good to look forward to waking up in the morning without worrying what the president had done overnight. 

There is room for optimism with the new administration. Biden started out as a moderate liberal who often moved to the middle to work toward bipartisan proposals during his 36 years in he Senate, but VoteView, a database at UCLA that tracks roll-call votes on an ideological map, rated Biden 75% liberal over 18 congressional sessions, which made him the 25th most liberal senator during that period. He was in the middle of the Democratic caucus. While he was never the socialist that Republicans tagged him, neither was he the corporatist that leftists called him, as Biden had an 86% positive lifetime score with the AFL-CIO through 2008, when he was elected vice president.

We believe Biden will to listen to progressive advocates and he is capable of promoting populist policies. His work is cut out for him to fix the damage Trump has wreaked in the past four years — including the sabotage Trump and his enablers have done since the election to wreck the economy and make the nation ungovernable. Electing the two Democrats in the Senate runoffs in Georgia would make Biden’s job easier and make progressive action at least conceivable. If Mitch McConnell is still the Senate majority leader when Biden is sworn in, it won’t be good news for anybody left of center (including those who work for a living but have been conned into believing that the Trumpublicans care what happens to them). — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2021

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Selections from the January 1-15, 2021 issue

 COVER/Ava Kofman 

Trapped inside an assisted living facility during the pandemic: ‘We don’t even know who is dead or alive’

Biden’s Cabinet choices

Trump leaves EPA sabotaged


Bet the old gray mule: Trump won’t go away

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen  
Time for the grown-ups to take charge

Giuliani’s COVID infection may shut down legislatures in three states. 
Trump loses Georgia for the third time. 
Possible movement on pandemic stimulus in Congress. 
Trump gangs bring guns, threats to ‘Stop the Steal’ protests.
Repubs move to stymie Biden at FCC.
Trump failed to secure enough Pfizer vaccines.
Two Trump henchmen named to Pentagon advisory board ....

Ok. You have a cellphone. But are you really better off?

Biden could cancel student debt. Will he? 

We need a safety net for parents

Free to pray, free to spray?

How Americans can help frontline workers battling COVID-19

Trump’s fantasy about COVID-19 keeps killing Americans. What can be done?

Social Security: Something to give thanks for in 2020

The rich are cheering Wall Street’s latest records. Americans of modest means are draining 401(k)s

An open letter to Spain

Seeing hillbillies

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas  
Scientists: A breed to nurture

Biden may have trouble putting the house divided back together again

How President Biden can convert Trump voters

The election’s real winner

America’s not-so-model elections: So much for exceptionalism

Trump made China great again

Democracies under threat during pandemic

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel  
Unplug the jukebox

Public libraries remain a public asset

‘Make the earth Greta again!’

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson  
It’s not like chicken soup will cure you

and more ...

Friday, November 27, 2020

Editorial: Give Trump the Bum’s Rush

 As the old saying goes, Donald Trump wanted to remain president in the worst possible way. And Rudy Giuliani lost what was left of his reputation helping Trump peddle lies about voter fraud right up to the courthouse door, but then he and other lawyers on Trump’s legal team were forced to admit to judges that they didn’t have any evidence that the election was stolen. 

We should be thankful that Democrats turned out nearly 80 million votes to swamp the Trump cult, flipping five states that Trump carried in 2016 — not only Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the so-called “Blue Wall” that Hillary Clinton lost, but also Arizona and Georgia. That might have put the election out of range of Republicans who thought they might steal it for the Great Misleader. 

Since the voters gave Biden 306 credits in the Electoral College — 36 more than the number needed to win the presidency — Trump and his toadies needed to convince Republican legislatures in at least three states to repudiate the will of their respective voters. If it had been a matter of one or two states, Trump’s Republican enablers might have been tempted, and we would have seen Republican leaders joining in a chorus rationalizing the legitimacy of overriding the popular vote.

Two weeks after it became apparent that Biden would win Pennsylvania, putting him past the 270 electoral credits needed to win the presidency, Trump was refusing to concede and he wouldn’t let federal agencies cooperate with Biden’s transition team. Instead, Trump’s attorneys tried to delay the certification of Biden’s victories in the five contested states, with bogus charges of large-scale fraudulent voting, loudly claimed in tweets and press conferences. But Trump’s lawyers were unable to produce actual evidence at court hearings, and the lawsuits fell like a row of dominoes. Finally, Nov. 23, Emily Murphy, administrator of the US General Services Administration, notified Biden she was authorizing the transition process to begin, which may be as close as Trump gets to conceding the election.

We may have been saved this year by the incompetence of Trump and his lawyers, but we can’t count on that happening again. Smarter fascists are waiting in the wings of the Republican caucus and “GOP” leaders are no more committed to the principles of democracy in the United States than they were committed in 2016 to the principle that no Supreme Court justice should be seated during an election year.

While Trump’s lawyers were delaying the inevitable, his agency heads were laying booby traps that Biden’s appointees will have to find and defuse when they take over in January. 

Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, shortly after Trump was inaugurated promised an unending battle for “deconstruction of the administrative state,” to transform Washington and upend the world order.

As part of that process, the Trump administration drove many career civil servants from their jobs and replaced them with Trump loyalists who will try to stall or undermine Biden’s agenda. The new president may be able to replace many political appointees when he moves into the White House, but more Trumpers will be protected by civil service laws that stipulate they can be removed only “for cause.” The Biden administration must document those causes.

Getting rid of Trump is a major victory, but it won’t solve the problem with the Republican Party, which has been going fascist over 40 years. Republicans have controlled the message ever since the Reagan administration did away with the Fairness Doctrine, which required the holders of broadcast licenses to present controversial issues of public importance and do so in a manner that was fair and balanced. The new policy allowed conservatives to consolidate radio and TV networks and replace liberal voices on talk radio with right wing talkers who stick to the message that Democrats only care about gays, radical feminists, Blacks and Latinos, and don’t care about white people — particularly white men. Conservatives have expanded in the last decade to Spanish-language stations as well, which may have swung Florida to Trump by convincing Latinos that Joe Biden was intent on bringing Venezuela-style socialism to the US — even though Biden doesn’t even support Medicare for All. 

Democratic funders in 2004 built Air America Radio to bring progressive talk to the radio, and it helped Barack Obama win election in 2008, but two years later, progressive radio talker Thom Hartmann recently noted, the “Democratic funders declared victory and abandoned the network; it died in 2010. Now, only conservative talk radio is heard in 90% of the country.” 

You can still listen to progressive talkers, such as Hartmann, Stephanie Miller, and Randi Rhodes over the Internet on apps such as TuneIn or Progressive Voices, as well as SiriusXM’s Progressive Channel, but progressive talk should be broadcast from radio stations across the country instead of leaving the interior of the US to Rush Limbaugh, who is carried on 600 stations, and others of his ilk spread over 1,500 conservative talk radio stations, compared with fewer than 100 stations featuring progressive talk.

“If Democrats don’t get their media and intellectual infrastructure act together, the hard-right narrative being promoted by America’s most toxic media will continue to swing elections across the country,” Hartmann wrote.

With an estimated $14 billion spent on the 2020 election, and nearly two thirds of that spending by Democrats or left-leaning PACs, some of that money might better have been spent buying radio stations that could fill in the information gap in red states (many of whom used to elect Democrats). There is a liberal audience there. 

The FCC should reinstate the Fairness Doctrine; restore local and national caps on the ownership of commercial radio stations; and provide greater local accountability over radio licensing. In the meantime, Democratic funders should make another run at buying radio stations that would help get equity in talk radio voices.

Also, while Biden has been expressing his hope to unify the nation, that should not preclude the establishment of a commission or special prosecutor to identify crimes committed by Trump and members of his campaigns and his administration. Trump certainly should be prosecuted for his role in ordering his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to violate federal campaign finance laws in making payments to keep two women quiet about their sexual relations with Trump before he ran for president. In a court filing December 2018, a US attorney noted, “[A]s Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual-1,” a.k.a. Donald Trump. 

Cohen was sentenced to three years in federal prison and fined $50,000 after pleading guilty to tax evasion and campaign finance violations. He served a little more than a year before his release from prison in May, due to concerns about the coronavirus, to serve the rest of his sentence under house arrest. If Cohen deserved to go to prison (and Trump let him take the fall), so should the Grifter in Chief.

Hey, maybe Robert Mueller will get to finish writing his report when Trump is no longer immune from prosecution. And maybe Mueller can add a third volume on Bill Barr’s obstructions. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, December 15, 2020

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Copyright © 2020 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652

Selections from the December 15, 2020, issue

 COVER/Hal Crowther

America the inscrutable: Trump’s almost gone, but ... 

Give Trump the bum’s rush

History’s election and North Carolina


Four myths and a word of encouragement

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen  
Don’t wait to admit COVID danger from your ICU bed. 

Disgruntled Trump suppporters threaten to boycott Georgia Senate runoffs. 
Trump team cuts ties with lawyer who threatens to ‘blow up Georgia’ with ‘Biblical’ lawsuit. 
Aaron Van Langeville has more spine than entire GOP caucus in Congress. 
Trump’s one last effort to cut Social Security. 
Biden urged to clear out Trump loyalists. 
Biden and Dems try to lead while McConnell holds nation hostage.
Obamacare is enrolling and expanding.
Ranking Democrat calls for prosecution of Trump crimes ...

An electoral map awash in red

Don’t trash the Affordable Care Act — expand it

Put empathy back in the White House

My Joe Biden double fantasy

Biden’s mandate is for deep solutions, not donor-class fetishism of bipartisan compromise

Circular firing squads

‘They’re holding the whole country hostage’: How Mitch McConnell flouts the will of the American people

Why capitalism was destined to come out on top in the 2020 election

Corporate Democrats are to blame for congressional losses — so naturally they’re blaming progressives

We must protect essential workers from billionaire pandemic profiteers

Why the wall must come down

Report: Race-ing to the bottom

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas  
Pragmatism: the new order mantra

We don’t have to wait for a vaccine to stop COVID spread

Low-income voters showed up for Biden. Now they need relief

Short-circuiting the judiciary

The piggybank still has many coins

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson  
Brother Trump’s cathedral of redemption and golf retreat

2020 presidential election: Cleaning up loose ends

BOOK REVIEW/Heather Seggel  
Capitalism’s strange fruit

Looking back at ‘Mrs. America’

Trump flunky Rudy is on gravedigging duty

New movie musical about 1919 Canadian General Strike takes timely ‘Stand!’

Trump’s dump: An eco-legacy

and more ...