Betsy DeVos, designee for Sec’y of Education

She had an unpleasant day of hearings, but it appears that one day is all she’s going to have to endure. The Democrats on the committee

repeatedly cried foul that Chairman Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) limited their questions to one round of five minutes each.

[snip]

But Alexander, a former education secretary under President George H.W. Bush, defended the process and DeVos, saying her views on charter schools were similar to those of recent presidents of both parties since Bill Clinton. “I believe Mrs. DeVos is in the mainstream of public opinion on the best way to help children succeed, and her critics are outside of it,” he said.

He quashed Democrats’ objections about the hearing, saying he was giving senators the same opportunity to question DeVos, as they had gotten with Barack Obama’s education secretaries.

Of course, Lamar! is conveniently forgetting to mention that both of Obama’s nominees for Secretary of Education had years of experience in public education, whereas Ms. DeVos has none whatsoever. Arne Duncan had been Superintendent of Public Schools in Chicago for eight years and had been head of several education initiatives as well as a public school before he was appointed in Obama’s first term, while John King taught at Boston high schools, opened and managed a charter school there for another five years and was Commissioner of Education for the State of New York for four years before becoming Deputy Secretary of Education at the Federal level in 2015.

Of all the nominees Trump has selected, I think this lady is the least qualified to do the job as it’s always been done. Unless Ben Carson is. If he wants the departments destroyed and dismantled, they may be just right.

Fugue for a Tinhorn President

We all know “Guys and Dolls,” right? Well, here’s a little switch. When Frank Sinatra formed Reprise Records in 1960

Sinatra recruited several artists for the fledgling label, such as fellow Rat Pack members Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr. The original roster from 1961 to 1963 included Bing Crosby, Jo Stafford, Rosemary Clooney, Nancy Sinatra, Esquivel and stand-up comedian Redd Foxx.

Part of the goal for the label was to reserve publishing rights for each artist. The label released a lot of Sinatra albums and some Martin ones. It also released four albums performed by the Reprise Musical Repertory Theater, which contained the music from four Broadway shows performed by artists on the label. One of those albums was “Guys and Dolls.”

Here then are Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin singing “Fugue for Tinhorns” from the show “Guys and Dolls” recorded in 1963.

A Song for Trump

Raise your hand if you remember such songs from the 1960s and 1970s as “Eli’s Coming,” “Stoney End,” “Wedding Bell Blues,” and “And When I Die.” Very good, class. Now, for three gold stars, name the composer.

Gotcha, didn’t I? They were all written by Laura Nyro, a New Yorker born-and-bred, and they were all hits for other artists. Her originals are excellent, but she never got the attention that she deserved. She died of ovarian cancer twenty years ago at the age of 49.

Here she is singing “Flim Flam Man,” which seems to fit our newly-elected monarch President quite well.

Saving our best places

Among the many things I have admired about President Obama is his concern for America’s historical places and his willingness to protect them.

By invoking the Antiquities Act of 1906 to designate the sites, Obama has now used the act more than any other president. He has created or expanded 34 national monuments, two more than Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The sites he designated this week include the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, the building which was bombed in 1963, killing four little girls and injuring 22 other people. Next there’s the Freedom Riders Monument meant to commemorate

the May 14, 1961, attack on a bus in Anniston [AL] that was carrying an interracial group of young men and women who were challenging the segregation that existed at that time on public transportation. The former Greyhound bus station on Gurnee Avenue where the riders attempted to board, as well as the site where the bus was firebombed and burned shortly afterward, will be part of the monument.

The other non-wilderness site designated this week is the Reconstruction Era National Monument at a site in Beaufort, SC, which has several historical sites nearby which tell the story of the period.

Most of our Presidents have designated wild lands and territories using the Antiquities Act. Obama has done that too, but he’s also named historical and cultural sites where people did things, like Stonewall in NYC and Honouliuli internment camp in Hawai’i, like the César E. Chávez National Monument in California and the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland. One of the things that’s done, I imagine, is give urban children the chance to see a National Park without having to fly or drive hundreds of miles using money their families might not have.

I’m going to miss this President.

It’s hard to understand

For years I’ve thought that the Republicans opposed the Affordable Care Act because it taxed their friends to pay for health insurance for people who weren’t their friends, and because it was the Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular who got it passed into law. I’m sure there’s still a lot of truth to that, but I wonder what else is behind their loathing of the law.

Members of the Senate take an oath as follows:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

Members of the House take a similar oath:

“I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

Granted there is nothing in either oath which says anything about protecting or caring for the population of the United States, it seem to me that’s fairly implicit. After all, the Constitution starts out with a Preamble as follows:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

“Promote the general Welfare” does the heavy lifting when it comes to the health and safety of the citizens contained within, I think.

I have a terrible time imagining a mindset which says that it’s perfectly acceptable to remove health insurance and thus health care from 22 million Americans because you don’t like the law. How can anyone justify condemning millions of people to hardship and possibly death because the process through which they get access to health care costs too much? If it costs too much, work on getting the costs down, by all means. But why is taking that access away from people (22 million people!) even considered?

How is it that one of the two major political parties in a country of 320 million people has gotten to the point of ruining 22 million of their fellow citizens’ lives in order to save the richest people in the country from paying more in taxes than they currently do?

It baffles me. Oh, sure, you can say it’s just greed and selfishness, but this is monumental greed. This is Silas Marner level greed. It’s Smaug of the Lonely Mountain level greed. The top 1% of people in this country already control more than 35% of all the wealth in the country. The next 4% control another 27%. How much more can they possibly need?

I can only conclude that the Republican party isn’t satisfied with better than half of the nation’s wealth in its and its friends’ pockets and it’s willing to beggar the middle and lower classes in this country to get more.

Random replies on Facebook

I’ve seen some statements on Facebook that prompted me to reply, and it seems to me they should be collected in one place.

First: Someone wrote “We’re getting the government we deserve.”

My response: “I reject that. We are getting the government that 1/3 of us wanted, some of whom lived in strategically important states. Another slightly larger third didn’t want this at all, and the remainder couldn’t be bothered to vote for various reasons of its own.”

Second: Someone suggested Trump didn’t really think. I suspect I know what she meant: that he reacts, he doesn’t plan, doesn’t study a problem.

To that I suggested: “Oh, he’s cunning. He’s not intellectually smart, but he’s sneaky. He’s a con man and always has been. It’s astonishing that he still gets suppliers and contractors to work for him, since his record shows he stiffs people like them so regularly. But he’s got that gift of persuading people that those other guys screwed him and so he had no choice but to shaft them.”

Finally, when the news about this 35-page intelligence briefing broke yesterday, someone saw the reaction from the right and said “It’s also stunning that people fail to see why some of us feel giddy with the hope that he’ll finally suffer the consequences of his actions.”

To which I said, “We’re liberals, doncha know? Mean rotten coastal elites who don’t understand God-fearin’ ‘Muricans who are tired of being sneered at ’cause they live in “flyover country.” We’re latte-drinking BMW-driving roundabout-using black-clothes-wearing skinny men and women who don’t know what a combine is and can’t identify John Deere-green and wouldn’t wear a baseball cap on a bet.”

Aloha, Mr. President

We are really going to miss this man. Even if you disagreed with every policy he espoused you knew it was going to be well thought out. You knew he wasn’t going to overreact to events and do something without consultations with his staff, and you knew he wasn’t going to embarrass our country in front of the world.

You have every reason to believe his successor is liable to do any or all of those things, repeatedly.

Assuming Mr. Trump doesn’t resign in disgrace before taking office as a result of today’s news, of course. The claims in these opposition research memos may be unsubstantiated, but it sure would explain why he’s downplayed and dismissed all the evidence and reports of Russian influence on his election. For example:

One of the opposition research memos quotes an unidentified Russian source as claiming that the hacking and leaking of Democratic emails was carried out “with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team.” In return, the memo said, “the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue” because Mr. Putin “needed to cauterize the subject.”

That may not be treason, but it’s sure as hell acting against the policy of the government, the one you’re trying to become the President of. It stinks ethically and morally.

A glimmer of hope for Obamacare?

Jonathan Chait thinks so. He’s got a post up at New York Magazine with the provocative title “Obamacare Repeal Might Have Just Died Tonight.” His reasoning is based in part on the narrow margin of the Senate’s Republican majority. It’s currently 52-48, and if they suffer the loss of three of their votes for the reconciliation bill they want to use to repeal Obamacare they’ll be below 50 and it won’t pass. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Tom Cotton of Arkansas are all making noises that unless there’s a replacement at hand it would be irresponsible to repeal it.

Even more promising, five Senators introduced an amendment to the budget resolution to delay its implementation for a month.

“This amendment will ensure that we move forward with a smart, responsible plan to replace the law as quickly as possible,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) in a statement announcing the measure. He was joined by Bob Corker (R-TN), Susan Collins (R-ME), Bill Cassidy (R-LA.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) in introducing the proposal.

Even more startling to my mind, there’s movement in this direction in the House too, and from the far-right edges:

After a meeting Monday evening at Tortilla Coast, a restaurant near the Capitol, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), the chair of the House Freedom Caucus, said that there was an “overwhelming consensus” among the group of conservative hardliners that they’d like to see more specifics about the plan to repeal and replace Obamacare before voting on the budget resolution

I am not getting my hopes too high here, but if rationality suddenly appears in members of that party it would be a welcome change. If enough of them get cold feet about throwing 20 million people out of health insurance with no plan to help them get more that’s a good sign.

Shamelessness

In future dictionaries we will see a line drawing of Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell’s face next to that term. He’s always been an obnoxious man, exuding righteous certainty in his positions from every pore, but this January alone has cemented his place in my mind as the worst and most shameless hypocrite the US Senate has given a home to in my lifetime.

First he came out with this ridiculous statement:

“Apparently there’s yet a new standard now, which is to not confirm a Supreme Court nominee at all,” McConnell said, adding: “I think that’s something the American people simply will not tolerate, and we’ll be looking forward to receiving a Supreme Court nomination and moving forward on it.”

Of course, President Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill the empty seat on the Court back in February of 2016 and McConnell and his Republican colleagues refused to even give the judge a hearing for the entire remainder of the President’s term, giving as a reason the idiotic “The American people should have the chance to pick the President they want to appoint a new Justice.” That ignored the fact that three years earlier the American people had in fact picked the President they wanted to perform all the duties of the job, including appointing new Justices to the Supreme Court.

As if that’s not bad enough, today the esteemed Senator said on one of the Sunday political talk shows that he wants to hold hearings for Trump nominees whether or not they have fully completed their ethics disclosure forms. This after sending a letter when Obama took office demanding that all his nominees’ ethics forms be given to the Senate before holding hearings.

“Prior to considering any time agreements on the floor on any nominee,” McConnell wrote, ranking members expect eight ethical standards to be met.

Among them: a completed FBI background check, a completed Office of Government Ethics letter, completed financial disclosure statements (and tax returns where they apply) and a completed committee questionnaires submitted to the respective Senate committees “prior to a hearing being noticed.”

In layman’s terms, McConnell not only required for “completion of disclosures but also review prior to floor consideration,” said Wayne Steger, a political science professor at DePaul University and the author of A Citizen’s Guide to Presidential Nominations.

Yet today he said he’s going ahead with hearings. He did suggest there would be no floor votes without all the documentation, but I suspect that was a smokescreen to appease the moderator and the rubes like us.

I wish Alison Grimes had beaten this so-and-so in 2014. There are a lot of Republican Senators I’ve despised; Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond and Orrin Hatch come to mind, for example. McConnell is in the top five, not so much for his ideology as for his naked grasping for power no matter how unprincipled he has to be.