Let's Fix This Country

At This Rate How Will We Get Through April?

It's hard to keep up. As a change from our usual fare, a very incomplete chronicle of just the last ten days.

Thomas on the take

On April 6, Pro Publica published an admirable product of investigative journalism revealing that, for years, gifts of travel and accommodations have been lavished on Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and wife Ginni by a Texas real estate billionaire named Harlan Crow. Thomas recorded none of these gifts in his financial disclosures as required by law.

Crow's Bombardier Global 5000 jet has spared the Thomases contact with hoi polloi on commercial aircraft, taken them to Crow's ranch, to article illustration
The boat, the plane.
his resort level "camp" in the Adirondacks every summer, and now made famous a 2019 nine-day vacation in Indonesia where Crow's superyacht, its crew and private chef awaited for touring the islands. In another trip on the yacht the Thomases toured New Zealand ten years ago.

Television sleuths quickly surfaced a segment of a documentary about Thomas — partly funded by Crow — that seemed intended to deflect any questions about what the Thomases do in their spare time. He tells us that for his vacations…

"I don’t have any problem with going to Europe, but I prefer the United States, and I prefer seeing the regular parts of the United States, I prefer the RV parks. I prefer the Wal-Mart parking lots to the beaches and things like that. There's something normal to me about it. I come from regular stock and I prefer that. I prefer being around that."

"The Smearing of Clarence Thomas" was the headline of the lead Wall Street Journal editorial two days later. Their take:

"Justice Clarence Thomas has a rich friend who has hosted the Justice on his private plane, his yacht, and his vacation resort. That's it. That's the story".

Crow, a pro-business conservative says he never discussed with Thomas any business before the Court, but even if we can believe that, also on article illustration
In this painting that hangs at the Adirondack camp, Thomas and Crow are on the right with (l. to r.) Peter Rutledge, dean of the Georgia School of Law; Leonard Leo, co-chair of the Federalist Society; and Mark Paoletta, a general counsel to the Office of Management and Budget under Trump.

board as guests of the Crows have been heads of businesses, lobbyists, lawyers. Tweeted Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

“Oh, please, If you’re smoking cigars with Leonard Leo and other right-wing fixers, you should know they don’t just have business before the Court — their business IS the Court.”

Leo's Federalist Society notably provided the Trump administration with a roster of conservative judges to appoint. Jamelle Bouie at the New York Times calls the Court "a magnet for corruption and influence peddling".

Thomas issued a statement saying that early on he had…

"sought guidance from my colleagues and others in the judiciary, and was advised that this sort of personal hospitality from close personal friends, who did not have business before the Court, was not reportable."

What did he ask about, dinner invitations at a friend's house? A Christmas gift? The better question is, why did he ask at all? Why didn't he just start reporting? Was he just laying down a cover story for years of concealing?

Then, in an April 13 follow-up story, Pro Publica uncovered that Crow had in 2014 bought from Thomas and family members for $133,363 the Savannah house where Thomas's mother lived. Crow then spent money on renovations while Thomas's elderly mother continued to live there, rent free we'll wildly guess. Unlike free plane rides and boat trips, here is the smoking gun of money paid to the Supreme Court justice. For nothing in return, Messrs. Thomas and Crow expect the country to believe.

C-Span turned up this interview of May 14, 2022 in which, complaining about the public's criticism of the Court and questions of its declining legitimacy, Thomas forewarns:

"You can't have a civil society, a free society without a stable legal system…When you lose that trust, especially in the institution that I'm in, it changes the institution fundamentally…I wonder how long we're going to have these institutions at the rate we're undermining them. Then I wonder when they're gone or they are destabilized what we will have as a country".

democracy expelled

On April 6, the Tennessee legislature told us that a second political party is a nuisance; that if any of its members speak up about an annoying subject, it doesn't matter that they are elected members representing the people of the state. Just expel them.

The unpleasant subject was gun control measures. But there were more pressing issues for the assembly even in the wake of a shooting at the Covenant School in Nashville just days earlier that left six dead — three adults and three nine-year-old children. Repeat: nine-year-old children. But children are expendable in Tennessee. Guns aren't.

Hundreds of young demonstrators, kids with signs reading "Am I next?", had been protesting in the streets. Three exasperated Democratic members of the Tennessee legislature had unforgivably pressed for gun control action using a bullhorn on the house floor when they couldn’t gain attention. For "disorderly conduct" they had to go. To add racism to the mix, two members are Black, the third is White. The White member survived the vote; only the Black members were expelled. In a stunning breach of democracy, districts of the state were denied representation.

Republican Representative Gino Bulso, nostalgic for the Jim Crow era, called one of them an "uppity Negro". The House Speaker, Cameron Sexton, said:

"It was an insurrection…What they did…was at least equivalent, maybe worse, depending on how you look at it, of doing an insurrection in the Capitol"

Thinking the two young Black men, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, both in their 20s, had been disappeared, the legislators instead elevated them to national acclaim, constant guests on television news where they eloquently pressed for gun reform. Their districts have reinstated them to the assembly as interim representatives. State law forces them to undergo a pointless special election this fall.

Death in Kentucky

At 8:30 Monday morning, April 10, another mass killing. Five dead and four hurt in a Louisville bank. Polls have repeatedly found that as much as 90% of Americans want background checks before commercial gun sales or at gun shows. Close to that percentage want guns kept out of the hands of the mentally ill and are in favor of red flag laws. Significant numbers want at least high capacity magazines to be banned if not assault rifles banned altogether.

But while almost all Democrats in Congress and state legislatures have been lobbying for gun control measures for years, Republicans will not budge. Each shooting is met with silence. As deflection to protect their gun manufacturer donors, they propose treating the mentally ill, a long and indefinite process even if mental illness were the dominant cause and even if the dangerous mentally ill could be readily identified and forced to undergo treatment.

The real question, with as many as 90% wanting gun control measures, is why do we keep sending the same members back to Congress and state legislatures where they refuse to represent the wishes of their constituents? Why haven't gun control lobbies banded together to devise a pledge for candidates to press for and vote for gun restriction legislation? To then expose and campaign against candidates who will not sign the pledge. To then promote for re-election those that live up to the pledge. To campaign against re-election of those who have not honored the pledge.

Why haven't the police departments across the nation rebelled when they see their own killed in one after another mass shooting? The unimaginably brave 26-year-old rookie was still in critical condition in Kentucky at this writing, shot in the head by the gunman just eleven days after graduating from police academy. Why hasn't law enforcement banded together with demands backed by threats of diminished service if not met by legislation?

abortion clampdown

How absurd is it that a single federal judge in Texas can ban a drug nationwide that was approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and in 2000, used by millions since, and proven safe over more than two decades?

A second federal judge in Washington state simultaneously countered, ordering that no changes be made to restrict access to the abortion medication – mifepristone — but applicable to only the 17 Democrat-led states that had sued to halt a ban. The dueling rulings both arrived April 7 under cover of a Friday evening.

The Texas suit was brought by Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a conservative Christian legal advocacy group that works to outlaw abortion, curtail LGBTQ rights, and promote Christian practices in public schools and government. They argue that the FDA rushed the drug’s approval without properly studying its safety, which, even if true, has long since been proven. This is farce. The imperious judge gave the Biden administration seven days to appeal.

Based in Arizona, ADF went judge shopping and found Amarillo where they were guaranteed to draw Matthew Kacsmaryk because there is only one federal judge in Amarillo and that is he. Formerly with a Christian law firm, Kacsmaryk has written that Roman Catholic doctrine on marriage, family, sexuality, abortion, and even contraception should become American law. Appointed to the federal bench by Trump in 2019, they knew Kacsmaryk was a sure thing to legislate their cause from the bench.

What's next? Will the factions who want to strip "the administrative state" of its powers go rummaging in our medicine cabinets looking for drugs ripe for challenge? Think of the rightwing assault on vaccines during the pandemic. Whatever drugs are involved with gender are sure to be targeted.

An appeals court blocked the Texan's outright ban for now but imposed restrictions that make mifepristone hard to get. The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court for expedited action. We can imagine that the six conservative justices are itching to ban mifepristone nationwide, but didn't they less than a year ago turn abortion matters over to the states? The Court often dismisses plaintiffs for lack of standing. How can they say Alliance Defending Freedom has standing to sue a federal court over a drug?

abortion the issue in Wisconsin

As conservatives work to eliminate abortion by all means, April 4 delivered yet another message that Americans want options, and not limited only to termination of pregnancy in cases of rape, incest, and threats to the mother. In the most costly battle for a state supreme court seat ever, abortion rights played a role in shifting the balance of Wisconsin's court to liberals 4-to-3, opening the possibility of overturning the state's abortion ban and balancing its heavily gerrymandered districts. A county judge, Janet Protasiewicz, defeated former Justice Dan Kelly, a "complete partisan" backed by anti-abortion groups said Protasiewicz, in a 55.5% to 44.5% rout.

No congratulations were forthcoming from Kelly, who showed himself to be utterly without dignity or grace, voicing regret that "I do not have a worthy opponent to which I can concede.” He called Protasiewicz a "serial liar", her campaign "beneath contempt…deeply deceitful, dishonorable and despicable". He wished Wisconsin the best of luck "because I think it's going to need it".

Florida goes the other way

Near midnight on April 13, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that bans abortion beyond the sixth week of pregnancy, a tight timespan during which many don't yet know they're pregnant. There are exceptions: a 15-week window to abort pregnancies from rape, incest or human trafficking, but documentation such a medical record or police report is required. A poll has it that 75% of Floridians are against the six-week limit.

trump's yearning for autocracy

On the first of our ten days, April 4, Donald J. Trump was arrested and arraigned for falsifying business records, the first president to be arrested since Ulysses S. Grant got a ticket for speeding in his horse-drawn carriage in Washington in 1872.

A few days later on April 10, Tucker Carlson, who had said about Donald Trump in inter-company messages with colleagues at Fox News "I hate him passionately" and called him "a demonic force, a destroyer", went down to Mar-a-Lago like Kevin McCarthy before him to get back in Trump's graces by giving the once-president the entire hour of his "Tucker Carlson Tonight " show.

Carlson laid the pander on thick…

"His foreign policy, this man who is supposedly stupid, his understanding of world affairs is so much more nuanced and sophisticated and pro-American than the moronic neocons currently in charge."

That opening led Trump to say about the leaders of China, North Korea, and Russia…

"They're all top of the line. Our guy is not top of the line. Never was. These are top of the line people at the top of their game. President Xi is a brilliant man. If you went all over Hollywood to look for somebody to play the role of President Xi, you couldn't find it. There's nobody like that. The look. The brain. The whole thing. We had a great relationship. We get along so well. That was a great chemistry we had. Great. We talked about everything. A great chemistry. But people ask me, how smart Xi is – top of the line. You've never met anybody smarter.

How smart is Kim Jong-un? Top of the line. You know, people say oh this and that. Really smart. You know when you come out and as a young man at 24, 23 – even though he sort of inherits it – most people, when they inherit, they lose it. And that's easy stuff. He took over a country of very smart people. Very, very energetic people. Very tough people at a very young age, and he has total dominant control. That's not easy. He's ah, he's very smart.

Putin? Very smart. "

On full display is Trump's envy of three of the world's most ruthless authoritarians, and a clear indication of what he hopes to become in a second term. He would be unrestrained in wielding power and ignoring laws so as to claim equal status with the dictators he so admires. We shouldn't have to go through the compendium of atrocities these three have done to their own people which does not register with Trump's sociopathy.

For him, none of the three is America's greatest problem. Trump imagines in the interview someone asking him, "Who is the biggest problem? Sir, is it China? Could it be Russia? Could it be North Korea?" He tells Carlson, "The biggest problem is from within. It’s the sick radical people from within" this country.

our insecure national security

At the ten days' end, on April 13, the FBI arrested Jack Douglas Teixeira, a 21-year-old employee of the United States Air Force National Guard, for the alleged theft of more than 100 classified Defense Department documents that have been floating about in the wild blue yonder of social media and the Internet since the beginning of March. Teixeira wanted to impress his friends. Impressed was Marjorie Taylor Greene who rushed to his defense for being “white, male, christian and antiwar”. Liz Cheney says Greene should be stripped of her security clearance and expelled from the House Homeland Security Committee.

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