Are the January 6 Hearings a “Witch Hunt”? Does it Matter

Over the past week we have witnessed the first three televised sessions regarding the January 6th, 2021 storming of the Capitol building in an attempt to block the certification of the election of President Biden. The congressional committee has mounted a large number of witnesses (all staunch Republicans up to this point) who have generally placed the blame for the insurrection on former president Trump.

Some of my friends (and many who support Trump) refuse to watch the hearings and claim that the evidence should be rejected because it is a “Witch Hunt”. They accuse the committee of being “never Trumpers” and, therefore, too prejudiced to be listened to.  There are seven Democrats and two Republicans on the committee. I hope that the committee members are trying to be fair, but I am realistic enough to recognize they are human and come to their task with subjective biases. Nevertheless, to dismiss the hearings as a “Witch Hunt” is a misguided cop-out. It is cowardly (and ethically wrong) to reject evidence without looking at it by alleging that it comes from prejudiced people. The issue is not who the information comes from, but whether it is accurate and true… or not. It takes great courage to examine information that we might not like and evaluate it with an open mind. I invite all people in our country to sift through the evidence and answer the following questions:

  1. Attorney General William Barr as well as Trump’s own campaign manager told him that he had lost the election, fair and square. Is Trump guilty of spreading the false message that the election had been stolen which was the principal motivation for the January 6th protest?
  2. After the election, Trump and his team 250 million dollars for an election defense fund. The problem is that this “fund” does not exist. It is a sham. Is Trump guilty of fraud?
  3. It is obvious that Trump pressured Vice President Pence to not certify the results of the Electoral College on January 6, 2021. Thursday’s hearing affirmed this was a violation of the Constitution. Was the pressure applied by Trump against Pence a criminal action?

If we want the truth, we must sift through the allegations. It is worth the effort. It will set us free and help restore our democracy.

The Biden Presidency’s one-year anniversary: Some criticisms are valid…some are not

One year into the Biden presidency: some criticisms are valid…some are not

Today, January 20, marks the one-year anniversary of Joe Biden’s presidency.  He has had his fair share of challenges: the Covid pandemic, the economy, foreign policies, etc. He has had some successes and some failures. As a result, his average percentage of public approval ranges from the low to mid-forties. His critics have identified his response to the Covid 19 pandemic, Afghanistan, the economy, the failure to achieve legislation on the Build Back Better and voting rights as his principal failures. Some of these criticisms are valid…some are not. I will comment on Afghanistan and the pandemic.

Last August, Biden received harsh criticism for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan. He made mistakes on several aspects of that withdrawal, but an understanding of historical context is needed. The war in Afghanistan had gone on for twenty years. Back in February 2020, then president Trump negotiated with the Taliban leaders a deal in which U.S. and Taliban soldiers would not attack each other, but the U.S. would have to remove all of its military personnel by May 2021. The Trump administration excluded the Afghan government from even participating in these negotiations. So, Biden´s options were quite limited:

  1. Remove all U.S. soldiers by May of 2021 according to Trump´s agreement
  2. Negotiate a few extra months for the removal of the troops (this is what Biden did)
  3. Escalate the war by sending thousands of additional soldiers back into Afghanistan

Those who criticize Biden for removing all military personnel from Afghanistan have a right to their opinion. But unless they leveled the same criticism against Trump in 2020, they are inconsistent and guilty of hypocrisy.

A second area of criticism leveled against Biden has been in his response to the Covid 19 pandemic. Biden inherited a very chaotic situation from Trump. Infections and hospitalizations were so numerous that ICU space at many hospitals was totally filled up. To his credit, Trump did accelerate the production of vaccines with his Operation Warp Speed program, but his ridicule of mask wearing, his recommendation of drinking bleach as a cure, and his blocking and manipulation of scientific evidence were immoral and cost him the election. Early in his presidency, Biden made great progress against the pandemic, but (mistakenly) claimed victory over Covid. Then the Delta variant hit… and then the Omicron variant. Infections and hospitalizations have skyrocketed again. The Biden administration failed to order enough tests. The CDC has given confusing information and guidance about the spread of the pandemic. The President and his team have made mistakes in their handling of the pandemic, but we the people are also partly responsible. The growing scientific evidence tells us that the best ways to fight Covid are to get the vaccinations, test frequently and isolate when we test positive, wear masks in public spaces, and wash our hands frequently. If we have not followed these guidelines, (and if there are not extenuating circumstances), we citizens have contributed to the spread of Covid.

Vaccine mandates require special comment. The Biden administration mandated that health workers at institutions that receive federal funding (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) be vaccinated. It also mandated that employees at large private companies (with over 100 employees) receive the vaccination or be tested weekly. Mandates are points of tension between individual freedom and public safety. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Biden administration was correct regarding the health worker mandate but overstepped its authority regarding mandates for large private companies. The drinking of alcohol provides a helpful parallel. People can legally drink alcohol in their own homes, even to the point of getting drunk. The government, health agencies, and religious organizations can recommend that people don’t drink excessively, but adults legally have the right to do so in their homes. (Total banning of alcohol was attempted during Prohibition, but did not work). Nevertheless, governments appropriately mandate that people cannot drive their cars while they are under the influence of alcohol. Individual freedom is limited when public safety is at stake. Although there is a very slight risk with any vaccination, the evidence shows that not getting vaccinated against Covid is much more dangerous. Unvaccinated persons are 17 times more likely to become hospitalized than their vaccinated neighbors. This greater rate of hospitalization puts public safety at risk due to greater strain on hospitals (no available ICU space, needed surgeries are postponed, stress and burnout among health care workers, etc).

Vaccines are highly successful in fighting Covid. Are federal, state, and private sector mandates part of that successful battle? The courts will make their rulings as they weigh individual liberty versus public safety. Nevertheless, if more people voluntarily received the vaccinations, we would approach herd immunity and the pandemia could be reduced, and mandates would not be necessary.

The one-year anniversary of Biden’s presidency is a good time to evaluate the past and make the necessary corrections. Biden should do so…and so should we.

The Covid Relief Bill: We Need Courageous Compromise

A wise maxim states, ¨Politics is the art of the possible¨. This is especially true regarding the Covid-19 Relief package in the halls of Congress. President Biden and the Democrats are proposing a $1.9 trillion relief package.  It includes a $1,400 check for most Americans (in addition to the $600 they received a few months ago). It also includes an extension of unemployment benefits, aid for small businesses and for those persons facing hunger and eviction. This bill would probably pass in the House of Representatives but would have a more difficult time in the Senate. For legislation of this magnitude, Biden would like bi-partisan support. Ten Republican senators met with Biden last week and offered a counterproposal of $600 billion, roughly one-third of the Biden plan.

It is possible, but difficult, for the parties to reach a compromise, but it would take weeks and perhaps months to achieve it (in the midst of the impeachment trial of former president Trump in the Senate). Time is of the essence as the number of people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic is astronomical. Tens of thousands of our neighbors have been evicted from their housing and millions do not have enough money to put food on their tables.

The Republicans argue that the national debt would skyrocket with such expenditures. This argument rings hollow (to me) because in his first year of entering office, Trump and the Republicans passed a tax cut (which gave the biggest benefits to the wealthy) that adds $1.9 trillion to the debt over a ten year period, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

I do agree with the Republicans that the relief checks should be more targeted. These checks should not go to individuals who make hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. I suggest that a cutoff should be for those who earn $60,000 per year of less. People who are employed and earning more than that amount do not need any additional taxpayer money.

If Biden would accept this and other reasonable suggestions, he would be able to reduce the legislation’s cost to about $1.6 trillion and probably get several Republican senators to vote in favor of the bill. It is possible to maintain your deepest convictions and to reach a healthy compromise with people on the other side of the aisle. We need our elected officials to concede their most extreme positions and work towards a satisfactory agreement for the wellbeing of the people.

My advice for Biden and Trump… and for the people of the United States

The dust is settling on our election. Mr. Biden has won 290 electors in the Electoral College to 217 for Mr. Trump, with Georgia and North Carolina still too close to call. The president’s legal suits have not been successful in the courts and the end result of Biden’s victory is certain.

Mr. Trump

  • Republican and Democrat state leaders have uniformly affirmed that there has been no evidence of massive voter fraud. It is past time to put on your big boy britches and give a gracious concession speech. For the good of the country, let the Biden team have access to important information from the national security agencies, the Covid/19 advisory board, etc. so that the transition can be as seamless as possible.
  • Most Republican Senate and House candidates did slightly better than you did, meaning a significant slice of voters split their ballot, voting for Biden for president and then for Republicans down ballot. Therefore, take a serious look at what aspects of your character have turned Republicans off, your lies, your bullying, your arrogance, and your American machismo (your lack of respect for John McCain cost you Arizona). Even in the later years of our lives, we can be honestly repentant and make important changes.
  • Given the dire situation of the Covid/19 virus, be honest with the U.S. people about the true depths of the problems. Wear a mask. Do not undercut Dr. Fauci. Work with the Biden people to facilitate a quick delivery of vaccines once they are safely available. In light of the negative consequences for the economy, urge Republicans in Congress to reach a compromise with the Democrats for a Covid relief bill. Many of our neighbors are in great financial need and a relief bill is necessary and urgent.

Mr. Biden

  • Even before your inauguration, there are significant steps you can take. Urge the Democrats to reach a compromise Covid/19 relief bill now with their Republican counterparts. A lame duck session of Congress does not have to be a do-nothing session.
  • Continue to meet with expert epidemiologists and economists so that we can fight and win against our common enemy: the Covid pandemic. Move full speed ahead on a national plan of greater testing and an urgent, safe development of a vaccine that can be distributed quickly and without cost to all who want it.
  • In your first days in office, use your presidential executive power in areas where the majority of citizens agree.
    • Rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement
    • Rejoin the World Health Organization (WHO)
    • Sign again an executive order protecting the Dreamers from deportation. They did nothing wrong and many are serving our country as “first responders”.
  • Find common ground with Republicans on necessary legislation such as an infrastructure bill that fixes our roads and bridges and that stimulates the economy.

People of the United States

  • Now that the election is over, cool down the rhetoric. Let’s be more open to admitting the flaws of our preferred candidates.
  • Let’s seek common ground solutions to our local and national problems. This will require greater humility, creativity and integrity on our parts.
  • I repeat Lincoln’s wise words as good advice for us all, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.”