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William Rivers Pitt | Why the 25th Amendment Won't Save Us

Sunday, October 15, 2017 By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed
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President Donald Trump leaves the podium after making a statement on Iran, in the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House, October 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)President Donald Trump leaves the podium after making a statement on Iran, in the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House, October 13, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Well I don't know, but I been told
If the horse don't pull you got to carry the load
I don't know who's back's that strong
Maybe find out before too long

One way or another
One way or another
One way or another
This darkness got to give …

-- Robert Hunter

This may only be a minor accent in the vast symphony of outrage we are confronted with on a daily basis, but it is worthy of note. You are aware, I'm sure, of the ongoing shouting match Donald Trump is having with the NFL over players standing for the national anthem. Well, Trump found himself last week at the Air National Guard Base in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with Fox fiend Sean Hannity. By tradition, "Retreat" was bugled on the base as the flag was lowered for the day.

The same tradition requires all military personnel and civilian leadership to stand at attention out of respect for the flag. Neither Trump nor Hannity stood, flouting that tradition. Laughing as the bugle call filled the air, Trump asked Hannity, "Are they playing that for you or for me?" Referring to Hannity's show, Trump then addressed the crowd with, "They're playing that in honor of his ratings."

Remember when President Obama once saluted a member of his Marine guard with a coffee cup in his hand, and people like Sean Hannity reacted as if Obama had just offered the Sixth Fleet to Kim Jong-un as a birthday present? I do, and once upon a time, such brazen, televised hypocrisy would have captured my full attention. You're going on and on about the football players and the flag but just insulted your own armed forces, and on a base no less?

Once upon a time, yeah.

Those days are over. When the president of the United States of America tells all the residents of Puerto Rico he's basically sick of hearing about them being wet, hungry and in the dark all the time, when he threatens to cut them off completely despite the fact that the island was thoroughly scourged by a massive hurricane, and oh, by the way, they are also US citizens, it's hard to get worked up over "Retreat-gate" in the proper fashion.

This is what he said in a string of tweets before dawn on Thursday morning:

"Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making." says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend. We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!

Got that, everyone? The storm was Puerto Rico's fault. This US territory with no voting power in Congress seems to have quite the influence over earth, wind and fire these days, not to mention infrastructure and debt. The president sure thinks so, anyway.

This from the guy who was throwing rolls of paper towels at storm victims last week while lowballing the death toll as he talked about "a real disaster like Katrina." For the record, the current official number stands at 36, but the people running Puerto Rico's funeral homes know different. The people who buried their parents days after the storm passed because there was no power for their life support machines know different. The uncounted dead know different.

From the Guardian last Wednesday: "Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) say that the government and its partners are only providing 200,000 meals a day to meet the needs of more than 2 million people. That is a daily shortfall of between 1.8 million and 5.8 million meals. 'We are 1.8 million meals short,' said one senior FEMA official. 'That is why we need the urgency. And it's not going away. We're doing this much today, but it has to be sustained over several months.'"

Not if the president has his way about it. Sure, the US government enjoys Puerto Rico when the Navy needs to test its ship-to-shore firepower and showers Vieques with artillery, the remnants of which are likely to blame for the region having the highest disease rates in the Caribbean. What's a little depleted uranium, cardiovascular disease and cancer between fellow citizens, right?

But, you see, Puerto Rico has debt. A "financial crisis looms largely of their own making," Trump said. He is so adamant about Puerto Rico's debt that Congress, at his request, has made $5 billion of the aid package it's crafting a loan to Puerto Rico, which will also have to be paid back. Why? Because Puerto Rico's debt is owned by Wall Street, and Wall Street is Trump's people.

Sarah Jaffe recently spoke with Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, who provided some truly revelatory information on who actually owns Puerto Rico's debt:

[Seth] Klarman is the hedge fund manager … [Klarman] is generally seen as kind of a 'progressive' Wall Street guy, but has hid himself in very intentional ways from being discovered as one of the biggest bond-holders of Puerto Rican debt. The way the debt was acquired by many of these hedge fund managers was they bought it for cents on the dollar when they took over debt from Puerto Rico, and are now trying to extract as much as possible out of the island to pay that debt back, even though they bought it for cents on the dollar.

There is a reason they are called vulture funds; it is because they prey on very downtrodden folks. They buy up debt from places that most people believe they won't be able to recover [their money], but then they do everything in their power to extract blood from a stone. Puerto Rico is not the only instance where hedge fund managers have gobbled up debt. They have done it in Argentina. They have done it in Greece. They have done it in many other places.

So here's Trump helping hedge fund managers like Klarman squeeze Puerto Rico for all the coppers they can wring, even though Klarman has made it abundantly clear that he believes Trump to be one of the horseman for the looming apocalypse. No matter. Puerto Rico is seen as a pigeon to be plucked, and the hedge fund managers must be fed.

Hardly a surprise, I suppose, coming from the humanitarian who wants so many more nuclear weapons that his own secretary of state reportedly called him a "fucking moron." There is a rumor going around that Kelly and Mattis have agreed to bodily tackle Trump if he ever lunges for the political "football." It sounds farfetched, but I believe it.

You see, the president of the United States is a vacant hole posing as a person, and there has been a lot of talk about the 25th Amendment because of it. Unless Trump leaves office voluntarily, the only mechanism for his lawful removal is found in section 4 of that amendment. It's a doozy.

To make use of it, the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet must tell Congress the president is unable to perform the duties of his office. The president can challenge this and immediately retain his powers, but if the vice president and the Cabinet reaffirm their claim of presidential incapacity, the matter goes to Congress for what amounts to a trial. For removal, both the House and the Senate have to agree with the vice president and the Cabinet by a two-thirds majority in each chamber. Otherwise, the president stays put.

In short, the 25th isn't coming to rescue us any time soon. It makes for a fine hashtag to deploy whenever the monster behaves monstrously, but that's about as far as it goes. Leaving aside the pan-dimensional improbability of Mike Pence and the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari actually turning on Trump for any reason, there is the simple, sorrowful fact of Congress itself.

Let me tell you a little something about these people. Last week, the House passed legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks. They did so, according to a GOP caucus blog post, because the massacre in Las Vegas combined with the summertime shooting of GOP Rep. Steve Scalise reminded them "just how precious life is." Got that? Don't figure out what to do about the manufacture and distribution of the military-grade guns that killed all those actual people. Cough up a Senate-doomed sop to the GOP base to commemorate the sanctity of "life."

One of the GOP representatives who voted for this was Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania. A real bear for the sanctity of life is Tim, who enjoys a spotless "pro-life" voting record that was ever so slightly marred early this month when it came to light that he had urged his mistress to get an abortion. Rep. Murphy will be retiring at the end of his term.

Even Scalise, who (please pardon the all-caps) GOT SHOT this summer and almost died, is still dutifully hauling water for the NRA. We need more guns to keep us safe from all those guns. Seemingly in defense of his pro-gun stance, Scalise told Fox News last Tuesday, "When there was a shooter, luckily we had Capitol Police there with their own guns." Right, Steve, that would be the (pardon again) WELL-REGULATED MILITIA we read about in that 2nd Amendment you love so much.

Two-thirds of these people are not going to vote to remove Trump from office even if he lights the Capitol dome on fire. He is the last, best hope they have for making their proto-fascist Biblical nation fantasies a reality. A great many of these people are human vacancies just like the president, and they share a characteristic with him that happens to be their greatest collective strength: They are incapable of shame.

And so much for the 25th. For now.

"There comes a time," said free-speech activist Mario Savio, "when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop."

That is where we're at, I believe. This is not normal, this is not healthy, this is not safe, this is not right. It has to be stopped before Carl Sagan's pale blue dot becomes just another puff of dust in the long dark. The corporate "news" media won't help us. They love this stuff; hell, the country hasn't turned off the television since November. Our so-called leaders in Congress may as well be cardboard cutouts of themselves for all the good they do.

No, this falls to us, to as many of us as can be summoned, and there are a great, great many of us. Something simple. Everyone takes the same day off from work and idles the nation. Everyone participates in a tightly focused boycott until the entity in question ceases to exist. Then do it again. Everyone goes to Washington, DC, sits down in front of the White House, and waits. A flexing of muscles too many of us have forgotten we have, indicating to those in power during this ongoing calamity that it's sure been a laff riot, you guys, but enough is too much. We are stopping the machine until this is fixed.

If we're down to dreams, it's a good one. See what you can do.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

William Rivers Pitt

William Rivers Pitt is a senior editor and lead columnist at Truthout. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know, The Greatest Sedition Is Silence and House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation. His fourth book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with Dahr Jamail, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in New Hampshire.

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William Rivers Pitt | Why the 25th Amendment Won't Save Us

Sunday, October 15, 2017 By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout | Op-Ed
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

President Donald Trump leaves the podium after making a statement on Iran, in the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House, October 13, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)President Donald Trump leaves the podium after making a statement on Iran, in the Diplomatic Reception Room in the White House, October 13, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

Well I don't know, but I been told
If the horse don't pull you got to carry the load
I don't know who's back's that strong
Maybe find out before too long

One way or another
One way or another
One way or another
This darkness got to give …

-- Robert Hunter

This may only be a minor accent in the vast symphony of outrage we are confronted with on a daily basis, but it is worthy of note. You are aware, I'm sure, of the ongoing shouting match Donald Trump is having with the NFL over players standing for the national anthem. Well, Trump found himself last week at the Air National Guard Base in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with Fox fiend Sean Hannity. By tradition, "Retreat" was bugled on the base as the flag was lowered for the day.

The same tradition requires all military personnel and civilian leadership to stand at attention out of respect for the flag. Neither Trump nor Hannity stood, flouting that tradition. Laughing as the bugle call filled the air, Trump asked Hannity, "Are they playing that for you or for me?" Referring to Hannity's show, Trump then addressed the crowd with, "They're playing that in honor of his ratings."

Remember when President Obama once saluted a member of his Marine guard with a coffee cup in his hand, and people like Sean Hannity reacted as if Obama had just offered the Sixth Fleet to Kim Jong-un as a birthday present? I do, and once upon a time, such brazen, televised hypocrisy would have captured my full attention. You're going on and on about the football players and the flag but just insulted your own armed forces, and on a base no less?

Once upon a time, yeah.

Those days are over. When the president of the United States of America tells all the residents of Puerto Rico he's basically sick of hearing about them being wet, hungry and in the dark all the time, when he threatens to cut them off completely despite the fact that the island was thoroughly scourged by a massive hurricane, and oh, by the way, they are also US citizens, it's hard to get worked up over "Retreat-gate" in the proper fashion.

This is what he said in a string of tweets before dawn on Thursday morning:

"Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making." says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend. We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!

Got that, everyone? The storm was Puerto Rico's fault. This US territory with no voting power in Congress seems to have quite the influence over earth, wind and fire these days, not to mention infrastructure and debt. The president sure thinks so, anyway.

This from the guy who was throwing rolls of paper towels at storm victims last week while lowballing the death toll as he talked about "a real disaster like Katrina." For the record, the current official number stands at 36, but the people running Puerto Rico's funeral homes know different. The people who buried their parents days after the storm passed because there was no power for their life support machines know different. The uncounted dead know different.

From the Guardian last Wednesday: "Officials at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) say that the government and its partners are only providing 200,000 meals a day to meet the needs of more than 2 million people. That is a daily shortfall of between 1.8 million and 5.8 million meals. 'We are 1.8 million meals short,' said one senior FEMA official. 'That is why we need the urgency. And it's not going away. We're doing this much today, but it has to be sustained over several months.'"

Not if the president has his way about it. Sure, the US government enjoys Puerto Rico when the Navy needs to test its ship-to-shore firepower and showers Vieques with artillery, the remnants of which are likely to blame for the region having the highest disease rates in the Caribbean. What's a little depleted uranium, cardiovascular disease and cancer between fellow citizens, right?

But, you see, Puerto Rico has debt. A "financial crisis looms largely of their own making," Trump said. He is so adamant about Puerto Rico's debt that Congress, at his request, has made $5 billion of the aid package it's crafting a loan to Puerto Rico, which will also have to be paid back. Why? Because Puerto Rico's debt is owned by Wall Street, and Wall Street is Trump's people.

Sarah Jaffe recently spoke with Jonathan Westin, director of New York Communities for Change, who provided some truly revelatory information on who actually owns Puerto Rico's debt:

[Seth] Klarman is the hedge fund manager … [Klarman] is generally seen as kind of a 'progressive' Wall Street guy, but has hid himself in very intentional ways from being discovered as one of the biggest bond-holders of Puerto Rican debt. The way the debt was acquired by many of these hedge fund managers was they bought it for cents on the dollar when they took over debt from Puerto Rico, and are now trying to extract as much as possible out of the island to pay that debt back, even though they bought it for cents on the dollar.

There is a reason they are called vulture funds; it is because they prey on very downtrodden folks. They buy up debt from places that most people believe they won't be able to recover [their money], but then they do everything in their power to extract blood from a stone. Puerto Rico is not the only instance where hedge fund managers have gobbled up debt. They have done it in Argentina. They have done it in Greece. They have done it in many other places.

So here's Trump helping hedge fund managers like Klarman squeeze Puerto Rico for all the coppers they can wring, even though Klarman has made it abundantly clear that he believes Trump to be one of the horseman for the looming apocalypse. No matter. Puerto Rico is seen as a pigeon to be plucked, and the hedge fund managers must be fed.

Hardly a surprise, I suppose, coming from the humanitarian who wants so many more nuclear weapons that his own secretary of state reportedly called him a "fucking moron." There is a rumor going around that Kelly and Mattis have agreed to bodily tackle Trump if he ever lunges for the political "football." It sounds farfetched, but I believe it.

You see, the president of the United States is a vacant hole posing as a person, and there has been a lot of talk about the 25th Amendment because of it. Unless Trump leaves office voluntarily, the only mechanism for his lawful removal is found in section 4 of that amendment. It's a doozy.

To make use of it, the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet must tell Congress the president is unable to perform the duties of his office. The president can challenge this and immediately retain his powers, but if the vice president and the Cabinet reaffirm their claim of presidential incapacity, the matter goes to Congress for what amounts to a trial. For removal, both the House and the Senate have to agree with the vice president and the Cabinet by a two-thirds majority in each chamber. Otherwise, the president stays put.

In short, the 25th isn't coming to rescue us any time soon. It makes for a fine hashtag to deploy whenever the monster behaves monstrously, but that's about as far as it goes. Leaving aside the pan-dimensional improbability of Mike Pence and the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari actually turning on Trump for any reason, there is the simple, sorrowful fact of Congress itself.

Let me tell you a little something about these people. Last week, the House passed legislation banning abortions after 20 weeks. They did so, according to a GOP caucus blog post, because the massacre in Las Vegas combined with the summertime shooting of GOP Rep. Steve Scalise reminded them "just how precious life is." Got that? Don't figure out what to do about the manufacture and distribution of the military-grade guns that killed all those actual people. Cough up a Senate-doomed sop to the GOP base to commemorate the sanctity of "life."

One of the GOP representatives who voted for this was Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania. A real bear for the sanctity of life is Tim, who enjoys a spotless "pro-life" voting record that was ever so slightly marred early this month when it came to light that he had urged his mistress to get an abortion. Rep. Murphy will be retiring at the end of his term.

Even Scalise, who (please pardon the all-caps) GOT SHOT this summer and almost died, is still dutifully hauling water for the NRA. We need more guns to keep us safe from all those guns. Seemingly in defense of his pro-gun stance, Scalise told Fox News last Tuesday, "When there was a shooter, luckily we had Capitol Police there with their own guns." Right, Steve, that would be the (pardon again) WELL-REGULATED MILITIA we read about in that 2nd Amendment you love so much.

Two-thirds of these people are not going to vote to remove Trump from office even if he lights the Capitol dome on fire. He is the last, best hope they have for making their proto-fascist Biblical nation fantasies a reality. A great many of these people are human vacancies just like the president, and they share a characteristic with him that happens to be their greatest collective strength: They are incapable of shame.

And so much for the 25th. For now.

"There comes a time," said free-speech activist Mario Savio, "when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part, you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop."

That is where we're at, I believe. This is not normal, this is not healthy, this is not safe, this is not right. It has to be stopped before Carl Sagan's pale blue dot becomes just another puff of dust in the long dark. The corporate "news" media won't help us. They love this stuff; hell, the country hasn't turned off the television since November. Our so-called leaders in Congress may as well be cardboard cutouts of themselves for all the good they do.

No, this falls to us, to as many of us as can be summoned, and there are a great, great many of us. Something simple. Everyone takes the same day off from work and idles the nation. Everyone participates in a tightly focused boycott until the entity in question ceases to exist. Then do it again. Everyone goes to Washington, DC, sits down in front of the White House, and waits. A flexing of muscles too many of us have forgotten we have, indicating to those in power during this ongoing calamity that it's sure been a laff riot, you guys, but enough is too much. We are stopping the machine until this is fixed.

If we're down to dreams, it's a good one. See what you can do.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

William Rivers Pitt

William Rivers Pitt is a senior editor and lead columnist at Truthout. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know, The Greatest Sedition Is Silence and House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation. His fourth book, The Mass Destruction of Iraq: Why It Is Happening, and Who Is Responsible, co-written with Dahr Jamail, is available now on Amazon. He lives and works in New Hampshire.