Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bad Sign

Thirteen months ago, Business Insider's Josh Barro criticized liberals for defending former President Obama's decision to accept a $400,000 speaking fee from investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald. Evidently, it was even worse, given that we soon afterward learned that the 44th President had already been paid $800,000 for having delivered speeches to two other Wall Street firms. 

Still, Barack Obama is no longer in public office and since Hillary Clinton, running for a third Obama term, was defeated in a stunning upset, Democratic losses in backlash to his presidency are diminishing. Consequently, as Barro noted

The concern is not that Obama receiving such a fee will influence Obama's future policy decisions about Wall Street (he won't make any) but that if he goes around collecting such fees, he will make voters more wary of the intentions of future center-left politicians who run in his mold, as happened with Blair. Bernie Sanders' strong appeal in the 2016 primaries, which wasn't limited to far-left voters, shows that many voters are concerned about such matters.

Evidently not enough voters, or  at least not enough voters for Democratic members of Congress to stand firm against Wall Street donors.  Barro's employer reported Tuesday

The House finalized on Tuesday the largest package of Wall Street banking reforms since the financial crisis, rolling back regulations on financial firms, from community banks to credit-reporting agencies.

The legislation — most commonly referred to as the Crapo bill after its author, the Senate banking committee chair Mike Crapo — is the result of more than a year of negotiations among House Republicans, Senate Republicans, and a group of Senate Democrats that support the measure.
The bill passed by a vote of 258 to 159 and will head to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature. He is expected to sign the legislation.
Of course, the bill will be signed by The Great Populist as he continues to kick to the curb his working-class supporters- even if they're not black or Hispanic- in favor of corporate America. Charlie Pierce notes the measure is one
which very likely will neither grow the economy nor protect consumers, but which will offer most of America’s biggest financial institutions relief from the regulations put in place so that those institutions would have a harder time lighting the world on fire next time. This comes at a time when the banking industry is so terribly burdened by regulations that it’s making record profits—and that is small banks as well as the large ones.

The legislation not only passed the House with 33 Democrats in support but with the support of 17 Democrats in the US Senate, including seven from states won by Hillary Clinton. 
These included the two female Senators from New Hampshire,  Shaheen and Hassan. Three other Democratic women, Heitkamp of North Dakota, McCaskill of Missouri, and Stabenow of Michigan, voted aye. They are up for re-election in states won by Trump, as are Indiana's Donnelly, West Virginia's Manchin, Florida's Nelson, and Montana's  Tester, all men who voted in favor of the measure.
Three Democrats facing re-election,  Casey of Pennsylvania, Brown of Ohio, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, voted against the bill. 
Seven to three.  Of ten Democrats in Trump states trying to win re-election to the Senate thisfall, seven voted in favor of loosening regulations on Wall Street, helping to (as Pierce puts it) "free up the Masters of the Universe to do some more damage, for which we once again will have the choice of bailing them out or buying cornflakes with beads and trinkets."
Josh Barro may have been right when he maintained in April 2016 that voters are "concerned about such matters" as the intentions of center-left politicians who "run in the mold" of Barack ObamaHowever, there clearly also are Democratic members of Congress in competitive states  (Florida, Michigan) and Republican states (North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Montana) who believe otherwise. And of course, Republicans  voted nearly in lockstep, with only one (Rep. Jones of North Carolina) voting against this thing.
Or maybe they're simply selling out for donations from Wall Street. In either case, it's telling, as it is that five female Democratic senators voted to please the financial services community. It's fewer than the number of Democratic women- twelve- who voted nay, but it does suggest that even with the growing number of women who will enter Congress next year, utopia is not upon us.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

When "I Am The Law"

Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect was cancelled by ABC in 2001 because its host was, well, politically incorrect, recognizing that the 9/11/01 hijackers were surely not cowardly when they carried out their evil deed which they knew would result in their death.

There is nothing more certain about Maher- other than he won't next week declare his faith in the Trinity- than that he will be politically incorrect.

And he was last Friday when he began his "new rules" comments with "of all the fairy tales we've told ourselves here in America, the one we most need to get rid of is that no one is above the law." "When you don't have to follow the orders of law enforcement- as Trump clearly doesn't- you are above the law," Maher noted.

President Trump believes he is above the law because he believes the President is the law. Maher understands "if your obedience to the law is strictly voluntary or you are compelled by shame, of which he has none, you are above the law." If a particular President can choose to be above the law, the Presidency is above the law.

And once someone is above the law, this is not the "nation of laws" the USA has promoted itself as but a nation of men (and women).  We got an indication of that as on Sunday we learned

 We got a further indication of that Monday when

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement indicating that while Trump may not have gone as far as he could have – agreeing to fold his demand into an existing probe – Rosenstein and the others had acceded at least in part to Trump's order, something some critics were calling inappropriate interference.
"Based on the meeting with the President, the Department of Justice has asked the Inspector General to expand its current investigation to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump Campaign. It was also agreed that White House Chief of Staff Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with Congressional Leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested," Sanders said in the statement.
Maher believes President Trump will refuse the interview with Special Counsel Meller, who will obtain a subpoena, to which Trump will reply "go fish." (Even HBO has its language standards.) Then even if the Supreme Court tells him to honor the subpoena, Trump will still refuse while attacking the Court "just like he did the FBI and the Justice Department. The Supreme Court will be the new 'deep state' enemy and their rulings will be 'fake news.'"  Trump will refuse to leave the Oval Office and there will be no way to drag him out.
Given at least that a subpoena actually would be for an appearance before a grand jury, this analysis is slightly simplistic and similar to the CliffsNotes version of how the investigation might proceed. However, it is more than conjecture when a president adheres to no principle other than that the Venn diagram of the national interest and his family's financial interest are identical. 
Bill Maher's forecast is less than convincing, but far more than plausible. It signifies, therefore, that in this nation which pundits, politicians, and lawyers of all strips proudly proclaim "a nation of laws," the most powerful individual is not subject to the same law as are its 300 million-plus residents.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Butchers Of Beijing, Dear To Trump's Heart

Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer ZTE violated USA sanctions against Iran and North Korea and is suspected of enabling its phones to help Beijing spy on Americans. Consequently, Director of National Security Dan Coats recommended Americans refrain from using the phones and on May 2 the Pentagon, according to Vox, announced "it will ban the sale of ZTE and Huawei phones from military bases because it regards the products as insecure due to the companies’ relationship to the Chinese government."

The Commerce Department announced sanctions. However, when ZTE announced it would shut down its entire smartphone business, President Trump asserted that he was concerned about the loss of Chinese jobs and had ordered the Commerce Department to help ZTE "to get back into business, fast."

That same week "a state-owned Chinese business came through with hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, some of which will go to facilitate the construction of Trump-branded properties in Indonesia." So on Wednesday, former ethics chief Walter Shaub, who knows a not-coincidence when he sees one, asked what appeared to be a good question:

It's an even better question now that on Sunday, Treasury Department secretary Steve Mnuchin stated that

the Trump administration will hold off from imposing tariffs on China as leaders from both nations try to hammer out agreements on trade.

The administration had earlier threatened $50 billion to $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods as a way to deter the theft of U.S. intellectual property and forced transfers of technology.

One year ago the Associated Press reported

Since last spring, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese — and even foreign citizens — in mass internment camps. This detention campaign has swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a U.S. commission on China last month said is "the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today"....

The detention program is a hallmark of China's emboldened state security apparatus under the deeply nationalistic, hard-line rule of President Xi Jinping. It is partly rooted in the ancient Chinese belief in transformation through education — taken once before to terrifying extremes during the mass thought reform campaigns of Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader sometimes channeled by Xi.

A few months later, President Trump would recognize Xi's successful power grab and declare "he's now president for life. President for life. And he's great."

Gone, though, are the days when presidential candidate Donald J. Trump would charge China with "ripping us off, folks" and being involved in a "rape of (our) country." Additionally, it was "caught cheating in the Olympics. That's the Chinese M.O. - Lie, Cheat & Steal in all international dealings."

We are to believe that understanding of China is no longer operative. But Donald J.Trump, the expert in rape and cheating, is still here. And it's not too late (without tongue in cheek) to ask him: "are cheating and rape bad things- or good things?"

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Indecent. Intolerant. Inane. Incendiary. Not Racist.

This is journalism.  CNN's Eric Levenson, Paul P. Murphy and Gianluca Mezzofiore report

The man who berated employees and customers for speaking Spanish in a New York City cafe has a history of aggressively confronting strangers on their identity.

Aaron Schlossberg, an attorney in New York, was identified as the man in a Fresh Kitchen in Manhattan who angrily told employees and customers to speak English because "This is America!"

"If they have the balls to come here and live off my money, I pay for their welfare," he says, incorrectly asserting that undocumented immigrants are eligible for federal public benefits. "I pay for their ability to be here. The least they can do ... is speak English."

They referred to Schlossberg's history of aggressively confronting strangers on their identity" and afterward provided context to the charge.  The following, however, is- as the British call it- "rubbish" as Sarah K. Burris of Raw Story writes

The New York attorney who has become known as “Racist lawyer bro” has now been kicked out of his law office by his landlord the New York Daily News reported Thursday. Earlier in the day, he had simply been prevented from entering.

Aaron Schlossberg went on a racist rant in a coffee shop against Latino employees speaking Spanish to other Spanish-speaking customers. The incident was filmed on cell phone cameras as the man threatened to call ICE on the workers, assuming they were undocumented.

Since the video has gone viral, Schlossberg has been mocked and stalked by reporters. Protests took place outside of his office with tacos and a mariachi band. Reporters have been waiting with cameras. Not a welcoming crowd to others sharing the building of Schlossberg’s law office.

“We have terminated his services agreement with us,” said Hayim Grant, the president of Corporate Suites. He also said that he was “completely shocked” by the clip of Schlossberg’s racist rant.

Schlossberg wasn't concerned that the individuals were undocumented. He ignorantly assumed they were illegal immigrants. She may consider them "undocumented"- surely she does- but to him they are "illegal."

But that's not the primary problem. In the space of four paragraphs there are three references to "racist."  In the following, and last, three paragraphs there is one refernce to "racist."

Raw Story, with an unapologetically leftist slant, does not pretend to be The New York Times, CNN, or even the Fresno Bee. Expressing an opinion- or as in this case, assuming- that the rant in question is "racist" is therefore legitimate.

But her opinion is wrong.  Hispanic- or the similar, but different, Latino- is not a race.

This is not a technicality nor even a argument in favor of the contemporary (and somewhat accurate) perspective that race is not a valid construct. It is merely that Hispanics/Latinos are not all of the same color. Raul A. Reyes in the Huffington Post explains

The U.S. Census Bureau defines Hispanic/Latino as referring to “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”

They key words here are regardless of race. In fact, Hispanics can be white, black, Asian, or multiracial. That’s because the term “Hispanic,” like “Latino,” refers to an ethnicity, not a race. And a majority of Hispanics actually self-identify as white. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 53 percent of Hispanics chose “white “ as their race, while 36 percent chose “some other race.”

Journalists, bloggers, New York City lawyers, anyone with an opinion owe something to the truth.  Those CNN journalists, who point out that illegal immigrants are ineligible for most federal public benefits, understand that. Beyond even the hate and bigotry, Aaron Scholossberg does not (or pretends not to).  We shouldn't follow his example.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018


Neal Katyal is a registered Democrat who was co-counsel to Al Gore in Bush v. Gore and Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States under President Barack Obama. However, he evidently actively and enthusiastically supported the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court without indicating that he had active cases pending before the Court.

He has an impressive resume, however, and while serving in the Clinton-era Justice Department in 1999 was the lead author of the rules governing the Special Counsel. Therefore, his opinion is worth considering in light of the claim on Wednesday's "Fox and Friends" by Rudy Giuliani that the latter had spoken to Robert Mueller and

I asked him specifically if they realized or acknowledged they didn’t have the power to indict bother under the justice department memo which gives them their power in essence, confines their power, and under the constitution. And he said we’ll – he wouldn’t answer. And one of his assistants said they acknowledged they had to be bound by justice department policies. And then the next day or the day after they clarified it for Jay Sekulow who was with me at the meeting that they didn’t have the power to indict and that what they’d eventually do is write a memorandum and give it to the deputy attorney general, [Rod] Rosenstein.

On Thursday evening, Katyal told host Ari Melber of MSNBC's "The Beat"

.... a lot of these scholarships and opinions or waiting to say a sitting President can`t be indicted were before the Paula Jones case. And the Supreme Court in Paula Jones case and vowing (ph) Bill Clinton said, you know, the American principle is no one is above the law.

And you know, that was a civil case. And what goes for a civil case, II suspect there will be a pretty good argument, goes even stronger for a criminal case. That a President shouldn`t be able to commit crimes and act with impunity. And there`s a second real problem here. Becausse the whole idea behind, you can`t indict a sitting President, a large part of it comes from the fact that indictments are distracting to the President who is very busy. And you got to carry out their official duties.

You know, courts operate in the real world. And you know, they know for example, that Donald Trump has golfed 53 days out of his 482 days in office, which more than one in ten days. So it`s a little hard to make the kind of distraction arguments that are at the core of Presidents can`t be indicted opinions when you`re talking about this President.

While that makes sense to a layperson, Katyal's remarks on The Beat (video below) on February 20 went more directly to the substance of the law.

Melber noted the opinion issued on October 16, 2000 by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice that "the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would be unconstitutional."  Nonetheless, Katyal stated "the regulations also say that the Special Counsel can seek a departure from the established DOJ policies with the permission of the Acting Attorney General."

Presumably, then, if Mueller wants to pursue an indictment, he can do so with approval of the individual in the Justice Department in charge of the probe. That currently is Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, although only because Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from the case.  It is conceivable that Sessions would "unrecuse" (apologies to English teachers everywhere) himself or that Trump would fire him, in which case he'd probably be replaced by someone who would do the President's bidding.

Additionally, the modern corollary to Mr. Dooley's "the Supreme Court follows the election returns" (bad prediction here) might be "in partisan matters especially, the Supreme Court rules according to political party" and the current Court, on which there are five Republicans, might be tempted to rule in favor of Team Russia. Many TV lawyers and journalists, superficially considering only the 2001 opinion, have assumed that a sitting President cannot be indicted.

Yet, most evidence suggests that there is no constitutional barrier to indicting a sitting President. The dirty little secret is that an indictment always can be obtained, even of a ham sandwich, in this case with the approval of Mueller's superior.  And now that Katyal has weighed in, we know the individual who might know the rules better than anyone believes that an Indictment can be legally, constitutionally obtained and should withstand judicial scrutiny.

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Friday, May 18, 2018

Kelly Sadler Validated

Senator John McCain, recuperating from brain surgery at home in Arizona, issued an eloquent statement opposing the nomination of Gina Haspel to become director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Following that, Kelly Sadler brought upon herself a torrent of outrage when in a cabinet meeting she  quipped "it doesn't matter. He's dying anyway." This included demands that she resign or be fired including from Meghan McCain, who stated "I don't understand what kind of environment you're working in when that would be acceptable and then you can come to work the next day and still have a job and that's all I have to say about it."

The Atlantic's David Frum, accomplished author and even more accomplished Twitter, responded in general:

That was the major reason Sadler wasn't fired. On Thursday afternoon we found out the other reason as

The Senate on Thursday confirmed Gina Haspel as the next CIA director despite opposition from most Democrats and a handful of Republicans who blasted her role in the agency’s enhanced interrogation program.

Lawmakers confirmed her in a 54-45 vote. Six Democrats voted in favor of Haspel including several who face tough re-election races in November: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bill Nelson of Florida. The other two were Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire.

Two Republicans voted against Haspel — Jeff Flake of Arizona and Rand Paul of Kentucky.

This is part of the environment in which it is unnecessary to fire a Kelly Sadler. It is working for a president who mocked tortured POW's, mocked the mothers of slain soldiers, and mocked reporters living with disabilities. It's an environment in which despite hand-wringing from GOP colleagues of Senator McCain, 48 of 50 Republican senators present voted in favor of Gina Haspel.

Kentucky's Rand Paul had announced his opposition to the nominee prior to Sadler's controversial remark. Only one US Senator- Arizona's other, Jeff Flake- may have been sufficiently repulsed as to turn his "yes" into a "no." And this was Jeff Flake, who probably would have cast his vote in favor of Haspel had it been needed.

Ultimately, it is an environment in which a member of the Administration can say "it doesn't matter, he's dying anyway"....  and exactly one week later be proven completely correct.

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

Donald Trump's FBI Strategy

The unsurprisingly underplayed "Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Seret Origins of the Trump Investigation" by the New York Times' Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, and Nichoas Fandos reveals

Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.

Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald J. Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an F.B.I. interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

The agents summarized their highly unusual interview and sent word to Washington on Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the investigation was opened. Their report helped provide the foundation for a case that, a year ago Thursday, became the special counsel investigation. But at the time, a small group of F.B.I. officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane.

Not only did agents in that case fall back to their typical policy of silence, but interviews with a dozen current and former government officials and a review of documents show that the F.B.I. was even more circumspect in that case than has been previously known. Many of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

Agents considered, then rejected, interviewing key Trump associates, which might have sped up the investigation but risked revealing the existence of the case. Top officials quickly became convinced that they would not solve the case before Election Day, which made them only more hesitant to act. When agents did take bold investigative steps, like interviewing the ambassador, they were shrouded in secrecy.

Fearful of leaks, they kept details from political appointees across the street at the Justice Department. Peter Strzok, a senior F.B.I. agent, explained in a text that Justice Department officials would find it too “tasty” to resist sharing. “I’m not worried about our side,” he wrote.

Yes, yes. That is the same "Peter S." whom President Trump pressed Attorney General Sessions to fire because he was considered disloyal to the Administration.   The efforts of the agency Donald Trump considers his mortal enemy appeared to pay off as

Only about five Justice Department officials knew the full scope of the case, officials said, not the dozen or more who might normally be briefed on a major national security case.

The facts, had they surfaced, might have devastated the Trump campaign: Mr. Trump’s future national security adviser was under investigation, as was his campaign chairman. One adviser appeared to have Russian intelligence contacts. Another was suspected of being a Russian agent himself.

In the Clinton case, Mr. Comey has said he erred on the side of transparency. But in the face of questions from Congress about the Trump campaign, the F.B.I. declined to tip its hand. And when The New York Times tried to assess the state of the investigation in October 2016, law enforcement officials cautioned against drawing any conclusions, resulting in a story that significantly played down the case.

That "transparency" thing doesn't fly, Mr. Comey.  Transparency is (as Comey stated)

In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here. 

Transparency is not (also as he stated)

Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.

Even more clearly, "transparency" is not announcing nine days before the election that the bureau is
reopening investigation into the Clinton emails, only to announce a few days later that there is no there there, once the political damage was done.

That damage probably included turning the election.  Comey's decision to be "transparent" about investigating Hillary Clinton while being opaque about investigation Trump was unjustified with probable horrific consequences yet unseen. Nonetheless, it was understandable because

underpinning both cases was one political calculation: that Mrs. Clinton would win and Mr. Trump would lose. Agents feared being seen as withholding information or going too easy on her. And they worried that any overt actions against Mr. Trump’s campaign would only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him.

It was widely accepted during the campaign that Trump's obsession with claiming the election was "rigged" against him was an effort to deligitimize the expected victory of his opponent. However, we have since learned there was an additional reason: to intimidate law enforcement. If  Comey had indicated there was an active investigation into the Trump campaign- or even that there was insufficient evidence evidence to charge Hillary Clinton with a crime, full stop- Trump would have claimed that as proof the election was rigged.

Trump's protestations also reinforced the assumption that he would lose, thereby reassuring Comey, Strzok and others at the FBI that their tilt toward the Republican and against Clinton would not come back to haunt them.

And so ironically, an investigation which yielded no charges was trumped up by the FBI and the media.  And one which- probably far from over- has now led to five guilty pleas and indictments of seventeen other individuals was shoved into the background, stomped upon, and lit on fire.

Donald Trump might be ignorant, uninformed, or as his tweets indicate, barely literate (actually, no maybe about it).  But he isn't stupid, and he played Jim Comey's FBI to the hilt.

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Bad Sign

Thirteen months ago, Business Insider's Josh Barro criticized liberals for defending former President Obama's decision to acc...