Thursday, December 12, 2019

Battle Won; War Lost

A "data journalist" at The Economist and the founder of Vox have the same ominous thought:

Maybe yes, maybe no, but Donald Trump got significantly closer this week to re-election- and it has nothing (directly) to do with impeachment. David Dayen, now writing for The American Prospect, explains that House Speaker Nancy

Pelosi got AFL-CIO president Rich Trumka to sign off on the U.S.–Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), handing Trump a political victory on one of his signature issues. Predictably, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham immediately gushed, calling USMCA “the biggest and best trade agreement in the history of the world.”

It’s, um, not that. Economically, USMCA is a nothingburger; even the most rose-colored analysis with doubtful assumptions built in shows GDP growth of only 0.06 percent per year. There’s one good provision: the elimination of the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provision that allowed corporations to sue governments in secret tribunals over trade violations. There’s one bad provision: the extension of legal immunity for tech platforms over user-generated content, put into a trade deal for the first time. This will make the immunity shield, codified in Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, much harder to alter in the future. Pelosi has called this deal a “template” for future agreements, though trade reformers have called it a bare minimum floor.

Pelosi tried to remove the immunity shield, but abandoned the request. She did succeed in removing a provision for Big Pharma that extended exclusivity periods for biologics. The Sierra Club has termed the deal an “environmental failure” that will not have binding standards on clean air and water or climate goals. But the threshold question on the USMCA was always going to be labor enforcement: would the labor laws imposed on Mexico hold, improving their lot while giving U.S. manufacturing workers a chance to compete? There was also the open question of why the U.S. would reward Mexico with a trade deal update when trade unionists in the country continue to be kidnapped and killed.

In his statement, Trumka lauds the labor enforcement, noting provisions that make it easier to prove violations (including violence against workers), rules of evidence for disputes, and inspections of Mexican facilities, a key win. But I’ve been told that the AFL-CIO did not see the details of the text before signing off, which is unforgivable, especially on trade where details matter. There was no vote by union leaders, just a briefing from the AFL-CIO.

At least one union, the Machinists, remains opposed, and others were noncommittal until they see text. The Economic Policy Institute, which is strongly tied to labor, called the agreement “weak tea at best,” a tiny advance on the status quo that will not reverse decades of outsourcing of U.S. jobs.

So why did Trumka, who Pelosi gave the ability to approve or reject the USMCA, decide to support it? Labor has felt self-imposed pressure to say yes to a trade deal, to counter the Chamber of Commerce’s claims that they’re purely contrarian. Trumka may have seen this as minimally harmful and a good way to rebut the charge. Plus, the significant minority of labor’s rank and file’s supports Trump, another cross-pressure that may have been a factor.

Labor is not the only actor with self-imposed pressure to say "yes" to some sort of trade deal.  Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill had stated "the speaker has been working diligently with his (Trump's) trade representative to advance Democrats further down a path to yes on the USMCA."

Evidently Speaker Pelosi already had decided to approve a new trade deal whatever its composition. "To advance Democrats further down a path to yes" was a signal to the Administration that the Speaker previously had decided to goad her caucus into supporting a deal, any deal.  We wanted to be "on the path to 'yes,'" Pelosi stated, because details were less important that getting something passed and being given credit for bipartisanship. That surely will be seized by Donald Trump, abetted by a media eager to assure Americans that comity is possible under current leadership.

Dayen continues

While the economics are negligible (and potentially harmful on tech policy), on the politics activists are losing their mind at the prospect of a Trump signing ceremony, with labor by his side, on a deal that he will construe as keeping promises to Midwest voters. “Any corporate Democrat who pushed to get this agreement passed that thinks Donald Trump is going to share the credit for those improvements is dangerously gullible,” said Yvette Simpson, CEO of Democracy for America, in a statement. Only a small handful of Democratic centrists were pushing for a USMCA vote, based mostly on the idea that they had to “do something” to show that they could get things done in Congress. Now they’ve got it, and they’ll have to live with the consequences.

This urgency is self-imposed. Democrats are not responsible to get things done in Congress, which includes both the Democratic-dominated House and the thoroughly Republican-controlled Senate. Democrats are largely responsible for the House, and they've been busy and productive throughout this term.   Even with passage of the USMCA deal- maybe even especially with passage of the USMCA- congressional Democrats will be blamed by Trump and other Republicans for allegedly obsessing with impeachment and ignoring "the American people."

Freshman Democrats elected in districts won by Donald Trump are edgy and insecure about impeachment and the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, tasked with reinforcing that majority, had lobbied Pelosi in favor of the agreement. Nancy Pelosi is not running for President, nor is she particularly attached to any Democratic contender for that office. She is Speaker of the House and her primary objective is to ensure her party maintain control of the chamber, preferably with an expanded majority.

The DCCC chairwoman, Representative Cheri Bustos of Colorado, has promoted a policy which the Speaker happily accepted. However, it is transparently reactive and defensive, which will give aid and comfort to the President as he campaigns for re-election. On Tuesday morning, Pelosi told her caucus "we stayed on this, and we ate their lunch.”  Were she accurate and forthcoming, she would have added "and President Trump will eat us for dessert."

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Tuesday, December 10, 2019

GOP's Faulty Memory

In his opening statement Monday, House Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins (not this Doug Collins) of Georgia repeated a theme often struck by Republicans on his committee, on the Intelligence Committee, and elsewhere. He remarked 

In 2016, the American people had the audacity to elect, in Democrats’ eyes, the wrong person as president. That is the entire reason we are here. Democrats, and their allies in the media and the permanent federal bureaucracy, are furious at the American people. They cannot abide as president a man who promised American voters he would shake up Washington. The man who said he would work for them — the Forgotten Man and Woman — not the entrenched political elites.

Just 19 minutes after noon on Inauguration Day, 2017, the Washington Post ran the headline: “The Campaign to Impeach President Trump Has Begun.” Mark Zaid, who would later become the attorney for the infamous whistleblower, tweeted in January 2017 that a “coup has started,” and that “impeachment will follow ultimately.” In May of this year, Representative Al Green said, “If we don’t impeach the president, he will get reelected.” It appears that Representative Green won the argument within the Democratic caucus.

As Steve M notes, this refers to a group which had urged impeachment of President Trump over enoluments, and whose website,  has been dormant since July 15, 2019. 

There is no indication that this organization had any influence whatsoever on Speaker Pelosi's decision to forge ahead with an impeachment inquiry, nor upon any Democrat who has supported the inquiry or impeachment itself. 

No Democratic officeholder has been linked to the group. However, there are members of Congress who supported impeachment of a President even before inauguration.  On November 4, 2016 Vanity Fair reported that Republican pols were anticipating a victory by Hillary Clinton and

“There's been nothing like this where you can have potential criminal charges,” New York Rep. Peter King said in a radio interview Tuesday. “You really could have a constitutional crisis here,” he added, echoing a similar charge by Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert and Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.

Other Republicans are already using the “I” word. “Assuming she wins, and the investigation goes forward, and it looks like an indictment is pending, at that point in time, under the Constitution, the House of Representatives would engage in an impeachment trial," Texas Rep. Michael McCaul said on Fox News. “They would go to the Senate and impeachment proceedings and removal would take place.” Wisconsin senator Ron Johnson declared that Clinton could be impeached for “high crime or misdemeanor.” And Donald Trump, who has turned “lock her up” into a rallying cry at his campaign stops, said Wednesday that Clinton would be impeached just as surely as Bill Clinton was. “You know it’s going to happen. And in all fairness, we went through it with her husband. He was impeached,” the Republican nominee said at a rally in Florida Wednesday, adding that Hillary is “most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency.”

These aren't mere conservative activists or well-connected Republican lawyers.They were Republican Representatives and Senators who in a few cases already had decided to encourage impeachment and, in a larger number of instances, congressional members who were gearing up for investigations of President Hillary Clinton.

Democrats deliberated carefully, acted deliberately, and chose to ignore enoluments and other abuses of power in favor of a focus on one narrow, albeit extremely significant, issue. The only question, had Hillary Clinton been elected, is whether the GOP would have waited till she was inaugurated on January 20, 2017.

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Monday, December 09, 2019

Eat At Your Own Risk

Member of Freedom Caucus and of House Judiciary Committee and sex-crimes apologist:
Less taxes and regulation, more freedom for you and your family. Also, more food poisoning. The Hill in September reported

A new rule, finalized today, would reduce the number of government food safety inspectors in pork plants by 40 percent and remove most of the remaining inspectors from production lines. In their place, a smaller number of company employees — who are not required to receive any training — would conduct the “sorting” tasks that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) previously referred to as “inspection.” The rule would also allow companies to design their own microbiological testing programs to measure food safety rather than requiring companies to meet the same standard. 

Equally alarming, the new rule would remove all line speed limits in the plants, allowing companies to speed up their lines with abandon. With fewer government inspectors on the slaughter lines, there would be fewer trained workers watching out for consumer safety. Faster line speeds would make it harder for the limited number of remaining meat inspectors and plant workers to do their jobs.

The experience from a long-running pilot project that involved five large hog slaughterhouses offers some insight into the possible impact of such radical deregulation. Consumer groups reviewed the government’s data from the five pilot plants and other plants of comparable size. They found that the plants with fewer inspectors and faster lines had more regulatory violations than others....

It’s not only consumers of meat who would pay a price for this misguided and dangerous new rule. There are more than 90,000 pork slaughterhouse workers whose health and limbs are already at risk under the current line speed limit of 1,106 hogs per hour. Pork slaughterhouse workers will tell you that they can barely keep up with current line speeds. They work in noisy, slippery workplaces with large knives, hooks and bandsaws, making tens of thousands of forceful repetitive motions on each and every shift to cut and break down the hogs.

The USDA is ignoring three decades of studies indicating that faster line speeds and the forceful nature of the work in meatpacking plants are the root causes of a staggeringly high rate of work-related injuries and illnesses.

In the Democratic presidential race, on the broad topic of deregulation (or its sister, privatization), there has been- as far as I know- no position paper by any of the candidates. and no forum, no town hall, and no debate questions. (If there had been, we would have heard about food safety inspections.) Its absence says a lot, whether about the media, the candidates themselves, or the false narrative that the Democratic Party is tempted by socialism and hurtling leftward.

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Opportunity Squandered, Intentionally

Last month, Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg did more than "apologize" for the stop-and-frisk policy he implemented as mayor of New York City. He conceded error, stating (at :20 of the video below)

Now hindsight is 20-20.  But as crime continues to come down and as we reduce stops and as it continued to come down during the next administration, to its credit, I now see that we could, and should, have acted sooner and acted faster to cut the stops. I wish we had. I'm sorry we didn't. But I can't change history. However, today I want you to know I realize back then I was wrong and I"m sorry.

At first glance, this appears to contradict his defense of the policy a few years ago:

The contradiction, though, is more apparent than real.  Although Bloomberg has acknowledged the policy was misguided, he still isn't aware of the reason..  In June of 2013 he had contended "For years now critics have been trying to argue that minorities are stopped disproportionately; if you look at the crime numbers that's just not true. The numbers don't lie."

The mayor believed then that because proportionately more blacks than whites (inarguably accurate) commit violent crime that more blacks than whites should be stopped and frisked. He may still believe that.

Nonethless, when she ruled against the city in 2013, Judge Shira Sheindlin had observed

What you're drawing from the regression analysis is if they match well that proves there's no race bias. I'm saying it may be precisely the opposite. The closer the match may prove that the officer is saying that since Blacks commit crimes, I should stop Blacks to the same percentage as crime suspects. It's a worrisome argument.

It's worrisome not only because it's facially discriminatory but because it's illogical. While blacks are more likely to live in unstable and impoverished neighborhoods and thus more often run afoul of the law, the disparity dissipates within a given geographical area.   Hence, applying police resources in a particular part of town, then stopping more minorities disproportionately, is a case of double counting.

Evidently, Bloomberg does not realize that the problem with stop and frisk in NYC was that targeting blacks is unconstitutional and ineffective, as statistics indicated.   Instead, he stated "I now see that we could, and should, have acted sooner and acted faster to cut the stops,"  suggesting that fewer individuals should have been stopped rather than fewer individuals because of the color of their skin.

A "teachable moment," lost.  Anti-gun activist Mike Bloomberg could have noted that his experience as a big-city mayor has taught him two things. One of the means to reduce violence in neighborhoods plagued by crime is reducing the number of illegal firearms in circulation.  However, even that critical goal should not be pursued in a manner which promotes racial discrimination.  His choice not to do so eliminates the only worthy rationale for his candidacy.  

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Thursday, December 05, 2019

Punch Up, Not Down

"I don't hate him. I am quite fond of him, actually" might have seemed a little too sarcastic. "I don't hate him, nor do I dislike eating him up and spitting him out whenever I have the privilege of talking to him" might have been too honest for a public accustomed to Donald Trump's lies, over-sensitivity of public figures, and politically correct language from right, left, and center.

Nonetheless, there must have been a better approach than when

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi minced no words with a reporter Thursday who asked at the end of a press conference if she hates President Trump. Pelosi called the president "a coward" and "cruel," but she said she still prays for him — and she warned the reporter, "Don't mess with me."

As Pelosi walked out of her weekly press conference — soon after announcing that the Democrat-controlled House will begin drafting impeachment articles against Mr. Trump — Sinclair Broadcasting reporter James Rosen called out, "Do you hate the president, Madam Speaker?"

Nancy Pelosi, occupying arguably the third most important position in the USA government, thus picked a fight with a reporter or, rather, allowed him to pick one with her.  It should be beneath the Speaker of the House to elevate a reporter, especially one with the loathsome Sinclair. Still

The question stopped Pelosi in her tracks. She turned to face Rosen directly.

"I don't hate anybody," she said, pointing at him. "I don't hate anybody. Not anybody in the world."

Rosen pushed back on Pelosi saying he had "accused" her of hating the president. He pointed out that Rep. Doug Collins (R-Georgia) claimed during Wednesday's impeachment hearing that Democrats want to impeach the president simply because they don't like him.

Pelosi then returned to her podium.

"I think the president is a coward when it comes to helping our kids who are afraid of gun violence," she said. "I think he is cruel when he doesn't deal with helping our Dreamers, of which we are very proud. I think he's in denial about the climate crisis."

Donald Trump is a coward, and it's a message Democrats should pound much more frequently.  However, if gun violence is to be Pelosi's example- and there are others more indicative of cowardice- the cowardice lies in obeisance to the National Rifle Association.  And why she and her Democratic colleagues are very proud of the Dreamers, however righteous their cause, is a mystery.  The climate crisis is critical, but has little or nothing to do with either immigrants or murders by firearm. (In a very broad sense, there is the impact of climate upon refugee movements, a global issue requiring extensive explanation.) Then

But those issues, she said, can be resolved in an election. She argued the impeachment process was about the Constitution and the president allegedly violating his oath of office.

"As a Catholic, I resent you're using the word hate in a sentence that addresses me," Pelosi said. "I don't hate anyone. I was raised in a way that is a heart full of love and always pray for the president. And I still pray for the president. I pray for the president all the time."

 "So don't mess with me when it comes to words like that," she concluded. She then left the room.

Regrettably, Speaker Pelosi made the issue about her: "so don't mess with me...," she warned.  The first word people associate with Nancy Pelosi is not "love" and no one thinks she prays for the President. Even if true, it's not believable.

She needed to stay on message, and that message is not "Pelosi" but "Trump." Maybe that message should have been the cruelty of separating children from their parents as policy; or that of subjecting 700,000 people to hunger, disease, and even to death by throwing them off food stamps; or perhaps of inviting ISIS to exterminate our Kurdish allies in northern Syria.

Or it could be cowardice, such as giving vetoes: Putin and Erdogan over American foreign policy, the gun lobby on gun safety, pro-life extremists over women's reproductive choices, or well-heeled lobbyists on tax policy. The latter works well with a cruelty theme also, in which the middle- and working-classes are sacrificed for the rich.

Emphasize only one theme and let the fact-checkers nitpick, however legitimately, over the details of the charges. As Donald Trump understands better than anyone, the message is repeated over and over by the mainstream media, alternative media, and social media and has a far greater impact than any attempt at refutation.

James Rosen's question- actually, a charge, as Pelosi understood- was a diversion from issues. However, it also was a hanging curve and an opportunity wasted while the rule of law and the constitutional principle of checks and balances are at great risk.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Holiday Strategy

The day before Thanksgiving, Max Boot summarized the history of the "War on Christmas" movement, including the "notorious racist and anti-Semite Henry Ford," the far-right John Birch Society and more recently, one-time Fox News hosts John Gibson and Bill O'Reilly. According to Boot, O'Reilly in 2004 claimed

Christmas was “under siege.” He attributed this to an “anti-Christian” blitz by “secular progressives” intent on foisting “gay marriage, partial birth abortion, euthanasia, legalized drugs, income redistribution through taxation, and many other progressive visions” on innocent, God-fearing Americans. The following year, O’Reilly’s colleague John Gibson published a book called “The War on Christmas: How the Liberal Plot to Ban the Sacred Christian Holiday is Worse Than You Thought.”

With the absence of any deaths or victims filling the hospital wards, there obviously is no "war."  Contrary to Boot's view, though, there has been an attack upon Christmas as a Christian holiday, but one never launched by liberals, Democrats, Socialists, big government or any one else of that variety.

It was launched, weaponized, and is now sustained by the business community and especially the retail sector, which recognized that secularizing the holiday would release the acquisitive behavior of the American consumer, which would trigger enormous profit. Capitalism and secularism, it turns out, are far more compatible than either conservatives or liberals/progressives are ever willing to admit.

This is best understood by someone who is simultaneously an unusually rapacious and corrupt capitalist and, before he discovered the evangelical base of the Republican Party, was openly contemptuous of Christianity.  Although he does not recognize that connection, Boot notes 'It did not take long for Trump — Fox News’s most faithful and credulous viewer — to join the “War on Christmas' as a full-throated combatant.

That was a wise tactical move on behalf of the narcissistic salesman from Queens and Manhattan, New York.  So now in Sunrise, Florida

"You know, some people want to change the name Thanksgiving. They don't want to use the term Thanksgiving," the president told the crowd of supporters, without explaining what he was referring to.

"That was true also with Christmas, but now everybody's using Christmas again. Remember, I said that?" he said, comparing the shadowy threat to the gluttonous day's moniker to his dubious claim that people had stopped telling each other "Merry Christmas" until he was elected.

"Now, we're going to have to do a little work on Thanksgiving. People have different ideas why it shouldn't be called Thanksgiving," he said, again without elaborating on the identity of the feast's alleged detractors.

"But everybody in this room I know loves the name Thanksgiving and we're not changing it," he defiantly declared.

You know, some people want to change the name ‘Thanksgiving.’ They don’t want to use the term ‘Thanksgiving.’ And that was true also with Christmas, but now everybody’s using Christmas again."

Obviously- and as the President very likely knows- there is almost no one, and no one in the public eye, who wants to "change the name 'Thanksgiving.'" Nor is it true that "everybody's using Christmas again" but Trump long ago learned the advantages of continuous, rapid-fire lying. 

Moreover, he knows the advantage of pledging something he can't miss on. "We're not changing it," he defiantly declared.  Of course they're not, because no one particularly wants it changed. During the election campaign (next year, not the one begun when Trump filed on the evening of January 20, 2017 for re-election), he'll be able to claim "Thanksgiving" as one of his promises fulfilled.

Alternatively, President Trump next year can gin up fear and paranoia by charging that persons named or unnamed are trying to abolish Thanksgiving. He may claim that he- and he alone, the "chosen one"- is standing up to the forces disloyal to the USA and to Christianity. 

That would be creepy, dishonest, and demagogic. It does sound a lot like Donald J. Trump.

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Tuesday, December 03, 2019

For Fun And Profit

Will the real Tucker Carlson stand up? Better yet, go away. In his bid to defend Donald Trump and the modern, authoritative Russian state, Tucker Carlson on Monday night (beginning at 2:40 of the video below) maintained

We now know it's not really a story. There was no Russia collusion. Russia didn't "hack our democracy." The whole thing was a talking point, a ludicrous talking point invented by the Hillary Clinton campaign on or about November 9, 2016 to explain the unexpected defeat in the last presidential election.

"We lost and we shouldn't have lost." From the start that has been the only argument that underpins the Russia conspiracy theory. And now, thanks to a multi-million dollar investigation that extended over a period of years that the rest of us had to endure inclusive of everything else. This was everything , that conspiracy theory had to die; it was killed, in fact, by Robert Mueller.

This is awfully slick. Carlson states "there was no Russia collusion," though the investigation by the Special Counsel did not evaluate whether there was collusion, instead whether there was a criminal conspiracy, for which burden of proof is considerably and significantly higher. In April, lawyers and scholars posting at Lawfare explained

As the report is careful to explain, “collusion” is neither a criminal offense nor a legal term of art with a clear definition, despite its frequent use in discussions of the special counsel’s mandate. Mueller and his team instead examined the relationships between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government through the far narrower lens of criminal conspiracy. To establish a criminal conspiracy, a prosecutor must show, among other elements, that two or more persons agreed to either violate a federal criminal law or defraud the United States.

Cagily, Carlson switched to claiming "that conspiracy theory had to die; it was killed, in fact, by Robert Mueller." Although Mueller did probe whether there was a conspiracy, Lawfare continued

This “meeting of the minds” is ultimately the piece the Mueller team felt it could not prove, leading it not to pursue any conspiracy charges against members of the Trump campaign, even as it pursued them against Russian agents.

This conclusion is far from the full vindication that chants of “no collusion” imply, a fact driven home by the detailed factual record the Mueller report puts forward. In some cases, there was indeed a meeting of the minds between Trump campaign officials and Russia, just not in pursuit of a criminal objective. In others, members of the Trump campaign acted criminally—as evidenced by the guilty pleas and indictments that the Mueller team secured—but did so on their own. At times, these efforts even worked toward the same objective as the Russian government, but on seemingly parallel tracks as opposed to in coordination. None of this amounted to a criminal conspiracy that the Mueller team believed it could prove beyond a reasonable doubt. But the dense network of interactions, missed opportunities, and shared objectives between the Trump campaign and the Russian government remains profoundly disturbing.

Mueller did not "kill" anything. Investigations are not adept at finding what they're looking for or, in the case of the one conducted by the Special Counsel's office, what they're eager to overlook. "Mueller," Elie Mystal wrote after release of the Special Counsel's report "declined to seek subpoenas to compel testimony from Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, or Eric Trump," among them the individuals best situated to know of any conspiracy.

Mueller was, as Steve Bannon suggested, a Marine sent to do a hitman's job, which was in part to determine whether there was a conspiracy to install as President an individual from the same political party as the investigator. Shockingly, the ex-Marine couldn't, or wouldn't,  find the evidence sufficient to convince a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that a political campaign and a foreign nation had knowingly colluded to manipulate an American presidential election.

Tucker Carlson is not ignorant nor a useful idiot.  Naveed Jamali seems to have figured him out:

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Battle Won; War Lost

A "data journalist" at The Economist and the founder of Vox have the same ominous thought : This is not far off from t...