Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Much Better Answer

No. Just no.

Slate's Aaron Mak contends that at Tuesday's presidential debate Marianne Williamson "also gave the clearest and best-argued answer on the question of whether—and how—the United States ought to pay reparations to the descendants of slaves."

Clear, yes. Unambiguous (but I repeat myself), yes. However, in terms of both policy and general election (which, thankfully, Ms. Williamson will never see), it's dangerous. When the topic turned to "reparations," Williamson was asked by co-host Don Lemon "What makes you qualified to determine how much is owed in reparations?" and replied "Well, first of all, it's not $500 billion in financial assistance. It's $500 billion, $200 billion to $500 billion payment of a debt that is owed. That is what reparations is."

No, it is not a debt that is owed. A debt is owed by the perpetrators of injustice to the victims of injustice. In this case, virtually all of the offenders have been deceased for over 150 years and the offended for nearly that long.

Williamson then went on to talk about healing, domestic terrorism, mules, and "a toxicity underneath the surface, an emotional turbulence that only reparations will heal."

Barnyard animals aside, it is not the function of government to serve as the psychotherapist of a nation. Providing for the general welfare is itself a gargantuan task without taking on the problem of "emotional turbulence," which government obviously is ill-equipped to tackle.

But Williamson's new-age psychobabble points to a more fundamental problem, one thus far sidestepped by Bernie Sanders, of a misguided Democratic response to racial bias and discrimination but especially to reparations.

Repackaging his question posed to Williamson about reparations, Lemon asked Senator Sanders "according to a new Gallup poll, 73 percent of African-Americans are in favor of cash payments to black Americans who are descendants of slaves. How do you respond to them?"

Wisely, Sanders refused to take the bait, thereby avoiding the obvious, yet politically risky answer that blacks would be told the same thing as whites, Asians, Latinos, and other Americans- that policy is made to help Americans as a whole, and especially underprivileged individuals and families.

He did, however, imply that the needy would be most assisted by his plans, a unique concept in a political climate in which most Democratic politicians filter their plans through a racial lens and Republicans shovel the goodies to individuals and groups which need them the least. He stated

Well, I respond to that by saying that I am supportive of Jim Clyburn's legislation, which is called 10-20-30. And what that understands is that as a result of slavery, and segregation, and the institutional racism we see now in health care, in education, in financial services, we are going to have to focus big time on rebuilding distressed communities in America, including African-American communities.

In terms of education, I also have a plan. It's called the Thurgood Marshall Plan. And it would focus on ending the growth of segregated schools in America. It would triple funding for Title I schools. It would make sure that teachers in this country earned at least $60,000 a year.

Of course, few people know anything about 10-20-30, the Thurgood Marshall Plan, or Title I schools. Many individuals don't recognize Jim Clyburn.

Title I schools are those with "high percentages of children from low-income families." The Thurgood Marshall Plan evidently is Sander's 10-part education plan, a remarkably broad educational agenda, perhaps most notably ending aid to for-profit schools. The 10-20-30 formula was included in the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act which, if included in future funding proposals for all federal agencies as Clyburn proposes, would give priority (at least 10% of funding, it appears) to counties in which at least 20% of the residents had lived below the poverty line for the last 30 years.

God is in the details, and it's possible that the details of any one of these approaches, if put into legislation, would be counter-productive. However, taken as a whole, it's clear that Sanders' preference is to assist the most destitute people and communities. With the possible exception of Majority Whip Clyburn's 10-20-30, this would most assist ethnic minorities. 

Nowhere does Sanders- in this response, anyhow- suggest whites owe a "debt" to African-Americans, an assertion which would spell death in a national, general election. One of the usual (and justified) objections to reparations is that many whites currently alive in the USA were themselves descendants of immigrants from Europe or elsewhere. Less considered, however, is how much restitution would be expected from Latinos, Asians, or Native Indian tribal members now in the country.

It is probably an unjust, and almost certainly unworkable, concept. Giving a hand to those who most need help, however, would be both more equitable and more politically acceptable.  Senator Sanders may be hounded into adjusting his proposal to account for skin color, conveyed to individuals not through hard work or any individual merit, but on the basis of who their parents were. For this one night, though, he advanced a program loosely based on the idea that no matter where you came from, who your parents are, or what you look like, if you need help, you'll get it as part of the American community.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Not Your Friends

The headline on a Fox News story reads "Mark Meadows stays neutral in Trump, Cummings feud: 'neither man is a racist'" and writer Danielle Wallace writes "Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., refused to take sides in the ongoing feud between President Trump and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-M.D., Monday, concluding that 'neither man is a racist.'”

So the question to Fox News is "who is the bigger racist- Mark Meadows or Elijah Cummings?"

It should be obvious to anyone not sucked in to the Stepford-like Trump orbit that this formulation is neither fair nor objective, given that only one human being (assuming that is an accurate description) ever has accused Elijah Cummings of being racist, and that with no evidence.

Michael Warren notes that after Donald Russia disparaged the congressman on Twitter

Trump's comments hung in the air for days, sparking yet another conversation about the President's race-focused rhetoric. Republicans largely stayed silent, including Meadows, whose warm relationship with Cummings prompted questions about his reticence to defend his friend.

When Meadows finally did issue a reply, it came two days later and second-hand, delivered live on air by CNN contributor and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. The statement was a perfect distillation of the way Republicans have tip-toed around Trump's inflammatory language about race -- and avoided criticizing the President directly.

"No one works harder for his district than Elijah. He's passionate about the people he represents, and no, Elijah is not a racist," Santorum read aloud. The statement also absolved the President of being a racist and included a promise by Meadows to "go to Baltimore with President Trump to see what they could do to remediate some of the problems they have there."

Similarly, Robert Costa reveals that when Mitt Romney was asked "whether he condemns the president statement on Cummings or supports it, he would not answer. Asked the question twice. When asked more generally about the Cummings-Trump matter, he called it 'political theater.'”

It may be too much to expect Meadows, Romney, and other Republicans to criticize Trump. When the President was accused by Michael Cohen in February during a House Ways and Means Committee of being "a racist," Representative Meadows pointed to a black woman, Housing and Urban Development official Lynne Patton, as proof that Trump was no such thing. Representatives Ayanna Presley and Rashida Tlaib objected to this approach to racism, and Tlaib referred to use of Patton as a "prop." 

At the time, I posted two videos of Representative Meadows, once stating  "2012 is the time we're going to send Mr. Obama home to Kenya or wherever it is" and at another time "we'll send him back to Kenya, or wherever it is." (He likes "wherever it is..)"  He did not say this in a drunken stupor to a friend in a bar. It was in public.

Though Meadows is a birther, committee chairperson Cummings responded to the criticism by Pressley and Tlaib by riding to his friend's rescue, stating

Mr. Meadows, you know, and of all the people on this committee, I've said it and gotten in trouble for it- that you're one of my best friends. I know that shocks a lot of people... And I can see and feel your pain. I feel it.

Five months later, we have Meadows vouching for Cummings by suggesting that he is no more a racist than is Donald Trump, a remark which has received disturbingly little criticism from members of the other party, let alone Republicans. 

There are two morals of the story, neither of which many Democrats will pick up on. 

Not only did Cummings attest to his friendship with Meadows in February, the latter defended his exploitation of- uh, er reference to- Patton by asserting  "There’s nothing more personal to me than my relationship — my nieces and nephews are people of color...."

I then maintained

racially-biased whites can have black friends. A 2009 Pew survey found that 86% of whites, as noted here,  "who think that most blacks aren’t intelligent, law-abiding, honest, hard-working and/or generous have African American friends."

Democrats (and centrists, the media, and others) have to stop assessing tolerance by the quota method. Decades ago, it was "some of my best friends are colored." It now has been replaced by "my nieces and nephews are people of color" or "half the people in my administration/in my campaign/on my staff are "people of color." (The symmetry between "people of color" and "colored." may be less ironic than it seems.) It's also "look at my African-American friend over there."

Additionally, Democrats need to understand that when Republican politicians tell them privately that they don't like President Trump, are uncomfortable with his latest tweet, or have doubts about the President's latest appointment, they are lying or simply won't turn personal misgivings into action. It makes little difference; the Democrats are being played.

They won't be there when it matters, as Mark "neither man is a racist" Meadows has demonstrated.

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Wrong Again, Mr. Former President

On Saturday afternoon, former President Barack Obama tweeted a link to a bothsiderism piece appearing the prior day in The New York Times by center-right columnist Ross Douthat. Described by Obama as "a worthwhile Sunday read," it included

It’s not that full de-polarization is ever possible; basic moral and philosophical commitments inevitably divide us. But seeing our disagreements through the lens of narrative might get us closer to a crucial insight — which is that in a big, diverse and complicated society, multiple narratives can all be true at once.

The day before Douthat's column appeared (and two days before Obama's de facto endorsement), Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank noted that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked consideration of the Securing America’s Federal Elections Act, "already passed by the House, that would direct $600 million in election assistance to states and require backup paper ballots." Additionally, he has blocked

A bipartisan bill requiring Facebook, Google and other Internet companies to disclose purchasers of political ads, to identify foreign influence.

A bipartisan bill to ease cooperation between state election officials and federal intelligence agencies.

A bipartisan bill imposing sanctions on any entity that attacks a U.S. election.

A bipartisan bill with severe new sanctions on Russia for its cybercrimes.

McConnell has prevented them all from being considered — over and over again. This is the same McConnell who, in the summer of 2016, when briefed by the CIA along with other congressional leaders on Russia’s electoral attacks, questioned the validity of the intelligence and forced a watering down of a warning letter to state officials about the threat, omitting any mention of Russia.

On June 1, 2012 President Barack Obama stated "My expectation is that if we can break this fever, that we can invest in clean energy and energy efficiency because that's not a partisan issue."  that fever, for which the GOP is almost exclusively responsible, is up to 104 degrees now and continually rising. Nonetheless, more than seven years later, Mr. Obama is singing his same old tune, with an attitude that mired his presidency in mediocrity, one which Moscow Mitch or others disprove almost daily.

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Monday, July 29, 2019

Same Old, Same Old

The New York Times asked twenty-two Democratic candidates the same eighteen questions, including such pertinent ones as "how many hours of sleep do you get a night"; "describe the last time you were embarrassed: why?:";what is your comfort food on the campaign trail?": and "what do you do to relax?" (They forgot "if you were an animal, what animal would you be?")

As long as they went to all this effort, the Times should have included "what were the failings of President Obama- if there were any?"  It's even money a popular answer would have been "none- why would you even think such a thing?"

Matt Stoller has labeled Barack Obama "a bad President" and hence could never get out of the gate in a Democratic primary campaign. However, he has good advice for the general election campaign:
If we give them enough time, Democrats probably will point out that Donald Trump has been a corrupt President. But they will assiduously avoid identifying Trump as weak, and probably will little note that he continuously breaks his promises (video below from 3/17).

Oh, they- or at least a surrogate or two- will ridicule the President because Mexico has not paid for a border wall. Nonetheless, that will be drowned out by condemnation of Trump because of his immigration policies, including his effort to get a wall built. Democrats thereby will miss an opportunity to remind voters on the (figurative) fence that Trump has let them down because he can't get anything done.

They will castigate the President because he is a racist, as evidenced by his vicious attack upon Representative Cummings and the people of Baltimore. What they will not do, though, is to inform voters that before he became President, Donald Trump vowed that he would transform the city into a veritable heaven on earth.  Nor will Democrats emphasize that the President is failing the people of southern Ohio, southeastern Pennsylvania, and of other places by the opiate epidemic which rages on under his watch.  (Most of such areas are represented by Republicans, and we cannot offend the other side. It's just not done.)

There are other promises broken by President Trump. But arguably the most important in terms of policy, and virtually inarguably the most powerful strategically, is in the matter of earned benefits and Medicaid. In March Vox explained

President Donald Trump’s 2020 budget breaks one of his biggest campaign promises to voters: that he would leave Medicaid, Social Security, and Medicare untouched.

“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Trump told the Daily Signal, a conservative publication affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, in 2015.

Over the next 10 years, Trump’s 2020 budget proposal aims to spend $1.5 trillion less on Medicaid — instead allocating $1.2 trillion in a block-grant program to states — $25 billion less on Social Security, and $845 billion less on Medicare (some of that is reclassified to a different department). Their intentions are to cut benefits under Medicaid and Social Security. The impact on Medicare is more complicated...

Addressing the President's policies on Social Security and Medicare highlights Trump's habit of breaking promises, reinforces the position of the Democratic Party as the protector of the old and the infirm, and exposes Donald Russia as just another politician who says one thing while campaigning and then does another.

The Democratic Party can add that Trump does so with a heaping topping of bigotry. However, it should emphasize that the President's pattern of duplicity is a continuation of a pattern of presidential behavior that includes our 44th President,  a concession to reality that- as Stoller understands- is sadly unlikely.

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Calculated Strategy

It's another broken promise from Donald Trump. The candidate who promised  to "make America great again" told an audience in May in rural Pennsylvania "We have saved America. We’ve made America great again, and we are going to keep America great."

Evidently, San Francisco and Baltimore are not part of America.   Irritated by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in January Donald Russia tweeted in part "by the way, clean up the streets in San Francisco, they are disgusting!"  Before on Sunday he labeled Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md) a "racist," he described the city of Baltimore on Saturday as "a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess" and said "no human being would want to live there."

Two-and-a-half years in to his new job, Trump has by his own de facto admission failed to make America great again, or even good. However, despite the obviously bigoted nature of his remarks, the President may have had no choice- politically- but to go full racist. Slate's Jordan Weissman explains

On Friday, the Commerce Department reported that the country’s gross domestic product expanded at a middling 2.1 percent annual rate during the the second quarter, down from 3.1 percent over the first three months of 2019. This was only a preliminary estimate, a guesstimate really; the government will gather more data and revise that number in the coming months. But it was clearly worrisome to Donald Trump, who tried in vain to put a glass-half-full spin on the news while also placing blame for any weakness on his nemeses at the Federal Reserve.

Friday’s report also robbed the White House of a favorite talking point. Previously, the government believed that the economy grew by more than 3 percent in 2018, a mark it hadn’t hit in more than a decade. This milestone led Trump (or, really, his press shop) to boast that he had “accomplished an economic turnaround of historic proportions.” He was particularly jazzed that growth hit 4.1 percent for one quarter that year.

It turns out we didn’t reach 3 percent growth after all. In its annual data revisions, which also dropped Friday, the Commerce Department reported that the economy grew by just 2.5 percent or 2.9 percent in 2018, depending on exactly how you measure it. It also turns out that growth never actually hit 4 percent in the second quarter of 2018, which—despite being sort of meaningless—had been a point of pride for Trump. In short, goodbye, bragging rights....

In fact, it looks like we might even be heading into a bit of a bust. One major reason why growth slowed so much during the second quarter was that businesses actually cut back on overall investment for the first time since 2016.

Reducing investment can help cause a recession. Among signs of an upcoming recession are a drop in USA rail volumes and an inverted yield curve, in which

The returns on long-term bonds dip below returns on short-term ones. Again, there are many reasons that this could happen, but it’s generally interpreted as a sign that the market expects weak or nonexistent growth in the coming years, and very little inflation....

As of this week, the U.S. Treasury yield curve has now been inverted for a full quarter—an incredibly dull-sounding turn of events that happens to be an unusually reliable warning sign that an economic downturn is on the way. The yield curve has flipped prior to each of the last seven official recessions over the past 50 years, without a single false-alarm during that stretch. If securities could talk, in other words, they’d be screaming bloody murder about trouble ahead.

When finance types say that the yield curve is “inverted,” what they really mean is that the typical order of the debt markets that prevails when the economy is healthy has been turned on its head. Usually, long-term U.S. government bonds offer higher yields than short-term ones, because buyers demand higher interest rates in return for locking up their money for greater periods of time. There are a few reasons why this is the case, but a big one is that the longer it takes to get repaid, the more risk there is that inflation will eat up your investment.

When the yield curve is inverted, however, the opposite becomes true: The returns on long-term bonds dip below returns on short-term ones. Again, there are many reasons that this could happen, but it’s generally interpreted as a sign that the market expects weak or nonexistent growth in the coming years, and very little inflation.

So when President Trump plays his white supremacist card, there may be a very good reason.  Center-right Republicans and market conservatives have warned the President since last summer that he should drop cultural warfare in favor of touting a strong economy. However, the economy is unlikely to be as strong in November of 2020 as it has been thus far in the Trump presidency. Moreover, economics is something the President clearly struggles with while he is very familiar with bigotry, misogyny, and hate-mongering.

Donald Trump is dancing with the one that brung him because it got him where he is today and he's at a loss if he does otherwise.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Not Even A Chirp

Feel free to blame Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Blame him exclusively if you wish because he deserves virtually all of the blame.... but not quite all. As ABC News reports

One day after former special counsel Robert Mueller issued a stark warning that the Russians are actively seeking to interfere once again in the U.S. elections and called for aggressive deterrence measures, Senate Democrats sought passage of multiple election security bills only to be stopped by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell for a second time this week.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., accused Republicans of "putting their heads in the sand."

"Mueller's testimony was a clarion call for election security," Schumer said. "Mueller's testimony should be a wake-up call to every American, Democrat, Republican, Liberal, Conservative, that the integrity of our elections is at stake."

Mueller told House members Wednesday, at a high-profile hearing delving into the special counsel's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election that the Putin-led government is still at it.

"It wasn't a single attempt. They are doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign," Mueller said Wednesday.

They will do it in the next campaign and the Senate Majority Leader wants to remain the Senate Majority Leader, which would be unlikely if elections are unencumbered by interference from the Kremlin, as well as voter suppression targeting Democratic constituencies. Additionally, President Trump would be irritated if legislation were enacted securing election systems, and he has in his cabinet one Elaine Chao, whose married name (were she to use it) would be "McConnell." Scratch my back....

Less consequential but also reprehensible was McConnell's jab in May to the jaw of both the Democratic Party and its last president when he mocked Democrats for only now "awakening to the dangers of Russian aggression" and commented  "maybe stronger leadership would have left the Kremlin less emboldened. Maybe tampering with our democracy wouldn't have seemed so very tempting. Instead the previous administration sent the Kremlin the signal they could get away with almost anything..."

Kayleigh McEnany, national press spokesperson for the Trump 2020 presidential campaign, on Thursday night tried to blame President Obama for the campaign interference by Russia, at 27:43 of the video below stating "and certainly more than Obama, who did nothing." After Chris Cuomo tried to pivot to the present, McEnany responded "and I don't think you can leave President Obama out of it."

In April, Donald Russia had tweeted "Anything the Russians did concerning the 2016 Election was done while Obama was President. He was told about it and did nothing! Most importantly, the vote was not affected."

But the irony, as Vox points out

is that it is McConnell, not Democrats, who seems to be having an abrupt awakening about Russia’s election interference.

As the American intelligence community gathered evidence through the summer of 2016 that Russia was responsible for the hacks of Democratic targets that resulted in the WikiLeaks dumps, President Barack Obama’s administration briefed congressional leaders and sought to put out a bipartisan statement sounding the alarm about the Kremlin’s efforts.

But according to the Washington Post’s blockbuster 2017 report about how the Obama administration tried to handle the Russian effort, McConnell scuttled the White House’s plans, citing “skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims” and concerns the administration was just playing partisan politics.

A bipartisan statement urging states to take cybersecurity precautions was ultimately released ahead of the 2016 election, but it didn’t single out Russia specifically or mention that the Kremlin was partnering with WikiLeaks (and, indirectly, the Trump campaign) in an anti-Hillary Clinton influence operation. Last year, Denis McDonough, Obama’s last chief of staff, said on Meet the Press that McConnell “dramatically watered down” the statement.

The remarks from McEnany, McConnell, and Donald Russia were intended to be more than a diversion. They are part of a "it's not our fault, it's yours" or "it's not Trump's fault, it's Obama's fault" theme.

You wouldn't know it, however, by Barack Obama's reaction. We have heard only silence from the former President, secure in the knowledge that he is. what: the first black President? architect of a health care plan slightly superior to what preceded it? far better than his successor?

He is all that, of course. But he also is the last Democratic president, never criticized by a Democratic politician, and riding fairly high in post-presidential polls.  Yet, as Democrats everywhere try to convince the cynical that the USA faced an unprecedented attack upon its election systems, one encouraged in the past and present by Donald Trump, and likely to continue, Barack Obama is silent.

We refer to ex-Presidents as "President"- President Obama, President Bush, President Clinton, President Carter.  In return, something should be expected from an ex-president, especially one whose Party is criticized along with himself.  It's not asking a great deal, particularly when the other party is trying to shift responsibility for this scandal so it can avoid culpability.

Then-President Obama did not act decisively when he learned of the Russian activity. Nevertheless, he acted in a patriotic manner, a significant upgrade from the approach of his successor.  At this time, in this case, silence is not golden, and it is time for him to step up and speak out.

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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Schiff May Be On To Something

In his opening statement yesterday as chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Adam Schiff (D-Ca.) noted the greed, corruption, and dishonesty which the Special Counsel uncovered in the Trump Administration. However, he emphasized a different problem when he told Robert Mueller

Your investigation determined that the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump himself, knew that a foreign power was intervening in our election and welcomed it, built Russian meddling into their strategy and used it.

Disloyalty to country. Those are strong words, but how else are we to describe a presidential campaign which did not inform the authorities of a foreign offer of dirt on their opponent, which did not publicly shun it or turn it away, but which instead invited it, encouraged it and made full use of it?

That disloyalty may not have been criminal. Constrained by uncooperative witnesses, the destruction of documents and the use of encrypted communications, your team was not able to establish each of the elements of the crime of conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt, so not a provable crime in any event.

But I think maybe something worse: The crime is the violation of law written by Congress. But disloyalty to country violates the very oath of citizenship, our devotion to a core principle on which our nation was founded that we, the people and not some foreign power that wishes us ill, we decide who governs us.

Charlie Pierce noted "Schiff's argument about disloyalty is what established the mood." Pierce maintained

Instead of Gohmert's bellowing that Mueller's investigation was "un-American," we had the Democratic members of the committee explaining the actual un-Americanism of allowing foreign ratfckers to help pick a president. And, if there was a moment that drove this all the way home, it came when Mueller told the committee that foreign ratfcking was not merely something out of recent history.

And why not? It worked the first time and six weeks ago

During an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos, Trump was asked whether his campaign would accept information from foreign governments in this upcoming election or turn it over to the FBI.

"I think maybe you do both," Trump said, adding that if Norway had information on an opponent, he thinks he would want to hear it. "I think you might want to listen, there's nothing wrong with listening."

When asked whether he would want that type of interference in the 2020 election, Trump said: "It's not an interference."

"They have information. I think I'd take it," Trump continued. "If I thought there was something wrong, I'd go maybe to the FBI."

That's "maybe" as in "if it will benefit me financially." 

President Trump will try to paint this election as his kind of people against the Democratic kind, "us" vs. "them," patriots vs. traitors, the latter as he has tried to portray Representatives Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, Tlaib, and Omar. 

Democrats can embrace being the party of openness, diversity, and inclusiveness, as those four congresswomen represent. But they already are largely perceived as that. And give voters the choice being a party which has embraced those values and one which has embraced the flag.... we don't want to  know the outcome.

Fortunately (though unfortunately because he actually is the President), Donald Trump has given Democrats an opening, one wide enough march an army through, one implied by chairperson Schiff. Donald Trump is disloyal- and barely tries to hide it.  He is disloyal, unpatriotic, and flat-out does not like this country. 

Embrace that, Democrats.  Put the President on the defensive about loyalty to the country. It's not enough to point out that Trump committed obstruction of justice, which is an abstraction to most people. Few voters are going to rush out to vote against someone because they've been convinced he has committed a crime they may suspect (inaccurately) other politicians have committed.

This is not John McCain, George Herbert Walker Bush, or even George W. Bush the Democratic Party is running against. It is Donald J. Trump, who a while back sold out this nation to the highest bidder.  A Garry Trudeau character knows what to call him. Try it.

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Semper Fidelis, Mr. President

There are a few exchanges which took place on Wednesday before former Special Counsel Robert Mueller and two congressional committees which are emblematic of the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. They include the following:

MUELLER: I was going to say, the expectation was, if we did subpoena the president, he would fight the subpoena and we would be in the midst of the investigation for a substantial period of time.

MALONEY: Right, but as we sit here, you’ve never had an opportunity to ask the president, in person, questions under oath, and so obviously that must have been a difficult decision. And you’re right, appendix C lays that out, and indeed, I believe you describe the in-person interview as vital. That’s you word.

And of course, you make clear, you had the authority and the legal justification to do it, as you point out. You waited a year, you put up with a lot of negotiations, you made numerous accommodations, which you lay out, so that he could prepare and not be surprised. I take it you were trying to be fair to the president. And, by the way, you were going to limit the questions, when you got to written question, to Russia only.

And, in fact, you did go with written questions after about nine months, sir, right? And the president responded to those and you have some hard language for what you thought of those responses. What did you think of the president’s written responses Mr. Mueller?

MUELLER: It was certainly not as useful as the interview would be.

MALONEY: In fact -- in fact, you pointed out, and by my count, there were more than 30 times when the president said he didn’t recall, he didn’t remember, no independent recollection, no current recollection and I take it by your answer that it wasn’t as helpful, that’s why you used words like incomplete, imprecise, inadequate, insufficient. Is that a fair summary of what you thought of those written answers?

MUELLER: That is a fair summary. And I presume that comes from the report.

Mueller "put up with a lot of negotiations" and made "numerous accommodations," yet did not issue a subpoena. However, it's easy to miss the red flag when Democrats spent yesterday (and the prior two years) touting the personal and professional resume of the ex-Marine. Continuing:

MALONEY: And yet, sir, and I ask this respectfully -- by the way, the president didn’t ever claim the Fifth Amendment, did he?

MUELLER: I’m not going to talk to that.

Mueller wouldn't talk about that because Mueller spent the day refusing to answer questions, over 200 times in all. Please continue, Representative Maloney:

MALONEY: Well I -- from what I can tell sir, at one point it was vital and then at another point it wasn’t vital. And my question to you is, why did it stop being vital, and I can only think of three explanations. One is, that somebody told you couldn’t do it, but nobody told you couldn’t subpoena the president, is that right?

MUELLER: No, we understood we could subpoena the president.

MALONEY: Rosenstein didn’t tell you, Whitaker didn’t tell you, Barr didn’t tell you, you couldn’t ...

MUELLER: We could serve a subpoena.

Of course, Mueller could serve a subpoena. Neither the Attorney General nor the Assistant Attorney General stood by the employee, waiting to snatch out of his hands any subpoena he might obtain. However, in the same manner, you could walk into your boss' office tomorrow, call him or her a bumbling fool and even accuse the latter of having an affair with your spouse. You could, and you'd be fired. Mueller did not have to be explicitly told. Barr did not explicitly prohibit a subpoena, thus the congressman continued:

MALONEY: So, the only other explanation -- well, there’s two others I guess, one, that you just flinched. That you had the opportunity to do it and you didn’t do it. But sir, you don’t strike me as the kind of guy who flinches.

MUELLER: I’d hope not.

If ever there were an investigation which featured flinching as its animating characteristic, this was it. Nevertheless

MALONEY: Well then the third explanation -- I hope not too sir. And the third explanation I can think of is that -- is that you didn’t think you needed it. And in fact, what caught my eye was page 13 in volume 2, where you said, in fact, you had a substantial body of evidence and you sight a bunch of cases there don’t you, about how you often have to prove intent to obstruct justice without an in-person interview, that’s the kind of nature of it, and you used terms like a substantial body of evidence, significant evidence of the president’s intent.

So, my question sir is, did you have sufficient evidence of the president’s intent to obstruct justice and is that why you didn’t do the interview.

Robert Mueller pointedly refused in his report to state that the President attempted to commit obstruction of justice or any other crime. Yet he did not interview Trump because, we are to believe, he had sufficient evidence of the President's intent to obstruct justice. This makes a great deal of sense, in some alternate universe.

MUELLER: No, there’s a balance. In other words, how much evidence you have that would satisfy the last element, against how much time are you willing to spend in the courts litigating a -- the -- interviewing the president?

MALONEY: In this case, you felt that you had enough evidence of the president’s intent?

MUELLER: We had to make a balanced decision in terms of how much evidence we had, compared to length of time it would take...

It seems from the testimony above that it would have taken too darned long for the Special Counsel's office to obtain a subpoena to ascertain the truth in the most important investigation of a President in United States history.

It would have taken a minimum of time for the Special Counsel to request a subpoena and the Office of the President to tell said lawyer to go suck an egg. Mueller then would have had additional evidence of obstruction of justice while the American people would have more clearly understood that the President was not cooperating with the investigation and had much to hide. But, "the length of time it would take."

There are several possible reasons that no subpoena for a personal interview was pursued with the guy who said "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing."

Both Mueller's report and testimony elicited Wednesday established that President Trump asked White House Counsel Don McGhan to fire the Special Counsel, then asked him to create a false report to cover it up.  Moreover, there was widespread and intense speculation during most of the investigation that the President either would have fired Mueller (directly or indirectly) or replaced Assistant Attorney General Rosenstein with someone who would do so.

Given that neither the Special Counsel nor his staff was hermetically sealed, walled off from all news media and gossip surrounding the investigation, it is virtually certain that Robert Mueller understood throughout that his days might be numbered. It was widely- including, probably, by Trump's personal attorneys- that the President could not make it through an interview without telling a whopper or two or three, thereby obviously committing perjury.

Obtaining a subpoena mandating the President's appearance would have set the President off.  TheRubicon would have been crossed and Special Counsel Mueller fired.

All that work he and his staff had done, Mueller realized, would have gone for naught. Except, of course, that it wouldn't have, inasmuch as even Nancy Pelosi at that point probably would have realized that impeachment proceedings were inevitable.

Whatever would have transpired in the Senate, a President of the United States of America would have been impeached. The loyal and decorated Marine would have let his Commander-in-Chief (not constitutionally, but still) down.  And maybe that is what Robert Mueller has been trying to avoid all along.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Mueller's Choice

In the video below from the 10:00 p.m. ET hour, Lawrence O'Donnell can be seen reporting

Tonight, in a letter to Robert Mueller signed by a Deputy Attorney General, the Justice Department is telling Robert Mueller that he may not make "any comment on the facts developed and legal conclusions by the Special Counsel's Office with respect to  uncharged individuals."

Donald Trump is an uncharged individual. The letter also says that Robert Mueller should not testify about the "deliberative process," including any discussions that he and his staff had about "investigative steps or decisions made during your investigation. That means- according to the Justice Department, anyway- that Robert Mueller cannot answer the most important questions that he will face on Wednesday....

An hour earlier, on the other cable news network not serving as an arm of the Trump Administration, John Dean (coming up big as usual) said something startling:

If you look at the new regulations of the Department that came out during the Trump Administration- it's now called the "Justice Manual"- first of all, a former employee who is subpoenaed, as Mueller asked to be in this case, is considered under these regulations and those regulations restrict what he can say. So it almost looks like a set-up to me that he asked for this subpoena.

No "almost" there, Mr. Dean. After Anderson Cooper asked him to comment further, Dean continued

He asked for the subpoena, which would force him under the regulations of the Department, even though he's now a private citizen. There's no enforcement device at all with these regulations. I don't know what the Department would do with a former employee who went ahead and did something in direct violation of these but....

This is yet another example not only of the destruction of norms by the Trump Administration but of the concept of "a nation of laws, and not of men" turned upside down. Only a Trump-owned Justice Department would do this, though if successful, future GOP presidents will get the message.

There is nothing legally binding Mueller to testify only as the Justice Department wishes or which would impose a penalty upon the former Special Counsel if he spoke out of turn.

NBC legal contributor and former US Attorney Mimi Rocah tweets "for months, Barr has attacked Mueller for not stating whether he would have charged Trump with obstruction if he were not POTUS. Now DOJ is trying to silence Mueller & prevent him from giving that opinion."  However, it's Robert Mueller's decision alone to make.

Barr is trying not only to silence Mueller, but to intimidate him into silence.  And Robert Mueller, with a professional resume unmatched by few if any lawyers in the USA, is no young kid who will need a good recommendation from a grateful former employer. He is Lt. Mueller, who doesn't need to impress anyone and can afford to be informative and fully candid.  He'll go down in history as one who took seriously an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth or as a guy who was intimidated into covering up for Bill Barr and Donald Trump. His integrity and legacy are on the line.

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Monday, July 22, 2019

An Accommodating Party

Times change, people change, but our major political parties sometimes appear not to.

On November 1, 2000 the New York Daily News, responding to speculation that George W Bush would win the popular vote while Al Gore would take the presidency with a majority of the Electoral College, found

The core of the emerging Bush strategy assumes a popular uprising, stoked by the Bushies themselves, of course. In league with the campaign - which is preparing talking points about the Electoral College's essential unfairness - a massive talk-radio operation would be encouraged. "We'd have ads, too," says a Bush aide, "and I think you can count on the media to fuel the thing big-time. Even papers that supported Gore might turn against him because the will of the people will have been thwarted.

" Local business leaders will be urged to lobby their customers, the clergy will be asked to speak up for the popular will and Team Bush will enlist as many Democrats as possible to scream as loud as they can. "You think 'Democrats for Democracy' would be a catchy term for them?" asks a Bush adviser....

And what would happen if the "what if" scenario came out the other way? "Then we'd be doing the same thing Bush is apparently getting ready for," says a Gore campaign official. "They're just further along in their contingency thinking than we are. But we wouldn't lie down without a fight, either.

It did come out the other way but they did lie down without a fight.

The Democratic Party still does not like a scuffle, and I'm not referring to the failure of the H. Clinton campaign to develop a strategy it would implement if Clinton were to have won the popular vote while Trump triumphed in the Electoral College  If it had come out the other way, the GOP might still be in court- and in the streets- demanding that its presidential candidate displace Hillary Clinton at 1600 Washington Avenue.

The Democratic Party won't fight for its presidential candidates but, to be fair, it won't fight for its US Senators, either. In "The Case of Al Franken," the arguably incomparable Jane Mayer chronicles the events leading to the resignation of the Minnesota senator for sexual harassment alleged by a conservative radio talk show host. She explains

On December 1, 2017, seven female Democratic senators—Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Claire McCaskill, Mazie Hirono, Patty Murray, Maggie Hassan, and Catherine Cortez Masto—met with Chuck Schumer to tell him that most of them were on the verge of demanding Franken’s resignation. At least one of them had already drafted such a statement, and the group’s resolve hardened further when some of its members learned of an impending Politico story that contained a seventh allegation, by a former Senate staff member. The accuser, whose name is being withheld at her request, was known to some of the seven female senators. The woman said that, in 2006, when Franken was still a comedian, he had made her uneasy by looking as if he planned to kiss her. The senator she had worked for hadn’t known of the allegation at the time, but vouched for her credibility.

According to someone familiar with the situation, Schumer spoke with Franken later that day, advising him to take the issue more seriously and to reach out to the women senators. Franken has no recollection of this conversation, but says that it’s wrong to suggest he wasn’t already taking the matter seriously. His plan was still to respond to Tweeden’s claims at the Senate Ethics Committee hearing. “I was going by the book,” Franken told me. “We didn’t think we should mount a lobbying campaign. But then it all started cascading.” He faults Schumer for not insisting to his caucus that an investigation was under way, and that due process required facts before a verdict.

The effort to get rid of the effective Franken was jump-started and distorted by a "struggling conservative talk-radio station whose survival plan was to become the most pro-Trump station in Los Angeles," which chose to avoid checking the facts, vetting the accuser's statement, or requesting a response from the accused before going with the story.

There were seven Democratic senators whom Mayer quotes who now regret having called upon Franken to resign. Whether it's a Democratic senator under attack or an instance in which the popular vote and the Electoral College produce different outcomes, Democrats have to understand that Republicans will be Republicans and they cannot flinch before they are even hit.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

A Broad Disdain

"To paraphrase Andrew Gillum," Slate legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick writes, "I don’t much care if the president intends to be a racist. I care that millions of those who intend to be racists believe that he really, emphatically is one."

By contrast, political theorist and contributing columnist to The Washington Post Danielle Allen argues

Unfortunately, when good and decent people who voted for Trump after having weighed the trade-offs are tarred with the same brush his adversaries apply to him, their anger activates. We all know what it feels like to feel falsely accused. This again is what Trump is counting on.

Unfortunate, too, is that Allen never tells her readers what false accusation is being leveled against Trump supporters.  She charges the President, accurately, with "racially-coded verbal abuse" and "racially coded language."  Although she does unnecessarily note Hillary Clinton's reference to "deplorables" (occurring once and nevermore), Allen actually states that critics of Trump label the President's supporters "racist." 

Nonetheless, that op-ed piece is notable for more than being six minutes of your life you'll never get back.  Allen implores Democrats not to fall into Trump's "trap" but instead to "affirm your love of country" and

Focus on the specific harm Trump is doing to a specific person; don’t widen the lens, however tempting that may be. Trump is putting one specific person, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), at real risk. This is abominably irresponsible. About that, there is only one thing to say: “Back off, man.” Ask everyone who loves this country to help protect the specific person who is being put in danger regardless of what you think of her opinions.

However, if there is in fact an identifiable Trump trap, it is precisely the one into which Allen is diving.

The President clearly wants Ocasio-Cortez, Presley, Tlaib, and- especially- Ilhan Omar to become the face of the Democratic Party. To that end, he will, albeit in an indirect fashion, smear both his supporters and other Americans.

"Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came," Trump rhetorically asked early Sunday morning, no doubt as he was readying himself for the church services he religiously attends weekly.  Those places included, as print reporters pointed out and Democrats largely ignored, Queens, NY, Ohio, and Michigan, those "totally broken and crime infested places."

Temporarily walking back his bigoted tweets, the President a few days later denied supporting the chants, falsely claiming "I started speaking very quickly" and "I didn't say that. They did."

The next day, Trump walked back his walk-back. However, for roughly 24 hours, he had it out there that he disagreed with his supporters and wanted them to stop. That was a few days after he had written Ohio and Michigan (and New York City) out of the United States of America.

"I can tell you this, you can’t talk that way about our country, not when I’m the president," vowed the man who a few days earlier had slandered the residents of Ohio and Michigan, then his own followers, about Congresswomen who had done neither.

Nonetheless, most of the media and the Democratic Party noticed only that Trump had spewed his invective at "four women of color" or "four Congresswomen of color.," They thereby signaled to voters, most of whom are white non-Hispanic, across the country that they were exorcised by criticism of minorities, slandered by Trump as hostile to America.

I am less certain than Danielle and others of the prescription to block the President's re-election.. However, I do know that Donald Trump has been amazingly adept the last several years in ridiculing not only ethnic minorities and women, but a range of Americans, members of the Armed services, Christians, taxpayers, and others.  More notice should be taken of it.

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Friday, July 19, 2019

Confrontation Feared

When in January Chris Christie's "Let Me Finish" was published, we learned

One day in early 2017, Chris Christie was in his kitchen in New Jersey, eating dinner with his wife Mary Pat. The phone rang. It was the president.

According to Christie, Donald Trump tried, not for the first time, to persuade the governor to become his labor secretary. Then talk turned to Christie’s firing as Trump’s transition chairman in November 2016.

“Chris,” Trump said, “you didn’t get fired. You got made part of a larger team.”

Christie gives his side of the conversation in his new book, Let Me Finish, a copy of which was obtained by the Guardian two weeks before publication. He says he bristled at Trump’s claim, then rebuked the president.

“I’m a big boy who understands how the way this business works,” he said. “But please, sir, don’t ever, ever tell me again that I wasn’t fired.”

Christie had been fired, in person, by Steve Bannon, because Donald Trump could not do it himself. As President 

Trump fired his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and chief of staff, Reince Priebus, by tweet, the same medium by which he announced the “retirement” of Jim Mattis, attempting to steal the thunder of the defense secretary’s resignation.

James Comey, director of the FBI, was fired by letter. Jeff Sessions, the man who got the job Christie really wanted, attorney general, was hounded by tweet for months until he gave in and resigned. After very public power struggles with Kushner, Ivanka Trump and others, Bannon reached an exit agreement with the chief of staff, John Kelly, whose own departure turned into a drawn-out soap opera which has not yet ended with the appointment of a permanent replacement.

In her own book, the former reality TV star and presidential aide Omarosa Manigault Newman reported being fired by Kelly. She then released a taped phone call in which Trump said “nobody even told me about it” and added: “You know they run a big operation, but I didn’t know it. I didn’t know that. Goddamn it. I don’t love you leaving at all.”

It's five months later but Donald Trump has changed little, and still is frightened of confrontation. (Even the unusually corrupt Scott Pruitt was not fired by Trump, instead forced to resign by Chief of Staff Kelly; video from 4/18) That is why it is not only morally imperative to confront evil by refusing to open an impeachment inquiry, it is also strategically foolish:

Nancy Pelosi's gamble is that President Trump won't be re-elected.  It's a bet she, her party, and the country can't afford to lose.

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Great Question

I was wrong. I was wrong when I thought Chris Cuomo on Tuesday evening had posed a stupid, hypothetical question.

The CNN anchor/host/personality and lawyer asked Kansas Republican Kris Kobach

What do you want me to do when he makes a racist comment? I call him a demagogue because I don't want to get into the business of what he thinks he is, because in our political culture if he says, "I'm not a racist," then it gives guys like you cover to defend him.

But let me ask you, what would you do if the President said, "I am a racist. That's why I said it," what would you do?

However, it was not a stupid question. The obvious answer for a GOP senatorial candidate was "I normally don't answer a hypothetical question. Yet this one is easy. President Trump is not a racist, so he would never lie and say that he is, and I would thoroughly reject him if he did." That would have seemed definitive, and that would have ended that.

However, Kobach said that he would not defend Trump. Cuomo responded "would you still support him as President?" after which, this:

KOBACH: I don't know.
CUOMO: You have to think about it?
KOBACH: That would be a really tough question.
CUOMO: You have to think about whether or not you would support a racist?
KOBACH: If he said - if he said - if he said - if he says it--
CUOMO: Really?
KOBACH: I'd have to know who is running against him.

That's bad, although Kobach may have unjustifiably felt blindsided.. Maybe it was just him.

No, it wasn't only only him because the next night, Cuomo entertained Kayleigh McEnany (segment beginning at 14:04 of the video below), National Press Secretary for the 2020 Trump campaign and told her

I've decided to call this The Kobach test, instead of the litmus test.

Kayleigh, if the President said, the reason I'm saying these things is because I'm a racist. I know he hasn't said that. I know he doesn't believe that. Hypothetically, if he said that, would it change your support for him?

After McEnany claimed Democrats "are trying to paint the President as a racist" since June 2015 and "it's a ridiculous assertion," there followed (video below)

MCENANY: I'm not going to play these games where--
CUOMO: I don't support racism."
MCENANY: Because I won't - I - I won't - I won't allow you attach - to attach a label to the President, even hypothetically that is patently false and untrue. This is a man who's praised by--

She never answered the question, one she very likely had learned had been asked the previous night. Instead, she invoked Jews, blacks, and Trump's Palm Beach club. Really.

Two Republicans in two nights were thrown a hanging curve, practically begged to say that they would not support the President if he declared himself the racist he is not. But they took a pass.

That says something about them. However, given that it was not one individual but two and the second was tipped off at a question they were likely to face, the refusal to concede that Trump would be unworthy of their support is revelatory also of the President.

Cuomo's question was brilliant, an example of extraordinary broadcast journalism because he exposed two prominent Republicans as fine with racism in the country's President. It would have been easy to say they would not support him if they were confident they'd never face that challenge.

But they're not. They're not because they can see where this is headed. Trump is pushing the envelope, testing the limits, trying to find the point at which the only people who can deny the truth are the 25%? 20%? 15%? who would still support him if there were video of him shooting someone on Fifth Avenue.

We're nowhere near that point yet. It is as if we are lobsters, which in the traditional (possibly inaccurate) understanding are boiled to death so slowly they don't know what has hit them. By the time Trump owns up to being possibly "racist," the hostility and bigotry may be so commonplace that we have adjusted our attitudes and expectations accordingly. That may be more than a year away. Yet, as Kobach and McEnany understand, that day of reckoning- or acceptance- is not beyond the horizon.

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The husband-wife (or, rather, wife-husband) duo of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Martha-Ann Alito nee Bomgardner flew an upside do...