Monday, September 30, 2019

Swiftness, Certainty, And Justice

The editorial board of the Philadelphia Inquirer is perturbed about the stack of bills approved by the House Judiciary Committee in Pennsylvania, controlled by the GOP, ostensibly addressing crime. The editors are right about gun safety and wrong about sentencing. It notes

Instead of sound gun control legislation such as closing background check loophole and requiring safe storage of guns, lawmakers instead advanced a bill to “ensure the protection of Second Amendment Rights during declarations of emergency" by repealing laws that allow for restriction of gun carrying during an emergency or disaster. The committee also advanced bills that would make it easier to travel in a motor vehicle with a firearm without a permit, remove the requirement that tasers have a label with an instruction of use, and allow individuals and organizations like the National Rifle Association to sue localities that pass gun related ordinances (a similar law passed in 2014 and the Pa. Supreme Court struck it down on procedural grounds).

The editors continue "but these aren't even the worst." However, they are the worst because the principles embodied in the other legislation are largely, basically sound.

God is in the details and I don't know the details. Neither are they included in the editorial because it is an editorial and not an analytical piece by criminologist or even crime reporter. But we read

The research in criminology is clear: if you want to deter crime, swiftness and certainty of punishment is what matters -- not the severity of the sentence. Mandatory minimums do not make communities safer. They are, however, used as leverage to pressure plea deals -- robbing usually black and indigent defendants from their Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial. The mandatory minimums and stacking of sentences would also reverse the progress that the commonwealth -- to say nothing of the nation -- has achieved on reducing its prison population.

If swiftness and certainty of punishment is critically important- and it is- mandatory minimums and "stacking of sentences" (penalties for offenses to run consecutively, rather thanconcurrently) are useful tools. Both practices add certainty to sentencing. Offenders know (if they so choose) that commission of, for example, a third violent offense will result in a state prison sentence. Similarly, mandatory minimums assure a potential offender that the Judge would be required to sentence him to not less than a specific term of incarceration.

The editors lament "leverage (used) to pressure plea deals," and coercing defendants into pleading guilty is a major blot upon the criminal justice system. However, "stacking of sentences" does not slow down or delay sentencing- and mandatory minimums speed up the process when they enhance certainty.

The editors yearn for "black and indigent defendants" to be guaranteed their constitutional right to a fair and speedy trial, an important provision for the provision of justice to all defendants, black and non-black. Moreover, even most middle-class defendants are de facto coerced into a plea bargain and, as the editors presumably would understand, thus denied a fair shot at demanding the state prove their guilt.

Lawyers do not come cheap, trials do not come cheap, and if the accused cannot afford a private attorney, they may be denied adequate representation. The dirty little secret of the criminal justice system is that in most states, only the wealthy can afford a private attorney, while the others take their shot with an overworked court-assigned attorney.

Consequently, there are wiser approaches than to end consecutive sentences and minimum sentences.  Each state should have an adequately staffed system of public defenders in which the poor are afforded free representation and middle class defendants can be represented at rates which will not require them to go into hock for the next 30 years.

There should be a vast expansion of the number of judges because "justice delayed, justice denied" is not merely a slogan. However, judges should not (as in some states) select the defense attorney, which encourages conflicts of interest. The lawyers should instead be part of an independent agency of state or county government.

More radically, there needs to be drastic reform of the grand jury system, which Pennsylvania and approximately 22 other states employ.  When there is no defense attorney and no judge, only the prosecutor presents a case, only "probable cause" need to be demonstrated, and only to a majority of grand jurors, the defendant is turned into a ham sandwich.

At trial, the defendant must be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. However, unable to afford a private attorney, most defendants plead guilty, thereby effectively being denied a jury trial. If the prosecutor wants to indict an individual, she probably can, and the accused will plead guilty rather than going through a time-consuming, extremely expensive trial. Were an indictment more difficult to obtain, there would be fewer trials- which are conducted at great expense to the public- and fewer individuals, guilty or innocent of whatever ethnicity, sent to prison.

Yet, the grand jury system remains a sacred cow, evidently immune from criticism. Its restructure, as well as more judges and an effective, well-funded system of public defenders would reduce the number of prison inmates, and do so while protecting the public far better than eliminating "sentence stacking" and minimum sentences. And please- stop electing judges.

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Welcome Aboard

In their puff piece, CNN's Dana Bash and Bridget Nolan recognized

When a group of moderate House freshmen Democrats moved from hard no to hell yes on starting an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, they changed the dynamic for House Democrats, and indeed -- the course of history.

The reason they made their announcement and explained their reasoning as a group, in an op-ed in The Washington Post, is because they had already formed a bond over their national security background -- especially the five women: Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, both ex-CIA officers; Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania who was in the Air Force; Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia were Naval officers.

Joined by two male colleagues, they are in the process of making history.  They are centrists or center-left rather than progressives, thus individuals skeptical of impeachment but whose support in the House would be critical. They recently served in the armed forces and therefore possess are less likely than most Democrats to be smeared as unpatriotic. Moreover, they are female, which as Luke Russert could tell you, appeals to Speaker Pelosi.

Without irony, Bash notes that once they met on the 2018 campaign trail

They became fast friends, and called themselves the "badasses."

"I think badasses kind of came organically from the group since we all had either served in the military or in the CIA," Houlahan said.

(Warning: politically correct disclaimer ahead.) We honor and salute them for their service to country. But badasses? Not unless they're rehearsing for a stand-up gig at a comedy club.

While gushing about the congresswomen, Bash/Nolan claim (claims?)

Backing an impeachment inquiry is risky political business for these congresswomen -- some of the biggest political targets in the House. They are Democrats who won mostly in Trump territory by campaigning on kitchen table issues like health care and affordable prescription drugs.

Instead, it should be obvious, as Matt Stoller tweets, "the last five people out of hundreds to join in a decision are the definition of followers." Also

It is unfair to the Badass 5 to accuse them of being meek and having bad judgment.  Assuming (as Stoller and I would) that they are now making more sense than they did previously, they are merely meek but no longer lacking good sense and sound judgment. 

And they probably are more meek than even Stoller suggests. Although maintaining "if these (i.e., whistleblower) allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense, the B-5 add

We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of “inherent contempt” and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.

We call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all authorities available to us, including the power of "inherent contempt" and impeachment hearings....

Notice the qualifying language "to consider the use of..." The Representatives have not "moved from hard no to hell yes on starting an impeachment inquiry," as Bash naively believes, but merely to consider actions including impeachment hearings. It's an improvement but let's cool our jets.

According to Mikie Sherrill, the news about Ukraine prompted the five to think "I think this has all changed. This is a bright line." There have been other bright lines, but at least they're not in the dark any longer.

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Saturday, September 28, 2019

Not Helpful

Well, this wasn't smart, Emily Tisch Sussman:

I actually overheard someone saying what is an interesting point, that basically at this point if you're still supporting Sanders as opposed to Warren, it's kind of showing your sexism because she has more detailed plans and her plans have evolved. I thought it was an interesting point and there may be something to it.

Maybe, but isn't.  There is no doubt that sexism plays a role in support for Sanders over Warren. However, there also is little doubt that some of the preference for Warren over Sanders emanates from a preference for a woman over a man, such that the "glass ceiling" may finally be broken.

That's just a reality of Democratic Party politics. It's a testament to Democratic voters that, while responding to preference for a woman, relatively few prefer Sanders primarily because he is a man. Moreover, although Barack Obama picked up many primary votes because he is black, few if any Democrats have been found who intentionally are opting for a white candidate. That, too, is Democratic politics.

There is a myriad of reasons for preferring Sanders to Warren (or the reverse). A few of his supporters actually believe that he is demonstrably, significantly more progressive than the Massachusetts senator on economic issues (unlikely) and/or on foreign policy (more likely). But let's get real: it mostly is motivated by recognition that Sanders came before Warren as a national candidate, challenging the center-left Hillary Clinton in 2016 and running an impressively strong race which many boosters believe was "rigged" by the DNC against the Vermont senator.

This resentment, however, is based partly on a faulty premise, that Warren is trying to steal Bernie's thunder by building upon the progressive momentum the Vermont senator catalyzed.

No Democrat (to my knowledge) has advocated eliminating federal support for the charter school, "let's destroy the traditional public school," movement. Now that Bill deBlasio has left the race, there is a grand total of two (2) presidential candidates who want private insurance companies eliminated.  No candidate has publicly promoted an infrastructure plan which would dramatically shift funding priorities from highways to public transit. (Also, none has denied support of the Second Amendment or suggested that it is outmoded/antiquated, pertaining only to circumstances in which state militias defended the country). Sadly, Bernie Sanders' effect on the Party has been less than profound.

But he doesn't deserve to have the motives of his supporters impugned by the allegation that a great many of them suffer from sexism. Nor do the unsubstantiated, often infantile attacks upon Warren on Twitter by individuals professing their undying loyalty to Sanders justify such criticism by Sussman or anyone else.  There are only two presidential candidates determined to bring about the "big, structural change" Warren has promoted and of which Sanders approves.  If Sussman on one side, or particularly unreasonable Sanders supporters on the other, continue to undermine either of these candidates, Joe Biden and the defenders of the status quo will be quite pleased to accept the assistance.

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Friday, September 27, 2019

Secret Tapes

The FBI failed. Under the now obviously ironic heading, "Investigating Donald Trump, FBI Sees No Clear Connection to Russia," The New York Times on Halloween 2016 reported

For much of the summer, the F.B.I. pursued a widening investigation into a Russian role in the American presidential campaign....

Law enforcement officials say that none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government. And even the hacking into Democratic emails, F.B.I. and intelligence officials now believe, was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.

Robert Mueller also failed.  In what was objectively an awful investigation

Mueller did try to secure testimony from Paul Manafort and Corey Lewandowski and Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks and any number of hangers-on and sycophants that Trump surrounded himself with. But, the people in charge of Trump’s operations have always been Trump, his adult children, and his son-in-law.

Mueller didn’t say “boo” to those people....  didn’t interview them, didn’t subpoena them, and didn’t look like he even tried.

It's five months later, and we have learned that President Trump, in his role as a Cosa Nostra capo, told the president of Ukraine "nice little cache of weaponry you have to defend yourself against Russia. It would be a shame if something happened to it." Moreover, the

whistleblower alleged that the White House tried to cover up the evidence of Trump's behavior.

The report said that officials were told to take the transcript of Trump's conversation with Zelensky from the computer system in which it was stored to another classified system used for the most sensitive national security information.

The move potentially corrupted a repository supposed to be used only for the nation's most sensitive secrets with material being protected for a purely political purpose.

"This is a coverup," said Pelosi, a California Democrat.

There is no "alleged" anymore- and the coverup probably doesn't stop with Trump/Zelensky. There probably is someone else in that electronic vault as

Russia voiced hope Friday that the U.S. administration wouldn't publish private conversations between the two nations' presidents, like it did with Ukraine.

The rough transcript of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy released by the White House Wednesday shows that Trump urged Ukraine to "look into" his Democratic political rival Joe Biden. The July 25 call is now the focus of a U.S. impeachment probe.

Asked if Moscow is worried that the White House could similarly publish transcripts of Trump's calls with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "we would like to hope that it wouldn't come to that in our relations, which are already troubled by a lot of problems."

Speaking in a conference call with reporters, he emphasized that the publication of the Trump-Zelenskiy call is an internal U.S. issue, but added that it was "quite unusual" to release a confidential call between leaders.

The FBI failed, or  succeeded in failing, to get to the bottom of Donald Trump's relationship with Vladimir Putin before Robert Mueller whiffed at the hanging curve.  But there probably are transcripts, or memos, of Donald Trump's conversations with Vladimir Putin, which the Russian president wants to keep hidden lest he lose substantial leverage over President Trump.

The FBI, Robert Mueller, and Vladimir Putin don't comprise a "deep state" because they don't act in concert.  But Donald Trump, who as candidate and President has accused his enemies of comprising a "Deep State," ironically has survived because there are powerful forces who are determined that the American people don't discover state secrets.  The anonymous whistleblower is this generation's Alexander Butterfield, and national security demands that we not miss this opportunity to learn the full details of the relationship between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

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Thursday, September 26, 2019

Getting It Right

This, from a self-identified "reporter covering tech & politics," who claims 35,400 followers:
Warren did say that, in her response beginning at approximately 43:39 of the full video of the rally, which took place in New Hampshire at Keene State College. But her intent is not to criticize the legislation.

The remark is wise both in terms of strategy and policy. Any criticism of Sanders at this time risks alienating him and/or his followers, whose support Warren may need down the line. Moreover, she is aware that an argument between two primary candidates can damage both candidates. (In 2004, Howard Dean and Richard Gephardt openly fought and lost support to John Kerry. A pox on both your houses!)

Moreover, as explained by Philip Longman of Open Markets Institute, enactment of "antitrust and other competition policies" would go a long way toward making single-payer more viable.The betting here is that this has crossed the mind of the former business law professor at Harvard Law School.

But the numerous tweets slamming Senator Warren for her comment lays bare a failure to view her entire substantive response, beginning at 43:50 to the question posed at 42:43. She explained

So I want to do a brief pitch; it's a little bigger than you were asking for, but I want to do a brief pitch on Medicare for All here.

And here's what it is. It's just we've gotta find something that gets everybody covered for all their costs and that's done at the lowest possible cost and every study that's done says that's Medicare.

Medicare works. And here's the idea behind it. Medicare for All is just about who your doctor sends the bill to. All the doctors are covered. It's not this doctor is in network and that doctor is out of network. All the specialists, all the pharmacies are covered. That's the basic idea behind it. We've got a lot of work to do on it, a lot of work to figure out the transition and make sure that people who need it get covered right away.

She's for it, she understands it, and she recognizes the tweaks- and probably the structural change that would be needed to make it work. While Bernie Sanders may also understand that, a huge raft of his followers clearly does not.  Consequently, we must be skeptical of all tweets- unless, of course, they come from me.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2019


We ought to give credit where credit is due. Not to me, given that I thought that whatever the White House released of the call between President Trump and Ukrainian president Zelensky would be heavy with redactions and/or altered, such that little untoward would be revealed. That was not the case because the release is fairly damning toward Trump, for any other president clearly cause for impeachment, conviction, and prosecution by the courts.

Nor is credit due Nate Silver, who tweeted "Everybody's guessing, but my guess is that the public is going to see what's in the transcript as being very inappropriate conduct..." Nor to David Axelrod with "the transcript released today is devastating...." 

Lawyers also erred. House Intelligence committee chairperson Adam Schiff tweeted "the transcript of the call reads like a classic mob shakedown" and former US Attorney Mimi Rocah, "any privilege is now waived. Selectively releasing a transcript that he thinks he can spin without the complaint which tells the full story." (At another point, she accurately referred to it as a "summary.")

And correspondent Pamela Brown on CNN:

Rocah and Schiff (possibly also Axelrod and Silver) probably are right on the contents and consequences. But these four- and others- are wrong on the nature of the document, and this is no technicality. The first clue was "Memorandum Of Telephone Conversation." The Standards and Practices Editor of National Public Radio has sent to employees a memorandum warning

Because the document released by the White House is not a word-for-word record of the conversation President Trump had with the president of Ukraine, please do not simply refer to it as a "transcript." If you use that word, it must be followed by a phrase such as "based on notes taken by staff assigned to listen." Better ways to first reference it include: "an account of the call" or a "memorandum." It is also important to note that it was released by the White House. And we should, when we can, point out that the document itself notes that it is not a "verbatim transcript." Ryan Lucas did just that in a Q&A he recorded for Newscast this morning. He talked about it not being a verbatim transcript and how it is based on the notes and recollections of those assigned to listen.

Integrity and accuracy are not dead in American media.  That will not persist in the crackdown on the First Amendment which would follow a Trump victory, but as of now, there are pockets of resistance to propaganda, disinformation, and spin.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Transcript, For Whatever It's Worth

Here it is, Tuesday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is set to announce some sort of impeachment inquiry, and President Trump now maintains

that he has authorized the release the full transcript of his phone call with the Ukrainian president in which he allegedly brought up investigating former vice president Joe Biden and his son.

“I am currently at the United Nations representing our Country, but have authorized the release tomorrow of the complete, fully declassified and unredacted transcript of my phone conversation with President Zelensky of Ukraine,” Trump tweeted....

A few minutes before the President's announcement, the National Editor of The Daily Beast nailed it:

If Trump's call with Zelensky did not contain an explicit quid-pro-quo, the White House may release the transcript and call it exculpatory—while it suppresses the whistleblower's complaint, which reportedly involves more than the call, e.g. what Trump told NSC about Ukraine aid.

When the Wall Street Journal revealed last week that Donald Trump in July  asked the president of Ukraine eight times to launch an investigation into Joseph Biden's son Hunter, it reported that there was no evidence that Trump had made aid to Ukraine contingent on an investigation, nor that there was any quid pro quo at all.

The paper reported specifically about one phone call but there was no indication whether there had been additional phone calls. Moreover, the President had told the State and Defense departments only a week earlier that he had decided to withhold the roughly $400 million in aid to Kiev. It is not inconceivable that Zelensky was aware of this and that Trump consequently believed he had a crucial card to play with the Ukrainian president.

President Trump today promised a bit of transparency. However, you may recall from Helsinki in July 2018 what

was perhaps the most explosive exchange in an incendiary press conference: Russian President Vladimir Putin appearing to frankly admit to a motive for, and maybe even to the act of, meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, despite repeatedly denying Russian interference in American politics during the rest of his appearance with Donald Trump in Finland on Monday.

But the exchange doesn’t appear in full in the White House’s live-stream or transcript of the press conference, and it’s missing entirely from the Kremlin’s transcript of the event. The White House did not immediately provide an explanation for the discrepancy...

The discrepancies in the accounts of what was said also underscore the extent to which the Trump presidency has challenged a common understanding of reality. Even if the omission was accidental, it appears suspicious at a moment marked by the president’s repeated claims that legitimate news reports are “fake.”

In high school Algebra classes of old, a distinction was made between "necessary" and "sufficient." The transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone conversation is necessary, even though it might be tampered with by the time it is released. However, it is not sufficient.  The full complaint lodged by the whistleblower and his testimony under oath, and probably more, are necessary.

Nobody ever said it would be easy. But if the need for impeachment proceedings previously was clear- and it was- it is all the more obvious now that that Donald Trump has plainly told us that he will engage with any foreign actors he can in pursuit of his re-election. He had a lot of money at stake- and maybe his freedom from prosecution.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Something Missing

There is a common thread in these three tweets:

 "Solicited a foreign attack on our elections" and ""asked or pressured Ukraine's president to investigate his political rival" suggest (Romney) or assert (Shaub) that President Trump merely- as The Wall Street Journal has reported- requested that Ukraine investigate Hunter Biden; nothing more to see here.

Haberman's tweet implies the same because she claims that Trump's people like this story.

They would be pleased if they believe, as Shaub and Romney appear to, that the affair begins and ends with the President trying to get a foreign country to dig up some dirt on the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.  Clearly, in 2016 Trump solicited help from a foreign country- one of the nation's two major geopolitical rivals, no less- to investigate his electoral rival and the American people shrugged their shoulders and voted race. 

This time it is Ukraine, and they're not even anywhere near as great a threat to the "homeland" as is Putin's Russia.

So of course the President's people, who are very unlikely to have been told the whole story by Trump, are gleeful while Shaub and Romney recognize that welcoming foreign influence in American elections is reprehensible. However, they're probably missing a major part of the story.  Pursuant to this procedure
The employee submits the complaint to the inspector general of the intelligence community. The inspector general is required to review it within 14 days and then determines whether the complaint is of “urgent concern,” which is defined as involving conduct “relating to” the “administration or operation of an intelligence activity within the authority of the Director of National Intelligence involving classified information.

The whistleblower obviously knew this. But in what universe is a report that the President of the USA urged- unsuccessfully, as far as we know- government officials in Ukraine to open an investigation into Joe Biden an urgent matter?

It is not. The whistleblower jeopardizes his/her career by filing a report with the Inspector General, especially in this Administration, in which each cabinet member is expected to protect the President from all critics. Yet, the individual filed a complaint which he or she very likely thought was "urgent."

Democrats and Democrats alike (redundancy intentional) fume because President Trump will do anything, perhaps short of murder, to ensure his re-election.has no loyalty to the USA. But we knew this before. We do not know, however, why urgency is claimed for what thus far appears to be a simple narcissistic and unpatriotic act committed by a megalomaniac. 

There is more to this than is commonly assumed.

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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Denial, Deflection, Diversion, Alliteration

Is this deflection effective or ineffective?

In an exclusive interview with NPR, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she has not changed her mind on pursuing impeachment but is ready to change the law to restrain presidential power and make it clear that a sitting president can, in fact, be indicted.

"I do think that we will have to pass some laws that will have clarity for future presidents. [A] president should be indicted, if he's committed a wrongdoing — any president. There is nothing anyplace that says the president should not be indicted," Pelosi told All Things Considered host Ari Shapiro and NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis on Friday. "That's something cooked up by the president's lawyers. That's what that is. But so that people will feel 'OK, well, if he — if he does something wrong, [he] should be able to be indicted.' "

It is simply too obvious to be effective.  There is merely one remedy the Constitution lays out to punish a lawless president, set out in  Article II, Section 4, which provides that he (as was assumed) "shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors."

As Pelosi notes, there is no constitutional provision or statute which prohibits charging, or even indicting, a sitting President for a criminal offense. 

The Speaker recommends allowing indictment of a future president, thereby giving this president a pass.  As she would happily admit, there is no chance that this United States Senate, controlled by the GOP (and by a Majority Leader whose wife serves in Trump's cabinet), would approve legislation which would include the incumbent. Further, Pelosi's reference to "wrongdoing" minimizes the actions of the current President, which go far beyond mere "wrongdoing."

Pelosi was understandably vague, though she notes there is no constitutional provision or statute which prohibits charging, or even indicting, a sitting President for a criminal offense. Rather, the troika of Attorney General Barr, then-Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, and Special Counsel Mueller decided law would not apply to this President. Indictment of a sitting President should not imply that it is overturning existing law or in any way plowing new ground. Instead, it should reflect the reasoning laid out in late May by Senator Warren, who argued

Congress should make it clear that it wants the President to be held accountable for violating the law, just like everyone else.

Title 18 of the United States Code, which contains most provisions of federal criminal law, applies to “[w]hoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission[.]” Congress should clarify that it intends for this provision to apply to all persons — including the President of the United States.

If Congress does so, one of the strongest arguments against indictment disappears: that the Constitution gives Congress the sole authority to decide when to interfere with the President’s duties, and that a criminal indictment would forcibly take that power away from Congress. It’ll also remove any statutory ambiguity that remains.

That recommendation is self-serving in reverse; it was made by someone hoping to become the next president, who thus would be bound by its provisions.  By contrast, Speaker Pelosi's suggestion was a transparent effort to deflect attention from the new, additional support for impeachment proceedings in the wake of the revelation of the President's effort to convince the government of Ukraine to investigate a major rival.

Impeachment of President Trump is a moral, and perhaps strategic, necessity. However, Speaker Pelosi obviously believes that proceedings would jeopardize re-election of House Democrats in swing districts and, thus, the Democratic majority in the chamber. She's making a big bet that in the absence of impeachment, in November 2020 she retains the majority and Donald Russia is defeated.  This is a gamble neither she, the country, nor the world can afford to lose.

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Friday, September 20, 2019

Premature Assumption

The reviews of Rudy Giuliani's interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo are in. They were not kind, and included

To paraphrase and adapt liberally a trite cliché:  Gura has forgotten more about broadcast journalism, Nichols about foreign policy, and Bitecofer about polling than you or I ever will ever know.

However, we should recall the time when the question was "will he or won't he?" Trump, it was explained, had too much of an ego to refrain from going up against the Special Counsel and coming out on top. He craved the spotlight and wouldn't pass up an opportunity to sit for an interview with Robert Mueller.

But President Trump, inaccurately derided as stupid (though he is ignorant) and crazy (though he's obviously not a healthy man), made the rational decision. Though the President had been asked to answer questions from the Office of the Special Counsel about obstruction of justice

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said questions about obstruction of justice were a "no-go."

Giuliani's statement was the most definitive rejection yet of special counsel Robert Mueller's efforts to interview the president about any efforts to obstruct the investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and Russians. It signals the Trump's lawyers are committed to protecting the president from answering questions about actions the president took in office.

It's unclear if Giuliani's public position has been endorsed by Trump, who has said he wants to answer questions under oath. Negotiations about the scope and format of an interview are still ongoing. If the legal team holds its stance, it could force Mueller to try to subpoena the president, likely triggering a standoff that would lead to the Supreme Court.

Giuliani may have known, or at least suspected, what most of us didn't, and what still was an abdication of responsibility by Robert Mueller. The Special Counsel would not only avoid subpoenaing, but wouldn't even ask, Trump to be interviewed in person, rejection of which would have revealed that the President had something to hide. 

Trump agreed to answer questions in writing, presumably because any responses could be vetted by both his legal and political teams. He would answer in writing- without follow-up, as demanded by Giuliani- inquiries only about whether the Trump campaign had conspired with Russia. That inured politically to the President's advantage. The former New York mayor had his way on the matters of a) in what format the questions would be answered; b) whether there would be follow-up; and c) the subject area. And so we learned

Trump's legal team has argued that the president has the power to hire and fire appointees and the special counsel does not have the authority to ask him to explain those decisions. Giuliani said Thursday the team was steadfast in that position.

"That's a no-go. That is not going happen," Giuliani said. "There will be no questions at all on obstruction."

In a letter last week, Mueller's team said it would accept written responses from Trump on questions related to Russian election interference. Giuliani suggested Thursday that Trump's lawyers had agreed to those terms but wanted to prohibit investigators from asking follow-up questions.

The former New York City mayor is belligerent, emotional, and dishonest. But as of now, he also has been an extraordinary legal adviser to President Donald Trump. So don't count him out.  While no one can predict what an impulsive and corrupt President will do with, or to, his staff,  we cannot assume that Rudy Giuliani's remarks to Chris Cuomo were stupid, detrimental to the President, or reflected the ramblings of a lawyer over the hill. We made that mistake once about the guy.

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Thursday, September 19, 2019

Not Biden, At Least Not In This Answer

It was a response infamous for the invocation of the "record player."  However, a trio of Young Turks blasted for another reason Joe Biden's response at the last Democratic debate to the question "as you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?" The former senator and former vice-president responded

Well, they have to deal with the — look, there's institutional segregation in this country. And from the time I got involved, I started dealing with that. Red-lining banks, making sure that we are in a position where — look, you talk about education. I propose that what we take is those very poor schools, the Title I schools, triple the amount of money we spend from 15 to $45 billion a year. Give every single teacher a raise, the equal raise to getting out — the $60,000 level.

Number two, make sure that we bring in to help the teachers deal with the problems that come from home. The problems that come from home, we need — we have one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today. It’s crazy.

The teachers are — I'm married to a teacher. My deceased wife is a teacher. They have every problem coming to them. We have — make sure that every single child does, in fact, have 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds go to school. School. Not daycare. School. We bring social workers in to homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children.

It's not want they don't want to help. They don't — they don't know quite what to do. Play the radio, make sure the television — excuse me, make sure you have the record player on at night, the — the — make sure that kids hear words. A kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background will hear 4 million words fewer spoken by the time they get there

Ideally, Biden should have fashioned his response around the critical point that students have "problems that come from home" highlighted by the (not vetted) remarkable statistic that there is "one school psychologist for every 1,500 kids in America today."

There also are far fewer school nurses than needed, a problem even greater than the paucity of school psychologists.  This, however, was not the issue for the TYT ladies, including for Brooke Thomas, who contended

But I think what was missing in a lot of discussion about this, at least right after the debate, was (excuse me) was, like, the racism, the coded racism in that comment and the far too widespread-held belief that black people can't be good parents-aren't good mothers, aren't good fathers, don't know how to take care of their children.

The reason the racism was "coded" is that it was not racism.  Biden himself did not raise the issue of the "legacy of slavery;" it was asked of him. His reply pertained to poor people, as in "a kid coming from a very poor school — a very poor background..."

The stereotype often held by whites is that black children are raised exclusively by mothers or grandmothers. Not so with Biden, at least not as reflected in his answer. He not only did not say "black people can't be good parents"-  the thrust of his argument was that mothers and fathers can be good parents- play the radio, the record player, and "make sure that kids hear words." 

If Thomas were to sit around with a group of black women and ask about problems in the black-majority community they live in, she'd likely hear complaints about parents raising their children. If she asked a group of white women about problems in their majority-white community, she probably would hear the same. It's what many people do when they talk about problems neighbors encounter from youth; they blame the parents.

That doesn't mean that Biden's remarks about parents were wise.  Perhaps he should have clarified that he was speaking of both black parents and white parents, given that much of the left is sensitive of anything that implies there may be issues more prevalent in the black community than in the white community, which is true as is the reverse.

When Quinnipiac in July asked voters if they believe Donald Trump is "racist," slightly over half admitted they do. Those respondents were not asked whether they nevertheless would vote for him, but it's a fair bet that some would.  They may have concluded that in a nation of "racists," being a racist might not be disqualifying. When we attribute such motives to people like Joe Biden, we shouldn't be surprised that serious bigots among us are tolerated.

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Wednesday, September 18, 2019


Co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee:
I can think of a few, perhaps beginning with campaign finance reform and re-regulation of the financial services industry, two of the things Green's organization advocates when its co-founder isn't falling in love with the idea of a congresswoman dancing.   I'd figuratively kill to be a salesman selling this guy a beautiful new car, at double the invoice price.

This gave comedian and conservative commentator Terrence K.Williams the opportunity to tweet out a video- showing footage of Omar dancing- with the comment "Girl, what in the world were you celebrating on the anniversary on 9/11?"

As vigilantfact-checker Daniel Dale pointed out, Omar and colleague Ayanna Presley (D-Ma) were enjoying themselves at an event, connected with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Legislative Conference, which actually occurred on September 13.

Williams took down the tweet but not before the nation's Liar-in-Chief re-tweeted him with the comment "IIhan Omar, a member of AOC Plus 3, will win us the Great State of Minnesota. The new face of the Democrat Party!" As of 3:20 p.m. eastern on Wednesday, Trump's tweet remained on his feed.

Defending Omar, even when she is gracelessly smeared, is not a road congenial to Democrats. However, there is no reason this incident can't be legitimately and justifiably turned back on Donald Trump, whose 9/11 career is vulnerable.

Campaigning in Alabama in November of 2015, candidate Trump boasted "I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering." Politifact rated that claim "pants on fire."

On the morning of September 11, 2001 itself, Trump bragged “40 Wall Street actually was the second-tallest building in downtown Manhattan. Before the World Trade Center it was the tallest. Then when the built the World Trade Center it become known as the second-tallest, and now it’s the tallest.” The building did not sustain any damage in the attack but Trump still applied for, and received, federalrecovery money intended for small businesses.

It is not a joke, and not mere hyperbole or dishonesty. It takes someone thoroughly hostile not only to American Muslims, but to Americans of all backgrounds, and a kind of evil only Donald Trump and that giant in Dante's Inferno is capable of. This is an issue just begging for a campaign. When President Trump gives Democrats an opportunity, they should take advantage by turning lemons into lemonade, garbage into gold, and exposing him for what he is.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2019

In Fits And Spurts, At Most

It has become conventional wisdom that the two major political parties in the USA have become increasingly polarized, with the Republican Party becoming more conservative and the Democratic Party more liberal.

That politically correct view, sometimes accompanied by a wistfulness for bipartisanship, is 50% accurate.  Because of their fondness for comity in politics, centrists like the notion that the Democratic Party is fleeing the ideological center. Conservative politicians adore it because they can accuse liberals and Democrats of being "socialist" while most of their base doesn't even know what the word means. Centrist Democrats are partial to the notion because it allows them to claim party progressives are out of the mainstream of American thought and life, while the left is proud that it has (allegedly) persuaded tens of millions of voters to support progressive ideas.

In an article published a few days before last November's election, the Atlantic's David Graham maintained that survey data demonstrate that Democrats "are moving leftward on certain issues, especially immigration, economics, and race."

Many Democrats have grown uncomfortable with the policy adopted by the Obama Administration to deport illegal immigrants who have committed felonies, and the Party, thankfully, has maintained its opposition to Trump's wall between the USA and Mexico.  The openness of Democratic politicians to studying reparations for slavery, and especially the unwillingness of any to criticize the scheme, attest to its evolving position on race.

But if Democrats who hold office have been moving leftward on either education or health care- which are not trivial matters- they have been doing so at at a snail's pace.

In last week's presidential debate, one of the co-hosts identified Andrew Yang as "the most vocal proponent on this stage for charter schools" and asked "why isn't taxpayer money better spent on fixing traditional public schools?"

Yang didn't say, probably because he doesn't want money spent primarily on helping traditional public schools, though he did state "we need to pay teachers more," thereby boldly jeopardizing support with the Pay Teachers Less lobby.

However, it was not only Yang who refused to defend the traditional public school.  Pete Buttigieg boldly proclaimed "I believe in public education," likely because he realizes that charter schools, subsidized by tax revenues, also are considered "public schools." He, too, grasped the low-hanging fruit, noting "we have to support and compensate the teaching profession" and also "pay them more like the way we do doctors."   He did not explain how service-for-fee would work in education, nor whether he would cap teachers' salaries at the upper six-figure level.

Massachusetts senator Warren promised she would nominate a "public school" teacher as Secretary of Education and declared "money for public schools should stay in public schools, not go anywhere else." Given that it was Elizabeth Warren, the candidate probably was referring to the traditional public school, but it was telling that she did not find it advantageous to be specific.

Senator Harris recommended "investing in our public school education system" while giving no clue as to whether that includes charter schools.  She did, however, endorse the idea of black children being taught by black teachers, though she did not indicate whether white children would benefit from being taught by exclusively white teachers. Segregation dies hard (not so the quaint idea that teachers should be assigned by such factors as experience or seniority.)

After that, the worst response to the question about traditional schools, there was one last chance because only five individuals were asked to address the issue. Bernie Sanders' primary recommendation was to pay teachers at least $60,000 per year, an idea, not uncommon in Democratic circles, echoed by Joe Biden in response to a different question. Sanders (as had Warren) advocated canceling college debt, as both he and the Massachusetts senator have done many times before.

The liberal or progressive party, the one allegedly hurtling left at breakneck speed, currently has ten major candidates for president, if defined as those able to meet the threshold for the third round of debates. Asked about K-12 education, the number of candidates willing to state that non-profit making schools should be the exclusive recipient of school aid from taxpayers dollars is.... zero (0).

There are other issues, ones outside of immigration and race, on which the the Democratic Party's leftward swing has been virtually imperceptible. Of the more than two dozen persons who are or have been candidates for the Democratic nomination, there are three (3)- Warren, Sanders, and Bill deBlasio- who realize that effective and affordable health care is incompatible with the continued existence of private insurance companies.

On various cultural issues, including race, immigration, gun safety, and gender and reproductive rights (the latter somewhat economic in nature), Democratic office seekers are moving left. (Still, none is willing to say that he/she has any doubts about the sanctity of the Second Amendment or to offer support for the right to bear muskets, as the Founders intended.)

Nonetheless, on most economic issues, the vast majority of politicians in the nation's not right-wing party are failing to challenge concentrated economic power. While Warren and Sanders are willing to assert that health care should be freely available for all and not subject to private profit, even they will not apply that same understanding to K-12 education.

This country was built in large part on the traditional public school, available to all in regardless of status, a focal part of the community which brought together children of all backgrounds for a significant part of the day and sometimes beyond. When most of the Democratic candidates are willing to promise that as President only these schools will be funded by taxpayers, I'll buy the theory that this is a Party barreling left.

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Terrible Idea

It has been over fifteen years since initial publication of Thomas Frank's near-classic, What's The Matter With Kansas, and it may be time to ask "what's the matter with Delaware?"

Of course, it's the center of the credit card industry, which convinced Delaware senator "Middle Class Joe" to assume the role of a major defender of the entire financial services industry. But now it has given us Senator Chris Coons. May God help us.

I understand, I understand; President Trump was annoyed about the growing realization that Judge Brett Kavanaugh arrogantly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly lied to the Senate Judiciary Committee when he tweeted
But dear Lord, Senator Coons, are you daft, man? On "Fox and Friends" on Monday, Senator Coons stated "This may well be the thing that calls for military action against Iran, if that's what the intelligence supports."

Riyadh also has been carrying out against Houthi rebels in Yemen airstrikes which, The New York Times notes, have "devastated the impoverished country and exacerbated the world's worst humanitarian crisis." Yet "we," the President explained, "are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to... under what terms we would proceed." 

In his recurring effort trying to make Americans understand just who he is, the President has told us that it's not the USA, but Saudi Arabia, on whose behalf he'd be acting. Undermining America's sovereignty is terrible; doing so behalf of the nation that sliced and diced an American citizen, probably on orders of the Saudi Crown Prince, and is a monarchy based on Sharia law, is terrible, immoral, and dangerous.

That is the Kingdom which President Trump has thrown America's lot in with.  It is no defense for the Senator from Delaware that Trump is being Trump, possibly only blowing off steam or diverting voters' attention from Brett Kavanaugh. That is not a President worthy of supporting, nor a President whose presentation, and interpretation, of intelligence can be trusted.  The Gulf of Tonkin beckons.

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Sunday, September 15, 2019

Look At The Transcript, Folks

You may have heard it from Chris Cuomo on CNN during the Democratic debate, and from Anderson Cooper (at approximately 5:00  You may have read it from Jeff Greenfield, who claimed he "took a body shot from Julián Castro, who (inaccurately) accused him of forgetting what he’d said a moment earlier, but didn’t crumple." You can read it from supposedly straight news reporter Rebecca Morin of USA Today, who quoted the leading candidate stating "Anyone who can't afford it gets automatically enrolled in the Medicare-type option we have" and (Morin added) "Several minutes later, if Americans lose their insurance, 'you automatically can buy into this.'"

Neither Morin, who is paid to be objective, nor Cuomo or Greenfield, who are not, noted that former Vice-President Joe Biden had stated also

If you want Medicare, if you lose the job from your insurance — from your employer, you automatically can buy into this. You don't have — no pre-existing condition can stop you from buying in. You get covered, period.

You automatically can buy into this (and) no pre-existing condition can stop you from buying in.  That means two things: 1) Julian Castro was accurate when he charged Biden with having said "just two minutes ago that they would have to buy in;"  and 2) Cuomo, Greenfield, and Morin did not follow what Biden said or did not read the transcript.

Rebecca Morin of Axios, by contrast, is merely confused. She points out "Biden did reference his plan earlier in the night saying that anyone who can't afford gets automatically enrolled in the medicare type option." However, he had not stated "Medicare" but "Medicare-type option," which may be anything given reference to Medicare-type and option, the latter a funny way of describing something which is automatic.

Later, in the exchange featuring Castro's charge, Biden indicated that it would not be automatic. ("Nothing can stop you from buying in.")

It is possible, of course, that if elected, Joe Biden will undergo a progressive transformation and- under pressure from Republicans not to permit any option- will demand that the GOP accept automatic enrollment. And I am the King of England.

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Saturday, September 14, 2019

It's O.K. if You're America

Yesterday I argued that it doesn't matter a whole lot that the Joe Biden at Thursday's presidential debate demonstrated little knowledge about criminal justice- which puts him only a little behind his Democratic rivals and still far ahead of Donald Trump.

However, it is very much relevant that he's fairly regressive- or confused (difficult to tell these days about Biden)-  on health care policy. A great Philadelphia-based journalist picked up on what even Bloomberg News didn't even notice (see video at end):

Fact check: mostly true. The front-runner said nothing in the exchange about the absence of good, universal health care.  That was, instead, included in Sanders' response to Biden's "this is America." However, it is clear below that Biden was rationalizing the USA's exorbitant costs for health care. The exchange:

SANDERS: Let us be clear, Joe, in the United States of America, we are spending twice as much per capita on health care as the Canadians or any other major country on earth.

BIDEN: This is America.

SANDERS: Yes, but Americans don't want to pay twice as much as other countries. And they guarantee health care to all people. Under my Medicare-for-all proposal, when you don't pay out-of-pocket and you don't pay premiums, maybe you've run into people who love their premiums, I haven't.

What people want is cost-effective health care, Medicare-for-all will save the average American substantial sums of money on his or her health care bill.

Being nothing if not always on message, Bernie Sanders was not diverted by Biden's three-word comment, responding only "yes" and reminding us of the cost of health care. His was a crucial point which debate hosts and most of the Democratic aspirants- most notably Biden- refuse to acknowledge. Individuals need help to pay for health care because it is grotesquely expensive

To the guy leading the pack, however, the spiraling cost of health care is acceptable because "this is America." If pundits and the other candidates are ignoring it, at least one journalist did not, and we don't have to.


This  is a reasonable question. If going to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood to harass and intimidate Jewish people at a synagogue is no...