Saturday, November 30, 2019

Funny Man

When Vice evaluated whether Donald J. Trump really acts like a mob boss

"I see many more differences than similarities," Diego Gambetta, a professor of social theory and an expert on mafias at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy, told me of the Trump–mob boss comparison. "[Mob bosses] do not talk much at all. They measure their words with great care. They do not gesticulate or pull faces. They do not boast. They do not, except in the most exceptional circumstances, display their visceral feelings. The little information they pass to one another tends to be accurate, and they certainly do not cheaply resort to insulting and offending people, or issuing crass threats. They are professional in intimidation. They are not cardboard gangsters."

That's one man's opinion. And while the President's antics may not mimic those of an organized crime capo, an associate of his knows even better than Trump how it's done. In 2000, before New York mayor Rudy Giuliani would acquire his completely undeserved reputation for the (inept) handling of the terrorist attacks of September 2001, the Los Angeles Times observed

Before he was elected mayor in 1993, Giuliani earned a reputation as a no-nonsense federal prosecutor bent on breaking the mob.

As U.S. attorney in 1986, he successfully prosecuted the heads of three organized crime groups--Genovese crime family boss Anthony “Fat Tony” Salerno, Colombo boss Carmine “Junior” Persico and Lucchese boss Anthony “Tony Ducks” Corallo. Each received sentences of 100 years in prison.

Then as mayor, Giuliani spearheaded the effort to free the Fulton Fish Market of mob influence.

As head of the office which prosecuted several mobsters, Guiliani learned a thing or two, including how to threaten subtly.  He also worked and played in New York City, as Trump famously and corruptly did.  And so on November 23 the President's personal attorney commented

that he has “insurance” if the president tries to turn on him while defending their relationship amid the ongoing House impeachment inquiry.

Giuliani in a wide-ranging interview on Fox News declined to say if he has spoken with Trump in recent days, saying, "You can assume that I talk to him early and often."

He then touted what he called a "very, very good relationship" with Trump before knocking unspecified comments about him in the press, calling them "totally insulting."

I’ve seen things written like he’s going to throw me under the bus. When they say that, I say he isn’t, but I have insurance," Giuliani told Fox News's Ed Henry.

"This is ridiculous," Giuliani continued. "We are very good friends. He knows what I did was in order to defend him, not to dig up dirt on [former Vice President Joe] Biden."

Giuliani has made similar comments in the past, including during an interview with The Guardian earlier this month. Asked in that interview if he was nervous Trump might try to throw him under the bus, he reportedly laughed and said he was not concerned.

"I do have very, very good insurance, so if he does, all my hospital bills will be paid," Giuliani said in the phone interview, according to The Guardian. Giuliani's lawyer, who was also on the call, reportedly interjected to say that he was "joking."

Funny as a crutch, Rudy.  The former prosecutor and mayor may be ready for a career in stand-up with that kind of humor. Were he actually joking, there would be no need to point it out. Therefore, Giuliani's attorney, being the legitimate lawyer his client once was, could not allow himself to be associated with a threat and had to pretend it was a joke.

Later that day, Giuliani claimed that he had been "sarcastic"and that his remark "relates to the files in my safe" on Joe Biden. There has been no word whether anyone believed him.

It's the most effective way of sending a message. Announce that you have a shield ("insurance") against retaliation by Trump, but if the latter goes with the program, Rudy can make it worthwhile for him because he has the goods against the President's enemy. It's an easy call for Donald Trump. Play ball, and kill two birds with one stone.

Squeal and I'll break your legs. Just joking.

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Friday, November 29, 2019

Maybe He Meant "Child Separation"

Perhaps the problem is prep schools- probably not, but maybe. The Washington Post reports

A liberal ex-governor walks into a bar, followed by a conservative Trump administration official.

Instead of a punchline, what followed, one witness said, was a “shame-invoking tirade” by Martin O’Malley, the former Democratic governor of Maryland, directed at Ken Cuccinelli II, the former Virginia attorney general who is acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

The two political polar opposites crossed paths Wednesday night at the Dubliner, a Capitol Hill Irish pub popular on Thanksgiving Eve with Gonzaga College High School graduates. Both men attended the school, graduating five years apart in the 1980s, and both said they were there to visit with former classmates.

Siobhan Arnold, who was visiting from Philadelphia, had just met O’Malley at the bar when Cuccinelli walked in. Soon the two men were face-to-face, she said, with O’Malley excoriating Cuccinelli over the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

O’Malley said “something about his [Cuccinelli’s] grandparents,” Arnold said in an interview. Cuccinelli said little if anything in reply, she added, quickly leaving the area.

“O’Malley was shouting,” Arnold said. “I don’t think Cuccinelli was responding. I think he’s like, ‘Time to go. Just got here and I’m leaving.’ He pretty much retreated.”

O’Malley disputed Arnold’s account on one point: He said in a text message that he wasn’t shouting, but raised his voice “just to be heard” in the pub.

Both O’Malley and Cuccinelli described a confrontation that involved O’Malley hotly criticizing Cuccinelli’s politics. And both said they eventually ended up face-to-face with O’Malley asking Cuccinelli if he wanted to throw a punch.

But the men disagreed on who invaded the other’s personal space. Cuccinelli said O’Malley, after pushing through a group, bumped up against him, an action O’Malley denied. O’Malley said Cuccinelli “put his chest up in mine, to which I said, ‘What is it, Ken? You want to take a swing?’”

O’Malley, a former Baltimore mayor who was Maryland governor from 2007 to 2015, unsuccessfully sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. He said that when he spotted Cuccinelli, he unloaded his frustration at the Trump administration’s separation of migrant children from their parents and detention of immigrants in chain-link enclosures at the southern U.S. border.

(Cucinelli's questionable version of events can be seenhere.)

The son of immigrant parents? Cages children? Works for a fascist president? Accurate so far, though reasonable people can quibble (barely) about the last. However

"We all let him know how we felt about him putting refugee immigrant kids in cages," O'Malley said, adding that such practices were "certainly not what we were taught by the Jesuits at Gonzaga."

If it wasn't taught at Gonzaga High School in the District of Columbia, it may have been at Punahou School in Honolulu, where a young Barack Obama matriculated. In a piece in April rightly criticizing President Trump for claiming that his child separation policy mimicked that of President Obama, the Editorial Board of the Baltimore Sun explained

Now what makes this claim so insidious is that there’s a nugget of truth here but only the tiniest of one. That is to say that children were sometimes separated from adults at the border in limited cases such as suspected human trafficking or when family ties appeared doubtful or they were simply unaccompanied minors, a practice that took place during George W. Bush’s presidency as well. What raised a furor, and caused the number of incarcerated children to skyrocket, was the so-called “zero tolerance” policy begun in pilot program in 2017 and then greatly expanded by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions one year ago. Under this wholly Trump administration policy, all adults crossing the border illegally were treated as criminals and their children housed apart from them. This affected thousands of children and it was handled so poorly that the Department of Homeland Security still hasn’t offered a full accounting of how many youngsters were involved and whether they were all successfully reunited with their families. The president ended the practice last summer.

Truth be told, not every policy initiated, or continued, by Saint Obama was a good one, though this one probably was reasonable and virtually unavoidable (video above from 6/18).  It's very easy to criticize President Trump. It's also righteous and means the critic is invariably correct. It's not necessary to erase history, as Martin O'Malley has, to do so.

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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Follow The Money

If you are scornful toward the Democratic Party and want to ignore very recent American history, you  are Dylan Ratigan and tweet

House leadership decided to launch an impeachment inquiry when it did because, as Paul Kane noted at the time in The Washington Post

after texting and holding conference calls, several dozen freshman Democrats stepped out from the protective shield of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). They were ready, particularly those with national security backgrounds, to push to impeach the president whose election had propelled so many of them to run for office last year.

“It’s interesting. We’re all trained to make hard decisions in tough climates,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), a Navy helicopter pilot and Russian policy expert who served as a federal prosecutor before winning a longtime GOP seat in 2018. “This was actually not that hard a decision. This was such a clear violation of our norms, such a clear violation of our national security.”

.... Sherrill and six other freshmen with credentials in the military, defense or U.S. intelligence published an op-ed in The Washington Post calling for an impeachment inquiry after Trump acknowledged that he pressed Ukrainian leaders to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a leading Democratic rival for the 2020 election.

That proved seismic, helping move other wavering Democrats from swing districts off the fence.

It proved seismic because Pelosi needed those seven and the others.

It was seismic because this is 2019 and the Democratic Party, formerly perceived as the party of  "godless Communism," wants to position itself as the defenders of national security. The seven, perhaps recognizing this erogenous zone, wrote

Our lives have been defined by national service. We are not career politicians. We are veterans of the military and of the nation’s defense and intelligence agencies. Our service is rooted in the defense of our country on the front lines of national security.

And it proved seismic because five of the seven are women and (pick one; my choice is the second) this is 2019 or Nancy Pelosi views herself as a mentor of strong Democratic women succeeding in national politics.

With all that, the focus on Ukraine/Bidens probably was an error.  Kane quotes the Clinton Administration veteran, Donna Shalala of Florida, remarking “The caucus is going to stick together, the speaker speaks for us now. And my district will understand why we have to stand up now.”

But it is a truism of American politics that unless the USA is involved in a shooting war or there is panic about terrorists, few voters care about foreign policy. And now, Democrats appear to be trying to impeach a President over a country called "Ukraine," which a lot of people don't know about and many don't care about.

Numerous voters hear "Ukraine" and "Biden" and believe that it's simply a matter of two parties squabbling over a partisan issue, a misconception reinforced by ludicrous GOP claims that Democrats are trying to overturn an election (in which their candidate was preferred by fewer voters than the other, but never mind).  However, if Speaker Pelosi had chosen, the House could have considered additional charge(s) and

That would be Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the Constitution, which bars federal officeholders from accepting gifts from foreign governments. It is derived from the Latin word "emolumentum," meaning "profit" or "gain." And another prohibition in Article II prohibits the president from receiving domestic emoluments.

Trump's continuing ownership of hotels and restaurants, such as Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., where foreign leaders often stay, has spurred three federal lawsuits. Two courts of appeals are scheduled to hold oral arguments in December.

Deepak Gupta, an attorney litigating two of the lawsuits, says Trump's presidency is "a walking, talking Emoluments Clause violation" because Trump never divested himself of his real estate holdings.

"The Framers were obsessed with the possibility of corruption," Gupta says.

Corruption. That is something to which people respond more than they do to "Ukraine" or "the Bidens" or "quid pro quo." They also respond to the reality that they are being cheated, ripped off, and plundered- or would, if Democrats had not decided virtually to ignore it.

Nancy Pelosi, who stated in June that she wants Donald Trump "in prison," not impeached, presumably has her eyes on the prize and recognizes a worthy goal when she sees it. But first, Trump must be removed from office, through the impeachment process (unlikely) or defeat in November of 2020, lest the statute of limitations kicks in.  Hopefully, she's still dedicated to the sentiment she expressed 5+ months ago and sees clearly what I don't.

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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Challenging Democratic Voters

Christina Cauterucci, who periodically writes reproductive rights pieces for Slate, observes

Historically, anti-abortion voters have been more likely than pro-choice voters to say they wouldn’t vote for a candidate that doesn’t share their views on abortion. Political analysts have taken that to mean that abortion impels more conservatives to the voting booth than liberals, making it a better bet for Republicans than Democrats to lean into their party-line positions.

Cauterucci cites polls from ABC News/Washington Post, Reuters/Ipsos, NBC News, PBS, and Pew which show increasing support for the pro-choice position among voters, especially (though not exclusively) Democrats. Nonetheless

Given their new Supreme Court appointments and their control over statehouses and governorships, Republicans have finally taken the extremist abortion rhetoric they’ve been hawking for decades to its logical conclusion. In doing so, they’ve given voters the opportunity to imagine two Americas: one governed by the abortion bans of the far right, the other by the protections of Roe v. Wade. The polls are clear on which set of policies they prefer. Voters might even be motivated enough to do something to save the abortion rights they’ve increasingly come to support: Translate those preferences into votes.

As a law professor I once had (in another field of study) enjoyed saying when he posed a dilemma to the class, it depends.

The rise in support for abortion rights, as Cauterucci recognizes, is due primarily to the recent crackdown on choice in Alabama, Georgia, and elsewhere.  Many Americans long have understood that returning abortion policy to the states, as overturning Roe would do, would impel restrictions unacceptable to most people.

Nonetheless, while Democratic politicians have for decades ignored the critical role of the Supreme Court, GOP politicians have emphasized its importance, especially to white evangelicals, who hear "abortion"  and eagerly pull the Republican lever. Democrats have forfeited the issue of the Supreme Court, a tactical error because while there is still a substantial minority of individuals supporting substantial abortion restrictions

Most Americans want the landmark abortion ruling Roe vs. Wade to stay put — but they’re far from satisfied with the current state of abortion laws.

Some 77% of Americans want the U.S. Supreme Court to keep Roe v. Wade in place, according to an NPR/PBS News/Marist poll released Friday, while just 13% want it overturned and another 11% are unsure.

Voters are deeply suspicious, and somewhat hostile to, judges. Yet Democratic officeholders and office seekers, often identifying with the legal profession, rarely stress the relevance of federal courts and have assiduously avoided criticizing them.  But if voters are to be "motivated enough to do something to save the abortion rights they've increasingly come to support," this needs to stop, and now is the time.

                                                 HAPPY THANKSGIVING

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Chosen For What?

In July 2015 Governor Rick Perry

said Trumpism was no more than "a barking carnival act" and "a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense".

"I will not go quiet when this cancer on conservatism threatens to metastasize into a movement of mean-spirited politics that will send the Republican Party to the same place it sent the Whig Party in 1854: the graveyard," said Perry.

My, how times have changed. Now

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says President Donald Trump is God’s “chosen one” to lead the nation, comparing the president to several Old Testament kings.

“God used imperfect people all through history,” Perry, a former Texas governor, said in an interview with Fox News over the weekend. “King David wasn’t perfect, Saul wasn’t perfect, Solomon wasn’t perfect.”

Perry told Fox News that he gave the president a one-page memo of “imperfect” Old Testament kings who were sent by God to do great things. He framed his thinking as part of his evangelical beliefs — noting that he also thought former President Barack Obama was chosen by God.

Previously a cancerous, barking carnival act, Trump since has been chosen by God to lead the USA, which is a rather harsh commentary on God and His plans for this nation. It is, though, possible that Perry was right previously (as he obviously was) and is right now.  Theologian John Piper wrote in 2014

.... the Bible portrays God’s relation to nations as tolerating sin up to a point, and then bringing calamity. God said to Abram that his descendants would spend four hundred years in a foreign land as slaves (Genesis 15:13). Then God would “bring judgment on the nation that they serve” (Genesis 15:14).

Therefore, God may in fact have chosen Donald Trump, chosen him to punish the nation for its sin and iniquity, however He might see it. This might even be consistent with Perry's suggestion- which was short of an explicit claim- that Trump was sent to do great things.  The great things might be for Turkey, Syria, or Russia- just not for the USA.

Or perhaps Perry is simply blowing smoke up his boss' posterior because he once argued that the previous President chosen by God 

hasn’t shown any “engagement to stop ISIS,” which he attributed to the president’s “lack of being able to really connect the dots” and “lack of executive experience.” […]

“I think that’s the reason ISIS has gone forward, I think that’s the reason Putin is standing there basically laughing at us as we have one lack of impact after another in the global world that we’re living in,” he said.

Maybe Donald Russia and Barack H. Obama were chosen by God, in which case Rick Perry has no more regard for God's judgement as he has for Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

Cowardly Hypocrites

On November 15, 2019 the Columbus Dispatch reported

Those performing an abortion in Ohio would be subject to the death penalty under a new ban proposed by “pro-life” groups and Republican legislators.

Except for a very narrow exception when the life of the woman is in danger, abortions would constitute aggravated murder under House Bill 413. Offenders “shall suffer death or be imprisoned for life,” the Ohio Revised Code says.

Margie Christie, president of the Right to Life Action Coalition of Ohio and executive director of Dayton Right to Life, was asked whether abortionists should be subject to the death penalty.

“Based on circumstance—would leave that up to a courts and/or jury,” she replied via email.

That means "yes." Unless there is a mandatory minimum- and it's doubtful that the death penalty is a mandatory minimum for anything anywhere in the country- the sentencing authority (usually the judge, occasionally a jury) can order a sentence less than the maximum allowable by statute.

But abortion, many Republican politicians in Ohio believe, is an unmitigated evil. We learn

After years of incremental restrictions on abortion, two dozen Ohio lawmakers say they’re ready to outlaw the practice for good in the Buckeye State.

“The time for regulating evil and compromise is over,” said Rep. Candice Keller, a Republican from Middletown.

“The time has come to abolish abortion in its entirety and recognize that each individual has the inviolable and inalienable right to life. Only respect for life can be the foundation of a free society that supports peace, justice and integrity.”

House Bill 413 would legally recognize an unborn human as a person.

If you follow abortion politics, you know what comes next:

“Any provider performing an abortion by any method, including but not limited to medical, surgical or chemical methods, will be subject to already existing murder statutes,” the lawmakers said in a press release.

The woman would not be subject to charges. And there is a narrow exception — including a requirement to attempt to implant an ectopic pregnancy into the woman’s uterus — that would allow an abortion to save the woman’s life.

Abortion is, in the view of the forced birth crowd, a contract killing, a repugnant, wicked, and evil practice that must be abolished in its entirety. But the individual who let the contract will walk free.

That's unsurprising, and only in part because it's similar to the law enacted in May in Alabama, in which a  doctor who performs an abortion upon request from a pregnant woman  an be sentenced to up to 99 years in prison. Abortion is murder, according to these laws- except the individual most responsible for the murder is automatically exonerated.

The reason is obvious. Were the woman to be punished, support for the forced birth position would dwindle substantially.  The absence of a criminal penalty for the woman demonstrates that anti-abortion rights legislators typically are hypocrites. And cowards.

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Saturday, November 23, 2019

Issue Avoided

Questions posed at a debate should give candidates an opportunity to shed light upon what they would do in the office for which they are running. Rachel Maddow failed that test when in Atlanta, she asked (beginning at 1:51 of the video below) of four candidates- Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg- a question about impeachment. None of those questions was pertinent because none pertained to any actions they would do if elected President.

Serendipitously, we may have gotten a hint from what six of the candidates said in their closing statement.

Cory Booker pledged to bring "people together to create transformative change, not just beat Donald Trump." Amy Klobuchar wants to "get those independents and moderate Republicans who cannot stomach this guy anymore" to build a coalition and not "just beat Donald Trump." Tulsi Gabbard maintained her "operating principles" would be "inclusion, unity, respect, aloha."Echoing Gabbard, Pete Buttigieg argued "that era must be characterized not by exclusion but by belonging."

Kamala Harris, who appears really, really not to like Donald Trump, nevertheless struck a similar tone, stating "We also need someone who can unify the party and the country and who has the experience of having done that." Even (allegedly) Fightin' Bernie got into the act, arguing "I will lead an administration that will look like America, will end the divisiveness brought by Trump, and bring us together." It is to be wished that Sanders and Harris were being disingenuous.  The others actually appear sincere.

In an upset, Joe Biden didn't say anything as stupid or naive as these statements. However, he set the pace in this cycle (Barack Obama has retired the trophy) for blind faith, contending in May in New Hampshire

I just think there is a way, and the thing that will fundamentally change things is with Donald Trump out of the White House — not a joke — you will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends,” he said. “And it’s already beginning. In the House now, you’ve seen people that in fact were not willing to vote for any Democratic initiative, even if they agreed with it, because they didn’t want to be the odd person out if it wasn’t going to pass. There’s no sense in getting politically beaten for something that’s not going to happen. But you are seeing the talk, even the dialogue is changing.

Many of us shook our head or even laughed upon reading this from a guy with decades in politics and eight years serving the Muslim from Kenya (a characterization condoned by those fellow who are going to have an epiphany).

However, Biden's failure to deliver something anywhere as ridiculous as his earlier remarks about GOP intentions, as well as the silly remarks of some of his rivals, suggests that Maddow's question about impeachment, at the beginning of the event, fell way off the mark. Instead of asking the candidates about their approach to impeachment in the Senate or on the campaign trail, the multi-million dollar host would have served the public well with a question such as "If elected President, would you seriously consider pardoning Donald Trump?"

A few of the candidates may have tried to get off the hook by maintaining that the Department of Justice in their administration would be impartial, would evaluate the situation based on the facts at the time, or would see that Justice is done. However, after less than three years of President Trump, few voters still believe the Justice Department ever is likely to be completely objective.

Nor does anyone want to hear it. Democratic voters would be unsatisfied, Republican voters would not be appeased, and independents would be unimpressed with the candidates' lack of resolve. The proper answer- given that a President should not give the Attorney General specific instructions- would be any variation of "I would insist that anyone who is Attorney General in my administration will believe that no one is above the law, and will act accordingly."

Preferably, he or she would make the statement with the emphasis on "no one." Given that six of the candidates responded to the question with some vision that their mission as President would be to encourage Americans to hold hands and sing "Kumbaya"- instead of enacting needed change- we should not be surprised if Donald Trump, upon being defeated next November, gets to skate.  

There is, nonetheless, a more positive scenario. I may be putting too much emphasis on boring and bland closing statement segment all too common in televised debates. Better if voters had had the opportunity to hear candidates comment on whether in their Administration Donald Trump would be held accountable to the rule of law than to be subjected to a stupid round of opening questions from someone who demonstrated that being a Rhodes scholar is sound and fury and image, signifying nothing.

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Friday, November 22, 2019

The Not-So-Secret Secret

It was discouraging, albeit unsurprising, when Kristen Welker at the Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta asked (beginning at 19:05 of the video below)

Senator Warren, you are running on Medicare for all. Democrats have been winning elections even in red states with a very different message on health care: protecting Obamacare. Democrats are divided on this issue. What do you say to voters who are worried that your position on Medicare for all could cost you critical votes in the general election?

It was discouraging, albeit unsurprising, when after Warren's reponse Welker asked

I want to ask you the question this way, Senator Sanders. You described your campaign, including your plans for Medicare for all, as a political revolution... President Obama explicitly said the country is, quote, "less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement. The average American doesn't think we have to completely tear down the system and remake it," end quote. Is President Obama wrong?

Sanders began his answer with "no, he's right" because the answer to every "is President Obama wrong" question during the primary campaign must be "no, he's right." And of course Warren answered the loaded question posed to her by explaining her program rather than responding to the "why are you advocating a policy people are against?"

Sanders did add "now is the time" to "take on the pharmaceutical industry." That, sans detail, is as much as we can expect from any candidate now that, according to Slate's Jordan Weissman

Recent polling by other organizations has shown even lower levels of support for a single-payer system. An NBC/Wall Street Journal survey last month found just 41 percent said they backed one, with 56 percent against, while a Fox News poll found 46 percent in favor and 48 percent against. But polling results on health care can be extremely sensitive to how the question is phrased. What makes the Kaiser Family Foundation survey interesting is that it’s been asking the public the same version of its question for more than two years now—“Do you favor or oppose having a national health plan, sometimes called Medicare-for-all, in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan?”—giving us a picture of how public opinion has evolved. And it suggests that as single payer has become a more contentious political topic during the presidential campaign, it has lost a bit of its shine....

None of this is especially surprising. The phrase “Medicare for All” tended to poll well early on, but its popularity tended to drop once respondents were told it would require them to give up their private insurance. That specific issue has been front and center during the Democratic debates and may have eroded some enthusiasm for the concept. Pure partisanship has probably kicked in a bit as well; as the primary campaign has worn on, Republicans and Republican-leaning independents may have come to associate the idea with Democratic candidates, leading them to reject it.

This was written 5-6 weeks ago and I suspect that recognition of the need to eliminate private health insurance has not grown since then. As their remarks would indicate, both Sanders (though evidently not his ardent supporters) and Warren well recognize this phenomenon.

Joe Biden's approval numbers remain high among Democrats, especially in crucial South Carolina. Pete Buttigieg reportedly has surged to the top of the pack in Iowa and Amy Klobuchar has become at least a little viable. We can only hope that the hostility to single-payer among their these candidates has not contributed to their strength among Democratic primary voters.

Even if it has not, however, the framing of the questions posed to the two progressives, the Vermont and Massachusetts senators, suggests that the notion of procuring health care without a private company as intermediary has lost popularity. Kristen Welker, as network correspondent a straight-news reporter, framed the two questions to reflect conventional opinion and not only her view of reform, assuming that is what it is.

The acceptance of even Democratic, presumably left-liberal, voters of the continued dominance of the insurance industry in health care is one of the 6,000 pound elephants in the room. (A bigger elephant is the decision of President Obama not to endorse former Vice-President Biden for the nomination.)

Either Sanders or Warren, or both, must find a way to slay that elephant (though in such a way PETA won't object, which probably would be determinative in a Democratic primary). Alternatively, they can continue to skirt around the issue, hoping that this phobia declines or doesn't impede their road to the nomination. However, if one chooses the latter path and somehow manages to be nominated and elected, it does not bode well for implementation of comprehensive reform in the President's first term.

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Dreadful Debate

On Wednesday night, MSNBC got the debate it wanted. Its moderators were Rachel Maddow, Andrea Mitchell, Kristen Welker, and Ashley Parker. If you noticed that all are women, your are the winner and so is MSNBC, which obviously believed that cleansing the team of hosts from all men would serve whatever commercial purpose it had. The selection of moderators did not arise from an interest in spirited debate which would sharpen and/or illuminate differences among candidates on pressing national issues One issue raised revealed a failure among the Democratic candidates but also in the debate format, and particularly with Rachel Maddow.

Whenever there was a question prompted sharp disagreement among candidates, one of the hosts would end it.  Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden disagreeing with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders on health care; Tulsi Gabbard and Kamala Harris over what Gabbard calls the "rot" in the Democratic Party vs. Harris' reverence for Barack Obama; Gabbard and Buttigieg over having met with murderous thug Bashir Assad (Gabbard) and the idea of USA troops fighting drug lords in northern Mexico (Buttigieg), both bad ideas.

The latter argument was broken up when Bernie Sanders completely changed the subject, because that's what Bernie Sanders does. However, the worst was yet to come  Seasoned politicians are skilled at twisting vague queries to their advantage without responding directly. Yet, Rachel Maddow would ask about abortion in a vague manner as

Welcome back to the MSNBC-Washington Post Democratic candidates debate. Many states, including right here where we are tonight in Georgia, have passed laws that severely limit or outright ban abortion. Right now, Roe v. Wade protects a woman's right to abortion nationwide. But if Roe gets overturned and abortion access disappears in some states, would you intervene as president to try to bring that access back?

Would you intervene as president to try to bring that access back.  "Access" already was a pathetically passive approach when Deanna Paul explained in The Washington Post five months ago

As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) fills the judiciary with conservatives, and does so boldly and volubly, Republicans campaign on federal and Supreme Court nominations. Meanwhile, Democrats have been largely passive about the courts, rarely mentioning them, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin wrote in the New Yorker last week.

“Consider, for example, the Web sites of three leading contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Each site has thousands of words outlining the candidates’ positions on the issues — and none of them mentions Supreme Court nominations, much less nominations for lower-court judges,” Toobin wrote....

Republicans have a 20- to 30-year head start building institutions, such as the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, that train and feed right-leaning lawyers on to the bench. McConnell has focused on transforming the judiciary, calling judicial confirmations “a political decision based on who controls the Senate.” His goal, he told a group of conservative and libertarian attorneys in December, was to “confirm as many circuit judges as possible” — an ambition he has achieved, assisting President Trump in pushing more federal judges through the Senate in his first two years than any recent president.

No Democratic presidential candidate opposes a woman's right to choose, or at least none will admit it. Consequently, and with the attack upon reproductive freedom increasingly centered on the courts (video below from March), Maddow could have asked "how will you change the federal judiciary to ensure a woman's right to abortion" (or, alternatively, replacing "abortion" with "control her own body.")?

Instead, Maddow asked about "bring(ing) back access" to that right, and little of interest or importance was elicited from any candidate, and clearly nothing any would disagree about. The Post's Paul continued

By and large, Democratic voters revere the court as an institution, still viewing it from the era where it was a force for progressive change.

“There was complacency, or a non-urgency, and a belief that the court was not an issue that needed to be solved or confronted,” he said.

The confirmation hearing of Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, Fallon said, was “a milestone moment” that has started to cause a shift in opinion. Democrats have long been motivated by specific issues, but “people are starting to understand the politicization of the institution and support more aggressive responses from politicians on Capitol Hill,” he explained.

If the hearing and approval of Kavanaugh in fact was "a milestone moment," it escaped the attention of Ms. Maddow, as well as every Democratic candidate on the stage in Atlanta. No one said he/she would appoint judges to the federal judiciary- the Supreme Court or lower courts- who have evinced a partiality toward reproductive freedom.

There is no need to suggest a specific "litmus test." But President Trump has chosen two Supreme Court nominees from lists provided him by the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, which are extraordinarily unlikely ever to promote a candidate supportive of reproductive rights.  Between the cast of MSNBC and the Democratic presidential candidates, at least one person should understand the rules of the game that is being played.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

If Any Deep State

Steve M. made the most important, but not the only, point about Republicans when he commented on this juvenile post by Liz Shield at the "American Greatness" website:

On yesterday’s marathon episode of Impeachment TV, we were introduced to prissy little princess Lt. Col. Vindman on the NSC....

Vindman testified that he was upset and thought Trump’s July call with the new Ukrainian president was “wrong” so he went outside his chain of command to the NSC lawyers like a little snitch. He also made it clear he was butt-hurt that the president, who he has never spoken to directly, did not follow Vindman’s idea of proper protocol with his INTERAGENCY CONSENSUS talking points.

"Butt-hurt" substitutes for what fifty or so years ago, boys would refer to "girly boys" or more bluntly, the word the English use for "cigarettes." Though he should have omitted "in particular," SM recognizes

Right-wingers, in particular, have long preferred performative toughness to the real thing. They loved it when World War II noncombatant Ronald Reagan saluted his military guards (a practice he invented and that had no basis in American tradition). They loved Vietnam noncombatant George W. Bush's flight suit stunt just after the fall of Baghdad in 2003. They love Trump's flashes of militarism (and overlook his plans for ceding global power to Russia and China).

They despise not only Democrat John Kerry, a Purple Heart winner, but John McCain, who spent years in a brutal POW camp. They're indifferent to the military service of George Bush the Elder and Bob Dole -- Reagan and Trump not only are much bigger Republican heroes but are regarded as far tougher and braver, as was Bush the Younger throughout his first term.

When Shield criticized Vindaman for allegedly having gone "outside his chain of command to the NSC lawyers like a little snitch," she included "little' to portray the Colonel as smaller than the Reagan or Trump she perceives as big and strong. Her claim that Vindaman went outside the chain of command is disingenuous because

A key House impeachment inquiry witness followed a White House lawyer’s instructions and went to him with concerns about Donald Trump’s actions. For Republican impeachment inquisitors, that was a sign of insubordination.

The witness, the National Security Council Ukraine director Alexander Vindman, had been told by the NSC’s top lawyer to go directly to him with any concerns about President Donald Trump’s actions.

I suspect this is what a lot of conservatives actually mean when they cite a "deep state." Significantly, they never specifically say it is a bad thing. It's merely left to the rest of us to assume- because, possessing reasonably sound values, we think it would be malevolent- that the GOP believes it is an evil. Nonetheless, they do not; to the extent there is a "deep state," it's governmental officials and other employees keeping knowledge of nefarious activities amongst themselves.

That is one of the things gnawing at many Republicans through the impeachment inquiry. They expected, or at least hoped, that that the good ol' boy network would operate as usual, that no one would break the code of silence that keeps wrongdoing from being exposed.

Then along came the whistleblower (video below from late September), and their cover was blown, and they want him exposed. These conservatives are, predictably, trying to cover it up and still probably will be able to prevent the removal of their criminal hero in the White House.  However, when someone like Lt. Colonel Vindaman comes along, it threatens the nod and a wink status quo. He and others who revile treacherous or even illegal acts must be stopped, through ridicule and threat, lest the real Deep State- the one Liz Shield and other right-wingers love and revere- is undermined by facts and truth.

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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Healthiest Person Ever

The President of the United States of America underwent what his doctor termed a "routine, planned interim checkup" which oddly also was "due to scheduling uncertainties." This helped spur the deputy chief of staff for operations in the Obama White House to maintain "The second problem, Lawrence, this is the problem when you have a White House who lies about everything, is you can’t believe them about anything..."

Because Trump and his posse do lie about anything and everything, it's both difficult and critical to recognize when they lie about a pertinent issue or are lying because it's well, something they enjoy doing.

In the latter category would be Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham claiming "We came into the WH, I’ll tell you something. Every office was filled with Obama books and we had notes left behind that said ‘you will fail,’ ‘you aren’t going to make it,’” Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, Ben Rhodes, Daniel  Jacobson, and Liz Allen, who all served in the White House, promptly and vehemently denied the claim, as was important. (Reached for comment, former President Obama responded "I'm too busy scolding my fellow Democrats to concern myself with lies told by Trump toadies about my staff.") The best comment may have come from a journalist:
Still, this episode is not critical and may be only a diversion.  Contending Trump's allegedly planned and sudden check-up was only routine, Grisham on Saturday had maintained the President

is healthy as can be. I put a statement out about that. He’s got more energy than anybody in the White House. That man works from 6 a.m. until, you know, very, very late at night. He’s doing just fine.

Even a mere portion of the diversion was a diversion, insofar as "6 a.m." is accurately translated as "11 a.m."  Donald Trump "is healthy as can be," though "as can be" may mean as healthy as can be expected when the subject is a fat and out-of-shape 73-year-old man caught betraying his country knowing that if he is not re-elected he's in jeopardy of being indicted.

But he may not be healthy at all.  The President can have a routine physical on demand at the White House and, as Messina notes, "if you were going to take him for a routine visit to Walter Reed, you would have announced it, you would have had a photo op with the troops..."

On Monday night, former Obama physician David Scheiner suggested that Trump may have had chest pain or experiencing neurological problems. He noted the President "is having trouble word-finding when he said united shush instead of the United States. These are words, he can’t find them. This is happening over and over again."

There is something wrong with the Trump Administration, other than its press secretary lying about notes which somehow escaped the attention of Sarah Huckabee Sanders in the two years she lied in the same capacity. And there is something wrong with Donald Trump, beyond him observing that he is rarely held accountable for his dishonesty, that lying works. 

Somebody needs to find out what it is, lest we get a Mike Pence presidency via the Constitution's Article II, Section 1, Clause 6- while Donald J. Trump escapes the bar of justice.

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Monday, November 18, 2019

The Father, Son, And Kanye

Instead of rapping with such hits as "Runaway," "Flashing Lights," and "Jesus Walks," Donald Trump supporter Kanye West should have covered the country hit written and sung by Mac Davis (below) in 1989. And he was being tongue-in-cheek. Yet on Sunday the Houston Chronicle reported

Kanye West may have found God. But he’s still brandishing his trademark cockiness.

“Jesus has won the victory because now the greatest artist that God has ever created is now working for Him,” West said onstage Sunday at Lakewood Church.

The rapper spoke onstage with Joel Osteen for about 20 minutes, his first of two appearances at the megachurch. He’ll return at 7 p.m. to perform songs from his “Jesus is King” gospel album with his Sunday Service choir.

Admission was free for both events but tickets were required for the evening’s “Jesus is King” — A Sunday Service Experience at Lakewood Church. They were made available at 10 a.m. Saturday morning and were gone in minutes.

Of course they were, because at (so many of) today's megachurches, there always is a big market for the humility demonstrated by West at the nation's largest church, displayed when he so humbly declared

All of that arrogance and confidence and cockiness that y’all seen me use before, God is now using for Him. Because every time I stand up, I feel that I’m standing up and drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘I’m here in service to God, and no weapon formed against me shall prosper,’

Well, no, because someone in service to God does not have to say (and would not say) that he is "here in service to God" because it would be demonstrated by his (or her) words and actions. 

To provide perhaps favorable context, however

West has mused on God and religion throughout his career: 2004’s “Jesus Walks,” 2006’s “Anything” with Patti LaBelle and Mary Mary, 2012’s “New God Flow.” And his statements have often been direct.

“Even though I’m a man of God/My whole life in the hand of God/So y’all better quit playin’ with God,” he raps on “I Am a God” from his 2013 album “Yeezus.” Some saw that title as sacrilegious narcissism. Looking back, it was more about West’s internal struggles with who he is and what he believes.

"So here's a few hating ass-niggas who'll fight you and here's a few snake-ass niggas to bite you," the man of God remarked in the song. Admittedly, it all could have been an internal struggle of someone mentally unstable. However, on "I Am a God" he maintains five times "I am a god," which doesn't sound much like Paul's admonitionto the Philippians, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves." It also seems out of tune with the First Commandment with its pesky little detail about the existence of one and only one god, then, now and forever.

You won't be surprised to learn that prosperity preacher/snake oil salesman Osteen is one of West's fans, and told the rapper "You said more in 60 seconds than I say in my 30-minute message." It's something David Hannum warned people about in reference to P.T. Barnum. In 150 years ago, as the Donald Trump phenomenon illustrates, there always is a market for hustlers and swindlers.

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

From Here To There

Notwithstanding the continuation of elements of the Affordable Care Act, this health care post is not about Barack Obama.

Nonetheless, President Obama is one of the most skillful politicians of this generation. Accordingly, as Politifact noted six years ago, "at least 37 times since Obama’s inauguration where he or a top administration official made a variation of the pledge that if you like your plan, you can keep it,."

There was a reason that the President continually lied or misled people by assuring them that he was not taking away their health insurance. We Americans may not like our health insurance, most people are afraid that anything which would replace it would leave them out in the cold.

It's a regrettable state of affairs, but an undeniable one.  Pro Publica points out that a Kaiser Family Foundation report in July

showed that how politicians talk about the issue matters, with 63% responding favorably to the terms “Medicare-for-all” and “universal health coverage.” Those positive feelings begin dissipating when it’s called a “single-payer national health insurance system,” dropping to 49%. They essentially evaporate if it means eliminating private insurance, increasing taxes or disrupting the current Medicare system, with about 60% opposing a national health care plan.

That may be the reason Elizabeth Warren, according to Slate's Jordan Weissman, now

promises that within her first 100 days as president, she’ll use the executive branch’s regulatory powers to start bringing down health costs, push for fast-track legislation to build on the Affordable Care Act, make traditional Medicare available to everyone over the age of 50, and create a very generous public insurance option with modest premiums that Americans will be able to purchase on Obamacare’s exchanges, which she is branding as the “Medicare for All option.”

Warren argues that these reforms will eventually pave the way to pass a second bill that fully moves the United States to a single-payer system like Sanders has envisioned, by putting all Americans on a single government plan and banning private insurers from selling competing coverage. “No later than my third year in office, I will fight to pass legislation that would complete the transition to full Medicare for All,” her plan states. “By this point, the American people will have experienced the full benefits of a true Medicare for All option, and they can see for themselves how that experience stacks up against high-priced care that requires them to fight tooth-and-nail against their insurance company.”

Sanders' shorter timeline for eliminating private insurance and implementing single-payer is more ambitious and thus more viscerally appealing.  And there are other pitfalls to Warren's approach, as Weissman points out. Nonetheless, it is

a far-reaching health care plan that at least has some vague grounding in political reality. It would still require a bunch of new federal spending but far less than single payer, since it charges some premiums. It’s probably more comprehensive than anything Joe Manchin will want to pass, but you could still theoretically do it using the budget reconciliation process, which lets Congress enact spending bills with a bare majority vote, and which any health care legislation will need to rely on so long as the filibuster exists.

Part of that particular reality is that Americans currently are unwilling to immolate private health insurance companies. Currently. However, Medicare is popular, both as policy and as branding, which is why the Vermont senator introduced single-payer as "Medicare for All" rather than "single payer for all."

President Obama understood that Americans generally are risk-averse about radically changing their health care policy. If the Massachusetts senator is elected and can lower the eligible age for Medicare to 50, she, and the country, would be off and running, after which a transition to single-payer would be significantly more plausible. It may not be sexy, but it is grounded in political reality and provides the best route yet for getting to the health care destination needed. 

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Saturday, November 16, 2019

When Attempting To Commit A Crime Isn't A Crime

If you haven't already heard this, you have to see it or believe it.  Trump TV prime-time host Laura Ingraham on Thursday evening stated (as seen beginning at :18 of the video below)

Of course, Nancy, it's in the Constitution. We can read. The President can be impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors but even assuming the Democrats' strained and ridiculous interpretation of the facts- and I do not assume them- but just for the sake of their argument, attempted bribery isn't in the Constitution.

Now here is the truth is stranger than fiction fact: Laura Ingraham is a lawyer.

It's hard to believe but according to her Wikipedia page, after working in the Reagan Administration, she

earned a J.D. degree and Ingraham went on to work as a judicial clerk in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York and then for United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She also worked for the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in New York City. Ingraham began her media career in the mid-1990s.

Maybe working for Clarence Thomas accounts for her ignorance of the law. Otherwise, she would understand the strong nexus between bribery and solicitation of a bribe. Those who are strict constructionists would understand "the general federal bribery statute applies to persons who “demand” or “seek” anything of value for the purposes prohibited by the statute." Scholars taking a wider, historical view would recognize

In short, the Founders’ conception of bribery—and thus the scope of that term in the Constitution—cannot be understood with reference to modern federal statutes and the interpretation of those statutes by modern courts. As Tribe and Matz explain, “[T]he Framers were concerned with abuse of power, corruption, and injury to the nation. At no point did any delegate link the ultimate safeguard against presidential betrayal to intricacies of a criminal code... the Founding generation understood bribery broadly, as covering the corrupt abuse of power to obtain personal benefit.

A more legalistic interpretation would suggest

The difference between an attempt to bribe and the actual passage of money or property as a bribe is of little practical importance where the definition of the crime includes an attempt to commit it. This was true at common law and is often true under statutory definitions of bribery. However, separate statutes may be enacted to proscribe a bribery and an attempt to bribe and different punishments may be prescribed for the separate offenses.

"Attempted bribery isn't in the Constitution," Laura Ingraham, University of Virginia Law School 1991, claims. She doesn't explain why attempted bribery isn't a high crime or misdemeanor. It's just another "alternative fact" of, by, and for supporters of Donald Trump.

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Thursday, November 14, 2019

A Most Fortuitous Coincidence

It's all explained in the dialogue between "Rat" and "Pig" in this "Pearls Before Swine" strip from the extraordinary Stephan Pastis on March 3, 2003:

Pearls Before Swine - Monday March 3, 2003 Comic Strip

Ruth Graham doesn't look like a pig, and the articles she writes for Slate are more typically marked by impressive insight than by stupidity. That, however, was not the case when she lauded People Magazine for honoring John Legend as "Sexiest Man Alive" of 2019.

Certainly Legend, who is handsome, extremely popular, talented, and winner of several prestigious awards, is a better choice for the award than is almost anyone.  As Graham emphasizes, he is thoroughly devoted to his beautiful and famous wife Chrissy Teigen, with whom he has two children, and is "a wife guy."

Nonetheless, the list of winners demonstrates how ridiculous this award is. In reverse chronological order, the last dozen have been: Idris Elba, Blake Shelton, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson; David Beckham; Chris Hemworth; Adam Levine; Channing Tatum; Bradley Cooper; Ryan Reynolds; Johnny Depp; Hugh Jackman; Matt Damon.

The previous 21 or so fit the pattern. They aren't all white, though most are. Most are from the USA, but not all are. However, they all speak English and are from English-speaking countries.

What are the odds? What are the odds that in a world with almost 200 nations and innumerable languages spoken, no Africans, Asians, or Latin Americans appear on the list? Admittedly, none should be- if no one male from any of those countries is in fact the sexiest man alive.

We have surmounted all odds. We Americans- or at least those of us in the developed world- are granted the luxury of continuing to believe that we are the best country, or the best race, or the best culture anywhere. It's not exactly white privilege- a few blacks make the grade- but it does lend itself to a dangerous and smug sense of superiority.

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The Lie Laughed At Around the World

I suppose if a guy would in the Oval Office advocate the execution of "a staffer who leaked a story ," it's not surprising th...