Really?

January 22nd, 2018

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“What we have just witnessed on the floor was a cynical decision by Senate Democrats to shove aside millions of Americans for the sake of irresponsible, political games,” Mitch McConnell – 1/20/18

The problem with this statement is that it is the Republicans who are playing cynical games. These games mask a radical shift in the position of that party regarding immigration.

This all started when Trump rescinded the executive order known as DACA in September, 2017. Rather than work out a legislative compromise, he simply tossed a ticking time bomb into what was then the tax debate. If Congress didn’t act is six months, he threatened to end the program. He said that he took that action in order to encourage Congress to act. That’s the same reason Obama cited when he signed the executive order. Trump also said that his preference was action to protect the “Dreamers”. He spoke very sympathetically about them.

We’re going to show great heart. DACA is a very, very difficult subject for me. I will tell you. To me, it’s one of the most difficult subjects I have,” Trump said at a press conference in February.

“But you have some absolutely incredible kids — I would say mostly. They were brought here in such a way. It’s a very — it’s a very very tough subject. We are going to deal with DACA with heart. I have to deal with a lot of politicians, don’t forget. And I have to convince them that what I’m saying is, is right. And I appreciate your understanding on that,” Trump said.

“But the DACA situation is a very very, it’s a very difficult thing for me because you know, I love these kids,” he added. “I love kids. I have kids and grandkids and I find it very, very hard doing what the law says exactly to do.”

In fact the NYT reported that his aides were imploring him to dial it back.

Why?

We’ll get to that in a moment.

First let’s go through the timeline.

In September, 2017 Trump made a deal with Schumer and Pelosi which setup this particular confrontation. The Democrats agreed to a three month raise in the debt ceiling and some hurricane relief in return for a deal on DACA. Republicans were upset with this deal because they thought Trump didn’t get much for delaying a confrontation with Democrats three months. As a result of that and pushback from anti-immigrant factions in his party and his base, Trump reneged on the dinner deal he had with Schumer and Pelosi.

The Democrats said that they were not going to approve another increase in the debt ceiling without some movement on DACA. Graham and Durbin hammered out a bi-partisan deal which was EXCACTLY what Trump had asked for in September. All it required was Trump’s approval and there would have been no shutdown. Trump blew that deal up too because Tom Cotton convinced Trump that his base wants NO DACA deal effectively moving the goalposts again.

The Democrats kept their promise to the DACA dreamers and refused to support another extension of the debt ceiling.

Schumer at this point put another deal on the table over the weekend offering to include approval of money for a wall in return for DACA relief. Trump was ready to make that deal too until Kelly, Miller, and GOP leaders blew that deal up.

This gets to the core of the problem.

87% of voters support allowing those who qualified under the DACA program to remain in this country including 79% of Republicans.

A majority of voters also oppose building a wall, but 70% of Republicans support it.

67% of voters support shutting down the government in order to force renewed CHIP funding.

Yet during the process Republican language regarding DACA Dreamers changed. They were no longer “incredible kids”. Now they were just part of the larger “illegal immigrant” population committing crimes, harming low skilled US workers, and committing terrorist acts. Instead of “great people who have done a great job” they became “criminals on parole”.

What DACA has exposed is the dark secret of Trumpism. Immigrants are the problem. It doesn’t matter how they got into the country. They are no longer welcome.

If the dreamers are just another species of criminal alien, then Democrats had better give up a lot — cuts to legal immigration and changes to family-based migration — to gain their protection. But it remains unresolved whether Trump and Republicans are willing to legalize the dreamers at all — whether they actually do or do not view them in sufficiently sympathetic terms. If they can’t get to Yes — if no reasonable set of concessions is enough — it will be because treating the dreamers as fundamentally different from other undocumented immigrants is a Rubicon they cannot cross.

Further evidence is the Cotton Perdue proposal to cut LEGAL immigration by 50%. This isn’t strengthening our borders or reducing the number of people who manage to get here illegally. This is effectively using “merit” or “skills” to reduce the number of immigrants we admit. One has to look no further than the proposal that only those who pass the “merit” screening would be admitted. The “merit” visa includes no provisions for family unless they can also pass the same screen. We admit 1.2M immigrants legally every year. 140,000 come through the merit program that is currently employer sponsored. Only 70,000 of those are the actual employees.

At this point there is likely going to be a lot of partisan scorekeeping.

Here’s my take.

  1. CHIP gets funded for six years. Republicans delayed funding CHIP because they knew that they would need something to trade. Keeping 9M kids hostage for political purposes will be something Democrats will remind voters in 2018. Republicans traded this for Democrats keeping the government open for another three weeks.
  2. Schumer and McConnell have a deal to put a bill on floor to address DACA by Feb 8th. This will be another important test of whether government can work to address an issue that has broad bi-partisan support.
  3. Trump, the great dealmaker, was not only put out to pasture on this deal, he and his anti-immigrant advisor Stephen Miller were both exposed as hazards to dealmaking. With approval ratings already in the dumper, it’s hard to tell what affect this will have.
  4. If a DACA bill passes, it will almost certainly be the Senate that passes it. It is unclear what the House will do. If the House doesn’t act on it, and deportations start in the months before the November election; a bad situation for Republicans will only get worse.
  5. A lot of Democrats are going to be very angry about this deal. You can tell who, by looking at those senators that voted against it. What happens in the next couple of weeks will determine if that is anger that will affect Schumer’s position. If McConnell doesn’t deliver on his promise, the shutdown post February 8th could be very ugly.
  6. What will also be ugly are the xenophobic arguments that will surface over the next couple of weeks. We’ll see how far right the Republican base has really moved. Is this still the party of “incredible kids” or has this become the party that wants to shut immigration down completely. If it is the later, Trump has to take the blame for his rhetoric and his playing footsy with White Supremacists and Neo-Nazi’s. You can also bet that Democrats will use the racist xenophobic statements that are certainly going to show up to ramp up voter registration in places like Texas and Arizona.
  7. The shutdown itself will be old news by the 2018 election. Republicans lost a government shutdown in 2013 and still won big in 2014.

The bottom line is nobody looks good in a shutdown, but there is an opportunity for moderates who engineered this compromise to also start driving bi-partisan legislation through a polarized Congress. Trump will probably sign whatever makes it to his desk. I’m not sure his knows how to spell veto.

Unfortunately Trump’s confusion, lack of control, flip-flopping, and fundamental inability to personally resolve a fairly minor domestic crisis is going to concern our allies and embolden our enemies. When even he agrees that standing down is the best thing that he can do for the good of the country – our future is at best cloudy.

Pants On Fire

January 10th, 2018

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Trump is liar.

It isn’t that he is just a liar. He is a liar of historic proportions.  The NYT has a complete list and a couple of charts comparing Trump’s lies (repeats excluded) and Obama’s lies.

 

In our political system, public officials normally pay a price for lying.  That’s because a candidate makes promises to voters in order to secure their votes.  While most voters are sophisticated enough to realize that even a President can’t do everything that they promise, our system does include an expectation that whomever holds the office will in fact respect the office and the power voters have put in his/her trust.  Breaking that trust may be just another example of Trump “shaking up Washington”, but according to the polls, most voters don’t like it.

This post is about an upcoming scenario where Trump may finally pay that price.

Obstruction of justice is a very difficult charge to prove because it relies on intent.

There is plenty of smoke to suggest that Trump had intent to obstruct the FBI investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

That smoke does not need to include any evidence that the 2016 election results were altered by Russian activity. The charge isn’t that Trump made the Russian efforts more or less effective. The charge is that he interfered with the investigation into Russian efforts.

The smoke also doesn’t need to include any evidence of collusion with the Russians. Whether or not there was collusion is a separate charge. The obstruction charge is that he interfered with the investigation into whether or not there WAS any collusion. Trump could be cleared of the collusion charge and still be liable for the obstruction of justice charge.

Finally that smoke doesn’t need to include any evidence that Mueller somehow overstepped his authority. He was given broad authority by Dept. AG Rosenstein to follow whatever threads he found that would lead to evidence of criminal activity. When he finally presents his case, Trump supporters are going have a hard time convincing the public that Trump’s crimes were outside the scope of what Mueller was originally supposed to investigate.

Here’s the short list of the things that support a potential obstruction of justice charge.

  1. Trump and his staff put a lot of pressure on Sessions NOT to recuse himself from the Justice Department investigation BECAUSE Trump expected Sessions to protect him from that investigation. This speaks to a state of mind that suggests that Trump felt that he needed protection.
  2. Trump drafted a letter to Comey suggesting that Russian investigations were “fabricated and politically motivated”. Comey was later fired because he refused to stop the investigations even though Trump’s initial public statements were that he was fired because of the FBI’s handling of the Clinton email inquiry. This also speaks to state of mind regarding a cover-up.
  3. The Wolff book claims that Trump and his lawyers concocted a misleading statement on Air Force One regarding DTjr’s Trump Tower meeting with Russians. They did that in “an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation’s gears”. Wolff also claims that a staffer (Mark Corallo) quit over the incident because of the obvious obstruction of justice implications. This alone would meet the standard for prosecution.  It should not be too hard for Mueller to find out from Mark Corallo whether or not Wolff quoted him accurately.
  4. NYT reports that Mueller has substantially corroborated Comey’s notes regarding his dealings with Trump. That corroboration includes notes kept by other WH staffers that Mueller has obtained.

If these Wolff claims are true, that means that other staffers on the flight DID knowingly participate in obstructing justice. Mueller will have the opportunity to interview them under oath for their version of events.

Trump’s defenders continue to suggest that Trump can’t be prosecuted for taking actions that are within his legal authority. That misses the question of intent. The courts have clearly ruled that legal authority does not immunize a government official from abusing that authority with corrupt intent.

But that ultimately isn’t going to be the issue.

The issue will be that at some point in the not too distant future, a sitting President will again be summoned to testify in front of a grand jury. This is a man who doesn’t read, doesn’t have the patience to sit through policy briefings that last more than a few minutes, admittedly didn’t prepare for campaign debates, lies regularly to inflate his own accomplishments, has an overinflated view of his own capabilities, and seems to have only a tenuous grasp on facts. How is this man going to perform when confronted with a detailed discussion of his actions as described by the sworn testimony of others?

This will be a situation where his usual strategy of bending the truth will not work. This is also situation where inexperience, “negotiation”, or even delusion are unacceptable excuses for failing to tell the truth. He won’t be able to deny that he said things because government lawyers and the grand jury will have the transcripts. He won’t be able to deny that he was present at a meeting when the sworn testimony of others who were there confirmed his presence. His experience as a performer will not help him. He won’t be able threaten. He won’t be able to settle. He won’t be able to leave after ten minutes. He will just have to answer the questions to the best of his ability. The recent NYT interview is a perfect example of the sort of disaster that this President is facing.

This is a minefield of Trump’s own making. It is hard to believe that he will be able to navigate it without stepping on at least a few of them. When he does, Mueller won’t need to prove intent to get an obstruction of justice claim to stick. He will have Trump on tape lying to a Grand Jury.

It is also ironic that a deeply flawed book that contains a lot of misinformation may end up being the publication that takes down a president who has a similar disregard for the truth.

Postscript:

At the time of this posting, two more Republican members of the house have announced their retirement (Issa and Royce). That brings the number retiring to 32 (compared to 15 Democrats). 20% of the 23 House Republicans running in districts won by Clinton in 2016 are not seeking re-election to those seats. Since 1962, an average of 40 house seats have been lost in midterm elections by the president’s party when the president’s approval rating fell below 50%. Trump says that polls don’t matter, but a lot of Republicans appear to be acting as if they do. Democrats only need 24 seats to regain a majority in the House.

Irrational Risk

January 5th, 2018

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There is some good research out that suggests that power actually causes physical changes to the brain.

Those who feel that they are in a powerful position lose their ability to experience empathy.  The result is that they become more willing to take risk because they don’t consider how these risks may potentially affect others.

At least one of these studies documents that CEO’s who lived through a disaster (war, famine, etc) during their childhood are far less likely to take big risks as adults.

Lord David Owen calls it “Hubris Syndrome”.

“Hubris syndrome,” as he and a co-author, Jonathan Davidson, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, “is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.” Its 14 clinical features include: manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence. In May, the Royal Society of Medicine co-hosted a conference of the Daedalus Trust—an organization that Owen founded for the study and prevention of hubris.

You might be inclined to regard this as nothing new.  To some extent you’re right.  Psychopathy and hubris have been with us as long as we have had social groups.

The cautionary tale of the consequences of hubris and psychopathy, however, is a new history of WWII by Victor David Hanson.

He points out in great detail that Germany was incapable of winning WWII.  Here are some of the reasons why.

Germany never had a mass produced four engine bomber that could compete with the B-17.  They also had no aircraft carriers.  As a result, they lacked air superiority in naval battles and they could never have extended their reach across an ocean.

The Germans didn’t have much oil.  Half the world’s oil at that time came from the US.  Fuel shortages limited the number of missions the Luftwaffe could fly.

Their planes were inferior technology.  They were harder to operate which meant that their pilots required more training than the Allies.  They were more complicated to build.  Germany never figured out how to build them in high volume.  Germany didn’t build concrete runways in their forward bases like the Allies.  As a result, more of their limited supply of aircraft were damaged in take off and landings on dirt runways.

As a land-based power with a small navy, Germany depended on their Luftwaffe to make up the difference.  The disadvantages their air force faced in a long war should have been obvious.

WWII was about new mechanized mobile warfare.  The Germans introduced the blitzkrieg, but used horses to resupply their troops because of oil shortages.  The blitzkrieg depended on fast tanks.  The Russians had both a superior design and the ability to manufacture tanks in high volume.

Early on, Germany could have likely settled with the rest of the world and retained their territory gains.  Instead the Germans ignored the limitations of their air force and attempted to bomb England into submission.  Any hope of even just a European victory was lost when Germany attacked Russia in 1941.

There was good data before the war that science could produce new massively destructive weapons using the theories of Einstein and others.  The Third Reich, however, purged their universities of some of the best minds of their generation because they were Jewish.  Most of them escaped to the west where they eventually created the atomic bomb.

All of this data raises the real question of what were these people thinking?  How could they have made so many serious mistakes in the long term planning that would be required if they wanted to achieve the world domination that they claimed?

Axis leaders believed that Fascism could make up the difference by producing more fanatical soldiers with more “élan.” For a brief time at the beginning of the war, Allied countries believed this, too. (There was widespread fear, especially, of Japanese soldiers.) They soon realized that defending one’s homeland against invaders turns pretty much everyone into a fanatic.

The Axis powers fell prey to their own mythmaking: they were adept at creating narratives that made exceedingly unlikely victories seem not just plausible but inevitable.

That said, the Allies also convinced themselves that Axis leaders had successfully brainwashed their citizens.  They used that conclusion to justify unprecedented violence against civilians abroad, internment camps for Japanese citizens in the United States, and the only use of atomic weapons on civilians in history.

We face similar problems today in our country.

When countries lose track of facts and start believing their own mythology, they become vulnerable not only to delusional power-hungry leaders, but also to foolish military adventures.

We invaded Iraq because Bush II neocons thought it would be a cake walk.  There was no evidence of any connection between Saddam and the 9/11 attackers.  There was no credible evidence of a threat to the United States.  Lack of international support didn’t deter the Bush II administration either.  It turned out to be the worst foreign policy blunder in US history (at least so far).

Our current president has brought us closer to a nuclear confrontation with North Korea.  He has threatened to tear up the multi-national treaty with Iran that has suspended their nuclear weapons program.  He destabilized the situation in the Middle East with his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

At home he has created division and broken virtually every political taboo in our shared political religion.  He has set out to destroy the credibility of the media as independent arbiters of truth.  In the face of multiple investigations into misdeeds by his campaign and his administration, he has become the sole source of truth for his followers.

There is a growing body of evidence which suggests that he wasn’t interested in the job to begin with AND does not possess the temperament or the intellect to do the job that he has found himself in.  The recent interview that he gave the New York Times is shocking.  He is both delusional and incoherent.  He appears locked into an endless cycle of confrontation and misrepresentation that is the direct result of failing to deliver on his own narrative.

History tells us that this sort of “ism” does sometimes lead to violence but always ultimately collapses of its own weight.  There is already good data suggesting that Trump has suffered significant erosion in the base of those who voted for him for President.  Hopefully the next couple of elections will peacefully restore balance and confirm that there are consequences to lying to the American people.

When the Levee Breaks

December 30th, 2017

With appropriate attribution to Led Zepplin, we find ourselves less than a year from the 2018 elections in a moment when it appears that there is a Democratic wave election building.

First let’s look at the evidence.

Then let’s speculate on why.

Harry Enten of the FiveThirtyEight blog printed an excellent analysis of where the two parties are today and how that compares to past off year elections.

A new CNN survey released this week showed Democrats leading Republicans by an astounding 56 percent to 38 percent on the generic congressional ballot. That’s an 18 percentage point lead among registered voters — a record-breaking result. No other survey taken in November or December in the year before a midterm has found the majority party in the House down by that much since at least the 1938 cycle (as far back as I have data).

These results are reflected in the larger aggregated poll that FiveThirtyEight produces.

What does that mean?

At this same point in time in 2006, Republicans were in the majority in Congress and Bush II was in his second Presidential term mired down in the Iraq war. Republicans trailed Democrats in the generic ballot poll by 10%. The Democrats gained control of the House and the Senate. That year they won 31 net seats. In 2018, they only need to win 24 seats to regain a majority.

We’re still nearly a year away from the midterm elections, however. And voter preferences at this point can change dramatically by election day; the average difference between the congressional ballot at this point and the final result is about 9 percentage points. But most large shifts on the generic ballot from this point onward have occurred against the party that holds the White House. Once you take into account who holds the White House, the generic ballot at this point is usually predictive of the midterm House result.

Here’s some of the why.

63% of voters think that the economy is good or excellent. Less than 40% of voters give Trump credit for that.

73% think the world will become more dangerous in 2018 because of Trump.

A majority of voters blame Trump for a deterioration in race relations. Only 13% blamed Obama for a deterioration in race relations at this point in his presidency.

52% of voters say they will probably or definitely vote for the Democratic nominee for President in 2020.

For the first time in history a past president was selected as the most admired man in the country versus the sitting first term president.

In Alabama, African-American voters over performed. They cast 29% of the vote while representing only 27% of the electorate. They also voted 96% for the Democrat. Given the history of voter suppression in Alabama, these numbers could be even better in the rest of the country.

According to a NYT opinion piece, here’s what that means for the rest of the country.

By emphasizing turnout in 2018 — especially of voters of color — Democrats can take control of the Senate, the House of Representatives and at least five statehouses. Republicans’ margin in the Senate has now slipped to just a two-seat advantage, and the Senate contests in Arizona, Nevada and Texas are all winnable if there is a robust turnout of voters of color. Texas may be considered as conservative as Alabama, but its actual demographics are much more favorable: Only 53 percent of Texas eligible voters are white (and a quarter of the whites are strong Democrats). Mr. Trump won Texas by 800,000 votes, but there were four million eligible, nonvoting people of color in 2016, three million Latinos alone.

Finally there is the enthusiasm gap. Voters opposed to Trump in particular and Republicans in general are just a lot angrier about it. As a result, they are more determined to vote.

Here’s a quote from a CNN article about the Virginia election.

In Virginia’s 2017 election, Democrats comprised 41% of the overall electorate as compared to just 30% for Republicans, according to exit polling. Almost half of the electorate (47%) said they strongly disapproved of Trump, and Democratic nominee Ralph Northam won 95% of those voters.

It is certainly possible that Trump could pivot in a different direction, but that seems unlikely.

Instead all signs point to yet another wave election where the incumbent party loses their majority. There are much more significant implications to this loss of majority for Trump because of the ongoing investigations into the actions of his administration.

Cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
Now, cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.

 

Above The Law

December 5th, 2017

On May 1, 1977 David Frost had the interview of his career. This was three years after Nixon resigned. Nixon was working on his memoirs and his publicist believed that these interviews would boost his popularity. Frost was able to get Nixon to admit that he DID cover up the Watergate burglary but that it wasn’t obstruction of justice because, in Nixon’s opinion, the President can’t do anything illegal.

Trump’s lawyer just floated the same defense for Trump.

This argument was first proposed by Alan Dershowitz this summer after the Comey firing. That argument has been dismissed by many legal scholars since including the Brookings Institute. In their document entitled “Presidential Obstruction of Justice: The Case of Donald J. Trump” they make the case that even if Trump had this authority (which is highly suspect) he cannot exercise it for corrupt purposes. Stopping an investigation into crimes committed by those in the White House is corrupt.

The problem is that Trump’s claim isn’t just for past actions. His attorney was asserting his ability to intervene in “any case” that may come up in the future. If the Mueller investigation is able to turn up credible evidence linking Trump to the crimes of others, Trump is asserting his right to “express his view” by firing everyone associated with the investigation.

Dowd is basically arguing that as the chief law enforcement officer, Trump has the authority to block investigations into himself, his allies and into his friends, and nothing he does can be construed as obstruction of justice,” Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman, told me this morning. “The logical extension of all this is that Trump can try to remove Mueller and it would be entirely legitimate.

But this ultimately won’t be a legal issue. It is a political one. That’s why the authors of the constitution gave Congress broad authority to hold the executive and judicial branches accountable for actions that were damaging to the country, even if they weren’t illegal.

Which brings us to the current problem.

Trump feels as though he can largely act with impunity because no matter what he does Republican Party leaders stand with him.

Here’s a brief list of his actions over the past couple of weeks.

  • Disputed the validity of the Hollywood Access tapes – No Republican response
  • Distributed inflammatory European anti-Muslim videos – British respond. Mild Republican response
  • Calls Sen. Warren Pocahontas at a meeting with American Indians – no Republican response
  • Piled on the sexual assault claims of celebrities and Democrats while ignoring accusations against himself and other Republicans – no Republican response
  • Wrongly claimed that the tax plan doesn’t benefit him – no Republican response
  • Endorses Roy Moore – Republican leaders (including McConnell) back off of their previous condemnations

He may be right when he says, “Hey look, I’m President. I don’t care. I don’t care anymore.”

He understands that he has the Republican Party right where he wants them. They need the passage of a tax bill (any tax bill) to support their campaign in 2018. They are not going to abandon Trump and risk fracturing the party when they are on the cusp of winning. He’s how EJ Dionne characterized it.

Don’t count on Republican politicians abandoning Trump quickly now that their tax victory is in sight. They and the president have a lot more in common than either side wants to admit. The primary loyalty they share is not to God or country or republican virtue. It is to the private accumulation of money, and this is a bond not easily broken.

The reality is that sexual assault and pedophilia are now acceptable as long as you are a Republican.

You need no more evidence than the tax plan to understand that the Republican Party does not care about the white working class voters that put them in office. When questioned about the faulty math in that bill Chuck Grassley said, we’re not talking about math here, we’re talking about philosophy. That philosophy is that what is good for business and good for the wealthy is good for the country.

What is happening instead is that Trump is remaking the Republican Party in his own image. By their silence, they are allowing Trump to define what the party stands for.

The Moore election in Alabama is a perfect example. Trump’s argument is that voters should ignore the claims of pedophilia because it is more important to have a key Republican vote in the Senate. Moore’s own defense is that his pro-life position should be all voters care about. Senate Republicans have now said they will accept whatever choice Alabama voters make.

If this is true, is there anything that Trump (or Moore) could do to cause the Republican Party to turn against him?

At this point I doubt that even video supporting the Steele Dossier Russian orgy claims would damage Trump’s core support.

Would invading North Korea and putting US territory at risk of a nuclear attack be a problem?

How about bombing Iran in an effort to destroy their nuclear facilities?

Trump is obsessed with testing the limits of his support. That has been true in his personal life. Now it is being demonstrated in his political life. The difference is that it is now our constitution and the fabric of our democracy that he is testing rather than the fidelity of his spouse or the loyalty of his employees. The only thing we can be sure of, is that as long as he is in office, this will continue. He will systematically break every taboo and challenge every social and political norm in order to prove that he is the most powerful man in the world. History tells us that these people always fail eventually. He is in the process of taking the Republican Party down with him. It will be interesting to see what the final straw will be for the rest of the country.

Where’s The Beef?

November 9th, 2017

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One of responses from the Trump administration with regard to the claims of Russian involvement in the 2016 election has been to call the investigation a “nothingburger”.

Let’s check to see how much beef there really is in this nothingburger.

The most important recent development is the guilty plea of George Papadopolous.  He admitted that he lied to federal agents about his efforts to arrange meetings between Moscow and the Trump campaign.  The Trump administration used their standard response that Papadopolous didn’t have an important role in the campaign, but his role isn’t what is in question (though there is plenty of evidence that he was active as a foreign liaison to Britain and Greece).  The important questions (the beef) are why the Russians were interested in talking with him, why did he want to talk with the Russians, and who else in the Trump campaign knew that he was talking to the Russians?

It isn’t clear why the Russians were talking with him.  What is clear is that the Russians only began to respond to his requests for a conversation AFTER it was announced that he had joined the Trump campaign.

Papadopolous said that he wanted to talk with the Russians because they were offering him “dirt” on Clinton.  That “dirt” was thousands of hacked emails.  Worse yet, his emails show that he was in regular contact with senior Trump campaign officials regarding not only the information but also a proposed meeting between Trump and Putin.  Reports are that Trump received a briefing from Papadopolous.  According to sources who attended the meeting, Trump “didn’t say yes and didn’t say no”.  As a result, Papadopolous continued his conversation with the Russians and received some encouragement from campaign staffer Sam Clovis.  Clovis has since said, through his lawyer, that he was just being polite.  But Papadopolous was told that a meeting between Trump and Putin had bad optics.  Instead the meeting “should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal”.  This whole scenario flies in the face of Trump’s repeated denials that there was no contact whatsoever (polite or otherwise) between the campaign and Russians.

Trump isn’t the only one who has issued a blanket denial of any contacts.  Jeff Sessions was also at the Trump briefing.  This is the same Jeff Sessions who testified before Congress that he knew nothing about any contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign.  Even though, at this point, we know that his department had already accepted a guilty plea from Papadopolous.  This is also the same Jeff Sessions who was told of Carter Page’s trip to Moscow in July to give a speech.  In Sessions’ most recent appearance he narrowed that earlier statement to mean, he did not “conspire with Russia or an agent of the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”

What this also means is that the Trump campaign knew a month before the meeting that Kushner, Manafort, and DTjr took with a Russian lawyer, that the Russians may have had millions of Clinton emails.  Even more importantly, Trump himself knew when he helped author DTjr’s response when news of the meeting broke, that the meeting was about Russian hacked emails.  The response claimed the meeting was about Russian adoptions.

Based on published reports, we now know that there were at least nine Trump associates who were actively engaged in conversations with Russians during the campaign.  Those include Paul Manafort and Rick Gates who have already been indicted by Mueller for pre-campaign money laundering.

In order to defend his “nothingburger” position, Trump’s response to all of this has been to create an alternate reality which castes large swaths of the government as corrupt.  What this does for him is create a rationale for him to pardon those in his administration as they are inevitably held accountable for their lies.

Trump campaign advisor Sean Hannity’s Trump defense has revived his flagging Fox career and laid the groundwork for Trump’s assertion of executive privilege when the investigation starts to close in on him.

Those include reviving the made-up Clinton uranium and Steele Dossier scandals, and the claim the Comey decided not to indict Clinton well before the FBI investigation concluded.

This leads to the conspiracy theory that Mueller is using the current Trump investigation to cover up his previous failure to investigate Clinton when he was heading up the FBI.

The depth of this delusion should hopefully answer the obvious question about beef.

If there were no beef, there would be no reason to question Mueller’s motivations.  The ONLY reason Mueller was appointed is because Trump fired Comey, Sessions had already recused himself from the Russian investigation, and deputy AG Rosenstein refused to be the fall guy in the Comey firing.  Suggestions that Mueller somehow engineered this whole thing is way beyond the fringe.

The beef is Trump’s lies regarding his knowledge of contacts in his campaign with Russians seeking to influence the outcome of the election.  The beef is the efforts by the Trump campaign and the Trump administration to cover up the contacts that they had with Russians.  The issue is not whether there was collusion.  That may never be proven.  The beef is that the Trump campaign was willing to do anything to defeat Clinton including talking with Russians about hacked Clinton emails.  The Trump administration has been lying about it ever since.  Those lies are the beef that will bring this administration down.

Our Failing Naked Emperor

October 6th, 2017

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One of the defining characteristics of the Trump campaign and administration is the utter disregard for the facts.  There was some hope by Trump supporters that once he transitioned from campaign mode to presidential mode, he would also abandon his strategy of habitual fabrication.  That hope died with the inauguration.  Trump’s inaugural crowds were factually smaller than Obama’s, but no one in the Trump administration and no one in the Republican establishment were willing to call Trump out as a liar.  Instead we’re dealing with this interesting situation where he, his administration, and his supporters blame media bias for every report that details yet another Trump lie.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the emperor is still naked.

That “nakedness” is finally causing more than embarrassment.  This “strategy” has made it more difficult for Republicans to govern.  We are now 9 months into a legislative session where Republicans control all branches of government, and the ONLY enduring evidence of this control is Gorsuch’s SCOTUS appointment.  Even that has an asterisk because McConnell had to remove the 60 vote filibuster in order to get it done.

The fundamental operating principle of this administration is that Trump can never fail, he can only be failed.  As a result, any form of failure must either be a lie or someone else’s fault.  I won’t try to go into the psychology of this particular form of egotism.  We’ll save that for another day.  At this point, let’s just look at the consequences of never admitting that you’ve been wrong.

One example is the recent failure to pass healthcare which Trump blamed on the filibuster rule in the Senate.  The FACT was that the healthcare reform bill wasn’t subject to a filibuster.  It only required a simple 50 vote majority to pass because of reconciliation rules.  It failed to get 50 votes because several Senators from the President’s own party refused to vote for it.  McCain refused to vote for it because Republicans bypassed the normal committee process where all interested parties would have an opportunity to comment and all points of view could be considered.  Paul refused to vote for it because it wasn’t conservative enough.  Collins refused to vote for it because she feared it would have resulted in the loss of healthcare insurance coverage in her state.  The bill died before it could ever get a vote, so we don’t know how many others would also have voted against it.

Another example is his regular rant about the biased media and fake news failing to report on his accomplishments.  The problem is, just like the inauguration, there isn’t much there.  Worse yet, Trump’s own obsession to dominate every news cycle makes it difficult for even his modest accomplishments to get much play.  Instead he regularly distracts from his legislative agenda by picking fights and fanning the flames of the culture war.

A third example is the Republican establishment who, in Trump’s description have let the Russian investigation get out of control and secretly oppose his agenda.

What is true is that Trump’s agenda, if in fact he truly has one, is failing because he hasn’t provided the policy to support his bold promises.

Healthcare failed three times because he had promised to provide better coverage to more people at a lower cost.  None of the bills that were proposed accomplished that, even though Trump at one point or another supported all of them.  Instead they were thinly (and in the last case not so thinly) veiled attempts to dismantle Medicaid.  As those realities became apparent to more people, opposition mounted and the bills failed.

Tax reform will suffer a similar fate.  Though Trump promised a bill that would benefit the middle class and not reward the wealthy, the bill that is currently being considered does what every other Republican tax initiative has done.  The bulk of the benefits go to the wealthiest 1% of the country.

This is not the result of a conspiracy of the Republican establishment to undermine Trump.  If anything, Trump has passively allowed Congressional leadership to fill in the blanks on his promises.  The problem is that the bills in their final form were not even close to what Trump promised, and he didn’t seem to care.

The cause is years of Republican bad faith campaigning.  Republicans promised that they could replace Obamacare with something better if they only had the majority to implement their ideas.  They never actually proposed any new ideas.  Instead they were content to demonize liberal Democrats.  When voters finally gave Republicans a chance to prove they could do better, they failed.

The same thing will be true about taxes.  Trickle down tax cut plans that were supposed to make life better for the middle class have failed spectacularly at the state level and nationally.  But here it comes again in even a worse form than what was passed during the Bush years.

Republican voters are unhappy that the party isn’t delivering on Trump’s promises.  Trump used this anger to get himself elected.  But voters haven’t stopped there.  They continue to elect bomb throwers at the state and local level.  Newly elected Senator Moore in Alabama has said he shares Rand Paul’s view regarding healthcare reform and would have joined him to vote against that bill.  Moore will likely make it more difficult rather than easier to get Trump’s agenda through the senate.

The bottom line is that Trump lies have painted the party into a corner on many issues.

The claims that Obamacare is failing make it more difficult to pass bipartisan legislation that most agree would solve the current set of problems.  Passing that legislation would force Trump to admit that Obamacare isn’t failing and can be improved with a couple of simple tweaks.  If that’s true, then why the continued effort to tear it down and replace it with something that kills Medicaid and takes coverage away from millions of people?

Claims that we have to build a very expensive wall across our southern border to protect our country from the threat of illegal immigration makes it more difficult to pass a bill to address the plight of “Dreamers”.  Trump’s base perceives a dreamer deal to be a loss for Trump in the fight to kick illegal immigrants out of the country.

The obsessive insistence by Trump that the various Russian investigations are a hoax, fake news, and a politically motivated witch hunt makes it nearly impossible to make any progress on preventing future Russian election hacking.  That’s because Trump simply can’t acknowledge the obvious fact that Russians did attempt to disrupt the 2016 election and continues to be engaged in social media meddling.  Trump’s war with the legit press in this country has given Russians all of the cover they need to continue their REAL fake news activities.  The latest example is coverage of the Las Vegas shooting where Russian sources promoted stories that the shooter was an anti-Trump liberal jihadist who had secretly converted to Islam.

Trump’s various lines in the sand regarding Korea have only encourage Kim Jong Un to become more aggressive.  In other administrations, tough talk in public is cover for behind the scenes diplomacy that ultimately resolves the issue.  That doesn’t work in Trump-world where he has to win and is willing to undermine his own Secretary of State’s efforts to defuse this dangerous escalation.  Tillerson became the person who failed Trump on Korea.

Trumps pathological need to always be right was on public display in his response to the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico.  While people were suffering because of the logistics challenges of getting aid from the ports out to the people, Trump was picking a fight with professional athletes.  When the mayor of San Juan called him out on it, he suggested that it was her fault and a cultural failing of the Puerto Rican people that there weren’t enough truck drivers willing to leave their struggling families to get supplies off the docks.  Doesn’t the army have truck drivers?  I thought that disaster relief was all about sending a bunch of people into an area to do those things that the local population couldn’t do for themselves.  We fill in the gaps until the local population can get back on their feet and take care of their own needs themselves.

During his tour of the island, he told those without shelter, food, clean drinking water, sanitation, and medical services that they should be grateful that it wasn’t a real disaster like Katrina.  The implication being that if it were a REAL disaster like Katrina, the government would have been better prepared and would be providing more help.  But the government WASN’T prepared to deal with the aftermath of Katrina and it wasn’t prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.  That’s Trump’s fault.

We all know how the story of the naked emperor ended.  It will be interesting to see when and how truth ultimately takes down this naked President.

 

Same Poison Different Bottle

September 23rd, 2017

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Every time Republicans regroup in an attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the proposed legislation gets worse.  That in itself should tell you something about the nature of the politics at play here.

The proposed Cassidy-Graham bill is the same poison in a different bottle.  It shifts health care costs including Medicaid to the states.  At the same time, it perversely cuts funding to support Medicaid and subsidize insurance premiums.  Worse yet, all federal funding disappears in 10 years.

It hard to fathom how Republicans could come up with a plan that would be worse than repealing Obamacare without a replacement, but they succeeded.

What is even harder to understand is that even though the bill is widely opposed by healthcare experts, industry groups, AND 85% of the population, it almost became law.  At this point it appears that the bill will fall a few votes short of passing in the Senate.  It would almost certainly have passed in the House, and President Trump would have signed it.

We can no longer afford to trust the Republican Party with healthcare.  It’s too important to be the subject of this sort of politics.  Healthcare accounts for 20% of our economy.  12.5% of Americans work in the healthcare industry.  More than 32M people would lose coverage under Cassidy-Graham.

Republicans were willing to vote on this without a CBO score, committee hearings, or testimony from experts and those affected.  They were willing to vote without any input from Democratic Senators even though Senate Democrats represent a majority of voters.

Instead they were willing to pass this bill, as bad as it was, because they thought they could.  They were more concerned about their base, their ideology, and the next election; than what was best for the rest of the country.

Please hold Republicans accountable in the upcoming elections for this cowardly act.

 

 

Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned

August 21st, 2017

For those unfamiliar with this Catholic meme, it is the opening sentence Catholics whisper to the priest to start confession.

My confession is that I find this particular point in our history fascinating.

We have a President who appears determined to self-destruct, a party that is uncertain they are willing to go down with him, and his supporters who have swallowed the kool-aide and have lost touch with reality.

So here’s a little bonus coverage courtesy of one of my favorite academics, Jonathan Haitt of Righteous Mind fame.  He has a great article in The Atlantic which explains the widespread negative reaction to Trump’s Charlottesville comments.

This IS NOT a political rant.

It is simply an explanation of a taboo that Trump broke.

All societies have taboos.  I won’t go through why, though Haitt does in his article.  Suffice it to say that we use a common set of deeply revered values, people, or places to hold all our citizens together in a shared bond.  That bond is our willingness to sacrifice our individual interests for the greater common good.

Charlottesville was a clash of sacred symbols.

The far right displayed their sacred symbols including swastikas, confederate flags, and guns – lots of guns.  They were marching to defend another symbol – the statue of Robert E. Lee.  The goal of the rally was to bind white people together with a shared hatred of Jews, African Americans, and other minorities using claimed white victim-hood and racial purity. (BTW racial purity is a myth.  Skin color is the result of a not well understood interaction between about 100 genes rather than the presence or absence of a particular set of genes.  Commonly available genetic ancestry tests are causing real problems for those advocating a “pure white” society.)

For UVA students, “the lawn” in the center of campus is also hallowed ground.  Students rushed out, unarmed, to defend the Jefferson statue from the approach of the torch-bearing armed white supremacists.  The marchers weren’t planning on vandalizing the statue, but from the student’s point of view these particular marchers would have “contaminated” the statue if allowed to approach unopposed.  That’s because for a Jeffersonian, neo-Nazi’s are taboo.

That’s what the country saw.  Unarmed students spontaneously opposing an organized group chanting the worst slurs against Jews and African Americans and making Nazi salutes.  It was a desecration of our most cherished American story based on the belief that “all men are created equal”.  We all know that this creed is aspirational, but we demand that all of our political leaders accept this premise as a requirement to hold office.  Denying this premise is blasphemy.  As a result white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis are widely regarded as blasphemous outsiders.

We treat our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution as sacred texts.  We erect monuments to our martyrs.  We punish or shame anyone who ignores our documents or dishonors our martyrs.  We expect our president to play the role of high priest and chief unifier in times when those texts and martyrs seem under attack.

In Trump’s press conference on Tuesday August 15th, Trump fumbled his opportunity to play the role of the high priest and chief unifier because he failed to condemn the blasphemers exclusively.  In response to the public outcry, the President read a staff-written speech to right that wrong.  If it had stopped there, perhaps he could have recovered.  Instead just 24 hours later, he committed the greatest sacrilege of his presidency by saying that there were “very fine people on both sides”.  That’s because our basic belief is that Nazi’s aren’t just bad – they are taboo.

Trump has become taboo by embracing those that we have decided are taboo.  The moral stain of the blasphemers has rubbed off on him.  That’s why you saw such a scramble by all those who understood what he had just done.  Those who fail to distance themselves from the taboo will also become taboo, just as Trump has done.  That’s also why most people in this country were willing to condemn those who just walked in the march.  They didn’t have to carry a flag, shout a slogan, or salute.  Just being there made them taboo too.  They got fired.  They were disowned by their families.  People won’t want to live next to them any more than they would a sex offender.

You can’t apologize for breaking a taboo, particularly one as deep as the Nazi or KKK.  You can’t even use the excuse of ignorance because that would suggest ignorance of our basic values.  In Trump’s case, it doesn’t matter, because he is not going to admit that he did anything wrong.

the stain, the moral pollution, the taint, will linger on him and his administration for the rest of his term. Business leaders have quit his panels and projects; artists who were due to receive honors from the president have changed their plans. Pollution travels most rapidly by physical touch, so be on the lookout for numerous awkward moments in the coming months when people refuse to shake the president’s hand or stand next to him. It is unclear how far the contagion will spread, but it will surely make it more difficult to attract talented people into government service for as long as Trump is the president.

Further this is going to do generational damage to the Republican Party.

people’s political orientations are shaped for life by events that happen when they are young, particularly between the ages of 14 and 24. The young generation—iGen, as Jean Twenge calls them—is extraordinarily progressive and passionate about matters of race and prejudice. If Republicans stand by their tainted president rather than renouncing him, an entire generation of voters may come to see the GOP as eternally untouchable.

It’s hard to say what will come next, but right now the country is unbalanced.

Extraordinary sacrilege has occurred, but divine retribution has not yet come down from the heavens.  We have no priest and no scripture to guide us.  The country may suffer for failing to remove this apostate.

What I can see in the not too distant future, however, is an emotional pivot toward impeachment as a cathartic recovery of purpose and balance.  Trump will be blamed.  Some in his administration will go to jail.  All will be disgraced.  The country will heal.  I saw this happen with Nixon.  It could very well happen with Trump too.  All that is missing is the smoking gun of corruption or scandal and the game will be over.

 

 

Lincoln Wept

August 21st, 2017

Let’s take a step back and just review briefly the various defenses of neo-Nazi’s, white supremacists, and good old fashioned racists that we’ve heard so far.

Racism as free speech
It’s true.  Our constitution does protect racism as free speech.  Free speech, however, does not guarantee that you are free from other forms of punishment as a result of your speech.  Many employers have codes of behavior that allow employers to dismiss their employees for hate speech.  This is constitutional because the Supreme Court has been giving companies a lot of power lately.  Companies can’t fire people based on race, gender, or creed.  They can based on just about any other criteria that they choose to come up with.

Violence as free speech
This is not true.  There are limits to the expression of free speech.  Yelling fire in a crowded theater is the classic example.  Inciting or participating in violent acts is illegal and is not protected by the constitution.

Both sides engaged in violence in Charlottesville
It is true that there were violent clashes between both sides.  It is also true that there are extremists on the left and on the right.  There are also important differences.  The biggest difference is that the extremists on the right view violence as a tactic.  They have publically stated that their intent is to incite violence.  They feel that violence will force white people to choose sides.  They WANT a race war and ultimately they want to overthrow the government and dismantle democracy.  Those opposed, are not interested in dismantling the government.  They support democracy.  They oppose racism, white supremacy, and fascism.  They are NOT organizing demonstrations around the country in an effort to create confrontations with violent fringe right groups.  They are RESPONDING to the incitement of the right with the same level of aggression.  The response is NOT the same as the act that initiated the response.

Historical monuments
The civil war monuments erected across the south serve two purposes.  One is historic the other is sociological.  The historical purpose is to celebrate a particular point in history where the person may have done something heroic in battle.  The sociological purpose is to remind black people that white people are still in charge and to suggest to white people that cause of the south in the civil war was just.

On that last point, those who attempt to rewrite history suggest that the civil war was fought over state’s rights, or economic issues, or even cultural issues.  The issue was slavery.  The economy of the south was based on slavery.  The culture of the south was based on slavery.  Slave states succeeded from the union when an abolitionist President (Lincoln) was elected.  Many of the declarations of succession from Confederate states said exactly that.  Lincoln went to war to defend the union, not specifically to end slavery.  Lincoln ultimately put down a well-organized rebellion.  But clearly ending the practice of slavery was going to be the outcome of the war.

Only local communities can determine if the historic value of those statues are greater than the obvious sociological message.  This doesn’t mean that those statues have to be destroyed.  What it does mean is that they should be moved to some location where the signage can inform and educate those who are viewing the statue.  Typically those are museums rather than open public locations.

The reason why many communities are taking down statues is not because they object to the history or the art value.  It’s because they no longer support the sociological message.  Instead they want to project an inclusive message that is good for the community and good for business.  You simply can’t do that with a memorial to a confederate general sitting in your town square.

Pluralism, nationalism, and democracy
Our democracy is based on a simple notion.  Everyone is welcome regardless of race, color, or creed.  That’s the simple definition of pluralism.  Nationalism is the notion that your nation is better than other nations.  That concept is out of synch with the concept of a global economy.  If you want to be able to sell goods into my market, you have to provide me an opportunity to sell goods into your country.  But nationalism in and of itself is not a threat to democracy.  Racial nationalism, though, can’t co-exist within a pluralist democracy.  Large groups of disenfranchised people ultimately undermine any democracy.  Yet that’s what racists in this country are advocating.  That’s why there is no place in our country for those who refuse to accept the basic principles on which is was established.

It also should not be surprising to anyone that those who are the object of this racial bigotry, vigorously oppose those who advocate it.

The law does include a right of self-defense.  This right has recently been expanded on a state by state basis with the “stand your ground” laws.  Depending on the circumstance, you can respond with violence including a weapon, if you feel that you are in imminent danger as a result of something that someone else said or some threatening action that someone else has taken.  That’s why generally the person or group that is inciting violence has a weaker defense when claiming that they have been assaulted.

Summary
Several interesting things are happening.  Boston demonstrated that the number of neo-Nazi’s and White Supremacists WILLING to demonstrate when there is the possibility that they would be massively outnumbered is small.  We have also learned that there are personal consequences to outing yourself as a racist.  As those personal costs become better known, it appears that the number of people willing to pay that price is small.  There are also organizational costs to those who attempt to spread hate speech through the internet.  No legit social media, hosting, or domain organization is willing to help them.  Communities and institutions of higher learning are making sure that they have the appropriate use provisions in place to reject requests for these organizations to gather.  Finally, we are finding that when it becomes personal, very few socially maladjusted young men are willing to back up their offensive internet personas with an in-person appearance.  So for now, society has responded with the appropriate revulsion to these fringe groups.

The true test will be what happens in the 2018 election.  Will voters hold Trump and Republicans accountable for the rise in neo-Nazi, fascist, and white supremacist activity?  Will the threat of disenfranchisement drive more minority voters to the polls in an off year?  The wonder of democracy is that our speculation will come to an end in November, 2018.