Saturday, May 25, 2019

Trump authorizes AG Barr to spy on the intelligence community - another reason to impeach now.

If we have learned nothing else from the Trump presidency, it is that there is no “bottom.” Trump’s disrespect for the rule of law just keeps getting worse, it seems, day by day.

On Thursday last, Trump Gives Attorney General Sweeping Power in Review of 2016 Campaign Inquiry reported Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt at the New York Times. The essence is this: “The directive gives Mr. Barr immense leverage over the intelligence community and enormous power over what the public learns about the roots of the Russia investigation.” Most disturbing is the poking about among foreign sources run by the CIA (for example).

One official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss classified matters, said previously that Mr. Barr wanted to know more about what foreign assets the C.I.A. had in Russia in 2016 and what those informants were telling the agency about how President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia sought to meddle in the 2016 election.

Once that information gets to Trump, and you know it will, it will certainly be relayed to Putin. Last night on the Rachel Maddow show, we learned that then President Obama confronted Putin about Putin’s plans for meddling in our election. The suspicion is that such knowledge came from a very high source in the Kremlin. If that individual’s identity is made public, the source is blown. That’s just one example of how dangerous is Barr’s mandate to “investigate the investigators”.

In a broader context, the AZ Blue Meanie reveals how Barr’s new powers are part of The plot to destroy American constitutional democracy. Barr now has the power to “potentially prosecute those who investigated his campaign’s multiple and repeated contacts with Russian operatives in the 2016 campaign”, in essence taking action against Trump’s political opponents.

Then there is Trump’s highly offensive attempt to redefine the meaning of “treason” to mean anyone in the chain of intelligence who investigated his campaign’s multiple and repeated contacts with Russian operatives in the 2016 campaign, i.e., the FBI, the intelligence agencies, the FISA courts, and up to and including President Obama. And Trump relishes the penalty for treason: death.

If Trump and his Republicans allies are successful in destroying our constitutional democracy and replacing it with a lawless authoritarian kleptocracy, like Russia, Trump will possess the autocratic power to redefine “treason” to mean whatever he wants it to mean, and use it to imprison and execute his political opponents and his perceived enemies — just as Vladimir Putin does in Russia. Trump is telegraphing that this is what he really wants to do. We should believe him because he has been so “transparent” about it.

If we do not resist and defend the Constitution and American democracy, we will surely lose it. And then the dark night of Trumpism, the new American fascism will descend upon the land.

One way to “resist and defend” is for Congress to do their constitutional duty and begin the impeachment inquiry immediately. Further strengthening the case for “impeach now”, Mrs. Scriber alerts us to this item in the Daily Kos recommended list: Former GOP Rep. Tom Coleman: Trump, Pence are illegitimate. Impeach them..

Here is the original guest commentary from the Kansas City Star: Former GOP Rep. Tom Coleman: Trump, Pence are illegitimate. Impeach them. This version is copied verbatim below.

Tom Coleman is a former Republican U.S. representative from Missouri. He has served as an adjunct professor at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and at American University.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- BEGIN QUOTE

According to the redacted Mueller report, candidate Donald Trump, along with members of his team, on multiple occasions welcomed Russian interference on his behalf during the 2016 presidential campaign. For example, the report details a meeting between the Trump campaign chairman and a Russian intelligence asset where polling information and campaign strategy were shared.

While Mueller did not find sufficient evidence that Trump or his campaign had violated a criminal statute, the net effect was that the Trump campaign encouraged a foreign adversary to use and misrepresent stolen information on social media platforms to defraud U.S. voters. Because the presidency was won in this way, the president’s election victory brought forth nothing less than an illegitimate presidency.

Mueller presents a strong case that in addition to receiving campaign help from Russian operatives, the president obstructed justice — a crime in itself. Mueller declined to charge the sitting president because of current Department of Justice regulations that prohibit it. That policy is wrong in my opinion, and must be changed in the future when reason and rationality return to our politics.

What should be done now? There are some Democratic members in the House majority who want to put off any discussion of impeachment until after the 2020 election. They believe it will only strengthen the hand of the president, who will claim he is a victim and will respond with his mantra of, “No collusion, no obstruction, case closed.” Other Democratic members of Congress want impeachment proceedings to begin.

The political calculus not to pursue impeachment is understandable. Current polls show a majority of voters do not favor it. But critical times require exceptional leadership. Lawmakers of both parties should not blindly follow the polls but instead follow the evidence and their conscience. Politics should not rule the day. Partisan politics is what got us to this dangerous place — so dangerous, I believe, that the survival of our democracy is at risk.

Contemplate the possible behavioral problems of a Trump untethered from the law and who is frequently untethered from reality. Would we be surprised if he were to repeatedly brandish his get out of jail card while breaking, at will, democratic norms, presidential precedents and criminal statutes? Trump said early in his campaign that he “could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” Are we now at that point?

Because DOJ regulations put a president above the law while in office, I believe the only viable option available is for the House of Representatives, under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, to open its own investigation, hold public hearings and then determine if they should pursue removal of the president through impeachment. There is a trove of evidence in the Mueller report indicating Trump has committed multiple impeachable offenses, including abuse of power and lying to the American public. Both were part of the articles of impeachment brought against President Richard Nixon. This process would allow a full public review of wrongdoing, while providing Americans an opportunity to obtain a better understanding of the consequences to our national security and the lingering threat to our democracy.

If this process leads to impeaching Trump in the House of Representatives and also results in convicting him in the Senate, his illegitimacy would survive through Vice President Mike Pence’s succession to the presidency. Because the misdeeds were conducted to assure the entire Trump-Pence ticket was elected, both former candidates — Pence as well as Trump — have been disgraced and discredited. To hand the presidency to an illegitimate vice president would be to approve and reward the wrongdoing while the lingering stench of corruption would trail any Pence administration, guaranteeing an untenable presidency. If Trump is impeached, then Pence should not be allowed to become president. The vice president should resign or be impeached as well if for no other reason that he has been the chief enabler for this illegitimate president.

Alternatively, the 25th Amendment to the Constitution provides for the removal of a president. It sets forth a cumbersome procedure requiring the vice president to convince a majority of the Cabinet to recommend removal to Congress because the president is unable to discharge the powers and duties of the office. By a two-thirds vote, Congress could then end a presidency. The removal of the president and replacement with the vice president would have the same result as if the president had been impeached. The vice president would succeed to the presidency.

In addition to these constitutional provisions, the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 sets the order of officials who are in line to succeed a president, regardless of the reason. The first three officials listed are the vice president, the speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate. If the vice president were unable to ascend to the presidency for whatever reason — for example resignation or impeachment — then the speaker would become president. Today that individual is Rep. Nancy Pelosi. It is unknown whether she would agree to serve as president or that the majority of the House would want her to do so.

The Constitution does not require the speaker of the House actually to be a member of the House of Representatives. Under these circumstances, with the specter of a national crisis looming over the vacancy of the presidency and vice presidency simultaneously, consideration should be given by House members to draft a nationally-known individual for speaker who would appeal to the vast majority of Americans. That person, after being sworn in as speaker, would ascend to the highest office in the land. Under the provisions of the 25th Amendment, the new president would nominate a vice president, who would take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both chambers of Congress.

What if House Democrats decide not to embark on impeachment? If that were the case, I believe the public would conclude Democrats are no better than the Republicans who have enabled Trump for the past two years, putting party above country. It could hand Trump a second term. Failure to pursue impeachment is to condone wrongdoing. To condone wrongdoing is to encourage more of it. To encourage wrongdoing is to give up on the rule of law and our democracy. To give up on the rule of law and democracy invites autocracy and eventually dictatorship. History has taught us this outcome. In my lifetime, it has occurred in other places including the Soviet Union and Germany, as well as in Russia and Venezuela today.

=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=- END QUOTE

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Follow-up on Trump hiding his finances - IRS says tax returns must be given to Congress.

In yet another legal loss for Trump, the Washington Post, among other sources, reports that a Confidential draft IRS memo says tax returns must be given to Congress unless president invokes executive privilege.

But let’s begin by debunking part of that headline, the exception for executive privilege.

Executive privilege is the power of the President of the United States and other members of the executive branch of the United States Government to resist certain subpoenas and other interventions by the legislative and judicial branches of government in pursuit of information or personnel relating to confidential communications that would impair governmental functions. …

Since when do tax returns merit such protection? Are Trump’s personal tax records and other financial documents now “confidential communications”? Read on for answers.

The AZ Blue Meanie, “an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, …” weighs in on that IRS legal memo contradicts bogus assertions by Treasury Secretary.

… according to the IRS memo, which has not been previously reported, the disclosure of tax returns to the committee “is mandatory, requiring the Secretary to disclose returns, and return information, requested by the tax-writing Chairs.”

The 10-page document says the law “does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met” and directly rejects the reason Mnuchin has cited for withholding the information.

“[T]he Secretary’s obligation to disclose return and return information would not be affected by the failure of a tax writing committee . . . to state a reason for the request,” it says. It adds that the “only basis the agency’s refusal to comply with a committee’s subpoena would be the invocation of the doctrine of executive privilege.”

Excuuuse me? On what basis could the president assert executive privilege, which only applies to confidential communications for the purpose of obtaining advice? This is plainly inapplicable to tax forms to comply with income tax filing requirements.

Getting beyond that, the Post reports:

... according to the IRS memo, which has not been previously reported, the disclosure of tax returns to the committee “is mandatory, requiring the Secretary to disclose returns, and return information, requested by the tax-writing Chairs.”

The 10-page document says the law “does not allow the Secretary to exercise discretion in disclosing the information provided the statutory conditions are met” and directly rejects the reason Mnuchin has cited for withholding the information.

So what could be in those financial documents, including tax returns, so damaging that Trump fears their disclosure?

Catherine Rampell speculates about that in this morning’s Daily Star: We don’t know what Trump’s tax returns are hiding. But the hints are troubling.

When you look at the short span of President Trump’s political career, one question jumps out: How much of his craziest and norm-violating behavior is motivated by a desire to keep his financial arrangements secret?

It began with Trump’s bizarre refusal to release his tax returns, in defiance of both a nearly half-century practice and Trump’s own promise that he’d do so.

Then there was his refusal to divest from his sprawling empire, or even put it into a blind trust — either of which would have forced at least some information disclosure to a third party.

There were also the interviews and tweetstorms calling journalists who report on his finances “enemies of the people,” and suggestions that federal officials who audit him are anti-Christian.

Also, his curious personnel priorities. Once it became clear that House Democrats would exercise their explicit statutory authority to get Trump’s tax returns from the IRS, Trump asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to prioritize confirmation of Trump’s IRS general counsel nominee ahead of confirmation of a new attorney general. This IRS general counsel pick also happened to have previously advised the Trump Organization on tax issues.

Trump’s treasury secretary has also been spending so much time safeguarding Trump’s tax returns, in violation of that explicit statute, that the activity is reportedly crowding out his day job.

All of which raises the question: Why exactly is Trump (and his administration) expending so much energy and political capital to keep these documents hidden? What could possibly be so disturbing or incriminating to justify such an effort?

One theory is that if Trump’s tax returns or other financial records become public, his supporters would learn that he’s not nearly as rich as he says. Another is that his finances are not exactly on the up and up. Of course, both explanations could be true.

Thanks to reporting from The New York Times, we know that Trump lost more than $1 billion over a decade beginning in 1985. We know that he inherited a fortune from his father but frittered much of that fortune away.

We also know, thanks to other matters of public record — including testimony from the president’s own former attorney, as well as a sworn deposition from Trump himself — that Trump has inflated his net worth when it suited him.

So yes, whatever info Trump’s financial documents reveal about his actual net worth could potentially undermine the core tenet of his sales pitch to his voters.

All of the above could reduce to Trump’s narcissism, his need to be seen as the super businessman. But there are other more sinister financial dealings that might be lurking in his records.

But what he might be a wee bit more worried about relates to the other red flags raised over the years.

Issues such as: Why international transactions involving multiple Deutsche Bank accounts controlled by Trump set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect money laundering , as the Times reported Sunday.

Or why Trump purchased a house for $40 million and flipped it for more than twice that amount in a sale to a Russian oligarch.

Or why, about a decade ago, the self-proclaimed “King of Debt” suddenly began making huge. Debt is highly tax-advantaged in real estate finance. The fact that Trump went on a cash spending spree while interest rates were near zero is fishy at best. Not least because a golf reporter said Trump’s son Eric told him that the organization wasn’t borrowing from banks because it had “all the funding we need out of Russia.” (Eric Trump later denied making the statement.)

We don’t know what Trump is working so hard to hide, but we have a lot of hints. They’re all troubling. Which is precisely why it’s so important that Congress — as part of its constitutionally mandated oversight duties — conduct a forensic audit of Trump’s worldwide financial dealings. That means learning whom he’s been getting money from, whom he owes money to, and what individuals or entities could be using financial influence to exert pressure over policy.

Almost as troubling as whatever it is Trump is trying to hide: Why do all those supposed national security hawks in Trump’s party exhibit so little curiosity about the answers?

Trump's latest tantrum - 3 minutes after 3 losses

Here is a tidbit from 538’s significant digits email.

3 minutes
President Trump walked out of a meeting with the Democratic congressional leadership yesterday after roughly three minutes, upset that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had accused him of a “cover-up.” Trump then went to the Rose Garden, “bristling with anger,” where he demanded to assembled reporters that the Democrats “get these phony investigations over with.” If only all office meetings lasted three minutes, am I right? [The New York Times]

Scriber knows of two explanations for this tantrum. One is that it was a staged event. He had a podium prepared in advance with his new slogans: “No collusion” and“No obstruction.” That is credible given everything we know about Trump the con-artist and showman, The second explanation is that by the time of that meeting, in as many days, he had suffered three losses in court cases about his financial records (including tax returns). On this account, the heat is getting to The Donald and presupposes him to emotional outbursts. Take your pick.

Multiple rulings against Trump on release of his financial records

The New York Times reports on three Trump losses in as many days in federal and state rulings permitting or mandating the release of his financial records.

Accounting firm must turn over Trump financial records

This last Monday Trump’s legal battle against House subpoenas for his financial records lost reports the NY Times in Trump’s Secrecy Fight Escalates as Judge Rules for Congress in Early Test.

In the first court test of Mr. Trump’s vow to resist “all” subpoenas by House Democrats, a judge ruled that his accounting firm, Mazars USA, must turn over his financial records to Congress — rejecting his lawyers’ argument that lawmakers had no legitimate power to demand the files.

Democrats have said they need the records because they are examining whether ethics and disclosure laws need to be strengthened. In a 41-page ruling, Judge Amit P. Mehta of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, an appointee of President Barack Obama, said that justification was sufficient to make the subpoena valid.

“These are facially valid legislative purposes, and it is not for the court to question whether the committee’s actions are truly motivated by political considerations,” he wrote. “Accordingly, the court will enter judgment in favor of the Oversight Committee.”

[Trump’s lawyer] Mr. Consovoy had asked Judge Mehta, were he to rule against Mr. Trump, to stay his ruling until an appeals court completed its review. But the judge declined.

While Mr. Consovoy is now likely to ask an appeals court to stay the ruling anyway, Judge Mehta called the Trump arguments too thin to raise a “serious legal question” and said that delaying the subpoena further would unjustifiably interfere with the constitutional powers of Congress.

“The court is well aware that this case involves records concerning the private and business affairs of the president of the United States,” he wrote. “But on the question of whether to grant a stay pending appeal, the president is subject to the same legal standard as any other litigant that does not prevail.”

Deutsche Bank can release Trump records

In the second instance on Wedneday, we learn that Deutsche Bank Can Release Trump Records to Congress, Judge Rules.

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected President Trump’s request to block his longtime lender, Deutsche Bank, from complying with congressional subpoenas.

Judge Edgardo Ramos of United States District Court in Manhattan issued his ruling after hearing arguments from lawyers for Mr. Trump and his family, as well as two Democratic-controlled congressional committees. “I will not enjoin enforcement of the subpoenas,” Mr. Ramos said, and added that he thought it was unlikely Mr. Trump and his family would win in a trial.

NY legislature OKs release of Trump’s NY state tax returns

Hit #3: New York Passes Bill Giving Congress a Way to Get Trump’s State Tax Returns.

Tax officials would be authorized to hand over his state returns to any one of three congressional committees, opening a new front in a heated battle.

The bill, which is expected to be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat and regular critic of Mr. Trump’s policies and behavior, will authorize state tax officials to release the president’s state returns to any one of three congressional committees.

The returns — filed in New York, the president’s home state and business headquarters — would likely contain much of the same information as the contested federal returns, though it remained unclear whether those congressional committees would use such new power in their investigations.

How sweet it is - maybe

Here is more on the Monday decision. Trump’s financial records appeal will go to court … Merrick Garland’s court reports Joan McCarter of the Daily Kos Staff.

On Monday, a federal judge ruled that the House has every legal right within its constitutional powers to review 10 years of Donald Trump’s financial records. U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta also declined to stay that decision pending Trump’s appeal because he doesn’t think they have a case that could prevail on appeal.

That appeal is coming, says Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s personal attorneys. He told Politico “We will be filing a timely notice of appeal to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.” Here’s where it gets fun. The chief judge of that court is none other than Merrick Garland.

You remember Garland, the eminently qualified and totally noncontroversial judge whose nomination to the Supreme Court was blockaded by Republicans, most refusing to even have a courtesy meeting him, just because he was nominated by President Barack Obama to fill the seat vacated when Justice Antonin Scalia died. Yeah, that Merrick Garland.

Stay tuned for this. Judges are assigned randomly so Garland may not be part of the decision on the Sekulow appeal.

The three judges to hear the appeal will be randomly assigned, so Garland might not hear the appeal, not unless their decision ends up being reviewed by the full court. But chances are those three judges will have some thoughts about the situation, having witnessed one of their own fall victim to the hyper-partisan destruction of norms and traditions that pretty much brought Trump to the White House.

UPDATE: [On Tuesday] “Trump’s lawyers have just formally submitted their appeal of Judge Amit Mehta’s ruling that requires his accounting firm turn over his personal financial records to the House.”


I share your pain, a symptom being eyes glazed over by volumes of legalese (e.g., the appeal linked in the update above). But be advised: nothing is as simple as in the three items posted here so buckle up. It will get worse when more subpoenas and appeals hit the air waves.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Case for Impeaching Now

Storm clouds
The storm over America

New White House stonewalling intensifies impeachment push reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog). Former White House Counsel Don McGahn, under orders from President Trump, did not honor the subpoena from congress yesterday. As it stands now, important information is being denied to congress by a president whose sole interest is in self protection. Trump is ruling by decree.

… as the special counsel’s findings made clear, the former White House counsel very nearly resigned because the president directed him to “do crazy s**t,” including an incident in which, according to McGahn, Trump pressed the lawyer to push the Justice Department to derail the investigation by getting rid of Mueller and creating a false document to cover that up.

And that’s just one of several instances of obstruction committed by Trump.

McGahn is not, however, expected to did not show up on Capitol Hill [yesterday].

President Donald Trump has directed former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a congressional subpoena and not testify Tuesday, current White House counsel Pat Cipollone said Monday.

In a letter to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., Cipollone wrote that the Justice Department “has advised me that Mr. McGahn is absolutely immune from compelled congressional testimony with respect to matters occurring during his service as a senior adviser to the President.”

The next question, of course, is what’s likely to happen next.

We can expect a few fairly obvious developments. McGahn, for example, is likely to be held in contempt of Congress for ignoring a subpoena. It’s also a safe bet that the dispute will soon move to the courts.

And while it may take a while for the matter to be adjudicated – the delay is almost certainly a key part of the White House’s strategy – Team Trump’s stonewalling will probably fall short eventually.

But there’s another angle to this that’s worth watching: as NBC News reported, the president’s latest efforts have pushed some congressional Democrats to the breaking point on impeachment.

Several Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee pressed Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Monday evening to move forward with an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump as one of his former White House aides planned to defy a congressional subpoena Tuesday.

During a weekly Democratic leadership meeting in Pelosi’s office on Capitol Hill, Reps. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Joe Neguse, D-Colo., all argued for launching an impeachment inquiry if former White House counsel Don McGahn failed to testify. […]

It’s worth emphasizing that for some House Democrats, the point of initiating impeachment proceeding is not necessarily to impeach the president, but rather, to use an official inquiry to gain access to information that’s currently being withheld.

Or put another way, an impeachment inquiry, some proponents argue, could effectively be used as a key to unlock a closed box. Congress needs access to the box’s contents, and if official impeachment proceedings are the only way to get the information, so be it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), at least for now, continues to oppose the idea, and last night, she and some of her top allies pushed back against the Dems leading the impeachment charge.

Impeachment was also raised at a separate weekly meeting Monday evening among Democratic leaders and committee chairs, including by Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., another member of the Judiciary Committee.

Will a Michigan Republican be the 2020 Ralph Nader?

The push for impeachment got a boost from Michigan Republican Representative Justin Amash. The LA Times reported in How Justin Amash could become Trump’s Michigan nemesis.

Who is this guy, Democrats want to know this week. Are there more like him in the Republican Party? Could he help us win back Michigan?

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) threw a turd in the punchbowl of predictable two-party politics Saturday when he became the first of the GOP’s 197-member caucus to declare that “President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.” Now the Grand Rapids libertarian is getting the “strange new respect” treatment from the likes of Mark Hamill, while journalists puzzle over how an alleged former “gadfly” could suddenly seem so resistance-y and the Libertarian Party damn near begs for him to switch teams.

… the first thing to know about Amash is that, whether you agree with his conclusions on impeachment or authorizations of military force, he takes his job with a seriousness that has almost vanished from the legislative branch. He holds the modern day congressional record for most consecutive votes not missed, 4,289 over six-plus years, and reportedly wept when he accidentally missed one.

“Few members of Congress even read Mueller’s report; their minds were made up based on partisan affiliation — and it showed,” Amash tweeted during his Saturday thread, and even fewer serious people in Washington would disagree. (Note: Donald Trump is not a serious person.)

… this latest impeachment jag is hardly the first time Amash has gone out on a limb to oppose the president. He condemned Trump’s initial travel ban of residents from predominantly Muslim countries, helped scotch Republican efforts to repeal/replace Obamacare (drawing a call from Trump’s social media director to “defeat” Amash in a primary).

He also opposed the president’s emergency declaration along the southern border, called Trump’s comments about murdered Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi “repugnant,” and was one of the only Republicans on Capitol Hill to support setting up a special counsel investigation after the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey.

… He’s anti-abortion, more anti-interventionist than the average Democrat, and when bills add to the federal government’s vast ocean of red ink, he votes no.

In other words, Amash sounds a lot like… a Libertarian (abortion stance notwithstanding). He has been publicly mulling a third-party run at the White House all year; the Libertarian presidential field thus far has failed to impress, and even two years ago Amash was saying things like, “Hopefully, over time, these two parties start to fall apart.”

If Amash were to seek and win the Libertarian nomination — which isn’t decided until May 2020 — he almost certainly wouldn’t become president, but it’s possible he’d affect the outcome by throwing up a Michigan-sized roadblock to the president’s reelection. In a state Trump won by just 10,704 votes, Amash in 2016 received 203,545, or more in just one district than Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson won statewide.

Unlike Johnson, Amash is all too familiar with the pronunciation of the word “Aleppo,” what with his father being a Syrian immigrant and his mother a Palestinian refugee. And unlike Trump, Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, Amash is not a septuagenarian shaking his fist at clouds, but a 39-year-old fitness enthusiast who actually grasps basic technology and market economics.

There are rumors that there are more Republicans in the House who agree with Amash, They need to join him, support the rule of law, and publicly denounce Trump and Trumpism.

Blue Meanie: Impeach the Senate Republicans

We shouldn’t stop with impeaching Trump, argues the AZ Blue Meanie, but explaining that [The problem is we cannot impeach the Republican Party along with their ‘Dear Leader’]. Here is just a little part of his case.

As I have argued, “What we have right now is the entire Republican Party in lock-step with the Trump crime family. It is acting as a criminal enterprise, using the control of government to undermine the Department of Justice, the Congress and the rule of law to prevent the fair administration of justice and to prevent holding anyone accountable.”

Republicans in Congress are co-conspirators and accessories aiding and abetting the Trump crime family in the obstruction of justice. They are equally culpable at law for their own misconduct.

Trump’s extended “crime family,” Republicans in Congress, sit on congressional committees where they can engage in obstruction of Congress on his behalf, and they would sit on the “jury” in the Senate in any impeachment trial.

What Trump’s extended “crime family” in the Senate would do is engage in Jury Nullification, the jury’s knowing and deliberate rejection of the evidence or refusal to apply the law.

Unlike in court proceedings, there is no jury selection process or voire dire of potential jury members in the Senate. These co-conspirators and accessories who are aiding and abetting the Trump crime family, sitting on the jury, would acquit the president in any impeachment trial because they would also be acquitting their own equally culpable criminal misconduct. “We’re all good.”

The Blue Meanie concludes:

The problem is we cannot impeach the Republican Party along with their “Dear Leader.” They must suffer an overwhelming electoral defeat, a complete rejection by the American people.

Yes, but: Scriber has become persuaded that we (Dems) cannot afford to wait for the 2020 election. If you want to consider political consequences, imagine that Trump wins reelection in 2020 with the congressional Democrats still stymied by his stone-walling. That would paint the Democrats as gutless and of weak moral character. The evidence for obstruction of justice is is out there. The House must impeach now.

Monday, May 20, 2019

On this Mournday Mourning fact is fiction and fiction is fact

GOP in your body
And you thought your body was your property?

“Trump’s ‘great patriot’ farmers stick with him” even as he sticks it to them. The quote was the title of the Daily Star’s print edition version of this story. So they will vote for Trump because he promises them aid welfare payments (aka bribes).

Here are the rest of themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Illustrated Gnus (aka cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona).

  • Do Alabama women prefer subservience? (Just thought I’d ask given their opposition to women’s rights.)
  • New ending line for marriage ceremonies in red states: “Congratulations: You may kiss the uterus support system.”
  • “Q: What’s the difference between Donald Trump and a plague of locusts?” Trick question - they both destroy the family farm.
  • Trump protects American consumer from China. (Chuckles here.)
  • Trump is the largest loser - 1.17 billion in business losses.
  • King Donald declares Constitution null and void - which means he does not have to answer to anyone else.
  • “Little Lindsey”, the Graham Cracker of Republican politics, used to think that Trump was crazy and unfit for office. That was before Graham’s ethical support system died. (John McCain, that is.)
  • John Bolton snookered Dubya into attacking Iraq. That worked out so well he’s snookering Dumpf into attacking Iran.
  • The 1968 Republican would rather be red than dead. The 2020 Repoublican would rather be a Russian than a Democrat. Oh, come on. Did you really expect principles?

Parting Thought: A new theme song for our age: Extinction is Forever sung to the tune of the theme song from Diamonds are forever.
Extinction is forever, it’s all I need to please us
Dead animals cannot tease us
When they leave in the night
We’ve no worries when they desert us…

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Trump's pardon for war crimes would send the nation a dark message.

The NY Times reports that Trump May Be Preparing Pardons for Servicemen Accused of War Crimes. Scriber thinks that is all about making Memorial Day all about Trump. Snippets follow.

President Trump has indicated that he is considering pardons for several American military members accused or convicted of war crimes, including high-profile cases of murder, attempted murder and desecration of a corpse, according to two United States officials.

The officials said that the Trump administration had made expedited requests this week for paperwork needed to pardon the troops on or around Memorial Day.

While the requests for pardon files are a strong sign of the president’s plans, Mr. Trump has been known to change his mind and it is not clear what the impetus was for the requests. But most of the troops who are positioned for a pardon have been championed by conservative lawmakers and media organizations, such as Fox News, which have portrayed them as being unfairly punished for trying to do their job. Many have pushed for the president to intervene. The White House declined to comment.

Pardoning several accused and convicted war criminals at once, including some who have not yet gone to trial, has not been done in recent history, legal experts said. Some worried that it could erode the legitimacy of military law and undercut good order and discipline in the ranks.

Navy SEALs who served with Chief Gallagher told authorities he indiscriminately shot at civilians, gunning down a young woman in a flowered hijab and an unarmed old man. They also said he stabbed a teenage captive, then bragged about it in text messages. His trial is set to start at the end of this month. If convicted, he faces life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and denies all charges.

Major Golsteyn is charged with killing an Afghan man that he and other soldiers said had bomb-making materials. After an interrogation, the soldiers let the man go. Fearing that the man would return to making improvised explosives, which had already killed two Marines in the area, Major Golsteyn later said he killed the man.

Mr. Trump has singled both men out on Twitter, calling Major Golsteyn a “U.S. Military hero,” and praising Chief Gallagher for his service to the country.

The Blackwater contractor, Nicholas A. Slatten, is one of several Blackwater contractors charged in the killing of 17 Iraqis and the wounding of 20 more on a Baghdad street. After a number of mistrials and other delays, he is the only one who has been convicted.

The Marines charged in urinating on the corpse of a Taliban fighter were caught after a video of the act was found.

The fact that the requests were sent from the White House to the Justice Department, instead of the other way around, is a reversal of long-established practices, said Margaret Love, who served as the United States pardon attorney during the first Bush administration and part of the Clinton administration.

Long ago, presidents wielded clemency power directly, Ms. Love said, but that changed at the end of the Civil War when President Lincoln delegated review of clemency requests to his attorney general. Since then, cases have generally been vetted by Justice Department lawyers before being sent to the president.

President Trump has upended that practice, often issuing pardons with little or no notice to the Justice Department, she said, adding that the fact the department is requesting files on men like Chief Gallagher at all suggests that Attorney General William P. Barr is trying to re-exert some authority over the process.

Process aside, she said that pardoning the men would be an abrupt departure from the past.

“Presidents use pardons to send messages. They recognize when a process wasn’t just or when punishments were too extreme, like for some nonviolent drug cases,” she said. “If this president is planning to pardon a bunch of people charged with war crimes, he will use the pardon power to send a far darker message.”

Our society should acknowledge and honor the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy.

Twenty or so “red” states either have passed or possibly will pass (probably? certainly?) increasingly crazier and ever more cruel anti-abortion bills. Such bills allow no exceptions at all for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or even the viability of the fetus. Scriber thinks that the decision to terminate a pregnancy (or not) is a deeply personal one and that no external agency, no branch of government at any level should interfere with that decision.

Here, in full, is a reprint of commentary by The Rt. Rev. Jennifer A. Reddall, Bishop of Arizona (May 17, 2019), Call the Midwife Meets 2019, published on the web site of The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona. (h/t Judy Thut)

Call the Midwife has been one of my favorite TV shows since its premiere. It is set in 1960s London, and the main characters are midwives and nuns living in Nonnatus house, an Anglican convent dedicated to women’s health. The personal and professional dramas are often reflected upon in prayer and meals around the community table. Any TV show that includes women’s voices singing Vespers is a show I am inclined to love.

The narrative arc of the current season has been threaded with storylines about abortion, along with the issues that accompany abortion: maternal health, poverty, social stigma of unmarried mothers, mental illness, inaccessibility of birth control, and domestic violence. Abortion in the show’s context is illegal–but not inaccessible–and extremely risky.

I’ve been intrigued by the intersection between this fictionalized, historic narrative, and the present-day national conversation around the recent, highly restrictive laws controlling access to abortion services, and women’s health more generally.

In Call the Midwife, characters are consistently presented with situations that do not fit into their ideal moral view. Mothers face hard choices; the midwives are caught between caring for their patients and fulfilling their legal obligations. The midwives–both lay and religious–are not of one mind about whether abortion should be permissible. But to a person, they always respond to their patients with compassion and empathy–and they allow themselves to be changed by the stories they encounter.

Jesus taught using stories. When we hear about characters who struggle with issues we struggle with, it can open our minds and hearts to the Love of God, and reminds us how Jesus interacts with the people around him. The Gospel consistently recounts that Jesus ‘had compassion’ on people and crowds, and his compassion leads him to action to relieve their suffering and hunger. I consistently see the face of Jesus in the characters in _Call the Midwife_: they love, they weep, they care, they heal, they pray, and they stand by their patients through joy and grief.

I wish I heard more compassion and more love towards women in our national and legal debates–and not just when they have an unwanted or unviable pregnancy. The lifetime of stories I have heard and shared with the women I know have moved my own thoughts and opinions about abortion into a place that is roughly equivalent to what The Episcopal Church has stated in our General Convention resolutions (one is copied below).

One in four women in the United States has had an abortion by the age of 45–which means that every one of us knows many people who have those stories; but our culture doesn’t make them easy to share. Maybe it’s easier to turn to fictionalized stories like Call the Midwife to inspire our compassion.

But I pray that our congregations will always be places where people can find the compassionate face of Jesus, no matter what story they have to tell. And those other issues–maternal health, poverty, social stigma of unmarried mothers, mental illness, inaccessibility of birth control, and domestic violence–these are where we, regardless of our beliefs about the legality and accessibility of abortion services, must find ways to draw closer to the love of God and concretely demonstrate our love of God’s beloved children.

From The Episcopal Church’s 1994 General Convention resolution regarding abortion:

"We believe that legislation concerning abortions will not address the root of the problem. We therefore express our deep conviction that any proposed legislation on the part of national or state governments regarding abortions must take special care to see that the individual conscience is respected, and that the responsibility of individuals to reach informed decisions in this matter is acknowledged and honored as the position of this Church; and be it further

“Resolved, That this 71st General Convention of the Episcopal Church express its unequivocal opposition to any legislative, executive or judicial action on the part of local, state or national governments that abridges the right of a woman to reach an informed decision about the termination of pregnancy or that would limit the access of a woman to safe means of acting on her decision.”

Friday, May 17, 2019

White House Flash - baby ripped from mother's womb minutes after birth

Let me start by expanding on the title of this post.

… Donald Trump’s White House celebrated Alabama’s new abortion ban in a statement, which said Democrats support “allowing a baby to be ripped from the mother’s womb moments after birth.”

Perhaps realizing that this doesn’t make physiological sense, the statement was amended to say, “ripped from the mother’s womb moments from birth.”

The above quotes are from Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) who has more on the Sponsor of Alabama abortion ban offers head-spinning defense.

Before Alabama approved the most sweeping abortion ban in the country, one of the bill’s chief sponsors, Republican Sen. Clyde Chambliss, fielded a question from a colleague. Why, a Democrat asked, should state law block rape victims from terminating an unwanted pregnancy?

The GOP lawmaker responded:

“[Under the new policy] anything that’s available today is still available up until that woman knows she’s pregnant. So there is a window of time, some say seven days, some say ten. There is a window of time that every option that’s on the table now is still available. […]

“So she has to take a pregnancy test, she has to do something to know whether she is pregnant or not. You can’t know that immediately. It takes some time for all those chromosomes and all that that you mentioned. It doesn’t happen immediately.”

He wasn’t kidding. As Rachel noted on last night’s show, the architect of Alabama’s new anti-abortion law defended his proposal by arguing that rape victims can still get abortions just so long as they don’t know they’re pregnant – which is every bit as bewildering as it seems.

Regardless, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) signed the state’s radical new policy into law late yesterday afternoon, just one day after the bill cleared the Republican-led legislature.

In all likelihood, it won’t actually take effect, at least in the short term, because it will be blocked in the courts. Proponents of the new policy nevertheless hope that the U.S. Supreme Court’s five-member conservative majority will eventually take up the case and strike down the Roe v. Wade precedent.

The right is not, however, entirely united on the subject. Radical TV preacher Pat Robertson said yesterday he believes Alabama has “gone too far” by approving “an extreme law.”

In context, Robertson, a longtime opponent of abortion rights, seemed to be making a tactical argument. “They want to challenge Roe v. Wade, but my humble view is that this is not the case that we want to bring to the Supreme Court because I think this will lose,” he added.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The case for impeachment - and the constitutional costs of failure

I use the term “failure” in two senses. There is a fear among Democrats that an impeachment would be a costly failure if the Senate then refused to convict. But that would put the Republicans on record as ignoring the already public evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors like obstruction of justice if not also bribery and treason. Another form of failure would be inaction by the House Democrats - for them to develop a sound evidentiary basis and then not acting on it. That would lend implicit support to Trump heaping dishonor and corruption on our nation and would leave our Constitution and our democratic institutions irreparably damaged. In the remainder of this post, four authors examine these issues.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) reports that Democrats are badly blowing it against Trump. A brutal new TV ad shows how.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has succeeded in stifling impeachment talk. The Post reports that the speaker privately told Democrats to stick to policy and forget about an impeachment inquiry, and not a single Democrat uttered a word in protest.

This is meant to illustrate the iron grip that Pelosi often successfully maintains on her caucus. But, whether you support an impeachment inquiry right now, there’s no way to describe the broader strategy that Democrats have adopted on the impeachment question as a success. It’s been a muddled mess.

A new ad that impeachment proponent Tom Steyer is set to launch illustrates this well. Notably, rather than merely making the case for an inquiry, the ad trains its fire at Democrats for failing to initiate one.

We have to be respectful of a distinction between impeachment and investigation. The Democratic strategy appears to be avoidance of the “I” word while at the same time running multiple investigations, the outcomes of which could be used in impeachment proceedings. Sargent continues.

In some ways, this is defensible. One can envision Democrats using multiple committee hearings to develop a fuller picture of Mueller’s findings (along with other aspects of Trump’s corruption and misconduct), before launching an inquiry.

But if this posture is underpinned by a secret intention to never pull that trigger, that creates yet another problem. …

What’s more, as Brian Beutler and Quinta Jurecic argue [see below], refraining inescapably validates Trump’s corruption as a kind of new normal. With Trump urging his attorney general to investigate the investigators, it incentivizes the president to expand his lawlessness, since he can do so with impunity.

The better arguments against acting are that the Senate won’t convict, so full accountability is impossible anyway, or that impeachment is a political decision, so Congress isn’t obliged to do it. Or maybe it really would help Trump get reelected (though that idea is baseless).

But none of those arguments reckons seriously with the downside of not acting, which are considerable. And none takes seriously what it would mean if Democratic oversight is neutered and it’s too late to act. Or, even worse, what it would mean if Trump won reelection after all that happened.

If Democrats do believe an impeachment inquiry is merited, it’s not clear there’s any magic key to credibly arguing their way out of not launching one. Perhaps there is a way, but they certainly haven’t hit on it yet.

Why Congress should act to impeach. Or is Trump “just not worth it”?

In brief, whatever the political downsides of impeachment, the constitutional downsides are worse.

Brian Beutler tags The Democrats’ Great Impeachment Abdication.

If Democrats sincerely considered Donald Trump to be unfit for office, and believed he had committed impeachable offenses, and that they should at least begin the process of removing him from office, they most likely wouldn’t be doing anything much differently than they are right now.

They don’t call it an impeachment inquiry per se, but the chairs of several House committees have launched expansive investigations of Trump’s corruption, crimes, and abuses of power. Because Trump revels publicly in corruption, crime, and abuses of power, these investigations are likely to turn up extensive evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors, if not bribery and treason, and could thus compile the factual basis of articles of impeachment.

But because of what they have said—the terms they have committed themselves to—Democratic leaders have all but doomed themselves to the worst-possible approach: One in which they unearth damning evidence and then make the conscious decision not to act on it; one in which they tacitly bless all of Trump’s wrongdoing and pray both that voters do all the hard work for them, and that nothing tragic happens as a consequence of their inaction.

Pelosi, Schiff, and Nadler are seasoned politicians who don’t say much that’s unrehearsed. Their position that passing articles of impeachment—a process that requires a simple majority in the House—must be bipartisan sends a clear message to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other GOP leaders: that the key to Trump’s continued impunity is for Republicans to simply continue doing what they’ve been doing all along—ignore or celebrate his misconduct, attack the investigators, lie as much as it takes to keep Trump’s base of support from falling through the floor.

When Republicans inevitably take this path, the Pelosi standard will commit Democrats to the course of consciously, publicly choosing to proceed no further, to say Congress will take no position on Trump’s obstruction of justice, his violation of the emoluments clause, and his criminal schemes. That might or might not be the safest political course of action for the party, but it will establish a new precedent in our country that presidents can make themselves untouchable, to the law and to Congress, if only they’re willing to be as selfish and malevolent as Trump. And it will do so at a moment when one of the country’s two political parties has fully embraced an ethos of corruption, greed, and will to power.

… If this [Watergate] history points to anything it’s that a good-faith impeachment process would make public opinion conform to public opinion about Trump himself—which is to say, most people would support impeachment, but a solid minority would oppose it, and Republicans would stand with the minority.

It’s hard to see what the Democrats would lose from such an outcome, but what they would gain is something that impeachment opponents routinely gloss over: a trial. … The pro-impeachment proposition is that Democrats should build the case, hold the trial, and let Republicans in Congress decide whether they want to shred our shared standards of accountability—to let their votes be counted—instead of doing it for them as they quietly sidestep the question.

In either case, the voters will render the final verdict, but in an impeachment scenario, the question would be laid before them clearly, and will place the entire Republican Party on the hook directly for the crimes they’ve been passively abetting for over two years now. It would also preserve important norms about what kinds of behavior should be impeachable.

With respect to Congressional inaction on impeachment per se, [Quinta Jurecic, Contributing writer at The Atlantic and managing editor of Lawfare, predicts that If Congress Won’t Act, Trump Will. Encouraged by lawmakers’ passivity, the president is taking the same approach to 2020 that he took to 2016. Here’s some of what she has to say.

The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives remains resistant to impeachment, reportedly out of concern that it could buoy the president’s poll numbers going into an election year. Likewise, it argues, any impeachment would almost certainly run aground in the Republican Senate. But there is more to impeachment than a bare political calculation. It’s also a way of marking a breach, declaring that the presidency should not be what a particular president has tried to shape it into. In the case of Watergate, that statement of protest was more or less successful for decades, at least until it ran headlong into Donald Trump.

… for all Trump’s public embrace of corruption, he has not yet shot anyone on Fifth Avenue. But the point is that, when an injustice is done, we all shoulder some kind of mutual obligation to set right the imbalance in the world or otherwise become complicit in it. For Congress today to look at the conduct described in the Mueller report and decide that it does not merit impeachment is for it to acquiesce to Trump’s effort to establish his own corruption not only as the new norm, but also as the way things have always been. To put it another way, given Congress’s inaction, can you really blame Rudy Giuliani for trying his luck in Ukraine?

In thinking about impeachment these past two years, I’ve returned again and again to the work of the legal scholar Charles Black, who understood an impeachable offense to be an act “against the nation or its governmental and political processes, obviously wrong … to any person of honor.” The definition is cryptic, yet simple. It is almost innocent, this idea that there exists a community of people who could agree on what it means to be a person of honor, in the face of a president who acts as if it doesn’t mean anything at all.

Donald Trump is acting with malice toward all and justice for one - himself. He is a clear and present danger to our constitution. So can we afford not to impeach him as the Constitution empowers us to do?

Robert Reich explores the cases for and against impeachment - and cuts right to the central issues. Reich says The House now has a constitutional duty to impeach in his opinion piece in the Fan Francisco Chronicle (also printed in the AZ Daily Star). Snippets follow, emphases added.

Donald Trump is causing a constitutional crisis with his blanket refusal to respond to any subpoenas.

So what happens now? An impeachment inquiry in the House won’t send him packing before election day 2020 because Senate Republicans won’t convict him.

So the practical political question is whether a House impeachment inquiry helps send him packing after election day. That seems unlikely.

Another question needs to be considered — not just the practical political effect on the 2020 election, but something more important over the long run.

It is whether an action designed to enforce our Constitution is important for its own sake — even if it goes nowhere, even if it’s unpopular with many voters, even if it’s politically risky.

Every child in America is supposed to learn about the Constitution’s basic principles of separation of powers, and checks and balances.

But these days, every child and every adult in America is learning from Donald Trump that these principles are bunk.

By issuing a blanket refusal to respond to any congressional subpoena, Trump is saying Congress has no constitutional authority to oversee the executive branch. He’s telling America that Congress is a subordinate branch of government rather than a co-equal branch. Forget separation of powers.

By spending money on his “wall” that Congress explicitly refused to authorize, Trump is saying that Congress no longer has any constitutional authority over spending. Goodbye, checks and balances.

By unilaterally shuttering the government in order to get his way, Trump is saying he has the constitutional right not to execute the laws whenever it suits him. Farewell, Congress.

By directing the attorney general, the Justice Department, the FBI and the secretary of the Treasury to act in his own personal interest rather than in the interests of the American people, Trump is saying that a president can run the government on his own. Adios, Constitution.

By unilaterally threatening to cut off trade with the second-largest economy in the world, Trump is saying he has sole authority to endanger the entire American economy. (Make no mistake: If he goes through with his threat, the U.S. economy will go into a tailspin.

By doing whatever he could to stop an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, including firing the head of the FBI, Trump has told America it’s OK for a president to obstruct justice. Goodbye, law.

The core purpose of the U.S. Constitution is to prevent tyranny. That’s why the framers of the Constitution distributed power among the president, Congress and the judiciary. That’s why each of the three branches was designed to limit the powers of the other two.

In other words, the framers anticipated the possibility of a Donald Trump.

The framers also put in mechanisms to enforce the Constitution against a president who tries to usurp the powers of the other branches of government. Article I, Section 2 gives the House of Representatives the “sole power of impeachment.” Article I, Section 3 gives the Senate the “sole power to try all impeachments.”

Trump surely appears to be usurping the powers of the other branches. Under these circumstances, the Constitution mandates that the House undertake an impeachment inquiry and present evidence to the Senate.

This may not be the practical political thing to do. But it is the right thing to do.

America's new normal for women - red capes and white hoods

Well, brothers, we’re not quite ready to make over our sisters into handmaids yet but a couple of dozen states, led by Alabama, would be perfectly happy with that.

In this morning’s Subscriber’s Post, Judd Legum ( reports on The corporations backing Alabama’s war on women.

On Wednesday, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey signed a draconian bill that would effectively ban all abortions in the state. The radical legislation would be a dramatic step backward for women’s rights and gender equality – banning abortion even in cases of rape or incest. Doctors who perform abortions in Alabama could face up to 99 years in jail.

The effort was spearheaded by Alabama’s Republican leadership: Speaker Mac McCutcheon, Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter, Senate President (and Lt. Governor) Will Ainsworth, and Majority Leader Greg Reed. The bill was sponsored by a Republican Senator, Clyde Chambliss.

McCutcheon stressed that the purpose of the bill was to prompt the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade. “Alabama, as a whole in the state, is a pro-life state. What we as a state are doing, is trying to address the national problem,” he said.

There are just four women in the Alabama state Senate.

Meanwhile, some of America’s most prominent corporations are backing these politicians – and their war on women’s rights – with campaign cash. These are the same companies that publicly claim to support gender equality and women’s rights.

State Farm
Eli Lilly
Koch Industries
Draft Kings

The companies highlighted in bold print donated to my favorite ’bama GOPlin, bill sponsor Republican Senator, Clyde Chambliss. Why? Check out Rachel Maddow’s report from last night’s show. What this dildo head is arguing is that abortions are OK until you know you’re pregnant. An abortion a day will keep the Republicans away?

Here is more from the New York Times editorial board in How to Help Protect Abortion Rights in Alabama and Georgia. America is in an era of extreme anti-abortion laws.

All eyes were on Alabama on Tuesday as the State Senate debated, and then passed, what could become the most restrictive abortion law in the country. Under the legislation, which the Republican governor, Kay Ivey, signed Wednesday, women in Alabama would be forced to carry unwanted or nonviable pregnancies to term in nearly all circumstances, including when a pregnancy results from rape or incest. Doctors who perform the procedure would face felony charges and up to 99 years in prison — which is more prison time than convicted rapists face in the state.

Showing just how far to the right the anti-abortion movement has pushed the “center” of the abortion debate, it was the bill’s rape and incest exceptions, since removed, that dominated the conversation in the Alabama Senate. It seemed forgone that the state would ban abortions for a vast majority of the women there. Lawmakers supporting abortion rights were left arguing to preserve the rape and incest exceptions.

There is a strategy behind this law’s remarkable cruelty, and its supporters have not been subtle about it. The bill’s sponsor in the Alabama House, Terri Collins, said that the legislation was designed to produce a legal case that could overturn Roe v. Wade. When asked the purpose of the bill on Tuesday, Clyde Chambliss, the Senate sponsor, said, “So that we can go directly to the Supreme Court to challenge Roe v. Wade.” (Highlighting the ignorance behind so much anti-abortion legislation, Mr. Chambliss also seemed to argue repeatedly on Tuesday that women in Alabama would still be able to get abortions — but only before they knew they were pregnant.) From that ABC News report in the above link:

Chambliss said that abortions could only be provided “until the woman is known to be pregnant”

If you want to know where this is going, check out the Trumpian plans for contraception.

Back in November (2018) Rolling Stone reported that the Trump Administration Quietly Unveils New Rules Targeting Birth Control and Abortion.

A record number of women — mostly Democrats, many of them galvanized by the threat the Trump administration poses to reproductive freedom — were swept into Congress during in the 2018 midterm elections. The results were still being tabulated on Wednesday when Trump’s Department of Health and Human Services quietly finalized two rules empowering employers, universities and nonprofits to refuse birth control coverage to women.

A third rule, also announced Wednesday, would require insurers on the Affordable Care Act marketplace to charge women a separate monthly bill for abortion coverage — a change that advocates say would be so prohibitively expensive it could force insurers to stop offering the procedure altogether.

The new rules were announced just hours after voters in Alabama overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment granting full legal rights to fertilized eggs — a law so far-reaching that not only would it ban abortion in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned, reproductive rights groups say it could ultimately mean the criminalization certain types of birth control, including IUDs and the morning after pill.

So, about the trend toward women as handmaids, check out what Stephen Colbert had to say. He ends by asking us to consider making vasectomies felonies. Dark humor, to be sure, but it is a logical extension of the morphing of anti-abortion legislation to state control of contraception to total elimination of reproductive rights.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Most parents don't want their kids exposed to 'Arabic' numerals

Marissa Higgins of the Daily Kos Staff tells us what why America is not getting great again. The reason? Our society is uninformed, or misinformed, or disinformed about the fundamentals on which our science, technology, and engineering rest: Poll says that 56% of Americans don’t want kids taught Arabic numerals. We have some bad news. This is funny, if you know what I mean, but it is also damning. In short, most Americans have no clue about the mathematical basis for our society, economy, and future.

Data can be soul-crushing. While sometimes numbers communicate exactly what you’d like to hear, polling isn’t for the faint of heart, especially when it comes to polls that reveal a lot about your peers. Like, for example, the 60% of white men who voted for Trump—or, for that matter, the 47% of white women.

Anyway. A more recent poll suggests that 56% of Americans are not only ignorant but probably also prejudiced. Why? Let’s look at some results from CivicScience Inc., a research firm based in Pittsburgh. And try not to laugh at the results!

Their CEO, John Dick, tweeted the following visual of the results of what should have been a simple question on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, people loved (and hated) it.

John Dick
Ladies and Gentlemen: The saddest and funniest testament to American bigotry we’ve ever seen in our data.

For some context: CivicScience polled more than 3,200 Americans in this survey. The general topic was math instruction, which seems like it wouldn’t be controversial. Perhaps it would reveal some hard feelings about geometry, but nothing too attention-grabbing, right? Wrong!

Let’s start with the good. 29% of respondents said that Arabic numerals should be taught in schools. That’s great, because they already are!

16% had no opinion on the subject. That’s … odd, but okay.

An astounding 56% of Americans said Arabic numerals should not be taught in American schools.

Arabic numerals. Which are, you know, the ones we use.

Is there an explanation that doesn’t have to do with bigotry? I think not. Islamophobia is a huge problem in the U.S. My guess (and the only explanation I can gather) is that people read “Arabic” and immediately went negative. Gross.

(h/t Mrs. Scriber)

Republican Senator - some farmers may die but that's a sacrifice I'm willing to make.

OK. The Senator in question did not put it quite that way …

Knowing the Major countries of destination for U.S. soybean exports in 2017 tells us why Trump’s agricultural tariffs are so important for the American farmer. China imported 31.99 million metric tons in 2017 which was way over what was imported by the next 9 countries combined (17.34 million metric tons). So if China stopped its soybean imports from the U. S., our soybean farmers would lose about two thirds (64.85%) of that market. Given that, it is puzzling why any member of Congress would shrug off the harm that will be incurred by our farmers because of Trump’s trade fight with China. Yet, there are some in Congress who are with Trump no matter what damage they will do to the country. Here’s an example.

Jen Hayden of the Daily Kos Staff reports that Arkansas senator shrugs off farmers going belly up from Trump tariffs: ‘Some people will sacrifice’

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton appeared on CBS This Morning as part of a promotional book tour and was asked about Donald Trump’s latest round of trade war tariffs. Trump has promised $15 billion in new bailout funds for struggling U.S. farmers to counter the fallout from his tariffs, in addition to the $12 billion he’s already doled out.

Let’s take a Trumpometer break. Trump is the chief steward of Republican values, right? He’s the chief GOPlin. Is he (or the head Munchkin) just printing money? Where’s the money coming from? Cuts to social security and Medicare, perhaps? How can the GOP reconcile paying out welfare to the farmers who need it because of what Trump is doing?

So how did Cotton react to the struggling farmers back home in Arkansas? With a shrug. Even worse, he used U.S. troops as a shield, noting that they make bigger sacrifices than other people. Listen to Cotton shrug off U.S. farmers losing their shirts.

“There will be some sacrifice on the part of Americans, I grant you that. But also that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes or laid to rest,” @SenTomCotton on trade war with China

Summarizing Tom Cotton, “some of you may die, but that’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

For the record, economic experts far and wide have been advising against these tariffs from the start and are loudly warning of the dire economic impact.

For example, the Tax Foundation tweeted:

Tariffs raise prices and reduce available quantities of goods and services for U.S. businesses and consumers, which results in lower income, reduced employment, and lower economic output:

Picking up on Cotton’s view of what others should happily sacrifice, Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) writes As farmers struggle, Cotton offers odd defense of Trump’s trade agenda.

I suppose there’s an element of literal truth to the far-right senator’s argument: it is, in fact, better to be a farmer with a failing business than it is to be a soldier who’s died in the line of duty.

But I’m not sure Cotton has fully thought this one through. Is the Arkansas Republican really prepared to tell a struggling family, “Sure, your farm may be failing as a result of Trump’s trade agenda, but your sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to Americans who’ve died on the battlefield”?

Wouldn’t it be easier to simply encourage the administration to pursue a different course?

I am intrigued by the possibility, though, of how to apply Cotton’s argument to other political debates. Some millionaires may howl in response to proposals for higher taxes on the wealthy, for example, but as Arkansas’ junior senator has argued, “There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make.”

Some business owners may balk at an increase in the minimum wage, but as Tom Cotton reminds us, “There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make.”

Some may resist systemic efforts to combat the climate crisis, but they can take solace in the words of Tom Cotton: “There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Beware The Guns of August - The question in Washington is whether Trump is taking us into another mideastern war.

Robin Wright at the New Yorker asks Is Trump Yet Another U.S. President Provoking a War? I am going to cut right to the final paragraph.

The sense of foreboding is tangible, the threats from both sides are no longer rhetorical. Before the nuclear-deal negotiations began, in 2013, Washington was consumed with hyped talk of the United States or its allies bombing Iran. If the nuclear deal formally dies, talk of military confrontation may again fill both capitals—even if neither country wants it. “Make no mistake, we’re not seeking a fight with the Iranian regime,” McKenzie, the Centcom commander, said last week. “But we do have a military force that’s designed to be agile, adaptive, and prepared to respond to a variety of contingencies in the Middle East and around the world.” The problem, as U.S. history proves, is that the momentum of confrontation is harder to reverse with each escalatory step.

Let’s then start with that history in brief snippets.

The United States has a long history of provoking, instigating, or launching wars based on dubious, flimsy, or manufactured threats …

… In 1846, President James Polk justified the Mexican-American War by claiming that Mexico had invaded U.S. territory, at a time when the border was not yet settled. … Around fifteen hundred Americans died of battle injuries, and another ten thousand from illness.

… In 1898, the Spanish-American War was triggered by an explosion on the U.S.S. Maine, an American battleship docked in Havana Harbor. … [but] the battleship was destroyed by the spontaneous combustion of coal in a bunker next to ammunition. …

… The beginning of the Vietnam War was authorized by two now disputed incidents involving U.S. warships in the Gulf of Tonkin. In response, Congress authorized President Johnson, in 1964, to “take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.” The war dragged on for a decade, claiming the lives of fifty-seven thousand Americans and as many as a million Vietnamese fighters and civilians.

… In 1986, the Reagan Administration plotted to use U.S. military maneuvers off Libya’s coast to provoke Muammar Qaddafi into a showdown. The planning for Operation Prairie Fire, which deployed three aircraft carriers and thirty other warships, was months in the making. Before the Navy’s arrival, U.S. warplanes conducted missions skirting Libyan shore and air defenses—“poking them in the ribs” to “keep them on edge,” …

… The most egregious case was the U.S. invasion of Iraq, in 2003, which was based on bad intelligence that Baghdad had active weapons-of-mass-destruction programs. The repercussions are still playing out sixteen years (and more than four thousand American deaths) later. …

Today, the question in Washington—and surely in Tehran, too—is whether President Trump is making moves that will provoke, instigate, or inadvertently drag the United States into a war with Iran. …

On May 5th, a Sunday, the White House issued an unusual communiqué—from the national-security adviser, John Bolton, not the Pentagon—announcing that a battleship-carrier strike group, led by the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln, and a bomber task force, including B–52s, were deploying off Iran’s coast. … Bolton, who was a key player behind the U.S. war in Iraq, advocated bombing Iran before he joined the Trump White House.

Iran is not blameless. For example:

Iran does, indeed, have a growing array of surrogates across the region. Lebanon’s Hezbollah—inspired, armed, and trained by Iran—is now the most powerful militia outside state control in the entire Middle East. In Syria, Tehran has mobilized Shiite allies from four countries—Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan—to supplement its own forces helping President Bashar al-Assad reassert control over his fractured nation. Tehran has reportedly shipped short-range missiles to allies by boat through the Persian Gulf and deployed kits in Syria that convert imprecise rockets into missiles with greater range, accuracy, and impact. The Islamic Republic supports several Shiite militias in Iraq under the umbrella of the country’s Popular Mobilization Forces, which emerged in 2014, with Iraqi government approval, to fight isis. The caliphate has fallen, but the P.M.F. remains a powerful and divisive militia in Iraq.

America’s longest war

While not predicated on manufactured threats, the Afghan war is an illustration of how slippery a slope is the march to war.

The New York Times editorial board reports on America’s longest war - The Unspeakable War The conflict in Afghanistan is going badly, and the Trump administration doesn’t want to talk about it. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

It’s easy to reach for metaphors to describe the war in Afghanistan — quagmire, money pit, a boulder that must be rolled up the Hindu Kush for eternity. …

Put another way, the American people are being kept more in the dark about the dismal state of the United States’ longest-running war, now in its 18th year.

The mission in Afghanistan has been long, deadly and badly in need of robust oversight. …

In the latest report, in addition to the updates not provided to the inspector general on the number of districts and people living under Taliban control, the following metrics were classified or otherwise kept from the public eye: the number of casualties suffered by Afghan security forces; performance assessments of the Afghan Army, police and other security organizations; all but general information about the operational readiness of the security forces; the number and readiness of the elite Special Mission Wing of the Afghan Air Force; and reports on the progress of anticorruption efforts by the Ministry of the Interior.

What was documented in the public report was alarming enough, … According to the inspector general’s report, enemy-initiated attacks during the winter rose considerably. The monthly average number of attacks, more than 2,000, was up 19 percent from last November through January, compared with the monthly average over the previous reporting period, ending in October. From December through the end of February, the number of Afghan military and security force casualties was 31 percent higher than a year earlier. The report also took grim note of the fact that Afghan government and international forces caused more civilian deaths during the quarter than anti-government forces did.

The least that the Trump administration can do is be more open and honest with the American public about the unvarnished reality of the situation in Afghanistan. (The Pentagon hasn’t held an on-camera briefing in nearly a year.) Americans may have given up hope of “winning” the war long ago. But that doesn’t mean the full public accounting should halt.

[Indeed, ]Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, suggested during a congressional hearing on Wednesday that the end was not in sight. “I think we will need to maintain a counterterrorism presence as long as an insurgency continues in Afghanistan,” General Dunford said.

Updates on Trump's trade war - who is getting hurt

538’s significant digits email reports on the hits investors keep taking as Trump tries to salvage his disastrous trade war by digging faster and deeper.

$60 billion in goods
China has launched its own salvo in the latest escalation of President Trump’s trade war, saying that it will raise tariffs on nearly $60 billion in U.S. goods from 10 percent to 20 percent or 25 percent. After the news, the S&P 500 fell more than 2 percent. [The New York Times]

The NY Times Monday Evening Briefing (email) also focused on the economic consequences of Trump’s trade war.

American stocks suffered their steepest daily drop in months after China said it would increase tariffs on American-made goods in response to a similar move by the White House.

The S&P 500 fell 2.4 percent, pushing its loss for the month above 4.5 percent. Investors hammered shares in trade-sensitive sectors like agriculture, semiconductors and industrials. Just weeks ago, the S&P 500 reached a record. Above, the New York Stock Exchange on Monday.

China’s move will affect the roughly $60 billion in American imports already being taxed as retaliation for Mr. Trump’s previous round of levies; those imports include beer, wine, swimsuits, shirts and liquefied natural gas.

Both sides left a window for negotiators to try to reach a deal, but they continue to have significant differences over how tariffs should be rolled back.

President Trump said he was not concerned by the tariff increase, saying “there can be some retaliation, but it can’t be very, very substantial by comparison,” given that China imports far less than it sells to the United States.

Will buying at Walmart blunt the effects of a trade war?

Today, in defense of his trade war and those self-inflicted wounds to our economy, Trump Urges Americans to Boycott Chinese Goods and Just Buy Things at Walmart. Andy Borowitz, the New Yorker satirist, fills in all the gaps in that headline - except those between Trump’s two ears.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Asking for their solidarity in his trade war with China, Donald Trump is urging Americans to boycott Chinese goods and “just buy things at Walmart.”

Trump made his request via Twitter, where he told his fellow-citizens that it was their “patriotic duty” to punish China by buying as many goods at Walmart as possible.

“If you go to a great american store like Walmart, you’ll find lots of cheap sportswear, shoes, and other items for you and your family to enjoy,” he tweeted. “What better way to show China that we don’t need their dumb stuff!”

Shortly after Trump sent those marching orders to his countrymen, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, offered a muted response. “I’m beginning to see how he lost a billion dollars,” Xi said.

Trump’s trade war hurts rural America

Satire aside, on a related topic, Trump promised $15 billion in aid to farmers who are hurt by his trade war. But nobody has any idea where he will get that kind of money - and neither does he if truth be told. Trump says U.S. farmers to get $15 billion in aid amid China trade war reports

American farmers, a key constituency of Trump, have been among the hardest hit in the trade war. Soybeans are the most valuable U.S. farm export, and shipments to China dropped to a 16-year low in 2018. Sales of U.S. soybeans elsewhere failed to make up for the loss. U.S. soybean futures fell to their lowest in a decade on Monday.

While farmers have largely remained supportive of Trump, many have called for an imminent end to the trade dispute, which propelled farm debt to the highest levels in decades and worsened credit conditions for the rural economy.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Mournday Mourning Messages - all the Gnus you didn't want to meet

Yesterday I posted Trump’s fight to keep tax returns secret poses a fundamental question for Republicans. That question posed to every Republican is: “What evil, vile thing would Trump have to do in order for you to stop supporting him?” It is not obvious that there exists anything that would shake their obeisance.

The Washington Post concurs.

President Trump famously declared that he wouldn’t lose any voters even if he shot someone in the middle of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue.

If the first two years of his presidency have shown anything, that statement could be amended to say he wouldn’t lose votes from Republican senators, who have for the most part voted in line with the president at every turn, even when it has seemed to conflict with their stated values.

“Saturday Night Live,” sensing perhaps the elevated tensions coursing through the capital, took aim at this political phenomenon with a parody on NBC host Chuck Todd and his Sunday show, “Meet the Press,” for the cold open.

Here are the rest of themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Illustrated Gnus (aka cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona).

Lower the Barr
Barr does the Limbo
  • Back in the day (1962) Scriber danced to Chubby Checker’s Limbo Rock.
  • China will pay for Trump’s tariffs - just as Mexico will pay for his wall.
  • “Why is this massive effort to close down every last remaining line of inquiry necessary, if Trump has been totally exonerated?” (From Greg Sargent at the Washington Post.)
  • What might be in Trump’s tax returns? Don Jr. spilled the beans: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”
  • Might the media have it wrong? Trump holds Congress in contempt.
  • Trump’s tariffs will unleash a panda-mic on the U. S. consumer.
  • Under Trump and the GOPlins, Noah’s Ark bends toward mass extinction.
  • Democratic messaging: Green New Deal. Republican messaging: Brown Old Deal.
  • Parting thought #1: Are we about to realize The Handmaid’s Tale? NBC News reports: Anti-abortion bills mount as GOP-led states angle for Supreme Court fight over Roe v. Wade. The extremity of the proposals represents a shift in strategy, one abortion rights advocate said.
  • Parting thought #2: Trump admin hides stats on America’s longest war (Afghanistan). We’re still stuck in Iraq and Syria. Now Bolton sends a carrier fleet to the Mid-East to confront Iran. What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Trump's fight to keep tax returns secret poses a fundamental question for Republicans

Why would Trump be embarrassed by his tax returns? asks Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog). And why, I add, do Republicans claim not to care?

Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney sat down with CBS News’ Major Garrett this week for a podcast interview that covered a fair amount of ground. …

The host noted that the Treasury Department has refused a congressional order to turn over Donald Trump’s tax returns, and Garrett asked why. This was (Scriber’s essence of) the exchange that followed:

MULVANEY: Because they are not entitled to see them by law. …
MULVANEY: … They’re just doing this to make the president look bad. They don’t care. This is not about information about the president. Keep in mind, all of the president’s financial holdings, by law, are disclosed. Want to know what the president owns? Want to know how he makes money? All of that stuff is, by law, I have to fill out my form by the end of next week. So does he. This is just about trying to embarrass the president.
GARRETT: What’s embarrassing about his tax records?
MULVANEY: That’s what they want to know.
GARRETT: But what is it?
MULVANEY: I don’t know because I’ve never seen
GARRETT: Is there something embarrassing about his tax records?
MULVANEY: I have no idea and I don’t care.

Benen then explains why Mulvaney is full of it.

First, when Mulvaney says Congress is not “entitled” to the president’s tax materials “by law,” that’s true, just so long as one overlooks the law. In reality, existing federal law, which has been on the books for nearly a century, says the Treasury Department “shall furnish” the tax materials in response to a formal request from one of a handful of congressional lawmakers.

That formal request has been made, and at least for now, it’s been ignored despite the letter of the statute.

Second, Mulvaney suggests Trump’s legally required financial disclosure forms show “how he makes money.” That’s not quite right: disclosure forms show what the president has, not how he got it.

To know more about the sources of his wealth, we’d need – let’s all say it together – his tax returns.

But it’s Major Garrett’s good follow-up question that stands out for a reason: the White House’s acting chief of staff is convinced that the effort to obtain Trump’s tax returns is intended to “embarrass the president,” which naturally leads one to wonder why Trump would be embarrassed by his tax returns.

Mulvaney apparently didn’t see this line of inquiry coming, so he was left in an awkward spot: Democrats are trying to embarrass Trump, but his chief of staff has no idea why Trump would be embarrassed by his own tax materials.

And, Mulvaney added, he doesn’t care.

Neither does Sen. Lindsey Graham. When it comes to what Trump told McGahn, “I don’t care.” When it comes to the Mueller investigation, “It’s over.”

The South Carolina Republican’s indifference notwithstanding, given everything we’ve learned of late about Trump’s financial life, there are all kinds of reasons for the rest of us to care.

Here, I think, is the fundamental question that needs to be put to Republicans in positions high and low in every walk of life. What evil, vile thing would Trump have to do in order for you to stop supporting him? Right now, the answer is nothing will ever shake their support. They don’t care about 10,000 lies, for example. And I suspect that they will help Trump celebrate his high-jacking of the Independence Day celebration (Trump takes over Fourth of July celebration, changing its location and inserting himself into the program), effectively making our national celebration into everything all about Trump. No matter how incompetent, no matter how immoral, no matter how illegal, no matter how insane, Republicans are all in with a demented king.