Thursday, May 30, 2019

The NY Times editors think Mueller's 'statement was quite clarifying'. To help us understand why, they provide translations of Mueller's key points.

The New York Times performs a service to the nation by Decoding Robert Mueller. In short: No exoneration. (And please don’t make me testify!) Here it is in full.

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

After two years of frenzied speculation, the special counsel Robert Mueller at last spoke publicly about his investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections. His statement Wednesday was considered and temperate, its delivery passionless, if not robotic. If you tuned out for a moment — and who could blame you — you might have missed the import of the messages encoded in Mr. Mueller’s cautious language. Yet if you listened carefully, both for what he said and what he did not say, the statement was quite clarifying. Below are Mr. Mueller’s key points, translated.

After briefly reviewing his mandate, as laid out by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mr. Mueller announced that his team was “formally closing the special counsel’s office,” that he was leaving the Justice Department and that “beyond these few remarks, it is important that the office’s written work speak for itself.”

Translation: I’m done with this political circus. To understand my findings, read my report. Please don’t ask me to testify.

Mr. Mueller was careful to emphasize that if his office “had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

Translation: There’s a decent chance the president committed a crime.

He went on to point out that “under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.” He added, “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”

Translation: This was not about a lack of evidence, and it certainly doesn’t amount to the “exoneration” President Trump has claimed. We couldn’t indict because we weren’t allowed to indict. We did, however, draw Congress a detailed map of the multiple ways that this president may have obstructed justice.

Mr. Mueller noted that department policy “explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president, because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available.”

Translation: Presidents don’t stay in office forever. Who knows how this information might come in handy to prosecutors in a couple of years?

He said that “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

Translation: It’s called an impeachment inquiry.

Further on obstruction, Mr. Mueller said, “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Translation: Did you notice I said “when” not “if”? Obstruction happened; I’m being coy about who I suspect committed it.

Mr. Mueller acknowledged that, when it came to releasing the report, he and William Barr, the attorney general, had different visions of how to do so. Even so, he said, “I certainly do not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision.”

Translation: Mr. Barr made a bad decision, but I’m not going to directly criticize his initial misleading summary of the report because he made the report largely public.

As for where things go from here, Mr. Mueller had a message for Congress:

“Now, I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner. I am making that decision myself. No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter. There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”

Translation: O.K., folks, I’m begging now: Please, please don’t make me testify! I really don’t want to risk getting dragged into the congressional mosh pit and accidentally besmirching my reputation for standing above politics by straightforwardly answering a question. Even if, you know, I do expect everyone to answer my own questions honestly. And even if I’m standing here delivering a very strong hint that Congress should hold impeachment hearings. Heaven forbid that, as the foremost expert on the president’s questionable doings, with expertise earned on the taxpayer’s dime, I should endanger my own image by expressing a forthright view of those doings, even if the future of the Republic might be at stake. If you ignore this plea and subpoena me, expect me to dodge every hard question by referring you to my report. Which, by the way, you should read. Carefully.

Mr. Mueller took a moment to thank everyone “who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner. These individuals who spent nearly two years with the special counsel’s office were of the highest integrity.”

Translation: This was not a “witch hunt,” and, contrary to the president’s claims, my team was not a bunch of “angry Democrats.”

He closed by emphasizing “the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”

Translation: This means you, Donald Trump. Time to exhibit some patriotic spirit and defend American democracy.

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

Mueller needs to speak out - soon.

Here is a pair of opinion pieces from the New York Times. The common thread is that Mueller needs to do more than fade away in silence. There is a real possibility that Trump will be reelected and that he will visit damage to our democracy and the rule of law that are the stuff of nightmares. Certainly Mueller does not want to be a part of that. He needs to speak plainly to America - and soon.

Michael Tomasky thinks that Mueller Is Admirably Apolitical. That’s the Problem. He is serving a vision of America that no longer exists.

Robert S. Mueller III has spoken, but he had very little to say. As he said at a brief news conference on Wednesday morning, he will not go beyond what his report said. He will not criticize Attorney General Bill Barr, even though he wrote a letter to Mr. Barr in late March complaining that the attorney general’s summary of the Mueller report did not capture its “context, nature, and substance.”

And while he didn’t completely close the door on appearing before Congress, Mr. Mueller made it clear that it wouldn’t exactly be must-see TV, so what would be the point.

What we saw on display in Mr. Mueller’s nine-minute statement was his often discussed sense of rectitude and propriety. These are admirable attributes, normally. But we might well wonder whether those attributes are what is needed in the age of Donald Trump, or whether the preservation of our democratic institutions demands more.

What does the real Mueller think of Trump?

I think we know. And yet, Mr. Mueller will not say so publicly. He just reiterates that he wants the evidence to speak for itself. The evidence, however, was not allowed to speak for itself, as he knows. The attorney general spoke for it. And many Republican members of Congress apparently didn’t even read the evidence. The president of the United States mocks it and lies about it, saying the report found no evidence of obstruction.

And so we are living in a clash of Robert Mueller’s two Americas. In the America in which he grew up, and the America he has served with rectitude and dignity, riding quietly off into the sunset would perhaps have been the right thing to do.

But that America is no longer. Shards of it remain, but it is under constant assault. If Mr. Mueller wishes to serve and preserve that America, he might still ask himself whether this brief statement followed by silence is the best way to do that. And he should determine to do, to quote his old toast, what an American should.

Robert Mueller, We Need to Hear More. You said that your investigation’s work “speaks for itself.” It doesn’t. Here’s an excerpt from a letter addressed to Mueller.

Say what you will about the president — and I have — when it comes to that lying, exaggerating, bullying thing, no one can touch him. He has set up a world where it seems as if those disapproving of him can effectively challenge him only by becoming just like him. He’s bringing down the level of the entire playing field.

And here, Mr. Mueller, is where you come in — where you need to come in. In your news conference, you said that your investigation’s work “speaks for itself.” It doesn’t. It may speak for itself to lawyers and lawmakers who have the patience and obligation to read through the more than 400 pages of carefully chosen words and nuanced conclusions (with all due respect, as good a read as it is, you’re no Stephen King).

You’ve characterized the report as your testimony, but you wouldn’t accept that reason from anyone your office interviewed. Additional information and illumination emerge from responses to questions. I know you’re as uncomfortable in the spotlight as the president is out of it. I know you don’t want to become part of the political spectacle surrounding Russia’s crimes and your report on them. I know you will, however reluctantly, testify before Congress if called, because you respect the system and follow the rules, and I understand why you’d want to do it away from the public glare.

But the country needs to hear your voice. Your actual voice. And not just because you don’t want them to think that your actual voice sounds like Robert De Niro reading from cue cards, but because this is the report your country asked you to do, and now you must give it authority and clarity without, if I may use the term, obstruction.

We’ve learned our lesson about what can happen to the perception of your work when interpreted in rabid tweets by the president, dissected by pundits all over the map, trumpeted in bizarre terms by the president’s absurd personal lawyer and distorted by the attorney general.

And if, in fact, you have nothing further to say about the investigation, for your public testimony, you could just read from the report in response to questions from members of Congress. Your life has been a shining example of bravely and selflessly doing things for the good of our country. I urge you to leave your comfort zone and do that again.

You are the voice of the Mueller report. Let the country hear that voice.

With great respect,

Robert De Niro

“Mr. De Niro is an actor, producer and director.” And, adds your Scriber, he appears frequently on Saturday Night Live impersonating Robert Mueller.

Mueller on Mueller - we are left wanting more than 'does not exonerate him'

A little over a month ago, Friday, April 19, 2019, I posted [The founding fathers designed impeachment for a man without virtue][impeach]. In that post I presented the text of the report’s conclusion from the Mueller report, p. 182 of volume 2.

Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgement, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgement. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

With that in mind, here is the Full Transcript of Mueller’s Statement on Russia Investigation from the New York Times. I’ve added bold face emphasis and footnotes (in italics like this: [1]).

ROBERT S. MUELLER III, the special counsel: Good morning, everyone, and thank you for being here. Two years ago, the acting attorney general asked me to serve as special counsel and he created the special counsel’s office. The appointment order directed the office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

Now, I have not spoken publicly during our investigation. I am speaking out today because our investigation is complete. The attorney general has made the report on our investigation largely public. We are formally closing the special counsel’s office, and as well, I’m resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life. I’ll make a few remarks about the results of our work. But beyond these few remarks, it is important that the office’s written work speak for itself. Let me begin where the appointment order begins, and that is interference in the 2016 presidential election.

As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military, launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cybertechniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks.

The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation, where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election. These indictments contain allegations, and we are not commenting on the guilt or the innocence of any specific defendant. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The indictments allege, and the other activities in our report describe, efforts to interfere in our political system. They needed to be investigated and understood. And that is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office. That is also a reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation. The matters we investigated were of paramount importance. It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

Let me say a word about the report. The report has two parts, addressing the two main issues we were asked to investigate. The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign’s response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy. And in the second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the president.

The order appointing me special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. We conducted that investigation, and we kept the office of the acting attorney general apprised of the progress of our work. And as set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. [1] We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.

The introduction to the Volume II of our report explains that decision. It explains that under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited. A special counsel’s office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy. Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider. The department’s written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation. Those points are summarized in our report, and I will describe two of them for you.

First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president, because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now.

And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing. And beyond department policy, we were guided by principles of fairness. It would be unfair to potentially — it would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge. [2]

So that was Justice Department policy. Those were the principles under which we operated. And from them, we concluded that we would not [3] reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime. That is the office’s final position, and we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president. We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the attorney general, as required by department regulations.

The attorney general then concluded that it was appropriate to provide our report to Congress and to the American people. At one point in time, I requested that certain portions of the report be released and the attorney general preferred to make — preferred to make the entire report public all at once and we appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public. And I certainly do not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision.

Now, I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner. I am making that decision myself. No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter. There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. [4] And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress. In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office.

So beyond what I’ve said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress. And it’s for that reason I will not be taking questions today, as well.

Now, before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the F.B.I. agents, the analysts, the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner. These individuals who spent nearly two years with the special counsel’s office were of the highest integrity. And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American. Thank you. Thank you for being here today.

Now I think that statement (Volume II, p. 182), in its various forms, is pretty clear: “it does not exonerate him”. It is an opening to the Congressional investigations now underway as possible preludes to impeachment. But there is another view and that is that Mueller pulled up short. The logical contortion in that same statement muddies the message that it would take to bring the populace to fully support impeachment.

That’s the view of NY Times Gail Collins in Robert Mueller: Warrior or Wimp. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

If Mueller’s speech had been accompanied by Real English subtitles, they’d have said something like: “Look, the guy obstructed justice, but you can’t charge a president with a crime while he’s in office. You’re gonna have to impeach him first.”

But there was no helpful translation. So you know what happened.

“The case is closed! Thank you,” tweeted the president, who magically interpreted Mueller’s statement as saying that “there was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent.”

The biggest message Mueller wanted to leave with the American public was a very loud howl about Russia’s attempts to undermine the American democratic system by hacking into the Clinton campaign computers and releasing private information that it stole there.

And it succeeded. A foreign power helped to throw the election to the candidate its leaders liked. It was exactly the sort of disaster the founding fathers would have pictured if their worst nightmares featured computers. …

Mueller ended by saying “Thank you for being here today.” For any member of Congress who has an ounce of self respect and even a smidgeon of a sense of responsibility to the Constitution, “being here” is not enough. Every day that Trump and his toadies do not honor the Congressional subpoenas is another day of obstruction of justice. Every day is another day in which we wake, after fitful sleep, to discover the answer to our question “what next?”

Footnotes
[1] “if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” This is a succinct version of the quote I began with from Volume 2 of the Mueller report.
[2] In the preceding two paragraphs, I think, Mueller is referring to investigation of the President by Congress and impeachment as the alternative to criminal charges.
[3] Mueller could have said “could not” but he instead said “would, would not”. This is a man who chooses his words carefully. “could not” implies that the Mueller team had constraining information indicating Trump’s innocence. “would not” implies that the team may have had incriminating evidence and chose not to bring charges. Notice also that listening to Mueller this Wednesday morning indicated that he said “would, would not”, the repetition apparently a device of emphasis.
[4] Letting “the work speaks for itself” brings us back to the explanation in Volume 2 of Mueller’s report. “… if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

[impeach]]:http://www.skyislandscriber.com/2019/04/the-founding-fathers-designed.html

Amazing Amash

A big continuing story is about Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash and his scathing analysis of what Trump and Barr did (and are doing) to obscure the Mueller report and obstruct justice.

Rep. Amash tweets @justinamash. Here are a few examples.

“The investigation began before the president was elected and inaugurated. After Trump assumed the powers of the presidency, Mueller’s report shows that he used those powers to try to obstruct and impede the investigation.”

“The investigation threatened to uncover information, including criminal activity, that could put Trump’s interests at risk. Ultimately, the investigation did uncover very unflattering information about the president, his family, his associates, his campaign, and his business.”

“Some of the president’s actions were inherently corrupt. Other actions were corrupt—and therefore impeachable—because the president took them to serve his own interests.”

“Barr has so far successfully used his position to sell the president’s false narrative to the American people. This will continue if those who have read the report do not start pushing back on his misrepresentations and share the truth.”

“Attorney General Barr has deliberately misrepresented key aspects of Mueller’s report and decisions in the investigation, which has helped further the president’s false narrative about the investigation.”

Of course, Trump could not possibly do anything other than engage in school-yard name calling: Trump Calls Representative Justin Amash a ‘Loser’ Over Impeachment Talk.

Amash responds to Trump … “OK.” But then “Amash’s battle with Trump sparked backlash from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, of which he is a founding member. The body voted Monday night to condemn Amash’s call for impeachment.”

But Amash did not retreat and his steady principled approach resulted in Amash greeted with a standing ovation at Michigan town hall. Republican calls for impeachment after reading Mueller report was featured last night (Tuesday) on the Rachel Maddow Show. “Rachel Maddow reports on how actually reading Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia report convinced Republican congressman Justin Amash of the need to impeach Donald Trump, and to speak out about his conclusions despite considerable blowback from Trump and his Republican colleagues.”

So far, Amash is the only Republican to take a stand on impeachment. He is the only Republican to “do the right thing.” As of this writing, the rest of the GOPlins are cowards and/or hypocrites.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Trump administration predicts that the world will end in 2040

Did they really? Naw. But when it comes to climate science they act as if nothing matters beyond 2040. Let’s start with a bit of context.

Ever since Trump started nominating cabinet and agency heads, I have asserted that his picks are predicted by a simple rule. For example, I posted Major fight looms over who will lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau back in November 2017.

My theory of the Trump administration can be expressed as a simple formula: X-antiX. As I said back in January, “For a given agency X, pick as its leader someone who is fiercely antiX. Then sit back and watch the carnage.” I then used EPA as a case study, but the formula applies to almost every cabinet pick.

I must now confess that I understated the danger. Consider Trump’s war on the judiciary, his dissing of his advisors, his battle with Congress, his failures honor subpoenas this stiffing the rule of law, and his politicization of a high level visit to Japan. When it comes to our nation, Trump himself is the epitome of the X/AntiX rule.

But even that stops short of another serious threat. When it comes to the health of our planet, Trump is AntiX.

The New York Times reports that the Trump Administration Hardens Its Attack on Climate Science. It’s not that Trump et al. have a position on human contribution to climate change contrary to what virtually all reputable climate scientsts agree. Now they are attacking science itself. Here are excerpts..

President Trump has rolled back environmental regulations, pulled the United States out of the Paris climate accord, brushed aside dire predictions about the effects of climate change, and turned the term “global warming” into a punch line rather than a prognosis.

Now, after two years spent unraveling the policies of his predecessors, Mr. Trump and his political appointees are launching a new assault.

In the next few months, the White House will complete the rollback of the most significant federal effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions, initiated during the Obama administration. It will expand its efforts to impose Mr. Trump’s hard-line views on other nations, building on his retreat from the Paris accord and his recent refusal to sign a communiqué to protect the rapidly melting Arctic region unless it was stripped of any references to climate change.

And, in what could be Mr. Trump’s most consequential action yet, his administration will seek to undermine the very science on which climate change policy rests.

… parts of the federal government will no longer fulfill what scientists say is one of the most urgent jobs of climate science studies: reporting on the future effects of a rapidly warming planet and presenting a picture of what the earth could look like by the end of the century if the global economy continues to emit heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution from burning fossil fuels.

The attack on science is underway throughout the government. In the most recent example, the White House-appointed director of the United States Geological Survey, James Reilly, a former astronaut and petroleum geologist, has ordered that scientific assessments produced by that office use only computer-generated climate models that project the impact of climate change through 2040, rather than through the end of the century, as had been done previously.

That’s important because the real consequences of what we do or don’t do before 2040 will be felt after 2040.

… Models show that the planet will most likely warm at about the same rate through about 2050. From that point until the end of the century, however, the rate of warming differs significantly with an increase or decrease in carbon emissions.

The administration’s prime target has been the National Climate Assessment, produced by an interagency task force roughly every four years since 2000. Government scientists used computer-generated models in their most recent report to project that if fossil fuel emissions continue unchecked, the earth’s atmosphere could warm by as much as eight degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. That would lead to drastically higher sea levels, more devastating storms and droughts, crop failures, food losses and severe health consequences.

Scientists said that eliminating the worst-case scenario would give a falsely optimistic picture. “Nobody in the world does climate science like that,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton. “It would be like designing cars without seatbelts or airbags.”

Outside the United States, climate scientists had long given up on the White House being anything but on outlier in policy. But they worry about the loss of the government as a source for reliable climate research.

“It is very unfortunate and potentially even quite damaging that the Trump administration behaves this way,” said Johan Rockström, the director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany. “There is this arrogance and disrespect for scientific advancement — this very demoralizing lack of respect for your own experts and agencies.”

You see? X/AntiX.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Scriber might be fined 6 months of pay

6 months without pay
Michael Kwan, a longtime justice court judge in Utah, was suspended for six months without pay for statements that he made both in court and on Facebook over several years that were critical of President Trump. Those comments were “laden with blunt, and sometimes indelicate, criticism,” according to the Utah Supreme Court’s ruling. One of Kwan’s posts, for example, read “Welcome to the beginning of the fascist takeover.” [CNN]

Damn! We are a nation of laws, supposedly, and laws rest on precedent. That means that your Scriber is likely to be docked 6 months of pay. Let’s see … 6 months x $0.00 equals …

More of the judge’s comments can be found in the CNN report, A Utah judge was suspended for six months after he criticized Trump in court and on Facebook. For instance:

Several days after the 2016 election, the ruling said, Kwan wrote, “Think I’ll go to the shelter to adopt a cat before the President-Elect grabs them all” – a thinly-veiled reference to the “Access Hollywood” tape in which Trump was heard using vulgar language to refer to grabbing women’s genitals.

On the day of Trump’s inauguration, Kwan made a comment directed at the President that said, “Will you dig your heels in and spend the next four years undermining our country’s reputation and standing in the world? … Will you continue to demonstrate your inability to govern and political incompetence?”

On February 13, 2017, several weeks after Trump’s inauguration, Kwan made another post, the ruling said. “Welcome to the beginning of the fascist takeover,” it read, questioning whether Republicans in Congress would “be the American Reichstag and refuse to stand up for the Constitution,” referring to the parliamentary body of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler.

New Yorker cover

Which of these comments is false? Republicans in Congress, for example, have failed in their Constitutional oversight duties.

For more on Republican enablers, see today’s post by AZ Blue Meanie, Lickspittle lackey Lindsey Graham is a complete fraud. Also appearing on the front cover of the New Yorker are Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and AG William Barr.

Monday, May 27, 2019

The Abdication of King Donald the First.

lèse-maj·es·té

/ˌlez ˌmäjəsˈtā/
noun
noun: lese-majesty
the insulting of a monarch or other ruler; treason.

Elsewhere in the world, lèse majesté is a very serious business. In Thailand (from Wiki):

… lèse majesté is criminalized by Section 112 of the Thai Criminal Code. It is illegal to defame, insult, or threaten the king, queen, heir-apparent, or regent. The lèse-majesté law has been on the statute books since 1908. The punishment is three to fifteen years of imprisonment per count and has been described as the “world’s harshest lèse majesté law” and “possibly the strictest criminal-defamation law anywhere”.

So what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? Or, for that matter, what does it have to do with substance closer to home? Please bear with me. I’m going to give you some snippets and then, with those as an evidentiary base, I’m going to get to the target article.

Pomp, plump, and flattery

Trump arrives in Japan eager for flattery and pomp. “President Donald Trump arrived in Japan on Saturday eager for a visit salted with flattery and pomp — particularly as he escapes a hostile political environment back home.”

sumo
King Donald presents sumo trophy

Sumo, golf and barbeque: Trump and Abe bond after a tweet underscored divides. Trump “relished presenting the gleaming, oversized President’s Cup trophy topped with a spread-winged eagle – which he said he purchased himself – at a sumo wresting tournament, or basho, in Tokyo. He was seated on a small chair during several bouts, watching with interest as the loin-clothed wrestlers brawled.”

(Scriber would like to see the receipt as evidence for Trump’s claim about purchasing the trophy.)

NK missiles? “What me worry?”

Trump says he’s not ‘personally bothered’ by North Korea missile tests. ‘President Donald Trump refused to back away from his positive assessment of North Korea on Monday, saying he wasn’t “personally bothered” by the regime’s recent short-range missile tests despite the contradictory views of his Japanese hosts and his own national security adviser.’

Bridges and roads? “What me worry?”

The Real Reason Trump Walked Out on Democrats. ‘On Wednesday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi charged that President Donald Trump was “engaged in a cover-up.” In response, Trump claimed to have been so wounded that he called off a meeting about, and any further discussion of, the $2 trillion infrastructure bill the two sides had been considering.’ ’He is looking for every excuse, whether it was ‘Let’s do trade first’, or whether it was ‘He’s not going to pay for any funding,’ or … ‘There are investigations going on,’ ” [Senate Minority Leader Charles] Schumer told reporters afterward. “But now that he was forced to actually say how he’d pay for it, he had to run away, and he came up with this pre-planned excuse.”

King Donald ascends the throne of America

So now we get to the focus. In brief it is this. Everything I’ve said above is evidence that Donald Trump intends to be the King of the United States. Moreover, he is acting the part, increasingly, day by day. For example, you cannot have lèse majesté if there is no majesty to lèse against. And by invoking “treason”, Trump plays the role of the monarch.

When governing is found to be a weary exercise, kings or princes have an option - abdication. Ted Gup explains in The abdication of King Trump (h/t Sherry Moreau).

In recent weeks, nearly all the talk in Washington centered around impeachment – would they or wouldn’t they? Now the nation faces a new worry – abdication. That’s right, the President who imagines himself a king, and expects others to treat him the same way, has declared that he will have nothing to do with Congress on infrastructure legislation – perhaps the one area where he could have won bipartisan support – so long as the Dems insist on holding him accountable. In effect, Donald Trump has announced that he has abdicated, having no longer any wish to serve.

Fittingly, the word “abdication” has two meanings. The first applies to when a monarch relinquishes his throne (in Trump’s case, not likely); the second, when anyone in a position of authority chooses to neglect or ignore his duties. The latter is what this petulant President has said he will do so long as anyone dares question him. He has announced, in effect, that America now has a government in absentia.

To understand what happened last week, it is best viewed through the lens of medieval times, which is the domain in which our President/king resides. What House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did by accusing him of a cover-up amounted to what monarchs call “Lese Majeste” – an insult to the sovereign. (For Trump, there is no real issue of constitutionality. The only separation of powers he seems to recognize is that which he has doled out between his advisers, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, and his son Don Jr.)

So in threatening to eschew all manner of presidential engagement, save the pomp and circumstance for which he lives, he has simply shed all pretense and shown his true self. State dinners, motorcades, the pandering of Fox & Friends and endless ego-stroking were all that he ever wanted. Even on the campaign trail, nothing was further from his mind than finding solutions to the nation’s problems.

He has become a case study in the old adage, “be careful what you wish for.” One can be forgiven for wondering if it had even occurred to him that certain responsibilities might come along with holding office. How utterly inconvenient for tweeting and tee-off times.

And now we have the worst of all possible worlds: an abdication that leaves some 327 million Americans in limbo.

The problem is that Trump, in his own inimitable way, has created a most imperfect vacuum for the nation. For the foreseeable future the presidency will be both vacant and occupied, with the country reduced to waiting out his tantrum and deciphering its future from a fusillade of tweets and campaign-like rants.

Meanwhile, the nation’s bridges are left to crack, highways buckle, tracks heave, illicit drugs proliferate, medications grow ever-more expensive; diplomats scratch their heads and hind parts, idled by kingly disinterest, allies wonder whether we have their backs or should watch their backs, enemies salivate, polar ice caps slip into the sea, and poor, poor Doral Country Club – under Trump’s storied management – continues, like the rest of us, to struggle.

Finally, I admit that much of my motivation for this post was trying to figure out why Trump was going off about “treason” charges for his perceived enemies. Scroll way back up to the definition of lèse-maj·es·té. You too will share my revelatory moment. America is inching its way toward becoming a monarchy, toward one that is not particularly beneficent.

Economic inequality hits all time high in America

The economic divide between CEOs and their workers continues to get larger, reports the NY Times in It’s Never Been Easier to Be a C.E.O., and the Pay Keeps Rising. Here’s the short version.

Something about this feels inevitable. Every year, Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm, conducts a survey for The New York Times of the 200 highest-paid chief executives in America. And nearly every year, C.E.O.s already earning huge sums get even bigger payouts. In 2018, our analysis shows, they did particularly well: The median boss received compensation of $18.6 million — a raise of $1.1 million, or 6.3 percent, from the year prior.

Assuming a work week of 40 hours and 50 weeks, a raise of $1,100,000 equals $550 per hour. In contrast:

C.E.O. pay increased at almost twice the rate of ordinary wages. In 2018 — a pretty good year for the labor market — the average American private-sector worker got a 3.2 percent raise, or an extra 84 cents per hour.

Another way of looking at it is that in America’s corporate culture, the average CEO is worth 655 times the average worker.

For more check out the interactive graphic.

Mourning on Mournday - it will not get better on Tuesday

Pelosi as Hamlette
Hamlette in the 21st century
  • Trumpists to the GOP: “Build the wall!” Never-Trumpers to Dems: “Build the will.”
  • A significant digit: “1” Only one, just one Republican is willing to call out Trump for what he is.
  • Why Republican Senators cannot vote to convict: they tolerated obstruction, corruption, and caged kids.
  • What we have heard before: “Mexico will pay for the wall.” What we are hearing now: “China will pay for the tariffs.”
  • Why the American farmer will vote for Trump: "China’s not buying so I got a bailout with money borrowed from China.

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).

King's men
The man who would be is king.
  • Trump threatens his political opponents with execution. Apparently he is not deterred by his misunderstanding of term “treason.”
  • What we heard: “Stop investigating me and we can pass laws.” What he meant: “Tax cuts for the rich, health care cuts, climate destruction.”
  • The world according to Grump: Asylum seekers are illegal, but ignoring subpoenas is not.
  • The pro-life crowd is on the way to the border to rescue kids in cages.
  • Just kidding!
  • Trump delegated his infrastructure planning to John Bolton who has a clear vision of what to do with Iran’s infrastructure.

Parting thought
On this Memorial Day, David Fitzsimmons pens “In memory of the brave high school students who died in 2019 protecting their classmates because the adults in America have done nothing to protect them from gun violence.”

Sunday, May 26, 2019

What you don't know about 5G can hurt you ...

… because the lack of knowledge leaves you susceptible to dezinformatsiya.

Dictionary.com defines misinformation as “false information that is spread, regardless of whether there is intent to mislead.” Disinformation, on the other hand, is defined as “deliberately misleading or biased information; manipulated narrative or facts; propaganda.”

The latest target of American right-wing disinformation is the coming 5G internet.
The latest target of Russian dezinformatsiya is the coming 5G internet.
That’s right. We have here a convergence of two entities which will profit from sowing suspicion about fifth generation internet.

Let’s digress for a moment. Suppose you believe that using computers make you dumber - but that you want computers to never be built. Therefore, you can never test your belief. That’s part of the arguing points in the 5G “debate.” The right-wing conspiracy nuts are claiming adverse health effects of 5G without ever deploying it.

Judd Legum at popular.info tells us about Fox News (and others) combining with the Russian “news” outlet RT in attempts to create distrust of the new technology in the Subscriber’s Post O-M–5G.

Tucker Carlson is using his platform on Fox News to promote the conspiracy theory that 5G, a new wireless protocol being rolled out in the United States, poses a health risk. There is no evidence that 5G can damage your health but conspiracy websites and Russian propaganda networks have been doing their best to foment fear.

Now Carlson is bringing the same conspiratorial message to millions of people. To accomplish this, Carlson is using his favorite technique: He’s just asking questions.

"Are 5G networks safe? Physically, medically safe? There’s some debate about that,” Carlson began. There is actually no meaningful debate.

“We don’t know the long-term health risk [of 5G] and I’m not willing to take that off the table,” [Fox News medical contributor Marc] Sieigel said.

“But before those studies are available we are building an infrastructure and doing it anyway?” Carlson asked. The question makes little sense – you can’t study the long-term impacts of the use of a technology without deploying it – and Siegel backed off slightly.

Actual scientific research shows that 5G is safe.

There have been lots of studies on the impacts of the use of wireless technologies by humans. The World Health Organization says none of them have found a health risk: “A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.”

5G has a higher frequency than earlier technologies, but that makes it safer, not more dangerous because the “higher the radio frequency, the less it penetrates human skin, lowering exposure of the body’s internal organs, including the brain.”

“5G emissions, if anything, should be safer than previous generations,” Dr. Marvin C. Ziskin, who studies radiology at Temple University Medical School, said.

Scientific studies and medical facts haven’t stopped RT, the Russian’s state propaganda outlet that broadcasts in America, from sounding the alarm. RT hosts have repeatedly linked 5G to “brain cancer, infertility, autism, heart tumors and Alzheimer’s disease.”

One segment posted by RT to Youtube called “5G Wireless: A Dangerous ‘Experiment on Humanity’” has over 1.6 million views.

(BTW: Why is Youtube hosting RT?)

Why does it matter that domestic and foreign propaganda outlets are spreading information about 5G? As we’ve seen with vaccines, this kind of shameless health misinformation can have serious consequences. Conspiracy theorists linked vaccines to autism and many people stopped vaccinating their children. Measles was practically eradicated and now there are outbreaks throughout the United States.

Misinformation about 5G could also put people’s health at risk. One of the most promising applications of 5G technology is in healthcare, where 5G could give millions of people access to high-quality care remotely. But if people believe being near a 5G device is dangerous, they might not avail themselves to this kind of treatment.

Scientific misinformation about technology – whether it is vaccines or 5G – creates fear and avoidance. Adverse health consequences follow.

Impeach now - It's time to save ourselves

Leonard Pitts Jr. (Miami Herald reprinted in the Tucson Daily Star) advises Speaker Nancy Pelosi Madam Speaker, it’s time for us to save ourselves]

"I pray for the president of the United States. And I pray for the United States of America.” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But, says Pitts, prayers are not enough. Snippets follow.

These are not normal times. These are, with apologies to Thomas Paine, times that try men’s souls. And their faith. And their hope. More to the point, these are times that require the patriot to stand and be counted.

… how can [the House] remain supine in the face of the most lawless presidency in history? Its continued inaction sets a troubling precedent.

After all, Trump has lied, given succor to our enemies, spilled state secrets and obstructed justice in plain sight. If you cannot impeach this president for that now, what president can you impeach for anything, ever? Short of first-degree murder, what crime could some future president commit without being able to defend herself by pointing back to 2019, when Trump did worse and Congress only shrugged?

What’s on the line here, then, is bigger than Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi or even the 2020 election. What’s on the line here is the very rule of law, the DNA of America.

It is good that Pelosi invokes the power of prayer. But she’d do well to heed the gospel writer James on the futility of faith without action. Or as Benjamin Franklin famously put it: God helps those who help themselves.

Madam Speaker, it’s time for us to help ourselves. And save ourselves.

Impeach him now.

“ Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.” — James 2:17

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.”

Caveat

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.”