Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Sickening Silence of the GOP on Trump's racism, Part 2.

This is a companion post to Scriber’s The Sickening Silence of the GOP on Trump’s racism. They do not understand that Trump is not coming for them - he’s already got them. The NY Times Editorial Board asks How Do You Not Give Donald Trump What He Wants?. The president distracts with outrage. If only Republicans would supply some of it.

They are not about to. The Times tells us why. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

President Trump is at it again.

The president’s Twitter fit on Sunday, instructing four Democratic congresswomen of color — Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan — to “go back” to their home countries, was as wearisome as it was repellent.

Distraction by outrage is one of Mr. Trump’s favorite tactics. Whenever things aren’t going as he wants — for instance, when his crusade to put a citizenship question on the 2020 census fails, or when the dramatic wave of immigration raids he promised his most loyal supporters does not materialize, again — he feels moved to compensate with a remark aimed at refocusing the spotlight.

Mr. Trump uses this gambit to distract from his policy fiascoes, his court losses, his political failures — not to mention news stories or events he finds awkward. Recall the Twitter free-for-all the president launched from Vietnam when his disgraced former fixer, Michael Cohen, was testifying before Congress? Or what about his wide-ranging tweet storm on the first Saturday of his ill-fated government shutdown this past winter?

The more peevish or desperate Mr. Trump seems to be feeling, the more over the top his remarks. One can only imagine what combination of disappointments fueled the presidential funk precipitating Sunday’s tirade, which was among his most blatantly racist public displays in some time. No matter: His comments elicited precisely the sort of media coverage and public outcry that he thrives on. So he did what he usually does: He went a step further. On Monday morning, Mr. Trump demanded that the “Radical Left Congresswomen” he had attacked apologize to Americans, to Israelis and, of course, to “the Office of the President” — i.e., him — for “the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said.”

Mr. Trump’s aim of stoking an endless culture war puts his political critics in a bind. They can take his bait and fight back, participating in the divisive distraction he’s designed to energize his supporters, or they can ignore his outbursts and risk normalizing his terrible behavior.

Mr. Trump, who has never shown any interest in winning over most Americans, does everything he can to harden divisions by enraging his opponents. In another Monday tweet, he dared Democrats “to unite around the foul language & racist hatred spewed from the mouths and actions of these very unpopular & unrepresentative Congresswomen.” A few hours later, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, announced that the chamber would introduce a resolution condemning Mr. Trump’s latest affront. In a letter to Democratic members, she asserted: “The House cannot allow the president’s characterization of immigrants to our country to stand. Our Republican colleagues must join us in condemning the president’s xenophobic tweets.”

If only. While Democratic criticism can wind up serving Mr. Trump’s narrow political purpose, rebukes from Republicans would undercut it and, possibly, chasten him. But most Republican leaders appear to be either too delighted by his conservative judicial picks or his deregulatory agenda or too afraid of his impassioned following to speak up. They may well recognize and reject the corrosiveness of his ethnonationalism, they may fear its impact on the country and their party, but most have shown over and over that they won’t do a thing about it.

[Big snip]

“If you’re not happy here you can leave. That is what I say all of the time,” Mr. Trump said. “That’s what I said in a tweet which I guess some people think is controversial — a lot of people love it, by the way. A lot of people love it.”

This tells you everything you need to know about Mr. Trump’s approach to leadership: It’s all about catering to, and fueling, the worst impulses of a minority of American voters.

[snip]

The Sickening Silence of the GOP on Trump's racism. They do not understand that Trump is not coming for them - he's already got them.

First they came … is the poetic form of a prose post- war confession first made in German in 1946 by the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984). It is about the cowardice of German intellectuals and certain clergy (including, by his own admission, Niemöller himself) following the Nazis’ rise to power and subsequent incremental purging of their chosen targets, group after group. Many variations and adaptations in the spirit of the original have been published in the English language. It deals with themes of persecution, guilt, repentance, and responsibility.

The best-known versions of the confession in English are the edited versions in poetic form that began circulating by the 1950s. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum quotes the following text as one of the many poetic versions of the speech:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Along these lines, Rick Wilson, writing in the Daily Beast explains how Trump Takes a Dump on the American Dream - and offers bad news about how the Trump Horror Show can only get worse. You see, Wilson observes, “The president delivered a mouth-breathing clod take on the majesty and magic of our country, our history, and our Constitution, and a middle finger to our immigrant ancestors.”

Donald Trump’s performance these last few days show how powerful a man devoted to political and racial arson can be when he is beyond shame, reason, and dignity and possessed with the power and platform of the presidency.

In the scope of a half-dozen tweets, President Grievance managed to ignite a racial brouhaha designed to frame 2020, push his white-nat-adjacent audience into paroxysms of joy, and take a massive dump on the American dream. Trump was due for one of his periodic dog-whistles to the alt-reich segment of his base, and he delivered in spades.

[Big snip]

Over the last 240 years, immigrants who came to this country to change their lives and to better the destiny of their children built, prayed, worked, and struggled alongside those here since before the Mayflower. Their sons gave their lives in our wars. The language they spoke, the god they worshipped, and the dances of their homelands were irrelevant in the eyes of the Constitution and the law. America creates Americans.

As flawed as our operating system was in the beginning with the stain of slavery, generations have worked to extirpate that sin, through civil war and civil rights, through the long, slow bending of the arc of history. We are a country with a memory of our mistakes, but still bound together and lifted by a shared commitment to being better than we were.

It wasn’t just that America has been one of the few places in the world where the persecuted and oppressed could rest their heads at night without the terror of the secret police kicking down the door. It was more. The American dream was that anyone from anywhere could come here, work hard, rise to live in prosperity, dignity, security, and even hold political office. Yes, Donald, even Muslims. Even women. Even people with whom we ideologically disagree.

The freshmen-year college-dorm socialism (“ACKTUALLY, true Communism…”), and damn-the-consequences politics of the farthest edge of the Democratic party are rich bait for a predator like Trump. The Squad’s recitation of dumb prog slogans and embrace of ideologies one could describe as unrealistic, juvenile, silly, or deeply offensive aren’t a justification for trying to carve them from American society. I disagree with them on a broad spectrum of issues, but I’ll go down fighting to defend their right to be as wrong and dumb as any other American with a First Amendment right to say whatever the hell they want.

Trump knew precisely what he was doing in telling them to “go back to where they came from.” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born in New York. Ayanna Pressley was born in Cincinnati, Rashib Tlaib in Detroit. Ihlan Omar was born in Somalia and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. His game is to box the GOP into either supporting him completely, including the expulsion from our nation of the four, or fully embracing their politics. There’s never a nuanced choice in Trumpworld.

Nothing has changed about the power of America to create Americans except the fear, impotence, and weakness of petty, small men. Of all the sad aspects of any nation’s slide into authoritarianism, the most disappointing is the silence of leaders who know better and say nothing. The utter silence of the GOP on this one isn’t shocking, but it is sickening.

There is no excuse for the muttered excuses of people who believe in the Constitution and the American system but live in utter terror of Trump’s Twitter feed. Even today, it’s only a minority of the GOP who buy into this garbage, but if you’re wondering why party members no longer do town hall meetings, public events, or answer questions, it’s that their testicles can’t descend from fear of enraging the Orange One. Even the opportunistic ones know how wrong he is on much of this, but there’s no way in hell they’re leaving the Führerbunker. The worst of them are whispering to reporters, “Well, I disagree with the sentiment, but it’s a brilliant political strategy.”

The dictatorships and totalitarian states of the past and the rising authoritarian technocracies of today aren’t built just by wild-eyed cultists, but by lawyers, bureaucrats, engineers, and political leaders. These men always feel that their individual part is too small to matter, that the obedience to the powers that be and the politics of the moment is just an atomized part of a whole for which are not culpable.

By the time people ask, “Why this, why now, and why me?” to the grim emergences of state power and its inevitable abuses, citizens almost always discover that the Bad Guy came to power because his way was greased by allies hoping to ride the authoritarian tiger to power and influence. Those allies who through active or tacit consent shrug off the early excesses as mere political stagecraft, mere sound and fury to woo the proles, or who promise themselves behind closed doors that they can steer the strongman into wiser paths, are always shocked, shocked to find authoritarianism going on.

The game isn’t over. Totalitarians cannot tolerate dissent in any domain. Trump will feed off the Fox-Breitbart loop, rewarded for this action and need more for an encore.

Why stop there, Donald? I’m sure Bill Barr can whip up an Alien and Sedition Act 2.0 in a trice, or justify using the Alien Enemies Act in novel and cruel new ways. You’ve already flirted with it? Why not take it to bed? How about suspending habeas corpus? Lincoln did it, so can you! FDR interned people! What’s stopping you, cuck?

Why not go all Harry Truman and issue a “Removal of Alien Enemies” executive order? When your targets change from refugees to illegals to legal residents to naturalized citizens to your political enemies born here, then you’re really cooking. How dare those enemies of the people report things that make you look bad? Look at how your boy Vladimir Putin treats those uppity reporters! Shouldn’t you step up your game?

When your wild excesses and grotesque corruption go virtually unnoticed—and certainly unpunished—by an electorate too stunned and numb to respond, why wouldn’t you, or your claque of grubby collaborators, go for the big prize?

Monday, July 15, 2019

Illustrated Gnus for Traumatic Tuesday

That f'ing white house

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

  • The ICE agent cometh. CNN reports that ICE has begun raids to round up undocumented immigrants, official says.
  • Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources (SUUS) tell us that First Lady Melania Trump (née Knauss) was threatened with deportation by ICE agents “about your 1996 green card violation and illegal employment.” SUUS also reports that dozens of employees were seen leaving Mar-a-Lago Saturday night.
  • An American captivity 2019 analogy. Hispanic children : cages :: Trump supporters : Fox News.
  • Another American analogy - segregation 2019. White men : drinking fountains :: Hispanics : toilets.
  • If the president does it it cannot be a crime. So, AG Barr says, shooting someone in Times Square is OK.
  • This just in from SUUS - Trump said to be upset that Acosta did not offer him a deal.

Parting thoughts

Mockin' Donald

Check out this YouTube video of 1950s dancers swinging to Rockin’ Robin. Can you spot your Scriber?

America's 'congenital illness', racism, motivates Trump's attacks on congresswomen

Maureen Dowd, columnist at the NY TImes, posted Scaling Wokeback Mountain Sunday morning. If you have the same cultural trouble with the title as did I, let me interpret. “Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could become Republicans’ not-so-secret weapon in 2020.” I assume Dowd would extend that charge to encompass AOC’s three fellow freshman representatives of color, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts. Here are snippets.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez ensorcelled me from the start. I loved the bartender-makes-good Cinderella story, the shake-up-the-capital idealistic dreams, the bravado about how the plutocrat president from Queens wouldn’t know how to deal with a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx.

[“Me too!” says your Scriber. BTW, thanks to Sherry Moreau for the tip about Dowd’s column. ]

And I imagined the most potent feminist partnership in American history: Nancy Pelosi as sensei, bringing her inside game, and A.O.C., the Karate Kid with a wicked Twitter game.

But instead, the 79-year-old speaker and the 29-year-old freshman are trapped in a generational and ideological tangle that poses a real threat to the Democrats’ ability to beat Donald Trump next year.

Dowd is not the only one to be alarmed about the apparent rift between Pelosi and AOC’s “squad.”

Rahm Emanuel tagged the “… the real instigator, Saikat Chakrabarti, A.O.C.’s 33-year-old chief of staff …” as having “no idea about the battle scars Pelosi bears from the liberal fights she has led.”

“What votes did you get?” Emanuel said, rhetorically challenging A.O.C.’s chief of staff. “You should only be so lucky to learn from somebody like Nancy who has shown incredible courage and who has twice returned the Democratic Party to power.

“We fought for years to create the majorities to get a Democratic president elected and re-elected, and they’re going to dither it away. They have not decided what’s more important: Do they want to beat Trump or do they want to clear the moderate and centrists out of the party? You really think weakening the speaker is the right strategy to try to get rid of Donald Trump and everything he stands for?”

In the age of Trump, there is no more stupid proposition than that Nancy Pelosi is the problem. If A.O.C. and her Pygmalions and acolytes decide that burning down the House is more important than deposing Trump, they will be left with a racist backward president and the emotional satisfaction of their own purity.

Trump brays
Trump's tweets show no bottom to Trump's racism

The worries expressed above about the internal division among House Dems are in no way overstated. Trump jumped on this one like a horsefly on a pile of manure. Put another way, the Pelosi/AOC spat provides Trump and his minions with an opportunity to spread disinformation and thus to practice the politics of division that the Ruskies used against us so well in the 2016 election.

The essence of what Trump did was reported in 538’s significant digits email:

3 of 4 congresswomen
On Sunday morning, President Trump tweeted that “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen” ought to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Trump seems to have been referring to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar. All of them are American citizens, and three of the four congresswomen were born and raised in the United States. [CBS News]

Charles M. Blow, another Times columnist, elaborates, asserting that Trump’s Tweets Prove That He Is a Raging Racist. “It is undeniably true that America’s president opposes diversity.”

Donald Trump keeps trying to convince any disbelieving holdouts that he is a raging racist. At least, that’s how I imagine his motives. In truth, it is more likely that his truest nature is simply being revealed, again and again, and he is using his own racism to appeal to the racism in the people who support him.

On Sunday morning, the same day that the Trump administration earlier announced it would conduct raids to round up undocumented immigrants, Trump weighed in again on the conflict between four female freshmen congresswomen and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, tweeting a series of three of the most racist tweets he could produce:

So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly …

… and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how. …

… it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!

I refer you to the facts presented above that the four female freshman congresswomen are citizens of the US, three by virtue of being born here. Like that horsefly, Trump is spreading sh!t.

First, the facts: The country Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley “originally came from” is this one. They were born in America. Omar was a refugee from Somalia.

But, this is the most important fact: They aren’t white, and they are women. They are “other” in the framing of the white nationalists. They are descendants of Africa, the Middle East and Latin America.

The central framing of this kind of thinking is that this is a white country, founded and built by white men, and destined to be maintained as a white country. For anyone to be accepted as truly American they must assimilate and acquiesce to that narrative, to bow to that heritage and bend to those customs.

It sees a country from which black and brown people come as deficient — “a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world” — because, at its base, it sees black and brown people as deficient.

Start here: because the entire white supremacist ideology and ethos is a lie. America expanded much of its territory through the shedding of blood and breaking of treaties with Native Americans. It established much of its wealth through 250 years of exploiting black bodies for free labor.

And, for the entire history of this country, some degree of anti-blackness has existed. Now, there is an intensifying anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant xenophobia.

America was born with a congenital illness and it has been in need of active rehabilitation ever since, although it has often rejected the curative treatments and regressed.

But, Trump — and many of his supporters and defenders — spew their racism and tell themselves that it is perfectly acceptable when it is read back to them, in much the same way that a dog will eat its own vomit.

… There can be no more discussion or debate about whether or not Trump is a racist. He is. There can be no more rhetorical juggling about not knowing what’s in his heart. We see what flows out of it.

White people and whiteness are the center of the Trump presidency. His primary concern is to defend, protect and promote it. All that threatens it must be attacked and assaulted. Trump is bringing the force of the American presidency to the rescue of white supremacy. And, self-identified Republicans absolutely love him for it.

We are watching a very dark chapter in this nation’s history unfold in real time. We are watching as a president returns naked racism to the White House. And we are watching as fellow citizens — possibly a third of them — reveal to us their open animus for us through their continued support of him.

If you have the time (and the stomach) you can read this Washington Post report on how Trump rejects criticism that his weekend tweet about four minority lawmakers was racist, says they ‘hate our country’. The House Dems (and Rep. Amash) condemned Trump’s racism. The Republicans? Well … in the main they’re OK with what is gushing forth from Trump’s heart of darkness.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Acosta joins many other casualties of Trump's administration - and there are many

The NY Times Editorial Board says Alexander Acosta Won’t Be the Last Trump Official to Resign Thank goodness for career civil servants. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

They have good reason to make such a prediction. The Times also published a couple of graphics showing a record number of departures from the administration, The Turnover at the Top of the Trump Administration.

Even that those numbers may be understated. Last night Rachel Maddow tracked her own tracking of how the numbers have grown; she reports Acosta joins lengthy list of ignominious Trump admin departures.

Rachel Maddow looks back at past efforts to track and list all of the high profile departures from the Trump administration as Alex Acosta, now-former secretary of Labor, has lost his cabinet position in the glare of the Jeffrey Epstein arrest and corresponding scandal.

She illustrated her findings on multiple big screen TVs. It’s worth a look-see.

That’s the meat of it, but for elaboration I’ll take us back to the NY Times editorial:

And then there were none.

O. K., “none” is a bit of an exaggeration. But with Friday’s inevitable resignation of Alexander Acosta, President Trump’s secretary of labor, it is reasonable for the public to be asking: Who the heck is running the federal government?

All the best people. That’s what Candidate Trump promised the nation if elected. He didn’t have experience in government, but he claimed to have an eye for talent and vowed to surround himself with exceptional aides and advisers.

His administration has indeed proved exceptional — in its instability, its swampiness and its turnover at the top. Keeping track of just the top-tier departures requires an advanced knowledge of spreadsheets.

The reasons for the many defenestrations — they are occurring on almost a burning-building scale — can be broken down into a handful of categories, including scandal, getting crosswise with Mr. Trump’s ego, quitting on principle and sheer exhaustion.

While there are too many to list here, some of the highlights include:

Michael Flynn, national security adviser, was forced out in February 2017 after misleading administration officials about his inappropriate chitchat with the Russian ambassador.

Tom Price, health and human services secretary, resigned under pressure in September 2017 over his fondness for high-price chartered air travel.

Rob Porter, White House secretary, left in February 2018 amid accusations of abuse from two ex-wives.

Kirstjen Nielsen, homeland security secretary, was pushed out in April as a result of her insufficient enthusiasm for carrying out the president’s most brutal immigration ideas.

Ryan Zinke, interior secretary, left in December, plagued by multiple investigations into his business dealings and policy decisions.

Jim Mattis, defense secretary, resigned in December in the wake of Mr. Trump’s announced plans to pull American troops from Syria.

Jeff Sessions, attorney general, was forced out in November after more than a year of public abuse by the president, who considered him insufficiently loyal.

Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency administrator, was forced out last July over a string of scandals ranging from having government aides run his personal errands to having the taxpayers buy him a $43,000 soundproof phone booth.

John Kelly, chief of staff, left in December after a tenure marked by a tumultuous relationship with the president.

Anthony Scaramucci lasted 11 days as White House communications director before getting fired in July 2017 for talking trash about other members of the administration.

Rex Tillerson, secretary of state, learned he’d been fired in March 2018 from a presidential tweet.

H.R. McMaster, national security adviser, resigned in March 2018, having never established a rapport with the president.

As for Mr. Acosta, he resigned this week in response to public outrage over his role in arranging a lenient plea deal in 2008 for Jeffrey Epstein, the financier accused of sexually abusing teenage girls and running a child sex trafficking ring.

Counting interim leaders, there have been seven communications chiefs; four heads each of the Departments of Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services; four national security advisers; three secretaries of defense; and three press secretaries.

The Brookings Institution puts the turnover in Mr. Trump’s “A Team” — defined as top decision makers within the executive office of the president (which does not include cabinet secretaries) — at 74 percent as of Monday. No other modern administration came even close to that.

As key advisers leave, they are being replaced with “acting” chiefs, temporary leaders who do not require confirmation by the Senate, together with the inconvenience of public hearings to establish whether they’re qualified for their jobs. With Mr. Acosta’s departure, the Departments of Labor, Homeland Security and Defense will be headed by “acting” secretaries. There are acting directors of the nation’s top three immigration agencies — the Citizenship and Immigration Services, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and Customs and Border Protection; an acting United Nations ambassador; an acting Food and Drug Administration commissioner; an acting White House chief of staff; an acting Office of Management and Budget director; acting secretaries of the Army and the Air Force; and an acting Federal Emergency Management Agency director — just to name a few. There is no deputy secretary of homeland security.

All this dysfunction presents something of a conundrum for anyone alarmed by Mr. Trump’s governing priorities: On the one hand, would America be better off if this president had a stable team of skilled lieutenants who shared his vision and were dedicated to enacting it, from building a wall to pretending Russia isn’t trying to subvert American democracy? The results haven’t been so great when Mr. Trump has gotten the sort of pliant agents he prefers. As retrograde as Jeff Sessions’s positions were on criminal justice, the country has not traded up in acquiring as attorney general William Barr.

On the other hand, such churn and so many unfilled top posts are, to put it mildly, not ideal in terms of keeping the government running smoothly. As a tropical storm bears down on New Orleans, tensions mount in the Persian Gulf and opioids continue to ravage communities across the country, it is impossible to argue that American citizens are better off with such incompetence at the top.

From income inequality to bigotry to climate change, Mr. Trump didn’t create all the problems confronting the country. But through misguided policies he is making some of them worse. And by driving the federal government more deeply into debt while sowing chaos throughout the bureaucracy, he is doing long-term damage to its capacity to contend with these challenges when an administration with more sensible priorities eventually takes over.

In the meantime, if you find yourself with a chance to thank a federal worker, please do it. Americans are lucky that, even in a time when the leadership at the top is wrongheaded or clownish or simply absent, hundreds of thousands of their fellow citizens remain committed to protecting them from foreign adversaries or rising waters or tainted food, to watching over their airways and highways and savings accounts and to delivering their mail.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Budget for combatting child sex trafficking reduced by Acosta - and then looms the next debt ceiling fight

Judd Legum reports this item in a popular.info subscriber’s post to the morning email.

Acosta proposed a massive cut in funds that protect children from sex trafficking

As Secretary of Labor, Acosta is in charge of overseeing much of the federal government’s efforts to combat child sex trafficking. Acosta’s proposed 2020 budget contains an 80% funding cut for the section of the Labor Department that fights “against the sexual exploitation of children.” That section, known as the International Labor Affairs Bureau, would see its funding reduced from $68 million to $18.5 million.

Congresswoman Katherine Clark (D-MA) called the proposed cuts “reckless” and “amoral.” Kathleen Kim, a law professor at Loyola Law School, said the proposed cuts are “bound to expose children to more risk of sexual trafficking” and “will undoubtedly eliminate many of the US government’s anti-human trafficking efforts that have been critical in encouraging action by law enforcement.”

Asked about the proposed cuts at his press conference, Acosta didn’t have much of an answer. He said that those kinds of grants could be cut and restored later.

As Legum said, this was not “much of an answer.”

Bear in mind that the threat to this program may be amplified by other governmental actions (or inactions) such as the looming debt ceiling deadline. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports At the intersection of a debt-ceiling mess and a shutdown threat.

I’ve long thought of debt-ceiling fights like a scheduled root canal on the calendar: it’s one of those unpleasant things you know is coming, but you’d prefer not to think too much about it until it’s absolutely necessary.

Earlier this week, the Bipartisan Policy Center insisted it’s absolutely necessary. The think tank concluded that federal tax revenue is falling short of projections, so the time we thought we had in advance of the next debt-ceiling increase is evaporating. In fact, the group said the borrowing limit would probably have to be addressed by early September – not October or November, as previously estimated.

As it turns out, the Bipartisan Policy Center isn’t alone in its concerns. The Hill reported this morning that lawmakers are “growing anxious that they might have to vote to raise the nation’s debt ceiling in a matter of weeks.”

Lawmakers had hoped they would be able to avoid the politically painful vote to raise the debt ceiling until the fall – and that it could be packaged with other legislation to fund the government and set budget caps on spending.

But that could be much more difficult if Treasury’s ability to prevent the government from going over its borrowing limit ends in mid-September – just days after lawmakers would be set to return from their summer recess.

At some point, we should all probably have a conversation about why federal tax revenue is proving to be a problem – have I mentioned lately that the Republican tax plan was a bad idea? – but in the short term, the prospect of an ugly train wreck is coming into sharper focus.

Because increasing the debt ceiling isn’t the only related challenge on Congress’ late-summer to-do list.

Not only does it now appear that lawmakers will have to raise the debt limit in September, that will coincide with the expiration of existing federal spending that keeps federal operations running. Politico reported yesterday that the odds of yet another government shutdown are “skyrocketing,” adding, “There’s been next to no progress on a deal to lift mandatory government spending caps that take effect in January, so aides in both parties have said they believe that a shutdown is becoming more and more likely.”

The Washington Post recently reported, “GOP leaders have spent months cajoling President Trump in favor of a bipartisan budget deal that would fund the government and raise the limit on federal borrowing this fall, but their efforts have yet to produce a deal…. The GOP dysfunction — coupled with a new House Democratic majority with its own priorities — leaves the sides much farther apart than they were at this point in last year’s budget process, which ended in a record-long government funding lapse.”

We’ll dig into this in more detail as the deadlines draw closer, but there are three basic elements to keep an eye on: Congress and the White House will have to (1) agree to raise the debt ceiling; (2) fund government operations; and (3) lift budget caps that will otherwise kick in automatically (thanks to that darned sequester law from 2011) and cut more than $100 billion from domestic and military priorities.

The stakes are high, and given what we’ve seen in recent weeks, there’s been little evidence of progress. No wonder lawmakers are starting to feel “anxious.”

Trump to announce 'executive action' on citizenship question for 2020 census

The NY Times reports breaking news about impending “executive action” on the census citizenship question, Trump Turns to Executive Action to Press Citizenship Question on Census. The action, whatever form that it takes, is likely to be announced by Trump this afternoon.

President Trump is planning to take another step in his ongoing battle to place a question about citizenship on the 2020 census by announcing an executive action in the Rose Garden on Thursday, according to a senior administration official familiar with the decision.

Mr. Trump said on Twitter that he would hold an afternoon news conference on the issues of “census and citizenship” days after his attorney general, William P. Barr, suggested he thought there could be a legal path to placing the citizenship question on the census after the Supreme Court blocked its inclusion last month.

Mr. Trump may not issue an executive order on the citizenship question, according to aides briefed on the plan. Executive orders attempt to impose a sweeping unilateral change, as the president has done over 100 times during his presidency, setting up various legal entanglements.

One option, aides said, is a presidential memorandum that is essentially meant to put his administration’s view on the issue into writing. Mr. Trump has written over 40 memorandums since the beginning of his presidency to pursue policy changes on issues ranging from rural broadband internet access to the service of transgender people in the military.

Whatever action Mr. Trump takes will be subject to review in the courts. Last week, Justice Department lawyers acknowledged that the administration remained subject to injunctions barring the addition of the citizenship question.

The administration will presumably have to file motions to lift those injunctions based on Mr. Trump’s action.

The new action will, in any event, almost certainly also give rise to direct legal challenges, and courts may be wary of accepting a new rationale for adding the question when the Supreme Court has already rejected the previous justification as contrived.

There is little doubt, in any event, that the case will again reach the Supreme Court. That case, against the backdrop of a chaotic litigation strategy and shifting legal arguments, will again test the limits of the court’s deference to executive power.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The Senate vote that got Acosta his job as Labor Secretary

Acosta’s plea deal was known to the Senate back in 2017 when he was the Trump pick for Labor. Trump Labor nominee Acosta frustrates Democrats by dodging questions at confirmation hearing, March 22, 2017, in the LA Times.

President Donald Trump’s second nominee for Labor secretary, law school dean R. Alexander Acosta, frustrated Democrats at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday by dodging questions about how he would handle some key workplace rules enacted by the Obama administration.

But Acosta, a former Justice Department official, had strong support from Republicans during the hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, and he appeared on track for confirmation.

[snip] There was a lot more about workplace issues raised in the Senate hearing, but the plea deal was raised and questioned.

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), questioned Acosta about a plea deal he oversaw that allowed billionaire Jeffrey Epstein to serve only 13 months in jail after being accused of having sex with underage girls. The deal was criticized by some as being too lenient and is the subject of a civil lawsuit by two victims, who want to reopen the case.

Acosta said the pending suit limited what he could say, but he defended the deal. He said that a state grand jury had recommended a single count of solicitation that would not have resulted in any jail time. The plea deal meant Epstein went to jail, had to register as a sexual offender and allowed victims to seek restitution.

Nevertheless, Acosta was confirmed on April 27th on a 60–38–2.

Roll Call Vote 115th Congress - 1st Session Vote Summary
Question: On the Nomination (Confirmation R. Alexander Acosta, of Florida, to be Secretary of Labor )

Every single Republican voted in favor of confirmation of Acosta, and so did 8 Dems: Cortez Masto, Heitkamp, King (Independent), Manchin, McCaskill, Menendez, Nelson, Tester, and Warner.

In the main, those that voted for Acosta are hanging in there reports Politico: Republicans — and some Dems — stand by Acosta amid Jeffrey Epstein charges. Senators who voted to confirm Trump’s Labor secretary are resisting demands for his ouster, despite the explosive indictment against Epstein.

Of course they are.

On Monday, no senator in either party that supported Acosta’s confirmation as Labor secretary called for the former U.S. Attorney’s ouster over the much-criticized 2008 plea deal he cut with Epstein to avoid a public trial over the sex abuse charges and a heavy jail sentence for the financier.

“If he made a mistake or a judgment call or something like that, does that affect the way he’s doing his job now? I’m going to basically judge him on what job he’s doing and how he’s doing it,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who voted to confirm Acosta. As far as calls to resign, he said: “I’m not getting into that feeding frenzy.”

A few of them sounded worried.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said she did not understand why the victims of Epstein’s abuse were not notified of the agreement negotiated by Acosta in 2008 — as required by federal law — and she urged the Office of Professional Responsibility to “immediately” look into its circumstances.

So let’s see. 60 Senators voted to confirm Acosta in spite of his secret plea deal that got Epstein off the hook. And now they are doubling down on that vote. So we have 60 Senators OK with that vs. dozens or hundreds of young girls snared into Epstein’s sex trafficking network. I have a suspicion about how Lady Justice’s scales will tip.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Observations on the Epstein-Acosta human trafficking scandal

I conflate these two threads, Epstein’s network of underage girls, and now Labor Secretary Acosta’s dereliction of duty, purposefully.

Billionaire Jeffrey Epstein was apprehended this last week as federal officers entered his Manhattan apartment and seized a“trove” of documents. Particularly, reports the NY Times, Nude Photos of Girls Seized From Jeffrey Epstein Mansion The prosecutors are seeking to detain the financier while he awaits trial on sexual trafficking charges, saying he is a flight risk. Of course. This guy has planes and places.

A parallel report appeared in The Daily Beast: Indictment Alleges Jeffrey Epstein Created ‘Vast Network’ of Underage Sex Victims as Young as 14. The FBI found nude photos of girls when it raided his Manhattan mansion, which the feds now want to seize.

But there is more to the story. Who knew about Epstein and his network that snared young girls? The network that fed Epstein’s appetites – and those of who else? How did Epstein walk in the first place? How did the Florida prosecutor get to be Trump’s Labor Secretary - who now is reducing funding for trafficking investigations?

Here’s a story from Judd Legum (popular.info) in a subscriber’s post.

The vote Republican Senators want you to forget

Jeffrey Epstein appeared in federal court in New York on Monday and pleaded not guilty to sex trafficking. The charges carry sentences of up to 45 years, effectively a life sentence for the 66-year-old Epstein.

After his arrest, law enforcement searched Epstein’s palatial Manhattan townhouse. According to prosecutors, they found hundreds of naked pictures of underage girls, some of which were found in a locked safe. They also found numerous compact disks with handwritten labels: “Young [Name] + [Name],” “Misc nude 1,” and “Girls pics nude.”

These materials suggest that Epstein was unrepentant and unreformed. But he was on the street thanks to the sweetheart deal he struck with then-U.S. attorney Alex Acosta. Despite dozens of minors alleging they were sexually abused by Epstein, Acosta agreed to let Epstein plea to state solicitation of prostitution charges. Acosta then broke the law by failing to inform victims of the plea deal. Epstein served about a year in jail but most of his time was spent on “work release” in a nearby luxury office building.

On Twitter, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) blasted Epstein, calling his conduct “despicable.”

Ted Cruz
Fully agree. Epstein’s conduct was despicable, and everyone who participated should be vigorously prosecuted.
Jake Tapper@jaketapper
If there is justice in this world: Every. Last. One of them. https://t.co/3Ede4gg1Ye
July 8th 2019

It’s hard to argue with Cruz’s tweet. But he didn’t mention that he voted to confirm Acosta as Trump’s Secretary of Labor on April 17, 2017, even though Acosta’s involvement in Epstein’s favorable plea deal was well known. As Secretary of Labor, Acosta is responsible for overseeing the nation’s human trafficking laws.

Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) also called out Epstein and specifically criticized his lenient plea deal.

Jeffrey Epstein has evaded justice for too long - this child rapist belongs in prison and should not be allowed to post bail and hurt more girls.

This monster received a pathetically soft sentence last time and his victims deserve nothing less than justice. Justice doesn’t depend on the size of your bank account, this billionaire can’t be let out just because he can cut a bail check. The Justice Department needs to see this through.

Sasse previously called for an investigation of the Justice Department’s conduct in striking the plea bargain with Epstein. (An internal investigation is underway.) But Sasse also voted to confirm Acosta. Overall, Acosta was confirmed 60–38 with every Republican, seven Democrats, and one independent voting in favor.

Yesterday Legum filed this report in a public post, The Rotten Cabinet. Excerpts follow.

Among Epstein’s friends was another billionaire, Donald Trump. In 2002, Trump joked about Epstein’s sexual habits. “I’ve known Jeff for fifteen years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side,” Trump quipped.

One of Epstein’s accusers, Virginia Giuffre, says she was brought into Epstein’s orbit while working at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, where Trump and Epstein have been photographed together.

Asked Sunday about Epstein’s arrest, Trump said, “I don’t know anything about it.”

Julie K. Brown, the Miami Herald reporter who broke open the Epstein story, said she expects “very powerful people” are “sweating a little bit” with Epstein’s arrest.

We don’t know how much, how deep this went, how far-reaching it went in government, but there have been a lot of names that I could see on these message pads [listing clients] on a regular basis as part of the evidence. These message pads where they would call and leave Epstein messages, such as, ‘I’m at this hotel.’ Why do you do that, unless you’re expecting him to send you a girl to visit you at your hotel? So there are probably quite a few important people, powerful people, who are sweating it out right now. We’ll have to wait and see whether Epstein is going to name names.

Brown noted that both Trump and Epstein owned modeling agencies. She said that she suspected Epstein used his modeling agency “to bring in underage girls from overseas.” According to Brown, Epstein is quoted in court documents as saying, “I want to set up my modeling agency the same way Trump set up his modeling agency.” (Brown cautioned that she does not “know what that means.”)

During the 2016 campaign, Trump drew attention to Epstein’s friendship with President Bill Clinton. Trump noted that Clinton visited Epstein on his private Carribean island.

Scriber thinks that Trump’s choice of campaign issues is quite suspect on general grounds (Trump is the man of 10,000 lies) and for connections between Trump’s resort, Trump’s mouth and Epstein.

Flight logs show that Clinton flew on Epstein’s jet at least 26 times between 2001 and 2003. Epstein was a major Democratic donor.

There is no evidence that Clinton or Trump was involved in Epstein’s sexual abuse of minors. Epstein’s plea deal with Acosta secured immunity not only for himself but also his unnamed co-conspirators. Now, all bets are off.

Report: Bill Clinton Flew on Disgraced Donor’s Jet 26 Times. Donald Trump has made ex-president’s personal life a campaign issue and that would be the 2016 campaign. This report from Roll Call was published in May of 2016.

When I first read that I immediately thought of the Clinton Foundation and its Global Initiative. Clinton’s statement concurs with my recall. The Daily Beast reports on Bill Clinton’s statement, I Flew With Jeffrey Epstein but Knew ‘Nothing’ About ‘Terrible Crimes’. The ex-president said he took four trips on Epstein’s plane to Europe, Asia, and Africa.

In a statement issued hours after Epstein was arraigned on a sex-trafficking indictment, Clinton said he took “a total of four trips” with the financier in 2002 and 2003—to Europe, Asia and Africa.

It’s not clear how many flights were involved in each trip or how that number would square with flight logs that reportedly show Clinton on 26 flights on Epstein’s plane between 2001 and 2003. Gawker reported in 2015 that the logs also appear to show Clinton on a 2002 domestic flight between Miami and Westchester County, with Epstein also on board.

In his statement, Clinton said the trips included stops in connection with the Clinton Foundation and that he was accompanied by staff, foundation supporters and Secret Service agents on “every leg of every trip.”

The statement said Clinton made “one brief visit” to Epstein’s apartment in New York—alongside a “staff member and his security detail”—in 2002. The two men also met at Clinton’s Harlem office “around the same time” as the apartment visit, the statement said.

“He‘s not spoken to Epstein in well over a decade, and has never been to Little St. James Island, Epstein’s ranch in New Mexico, or his residence in Florida,” the statement read.

The guy who cut a secret deal with Epstein is still at it …

… according to Catherine Rampell at the Washington Post: Alex Acosta gave a pass to Epstein years ago. He’s still at it as labor secretary.

Before we go on, let me insert a reminder. Acosta as Labor Secretary is a perfect example of X/AntiX. Intentions aside, appointment of the guy who was soft on Epstein before was certain to have a negative affect on Labor’s dealing with human trafficking.

It’s scandalous that more than a decade ago then-U.S. Attorney Alexander Acosta gave a sweetheart deal to a known sexual predator.

Even more scandalous? That now as labor secretary, Acosta (among other Trump appointees) is overseeing policies that encourage and enable many more such predators today.

We know about this egregious miscarriage of justice because of a heroic series by the Miami Herald’s Julie K. Brown. Incidentally, Brown began reinvestigating this case just after President Trump nominated Acosta to head the Labor Department — which is on the front lines of, you guessed it, detecting trafficking crimes.

Justice Department human trafficking cases have dropped, from 282 newly initiated prosecutions in fiscal 2017 to 230 in fiscal 2018. Federal protections afforded victims, including those who cooperate with authorities to hold their traffickers accountable, have also frayed.

For years victims of severe forms of trafficking have been able to apply for a special category of visa (T visa) allowing them to remain in the United States for up to four years if they assist in a trafficking investigation. (A similar category of visa, a U visa, exists for victims of other crimes.) The point is to provide more security to victims, whose abusers can keep them in line by threatening retaliation — including by calling ICE.

But now, under Acosta, the wait time for such visas has increased due to bureaucratic delays.

Victims waited an average of nine months in fiscal 2017 before getting a decision, according to Citizenship and Immigration Services. The estimated wait today is 16 to 33½ months.

You can fill in the details in Rampell’s report. The bottom line is this.

"If a person is really caught up in a trafficking web, time is of the essence,” says D. Michael Hancock, who served as the division’s assistant administrator in the Obama administration. “They’re here today, gone tomorrow.”

Acosta’s dereliction of duty in the Epstein case might sound like ancient history. But it also looks an awful lot like the present.

We’ve not heard the last of this one.

Monday, July 8, 2019

One fine day for USA

Here’s a good one from 538’s significant digits email.

4 titles
U-S-A! U-S-A! The American team won its fourth women’s World Cup title yesterday in a 2–0 victory over the Netherlands on the backs of goals from Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle. The U.S. also won in 1991, 1999 and 2015, and this year the team broke the record for most goals in the tournament with 26. [ESPN]

It was a source of joy to watch!

America awakes to Mournday Mourning wondering what's Trump done now

Lincoln puked
That shaking in South Dakota:
Lincoln puked - as did George, Thomas, and Teddy

Arizona Governor wears a pair of Nike sneakers just days after pulling incentives for Nike to open a plant in Arizona. Let’s see. 500 jobs divided by two sneakers equals …

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

  • Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources tell us: President Trump has opted for a new hair style … asks to be henceforth addressed as “President Kim Jong Trump.”
  • Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources report Trump campaign printing bumper stickers for “Joe and Bernie 2020.” That’s a chilling vision. Brrrr.
  • David Fitzsimmons asks us to imagine Ivanka as “the Paris Hilton of geopolitical discourse.”
  • Most Republicans have not read the Mueller report. They don’t need to because Trump’s team has told them what’s in it is baloney.
  • Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources are back in the Gnus: In response to charge of raping democracy, Trump says “Lady Liberty is not my type.”
  • Making our Independence Day celebration all about “me”, Trump and his base celebrated “The Farce of July”.

Speaking of farces, snopes.com investigated Trump’s claim about airports during our revolutionary war: Did Trump Say Revolutionary War Troops Took Over Airports?

Claim
U.S. President Donald Trump said American Revolutionary War troops took over airports.
Rating
True

During a speech commemorating Independence Day in 2019, U.S. President Donald Trump made a statement erroneously indicating that American rebels had taken over not-yet-existent airports during the Revolutionary War …

Trump gave the 45-minute speech during a rain-soaked spectacle in Washington, D.C., on July 4, 2019, during which military hardware such as tanks and aircraft were displayed on parade.

During a passage in the speech in which Trump was describing the American Revolutionary War in soaring rhetoric, he remarked: “The Continental Army suffered a bitter winter of Valley Forge, found glory across the waters of the Delaware, and seized victory from Cornwallis of Yorktown. Our army manned the air, it rammed the ramparts, it took over the airports, it did everything it had to do. And at Fort McHenry, under the rockets’ red glare, it had nothing but victory. And when dawn came, their Star Spangled Banner waved defiant.”

Because no airports existed in the 18th century (the first successful airplane wasn’t flown until 1903), that portion of Trump’s speech inspired some jokesters to take to Twitter using the #RevolutionaryWarAirports hashtag, sharing humor and altered images of famous Revolutionary War artwork edited onto photographs of airports …

Trump blamed a faulty teleprompter for the goof, telling NBC News, “The teleprompter went out. It kept going on, and then at the end, it just went out. It went kaput.”

Sure.

Lincoln puked
What Republicans believe?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Ducey wears Nike

Check out the footwear in this photo. And that from the guy who opposed bringing lots of Nike jobs to Arizona! CBS News reported: Arizona governor yanks state money for Nike plant after company pulls “Betsy Ross flag” sneakers.

Ducey's Shoes
Check out Ducey wearing Nike sneakers

Justin Amash might run for president. Here's why he should from a conservative.

Matt Lewis at The Daily Beast applauds: Bravo, Justin Amash—Now Finish the Job and Go Run Against Donald Trump. It took guts for the Michigan congressman to announce he’s leaving Trump’s GOP. But now he has to take the next logical step.

Justin Amash’s Fourth of July announcement that he was leaving the Republican Party delighted me. Now, he has one mission left (should he choose to accept it): It’s time he launched a third-party bid for president.

As the founding member of the Justin Amash for president fan club, I must admit that my motives are partly selfish. I just really want someone to vote for come November 2020.

Donald Trump (see his treatment of migrants on the border) is a non-starter for me. And don’t get me started on the 2020 Democrats (see their leftward lurch on abortion, guns, busing, single-payer health care, immigration, and socialism); they are trying their best to out-radicalize Trump.

[Scriber intervenes! There’s too much of the false equivalence flavor for me. What’s wrong with health care for all? What’s wrong with clamping down on domestic sales of automatic weapons? What’s wrong with reproductive choice? And what’s wrong with some compassion for immigrants asking for asylum? So don’t get me started on the GOP’s ugliness on all these issues.]

And I’m left pining for a third-party designated hitter for the Republican Party.

It’s still unclear whether Amash will rise to the occasion, but you have to admit that he does seem to have a certain panache. Choosing Independence Day to announce your liberation from the Grand Old Party is both clever and poetic. And, having read Amash’s rationale for leaving the GOP, it seems to me like he now has an obligation to seek the presidency.

That’s not to say that I agree with everything he wrote in his Washington Post swansong. Citing George Washington (who warned about the evils of partisanship and factions), Amash notes that, “The two-party system has evolved into an existential threat to American principles and institutions,” because “In this hyperpartisan environment, congressional leaders use every tool to compel party members to stick with the team, dangling chairmanships, committee assignments, bill sponsorships, endorsements and campaign resources. As donors recognize the growing power of party leaders, they supply these officials with ever-increasing funds, which, in turn, further tightens their grip on power.”

Personally, I’m more inclined to believe that our problems stem partially from political parties having been (essentially) neutered. Once upon a time, they served a vital function as gatekeeper. A smoke-filled back room of establishment Republicans would never have selected Donald Trump. Instead, he managed to win over the grassroots party members. If anything, political parties have gradually gotten weaker, a problem exacerbated by campaign finance laws, the rise of outside groups, and technology like cable news and the Internet.

But why quibble over the details regarding how we got here? Today’s Republican Party is, as Hunter Thompson said of the Kentucky Derby, decadent and depraved. As for me, I’m ready to go rogue. There’s a reason why I don’t self-identify as a Republican (though I am a proud conservative). I didn’t leave the party; the party left me. And I’m more than willing to follow Amash—if he does the right thing and runs for president.

More importantly, Amash gets a lot of things exactly right. In his Washington Post op-ed, he notes that, “The founders envisioned Congress as a deliberative body in which outcomes are discovered. We are fast approaching the point, however, where Congress exists as little more than a formality to legitimize outcomes dictated by the president, the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader.”

Indeed, the most underrated example of Republican capitulation occurred when Trump was granted authority to enact his bogus “emergency order” on the border. Amash was one of a handful of Republicans who stood against the president’s usurpation of power from Congress.

I’ve given up hoping for the perfect candidate. I don’t actually think Amash will win. What is more, I have no doubt that someone (probably the Republican Party’s oppo guys) will dig up something on Amash that might give some of his newfound fans pause. What I do think is that Amash is a principled and decent person who puts the rule of law and the Constitution ahead of everything. In this political era, it’s hard to ask for more than that.

[Scriber again. I have great respect for Amash - even though I know we will disagree on many points. But for anyone who fancies him/her self as a true conservative - and Trump is not that - should join the Amash fan club, and support the “principled and decent person who puts the rule of law and the Constitution ahead of everything.” The contrast with Trump who disrespects America in so many ways could not be starker.]

Some people believe that Amash should have stayed in the Republican Party and worked to improve it from within. That’s a reasonable critique, but it assumes two dubious notions: First, that we are bound to a binary two-party system, and second, that today’s Republican Party could be persuaded by Amash’s now-out-of-vogue constitutional conservative message. Regardless, it is now a moot point. That ship has sailed.

In his op-ed, Amash made the case that the partisan nature of politics has effectively broken our political system. Although I would quibble with him on the details, I do not doubt his sincerity. But here’s the thing: If you’re a sitting U.S. congressman who is willing to be that broad in your critique, then I think there’s a responsibility not just to write op-eds, but to seek higher office.

It’s time for Justin Amash to run for president. Sure, he’s not gonna win and he might even get blamed for electing a Democrat. But presidential campaigns are about more than the here and now. Maybe someday the GOP will get its act back together, and maybe an Amash run will help inspire a new generation of conservatives and libertarians who will do just that. Or maybe this will be the beginning of a whole new movement—a whole new political party?

But, for now, my goal is much less ambitious: To have someone on the ballot in 2020 that I’m not embarrassed to support. As far as I can tell, Justin Amash is the only game in town.

[Scriber’s last word: Amash is the only conservative game in town. It’s hard for me to believe that the Democrats will not be able to field an excellent candidate who is “a principled and decent person who puts the rule of law and the Constitution ahead of everything.”]

Trump admin faces discovery in suit against census question

HuffPost email informs us that the Trump admin misses deadline to provide reason for census citizenship question.

That is pretty much in line with Trump’s (now) habit of thumbing his nose at the courts.

The Trump administration said on Friday it would continue to look for ways to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 census after missing a deadline to provide an adequate reason for it.

“The Departments of Commerce and Justice have been instructed to examine whether there is a path forward, consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision, that would allow for the inclusion of the citizenship question on the census,” Justice Department lawyers said in a court filing Friday.

In response, U.S. District Judge George Hazel said that he will proceed with the process of discovery, a way for opposing parties to gather evidence, which could determine whether the Trump administration proposed the citizenship question with the intention of discriminating against minorities.

“Plaintiffs’ remaining claims are based on the premise that the genesis of the citizenship question was steeped in discriminatory motive,” Hazel wrote in a court order. “…Regardless of the justification Defendants may now find for a ‘new’ decision, discovery related to the origins of the question will remain relevant.”

They will indeed. Here is more about what might be exposed during discovery.

The fight over the 2020 census citizenship question, explained by vox.com. The battle over a simple question involves both Congress and the Supreme Court. And the stakes are high.

The Commerce Department, which is in charge of conducting the census, claims it added the question in response to a request sent last fall by the Department of Justice, then headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that asked for a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The DOJ’s reasoning, adopted by the Department of Commerce, was that to appropriately enforce the Voting Rights Act, the DOJ needs to know where eligible voters, and specifically eligible voters of color, live — and so they have to be able to distinguish citizens from noncitizens.

But critics of the Trump administration see a more political motive. Records exposed in a New York lawsuit over the census question made it clear that their skepticism was well founded, because Wilbur Ross and the Commerce Department, at least, hadn’t been telling the public the whole truth about the process.

Emails showed that for months, Ross himself had already been asking around about adding a citizenship question, and Commerce Department officials had tried to get other agencies involved to “clear certain legal thresholds.” In fact, Ross and the Department of Commerce had to ask the DOJ to send them that letter giving the Voting Rights Act rationale.

Furthermore, the emails showed, Ross was warned about potential downsides of adding a new question — most notably, concerns that it would warp the census results by discouraging noncitizens from responding. But the question was added anyway.

Another Trump tantrum

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) digs deeper and observes that Trump rages over his latest failure to corrupt our democracy - namely that he was not been able to get the citizenship question on the census. But Sargent has some tough questions about what went on to get the Justice Department to reverse course after the Supreme Court’s decision against Trump.

The Post reports that the president reversed his own administration’s decision “after Trump talked by phone with conservative allies who urged him not to give up the fight.”

Trump also ordered the reversal because he is “furious” over his administration’s quick surrender, officials tell The Post, adding that he believes the administration “had given up the fight too easily.”

Which raises a question: What is the true nature of this “fight” that conservative allies don’t want Trump to “give up,” and which Trump believes officials backed off from too quickly?

And for that matter who are those “conservative allies”?

Does anyone here think they’re “fighting” to better enforce the Voting Rights Act?

I submit that those allies are those who stand to profit. Not in the sense of “follow the money” but in the sense of “follow the power.” Ask, in this case, who stands to gain if the citizenship question suppresses census responding. Read on.

That, of course, is the rationale that the administration had claimed, but the Supreme Court last week blocked this effort, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. ruling that this rationale — put forth by the Commerce Department, which oversees the census — is “contrived.”

The move would likely bolster the Republican Party: A citizenship question could discourage people from households with noncitizens from responding, resulting in undercounts that skew representation and the awarding of federal dollars away from those areas.

Roberts agreed that the administration’s stated rationale was a pretext, writing that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had made a decision early on to do this and had asked the Justice Department to request the change from him, giving him a reason to do it.

Reinforcing the administration’s bad faith, newly surfaced files from a deceased GOP operative who advised officials on adding the question revealed that he viewed this as a way to confer electoral advantage on Republicans and whites.

We also know that Stephen K. Bannon and Kris Kobach pushed the administration to do this early on, with Kobach piously insisting this was really about getting a more accurate count. That’s hard to believe, given that Bannon and Kobach are two of the most virulently anti-immigrant of Trump advisers.

Roberts had still given officials a way to keep the case alive, by sending it back to the lower courts, potentially leaving an opening for them to come up with a new explanation for the question to replace the “contrived” one.

But officials apparently saw this as a lost cause, and earlier this week, they confirmed they had dropped the quest to add the question. Which led to Trump angrily tweeting this was “FAKE,” forcing administration lawyers to scramble to revive the effort.

Administration lawyers may have sabotaged Trump

As part of this scramble, Justice Department lawyers told the courts that the Commerce Department may now adopt a “new rationale” for adding the citizenship question, and that the departments are trying to “reevaluate all available options” in the quest to find one. It’s unclear what this “new rationale” will be.

Daniel Hemel, a law professor at the University of Chicago, told me that this might have actually sabotaged Trump’s chances, because the stark admission that officials are looking for a replacement rationale underscores that it, too, will inevitably be offered in bad faith.

“The last thing you’d want to do if you were trying to convince the courts that your stated rationale is genuine is to tell a judge that you’re looking for a ‘new rationale’ to justify a policy decision you’ve already made,” Hemel told me. “They are essentially telling the courts that whatever rationale they come back with, it will still be pretextual.”

Hemel added that this very well might have been an act of “bureaucratic resistance.” Trump basically threw his administration’s lawyers “under the bus” by demanding a reversal, Hemel suggested, “and now they’re throwing him back under the bus.”

It’s possible that lower-court judges still hearing the case could now simply order the Commerce Department not to print any forms with the citizenship question, Hemel noted.

The administration would appeal this. But Hemel suggested it’s “more likely than not” that Roberts would support that decision.

“Roberts’s decision is premised on the idea that agencies need to state their real reasons for acting,” Hemel noted. He added that the admission that lawyers are now looking to “reverse-engineer a rationale for the decision” could lead Roberts to issue a final ruling against Trump.

Bad faith everywhere you look

Which brings us back to the question: What are conservatives and Trump keeping up the fight for, exactly?

We know from the established facts that this was never about enforcing the Voting Rights Act, and the courts have confirmed this view. Yet Trump ordered the lawyers to keep this battle going, anyway, in part because conservatives urged him to keep fighting, even though the original rationale has now been unmasked as fake!

Now that administration lawyers have admitted that they’re looking for still another pretext to justify this effort, those private conversations cast still more doubt on this whole exercise. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer until this farce is put out of its misery for good.

UPDATE: The AZ Blue Meanie posts a legal analysis this morning at Blog For Arizona, In reversal, Trump administration will try to argue a new ‘pretext’ for citizenship question on 2020 Census. For example:

So what happens now? First, it is important to remember that the Trump administration made an averment to two trial courts and the U.S. Supreme Court that the printing deadline for the census was July 1. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the appeal, bypassing the appellate courts (a rare occurrence) and added a constitutional question that the parties had not raised on appeal, based upon this averment. By seeking a delay in this case now, the Trump administration is making an admission that it lied to two trial courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. It has firmly established its bad faith before the federal courts, which is not going to gain the administration any favors from the federal courts.

… only asking about U.S. citizenship status would exclude some 13.2 million legal permanent residents (LPR) living in the U.S. as of the last midterm census in 2015, as well as the estimated 12.0 million undocumented aliens living in the U.S. as of the last mid-term census in 2015.

This would result in an intentional substantial undercount in the 2020 Census, and is unconstitutional. Section 2 of the 14th Amendment expressly provides, in relevant part, “Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed” — not citizens, but persons.

The whole point of the census is to get a snapshot of just how many people are in the U.S. at a given time.

UPDATE: The Justice Department lawyers are not being helped by the Twitter-troll-in-chief, who acknowledged on Friday that the “number one” reason for a citizenship question is “for districting.” He meant redistricting. That’s a problem because Solicitor General Noel Francisco told the Supreme Court that using citizenship data for redistricting was not the purpose of the census citizenship question. Trump is exposing the lie by saying out loud the voices he hears in his head.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Legal actions are double trouble for Trump

DISCOVERY Begins In Emoluments Case Against President Trump; 4 of 5 Arizona Democratic Reps. Among Plaintiffs reports Arizona’s Politics in Blog for Arizona (h/t AZ Blue Meanie)

Four of Arizona’s five House Democrats are plaintiffs in a suit claiming that President Donald Trump is violating the U.S. Constitution by accepting “emoluments” while serving as President. Last week, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled against the President’s effort to delay the action, and ordered discovery to commence.

The decision was publicized today by some of the 215 Congressional Democrats bringing the action. The Arizona Members of Congress participating are Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick (CD2), Raul Grijalva (CD3), Ruben Gallego (CD7) and Greg Stanton (CD9). Neither Rep. Tom O’Halleran (CD1) nor Sen. Kyrsten Sinema are parties to the action.

Judge Emmet Sullivan previously denied the President’s motion to dismiss the case. The new motion was to permit the Administration to appeal the previous rulings and to stop discovery during that process.

House files lawsuit demanding Trump’s tax forms reports Mark Sumner of the Daily Kos Staff (h/t AZ Blue Meanie).

On Tuesday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service, demanding the release of Donald Trump’s tax forms as required under law. This comes after more than two months of attempting to get the IRS and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to provide the forms first by request, and then by subpoena.

Both [budget director] Mulvaney and Mnuchin have said that the reason House representatives have been seeking Trump’s forms is “partisan” or “not related to a legislative function.” And both are continuing to ignore the fact that the law on producing these forms says nothing about either position. House members don’t have to prove anything about their motives. There are no forms to fill out or hurdles to clear. They only have to request, and the IRS “shall comply.” Except it hasn’t complied, which is why the whole thing is now headed to court.

Why Neal waited out two months without moving to take the matter to court isn’t clear. And it’s also not clear how quickly the issue will be taken up by the federal courts. But at least this seems to be a move toward seeking a resolution.

One is the loneliest number ...

A few weeks ago (June 10) Politico (among other sources) reported that Michigan Republican Representative Justin Amash quits House Freedom Caucus. And that came after he called for Trump’s impeachment - and was/is the only Republican in Congress to do so.

Rep. Justin Amash quit the conservative House Freedom Caucus on Monday night, weeks after becoming the lone Republican to call for President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

The Michigan lawmaker told a CNN reporter that he has “the highest regard for them, and they’re my close friends,” but he “didn’t want to be a further distraction for the group.” Amash’s decision to step down was confirmed to POLITICO by his office.

Amash, a founding member of the Freedom Caucus, has long been a lone wolf in Congress, routinely bucking GOP leadership and defying Trump on a number of issues throughout the past two years.

But Amash’s support for impeachment roiled members of the Freedom Caucus, who found Amash’s criticism dead wrong. The group decided to uniformly oppose his impeachment stance last month, though they stopped short of kicking him out of the caucus — despite some lawmakers complaining that Amash was still a member.

[Amash is] facing two primary challenges back home and being ripped by Trump on Twitter. While Amash beat back a primary challenge from an establishment candidate in 2014, he faces a far more uncertain political future in the age of Trump, in which fealty to the president has often become a litmus test in the GOP.

There has also been speculation Amash might challenge Trump in 2020 as a libertarian candidate, something he did not rule out at a recent town hall.

“I’ve said many times, I don’t rule things like that out,” Amash said. “If you’re fighting to defend the Constitution, if you find a way to do that that’s different and maybe more effective, then you have to think about that.”

That was the town hall that gave him a standing ovation.

Given the monarchical, anti-democratic requirements for GOP members to pay homage to Trump, it was likely that Amash would eventually quit the GOP. And he now has.

The Daily Beast reports that Justin Amash Quits Republican Party After Backing Trump Impeachment. The only congressional Republican who has backed President Trump’s impeachment is quitting the GOP.

Justin Amash—the only Republican who has said publicly that he wants President Trump to face impeachment—is celebrating the Fourth of July in style after announcing that he’s quit the GOP.

Writing in the Washington Post, Amash made a thinly-veiled attack on Trump in an emotional plea to Americans to reject “the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us.” He went on to say that American politics is trapped in a “partisan death spiral,” and warned : “If we continue to take America for granted, we will lose it.”

Amash’s decision to quit the party comes after he joined Democratic calls for an impeachment inquiry after the publication of the Mueller Report in April. Since then, he’s had to deal with the scorn of his colleagues and has been publicly singled out as a “lightweight” by the president, who said Amash was “a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”

Trump welcomed the news of Amash’s exit Thursday, calling him “one of the dumbest and most disloyal men in Congress.” He added: “[Amash] knew he couldn’t get the nomination to run again in the Great State of Michigan. Already being challenged for his seat. A total loser!”

In his article, Amash quoted extensively from George Washington’s farewell address which warned against the dangers of partisanship. Amash wrote that Washington’s fears are coming true and that Americans allowed elected officials to toss the constitution aside for the sake of party unity, and that he’s become “frightened” by the two-party system in recent years.

“Today, I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party,” wrote Amash, summing up his announcement. “No matter your circumstance, I’m asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us. I’m asking you to believe that we can do better than this two-party system—and to work toward it.”

Amash’s departure will fuel speculation that he’s hoping to become the nation’s leading anti-Trump conservative and seek the Libertarian Party nomination for the 2020 presidential election. He’s been evasive on the question before, telling CNN earlier this year that he can’t rule out the move because he feels that “someone” has to shake up two-party politics.

The move will also throw open the GOP primaries in Michigan’s 3rd District, where several Republican candidates have already announced their intention to challenge Amash for his congressional seat.

Providing he does try to keep a hold of his seat—which he didn’t mention in the article—he’ll now face reelection as an independent.

Erma Bombeck on July 4th and military parades

Bombeck on July 4th

From AZquotes.com via Miriam Lindmeier.

At least that’s what the nation did B. T. (Before Trump).

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Why 60-ton tanks cannot drive across DC bridges

Gail Collins, at the NY Times, is Wishing for a Tank-Free Fourth. But she admits It could be worse. There’s always James Buchanan. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

Here’s Collins’ essay in full (for those of you who might not track the Times). And consider that for even the most serious of matters, there is always a modicum of humor. (To start, the bridges are rated for 10 tons.)

Happy Fourth of July, everybody. I want you to have a great day. No moaning about the state of the nation.

Don’t obsess about Donald Trump! It’s true he thought watching a bunch of tanks roll through Washington, D.C., would be a great way of celebrating our national character. Fortunately, it turned out the city streets couldn’t support his vision. The military came up with a compromise, dragging in tanks and other tanklike vehicles on flatbed trucks, in a very expensive show totally unrelated to their actual function.

Some people might think of this as a metaphor for the whole Trump administration. Feel free. It’s Independence Day.

This is a moment when we’re meant to think about our founding fathers, and it’s good to remember the warts along with the heroics. We celebrate Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence, who risked everything to throw off the yoke of British tyranny. But he was also a rich kid who inherited a fortune from his father and then lost most of it due to business ineptitude.

Pause to contemplate whether that reminds you of anybody we know.

The Declaration of Independence was actually written by a committee of five — besides Jefferson there was John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Robert Livingston of New York. Franklin was 70 at the time — younger than Joe Biden! We don’t remember much about the last two, and perhaps you could look them up as a holiday project.

As a start, I can tell you they were both great citizens who would never have staged a parade in their own honor with taxpayer money.

Besides being a military hero, George Washington set the country on its course to democracy by quashing talk about making him king after the Revolution and refusing to allow his fellow citizens to call him “Your Excellency.”

We will stop here for a second to recall that Donald Trump’s friendship with Kim Jong-un got a big boost when Kim wrote Trump a letter referring to him as “Your …” Well, you can guess.

Although Trump has taken only a few steps into North Korea, he must have seen those massive military parades in Kim’s honor and maybe gotten a little jealous. Back in 2017, when he made his first official visit to France, Trump was wowed when he got to join President Emmanuel Macron reviewing the Bastille Day parade. There was something about all those guys with guns marching past you.

We’ve been careening toward tankification ever since. It’s really a shame he didn’t start his presidency with a visit to Indonesia, where they celebrate Independence Day with pole-climbing contests.

Trump is sort of the anti-George Washington, a president who thinks everything should be about him, including holidays. Last year, when he was asked the traditional Thanksgiving question about what he was most grateful for, the answer almost instantly turned to, um, himself. (“I’ve made a tremendous difference in the country. This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office that you wouldn’t believe it.”)

Well, he did pardon the turkeys.

Maybe we should feel lucky that the special parade plans weren’t a lot worse. Imagine the possibilities. We could have Ivanka skipping along in front, tossing flowers to the common folk while Jared follows behind on a leash.

The president doesn’t think the whole affair is going to be very expensive — after all, the government already has a bunch of tanks and planes. “All we need is the fuel,” explained the man whose first term is going to run up a $5 trillion deficit.

We’ve had Independence Day celebrations at the White House since Jefferson’s time, and some have worked out better than others. In 1845, when James Polk was president, wayward fireworks killed two bystanders. Polk was not really a lucky guy. When he was a teenager, he was operated on for a urinary stone removal without anesthetics, and it’s possible the procedure left him impotent. I am telling you all this as a reminder that there’s a whole lot more to our national history than military hardware.

Exactly 50 years after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the same day. They had been huge rivals, but in retirement they started exchanging letters and became friends. It’s a lovely story, right? And I believe it’s true, even though it was a lot easier to manipulate political legends back in the days before the Freedom of Information Act, which was signed into law on July 4, 1966.

We’ve had a lot of great moments and national heroes, but the best thing about the American story is how we’ve moved forward even through totally terrible administrations. This is a country that elected Washington, Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But it also survived Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce and Warren Harding.

Enjoy the fireworks and drink a toast to awful presidents. If we got through James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Watergate, we can probably get through anything.

Which is pretty much our current challenge.

Happy Independence Day.

Yes, that was fun. But now consider the flip. For every modicum of humor, there is always a dark side. Think of Trump’s Tank day as a rehearsal for what he could (would?) do when he loses the 2020 election.

The long and winding American Journey of Kamala Harris

This post results from comments by two subscribers to the blog who I credit at appropriate places below.

SkyIslandScriber subscriber Georgia Hotton sent me her review of THE TRUTHS WE HOLD, An American Journey by Kamala Harris. Penguin Press, 2019. 281 pages. (It is published here with Hotton’s permission.)

Kamala Harris really earned well deserved attention after lively interchanges with Joe Biden on June 27th as part of the first Democratic debate for the position of Presidential nominee for the 2020 election. There was no doubt that Kamala Harris came across as the winner and Biden as the loser in their encounters. She challenged him on the issue of school busing and also the deportation of undocumented immigrants during the time he was Vice-President.

Having read several political contender books, I would certainly argue that if elected, Harris could well go down in American history as the most intelligent, committed and competent President the country has yet had. Her record in California as Attorney General so impressed Eric Holder that he asked her to consider being his replacement in Washington. However, because her then current commitments in California including convictions against major banks and significant criminal justice reforms were at a critical stage, she chose to stay on in California. In 2016, she did win the race to represent California in the Senate where she is already establishing herself as a tough fighter.

As a District Attorney she was fighting in California what the banks were doing to foreclose against home owners who had been conned into acquiring mortgages that were fraudulent offers to begin with. When she found out that other states were fighting this on a national level through actions of their State Attorney Generals, she realized the way to get to the table was to become State Attorney General of California. After a close election, she did. Once at the seat of power, she led the way in getting major concessions from the banks by threatening to pull California out of the original slap on the wrist concessions they had been willing to make.

Her style in Congress has not yet gotten the attention that Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez’s has gotten, but the media is going to start paying attention now. It would not surprise me to see these two exciting new faces in Congress both shaking up the legislative branches of the United States government to the point where there could be long-overdue gridlock breakthroughs.

Criminal justice - a “mixed”record

The other subscriber to this blog,Pat Hemann, alerted me to two reports about Harris’ tenure as San Francisco District Attorney and then as California Attorney General.

Politifact authors asked whether Harris is a Criminal justice reformer, or defender of the status quo? and concluded that “The record is mixed”. So I will start at their concluding remarks and work backward.

What’s clear about Harris’ record as a prosecutor is that it will get picked apart by the left – and potentially the right.

“In the primary, the left and her opponents will seize on every decision she made that could be perceived as being unfair to defendants, especially minorities,” said Garry South, Democratic political strategist who managed Gray Davis’s successful campaigns for California governor in 1998 and 2002.

If Harris becomes a top contender in the primary, South said, President Trump and national law enforcement groups will likely launch “ferocious attacks” on her decisions, such as refusing to seek the death penalty against the cop killer. Those attacks, he said, “may not set well even with Democrats when they hear about them.”

As her presidential campaign continues, so will the scrutiny. Looking at the question of whether Harris was truly a champion for criminal justice reform or a silent ally of the status quo, there’s no simple answer. The record is complex and, in places, includes contradictions. Our examination shows it’s a mixed record.

If I were to be flippant about it, I would ask “so what?” and point out that every politician has a mixed record. Let’s take a look.

There’s little question that Harris has notched some achievements that are in tune with what criminal-justice reform advocates have sought. They include:

  • The Back On Track program in 2005, which was designed to help nonviolent, first-time drug offenders transition back to their communities and prevent recidivism.
  • Her refusal in 2013 to defend California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, saying in a press release, “The Supreme Court has described marriage as a fundamental right 14 times since 1888. The time has come for this right to be afforded to every citizen.”
  • Her 2015 launch of Open Justice, a criminal-justice open-data initiative that provides information on deaths in police custody, including those that occur during arrests, as well as arrest rates by race and ethnicity. It also provides data on officers who are killed or assaulted on the job.
  • Her creation of the first statewide implicit bias training for law enforcement personnel in 2015. It called for a focus on six areas of policing that “emphasize respect, listening, neutrality and trust, while recognizing and addressing implicit biases that can be barriers to these approaches,” according to a news release at the time from the attorney general’s office.
  • Her implementation of a body camera pilot program for all agents in her attorney general’s department in 2015.
  • Her establishment of the Racial and Identity Profiling Advisory Board in 2016.

“As a prosecutor in the early and mid 2000s, a time when so many still held a ‘lock ‘em up’ mentality, Senator Harris pioneered a reentry program that became a state and national model,” Ian Sams, Harris’ campaign spokesman, said in a written statement, referring to the Back On Track program. “As Attorney General, she implemented a first-of-its-kind training on implicit bias and procedural justice and made her officers wear body cameras. And in the Senate, she has championed criminal justice reform measures to end mass incarceration, upend cash bail, and confront discrimination. That is her record, and it’s one of consistently making progress and protecting people in pursuit of a fairer system.”

But alongside those achievements are a variety of criticisms, including Harris’ complicated and controversial record on capital punishment.

Harris has long said that she’s personally opposed to the death penalty, and she demonstrated that sentiment as district attorney. Just days after San Francisco police officer Isaac Espinoza was shot and killed while on patrol in 2004, Harris announced she would not seek the death penalty in the case.

Her decision drew scorn from police groups and from Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who called for the death penalty at the officer’s funeral, drawing a standing ovation from the crowd of mostly law enforcement personnel.

Yet nearly a decade later, as attorney general in 2015, Harris defended California’s death penalty law in court after a judge ruled it unconstitutional.

Even those issues on which she remained silent seem destined to cause problems for Harris.

During the 2016 election in California, Harris declined to take public positions on ballot measures to shorten criminal sentences and to legalize recreational marijuana – efforts reformers said would help disadvantaged communities.

Marcia Godwin, a professor of public administration at the University of La Verne, wrote about Harris in the book The Roads to Congress 2016. She said, once again, there’s a more complex picture to consider.

Harris stayed neutral on the initiatives “under the rationale that her office prepared the ballot descriptions,” as well as titles, and did not want to appear biased, Godwin said.

Other attorneys general, including Jerry Brown, have also followed the same policy, saying they’ve kept their opinions to themselves to avoid a court challenge. …

Crime lab scandal

A Crime lab scandal rocked Kamala Harris’s term as San Francisco district attorney reported the Washington Post.

Here is the essence.

SAN FRANCISCO — Kamala D. Harris was this city’s top prosecutor, running to become California’s elected attorney general, when a scandal stunned her office and threatened to upend her campaign.

One of Harris’s top deputies had emailed a colleague that a crime lab technician had become “increasingly UNDEPENDABLE for testimony.” Weeks later, the technician allegedly took home cocaine from the lab, possibly tainting evidence and raising concerns about hundreds of cases.

Harris, in an interview with The Washington Post, stressed that the crime lab was run by the police. But she took responsibility for the failings, including that she had not developed a written policy so that her office would notify defendants about problems with witnesses and evidence, as required by law.

“No excuses,” Harris said, sitting in a small, windowless office near the U.S. Capitol. “The buck stops with me.”

Following state guidelines, her office had pursued thousands of cases against drug offenders, an unpopular position among many in liberal San Francisco. Those cases depended on evidence examined by the city’s understaffed crime lab, whose technicians regularly testified in court when Harris’s prosecutors went to trial.

Deborah Madden was one of three lab workers. The city’s police department knew that Madden had been convicted for her role in a 2007 domestic altercation in which she threw a phone that injured another person. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail and three years of probation and prohibited from possessing alcohol or a firearm. She was temporarily suspended from working at a crime lab.

Separately, Sharon Woo, an assistant district attorney working for Harris, became concerned that Madden wasn’t showing up to testify in court. That led her to write the email to Harris’s chief deputy in November 2009 that said Madden was “UNDEPENDABLE.”

[Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine] Massullo said in her ruling that when Woo wrote the email, “individuals at the highest levels of the District Attorney’s Office knew that Madden was not a dependable witness.” The judge did not name the individuals.

Harris said in the interview that she was not told of the problem at the time by the police or her top assistants. Shown a copy of the correspondence during the interview, she said, “I never saw this email . . . and that was part of my frustration with the process. But I take full responsibility.” The email was not copied to Harris.

Woo said in an interview that she did not discuss her concerns with Harris but sent her email to Harris’s top assistant at the time, Russell Giuntini. He did not return a call seeking comment.

Finally, in March 2010, the police publicly announced that there might be problems with evidence from the crime lab. Harris said it was not until that time that she was told of the problems.

Some of Harris’s aides raised the possibility that only those cases with a proven taint should be dismissed, not all of those that might have been affected. “And I said, ‘No, we have to deal with the fact this now called into question the integrity of the system,’ ” Harris said. “There has to be consequences paid for that."

… With the local criminal-justice system at risk of devolving into chaos, Harris took the extraordinary step of dismissing about 1,000 drug-related cases, including many in which convictions had been obtained and sentences were being served.

Scriber is of more than one mind on this scandal.

  • For one thing, Harris claimed she was not informed of the budding crisis in the police crime lab, and the email trail seems to confirm that.
  • But, the another thing is that you could make a strong case that Harris should have known: “The buck stops with her.” Superior Court Judge Massullo was “incredulous” that Harris did not know, and did not take steps sooner, to intstitute procedures that would alert defense attorneys to the taint that would bear on their clients.
  • Some of Harris’ aides wanted to deal with those cases with proven taint but Harris decided in favor of even those cases that might have been tainted and ended up dismissing about a thousand cases. That took guts.

Harris’ voting record in the U. S. Senate

I checked Harris’ record in the 538 database of Senate votes, Tracking Congress In The Age Of Trump, An updating tally of how often every member of the House and the Senate votes with or against the president.

Harris is, as of July 3rd, 2019, likely to vote with Trump on 16.2% of the votes in the Senate. That puts her at the 7th from the bottom. Only Sens. Markey, Booker, Sanders, Merkley, Warren, and Gillibrand (all Dems) are less likely to vote with Trump. Other contenders are more likely than Harris to vote with Trump, Bennet (26.3%) and Klobuchar (28.0%). For context, our two AZ Senators are far, far more likely to vote with Trump: Democrat Kyrsten Sinema (55.1%) and Republican Martha McSally (95.6%).

So, since being elected to the Senate in 2016, Harris has a reasonable voting record. And, I remind us all, she was a sharp questioner in the Senate hearings on the appointments of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and William Barr as U. S. Attorney General.

Scriber’s scales

After all of this, my scales still tip toward Harris as the best bet for taking on Trump. Certainly she will be savaged by the Trump Cult (who used to be known as Republicans) and even in the primaries by other Democratic groups. But that will be true of any other candidate. Her prosecutorial style will serve her well on the debate state and on the campaign trail. And when called on, she has experiences to offer that are colored by emotional sincerity. I just don’t detect the the same degree of fierceness combined with empathy in the other contenders.