Monday, September 30, 2019

Trumplicans' preference for conspiracy theories over evidence triggered the impeachment process

But what a fool believes, he sees
No wise man has the power to reason away
What seems to be
Is always better than nothing
Than nothing at all

From the Doobie Brothers song by the same name.

If we have learned nothing else since January 20th, 2017, it is this.

  • Trump is immune to facts, preferring beliefs that are not grounded in reality or constrained by facts.
  • Trump is susceptible to contorted conspiracy theories, especially so if they are repeated often to him and by him.
  • Not only is Trump self-centered and self-dealing, he is so to the point of diagnoses of (suspected) narcissistic personality disorder.
  • Trump shows signs of an obsessive personality, ruminating publicly over imagined slights from former political rivals.

What a fool believes indeed.

All of that was exposed yesterday in the Sunday morning news/talk shows.

Trump has joined an army of conservative commentators in pushing a false story involving an obscure government form, a Trump official, and the whistleblower writes Kevin Poulsen, Daily Beast Sr. National Security Correspondent, in GOP Shows Russian Trolls How It’s Done With Whistleblower Smear.

From Donald Trump on down, prominent Republicans used part of their weekend to falsely accuse Trump’s hand-picked intelligence community inspector general (IC IG) of secretly changing the requirements for intelligence workers to submit whistleblower tips as part of a deep state plot to clear the way for the Aug. 12 complaint about Trump’s phone call to the president of Ukraine.

The smoking gun in the putative conspiracy is an obscure government form, IC IG ICWSP Form 401, also known as the Disclosure of Urgent Concern Form. The document is put out by the IC IG for intelligence workers who need to file urgent complaints that trigger special treatment under the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act.

According to the GOP and an army of conservative commentators, the old version of the form prohibited workers from submitting urgent complaints based on secondhand information; only misconduct witnessed personally could be reported. That changed in early August, the false claim goes, when ICIG Michael Atkinson snuck through a hasty revision to the complaint form that reversed long-standing policy. …

Et cetera, et cetera … You get the idea.

Predictably, "WOW, they got caught,” tweeted Trump. “End the Witch Hunt now!”

The Atkinson smear comes amid a broad GOP campaign seemingly calculated to discredit the whistleblower report as unreliable, partisan hearsay, despite it having already been corroborated by an IC IG review and confirmed by the White House’s own transcript of Trump’s call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. …

"It seems like they are jumping to a lot of conclusions based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the law, the regulatory framework, and the language on one form,” said Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Scriber disagrees. Sanchez is being too kind. These guys throw bullshit at the public wall to see if it sticks as well as it stinks. Onward.

“There’s never been a requirement that a whistleblower have firsthand knowledge of what they’re reporting,” said Irvin McCullough, an investigator at the nonprofit Government Accountability Project (and the son of a former IC IG). “They need to have a reasonable belief. The firsthand information is usually gathered by the inspector general, as I believe did occur here.”

When the IC IG receives an urgent report, it has 14 days to conduct a preliminary review under the law. If that investigation produces enough direct evidence, the IC IG can rule it “credible,” which triggers the legal requirement to forward the report to the director of central intelligence (DCI), and from there to Congress.

"It’s an explanation of the IG’s standard for assessing credibility,” said Sanchez in an interview with The Daily Beast. “The IG isn’t going to forward it to the DNI if it can’t corroborate secondhand or indirect information. The whistleblower’s job is not to investigate. That is the job of the IG.”

In other words, Trump’s whistleblower didn’t go through some shady deep state backdoor. He or she followed the process, and government investigators found the firsthand evidence themselves.

“Complainant was not a direct witness to President’s telephone call with the Ukrainian President on July 25, 2019,” the IC IG wrote on August 26. “Other information obtained during the preliminary review, however, supports the Complainant’s allegation that, among other things, during the call the President ‘sought to pressure the Ukrainian leader to take actions to help the President’s 2020 reelection bid.’”

Another person making the Sunday rounds was Trump’s first (and now former) homeland security advisor.

Trump Was Repeatedly Warned That Ukraine Conspiracy Theory Was ‘Completely Debunked’ writes Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker of the NY Times. Thomas P. Bossert, President Trump’s first homeland security adviser, said he was “deeply disturbed” that Mr. Trump had urged Ukraine to investigate Democrats.

With respect to the allegations in the whistleblower complaint, Former Homeland Security advisor Thomas P. Bossert called it “a bad day and a bad week for this president and for this country if he is asking for political dirt on an opponent.”

President Trump was repeatedly warned by his own staff that the Ukraine conspiracy theory that he and his lawyer were pursuing was “completely debunked” long before the president pressed Ukraine this summer to investigate his Democratic rivals, a former top adviser said on Sunday.

Thomas P. Bossert, who served as Mr. Trump’s first homeland security adviser, said he told the president there was no basis to the theory that Ukraine, not Russia, intervened in the 2016 election and did so on behalf of the Democrats. Speaking out for the first time, Mr. Bossert said he was “deeply disturbed” that Mr. Trump nonetheless tried to get Ukraine’s president to produce damaging information about Democrats.

… former aides to Mr. Trump said on Sunday that he refused to accept reassurances about Ukraine no matter how many times it was explained to him, instead subscribing to an unsubstantiated narrative that has now brought him to the brink of impeachment.

Other former aides said separately on Sunday that the president had a particular weakness for conspiracy theories involving Ukraine, which in the past three years has become the focus of far-right media outlets and political figures. Mr. Trump was more willing to listen to outside advisers like Mr. Giuliani than his own national security team.

"It is completely debunked,” Mr. Bossert said of the Ukraine theory on ABC. Speaking with George Stephanopoulos, Mr. Bossert blamed Mr. Giuliani for filling the president’s head with misinformation. “I am deeply frustrated with what he and the legal team is doing and repeating that debunked theory to the president. It sticks in his mind when he hears it over and over again, and for clarity here, George, let me just again repeat that it has no validity.”

(Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry for this one.)

For evidence of that, see the AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s distortions on Ukraine, whistleblower by Hope Yen and Calvin Woodward. Following are snippets.

It’s a big stretch for Trump to say he placed no pressure on President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in that phone call — a conversation marked by Trump’s blunt remark: “I would like for you to do us a favor,” according to a White House account of the call.

Trump repeatedly prodded Zelenskiy to help investigate Biden and son Hunter, as well as to look into a cybersecurity firm that investigated the 2016 hack of the Democratic National Committee and concluded it was carried out by Russia.

The call followed a monthslong campaign by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, conducted on Trump’s behalf to get Ukrainians to scrutinize Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine when Joe Biden was vice president. It also followed Trump’s abrupt suspension of military aid for Ukraine that Congress had approved. The aid was recently released.

When Zelenskiy thanked Trump for past U.S. aid and suggested his country might need more, Trump switched the topic to the investigation he wanted Ukraine to do. He asked Zelenskiy to work with Attorney General William Barr and Giuliani on the matter.

As for the call being “perfect,” it was actually worrisome enough so that White House attorneys moved a rough transcript of it to a highly secure system where fewer officials would have access to it than is normally the case for conversations between Trump and world leaders.

The call and the broader effort to win a foreign government’s help on a matter that could benefit Trump’s reelection are what sparked the impeachment inquiry.

The whistleblower’s accusations have not been shown to be incorrect. Several key details have actually been corroborated. For example, the White House account of the July 25 phone call showed that the whistleblower had accurately summarized the conversation, as relayed by unidentified U.S. officials, in the complaint sent to the acting director of national intelligence.

Despite what Trump says, demonstrating his destructive obsession with our allis’ support for the Ukraine:

It isn’t only the U.S. putting up money. It’s false to say “nobody else is there.”

Since 2014, the EU and European financial institutions have mobilized more than $16 billion to help Ukraine’s economy, counter corruption, build institutions and strengthen its sovereignty against further incursions by Russia after its annexation of Crimea.

The U.S. is a heavy source of military assistance. The aid package held back by Trump, and recently released, amounted to nearly $400 million in such aid. But NATO also contributes a variety of military-assistance programs and trust funds for Ukraine. In most such cases, the programs are modest and NATO countries other than the U.S. take the lead.

(Thanks to Phil Nicolay for the tip.)

The nation needs to keep our collective eye on the ball as the impeachment inquiry unfolds. The Trumplicans will deny, deflect, and disinform. That is all they can do.

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Two fundamental issues underlying impeachment 2020

Where are we, the nation, and how did we get here? Historians will offer up distal causes and historical antecedents but a few observations about proximal events will suffice.

First, a whistleblower complaint documents how Trump, in a telephone call, asked for assistance from the president of Ukraine in digging up dirt on a political opponent, and contemporaneously, Trump was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in Ukrainian military aid. That documentation is consistent with the transcript provided by Trump himself. Second, the documentation of that telephone call, was moved to a secure server, indicating an attempted coverup to “lock” it away from view, and implying that other members of the administration knew the damning nature of that material. Third, the solicitation of a foreign power to intervene in the 2020 election triggered an impeachment inquiry. Fourth, Trump’s lawyers are asserting that a sitting president cannot be investigated for criminal acts.

All that raises two fundamental constitutional issues debated by the founders at the Constitutional Convention 232 years ago. The abuse of power, is one, evidenced by the solicitation of a foreign country to intervene in our election. As Alexander Hamilton put it, one of the high crimes meriting impeachment was giving in to “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils”. The other is the functional assertion by this president that he is above the law. “Shall any man be above justice?” asked George Mason, rhetorically, but critically. The founders, having just fought a war against a monarch, had good reason to be so suspicious of those claiming such immunity.

Following are excerpts from various observers related to these events and issues. At the very end, I have some concluding observations.

Here is the full, unclassified whistleblower complaint detailing Donald Trump’s illegal behavior from Jen Hayden of the Daily Kos Staff.

The full whistleblower complaint has been unclassified and publicly released ahead of Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire’s appearance before the House Intelligence Committee.

You can read the entire complaint [linked in Hayden’s report], which is packed with explosive information, including the allegation the White House removed the call transcripts/notes from official records and placed it on a secret, previously unknown server.

Steve Coll in the New Yorker comments on maintaining The Integrity of the Trump Impeachment Inquiry. A clear and detailed whistle-blower complaint may help defend the process against the torrent of spin and lies that the President and his allies will surely continue to issue.

Two bombshell documents made public this [last] week—a record of a telephone conversation between Trump and Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s President, and a whistle-blower’s complaint about that call—fully justify House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision, announced on Tuesday, to open an official impeachment inquiry. The documents describe a breach of Trump’s constitutional duties that is exceptional even in light of his record to date. During the telephone call, made on July 25th, he leveraged the vast disparity of wealth and power in the alliance between the United States and Ukraine to ask Zelensky to, in effect, aid his reëlection bid. The complaint, filed on August 12th, by a person whom the Times has described as an intelligence officer, further recounts how U.S. national-security and foreign-policy officials who worked on issues concerning Ukraine became entangled in Trump’s scheme, and how this distorted and undermined their work on behalf of American interests. According to the complaint, once it became clear how damaging the record of the call might be, Administration officials participated in a coverup, moving the memorandum of conversation—the contemporaneous documentation of the call—to a highly restricted computer system not intended for such materials.

The whistle-blower’s complaint is one of the great artifacts to enter Washington’s sizable archive of political malfeasance. In the second paragraph, its author distills Trump’s offense with bracing clarity: “I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.” The author goes on to provide a revelatory narrative about the underlying facts of the case, one that complements investigative reporting previously published by the Washington Post, the Times, the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and other outlets.

The complaint’s lucidity and detail may help House investigators defend the integrity of their inquiry against the torrent of spin and lies that will surely continue to issue from Trump and his allies. When Washington scandals involving foreign affairs become politically contested, a timeworn tactic by those accused of wrongdoing is to befuddle the public; the unfamiliar names, tangled chronologies, and ambiguous meetings offer a way to distract non-obsessives from the heart of the matter. Already, Trump and Giuliani, on Twitter and Fox News, have fogged the record by repeating falsehoods and conspiracy theories. The story we can discern so far, however, retains a certain straightforwardness, thanks to Trump’s lack of subtlety.

During the summer of 1787, at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, delegates designed impeachment as a political process entrusted to Congress. The record of their debate shows they hoped that Presidents who were merely incompetent would be thrown out of office at election time, by the voters. Yet they also assumed that, occasionally, Presidents might be so corrupt and so ruthless that it would be damaging to the republic to wait for the next election. William Davie, a delegate from North Carolina, raised an alarming scenario: if a rogue with no conscience gained the Presidency, he might “spare no efforts or means whatever to get himself reëlected.” In 1972, Richard Nixon proved his point. So, now, has Donald Trump.

The next set of excerpts are reports about ongoing litigation in Manhattan regarding release of Trump’s financial information, specifically his tax returns. This reporting is relevant to the larger issues I led with, because, by generalization, his lawyers are “saying that not only are criminal charges against a president unconstitutional, so are investigations.” Thus they are asserting that Trump cannot be investigated let alone indicted and hence he is above the law.

Trump Lawyers Argue He Cannot Be Criminally Investigated, reports Michel Gold at the NY Times. The president’s legal team is trying to block a subpoena seeking his tax returns, claiming that any criminal investigation of Mr. Trump is unconstitutional.

Lawyers for President Trump argued in a lawsuit filed on Thursday that he could not be criminally investigated while in office, as they sought to block a subpoena from state prosecutors in Manhattan demanding eight years of his tax returns.

Taking a broad position that the lawyers acknowledged had not been tested, the president’s legal team argued in the complaint that the Constitution effectively makes sitting presidents immune from all criminal inquiries until they leave the White House.

Presidents, they asserted, have such enormous responsibility and play a unique role in government that they cannot be subject to the burden of investigations, especially from local prosecutors who may use the criminal process for political gain.

In their lawsuit, Mr. Trump’s lawyers took their arguments a step further, saying that not only are criminal charges against a president unconstitutional, so are investigations. They took particular issue with any investigation conducted by “a county prosecutor,” such as the Manhattan district attorney.

UPDATE: Times reporters Bennjamin Weiser and William K. Rashbaum report that the Manhattan DA Cyrus R. Vance Jr. responded to Trump’s lawyers: Trump Is Accused of Inventing Tax Return ‘Privilege’ to Block Subpoena. The Manhattan district attorney’s office responded to arguments from the president’s lawyers over a subpoena for eight years of his tax returns.

Mr. President, a Few Questions are posed by Nicholas Kristof.

“Shall any man be above justice?” George Mason asked in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention. “Above all, shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?”

That was a central question for the framers of the Constitution — to what extent should impeachment be a check on a president? — and it’s the central question for our political system today.

President Trump’s bullying of Ukraine to target Joe Biden is parallel to the kinds of abuse that the framers discussed when they adopted the impeachment clause. What they fretted about was a leader who abused power — by colluding with a foreign country, James Madison suggested — and threatened the integrity of our system.

In the end, Mitch McConnell may not even permit a Senate trial after an impeachment. Or if McConnell convenes a trial, he could immediately have the Republican majority vote to dismiss the case.

That makes it all the more important that the House impeachment inquiry meticulously gather information by a process that — to the extent possible in our polarized age — is perceived by the public as fair, deliberate and legitimate. The backdrop must be the question that George Mason properly posed more than two centuries ago: “Shall any man be above justice?”

What drives Donald Trump? Greed, and greed alone, asked and answered by Catherine Rampell, columnist at the Washington Post.

There’s a common thread that stretches forward from Donald Trump’s financial scandals of the 1980s to his damning phone call with the president of Ukraine.

It’s the self-dealing.

Wherever he was, whatever his title, the president has used the powers at his disposal to enrich or otherwise benefit himself, regardless of what law, fiduciary duty or oath of office bound him to do.

Impeachment Battle to Turn for First Time on a President’s Ties to a Foreign Country reports Peter Baker at the NY Times as he traces the history of impeachments.

Alexander Hamilton, as usual, got right to the heart of the matter. When the framers were designing the Constitution and its power of impeachment, one of the high crimes they had in mind was giving into what Hamilton called “the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.”

For the authors of the country’s charter, there were few bigger threats than a president corruptly tied to forces from overseas. And so as the House opened an impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s interactions with Ukraine this past week, the debate quickly focused on one of the oldest issues in America’s democratic experiment.

Shortly after the latest revelations about Mr. Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, Senator Christopher Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, denounced what he called “the president’s corrupt efforts to press a foreign nation into the service of his re-election campaign.”

“To use America’s global credibility as a casino token, to be cashed in for personal political gain,” he added, “is an intolerable abuse of power and totally anathema to the rule of law.”

A mere 232 years later, Congress and the country will now again confront the question of where the line sits between national interests and personal political interests.

So at the end of the impeachment process, what shall we expect? Getting rid of Trump is warranted and long overdue; I firmly believe that Trump is “so corrupt and so ruthless that it would be damaging to the republic to wait for the next election.” But my focus is on those enduring, fundamental issues. What steps can we take to prevent a high ranking official, president or otherwise, colluding with a foreign entity to corrupt our next election? What steps can we take to prevent the next president from using the levers of power to benefit that president’s financial and/or political interests? Lastly, we need to instill an understanding in our political leaders that not one of them, no matter how high the office, is above the law. This, to my mind, was the single most important topic of debate by the founders. Now, 232 years later, the lack of that shared understanding is the source of everything I posted today.

(Roving Reporter Sherry’s tips prompted inclusion of some of these excerpts.)

Ouch! Mike Pence and morals

In The Inscrutable Mike Pence, NY Times’ Peter Baker reviews “PIETY AND POWER: Mike Pence and the Taking of the White House” By Tom LoBianco.

After losing his first campaign for Congress, a penitent Mike Pence swore off the dark side of politics. In a confessional essay in 1991, he wrote that “negative campaigning is wrong” and set out rules for himself for the future. Any campaign, he said, “ought to demonstrate the basic human decency of the candidate,” must advance a goal greater than personal desire and should not be only “about winning.”

A quarter-century later, he signed onto the presidential ticket of a candidate who seemed to be the antithesis of the ideal Pence once envisioned. While Pence himself maintains a public dignity and eschews vitriol against opponents in keeping with his long-ago atonement, he has tethered himself to a president who revels in negative campaigning, makes winning his all-consuming aspiration and has rarely been accused of an excess of human decency.

That Faustian bargain makes Pence one of the most intriguing yet least understood figures in American politics today. …

One clue may be his wife, Karen, known to the public mainly because the vice president refuses to meet alone with women other than her. Her influence seems significant. The cherry-red telephone on his desk as governor was a direct line to Karen, who maintained an office across the statehouse atrium but preferred phone conversations to avoid prying eyes. Karen, LoBianco reports, “was livid” at Trump’s prurient comments in the “Access Hollywood” tape, but her husband concluded it was too late to drop off the ticket. On election night, 2016, Karen refused to kiss Pence. “You got what you wanted, Mike,” she told him. “Leave me alone.”

Ouch!

But she is back to campaigning with him.

When an evangelical pastor who once prayed with Pence in his congressional office ran into him at a ceremony last year, he told him: “You know, Mr. Vice President, more than anything, we need you to find your conscience, the country desperately needs you to find your conscience.”

“It’s always easier said than done,” Pence replied cryptically, and then walked away.

Now that we have an impeachment inquiry underway, we should be asking about a post-Trump administration. As shown here, we don’t know the answer.

(Thanks, Roving Reporter!)

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Whistleblower complaint causes trouble for Trump

Jennifer Rubin sees Seven important and awful signs for Trump. Here is the short version.

The whistleblower complaint is so damning President Trump and his minions tried to conceal it from Congress and the public. It is so damning that a long list of Senate Republicans claimed not to have read it or refused comment. As distressing as it is to see such a lack of regard for their duties, it is a sign that there are some things even Trump and Fox News cannot spin.

Indeed, it is the muted reaction of Senate Republicans that leads the list of disastrous signs for the president. The assumption that there could never be a vote to remove him or that it would never get Republican votes needs to be rethought.

  • The polls are already moving in favor of impeachment — and moving fast.
  • involvement of so many people … gives this a Watergate feel and creates many witnesses.
  • when Trump’s remarks threatening a whistleblower immediately leaked one could see not only a new basis for impeachment but a willingness of all sorts of people to rat him out.
  • House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has given the laboring oar to the Intelligence Committee headed by the very able Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and on which two of the sharpest Democrats sit — Reps. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.). While ranking Republican Devin Nunes (Calif.) is clownish and disruptive, Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.), a former CIA officer who is both conscientious and politically liberated since announcing his retirement, also sits on the panel.
  • Pelosi has wisely decided to focus on the whistleblower material for impeachment. This topic alone could provide a basis for impeachment articles on abuse of power, obstruction and threatening a whistleblower. This subject is compelling, recent and easy to comprehend.
  • Trump is even less circumspect, disciplined and rational than usual. And why wouldn’t he be? He may well be only the third president impeached and has a shot at being the first removed. Surely he must see the walls closing in and the potential for removal, prosecution and, worst of all for a first-class narcissist, humiliation.

Trump has to be running scared. He is faced with (perhaps literally, come to think of it) the competent and unflappable Adam Schiff. One indicator is Trump’s tweet-o-rama calling for Schiff’s resignation. Good luck with that.

Also of note: In ‘I Fought the Law and the Law Won’, Roger Cohen observes that “Trump is disturbed and growing more so. The narcissist cannot bear not getting away with whatever he wants.” (Thanks, Roving Reporter.)

Friday, September 27, 2019

No alternative to impeachment inquiry

In a truly momentous opinion, the NY Times Editorial Board explains Why the Trump Impeachment Inquiry Is the Only Option.

In this post I give you a sense of the Times’ position with a few excerpts. But I advise stopping right now and reading the original. It is powerful!

THE PEACEFUL TRANSFER of presidential power through free and fair elections is the crowning glory of American democracy. It concretizes the people’s will, conferring legitimacy, assuring stability. President Trump may have finished second in the popular vote, but he is the legitimate president. In the normal course of events, his mismanagement of the nation’s affairs would be left for the electorate to repudiate, through support of a challenger in a primary race or, failing that, in the general election.

But the course of events is not normal. Mr. Trump campaigned as an iconoclast, but it became clear early in his administration that his disruptiveness was aimed less at bringing fresh thinking to bear on stale policymaking than at assaulting the vital institutions of governance themselves. He has attacked the legitimacy of law enforcement, of intelligence agencies, of Congress and of the courts — of anyone he judges to threaten him politically.

For nearly three years, public-spirited people have debated whether each instance of executive overreach by Mr. Trump and his lieutenants went far enough to require the traumatic recourse of an impeachment inquiry. They have wondered at what point the checks and balances of American governance might have to be restored by means of the most radical check of all.

That point has now been reached.

THE AMERICAN PEOPLE HAVE LEARNED over the past week that Mr. Trump, during a July phone call, pressed the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Joe Biden, one of his leading political rivals, according to a written summary of the conversation released by the White House. What’s more, Mr. Trump offered the assistance of the Justice Department in that investigation. These facts are not in dispute, which is why some of the president’s die-hard defenders are trying to dismiss the conversation as an inconsequential instance of the president’s bad judgment.

But it was so much more dangerous than that. A president’s use of his power for his own political gain, at the expense of the public interest, is the quintessence of an impeachable offense. It was, in fact, one of the examples the Constitution’s framers deployed to explain what would constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the standard for impeachment.

The decision to impeach a president is inherently political, in the sense — the noble sense — that it must be made in the public interest. But it should never be political in the narrow sense of being dictated by the latest poll or the next election. This is a moment for political courage. Americans deserve a government devoted to addressing their real problems. But to get that, they need a government balanced as the founders intended, with free and fair elections and a president checked by Congress from the selfish exercise of extraordinary power. Mr. Trump has disparaged and degraded the institutions of American governance, and it is now time for them, in historic rebuke, to demonstrate the majesty of representative democracy.

(Thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry for the tip.)

Trump talk with NRA head is analogous to his talk with Ukrainian president

The NY Times reports that Trump Meets With LaPierre to Discuss How N.R.A. Could Support Political Defense.

President Trump met in the Oval Office on Friday with Wayne LaPierre, the chief executive of the National Rifle Association, and discussed prospective gun legislation and whether the N.R.A. could provide support for the president as he faces impeachment and a more difficult re-election campaign, according to two people familiar with the meeting.

It was not clear whether Mr. Trump asked Mr. LaPierre for his support, or if the idea was pitched by the N.R.A. During the meeting, Mr. LaPierre asked that the White House “stop the games” over gun control legislation, people familiar with the meeting said.

Analogy, from Wikipedia entry, takes the form of this test. HAND : PALM :: FOOT : ____, verbally, HA ND is to PALM as FOOT is to ____. The correct answer is SOLE.

I’m thinking that there is an analogy here between Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president and what LaPierre had to say.

NRA offer of help with defense and campaign IS TO Trump withholding military assistance funding
AS
"stop the games” over gun control IS TO Ukraine digging up dirt on a Trump opponent

That conforms to what is long known about Trump’s transactional practices.

For more on analogies see Structure-Mapping: A computational model of analogy and similarity and the Wiki entry.

GOP Senators skip reading the whistle blower report

I often wonder, as I am sure that you do too, whether Republicans are in the same universe as Democrats. What they say and how they vote suggests that they are disconnected from reality. Why?

One answer comes from Steve Benen in As scandal brews, Republicans slow to read whistleblower complaint.

During yesterday’s congressional hearing with acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) – yes, that John Ratcliffe – made a quick observation about his colleagues’ busy schedules.

“I know everyone is not going to have time to read the whistleblower’s complaint,” the Texas Republican said.

It struck me as funny because the complaint from the intelligence community’s whistleblower, released yesterday morning, is only nine pages. Sure, that’s prohibitively long for Donald Trump, but for members of Congress, who’ll soon have to consider whether to remove a sitting president from office, it’s hardly unreasonable to think they’d want to sit down with the document.

For many Senate Republicans, however, it wasn’t an urgent priority.

A nine-page whistleblower complaint might have been the most-read document in Washington on Thursday – but not among Senate Republicans.

“Haven’t seen it,” said Utah Sen. Mitt Romney. Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo said they hadn’t read it either.

“I’ve been running around this morning,” Ohio Sen. Rob Portman apologized.

Indeed, the list of GOP senators who either didn’t read the whistleblower’s complaint or claimed not to have read the document was not short.

In fairness, some of them may yet get around to it. At least, one can hope. But there is a larger trend to consider.

At roughly this point four years ago, as Republicans railed against the international nuclear agreement with Iran, some in the party conceded they hadn’t read the policy they were condemning. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank noted at the time, “This is legislating by reflex – a mass knee-jerk by the Republican majority in Congress. Those who howled ‘read the bill’ during the health-care debate couldn’t be bothered to read the nuclear agreement before sounding off.”

Once the Trump era began, the problem intensified. Republicans didn’t read their own health care plan. They also didn’t read their own tax plan.

More recently, an unnerving number of Republicans conceded they hadn’t read the Mueller report – including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose job arguably entails reading documents like these.

Now GOP lawmakers aren’t reading the whistleblower’s complaint, either? Is it unreasonable to wonder whether Capitol Hill would function better if more Republicans simply sat down and read more?

Here are some of those not reading.

Lankford: “Didn’t read it.” Hoeven: “Didn’t read it.” Braun: “Didn’t read it.” Alexander: “Didn’t read it.” Portman: “Didn’t read it.” Cotton: “No comment.” Blunt: “Ask me later.” Rubio: “(nonanswer)” Risch: “Nothing there” Rounds: “(nonanswer)” Ernst: “Didn’t read it.”

Counting those listed by Benen, I get 15 senators voting on impeachment (assuming it goes to trial) who have not read the motivating document. Shame.

Suppressing Transcripts of Trump Conversations - some of the who and why

What Pence and Putin have in common

Both stories are from TalkingPointsMemo.

Pence Initially Advised Trump Not To Release Zelensky Call Memo.

Vice President Mike Pence initially counseled President Donald Trump not to release the memo of his July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, fretting about the precedent it would set.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Pence got on board with the memo’s release when Trump made up his mind that the optics of holding it back would be worse than making public details from part of the call.

Though Pence insists that the memo exonerates Trump, it clearly lays out an exchange where Trump reminds Zelensky of the U.S.’ financial aid to Ukraine before asking him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

Kremlin Expresses ‘Hope’ That Trump Admin Won’t Publish Calls With Russia

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed “hope” Friday that the U.S. would not publish calls between Putin and President Donald Trump like it did with the call memo of Trump’s conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

“We would like to hope that it wouldn’t come to that in our relations, which are already troubled by a lot of problems,” spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said, according to the Associated Press. He called the publication of the memo “quite unusual,” adding that “the materials related to conversations between heads of states are usually classified according to normal international practice.”

The call memo, released by the White House on Wednesday, showed Trump reminding Zelensky of foreign aid from the U.S. before segueing into asking him to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter.

I trust the irony is not lost. Here we have Putin, who directed the Russian interference in our election , and Trump who welcomed it, in their own ways, wanting to keep their conversations secret.

Scriber relents

There are many who have lost an appendage and who have overcome their disability. By comparison my condition is small and temporary. So I’m giving it a try.

Ukrainigate corruption spreads to 'a striking cast of caracters'

When it comes to the most recent scandal in the Trump administration, naturally we focus on what the president did in his own words - enlisting the help of the president of Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political rival with a suspected inducement of military aid from the US. But the president drug others into all the president’s mess.

Let’s start with AG William Barr. NY Times’ Michelle Goldberg asks Just How Corrupt Is Bill Barr?. She reports that Trump’s attorney general is implicated in the Ukraine scandal, but refuses to recuse. Following are excerpts.

According to Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University School of Law, any lawyers involved in hiding these transcripts might have done something illegal. “The rule is it is both unethical and a crime for a lawyer to participate in altering, destroying or concealing a document, and here the allegation is that the word-for-word transcript was moved from the place where people ordinarily would think to look for it, to a place where it would not likely be found,” said Gillers. “That’s concealing.”

Then there’s Barr’s personal involvement in the Ukraine plot. In the reconstruction of Trump’s call with Zelensky that was released by the White House, Trump repeatedly said that he wanted Ukraine’s government to work with Barr on investigating the Bidens. Barr’s office insists that the president hasn’t spoken to Barr about the subject, but given the attorney general’s record of flagrant dishonesty — including his attempts to mislead the public about the contents of the Mueller report — there’s no reason to believe him. Besides, said Representative Jamie Raskin, a former constitutional law professor who now sits on the House Judiciary Committee, “the effort to suppress the existence of the phone conversation itself is an obvious obstruction of justice.”

But Barr’s refusal to recuse creates a sort of legal cul-de-sac. It’s only the Justice Department, ultimately, that can prosecute potential federal crimes arising from this scandal. Barr’s ethical nihilism, his utter indifference to ordinary norms of professional behavior, means that he’s retaining the authority to stop investigations into crimes he may have participated in.

“The administration of justice is cornered because the ultimate executive authority for that government role includes the people whose behavior is suspect,” said Gillers.

Who else is tainted by involvement with Ukrainigate? Who are these “people whose behavior is suspect”?

For Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog), it’s A scandal featuring a striking cast of characters. Here is some of his post.

I was … glad to see Trump reference Pence, because his role is of some interest, too. The vice president recently met with Zelensky in Poland, and according to the official transcript, a reporter asked Pence whether his discussion with the Ukrainian leader focused at all on Joe Biden. Pence said no, though he added soon after, “But as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption.”

It’s become clear that when Team Trump is talking to Ukraine about “corruption,” it’s little more than a euphemism for the American president’s conspiracy theories and political agenda.

Pence went on to say at the press conference that he told Zelensky that he would “carry back to President Trump the progress that he and his administration in Ukraine are making on dealing with corruption in their country.”

All of which serves as a reminder: Donald Trump may very well be impeached, but this is a controversy with a striking cast of characters. Indeed, Pence’s possible role in the mess is of interest, but he’s hardly alone.

There are related questions about Secretary of State Mike Pompeo… and the president’s personal attorney [Rudy Giuliani]… and the already scandalous attorney general … and the acting White House chief of staff. When Trump ordered military aid to Ukraine to be frozen, he went through his chief of staff and budget director Mick Mulvaney … and the unknown number of White House officials who told an intelligence community whistleblower that they witnessed the president “abuse his office for personal gain.”

To be sure, this is a Trump scandal, through and through. But as the political world experiences this earthquake, the president isn’t the only one wobbling,

Scriber takes break after upgrade

Scriber will be taking another break, coming back on line toward the end of next week. I’m down to one hand after surgery for pacemaker replacement. My left arm has to remain immobile for a week. Typing with one hand is just too much of a drag. On the bright side, I’ve now got the latest and greatest new gadget. It even talks to my iPhone. I do promise not to post daily results.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Saving democracy - Pelosi announces formal impeachment inquiry.

Breaking on Tuesday, September 24, 2019 2:25 PM EST: President Trump said that he had authorized the release of the complete transcript of his phone conversation with Ukraine’s president.

President Trump said on Tuesday that he will release the transcript of his July phone call with the Ukrainian president in an effort to quell the controversy over whether he pressed for Kiev to investigate a political rival.

Mr. Trump insisted that the call was “totally appropriate” and pledged to release its full text on Wednesday.

Whoa! Trump is known to have suppressed, if even recorded, conversations with world leaders before. So his pledge is suspect. Does he have tapes, Watergate style? Who else was in the room or on the phone? In short, how do we know that the transcript is original and absolutely verbatim?

What is needed now is to have the whistle blower transmit his/her complaint to Congress.

September 24, around 4:00–4:30 EST: On MSNBC former Republican Presentative says that, if the Ukraine incident brings down Trump, Barr, Pompeo, and McGuire may face questions about their roles in suppression of the whistle blower report. Jolly also noted that the founders’ fear for this kind of presidency motivated the impeachment language in the constitution (Article II, Section 4).

Breaking on Tuesday, September 24, about 4:00 EST: Joe Biden calls for impeachment and for transmittal of the whistle blower report to the House.

Breaking on Tuesday, September 24, around 4:45 EST: Speaker Nancy Pelosi expected to announce an impeachment inquiry.

Breaking on Tuesday, September 24, 5:00. She did it in a formal address to the nation. The House committees will proceed with their investigations “under the umbrella” of an official impeachment inquiry.

And on top of all that, the entire US Senate, Ds and Rs alike, voted to have the whistle blower’s report turned over the the House. Now that’s different.

Civil rights leader Rep. John Lewis calls for impeachment.

Breaking news from the Daily Beast: Rep. John Lewis Calls for Start to Impeaching Trump with thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry.

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), the iconic civil-rights leader and long-serving member of Congress, came out for starting impeachment proceedings into President Donald Trump’s conduct on Tuesday. “I truly believe the time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come,” Lewis said. “To delay or otherwise would betray the foundation of our democracy.”

His announcement is one of several that have been made by Democrats in recent days, as the president becomes further embroiled in controversy surrounding allegations that he pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son’s business dealings in that country. But few members carry as much weight as Lewis, who is regarded as the [conscience] of the party. One pro-impeachment activist told The Daily Beast several weeks ago that if any one lawmaker could push Democratic leadership into supporting impeachment proceedings it would be Lewis.

“The future of our democracy is at stake,” he said in comments on the House floor. “There comes a time when you have to be moved by the spirit of history to take action to protect and preserve the integrity of our nation.”

If Lewis cannot push the needle to impeachment, no one can.

A longer version is available at The Hill and YouTube has the video.

UPDATE - Facebook takes action against 'I Love America' network

UPDATE: Facebook takes action

Just FYI. Judd Legum reports on Facebook taking down the “I love America” network in this Subscribers Post (subscription required).

On Monday morning, Popular Information revealed that the “I Love America” Facebook page, which boasted over 1.1 million followers, was run by people in Ukraine. It was part of a vast network of Ukrainian-run pages, including several that focused on cute dogs and Jesus, that had recently begun pushing pro-Trump propaganda on unsuspecting Americans. The reach of these Ukranian pages was extraordinary, equaling the Facebook audience of the Washington Post and the New York Times combined.

Eight hours after the report was published, Facebook took down all of these pages. This is the power of independent accountability journalism.

Inauthentic online political content is a threat to the integrity of the democratic system. It may have played a decisive factor in 2016, which came down to a few thousand votes in key states. Facebook, despite its vast resources, does not appear to have an effective strategy to root out bad actors.

You are a critical part of this work. The Washington Post picked up the story and noted how the public reaction to yesterday’s piece drove Facebook to act:

Facebook took action against the page — which had 1.1 million followers — and several affiliated ones after a report in Popular Information, a politically themed online newsletter, detailed the page’s Ukrainian management and remarkable reach. The report said “I Love America” was founded in 2017 but had moved heavily into pro-Trump content and conservative memes in recent weeks, building a huge audience in the process…

Facebook initially did not act against “I Love America,” according to Popular Information, which quoted the company saying that it didn’t violate the platform’s rules against “coordinated inauthentic behavior.” After the story spread widely on Monday, Facebook removed the page, citing alleged violations of its policies against spam and fake accounts.

The scale of these companies is extraordinary, and their impact on politics is frightening. But facts and an informed public can still make a difference.

Trump admits to high crimes even while complaining about impeachment

In a breaking news alert the NY Times reports that President Trump confirmed that he delayed aid to Ukraine before a call in which he pressed its leader to investigate Joe Biden. He blamed Europe.

President Trump said Monday that he held up American aid to Ukraine that has become the subject of furious controversy because European countries have not paid their fair share to support the country, and pointed to the fact that the money was eventually released as evidence that he had done nothing wrong.

The longer report is here.

That’s gibberish from the master gibberer. Congress should insist on the complete and unmodified whistle blower report to the DNI.

The knee-jerk reaction, perhaps having been primed by the Russian interference in the last election, is to charge Trump with bribery and extortion.

See this piece by Barbara McQuade in The Daily Beast: If Whistleblower Is Right, Trump May Have Committed Extortion and Bribery. The president supposedly dangled millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine in exchange for Kyiv investigating Joe Biden. That looks a lot like old-fashioned corruption.

But these are legal terms that may not even apply if Trump were not president.

Writing in Politico, Renato Mariotti, the Legal Affairs Columnist and former federal prosecutor makes the case for impeachment (and against prosecution of garden variety crimes). Trump Didn’t Bribe Ukraine. It’s Actually Worse Than That. Mislabeling what the president has done could make impeachment more difficult to achieve. (h/t AZ Blue Meanie)

It’s easy to see why Trump’s alleged conduct has generated outrage and why lay people have rushed to describe it as categorically criminal. Using presidential power to withhold aid to a nation that was recently invaded by Russia unless its investigates your political rival sounds like the definition of a criminal quid pro quo. The possibility that Trump pressured another nation to interfere in the next presidential election on his behalf—not long after the completion of a multiyear investigation into interference in the 2016 presidential election by Russia on his behalf—is jaw-dropping.

But the impulse to label this as a potential crime, as many respected former prosecutors and legal analysts have done, is flawed legally and even strategically. Even if true, this is not a case that would end up in a criminal proceeding even if Trump were no longer in office.

What Trump is alleged to have done is not a garden variety crime; it’s worse. It involved misusing $250 million in aid appropriated by Congress for his benefit—the kind of gross misconduct that easily clears the bar of high crimes and misdemeanors set by the Constitution when impeaching a president. Which means the best way to hold Trump accountable for that misconduct isn’t a criminal trial; it’s for Congress to impeach him.

Pursuing criminal cases that won’t stand legal scrutiny, or arguing that Trump has violated a criminal statute, risks undermining that goal.

First, it gives the false impression that this is something the criminal justice system can deal with. But the criminal system is not built to handle misconduct by a president who is acting corruptly through the use of his or her immense constitutional powers in this manner.

Second, it suggests that if critics can point out that it is not really bribery or extortion, then it is not a huge problem, which is not true. This is already happening, as allies of the president assert that there was no explicit quid pro quo.

Third, it may give the public a false impression about what happened. Impeachment in many respects is a political act, and that means Congress needs public support to pursue it. Anything that confuses or fails to convince the public is therefore counterproductive.

Finally, it understates the magnitude of the alleged misconduct. Labeling Trump’s alleged conduct as “bribery” or “extortion” cheapens what is alleged to have occurred and does not capture what makes it wrongful. It’s not a crime—it’s a breach of the president’s duty to not use the powers of the presidency to benefit himself. And he invited a foreign nation to influence the 2020 presidential election on the heels of a nearly three-year investigation that proved Russia had tried to influence the 2016 presidential election.

No one should expect law enforcement to act if our elected representatives are unwilling to do so.

Now anything that delays impeachment is evidence of our lawmakers’, both Democrat and Republican, failure to do their duty under our Constitution. No more self-serving foot-dragging. Impeachment now!

Monday, September 23, 2019

A Ukrainian Facebook network loves America, cute puppies, Jesus, and Donald Trump

Judd Legum, at popular.info, reports on a Massive “I Love America” Facebook page, pushing pro-Trump propaganda, is run by Ukrainians. Not only that, they love cute dogs, patriotism, and Jesus.

Here are a few things to know.

The “I Love America” page regularly recycles memes used by the Internet Research Agency, the Russian entity that set up phony Facebook pages to benefit Trump in advance of the 2016 election.

The “I Love America” Facebook page has a massive reach on the platform that exceeds nearly all U.S. media companies. According to Crowdtangle, a social analytics company owned by Facebook, “I Love America” has more engagement – likes, shares, and comments – over the last 90 days than USA Today, one of the largest media organizations in the country with 8 million Facebook followers. Over the same period, the engagement of “I Love America” dwarfs major publications like the LA Times and digitally native outlets like BuzzFeed News. More engagement on Facebook corresponds directly to a bigger reach, and more people seeing the content.

… using “I Love America” as a starting point, Popular Information cataloged pages overwhelming or exclusively managed from Ukraine that cross-posted each other’s content. … Over the last 90 days, these pages have garnered 30 million engagements on Facebook.

… over the same time period, New York Times, typically one of the top five publishers on Facebook, had less than 18 million engagements. The Washington Post, over the last 90 days, has 14 million engagements. The reach of this Ukrainian Facebook network, repurposing IRA memes and cute puppy pics, is as large as the two most prestigious papers in the United States combined.

And here is where this is headed.

The reach of the Ukrainian networks is now being weaponized to boost incendiary pro-Trump content. …

Scriber thinks the ultimate aim is “bombarding Americans with false and divisive political material” in the service of affecting the 2020 election to increase the chances of a Trump victory.

“This is the free weekly edition. So it’s a great opportunity to forward to family, friends, and colleagues — anyone who might appreciate independent accountability journalism.”

Congress needs to act on Trump's high crimes. The latest, the Ukraine allegations, are 'over the top'.

Trump responded to the whistle blower scandal with some strange admissions. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) taged those responses in Trump’s response to the whistleblower scandal comes up short (again).

… Donald Trump responded publicly for the first time to the scandal surrounding the intelligence community whistleblower, and the president’s first attempt at pushback was hardly persuasive.

In a pair of tweets, the Republican made the case that he’s simply too clever to “say something inappropriate” with foreign officials when people might be listening, which was a problematic response for a variety of reasons, including ample evidence that he’s already been caught saying inappropriate things to foreign officials.

[Trump’s] comments lead to some straightforward questions:

  • If Trump doesn’t who the whistleblower is, how does he know the person is “highly partisan”? From whom did he “hear” this?
  • If “everybody” has read the whistleblower’s complaint, and people “laugh” at it, why is the administration ignoring the law and hiding it from Congress? Why not just disclose it and move on?
  • If Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s president was, as Trump put it this morning, “beautiful” and appropriate, why not release a transcript and resolve the scandal?

Finally, the American president may be of the opinion that “it doesn’t matter” what he discussed with Ukraine, but he’s mistaken. If Trump, for example, tried to pressure a foreign government to interfere in an American election in order to help keep Trump in power, that’s an outrageous abuse – and very likely the sort of act that falls under the rubric of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

But this is not the first of Trump’s misdeeds. George T. Conway III and Neal Katyal, writing in the Washington Post, assert that Trump has done plenty to warrant impeachment. But the Ukraine allegations are over the top.

… it appears that the president might have used his official powers — in particular, perhaps the threat of withholding a quarter-billion dollars in military aid — to leverage a foreign government into helping him defeat a potential political opponent in the United States.

If Trump did that, it would be the ultimate impeachable act. Trump has already done more than enough to warrant impeachment and removal with his relentless attempts, on multiple fronts, to sabotage the counterintelligence and criminal investigation by then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and to conceal evidence of those attempts. The president’s efforts were impeachable because, in committing those obstructive acts, he put his personal interests above the nation’s: He tried to stop an investigation into whether a hostile foreign power, Russia, tried to interfere with our democracy — simply because he seemed to find it personally embarrassing. Trump breached his duty of faithful execution to the nation not only because he likely broke the law but also because, through his disregard for the law, he put his self-interest first.

The current whistleblowing allegations, however, are even worse. Unlike the allegations of conspiracy with Russia before the 2016 election, these concern Trump’s actions as president, not as a private citizen, and his exercise of presidential powers over foreign policy with Ukraine. Moreover, with Russia, at least there was an attempt to get the facts through the Mueller investigation; here the White House is trying to shut down the entire inquiry from the start — depriving not just the American people, but even congressional intelligence committees, of necessary information.

It is high time for Congress to do its duty, in the manner the framers intended. Given how Trump seems ever bent on putting himself above the law, something like what might have happened between him and Ukraine — abusing presidential authority for personal benefit — was almost inevitable. Yet if that is what occurred, part of the responsibility lies with Congress, which has failed to act on the blatant obstruction that Mueller detailed months ago.

Congressional procrastination has probably emboldened Trump, and it risks emboldening future presidents who might turn out to be of his sorry ilk. To borrow John Dean’s haunting Watergate-era metaphor once again, there is a cancer on the presidency, and cancers, if not removed, only grow. Congress bears the duty to use the tools provided by the Constitution to remove that cancer now, before it’s too late. As Elbridge Gerry put it at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, “A good magistrate will not fear [impeachments]. A bad one ought to be kept in fear of them.” By now, Congress should know which one Trump is.

So why is Congress so inactive, so inept, in the face of Trump’s war on America. The answer, I fear, is that Trump has completely corrupted the GOP and its members of Congress. Rick Wilson’s view is correct: Everything Trump Touches Dies.

George T. Conway III is a lawyer in New York. Neal Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown University, previously served as the acting solicitor general of the United States.

Warren leads in Iowa and House Republicans, fed up with Trump, bail out

Two of 538’s significant digits in this morning’s email caught my attention.

On the left, Elizabeth Warren is ahead in a new Iowa poll with a 2-percentage-point lead over Biden
Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s steady climb in the polls has reached a new high watermark: For the first time, Iowa’s most respected pollster has found her leading the 2020 pack in the state. The Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom Iowa Poll released over the weekend found Warren 2 points ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden, though only one out of every five voters in Iowa say they’re certain about whom they’ll caucus for. [Des Moines Register]

And on the right, 40 percent of Republican congressmen have left or will be leaving the House.
When President Trump took office in 2017 there were 241 Republicans in the House of Representatives. Now, nearly 40 percent of those politicians are either gone or plan to leave office. Most of those departures are due to a mix of electoral losses and retirements. But some Republicans, like Michigan’s Rep. Paul Mitchell, are openly fed up with Trump’s influence on the party, and want out. [The Washington Post]

Here’s a little more depth on Mitchell - who might be representative of Republicans leaving the House.

Moments after Trump’s July 14 missive telling four U.S. congresswomen of color to “go back” to their countries of origin, the congressman from Michigan phoned a fellow House GOP leader and asked him to get Trump to stop. “It’s the wrong thing for a leader to say,” he told the leader, whom he declined to name. “It’s politically damaging to the party, to the country.”

Three days later, Mitchell was awaiting a prime-time CNN appearance when he saw footage of Trump rallygoers chanting “send her back,” aimed at one of the congresswomen, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Stunned, Mitchell said he scribbled question marks on a notepad to silently ask an aide: “How do I even respond to this on TV?”

But one of the final straws was the unwillingness of people in Trump’s orbit to listen. Mitchell implored Vice President Pence, his chief of staff, Marc Short, and “any human being that has any influence in the White House” to arrange a one-on-one conversation between him and the president so he could express his concerns.

It never happened. And 10 days after the Trump tweet, Mitchell — a two-term lawmaker who thought he’d be in Congress for years to come — announced his retirement.

“We’re here for a purpose — and it’s not this petty, childish b——t,” Mitchell, 62, said in an interview in early September. Pence’s office declined to comment.

For more, check out the Post’s story, Trump’s takeover of GOP forces many House Republicans to head for the exits.

And here is one more significant digit I will add, courtesy of our Roving Reporter Sherry:

Just the facts, in 40 sentences
David Leonhardt, opinion columnist at the NY Times, lists 40 examples of Donald Trump vs. the United States of America. Here are just a few.
Sometimes it’s worth stepping back to look at the full picture.
He has pressured a foreign leader to interfere in the 2020 American presidential election.
He encourages foreign leaders to enrich him and his family by staying at his hotels.
He tells new lies virtually every week — about the economy, voter fraud, even the weather.
He attempts to undermine any independent source of information that he does not like, including judges, scientists, journalists, election officials, the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Congressional Budget Office and the National Weather Service.
And it goes on and on and on …
Leonhardt concludes: “He is the president of the United States, and he is a threat to virtually everything that the United States should stand for.”

No wonder that the Republicans are bailing out. How do they defend Trump’s war on America and its values?

Sunday, September 22, 2019

House Dems may charge contempt of Congress but their targets have nothing but contempt FOR Congress

Roving Reporter Sherry alerts us to a triplet of opinion pieces in the NY Times.

(1) Nicholas Kristof presents the facts of Trump and Election Interference, Whistle-Blower Edition. Many elements are murky, but something clearly stinks he says.

There’s so much we don’t know about the whistle-blower complaint concerning President Trump. But here are four things we do know:

First, it seems that an experienced intelligence official was so deeply disturbed by Trump’s interactions with the president of Ukraine as to feel the need to blow the whistle.

Second, the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, who was appointed by Trump and has long experience on national security issues, found the whistle-blower’s concern to be legitimate and urgent.

Third, the whistle-blower complaint came after Trump and his associates hounded Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to undertake a corruption investigation involving Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. … The Wall Street Journal reports that in that phone call, Trump pressed Zelensky about eight times to work with Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani to investigate the Bidens.

Fourth, Trump withheld $250 million in military assistance urgently needed by Ukraine to fend off Russian aggression, although Ukraine didn’t learn of this until August. He released the money after the whistle-blower complaint and after members of Congress intervened.

Trump apparently tried to use American diplomatic might and the leverage of military assistance to get Ukraine to exonerate Manafort for 2016 and smear Biden for 2020.

The incoherence of the Trump-Giuliani position is underscored in this interview Thursday evening on CNN:

Chris Cuomo: Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?

Rudy Giuliani: No. Actually, I didn’t …

Cuomo, 24 seconds later: So, you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?

Giuliani: Of course, I did.

Trump has been credibly accused of using the presidency to enrich himself (summits at Trump properties!), to protect himself from law enforcement (appeals to James Comey, offers of pardons!) and to punish perceived adversaries (Amazon, CNN, Andrew McCabe). Now he may have harnessed the power of the presidency to gain political advantage.

Yes, it surely stinks. But is this a Ukrainegate for Trump?

(2) Maureen Dowd admits that Trump Walks a Crooked Mile but, given the history of unprecedented precedents, she is compelled to ask Has he finally gone too far?

So just consider this: Around the same time that Trump escaped the noose after Robert Mueller’s tepid testimony, sliding away from charges that he colluded with a foreign country to interfere in our election, he began arm-twisting another foreign country to interfere in our election.

So the president is under suspicion of making like Nixon and abusing power to go after his enemies, saying it would be a shame if anything happened to that military aid that you want because you don’t dig up some dirt on the son of my political rival.

The administration kept the whistle-blower’s complaint from Congress, even though Congress has the legal authority to know what this urgent complaint is about.

Trump is literally acting like an international mobster. Roy Cohn would be so proud.

Trump and his psychofants have gotten away with just about everything other than shooting someone in Times Square - and Trump admits to thinking he could get away with that. So, ya gotta ask whether this one will finally bring him down. Dowd asks:

So is this the Big One? We don’t know because so much has come before. But if it is? Now that would be Big.

(3) Frank Bruni exposes The Corey Lewandowski Trap and how Democrats keep underestimating the audacity of Trump and his tribe.

Did that look of unalloyed contempt come naturally to Corey Lewandowski, or did he rehearse it? I picture him in front of a mirror as his “testimony” before the House Judiciary Committee approached, fine-tuning his sneer, perfecting his glare, testing different tilts of his head to see which conveyed maximal disgust with his inquisitors. He was hellbent on acing this performance.

And ace it he did, if the goal was to distill the Trump ethos into a few ugly hours. A flamboyant defiance of authority? Check. An extravagant disdain for precedent and procedure? Check. Cockiness, a persecution complex and a proudly situational relationship with the truth? Check, check, check. Bashing the media and even taking a whack at Hillary Clinton, he was Donald Trump in absentia, Donald Trump in excelsis, showing his former boss and future patron how scornfully Trumplike he could be.

So did the House Dems get what they wanted?

Not really, not from where I sit, and that reflects the sad and alarming fact that they still can’t quite wrap their minds around the impudence of Trump and his enablers, they’re still putting too much faith in an old-fashioned rule book and they’re still not looking around corners as well as they should be.

Yes, they got him to verify, on national television, that Trump had tried to enlist him in what amounts to obstruction of justice. But that was already in Robert Mueller’s report, and it got lost somewhat in the reciprocal grandstanding and ambient vitriol. The Americans who tuned in — a small minority — had already made up their minds about Trump’s culpability and how much to care about it, or they saw, more than anything else, a boatload of blowhards making a lot of nasty Washington noise. When everybody’s seething and sniping, the effect is equalizing and indiscriminate. Nobody looks good.

Lewandowski’s performance, like Maguire’s refusal last week to share any details of the whistle-blower’s complaint, was just the latest reminder of the terrible corner that Trump puts Democrats in. Proudly flouting convention and brazenly bending the law, he dares them to try to muscle him back into line, but it turns out that any such effort is anything but swift and sure. And any such effort is interpreted by rigidly partisan voters along rigidly partisan lines.

… Democrats to some extent keep being surprised and taken aback by just how many people are willing to abase themselves for Trump and by just how expansively they’ll shred etiquette, trash tradition, junk their reputations and test the very boundaries of the law. …

Part of what could be called the Corey Lewandowski trap is Democrats’ failure to accept this. …

[Kristof:] When historians review Trump’s term, I think they will see combat between an out-of-control president and various U.S. institutions, such as the courts, the Civil Service, law enforcement, the intelligence community, the House and the news media, which generally have done a credible job of standing up for laws and norms and against one-man rule. The only institution Trump has co-opted completely is the Republican Party in Congress."

Today’s struggle over the whistle-blower may be remembered as a central battle in that epic confrontation. The core question is whether our president can get away with weaponizing the federal government to punish political opponents, or whether legal constraints and congressional oversight can keep him in line.

[Bruni: ] It’s overwhelming — by design, I think. Trump has discovered that shamelessness is its own reward, and his disciples have learned that lesson well. Lewandowski all but strutted out of that hearing room as Democrats muttered meekly about a contempt citation that would involve time, courts, etc.

When it comes to contempt, the House Dems appeared bested by Lewandowski, the master of sneering, snarling contempt.

Bruni explains that “There’s a way to sidestep that trap. Hint: It has to do with November 2020.”

Saturday, September 21, 2019

The whistle blower's discovery of a 'matter of urgent concern' may be Trump's Watergate

Politifact addresses the question of What counts as a high crime or misdemeanor for impeachment? Based on their historical and current legal opinions they concluded that “Justin Amash got it right.”

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan broke with his fellow Republicans in a series of tweets that suggested President Donald Trump might deserve impeachment by the House.

And that was before the whistle blower scandal broke.

In his tweet, Amash noted that the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” in the Constitution is relatively fluid, but that it has generally been seen as a breach of the public trust:

“In fact, ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors’ is not defined in the Constitution and does not require corresponding statutory charges. The context implies conduct that violates the public trust—and that view is echoed by the Framers of the Constitution and early American scholars.”

Amash said that “high crimes and misdemeanors” is not defined in the Constitution but that the framers envisioned the phrase applying to violations of the public trust rather than just statutory crimes. We found that the writings of the Constitution’s framers, the discussions in the drafting of the Constitution, and the opinions of legal experts today all support Amash’s description. We rate his statement True.

Therefore, all the arguments about the immunity of a sitting president to investigation, prosecution, and indictment are not relevant when considering impeachment for high crimes.

With respect to the growing scandal, this last Thursday the New York Times Editorial Board nails it: ‘Urgent Concern’ About the President. A whistle-blower’s report has alarmed the intelligence agencies’ watchdog. Why won’t the administration share it with Congress? That is the question. In the absence of concrete answers, we are left to infer things quite nefarious. Here are excerpts (re-ordered).

The No. 1 task of America’s intelligence and law-enforcement communities is to identify and deal with threats to national security. The problem, as explained by Jack Goldsmith, who led the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush, is that Mr. Trump’s behavior has repeatedly revealed “the extent to which our constitutional system assumes and relies on a president with a modicum of national fidelity, and decent judgment and reasonableness.”

In other words, the system isn’t designed to deal with a situation in which a hazard may come from the president himself.

It’s not every day that a whistle-blower in the intelligence community files a complaint about the president of the United States. But it seems to have happened last month, when an unidentified intelligence employee alerted the inspector general of the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, to multiple acts by President Trump, including a promise he is said to have made to a foreign leader during a phone call.

The complaint alarmed Mr. Atkinson enough that he considered it a matter of “urgent concern” and alerted the acting director of national intelligence, or D.N.I., Joseph Maguire.

Under federal law, the D.N.I. “shall” deliver an inspector general’s report about an “urgent concern” to Congress within a week of receiving it. But Mr. Maguire has so far refused to. Taking his marching orders from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, he has claimed that the whistle-blower’s complaint did not involve an “intelligence activity,” and that it contained “potentially privileged matters.”

So Mr. Atkinson reached out to Congress himself. In a letter dated Sept. 9, he informed Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, of the existence of the complaint. On Tuesday, with the director of national intelligence still stonewalling, Mr. Atkinson followed up to say that the complaint “not only falls within the D.N.I.’s jurisdiction, but relates to one of the most significant and important of the D.N.I.’s responsibilities to the American people.”

On Thursday, Mr. Atkinson appeared before a meeting of the House Intelligence Committee that was closed to the public and the news media. Mr. Maguire is scheduled to appear before that committee in an open hearing next week. Leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee said they expect him and Mr. Atkinson to brief them next week, too.

Maybe there’s not that much to the complaint; we can’t know yet. What we do know is there is an important principle at stake: that Congress is supposed to have oversight — through confidential hearings — of complaints like this. There’s a solid case to be made that Mr. Maguire, who has not invoked executive privilege as a reason for withholding the complaint, is ignoring the plain language of the law. While the lawyers battle over who is authorized to withhold what from whom, it’s worth making two observations: first, that the intelligence community’s watchdog — not some disgruntled denizen of the “deep state,” but a man appointed by Mr. Trump — was alarmed enough that he thought it necessary to inform Congress.

Second, that the administration is doing whatever it can to keep the complaint from becoming known, even behind closed doors.

Again, the most important question here is “why?” What do they fear? What do they have to hide?

Barbara McQuade suggests the answers in her Daily Beast opinion: If Whistleblower Is Right, Trump May Have Committed Extortion and Bribery. The president supposedly dangled millions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine in exchange for Kiev investigating Joe Biden. That looks a lot like old-fashioned corruption.

If the latest allegations about President Donald Trump’s conversations with the leader of Ukraine are true, his conduct may constitute a garden-variety public corruption crime: extortion and bribery.

The Washington Post has reported that the subject of an intelligence community whistleblower’s complaint relates to a “promise” made by Trump in a conversation with the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Further reporting indicates that the conversation amounted to a threat to withhold $250 million in military aid to Ukraine unless Zelensky investigates the family of Joe Biden, who is of course running to unseat Trump in 2020.

And The Wall Street Journal has reported that during a single phone call in July, Trump made “about eight” demands for Zelensky to work with his lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, to investigate Biden, though Trump did not mention the aid during the call. The Post reported that while there was no explicit quid pro quo during the call, that conversation is part of a broader set of facts included in the whistleblower complaint. According to the Post, a “Ukrainian official this year said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Biden or his son, Hunter Biden.”

The facts here still need to be fleshed out, but the gist is easy enough to understand. Trump allegedly has demanded that Ukraine launch an investigation into Biden if it wants to receive the military aid that has already been promised. If true, this conduct would be a classic abuse of power that is considered criminal when committed by a public official.

The federal bribery statute makes it a crime for a public official to demand anything of value in exchange for performing an official act. A statute known as the Hobbs Act defines extortion as obtaining property from another, with his consent, under color of official right. “Property” is defined to mean anything of value, tangible or intangible. The essence of both crimes is a demand by a public official to obtain something for himself to which he is not entitled in exchange for performing an official act of his office.

Here, if the reporting is correct, Trump may be … committing bribery and extortion by using the power of his office to demand a thing of value, dirt on Biden, in exchange for an official act, the provision of $250 million in military aid. This is precisely the kind of old-fashioned corruption scheme that the bribery and extortion statutes were designed to punish.

Instead of requiring 400 pages of factual recitations and legal analysis as the Mueller investigation did, a summary of these corruption allegations would be fairly simple: Trump used the power of his office to threaten to withhold a benefit in exchange for a thing of value in violation of federal law. The nature of the purported extortion—using his position as president to make demands of a foreign leader to help him win an election—only makes it more egregious.

While we have all learned that the Department of Justice takes the position that a sitting president cannot be indicted, bribery is specifically included in the Constitution as an impeachable offense. It is the type of abuse of power that the framers envisioned when they included in the Constitution a remedy to remove the president from office when he commits high crimes or misdemeanors. By enacting the bribery and extortion statutes, Congress has proclaimed that this type of conduct is not behavior that we should tolerate in public officials generally. We should no more tolerate this abuse of power when the president does it.

Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post tags the emerging scandal as What might finally ensnare Trump.

All of this raises the question as to whether the multiple actions amounted to a “promise” by Trump to release aid in exchange for Ukraine’s help investigating Biden. Aside from possibly implicating bribery statutes, there could be no clearer example of a “High Crime & Misdemeanor” than in using government revenue to extort a foreign power to help you get reelected. Constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe tells me that such an arrangement would probably meet the definition “within the meaning of the Constitution’s phrase ‘Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ although it might well fail to meet the narrow definition of ‘bribery’ for purposes of criminal prosecution under 18 U.S.C. § 201.”

But make no mistake: This would be the perfect example of conduct that might not technically be a crime but is obviously and blatantly a violation of the president’s oath of office and a threat to our democratic system. Former prosecutor Renato Mariotti tweeted, “If Trump promised foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigating Biden’s son, that is obviously corrupt and should meet any definition of a ‘high crime’ for impeachment.”

Now, we do not know whether this is the basis of the complaint and whether any Trump “promise” was part of a quid pro quo. That is why we need the whistleblower’s complaint released to Congress, a lightning-fast investigation and then, if supported by the facts, a call for Trump to resign or be impeached.

Along the way, there will be questions as to whether Trump or his attorney general ordered the complaint not to be sent to Congress. There will be questions as to whether Vice President Pence, who went to Ukraine recently and was asked about release of aid by reporters, or former national security adviser John Bolton (who was there as well) knew anything about this.

… if the facts point to corrupt behavior, impeachment will be a necessity and a political winner for Democrats. And yes, this would be way, way worse than Watergate.

The first step, it seems to me, is for Congress to issue a subpoena for whatever the Inspector General sent to the acting DNI.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Economic inequality, gigs without benefits, and the nature of work in the service economy

Payscale.com reports the yearly median Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Salary to be $158,193. I computed the hourly rate assuming a 40-hour work week and 52 week per year: $76.05. But this by far understates CEO compensation. For that research on CEO compensation I turned to a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).

Using the stock-options-granted measure, the average compensation for CEOs of the 350 largest U.S. firms was $14.0 million in 2018, up 9.9% from $12.7 million in 2017 and up 29.4% since the recovery began in 2009. Growth of CEO compensation (1978–2018). Aug 14, 2019

So, making the same assumptions (52 weeks, 40 hours/week) I compute the average hourly pay of these CEOs to be $6,730.77. Another way of putting it is that the average CEO’s pay for just four hours exceeds the pay for a waitress for an entire year!

Here is the summary of the EPI study.

What this report finds: The increased focus on growing inequality has led to an increased focus on CEO pay. Corporate boards running America’s largest public firms are giving top executives outsize compensation packages. Average pay of CEOs at the top 350 firms in 2018 was $17.2 million—or $14.0 million using a more conservative measure. (Stock options make up a big part of CEO pay packages, and the conservative measure values the options when granted, versus when cashed in, or “realized.”) CEO compensation is very high relative to typical worker compensation (by a ratio of 278-to–1 or 221-to–1). In contrast, the CEO-to-typical-worker compensation ratio (options realized) was 20-to–1 in 1965 and 58-to–1 in 1989. CEOs are even making a lot more—about five times as much—as other earners in the top 0.1%. From 1978 to 2018, CEO compensation grew by 1,007.5% (940.3% under the options-realized measure), far outstripping S&P stock market growth (706.7%) and the wage growth of very high earners (339.2%). In contrast, wages for the typical worker grew by just 11.9%.

Why it matters: Exorbitant CEO pay is a major contributor to rising inequality that we could safely do away with. CEOs are getting more because of their power to set pay, not because they are increasing productivity or possess specific, high-demand skills. This escalation of CEO compensation, and of executive compensation more generally, has fueled the growth of top 1.0% and top 0.1% incomes, leaving less of the fruits of economic growth for ordinary workers and widening the gap between very high earners and the bottom 90%. The economy would suffer no harm if CEOs were paid less (or taxed more).

How we can solve the problem: We need to enact policy solutions that would both reduce incentives for CEOs to extract economic concessions and limit their ability to do so. Such policies could include reinstating higher marginal income tax rates at the very top; setting corporate tax rates higher for firms that have higher ratios of CEO-to-worker compensation; establishing a luxury tax on compensation such that for every dollar in compensation over a set cap, a firm must pay a dollar in taxes; reforming corporate governance to give other stakeholders better tools to exercise countervailing power against CEOs’ pay demands; and allowing greater use of “say on pay,” which allows a firm’s shareholders to vote on top executives’ compensation.

I suspect that the current crop of Democratic candidates would agree with part, if not all, of those solutions. Elizabeth Warren, for example, has proposed taxing the very richest by a small percentage and using the resulting funds to address some of our pressing needs.

But the EPI report focuses on the remarkable economic inequality fueled partly by CEO compensation. What is missing from these analyses is what is happening to those at the bottom. In this post I will focus on three examples of lives of the un-rich - those who are fighting for tips, those who are fighting for employee benefits, and those who are fighting to share in the corporate profits in the last decade.

Gig economy
Working for tips in the "gig economy" doesn't work

Why working for tips is not working

Time magazine published this exposé about life on the edge in America’s new economy: Low Wages, Sexual Harassment and Unreliable Tips. This Is Life in America’s Booming Service Industry. (by Alana Semuels and Malcolm Burnley) (h/t to Mrs. Scriber for this one.) Excerpts follow.

The decade-long economic expansion has been a boon to those at the top of the economic ladder. But it left millions of workers behind, particularly the 4.4 million workers who rely on tips to earn a living, fully two-thirds of them women. Even as wages have crept up–if slowly–in other sectors of the economy, the minimum wage for waitresses and other tipped workers hasn’t budged since 1991. Indeed, there is an entirely separate federal minimum wage for those who live on tips. It varies by state from as low as $2.13 (the federal tipped minimum wage) in 17 states including Texas, Nebraska and Virginia, up to $9.35 in Hawaii. In 36 states, the tipped minimum wage is under $5 an hour. Legally, employers are supposed to make up the difference when tips don’t get servers to the minimum wage, but some restaurants don’t track this closely and the law is rarely enforced.

Waitresses are emblematic of the type of job expected to grow most in the American economy in the next decade–low-wage service work with no guaranteed hours or income. Though high-paying service jobs have been growing quickly in recent months, middle-wage jobs are growing more slowly and could decline sharply in the event of a recession, says Mark Zandi, chief economist with Moody’s Analytics. Those who lose their jobs in a recession usually move down, not up, the pay scale. Jobs like personal-care aide (median annual wage $24,020), food-prep worker ($21,250) and waitstaff ($21,780) are among the fastest-growing occupations in America, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They have much in common with the burgeoning gig economy, in which people turn to apps in the hope of getting shifts delivering food, driving passengers and cleaning houses.

Remember the hourly pay of the CEOs in the EPI report: $6,730.77.

This “sometimes” work has put the stress of earning a weekly wage, paying for health insurance and saving for retirement squarely on the shoulders of workers. [Christina] Munce [a waitress] is on food stamps and Medicaid, and many days doesn’t make it to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. One of her recent paychecks read $58.67 for 49 hours worked. Add in the $245 she took home in tips, and she made about $6.20 an hour. She wants to work 40-hour weeks, but some days the diner is slow and she gets sent home early. “I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, all I do is save money,” Munce says.

Because their pay is so unpredictable, the women at Broad Street Diner [where Munce is employed] sometimes have to pull double or triple shifts when they’re short on cash.

[Munce] hopes she can give her daughter a better life than she had growing up. Her dad served in Vietnam and her mom always scraped by on odd jobs, she says, but it’s harder to string together a living these days. She lives a couple of miles from where she grew up. Is she really doing better than they did? She tells her daughter that education is the most important thing, that she needs to get good grades, no matter what. “I say, ‘I just want you to be better than me,’” she says. Not that she’d steer her daughter away from waitressing, necessarily. If you’re a people person, Munce says, it can be fun to talk to strangers all day. Depending on them for tips, though, is something else.

Tipped workers have always been an underclass in America. The concept was popularized in 1865, when some formerly enslaved people found employment as waiters, barbers and porters; still seen as a servant class, they were hired to serve. Many employers refused to pay them, instead suggesting that patrons tip for their service. A 1966 law tried to bring some measure of security to these jobs, requiring employers to pay a small base wage that would bring tipped workers up to the federal minimum wage when combined with their tips. In 1991, the tipped minimum wage was equal to 50% of the value of the overall minimum wage, but it’s stayed at $2.13 since then, as the minimum wage has nearly doubled. In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed legislation that froze the wage for tipped workers at that amount. It hasn’t changed since.

Half a century ago, people like Munce without a college education could expect to make a middle-class wage. But in recent years, as male-dominated manufacturing jobs have been outsourced or automated, women are contributing more to their families’ paychecks, and more of the 40% of Americans with no more than a high school education are being pushed into the service sector–as waitresses, domestic workers, hairdressers and Uber drivers.

And with that we can follow another exemplary thread showcasing life in the gig economy, Uber drivers.

Driving for dollars: Paid employees vs. outside contractors

My source for the second example is Judd Legum’s Subscribers Post, The future of work. Below are some excerpts.

The economy of 2019 is a paradox. Unemployment, which stands at 3.7%, is historically low. Gross Domestic Product is growing steadily. This should result in substantially higher compensation for workers. But that is not happening. Real median household income hasn’t budged under Trump.

But this is not just a Republican problem. Real median household income has remained the same for the last twenty years, through Democratic and Republican administrations.

Scriber notes that the increases in income inequality over the last 40 years has plowed ahead regardless of which party was in the White House and regardless of which party controlled Congress.

So what explains this? How do we have a growing economy and a tight labor market, but workers seeing little, if any, improvement in their financial condition?

One reason is that companies are creating jobs that disempower workers and deny them basic protections and benefits. This is called “the gig economy.”

On Wednesday, California took a step to level the playing field. Governor Gavin Newsom (D) signed AB5, a bill intended to force companies like [Uber] to stop misclassifying their employees as “independent contractors.”

“The hollowing out of our middle-class has been 40 years in the making, and the need to create lasting economic security for our workforce demands action,” Newsom wrote in a letter explaining his decision to sign AB5 into law.

Under the law, which goes into effect next year, ride-share drivers and other gig workers would be “entitled to benefits such as minimum wage, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, expense reimbursement, paid sick leave and paid family leave.”

It’s a small step, but one that companies like Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash find intolerable. They intend to do anything and everything possible to derail the law.

So what does AB5 do? … Notably, it “empowers the attorney general, city attorneys in large cities, and local prosecutors to sue companies over violations.” The city attorneys in Los Angeles and San Francisco have indicated they are ready to act.

Uber and Lyft view AB5 as an existential threat to their companies. According to Barclays, “reclassifying workers could cost Uber and Lyft an additional $3,625 per driver in California.” That’s about a 30% increase in the companies’ labor costs. This is bad news for companies that are already hemorrhaging money. Last quarter, Uber lost $5.2 billion, and Lyft lost $650 million. And while AB5 applies only in California, it could quickly be duplicated in other states.

Still, early investors have made billions off of Uber and Lyft from their successful IPOs. They are getting richer off a business model that stiffs workers and the government.

Uber and Lyft, which lobbied ferociously against AB5, don’t plan on complying with the law. Rather, the companies claim that driving people places is not a core part of their business. This is not a joke. …

Instead of complying with the law voluntarily, they will force the issue to be litigated in court. Even if Uber and Lyft lose, which seems very likely, it will buy them additional time. A lawsuit could take years to resolve.

Newsom isn’t done either

In his letter, Newsom said that AB5 was just the first step. Next, Newsom wants to give gig workers the right to “form a union, collectively bargain to earn more, and have a stronger voice at work.” Newsom said he will “convene leaders from the legislature, the labor movement, and the business community to support innovation and a more inclusive economy by stepping in where the federal government has fallen short and granting workers excluded from the National Labor Relations Act the right to organize and collectively bargain.”

Uber and Lyft are trying to head this off as well by “forming a new driver association, in partnership with state lawmakers and labor groups, to represent drivers’ interests and administer the sorts of benefits that meet their highly individual needs.” This has been derided as an effort to derail actual unionization and a throwback to the (now illegal) “company unions” of the 1920s.

When Uber first started, tips were not encouraged (or even accepted, in my experience). Now, however, the company itself encourages tipping - see [How it works][ubsertips]. That puts Uber drivers in the same situation as the waitress mentioned above. “This “sometimes” work has put the stress of earning a weekly wage, paying for health insurance and saving for retirement squarely on the shoulders of workers.” Companies like Uber are “creating jobs that disempower workers and deny them basic protections and benefits.”

Auto workers demand share of GM profits

Democracy Now reports the UAW Strike Enters Day 3 as 50,000 Workers Demand GM to Share Its Billions in Profits.

As members of the United Auto Workers head into their third day of a nationwide strike, General Motors has cut off health insurance for the nearly 50,000 people on picket lines across the country demanding better working conditions and fair pay. The workers say GM continues to deny employees’ demands for better conditions and compensation despite leading the company to record profits following bankruptcy and a federal bailout. It’s the first company-wide strike against GM in 12 years. UAW had sought to have GM cover striking workers’ health insurance through the end of the month. In New York City, we speak with Steven Greenhouse, veteran labor reporter formerly with The New York Times. His latest book is titled “Beaten Down, Worked Up: The Past, Present, and Future of American Labor.” His recent op-ed in The New York Times is headlined “The Autoworkers Strike Is Bigger Than G.M.”

Here are snippets from Greenhouse’s op-ed in the NY Times: The Autoworkers Strike Is Bigger Than G.M.. How teachers, hotel workers and supermarket cashiers inspired 50,000 General Motors workers to go on strike.

Successful strikes beget more strikes. When nearly 50,000 General Motors workers walked out at 11:59 p.m. Sunday, it was just the latest in the largest burst of strikes in decades. … The teachers’ unions felt unusually robust public support, as parents and students marched with them. … [hotel] workers trumpeted a message that resonated far beyond their industry: that their pay increases were not nearly keeping up with soaring housing costs, so they could not survive on one job. … The hotel workers’ success in turn helped inspire the strike by 30,000 Stop & Shop workers in New England in April. Union leaders there were surprised by the deep community support the grocery workers received …

The strong public opinion behind these strikes can be tied to Americans’ widespread dismay with wage stagnation and income inequality, even as corporate profits are flying high. While job numbers and economic growth are strong, many American are barely getting by: 40 percent of households say they don’t have the money to pay an unanticipated $400 expense, according to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Board.

All this might help explain why a recent Gallup poll found that public approval for unions has climbed to 64 percent, up from 48 percent a decade ago and near its highest level in 50 years. An M.I.T. study last year found that nearly 50 percent of nonunion workers say they would vote to join a union if they could, up from 32 percent in 1995.

From the moment the G.M. walkout started, union leaders said the strike was bigger than just G.M. “Today, we stand strong and say with one voice, we are standing up for our members and for the fundamental rights of working-class people in this nation,” Terry Dittes, a United Automobile Workers vice president, said. The autoworkers are taking a page from the teachers, who made it clear that they were striking not just because they were tired of pay freezes but also to help their students, by increasing education budgets, reducing class sizes and replacing obsolete textbooks.

With many Americans angry about factories moving overseas, the autoworkers union also wants G.M. to reopen its giant plant in Lordstown, Ohio. The company closed the plant because demand for Chevy Cruzes had declined, even as it has kept open its plant in Mexico that makes the same car. And with many workers upset about the increased instability and precariousness of their jobs, the union is also pressing G.M. to stop using so many temps — they represent 7 percent of the company’s work force and make just $15 an hour.

Donald Trump won the 2016 election partly because many workers thought the system was rigged against them. That sentiment is also fueling the G.M. strike. The company had $8.1 billion in profits worldwide last year and $35 billion in North America over the last three years, so workers are resentful that the company nonetheless wants to close plants — especially when union members made major concessions, like creating a two-tier wage structure at some plants, to help lift the company out of bankruptcy.

G. M. strikes have often been signal events in American history. The 1936–37 Flint sit-down strike by 2,000 workers led to the unionization of General Motors, then the world’s largest automaker, and in turn spurred a wave of mass unionization across the country. The 113-day strike by 175,000 G.M. workers in 1945–46 led to an agreement, known as the Treaty of Detroit, that provided breakthroughs on wages, health coverage and pensions, and became a model for other unions and corporations. In 1970, when the U.A.W. was near its peak membership, 400,000 of its members went on strike for two months against G.M., which was still one of the world’s largest companies. The union emerged victorious, winning a significant pay increase.

The same may happen now.

Are these the pitchforks?

Ever since I started this blog I’ve been posting about the dangers of extreme inequality. To my previous list, we can add the three examples in this post.

For background, as I did in 2016, I advise you to Read this one (again):The pitchforks are coming … and are central to the 2016 election.

They were, kind of, central in 2016 whenTrump got elected based in part on his promises about the economy. They were, kind of, central in 2018 when the House shifted to the Democrats. They will be, kind of, central in 2020, as public opinion turns against the Trump administration on grounds of corruption, chaos, and a complete lack of competence.

Politico Magazine published this special report by Nick Hanauer in 2014 - but it is even more timely today given the ever widening economic gap between rich and poor, between ultra wealthy and the vanishing middle class.

Hanauer is an entrepreneur from Seattle. Let me pause and establish his creds in his own words (speaking to his fellow billionaires).

You probably don’t know me, but like you I am one of those .01%ers, a proud and unapologetic capitalist. I have founded, co-founded and funded more than 30 companies across a range of industries—from itsy-bitsy ones like the night club I started in my 20s to giant ones like Amazon.com, for which I was the first nonfamily investor. Then I founded aQuantive, an Internet advertising company that was sold to Microsoft in 2007 for $6.4 billion. In cash.

… I have a message for my fellow filthy rich, for all of us who live in our gated bubble worlds: Wake up, people. It won’t last.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

Hannauer went on to recommend FDR-like changes, arguing that benefitting the 99% is good for business of the 1%.

Munce’s boss at the restaurant she works in needs to step up with a minimum wage. Uber needs to treat its drivers as employees. And GM needs to do some serious profit sharing. And we need a universal health care system that would benefit those workers who are now disadvantaged by the giginess of our economy. All those things are preferable to the pitchforks.