Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Dershowitz Doctrine - Gawd almighty!

Yesterday I listened, with my jaw bouncing on the floor, to Allan Dershowitz expounding the most ridiculous defense of why presidents can do no wrong. It could even lead, as Rep. Adam Schiff noted, to impeachment only possible in a president’s second term. Yeah. In the first term, on this cockamamy theory, the president could shoot people, trash the rule of law with impunity. Here’s what Charlie Sykes had to say in this morning’s Bulwark email.

The Dershowitz Doctrine

For the last two centuries or so, there has been an interesting (if occasionally tedious) debate about whether we are a democracy or a republic. But until yesterday, there seemed to be a pretty strong consensus that whatever we were, it was not… a monarchy.

But then we got the president’s lawyers.

There was a lot of gobsmacking stuff. Patrick Philbin argued that if there was even a scintilla of legitimate public interest in the president’s actions “it can’t possibly be an offense.” But the key argument came from Alan Dershowtiz, who basically said that a president running for re-election could pretty much do anything he wanted if he thought that his victory was a good thing.

I’m really not making this up. Dershowtiz argued that if Trump thought that his re-election was in the public interest, and “does something that he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

“Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest,” Dershowitz argued. “And mostly, you’re right. Your election is in the public interest.”

As Oliver Wendell Holmes might have said: “Wut?”

Neal Katyal tweeted: “The president could threaten people (including with our army) unless they voted for him? Could order a breakin of DNC headquarters? I’m not sure that even Kings had such powers.”

[Other reviews were also scathing.][0ther]

“He argued that if the president shot someone in the public square but believed it was in the public interest, it wouldn’t be an impeachable offense,” said J.W. Verret, a law professor at George Mason University. “But dictators always believe that what they are doing is in the best interest of the public — that’s the essence of an autocracy.”

But, apparently, this is good enough for the senate GOP.

GOPlin Senators swore to have an impartial trial but now don't want a trial at all

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports that At the crossroads, GOP fears opening ‘floodgates’ of information. Here’s the essential snippet.

A Politico report added that the White House is warning senators that if they don’t resist the call for witnesses, the proceedings could “turn it into a full-fledged trial with multiple witnesses on both sides.”

Heaven forbid.

As Vox’s Ezra Klein put it this morning, “We’re not arguing over what Trump did. We’re arguing over whether Republicans want to know what Trump did. Sometimes this whole saga feels like a thought experiment where we keep layering on more and more extreme conditions to see how broken the Republican Party really is.”

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

McSally might want to ''get this f'ing thing done''

That’s because she and other vulnerable senators keep getting asked questions that they will not, or cannot, answer. The faster the impeachment trial goes, I guess the logic is, there will be fewer such occasions.

However, Greg Sargent in the Washington Post pens a Memo to vulnerable GOP senators: You’re already on video, and it’s bad.

Sometime within the next couple of weeks, every GOP Senator who is facing a tough reelection campaign will have to vote on whether he or she wants to hear new witnesses and evidence at President Trump’s impeachment trial.

So it’s worth noting that three of them are already on video from last fall refusing to answer a very simple question: Is it or is it not appropriate to press a foreign leader to help dig dirt on a domestic political rival?

The three Senators – Cory Gardner of Colorado, Martha McSally of Arizona, and Joni Ernst of Iowa – all face tough races, though Gardner and McSally are probably more vulnerable than Ernst.

A reporter directly asked Gardner whether it was appropriate for Trump to press a foreign leader to investigate a domestic political rival, and Gardner pulled an extensive homina homina homina, mumbling something about how the Senate would examine the whole matter. ….

Similarly, an Arizona reporter cornered McSally and asked her point blank: Would you ask a foreign power to dish dirt on a political opponent? McSally angrily brushed off the question, claiming the Senate is focused on “what matters,” thus suggesting this scandal doesn’t matter at all. You can watch video of that here.

It’s also worth noting that these Senators have refused to answer other questions relating to impeachment. McSally repeatedly refused to answer a conservative TV host’s repeated questions about how she’d vote on whether to hear new witnesses. Gardner did the same with a local reporter. Those, too, are on video.

Under the process that McConnell is trying to establish, after opening statements and questions from Senators, the Senate will vote on the general question of whether to allow subpoenas for new witnesses and evidence. If 51 GOP Senators vote against, that may settle the matter – there will be no votes on subpoenas for specific witnesses and specific evidence – though Democrats might be able to put up some procedural challenges.

If that happens, all of this video of vulnerable GOP Senators refusing to answer the most basic questions about Trump’s misconduct, and about their own willingness to hold him accountable for it, will come back to haunt them.

Democrats tell me they think this kind of video is damning in a particularly visceral way. While it’s true that in some of these swing states, public opinion is evenly divided on or might even tilt against removal, these moments capture a level of evasiveness that might make even swing voters who are not pro-removal uncomfortable, since there are probably a lot of swing voters who still want the Senate to hold a real trial.

Now keep in mind that Trump has insisted that Republicans must assert along with him that he did nothing whatsoever wrong. He has not given them much space to distance themselves from his corruption.

Instead, he has in effect demanded that Republicans dismiss the entire impeachment process as fundamentally illegitimate – that is, he’s demanded that they show absolute contempt for it along with him.

This is why McSally thought that viciously blowing off a reporter for daring to even ask whether she wanted new witnesses would be seen by the Trump base as a great and heroic stand on Trump’s behalf.

But now that the trial has begun, it’s already becoming clear that the facts and evidence against Trump are incredibly damning. Trump’s defenders – such as lawyers Jay Sekulow and Pat Cippolone – have spent so much time offering fake Fox-News-bubble defenses of Trump that they just might find themselves out-argued by Rep. Adam Schiff and Democrats …

If McConnell succeeds in getting 51 GOP Senators to rule out new witnesses and evidence – as appears very possible – these swing voters will have to explain this outcome to their constituents, after the trial is over. Not only will a powerful case have been presented against Trump; it will also be a time when who knows what other damning revelations are about to detonate.

Making the case that Trump is innocent – and, even more ludicrous, that the charges against him are unworthy of a real trial, as Trump himself has insisted all along – is going to be hard. As Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg has pointed out, the bottom line is that these Senators will have to sell voters this crap sandwich at some point. It can’t be deferred forever.

As those videos show, they couldn’t even defend him back then, well before Trump had been impeached and well before all the facts were in. Will this really be any easier after they vote against holding a real trial? And those videos won’t help, since they show that these Senators never took their constitutional responsibilities seriously in the first place.

So it is in their best interests, so they apparently think, to rush the Senate trial along.

Oh, yes. About that quote …

Remember this Quote of the Day from Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire? (May 6, 2017 at 7:52 am EDT By Taegan Goddard)

“Let’s get this fucking thing done!”

— Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), quoted by the AP, in a House GOP conference meeting before the health care vote.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Bolton and his bombshell, part 2 - neither hero nor villain - or maybe both

Here is another perspective on Bolton from JVL in The Bulwark email. (I’ll have a little more to say at the end.)

The world is complex and very few people wear white hats or black hates all the time.

So let’s talk about John Bolton.

Overnight, Bolton has become a hero to the anti-Trump forces and a villain to Trump’s defenders.

He should not be either.

A few months ago John Bolton joined the line of senior advisors to President Trump who resigned on principle. This was a good thing.

And I don’t mean “good” in the pro- or anti-Trump sense. I mean good in the global sense: He saw something he didn’t want to be a part of, so he walked. That’s what everyone on both sides hopes their public servants will do. We don’t want guys who when they think something bad is going down, just look the other and follow orders.

We don’t want that at any level of government. Not at county dog catcher, not at national security advisor.

Now, if you’re an Always Trumper you could argue that Bolton’s judgment was incorrect and that, actually, everything was totally above board in the administration. But even so, you’d still want Bolton to act as he did.

But at the same time, Trump’s opponents are turning Bolton into some sort of white knight. And that’s probably not true, either. Don’t forget that Bolton spent a long time as a paid contributor to Fox News praising Trump up and down. From Graeme Wood:

Fox News’s No. 1 fan grew used to seeing Bolton on television. “John played Trump perfectly,” says Mark Groombridge, who worked for Bolton in government and out for more than a decade. “Bolton auditioned for this position for essentially a year. And he nailed that audition.” (Groombridge, a Never Trump Republican, split with Bolton in 2016, and the two no longer speak.) Bolton’s supporters acknowledge that his performance on Fox News melted the president’s heart. “So many of the people who populate this administration watched Bolton teach the country, through Fox, how to think about foreign policy,” says Matt Schlapp, a friend of Bolton’s and the chair of the American Conservative Union. “That’s why you have people like [White House economic adviser] Larry Kudlow and John Bolton in serious positions. They know how to communicate to the president in a way that he’s used to.”

I don’t know John Bolton, but unless he is a fool—and whatever else he may be, I do not take him for a fool—he knew exactly who and what Donald Trump is.

Which means that he spent a year going on television saying flattering things about Trump that he knew were not true.

I’m sure Bolton could explain this all away: The Trump administration was such a wreck that it was important to get capable people inside and the only way to do that was to go on Fox and audition. You deal with the world as it is, not as you wish it were.

There’s something to that. But on the other hand, even if his intent was the flatter Trump in order to get inside and do good, this had the practical effect of misinforming the public about his real views.

And let me tell you: There is a lot of that going on. I have stopped counting the people who tell me one thing about Trump in private and then publicly say very different things, because they’re positioning themselves for something.

This isn’t how I operate, because I think in general you should say what you think and if you’re wrong, so be it. But neither is it the worst sin in the world.

All of this is the long way of saying that John Bolton is neither villain nor savior. He’s a complicated figure who has behaved honorably in some circumstances and questionably in others. He is, in other words, like most of us.

So let’s not invest in him too much of either our hopes or hatreds.

On Scriber’s count, Bolton comes out ahead.

+1 for resigning on principle. Too little of that in today’s government.< br> +1 for dropping the bombshell. It might knock some sense into the Senate GOPlins.
–1 for gabbling about Trump on Fox. But, you might add from JVL’s analysis, that you cannot govern if you are not there.

Bolton goes bold - but will that be enough to shake loose Moscow Mitch and the GOPlins in the Senate

Before I launch into more about Bolton’s bombshell, consider this opinion from a Ukraine insider published in The Daily Beast. In I Trusted Bolton More Than Anyone, Oleksandr Danylyuk says the requests to investigate the Bidens “rattled” Zelensky’s team and the one person in the administration he trusted was Bolton. Here are excerpts forming a short version.

When Volodymyr Zelensky won Ukraine’s presidential election in April 2019, President Donald Trump was one of the first world leaders to call to congratulate him. For officials inside Ukraine and out, Zelensky represented a chance for the country to rebuild its anti-corruption institutions and a chance for Kyiv to develop better, stronger relationships with Western countries, including the United States.

But in the weeks and months that followed, efforts to construct a partnership between the Zelensky and Trump administrations, one focused on fighting corruption, crumbled. It crumbled in part because the Zelensky team was pulled into an American domestic political fight spurred by Trump’s push to have Ukraine investigate his rival Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter, and supposed interference in the 2016 election. That’s according to Oleksandr Danylyuk, the former chairman of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, who said the requests “rattled” Zelensky’s team.

"When I designed it, and drafted it, I discussed it with Zelensky,” Danylyuk said of his roadmap for the U.S. and Ukraine to cooperate on a range of issues. “We went through it very thoroughly. He said, ‘Yeah, I fully support this… it should be the basis of the relationship.’” Danylyuk wouldn’t discuss the military component of the plan but said the plan was “very broad” and included proposals for the U.S. to export American natural gas to Ukraine.

“This roadmap… it covered several areas. But at its core it is about national security,” Danylyuk said. “So if anywhere you can talk about this holistically—it’s with the U.S. National Security Council and Bolton. And he was the person to… discuss the vision.”

“I was really surprised and shocked. Because just a couple of days prior to that… I actually had a meeting with John Bolton. Actually, I had several meetings with him. And we had extensive discussions. The last thing I had expected to read was an article about military aid being frozen,” Danylyuk said. “After that… I was trying to get the truth. Was it true or not true?”

So while the Ukraine officials were trying to build a track for a productive U. S./Ukraine relation, Trump and his Trumpkins were busy tearing up track behind them.

Here’s more about Bolton and what might transpire in the Senate this week.

Quid pro whoa is Judd Legum’s (email) summary of the John Bolton revelation about what Trump had to say about linkage between military aid and a Biden investigation by Ukraine. Here’s most of it.

In an unpublished manuscript, former National Security Adviser John Bolton alleges that Trump confessed.

Bolton writes that he repeatedly pressed Trump on why Trump was withholding $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine. In an August meeting, Bolton says, Trump said he would not release the money until Ukraine turned over all documents related to the Bidens and other Democrats.

The revelation sent a shockwave through the ongoing impeachment trial in the Senate.

Bolton’s allegations strike at the very core of Trump’s defense: there was no quid pro quo. The White House has released a call summary in which Trump asks the president of Ukraine to investigate his political opponents. But Trump and his lawyers argue that it was OK because Trump never applied any pressure for Ukraine to comply. They insist that Trump did not withhold security assistance or a White House meeting to coerce Ukraine.

This argument is legally dubious — the request itself constituted an abuse of power. But this is the argument Trump and his lawyers were relying on. In their legal brief submitted to the Senate last week, Trump’s lawyers place special emphasis on the fact that no one personally heard Trump link security assistance to the investigation.

  1. House Democrats Rely Solely on Speculation Built on Hearsay. House Democrats’ charge is further disproved by the straightforward fact that not a single witness with actual knowledge ever testified that the President suggested any connection between announcing investigations and security assistance. Assumptions, presumptions, and speculation based on hearsay are all that House Democrats can rely on to spin their tale of a quid pro quo.

The revelation that there is a person who heard Trump admit there was a quid pro quo — and that person was Trump’s National Security Adviser — has upended expectations about how the impeachment trial would proceed.

Bolton has indicated he will testify as part of the impeachment trial if the Senate subpoenas him. A Senate vote on whether to allow witnesses is expected at the end of the week.

Short-term memory problems

Notwithstanding Bolton’s allegations, most Republican Senators seem poised to stand by Trump and vote against allowing witnesses. In several cases, these Senators defended Trump by asserting there was no direct evidence of quid pro quo linking security assistance to an investigation of Trump’s political opponents. Now that there is a first-hand witness who is willing to testify that Trump admitted to the quid pro quo, these same Senators say Bolton’s testimony is irrelevant.

These Senators include Cornyn, Cruz, and Inhofe. A longer list includes Reps Jordan, Collins, and Meadows.

Giuliani and Trump shoot themselves in the foot

The reason that witnesses give live testimony in a trial, rather than just have lawyers submit transcripts of a deposition, is so jurors can judge the credibility of the witness. The issue is not only what the witnesses are saying but also whether the jury believes the witness is telling the truth.

On Monday morning, Trump accused Bolton of lying. “I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Trump tweeted. Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney, tweeted the same accusation a few hours later: “There is no way in the world President Trump would say this to John Bolton.”

By accusing Bolton of lying, Trump and Giuliani are strengthening the case to call Bolton. They are making an issue of Bolton’s credibility. It is now up to the Senators, who are acting as jurors, to assess Bolton’s credibility. And the only way to do that is to have Bolton testify.

What happens next

There is a vote expected at the end of this week on whether to allow witnesses. If all Democrats vote to allow witness, as expected, four Republican Senators need to join them for the motion to pass. That prospect seemed more likely after the Bolton revelation. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) said he would vote to have Bolton testify. And Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) made statements strongly suggesting they would join Romney.

That means that one more Republican defection would provide the votes necessary. Romney was confident he’ll have more company. “It’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton. … I have spoken with others who have opined upon this,” Romney said.

In a closed-door lunch, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reportedly encouraged Republican Senators to “stay the course.”

But even if the Senate votes to allow Bolton to testify, the White House plans to try to stop him. According to ABC News, “senior level White House sources” say “the president’s lawyers are preparing for the possibility of witnesses in the impeachment trial.” Trump’s legal team is “preparing an aggressive, drawn out legal fight to block the testimony of potential witnesses.”

After GOP tax cuts fail to deliver why would you trust them with your social security

UK protests 1
Why are these people laughing?

Steven Strauss, a USA Today opinion columnist, shows us the money in Record debt and inequality gap? It’s almost like 40 years of Republican tax cuts failed.. Trickle-down failure: The cult-like Republican belief in tax cuts isn’t supported by results. It’s leading to an apocalypse of debt and inequality.

Republicans used to be known as the party of fiscal responsibility and limited government. But ever since 1980, they have spent trillions. It’s not like those trillions jacked up the average worker’s earnings or benefits. Instead those Republicans have spent trillions in tax cuts on themselves thus producing the highest level of inequality in recorded (IRS) history - ands the highest level of public debt.

Since the Reagan administration, Republicans have fervently claimed lower taxes will unleash the “makers” — incentivizing them to work harder and invest more, thereby trickling down to benefit ordinary Americans. Moreover, they have consistently claimed that their tax cuts would create such dramatic economic growth that they’d literally pay for themselves. A rising tide lifts all boats! No hard choices to make — just cut taxes!

Instead, the national debt is at a record high, and the gap between the richest and the poorest U.S. households is now the largest it has been in the 52 years the Census Bureau has been tracking it. And that inequality gap started to expand dramatically about the same time the Republican Party started cutting taxes.

More growth during higher-tax eras

The American economy since 1950 offers a chance to consider the impact of these tax cuts. From 1950 to 1980, the top federal marginal tax rates (the rates on income above certain levels) were as high as 92% and never below 70%. Republicans have been slashing the top tax bracket for annual earned income since the early 1980s, and it is now 37% on income above $612,350.

Further, in 2003 the GOP shrank the tax rate on unearned income (such as dividends) to 15%, resulting (for example) in the billionaire Warren Buffett having a lower tax rate than his secretary. With such dramatic tax cuts, GOP dogma predicted a booming U.S. economy.

But it turns out U.S. economic growth was substantially higher during the period of high taxes. From 1950 to 1980, average annual growth in real (inflation-adjusted gross domestic product) was 3.9%, while from 1981 to 2018 the comparable number was 2.7%.

Similarly, during the high tax period, median household incomes increased on average (in real terms) by a bit over 2.5% per year. During the low income tax period, average real growth in household income declined to 0.7% per year.

Disciples of the Cult of the Magic Tax Cuts will generally respond to these facts by noting that economic growth stems from a number of factors besides tax policy (such as external markets, investment in education and government funding of basic research). These cultists claim that America’s results from 1980 to the present would have been much worse without the GOP’s obsessive reliance on tax cuts.

But roughly 40 years of GOP tax cuts have provided opportunities for controlled studies of the American economy, and they don’t show that.

No impact on paychecks or investment

For example, Republican President George W. Bush’s 2003 tax act reduced the top tax rate on dividend income from 38.6% to 15% — a massive reduction that was supposed to trigger an investment boom and a trickle-down of benefits, such as higher compensation, to ordinary Americans. However, in a 2015 study of IRS data from 1996 to 2008, published in the American Economic Review, Berkeley economist Danny Yagan found that “the tax cut had no detectable impact on investment or employee compensation.”

Another study, “Do Tax Cuts Produce More Einsteins?”, looked at how government tax incentives influenced individuals’ decisions to pursue careers in innovation (using a dataset of 1.2 million inventors, including their tax information). The study found that “financial incentives, such as top income tax reductions, have limited potential to increase aggregate innovation because they … have no impact on the decisions of star inventors, who matter most for aggregate innovation.”

Tax cuts cost money we don’t have

More intuitively, the idea that Mark Zuckerberg was thinking about his tax rate while working in his college dorm room on what became Facebook is ridiculous.

Another (though related) argument the GOP keeps making is that its tax cuts will pay for themselves. The available data, however, show that the 2003 tax cut and an earlier cut in 2001 benefited the richest Americans, and did not pay for themselves (indeed, by some calculations the two tax cuts added $5.6 trillion to the national debt).

More recently, Republican Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin claimed that the GOP’s 2017 tax cut would not only pay for itself, but would actually reduce the federal deficit by $1 trillion. So far (according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office), the 2017 tax cut isn’t paying for itself with higher tax revenue, and it’s projected to add $1.5 trillion to our national debt over the next 10 years.

GOP must stop believing in magic

I’m not making a plea for larger government — just a plea for economic sanity. If Congress in its all-seeing wisdom wants to spend $700 billion on the military, billions of dollars on farm subsidies and so on, it must either raise enough money in taxes to pay for the programs it authorizes or reduce the size of government.

Instead, although Republicans controlled the White House, the Senate and the House from 2017 to 2019, they chose not to make (or even seriously debate) any substantial cuts to government programs that would balance the revenue lost by their series of massive unfunded tax cuts.

Unquestioning and unsubstantiated belief in the magical power of tax cuts isn’t a viable economic policy. The GOP is putting America on an unsustainable path that is disastrous both for its fiscal future and for the hopes of people trying to get ahead.

But here, I think, is where Strauss and I part fiscal company. You don’t have to correct the GOP’s wanton spending in the form of cuts to government programs. The money already is there but in the form of those reduced taxes. Claw it back. Let’s have a return to the Eisenhower years of 70% to 90% marginal tax rates.

But will that happen? Not under a Trump presidency. Quite the opposite is in the works. Trump is going back on his promises and has targeted social security for cuts. See this piece Trump opens door to Social Security cuts by Michael Hiltzik in the LA Times.

With his penchant for saying the quiet parts out loud and assuming no one is paying attention, President Trump on Wednesday opened the door to cutting Social Security and Medicare later this year.

The word came at the very end of an interview conducted by Joe Kernen of CNBC, in connection with Trump’s appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Here’s how it unfolded, according to the tape and transcript from CNBC:

“KERNEN: Entitlements ever be on your plate?

“PRESIDENT TRUMP: At some point they will be. We have tremendous growth. We’re going to have tremendous growth. This next year I — it’ll be toward the end of the year. The growth is going to be incredible. And at the right time, we will take a look at that. You know, that’s actually the easiest of all things, if you look, cause it’s such a—"

Trump then wandered off into a string of false and incoherent claims about the economy. “We’ve never had growth like this,” he said, even though economic growth during Trump’s term is nowhere near a record pace.

What’s important is that Trump appears to be falling into lockstep with the more general Republican position that closing the federal deficit requires cutting back on Social Security, Medicare and other social safety net programs. Never mind that the deficit was opened into a gaping maw by the tax cut Trump signed in December 2017, which went mostly to corporations and the wealthy, the effect of which goosed economic growth for a short period but has faded.

Other commentators have underscored the conflict between Trump’s appearing open to tampering with Social Security and Medicare, and his promise during the last presidential campaign to leave those programs alone.

Remember this?

“Hillary Clinton is going to destroy your Social Security and Medicare. … I am going to protect and save your Social Security and your Medicare.” - DONALD TRUMP, 2016

Cutting benefits has been part of Republican orthodoxy for decades, but the drumbeat has gotten louder. In September, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) talked about the need to go “behind closed doors” to reform Social Security, because it’s clear that the American public won’t stand for it being done in the open. A year earlier, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) labeled Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — so-called entitlements — “the real drivers of the debt” and called for them to be adjusted “to the demographics of the future.”

It’s worth noting that proposals to cut social insurance benefits are certain to be dead on arrival as long as Democrats control at least one chamber of Congress, as they do currently. Indeed, the Democratic Party, through its representatives in Congress and its candidates for president, has shown itself to be strongly in favor of expanding and increasing Social Security benefits, not cutting them back.

Trump still can do a lot of damage to these programs by starving their administrative budgets or tinkering with administrative rules, as he’s proposed to do with Medicaid and Social Security Disability Insurance.

And that is why we need to Dump the tRump. Hiltzik concludes:

In October, Trump signed an executive order bristling with stealth attacks on Medicare. Buried within the order was a provision that would destroy Medicare by driving its costs to an unsustainable level. He also proposed to turn more of the program over to commercial insurers. As I wrote then, “Put simply, he’s proposing to privatize Medicare.”

Again, all this has been hiding in plain sight. Trump’s latest remarks have gotten a lot of attention, because they appear to be so blunt. But the danger the Trump administration poses to programs that protect America’s most vulnerable populations has been evident almost from the first.

I know. Why should anyone be surprised when the tRump lies? What also has been evident from the first is that he is a pathological liar … well ’nuff said.

In contrast, check out presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s plan to expand Social Security, explained at vox.com. Here’s part of the story.

Warren’s proposal, which would levy a payroll tax on income over $250,000 and on income from investments in order to boost retirees’ average benefits by about $200 a month, doesn’t come out of nowhere. The Massachusetts lawmaker has been a proponent of expanding Social Security benefits since her first year in the Senate, and the idea that the government needs to do more to account for households’ basic financial needs has been integral to her thinking since long before that.

But the plan reflects both how far the contours of the national political dialogue of Social Security have transformed from where they were five to ten years ago, and raises some basic questions about how (if at all) Democrats can cut into Trump’s lead with older voters — and whether they ought to be trying. But more than that, it illustrates an important way that Warren’s view of the basic structure of economic policy differs from what we saw from Bill Clinton or Barack Obama — one that’s much less interested in targeting resources on the neediest and much more interested in the expansive possibilities that are unlocked by truly soaking the rich.

Scriber thinks that needs to be done if we are to get back to fiscal sanity.

(Thanks to Phil Nicolai for the USA Today tip.)

Monday, January 27, 2020

John Bolton - you must 'Speak for America'

Writing at The Bulwark William Kristol asks John Bolton: Speak for America, John!. This is John Bolton’s moment. Here it is in full (with block quotes suppressed and emphases added).

September 2, 1939, the day after Hitler’s invasion of Poland, saw fierce debate in the British Parliament. Following Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s temporizing remarks, the deputy leader of the opposition, Arthur Greenwood, rose to respond on behalf of the Labour Party. As he began to speak, Greenwood was famously interrupted by the anti-appeaser and former First Lord of the Admiralty, Leo Amery, who shouted from the Conservative back benches across the party aisle, “Speak for England, Arthur!”

Today one feels a similar urge to shout from the anti-Trump Republican back benches to Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton: Speak for America! The president stands impeached for distorting U.S. foreign policy on behalf of his personal political interests and covering up what he has done. John Bolton knows what happened. As he has confided to friends, he has also seen up close how this president runs our foreign policy and just how dangerous this is. “It’s worse than you can imagine” is what he’s reported to have said privately.

Now he needs to help us all imagine. He has a chance to act for the country, both by telling America what he knows and by setting an example for others in putting the nation’s welfare ahead of partisan loyalty and personal ambition. He should testify to the Senate, of course, and the Senate should ask him to do so. But nothing stops him from speaking up even if not subpoenaed.

Whatever the venue, he has a chance here to speak for America.

And so do many others. The silences of former administration officials who did their best but saw the worst of Trump are bewildering. The obligations of patriotism don’t stop when one leaves office. Where are Mattis and Tillerson, McMaster and Kelly, at this moment of truth?

It is generally understandable, even honorable, for a former appointee to want to be discreet about his former boss’s failings. But this is no ordinary time. It is a decision point in which America’s elected representatives are being asked to determine whether or not the president should be removed from office for offenses against the Constitution.

In order for them to make wise decisions, they need to have as much information as possible. And the president is trying to deny them—and the public—that information. John Bolton–and other former colleagues of his—can provide it. Speak for America, John!

So the Senate would benefit from their guidance both with respect to impeachment and removal from office while the rest of the country would benefit from it in regards to the coming election if the president is not removed.

These men chose to work in this administration from a desire to serve their country whatever their doubts about the president. In a democratic republic, the obligations of service to country do not end once out of office. They are a duty we all strive to live out, every day.

But the man on the spot right now is John Bolton.

One might say his entire career has prepared him for this moment. If he chooses to tell the nation what he knows, he would be taking on most Republicans and conservatives. His book sales and speaking fees might suffer. But he would be acting in a way that would earn him the gratitude of his countrymen and a generous judgment by history. It is precisely because doing your duty can be so arduous that history thinks so well of those who bend down to shoulder the load.

Speak for America, John!

What Chief Justice Roberts should say in the Senate trial - 'Mr. Bolton, please raise your right hand.'

Trumpublican senators should insist on a simple test of who is telling the truth - Trump or Bolton. Put Bolton on the stand in the senate chambers and take his testimony under oath. Two Washington Post authors expand on why that’s needed - and why it scares the GOP sh!tless.

Aaron Blake describes how John Bolton’s bombshell gives the GOP a glimpse of its nightmare scenario.

We finally got a taste Sunday night of what former national security adviser John Bolton might tell President Trump’s Senate impeachment trial — if he’s called to testify, that is.

What we learned reinforced the potential peril for Republicans if they refuse to let him do so.

The New York Times reported Sunday that Bolton makes a series of very big Ukraine-related claims in an unpublished manuscript of his upcoming book, slated to be released in March.

Chief among them:

  • Bolton writes that he heard Trump say explicitly that the withholding of military aid would continue until Ukraine announced an investigation involving the Bidens — implicating Trump directly in a quid pro quo for the first time and contradicting the Trump team’s defense.
  • He writes that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said privately that there was nothing to the Trump team’s claims that then-Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch was corrupt — suggesting that this was indeed a smear campaign and that Pompeo recognized it as such, even as he didn’t defend Yovanovitch publicly.
  • He writes that he raised concerns about Rudolph W. Giuliani’s efforts in Ukraine with Attorney General William P. Barr after Trump’s July call with Ukraine’s president — despite the Justice Department saying Barr learned about the call in mid-August.
  • He writes that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was present for one of Trump’s calls with Giuliani about Yovanovitch, even though Mulvaney has told associates that he stayed out of those conversations to protect Trump and Giuliani’s attorney-client privilege.

In other words: Bolton is naming names — lots of names — and directly contradicting what top administration officials are saying.

And Trump has made no secret that he’s not particularly happy about the new revelations. …

The nightmare scenario for the GOP is that they give Trump the quick and witness-free acquittal that he apparently desires, but then information like Bolton’s keeps coming out. Bolton now suggests Trump was indeed telling people privately that the withheld military aid was part of a quid pro quo — a quid pro quo that Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland testified that he communicated to the Ukrainians. This is something Trump’s team has strenuously denied, including at the impeachment trial. What if Bolton isn’t the only person Trump told this to who might suddenly contradict them? However closely this has already been tied to Trump, it can always be tied more closely. Bolton’s upcoming book — slated for March 17 — is a great example of how the hastily assembled walls the Trump team have built around its defense can quickly crumble and, in some cases, already have.

The evidence, after all, is pretty compelling that Trump wasn’t truly concerned about corruption in Ukraine. Giuliani actually said publicly that these investigations weren’t about foreign policy but were instead about helping “my client.” There are also several confirmations that these were quid pro quos — including both military aid and a White House meeting — and that the quid pro quos were communicated to the Ukrainians, even if previous witnesses couldn’t say whether Trump explicitly signed off on them. Indeed, both Bolton and Mulvaney — two very high-ranking White House aides — have now offered confirmation of the quid pro quos, even though Mulvaney recanted his.

The danger in this for the GOP is that this all keeps coming out, as it has been, in a steady stream of drips as we get closer and closer to the 2020 election. In just the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen indicted Ukrainian American business executive Lev Parnas supplying high-profile claims about all this — with documentation and audio to back some of the big ones up — and now we’ve got Bolton finally stepping forward and connecting this to Trump.

Imagine if Republicans vote against entertaining Parnas’s evidence or putting Bolton on the stand, and then the information comes out anyway. If it proves damning, it will look like they engaged in the coverup that Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) accused them of last week.

And at the least, if Trump is saying Bolton is lying, what better way to hold him accountable than to make him say all of this under oath? He’s indicated he’s willing. Now it’s in the Senate GOP’s hands, and you can bet it’s a tougher call now.

George Conway concurs with how to verify Bolton’s claims and thinks that Bolton’s testimony would be devastating. Not even Republicans could look away..

From Trump on down, they all know how damning Bolton’s testimony would be to Trump’s defense. Indeed, the leak of what’s in Bolton’s book shows how disingenuous the president’s defense has been.

Before the Senate on Saturday, deputy White House counsel Michael Purpura laid out the elements of that defense. Key among them: “Not a single witness testified that the President himself said there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a Presidential meeting, or anything else.”

He continued: “Most of the Democrats’ witnesses have never spoken to the President at all, let alone about Ukraine security assistance.” And: “The Democrats’ entire quid pro quo theory is based on nothing more than the initial speculation of one person” — U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.

If Bolton testifies to what’s in his manuscript, these arguments, weak as they are, will collapse. The words will come from Trump’s mouth, because Bolton will have put them there. The direct witness whose absence Trump’s lawyers trumpeted will have appeared.

And that witness would destroy the central defense Trump’s lawyers have raised. Which is that the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was perfect — factually, legally, and constitutionally.

Or, as Purpura put it on Saturday: “The Democrats’ allegation that the President engaged in a quid pro quo is unfounded and contrary to the facts. … The President was, at all times, acting in our national interest and pursuant to his oath of office.” The president has “done nothing wrong”; “rightly, he had real concerns” about “burden-sharing” and “corruption,” which was why he held back the aid.

Bolton begs to differ.

In light of Trump’s own arguments, it would now be preposterous, if it ever wasn’t, for the Senate not to call Bolton as a witness. To refuse to do so would ensure that the trial would be recorded forever in history as a GOP-orchestrated farce. And if the president’s defense is that Bolton is now peddling this tale of quid pro quo “only to sell a book,” fine. Let’s also have a look at the documents that could demonstrate who is telling the truth.

Trump’s own lawyers have framed the removal question as turning on proof of the president’s true motives. Well, here’s a witness who can tell us what the president, in a face-to-face conversation, said he wanted.

Trump’s lawyers complain that no witness talked to Trump about the linkage between the aid and the investigation. Well, here’s Bolton, ready, willing, and able to testify.

Trump himself claims that Bolton is lying. Well, there’s a tried-and-true way to find out if he is or is not.

Mr. Bolton, please raise your right hand.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

An anecdote about America's smartest president

As we head into a week of the Trumpublican defense of their cult leader, it’s worth pausing to appreciate a little humor. I thought this one, from Paula Lajoie on Facebook, is worth sharing.

Just what I needed..

"✈️An airplane was about to crash. There were 4 passengers on board, but only 3 parachutes.

The 1st passenger said, “I am Kanye West, I am the best rapper on the planet. My millions of fans need me, and I can’t afford to die.” So he took the 1st pack and left the plane.

The 2nd passenger, Donald Trump, said, "I am the smartest and the best President in history. I am a stable-Genius and I have the best words. I am The Chosen One. I could shoot somebody on 5th Avenue, grab chicks by the pussy, praise Putin, hush-pay a porn star after the birth of my 5th child by my 3rd wife…and not lose fans. I can ask other nations to meddle in our elections. I could tell them Mexico will pay for anything. They believe everything i say. My fans are the drop-outs and CDF Students. I love the under-educated!”

He points at the two remaining passengers and says “You’re a Disgrace!” He then grabbed the 2nd pack and jumped out of the plane.

The 3rd passenger (the Dalai Lama) said to the 4th passenger (a 10 year old schoolboy) “My son, I am old and don’t have many years left, you have more years ahead so I will sacrifice my life and let you have the last parachute.”

The little boy said, "That’s okay, Your Holiness, there’s a parachute left for you…America’s smartest President took my schoolbag.”

Trump and donors caught talking about Ukraine and Ambassador Yovanovitch - on tape.

The betting odds are that the Senate Republicans will vote to acquit Trump. But no matter what they do, the evidence will keep rolling in on Trump’s malfeasance and that will stain the reputations of those senators by showing how they lied when signing their oath as impartial jurors. Here are excerpts from the most recent example from the NY Times. (If you already got this, sorry. I’m getting caught up after my vacation out of country.)

Tape Made Public of Trump Discussing Ukraine With Donors. The recording from a dinner in 2018 showed that the president spent an hour with two key players in the Ukraine pressure campaign. He has repeatedly said he does not know them.

For more than an hour one evening in 2018, President Trump sat around a dinner table in a private suite in his Washington hotel with a group of donors, including two men at the center of the impeachment inquiry, talking about golf, trade, politics — and removing the United States ambassador to Ukraine.

The conversation, captured on a recording made public Saturday, contradicted Mr. Trump’s repeated statements that he does not know the two men, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who went on to work with the president’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani to carry out a pressure campaign on Ukraine.

The recording — a video shot on Mr. Fruman’s phone during the dinner in April 2018 — largely confirmed Mr. Parnas’s account of having raised with Mr. Trump criticisms of the ambassador to Kyiv at the time, Marie L. Yovanovitch, and the president’s immediate order that Ms. Yovanovitch should be removed from the post.

“Get rid of her,” Mr. Trump can be heard responding.

The recording was made public by Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, hours after the president’s lawyers began presenting their defense in the impeachment trial and as Democrats looked for leverage to persuade Republicans to support their calls to expand the inquiry by introducing additional evidence and calling new witnesses.

For most of the recording, the camera is pointed at the ceiling but the audio is clear. Early in the recording, Mr. Trump can be seen as he enters the private room at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on April 30, 2018.

The effort to oust [former ambassador to Ukraine] Ms. Yovanovitch would later become directly linked to the broader pressure campaign on Ukraine waged by Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman. Evidence provided to House investigators showed that Mr. Parnas was in regular contact last year with Ukraine’s chief prosecutor, who also wanted Ms. Yovanovitch replaced, and seemed to be willing to trade investigations of Mr. Biden for her removal and other signs of support from the Trump administration.

By the time of the dinner with Mr. Trump, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman already saw Ms. Yovanovitch as an impediment to their efforts to get into the energy business in Ukraine.

In the full recording released on Saturday, Mr. Parnas can be heard telling Mr. Trump that he and Mr. Fruman “are in the process of purchasing an energy company in Ukraine right now.”

Mr. Parnas continued by saying that “the biggest problem is corruption there,” and later added Ms. Yovanovitch, though not by name, to a list of issues Mr. Trump should address in Ukraine.

“The biggest problem there, I think, where we, where you, need to start is we got to get rid of the ambassador,” he said. “She’s basically walking around telling everybody, ‘Wait, he’s going to get impeached, just wait.’”

The remark prompted laughter in the room.

Mr. Trump asked for the ambassador’s name. Mr. Fruman said, “I don’t remember.” Mr. Trump, sounding stern, then said: “Get rid of her. Get her out tomorrow. I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow. Take her out. O.K.? Do it.”

Those comments were directed at one of Mr. Trump’s aides who was in the room at the time, Mr. Parnas has previously said. There was some additional laughter in the room at Mr. Trump’s remarks.

Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman gained access to the dinner, which was organized by a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, by pledging to donate $1 million to the group.

The month after the event, they donated $325,000 to the group through a company they had recently formed to pursue energy deals called Global Energy Producers.

In the rest of the recording attendees, Trump donors, were recorded jockeying for assistance in promoting their various businesses.

And, BTW, Parnas and Fruman are the two guys who Trump claims not to know who were in cahoots with “Rudy” in his campaign to dirty presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Senate supporters of Trump, and the Republican impeachment managers, would do well to recall Rick Wilson’s assertion that “everything that Trump touches dies.”

Saturday, January 18, 2020

GOPlin senators cannot handle this truth - their leader is a crook

Even if you don’t subscribe to Blog for Arizona, you probably know about this:

Earlier today, as already reported by AZ Blue Meanie and virtually every other political outlet, Senator McSally, currently behind Captain Mark Kelly in recent polls, became the symbol of the difficulties all Republican Senators face when confronted with reality by non-Fox or Alt-Right commentators.

In the hall of the Senate, she called CNN Journalist Manu Raju “a liberal hack” twice when he asked whether new evidence should be considered at the Senate Impeachment Trial of Donald Trump.

That prompted B4AZ contributor David Gordon to remind us of Jack Nicholson’s scene from _A Few Good Men_: Martha McSally can not Handle the Truth.

What you may not be aware of is McSally’s history of ducking and dodging the press.

Commenting on the latest McSally incident, Brad Banium of the Arizona Democratic Party released a statement which recounted McSally’s recent conduct, reading in part:

“In December, the Associated Press reported on McSally definitively ruling out any pretense of being an “impartial” juror. According to the report, McSally:

Said House Democrats committed “the only abuse of power that we’ve seen going on here”

“Echo[ed]” Mitch McConnell’s pledge on “working closely with the White House”; and admitted Republicans are opposing the “minefield” of witnesses testimony from “some people” because we don’t know how that’s going to go.”

“For months, McSally has refused to be forthright with Arizonans when it comes to getting to the facts of the case:”

“McSally infamously “literally went around the Capitol, around parked cars, everything, to avoid cameras” and reporter questions about the appropriateness of Trump’s abuses of power.”

“This fall, McSally refused to rule out accepting foreign help in her own election — and then ran away from Arizona reporters.”

“It’s clear that Martha McSally’s only goal is to protect her party leaders and her personal political future. She has no interest in hearing the facts, uncovering the truth, and being an independent representative for Arizonans.”

Gordon concludes:

Arizona and the Nation need Senators who can handle the truth and put country over cult (party).

Martha McSally and Susan Collins, along with Political Prince of Darkness-Grim Reaper- Enemy of the People-Moscow Mitch, backstabbing Lindsey, and the other willing accessories in the Former Party of Lincoln have proven they are not what the country needs for public servants.

Amen to that.

Posted by Scriber from San Miguel de Allende - where I thought to escape this sh!t

Sunday, January 12, 2020

How American socioeconomic policies create 'deaths of despair'

At the NY Times Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn ask Who Killed the Knapp Family? It’s an important piece of research on how Across America, working-class people — including many of our friends — are dying of despair. And we’re still blaming the wrong people. (With thanks to Roving Reporter Sherry.)

So who are the right people to carry the blame? Not the Knapps. Poverty triggered by job loss is a more accurate answer. As is the failure - complete, abject, crappy failure - of our social and economic policies.

Here is just a small part of the case they make.

We Americans are locked in political combat and focused on President Trump, but there is a cancer gnawing at the nation that predates Trump and is larger than him. Suicides are at their highest rate since World War II; one child in seven is living with a parent suffering from substance abuse; a baby is born every 15 minutes after prenatal exposure to opioids; America is slipping as a great power.

We have deep structural problems that have been a half century in the making, under both political parties, and that are often transmitted from generation to generation. Only in America has life expectancy now fallen three years in a row, for the first time in a century, because of “deaths of despair.”

The meaningfulness of the working-class life seems to have evaporated,” Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, told us. “The economy just seems to have stopped delivering for these people.” Deaton and the economist Anne Case, who is also his wife, coined the term “deaths of despair” to describe the surge of mortality from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

The kids on the No. 6 bus rode into a cataclysm as working-class communities disintegrated across America because of lost jobs, broken families, gloom — and failed policies. The suffering was invisible to affluent Americans, but the consequences are now evident to all: The survivors mostly voted for Trump, some in hopes that he would rescue them, but under him the number of children without health insurance has risen by more than 400,000.

The stock market is near record highs, but working-class Americans (often defined as those without college degrees) continue to struggle. If you’re only a high school graduate, or worse, a dropout, work no longer pays. If the federal minimum wage in 1968 had kept up with inflation and productivity, it would now be $22 an hour. Instead, it’s $7.25.

It would be easy but too simplistic to blame just automation and lost jobs: The problems are also rooted in disastrous policy choices over 50 years. The United States wrested power from labor and gave it to business, and it suppressed wages and cut taxes rather than invest in human capital, as our peer countries did. As other countries embraced universal health care, we did not; several counties in the United States have life expectancies shorter than those in Cambodia or Bangladesh.

Americans also bought into a misconceived “personal responsibility” narrative that blamed people for being poor. It’s true, of course, that personal responsibility matters: People we spoke to often acknowledged engaging in self-destructive behaviors. But when you can predict wretched outcomes based on the ZIP code where a child is born, the problem is not bad choices the infant is making. If we’re going to obsess about personal responsibility, let’s also have a conversation about social responsibility.

Why did deaths of despair claim Farlan, Zealan, Nathan, Rogena and so many others? We see three important factors.

First, well-paying jobs disappeared, partly because of technology and globalization but also because of political pressure on unions and a general redistribution of power toward the wealthy and corporations.

Second, there was an explosion of drugs — oxycodone, meth, heroin, crack cocaine and fentanyl — aggravated by the reckless marketing of prescription painkillers by pharmaceutical companies.

Third, the war on drugs sent fathers and mothers to jail, shattering families.

But there are solutions revealed by Kristof and WuDunn.

Yet it’s not hopeless. America is polarized with ferocious arguments about social issues, but we should be able to agree on what doesn’t work: neglect and underinvestment in children. Here’s what does work.

Job training and retraining give people dignity as well as an economic lifeline. Such jobs programs are common in other countries.

For instance, autoworkers were laid off during the 2008–9 economic crisis both in Detroit and across the Canadian border in nearby Windsor, Ontario. As the scholar Victor Tan Chen has showed, the two countries responded differently. The United States focused on money, providing extended unemployment benefits. Canada emphasized job retraining, rapidly steering workers into new jobs in fields like health care, and Canadian workers also did not have to worry about losing health insurance.

Canada’s approach succeeded. The focus on job placement meant that Canadian workers were ushered more quickly back into workaday society and thus today seem less entangled in drugs and family breakdown.

So do check out the Times essay for more on what we as a society might do to make sure that we don’t kill more Knapp families.

Rick Wilson on how to dump Trump.

Scriber is on vacation for the next couple of weeks so posts will be erratic - more so than usual ;)

I’ll leave you with some things to ponder about how to dump Trump.

The Guardian has an interesting story on How to dump Trump: Rick Wilson on Running Against the Devil. He was a Republican ad man but now he’s a bestselling author out to bring down a president. He says Democrats must listen. Wilson should know. He’s been there and done that.

You might not like what Wilson opines about the Dems in the election, but you should think about it anyway. Keep in mind that Wilson thinks there are scumbags and they are GOPlins running with the devil. Here’s a sample.

It’s true you don’t get much policy detail at a Biden rally, but you do see plenty of slightly hokey appeals to the better angels of America’s nature.

“There’s nothing in Joe Biden that scans as evil or dark or weird or out of touch,” Wilson says. “He can be a little goofy but that’s not bad, not the worst thing in the world right now.

“I think neither Warren nor Sanders and certainly not Pete Buttigieg have ever had a breakthrough with African American voters sufficient to eliminate Biden’s advantage. And also, Biden’s got the secret weapon.

“If Barack Obama is free to get out there and do the campaigning that only he can do in American political life, I think that would be a meaningful lift for the Democrats.”

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Iran admits unintentionally shooting down the Ukraine plane

The NY Times reported that Iran Says It Unintentionally Shot Down Ukrainian Airliner. “The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” President Hassan Rouhani said, as Iran reversed its claims that mechanical failure was to blame.

Here are essential excerpts.

Iran’s military announced early Saturday that it had accidentally shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, blaming human error because of what it called the plane’s sharp, unexpected turn toward a sensitive military base.

International pressure had been building on Iran to take responsibility. American and allied intelligence assessments had already concluded that Iranian missiles brought down the plane, Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, most likely by accident, amid the heightened tensions between the United States and Iran.

In Iran, a debate over how much blame the government bears threatened to destroy the national solidarity that followed the country’s conflict with the United States. Many Iranians said that their anger over the lack of accountability at the highest levels of government had quickly returned.

On social media, Iranians began expressing anger toward the military soon after the announcement, many of them using the term “harshest revenge,” which officials had repeatedly promised in the wake of the American drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, a powerful Revolutionary Guards commander, last week.

“They were supposed to take their harsh revenge against America, not the people,” wrote Mojtaba Fathi, a journalist.

The military said it would undertake “major reform in operations of all armed forces” to make sure that such an error never happened again. It said Revolutionary Guards officials had been ordered to appear on state media and give the public a full explanation.

The Iranians asked the National Transportation Safety Board to help with the investigation, and the State Department granted waivers to allow the American agency to help. …

Boeing's 737 Max - an airplane 'designed by clowns'

Here’s a real gem from the NY Times Friday night (email) briefing - with a couple of comments. My subtitle: Boeing led by well-paid monkeys.

Dennis Muilenberg, who ran Boeing during two deadly crashes, will leave the company with $62.2 million in stock and pension awards.

Another way of looking at it is that Muilenberg got paid $179,768.79 for each of the 346 lives lost when Boeing let the 737 Max keep flying.

Mr. Muilenburg will not receive any additional severance or separation payments in connection with his departure, and Boeing said he had forfeited stock units worth some $14.6 million.

Well - ain’t that a kick in the head.

Boeing’s new chief, David Calhoun, will receive a $7 million bonus if he is able to get the 737 Max safely flying again.

The company’s announcement comes a day after hundreds of pages of internal documents showed how Boeing employees mocked the Federal Aviation Administration and bragged about getting it to approve the 737 Max with little new training for pilots.

Here’s more from the Times report on who knew what about the doomed 737 Max.

The company expressed regret at the embarrassing communications it sent to investigators on Thursday, which included a comment that “this airplane is designed by clowns, who are in turn supervised by monkeys.”

The employees appear to discuss instances in which the company concealed such problems from the F.A.A. during the regulator’s certification of the simulators, which were used in the development of the Max, as well as in training for pilots who had not previously flown a 737.

“Would you put your family on a Max simulator trained aircraft? I wouldn’t,” one employee said to a colleague in another exchange from 2018, before the first crash. “No,” the colleague responded.

I trust you see my reasoning when I say that Boeing is in a Catch–22. To attract air travelers it needs to establish a safety record. But the only way it can do that, credibly at least, is to have those travelers already flying the 737 Max without any more accidents. Given the problems and culture at Boeing, how are they going to break out of that catch?

Friday, January 10, 2020

Latest on Ukraine plan crash - likely Iranian missile hit, 'a horrible, horrible mistake'

That’s how Chris Hayes characterized it on All in last night. I begin with a thought experiment.

Imagine being in control of an anti-aircraft battery on the very night that your country loosed a barrage of missiles at the “great Satan.” You have every reason to expect retaliation in the form of a bombing campaign. And here is a suspect blip on your radar screen …

Today: That’s one theory bruited about in the media. Another is in the form of denial by the Iranians. Iran: Trust Us, We Didn’t Shoot Down Ukrainian Passenger Jet reports the Daily Beast.

But complicating this sad affair is the lack of security at the crash site. Also reported by The Daily Beast, Scavengers Are Taking Evidence From the Iran Plane Crash Site, CBS Reports.

Yesterday: The story is not yet ended but here is more of what is emerging from the investigation.

Iranian Missile Blew Passenger Jet Out of the Sky, U.S. Suspects reported by Spencer Ackerman, Adam Rawnsley, Erin Banco, and Betsy Swan at The Daily Beast. The Ukrainian airliner that crashed in Iran the night of the missile attacks on bases in Iraq appears to have been shot by the Iranians with a Russian-made anti-aircraft system.

In the hours since the PS752 crash, a number of videos purporting to show the flight in its final moments have surfaced on social media. Two videos, verified as likely authentic by The New York Times visual investigations team appear to show the impact of the aircraft on the ground in a suburb of Tehran.

On Thursday, a new video surfaced on Twitter and Telegram purporting to show a flying object streak through the night sky and hitting an aircraft shortly before a loud explosion can be heard. It’s unclear yet whether the footage depicts the final moments of PS752 but investigators at Bellingcat have determined that the footage was filmed in Western Parand, near where the flight crashed, and shows the known trajectory of the flight before it crashed.

Video Shows Ukrainian Plane Being Hit Over Iran (reported by By Christiaan Triebert, Malachy Browne, Sarah Kerr and Ainara Tiefenthäler. The New York Times has obtained video of the moment a Ukrainian airliner was hit minutes after takeoff from Tehran.

Video verified by The New York Times appears to show an Iranian missile hitting a plane above Parand, near Tehran’s airport, the area where a Ukrainian airliner stopped transmitting its signal before it crashed on Wednesday.

A small explosion occurred when a missile hit the plane, but the plane did not explode, the video showed. The jet continued flying for several minutes and turned back toward the airport, The Times has determined. The plane flew toward the airport ablaze before it exploded and crashed quickly, other videos verified by The Times showed.

Bestowing unlimited war-making powers, Senate Republicans anoint Donald Trump as King

Functionally that is exactly what is going on. Consider this quote from Lindsey Graham.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) is now dismissing concerns about the need for Congress to reassert its warmaking authority as “emboldening the enemy.”

Apparently there is nothing too bizarre for the Trump loyalists (aka royalists). Consider what happened in a congressional briefing Wednesday by Team Trump.

GOP senator who erupted over Iran briefing shares awful new details about the Trump administration’s willingness to wage war without Congressional consent. So reports Greg Sargent in the Washington Post.

If President Trump made the decision to assassinate the supreme leader of Iran, would he need to come to Congress to get authorization for it?

The Trump administration won’t say.

That remarkable claim is now being made by a Republican senator — Mike Lee of Utah. He offered it in a new interview with NPR, in which he shared fresh details about why he erupted in anger on Wednesday over the briefing Congress received from the administration on Iran.

As you know, Lee’s comments went viral Wednesday after he ripped into the briefing given to lawmakers about Trump’s decision to assassinate Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

Lee, echoing the complaints of many Democrats, blasted the briefing on the intelligence behind the assassination as the “worst” he’d ever seen. He also fumed that officials refused to acknowledge any “hypothetical” situations in which they would come to Congress for authorization for future military hostilities against Iran.

Now, in the interview with NPR’s Rachel Martin, Lee has gone into more alarming detail. Lee reiterated that officials “were unable or unwilling to identify any point” at which they’d come to Congress for authorization for the use of military force. Then this exchange happened:

MARTIN: What kind of hypotheticals were you putting to them in hopes of understanding when the administration sees a need for Congressional authority?

LEE: As I recall, one of my colleagues asked a hypothetical involving the Supreme Leader of Iran: If at that point, the United States government decided that it wanted to undertake a strike against him personally, recognizing that he would be a threat to the United States, would that require authorization for the use of military force?

The fact that there was nothing but a refusal to answer that question was perhaps the most deeply upsetting thing to me in that meeting.

Obviously, this was an extreme hypothetical. But the point of it was to discern the contours of the administration’s sense of its own obligation to come to Congress for approval of future hostilities. And it succeeded in doing just that, demonstrating that they recognize no such obligation.

[snip]

In the NPR interview, Lee also disclosed that at one point in the briefing, an official “discouraged us from even having a debate on the Senate floor” about whether Congress should pass new measures constraining Trump’s authority to launch future military actions without authorization.

“That might somehow embolden the Iranian regime in future attacks against the United States,” Lee said, characterizing the argument the official made.

[snip]

Our system is now functionally that one person makes these extraordinarily consequential decisions. Plainly, the person in question is not fit to do so.

Indeed, in this case, you’d think the starkness of the situation would get Congress — or, more precisely, congressional Republicans, since virtually all Democrats will do the right thing this time — to reassert its authority.

Trump has threatened war crimes, has boasted about the size of his missiles and just ordered an assassination of a senior military leader in a sovereign country without alerting Congress or seeking its approval, based on intelligence that is dubious at best and on rationales that have fallen apart.

But Trump’s tweet calling on “all House Republicans” to vote against the new war powers measure now means that being loyal to Trump is synonymous with giving him unconstrained warmaking authority, despite all the madness we’ve seen. And so it shall be.

BTW: On my understanding, “unconstrained warmaking authority” is a characteristic of a dictatorial monarchy. All hail the King.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Who's afraid of the Big Bad Bolton - that would be Moscow Mitch.

Why Is Mitch McConnell So Afraid of John Bolton? asks Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III. They assert that The Senate must hear his testimony in an impeachment trial. Here are essential excerpts.

The importance of John Bolton’s offer to testify if subpoenaed in the impeachment proceedings against President Trump cannot be overstated. In a single stroke, Mr. Bolton, the former national security adviser, elevated truth and transparency over political gamesmanship.

The Senate must take him up on his offer, …

But is it likely given McConnell’s antipathy?

The core principle behind the rule of law is that justice is blind and partisan identity should not influence a trial’s outcome. But anyone watching Mr. McConnell twist himself into knots in trying to block witnesses and documents has to wonder whether this notion ever took root in his mind. He has gone so far as to say that “there will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this to the extent that we can.” He also said, “There’s no chance the president is going to be removed from office.”

How can Mr. McConnell make such a claim without having heard from Mr. Bolton? …

And how can Mr. McConnell make such a claim without having heard from the most important witness of all, Mr. Trump? …

There is only one possible explanation for this behavior: He is afraid of the truth. …

The two of us are lawyers and became friends and writing partners out of our shared reverence for the rule of law. We have very different politics, but we believe our commitment to this principle far eclipses the rest. The Constitution imposes upon the Senate a duty to “try all impeachments,” and so a real trial — with all relevant testimony and evidence — is what is required.

This week, Mr. Bolton, himself a lawyer, and recognizing the nature of the Senate’s crucial constitutional obligation, has taken a critical step in the right direction. It’s our hope that Americans will recognize that our commitment to the rule of law is what holds us together.

The truth may not set the president free, but the Constitution is meant to keep the country free, and a fair and impartial trial is what must take place here.

Mr. Katyal, the author of “Impeach: The Case Against Donald Trump,” and Mr. Conway, an adviser to the Lincoln Project, are lawyers.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Will American military refuse an illegal order from the president. We may very well soon have an answer.

Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman (NY Times) report that Pentagon Rules Out Striking Iranian Cultural Sites, Contradicting Trump. The defense secretary acknowledged that “the laws of armed conflict” prohibited attacking antiquities and said the military had no plans to do so, even though the president declared them targets.

So will we or won’t we attack Iran’s antiquities?

The president says yes – and yes again.

The furor was a classic controversy of Mr. Trump’s creation, the apparent result of an impulsive threat and his refusal to back down in the face of criticism. When Mr. Trump declared on Saturday that the United States had identified 52 potential targets in Iran if it retaliates for the American drone strike that killed Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, none of those targets qualified as cultural sites, according to an administration official who asked not to be identified correcting the president.

Nonetheless, when Mr. Trump casually said on Twitter that they included sites “very high level & important to Iran & the Iranian culture,” the resulting uproar only got his back up. Rather than simply say that cultural sites were not actually being targeted, the official said, he decided to double down the next day with reporters flying with him on Air Force One, scoffing at the idea that Iran could “kill our people” while “we’re not allowed to touch their cultural site,” saying, “It doesn’t work that way.”

The Secretary of Defense says no.

Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper sought to douse an international outcry on Monday by ruling out military attacks on cultural sites in Iran if the conflict with Tehran escalates further, despite President Trump’s threat to destroy some of the country’s treasured icons.

Mr. Esper acknowledged that striking cultural sites with no military value would be a war crime, putting him at odds with the president, who insisted such places would be legitimate targets. Mr. Trump’s threats generated condemnation at home and abroad while deeply discomfiting American military leaders who have made a career of upholding the laws of war.

“We will follow the laws of armed conflict,” Mr. Esper said at a news briefing at the Pentagon when asked if cultural sites would be targeted as the president had suggested over the weekend. When a reporter asked if that meant “no” because the laws of war prohibit targeting cultural sites, Mr. Esper agreed. “That’s the laws of armed conflict.”

Everyone else is freaked.

Military leaders were left in the awkward position of trying to reaffirm their commitment to generations of war-fighting rules without angering a volatile commander in chief by contradicting him. Mr. Trump’s remarks unsettled even some of his allies, who considered them an unnecessary distraction at a time when the president should be focusing attention on Iran’s misdeeds rather than promising some of his own.

[Trump’s] comments drew protests from Iran and other American adversaries who said they showed that Mr. Trump is the aggressor — and not just against Iran’s government but against its people, its history and its very nationhood. Even some of America’s international partners weighed in, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain breaking with Mr. Trump by issuing a statement through an aide warning against targeting antiquities.

Moscovian candidate beholden to Putin for everything.

One of the questions central to the Trump presidency is what Russia has on Trump. The fourth headline above suggests the answer.

Following the money, Mark Sumner of the Daily Kos Staff reports on a possible answer in Explosive report indicates that Donald Trump’s loans from Deutsche Bank were backed by Russia.

The reasons that Donald Trump would need a massive distraction at this point are numerous. Every day seems to produce fresh evidence that the White House was fully aware that Trump’s delay of military assistance to Ukraine was simply against the law, and that multiple officials engaged in a criminal conspiracy to cover up for Trump and retroactively create an excuse for an inexcusable act. Somewhere right now, Mitch McConnell is probably drafting a statement claiming that the Senate could not possibly consider an impeachment trial “during a time of war.”

But onto that stack of dog-wagging rationales add this one: According to Forensic News, Trump’s loans from Deutsche Bank were underwritten by a Russian state-owned bank. That news reportedly comes from a whistleblower with access to documents from both Deutsche Bank and Russia’s state-owned VTB Bank. VTB Bank was also the proposed lender on the never-completed Trump Tower Moscow project.

The question of why Deutsche Bank would extend a series of huge loans to Trump has been dangling since before he ever announced his candidacy for president on a golden escalator ride. When Trump first went to Deutsche Bank, he was worse than broke. He had just finished bankrupting multiple casinos in New Jersey, and then had convinced investors to back a takeover of those casinos at a fraction of the original value. Then Trump deliberately allowed the investment group to go bankrupt so he could grab the whole deal himself at a fraction of what his investors had paid. Then he went bankrupt. Again. And along the way he was socked with a massive fine for money laundering at his now bankrupt (again) casino.

Trump was so fiscally radioactive that no American bank would let him in the door. But Deutsche Bank turned around and gifted Trump with loans that gave him a fresh start and an apparently miracle turnaround of his New York real estate empire. Those loans have always been the subject of head-scratching over just what Deutsche Bank could have been thinking. But if Forensic News is right, what Deutsche Bank was thinking was that it wasn’t risking a damn thing, because the Russian government was actually vouching for Trump through VTB Bank. If Trump didn’t come through, Vladimir Putin was offering to make it good.

The documents supposedly originated with the son of a former Deutsche Bank official who committed suicide, which is very much the kind of connection that raises concerns about the authenticity of the information. This only highlights the importance of efforts by Congress to gain access to information on these loans. The last appeals court ruling in the case instructed Deutsche Bank to turn over the information, but the Supreme Court stepped in to block the subpoena and hear the case.

Trump lost the fight against the congressional subpoena at the district level and in two appeals, with all judges decisively siding with Congress’ authority to request the records. That the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case is very unusual, both because there was no conflict among rulings by lower courts and because the Supreme Court tends to avoid most cases involving a conflict between the executive and legislative branches.

Much of Trump’s “recovery” depended on selling apartments and buildings to Russian oligarchs at far above market prices. Those deals have always suggested the same kind of money laundering that added to the conviction of Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, but if these accusations are accurate, Russia did far more for Trump than buy his gilded condos.

If they are true, this would show that Donald Trump was 100% dependent on the Russian government for his “big comeback.” It would mean that he was completely beholden to Putin for his real estate, for his golf courses, for his candidacy—for everything.

Monday, January 6, 2020

After Trump-ordered assassination is there an ending 'short of war'

Quote of the Day: “It’s hard to envision how this ends short of war.” - Susan Rice.

Washington Posts columnist Max Boot asks the prime question following Trump’s killing of a Iranian general: Trump just upped the ante in the Middle East. Is he ready for what comes next?

One would hope that at this moment of peril the United States would be led by sober, experienced leaders presiding over a well-oiled national security decision-making process. But that is clearly not what we have. Many experts have long feared how Trump would react in a genuine, no-kidding crisis. We are now about to find out.

It is a near certainty that we will not like the answer.

The Dire Consequences of Trump’s Suleimani Decision are spelled out by Susan E. Rice, a contributing opinion writer for the NY Times and the national security adviser from 2013 to 2017. She tells us that One thing is clear after the killing of Iran’s second most important official: Americans are not safer. (And thanks to our roving reporter Sherry for the tip.)

Americans would be wise to brace for war with Iran.

Full-scale conflict is not a certainty, but the probability is higher than at any point in decades. …

[Read more of Rice’s thinking after the break below.]

In the face of Iranian reprisals, it will be difficult for the United States to de-escalate tensions and avoid a larger conflict. Iran gets the next move. The United States has failed to deter Tehran thus far, even with the deployment of 14,000 additional American troops to the Gulf region since May. The announcement this week that the Pentagon was sending 3,500 more soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division seems unlikely to change things.

When Iran does respond, its response will likely be multifaceted and occur at unpredictable times and in multiple places. President Trump will then face what may yet be the most consequential national security decision of his presidency. If he reacts with additional force, the risk is great that the confrontation will spiral into a wider military conflict. If he fails to react in kind, he will likely invite escalating Iranian aggression.

It’s hard to envision how this ends short of war.

Mother Nature's coming correction will do more to counteract Suleimani's blunders than the Trump-ordered assassination could ever do.

The bulk of blogsters and other media denizens converged on two questions. Did Iranian General Qassim Suleimani deserve to get killed on Trump’s order? Yes. Was Trump’s action a smart move? We don’t know yet. Here are perspectives on each question.

Did Suleimani deserve what Trump dished out?

NY Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman addresses the first question in an interesting way saying Trump Kills Iran’s Most Overrated Warrior.Suleimani pushed his country to build an empire, but drove it into the ground instead.

One day they may name a street after President Trump in Tehran. Why? Because Trump just ordered the assassination of possibly the dumbest man in Iran and the most overrated strategist in the Middle East: Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani.

Think of the miscalculations this guy made. In 2015, the United States and the major European powers agreed to lift virtually all their sanctions on Iran, many dating back to 1979, in return for Iran halting its nuclear weapons program for a mere 15 years, but still maintaining the right to have a peaceful nuclear program. It was a great deal for Iran. Its economy grew by over 12 percent the next year. And what did Suleimani do with that windfall?

He and Iran’s supreme leader launched an aggressive regional imperial project that made Iran and its proxies the de facto controlling power in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana. This freaked out U.S. allies in the Sunni Arab world and Israel — and they pressed the Trump administration to respond. Trump himself was eager to tear up any treaty forged by President Obama, so he exited the nuclear deal and imposed oil sanctions on Iran that have now shrunk the Iranian economy by almost 10 percent and sent unemployment over 16 percent.

All that for the pleasure of saying that Tehran can call the shots in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana. What exactly was second prize?

[snip] Read more about Suleimani’s blunders in the original.

The whole “protest” against the United States Embassy compound in Baghdad last week was almost certainly a Suleimani-staged operation to make it look as if Iraqis wanted America out when in fact it was the other way around. The protesters were paid pro-Iranian militiamen. No one in Baghdad was fooled by this.

In a way, it’s what got Suleimani killed. He so wanted to cover his failures in Iraq he decided to start provoking the Americans there by shelling their forces, hoping they would overreact, kill Iraqis and turn them against the United States. Trump, rather than taking the bait, killed Suleimani instead.

I have no idea whether this was wise or what will be the long-term implications. But here are two things I do know about the Middle East.

First, often in the Middle East the opposite of “bad” is not “good.” The opposite of bad often turns out to be “disorder.” Just because you take out a really bad actor like Suleimani doesn’t mean a good actor, or a good change in policy, comes in his wake. Suleimani is part of a system called the Islamic Revolution in Iran. That revolution has managed to use oil money and violence to stay in power since 1979 — and that is Iran’s tragedy, a tragedy that the death of one Iranian general will not change.

Today’s Iran is the heir to a great civilization and the home of an enormously talented people and significant culture. Wherever Iranians go in the world today, they thrive as scientists, doctors, artists, writers and filmmakers — except in the Islamic Republic of Iran, whose most famous exports are suicide bombing, cyberterrorism and proxy militia leaders. The very fact that Suleimani was probably the most famous Iranian in the region speaks to the utter emptiness of this regime, and how it has wasted the lives of two generations of Iranians by looking for dignity in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways.

The other thing I know is that in the Middle East all important politics happens the morning after the morning after.

Yes, in the coming days there will be noisy protests in Iran, the burning of American flags and much crying for the “martyr.” The morning after the morning after? There will be a thousand quiet conversations inside Iran that won’t get reported. They will be about the travesty that is their own government and how it has squandered so much of Iran’s wealth and talent on an imperial project that has made Iran hated in the Middle East.

And yes, the morning after, America’s Sunni Arab allies will quietly celebrate Suleimani’s death, but we must never forget that it is the dysfunction of many of the Sunni Arab regimes — their lack of freedom, modern education and women’s empowerment — that made them so weak that Iran was able to take them over from the inside with its proxies.

Mother Nature’s correction

Friedman concludes:

I write these lines while flying over New Zealand, where the smoke from forest fires 2,500 miles away over eastern Australia can be seen and felt. Mother Nature doesn’t know Suleimani’s name, but everyone in the Arab world is going to know her name. Because the Middle East, particularly Iran, is becoming an environmental disaster area — running out of water, with rising desertification and overpopulation. If governments there don’t stop fighting and come together to build resilience against climate change — rather than celebrating self-promoting military frauds who conquer failed states and make them fail even more — they’re all doomed.

Was Trump’s action a smart move?

Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post answers in Whatever happens with Iran, I’m confident Donald Trump can get us through it.

Settle down. It’s tagged as “Satire.” Now read on.

Don’t worry! You or I may not know what the fallout will be from the drone strike that killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. We may be a little unnerved by Iran’s vows of revenge. We may, naively, fear for the stability of the region and the safety of those who live there.

But surely Donald Trump would not have taken such an action without fully thinking through all of its possible consequences. Donald Trump does not just do things. Donald Trump must have applied exactly as much caution and forethought to this matter as we are accustomed to seeing from him on all issues, and, therefore, we have no cause for alarm. Whatever will come next, Donald Trump has surely anticipated it. This is Donald Trump we are talking about.

He is surrounded by the best people, people who would tell him if something he had done or was about to do was a bad idea. He does not randomly turn on the TV and implement whatever the blondest man suggests. He is the president of the United States, with access to maximum information, and that is what he uses to guide him.

This is not some low-stakes matter, like whether to flush a toilet 10 times or 15 times. On this question, human lives hang in the balance. And thankfully, Donald Trump understands the cost of war. The fact that his personal intervention has been key in the clearing of a Navy SEAL who now uses his platform to promote “KILL BAD DUDES”-themed merchandise and specialty knives after posing for photos with a dead body is — not a reflection of how Donald Trump sees war.

Donald Trump is not just flailing haplessly around like a cat with its head stuck in a bucket. This guy gets it. He is the one who put Jared Kushner in charge of the Middle East!

I am sure he gave this just as much thought as — or, indeed, even more thought than — he gives less important decisions, such as whether to tweet or whether to accept Rudy Giuliani’s services as his personal lawyer. It is surprising and inconsistent that the Pentagon’s statement about it misidentified the organization Soleimani led. That does not reflect the level of professionalism at work here, which is no doubt high.

As we walk down a road whose end not even experts can possibly guess, who better than Donald Trump to lead us? He is no expert. Who would you rather have steering this country through a nerve-racking and divisive period than Donald Trump, with his keen sense of history and equally keen sense of reality? And if things go south, whom else would I trust to keep an even keel and figure out solutions in a clearheaded manner? What name could possibly leap to mind before the name “Donald Trump”?

In the past, America has blundered into thankless wars that devoured decades and ended thousands of lives. We did not know what we were doing, and we did not know how to get out. But that was because Donald Trump was not in charge.