About That House Race In Georgia

I realize it is easy to say now, but I never thought Democrats would win Georgia’s 6th congressional district. Once the spotlight was glaring on that race, it was all over. Those folks were, after all, mostly Republicans. Hillary got close (1.5 points), but didn’t win in that district. And a very right-wing Republican named Tom Price, now a member of Tr-mp’s cabinet, won his last race there by a gazillion votes. The people who live in that district may not like Tr-mp all that much, but they like being Republicans. And that is the key to understanding why that race, why losing that race by four percentage points (as Jon Ossoff ultimately did), was actually good news for Democrats. Don’t let anyone, especially a Republican anyone, tell you differently.

Our family has a dog. He’s not a Pit Bull or a Rottweiler. He’s a miniature Dachshund. People don’t usually think of little wiener dogs as aggressive beasts, but they are. More so than Pit Bulls or Rottweilers or other breeds of dogs, according to some studies. And they don’t limit their aggression to strangers or other dogs. They also tend to bite their owners and family members. Our dog has done that. He almost bit the nose and lip off my youngest son. Why? Because one night our cute little wiener dog didn’t feel well. And my son didn’t know that. He got down in his face and tried to be nice to him. His reward was an hours-long trip to the emergency room and fairly extensive surgery. He still has the scars to prove that you don’t mess with sleeping sausages who aren’t feeling well.

E. B. White (the American writer who wrote the style guide, The Elements of Style, and the great children’s book, Charlotte’s Web) said the following about his Dachshund, Fred:

I would rather train a striped zebra to balance an Indian club than induce a dachshund to heed my slightest command. When I address Fred I never have to raise either my voice or my hopes. He even disobeys me when I instruct him in something he wants to do.

As I see it, the mostly Republican electorate in Georgia wanted to vote against Tr-mp. But they didn’t like all the instruction they were getting. All the publicity, all the money that 20161106_105254 (2)came pouring in from outside the district, caused Republicans there to respond like a disobedient wiener dog. They resorted to form. They voted Republican. That’s what happened there. It wasn’t a Democratic failure. It wasn’t a bad candidate (although it would have helped if he had actually lived in the district). It wasn’t a bad message. It was simply the fact that Georgia 6 was chock-full of irritated Republican dachshunds who didn’t like being told what to do. It’s pretty much that simple.

But given all that, Democrats did quite well. We should look at what happened in Georgia as a good sign. The wiener dogs were disobedient, of course. But when we compete in districts that don’t have as many wieners, we can win. Cheers!

Deep In The Woods On Whether Any POTUS Should Be Subject To Criminal Indictment

“Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States: but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

—The Constitution, Article 1, Section 3

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If you’re like me, you probably don’t really know why it is that, effectively, nothing can be done to Tr-mp, in terms of trying him in court, for committing any type of federal crime like obstructing justice, should the Special Counsel point in that direction some sweet day. Well, we’re in luck. Bob Bauer, courtesy of the Lawfare blog, has come to help dissipate our ignorance and offer us the faintest bit of hope that something can be done. I warn you, though, it is a very faint hope and this is not a short exercise.

But before I get to Bauer’s post, allow me to quote something, something that perhaps we’ve all grown too comfortable with, that should absolutely stun us. The quote is from an article by Jonathan Rauch (“Impeaching Tr-mp is a Heavy Lift“), a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, who argues that so long as Tr-mp remains popular among Republicans, there isn’t much hope of an impeachment:

Might some decisive event—Tr-mp’s own version of the smoking-gun tape—kick the Republican props out from under Tr-mp? Maybe. But Tr-mp’s strategy is antithetical to Nixon’s. Nixon maintained a façade of probity and normalcy. Trump doesn’t bother. He has publicly asked the Russians to tamper with U.S. elections, publicly helped cover for their having done so, and then publicly acknowledged firing the FBI director for investigating the matter. His weaponization of flagrance, as I have argued elsewhere, draws his supporters into complicity. Given that his Republican approval has stayed in the eighties, the GOP base appears to have priced in, so to speak, his deviant and erratic behavior.

We all need to take time to let that sink in. Especially what Rauch said about Tr-mp not bothering to maintain even a facade of honesty or normalcy:

He has publicly asked the Russians to tamper with U.S. elections, publicly helped cover for their having done so, and then publicly acknowledged firing the FBI director for investigating the matter.

That triad of wrongdoing in and of itself ought to be enough to rid us of Tr-mp. But politics makes that almost impossible, so long as Democrats a) don’t have a majority in the House (necessary for initiating an impeachment proceeding) and b) don’t control two-thirds of the Senate (necessary for a conviction). So, with impeachment a distant possibility at this point in time, we turn back to the law and to Bob Bauer’s post on Lawfare.

Bauer, who was the White House Counsel when we had a real president named Obama, titled his piece, “A Disabled Executive: The Special Counsel Investigation and Presidential Immunities.” He discussed the famous United States v. Nixon, the case from 1974 in which the Supreme Court, in an 8-0 shellacking, told Nixon to fork over his secretly recorded tapes and other material. That decision effectively put some serious restrictions on any president’s power to claim “executive privilege” and withhold subpoenaed evidence relevant to a judicial proceeding. In other words, the Court found that the president can’t hide behind a claim of privilege to shield himself or others from their accountability to the law. This is the idea, we all have heard, that “the president is not above the law.”

Well, he is. Sort of. But Bob Bauer has a fix in mind.

Bauer sets the contemporary scene regarding the Special Counsel’s investigation and its obvious negative effects on the current Executive Branch, and asks a couple of questions that demand answers:

The investigation is beginning to consume the Trump Administration. Most notably, the president seems to have little capacity for managing these pressures. As suggested by his inability to stay off Twitter, he is evidently not one to “compartmentalize” sufficiently to push the inquiry to one side while carrying on regular business. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is barely into his task and so one might ask: what happens when the investigation begins to accelerate and, worse, if indictment becomes a possibility?

It is at this point that the long-standing constitutional question, so far unaddressed by any court, is again raised: do the strains on a presidency under investigation require the conclusion that the president cannot be indicted while in office?

It’s important to emphasize the fact Bauer pointed out: the idea that POTUS cannot be indicted while he’s still in office has never been tested in the courts. Never. In the Nixon case, the Watergate grand jury, while indicting other White House officials for their part in the burglary that began it all, did not indict Nixon himself. He was, famously, labeled an “unindicted co-conspirator,” so as to avoid that “long-standing constitutional question” Bauer referenced. And, as we all know, Nixon boot-scooted out of the White House soon after the Supreme Court took his executive privilege away. So, the can-POTUS-be-indicted question is still open.

And Bauer helpfully points us to two crucially influential opinions on the matter issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). The first opinion, issued in 1973, took the position that a sitting president cannot be indicted. And the other, issued in 2000, affirmed that original OLC conclusion. It is important to keep in mind that these opinions, as influential as they are, were written by Justice Department lawyers, not judges in a court case. Bauer summarized the reasoning supporting the OLC conclusion:

OLC has taken the position that while the Constitution does not explicitly provide for immunity from indictment or prosecution, and the record on the Founders’ views of the question is inconclusive, the constitutional role of the president requires that he or she be afforded temporary immunity. Indictment and prosecution would have a “dramatically destabilizing effect” on the president’s capacity to discharge his or her duties. The executive’s energies would be diverted into the “substantial preparation” needed for his legal defense. The mere stigma and opprobrium of indictment, and possibly conviction, would result in “undermining the president’s leadership and efficacy both home and abroad.”

The 2000 opinion landed hard on conclusion that “given the potentially momentous political consequences for the Nation at stake, there is a fundamental, structural incompatibility between the ordinary application of the criminal process and the Office of the President.” Of course, delay in either indictment or trial until a term ended would be costly to the administration of justice: but “while significant, [they] are not controlling. In the case of clear and serious criminal wrongdoing, Congress can act to impeach, and this outcome is more consistent with democratic values than “shifting an awesome power to unelected persons lacking an explicit constitutional role vis-à-vis the President.”

Bauer attacks the “weakness” of this position by pointing out how little difference, in terms of disruption, there is—in Tr-mp’s case—between what may be the late stages of the process and the current investigatory stage:

From the beginning it was unclear how the OLC’s reasoning distinguished between indictments and prosecutions, on the one hand, and investigations, on the other. The institution of a serious investigation into presidential wrongdoing has been sufficient to lead to” mass hysteria” in the West Wing. It has clearly and heavily burdened the president—one need only read his tweets—and disrupted normal business and the recruitment of personnel for key positions. So, while few doubt that the president is subject to investigation, it is hard to see how these disruptions can be easily distinguished from those associated with indictment. The difference is one of degree, not of kind, and as the Nixon experience established, those differences are indeed fine.

The “distractions will worsen,” Bauer says, as the “current investigation continues.” There will be interviews, document requests, lawyers upon lawyers hired by witnesses, and inevitable “leaks.” Bauer argues:

The more serious and far-reaching the investigation becomes, the greater will be disruption. By the time of his resignation, President Nixon had not been indicted, but his capacity for governance had been all but extinguished.

Here Bauer, for the sake of argument, entertains a dubious idea related to the claim that there is a meaningful distinction, in terms of disruption in the Executive Branch, between indictments and investigations:

It is possible, of course, to believe that for just these reasons OLC did not go far enough, and that it should have clearly extended temporary immunity to the investigative stage.

Now, think about that. The OLC could have extended “temporary immunity” to a president that covered an investigation of wrongdoing. Merely investigating whether a crime was committed would then have to wait until POTUS was out of office. And the logic of the OLC reasoning, as Bauer points out, leads in that direction. Fortunately, the authors of those two OLC opinions were not imprisoned by their own logic:

The drafters in 1973 and 2000 declined to take this next step. Doubtless they were constrained by a powerful democratic norm, reflected in the Supreme Court’s pointed rejection in United States v. Nixon of any suggestion that the president, as the head of a unitary executive branch, is somehow “above the law.”

Image result for justice scalesThat “democratic norm,” that POTUS is, like the rest of us, subject to the law, has “only gained force” since the 1973 OLC opinion and that famous and suddenly relevant 1974 Court decision, Bauer says. Even though there is still a judicially unanswered constitutional question lingering around about whether a sitting president can be indicted, tried, and possibly convicted, we still have in force the minimalist norm that a president can at least be investigated. But Bauer is not content to leave it there. He still has serious problems with the OLC logic that indictments and trials and prosecutions—but not investigations—would have a “’dramatically destabilizing effect’ on the president’s capacity to discharge his or her duties.” Bauer focused on that 2000 OLC opinion:

It tried gamely, but more or less in passing, to show that investigations can be managed without undue disruption. In a footnote, it noted that a grand jury could still “collect” and “preserve” evidence, available for use once the president has left office. The picture it presented is that of the grand jury working quietly in the background. More realistic is what we had in the Nixon era and may be seeing develop today: a full-fledged investigation from within the executive branch, by special counsel dedicated to this purpose. It is not a question of a grand jury collecting and preserving but of the Special Counsel investigating. The process is active, not passive….

A major inquiry at full boil is most often an indication of the seriousness of the potential charges, and yet it is here—where the public interest in a presidency accountable to law is keenest—that the OLC’s concern with disruption is most obviously triggered. By a strange twist of constitutional logic, the president under investigation for the most serious wrongdoing would then have the most compelling claim to immunity.

Bauer then criticizes the OLC for not seriously engaging “the question of how temporary immunity from indictment or prosecution can be reconciled with the due administration of justice.” He writes:

For example, it included the president’s exposure to the stigma of a criminal charge among the “dramatically destabilizing effects” of an indictment. Of course, unresolved questions of criminal misconduct also cast shadows on a presidency, as the Nixon saga showed. The opinion did not explain how the president’s credibility is enhanced by charges left hanging and defended only by a claim of immunity. It might be just as persuasively argued that the president who engages with the criminal justice process does more honor to the office and invites closer consideration of the merits of his self-defense. “I did no wrong, and here is why” has a more presidential ring and better serves the rule of law than “You can’t get me.”

We can all see, by his behavior, that Tr-mp isn’t interested in any high-minded notion like “honor to the office.” And we can all imagine, at some future time, him shamelessly utilizing the “You can’t get me” defense. Tr-mp isn’t concerned with anything fundamentally essential to a stable democracy like the concept of “the due administration of justice.” But Bauer is. He criticized the OLC opinion for falling back,

on a comforting image of a grand jury operating silently and (somehow) mostly out of sight and out of the way.

But that is not how it goes with high-profile, high-stakes investigations. We have them or we don’t: there is no quiet, non-disruptive version. And if we have them, accepting the disruptions they entail, then it is difficult to argue that they cannot be brought to one possible conclusion, if justified by the evidence: indictment. If a president can be investigated, then, it seems, a president can be indicted; if not in the second case, then not in either case, because it cannot be said that the government in the throes of a major investigation is measurably or reliably safer from severe “disruption” and massive loss of presidential credibility. The better, more internally consistent view in line with democratic “rule of law” norms is that the president is subject to investigation and, if the evidence supports it, indictment.

Bauer discusses the truth that “the president could use his executive authority to thwart an investigation,” through dismissing successive prosecutors until he finds an individual with Marco Rubio’s or Ted Cruz’s compromised blood running through his or her veins. But Bauer has faith, too much in my opinion, that in such a case “Congress would intervene via the impeachment process to restoring the ‘rule of law.'” He says, with way too much confidence given what we have seen from Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders:

It is in constitutional theory only that a president may order an end to an investigation directed against him. In practice, he will fail.

I have a feeling we will find out if Bauer is right. In the mean time, Bauer offers us a novel solution (at least it was to me) to the problem of what to do, should his theory prevail some day that there is no difference, in terms of disruption, between indictments and investigations:

If a president is not, then, immune from investigation or indictment, the “dramatically destabilizing effects” on government may be addressed in one of three ways. The president could resign. Congress could move to impeachment. Also available  is the 25th Amendment, which permits a president to temporarily vacate the office while fighting the indictment and standing trial—perhaps, in the thick of an investigation, while fending off indictment.

The 2000 opinion was equivocal in its treatment of the 25th Amendment, particularly as an answer to the possible incarceration of a president following conviction. But it also conceded that “the amendment’s terms ‘unable’ and ‘inability’ were not . . . narrowly defined, apparently out of a recognition that situations of inability might take various forms not neatly falling into categories of physical or mental illness.”

I find that a rather stunning argument. The president should be subject to investigation, indictment, and possible prosecution, and if the process proves so disruptive that he can’t adequately perform his duties, there is a 25th Amendment remedy. Bauer’s conclusion:

In a case where, as of now, neither impeachment nor resignation is probable, the 25thAmendment supplies more of an answer than OLC would credit to the problem of an incapacitated presidency. It is also more convincing than temporary immunity from indictment or prosecution that is grounded in dubious reasoning about the implications of the “constitutional structure” and that, if taken to its logical conclusion, would also insulate a president from investigation into serious criminal wrongdoing.

In other words, as it stands right now, using only the reasoning of Justice Department lawyers from long ago, Tr-mp is essentially beyond the reach of the law and we have little hope of a House impeachment and little hope of a Senate conviction. And the truth is, although Bauer’s idea is solid and soundly reasoned, we also have little hope that anyone who matters will pay the slightest bit of attention to it.

Remarks On The Shooting In Virginia

Published on June 15, 2017

Okay. This shouldn’t have to be said. But here we go again.

♦ Mentally ill people, people with histories of violence and lawbreaking, whether they be right-wing nutjobs or left-wing nutjobs, shouldn’t have an easy, lawful pathway toward the purchase and possession of guns. Period. Will that stop all the shootings? Hell no. But it might stop some of them.

♦ There are major differences between the two big political parties on the issue above. One party wants to make it harder to obtain weapons, the other wants to make it much, much easier. Therefore, one party is much, much more to blame for the ridiculous amount of gun violence we see in the United States. That is indisputable. Don’t even bother trying.

♦ It’s not okay for Americans to settle political differences with violence. It should be obvious that even right-wing reactionaries like Steve Scalise deserve to live their lives without the slightest fear of getting murdered because of their political views. (Here’s to his full recovery, by the way, as well as all those who were shot.)

♦ One party nominated and then helped “elect” a guy who has, very publicly, said he would “pay the legal fees” of people who took his advice “to knock the crap” out of potential tomato-tossers at his rallies. That’s unacceptable. Or at least it should be.

♦ One party nominated and then helped “elect” a guy who has, very publicly, embraced and praised thuggish autocrats around the world (he even begged one of them for help during the election) who use violence to control their noisy citizens or, as in the case of the Turkish Thug, use violence to silence protesters—on American soil, for God’s sake. That’s unacceptable. Or at least it should be.

♦ It is true that we ought to be able to fight—metaphorically—over policies, priorities for the country, and what our future should look like without demonizing each other. It’s also true we ought to respect each other as we engage in these fights. But until Republicans stop supporting Tr-mp they will not, speaking only for myself, get my respect. Nope. No respect until they throw out of office the guy who enthusiastically supports thuggish behavior. No respect until they reject the guy who begged a thuggish Russian for election assistance. No respect until they turn away from the guy who patted the Turkish Thug on the back—after he fraudulently manipulated a referendum that essentially massacred democracy in Turkey. No respect until they impeach the guy who is using his office for financial gain and who, just this morning, said the following about those public servants who are, apparently, investigating him for obstruction of justice regarding the Russia probe:

You are witnessing the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history – led by some very bad and conflicted people!

To Tr-mp, all who oppose him, or have a job to do to make sure he’s not breaking any laws or violating the Constitution, are “bad” people. Bad. And that tweet came a day after the shooting of a congressman and others in Virginia, a day after Tr-mp said the following regarding that shooting:

We may have our differences, but we do well, in times like these, to remember that everyone who serves in our nation’s capital is here because, above all, they love our country.

Tr-mp, of course, didn’t mean that. He read what someone wrote for him. He stuck to the script. The next day, likely the next hour, he was back in “some very bad” people mode, referring to those people serving “in our nation’s capital.”

I will say this again: Tr-mp didn’t start all this stuff. He merely represents what years of Republican tolerance (and some amount of encouragement) of lies and distortions by Rush Limbaugh and Fox “News” and the Drudge Report—and now including Breitbart and Infowars, explicitly embraced by Tr-mp himself—has produced. Such dishonorable tolerance has almost destroyed our democratic immune system. And until Republican Party leaders—now wholly responsible for Tr-mp and Tr-mpism—call out the standard-lowering, truth-killing demagogues in its tent, they will get no respect from me, even if, as an American, they will always have my pledge of peaceful resistance.

♦ Finally, there is a rather noble idea going around today regarding the annual Congressional Baseball Game between D’s and R’s, for which Scalise and other R’s were practicing when the shooting began. Huffpo’s Ed Mazza put it this way:

Instead of having the two parties play each other, as tradition holds, many people would like to see the teams mix rosters to show they’re all really on the same side: America.

Now, I confess I also thought of that idea when news of the tragic shooting first started unfolding yesterday. But something about the notion, as well-meaning as it sounds and is meant to be, didn’t quite sit right with me. I wasn’t quite sure why until I read one of the suggestions, posted by Noah Gittell on Twitter, in Mazza’s piece:

If Congress really wanted to make a meaningful gesture, they’d get rid of this Dem vs. Rep crap and mix the two teams.

I understand the emotion behind that suggestion. I really do. But the suggestion itself doesn’t make sense. The annual baseball game between political rivals is suppose to be a metaphor for the idea that people with very important political differences can still come together—as who they are—and compete under the rules of an old, old game. They can, as partisans, fight like hell to win and not, when it’s all over, take a bat to the heads of Image result for congressional baseball gametheir opponents. Mixing the two teams would send exactly the wrong message. We can’t “get rid of this Dem vs. Rep crap” any more than we can get rid of any important differences between us. What we can do is—and, again, this is what the game tonight is suppose to celebrate—learn to live with those differences, learn to fight with each other over those differences, but do so under certain rules of engagement, rules that both parties respect and follow, rules that insure a peaceful future for an always-divided America.

Political parties, as messy and unsatisfying as they often are, do represent something important in our democracy. They are consolidations of ideas about what America should look like, what it should be. Thus, they are institutions with often conflicting visions for our national future. And one of our parties, one of those institutions, has gone completely off the rails, forgetting all the old rules and conventions of the game that both sides accepted and honored, and making new ones up to advance their—and only their—agenda.

They support a democracy-disabling man named Tr-mp. They intentionally sabotaged Obamacare and now pass important life-and-death bills without hearings (the House) and in secret (the Senate). They purposely blocked judicial nominees President Obama was entitled to have confirmed, and are now attempting to fill those same positions with Tr-mp people, complete with all the bigotry that goes with him. Republicans have done all this and much, much more. And we, as Democrats or as independents, can’t help them get back to playing the game the right way until we are willing to hold them—peacefully—accountable for their politically deviant behavior.

And no disturbed man with a gun—a gun he shouldn’t have had—should stop us from doing that.

What’s Going On With Oliver Stone? Heck, What’s Going On With America?

“The Russian people have never been better off.”

—Oliver Stone, in The Guardian, June 12, 2017

No matter what you think of some of his kooky views, or any of his movies that sprang from those views, the following 7-minute interview of Oliver Stone demonstrates that there is something weird going on in his head. But more than that, given what we have seen with Tr-mp and his strange affection for Vladimir Putin, and given how many conservatives and leftists are willing to openly embrace the Russian thug, this short interview demonstrates that a) there is something weird going on in the United States and b) we should be grateful that there are still Stephen Colberts around to point it out. Watch:

Remarks And Asides, June 12, 2017

The Hill reported:

Secret Service: We don’t have any Trump White House tapes

Lordy, I was looking forward to more locker room talk. Dammit. Now the Tr-mp-Comey War amounts to the word of a pathological liar versus the word of a Boy Scout. And, predictably, Republicans once again are siding with pathology.

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Speaking of pathology, it wasn’t enough that NBC gave us Donald Tr-mp through something called “The Apprentice.” Now they have to give us both Megyn Kelly and Alex Jones on the same damn night! Well, not me. No thanks. I never watched a minute of Tr-mp’s TV show and I won’t watch a minute of this one, as Jones auditions for some kind of gig on NBC (wouldn’t be any worse than the network promoting Tr-mp, who promotes Jones, who promotes Tr-mp). As for Megyn, some smart person on Twitter said, “You can take the Kelly out of Fox, but you can’t take the Fox out of Kelly,” or something like that.

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What I will watch is the progress of an important lawsuit involving emoluments. The District of Columbia and the state of Maryland have filed suit against Tr-mp for violating “two critical, closely related anti-corruption provisions” of our Constitution, “the Foreign Emoluments Clause” and “the Domestic Emoluments Clause.” From the formal complaint:

Together, these provisions help ensure that the President serves with undivided loyalty to the American people, and the American people only. Our republican form of government demands no less….President Tr-mp’s continued ownership interest in a global business empire, which renders him deeply enmeshed with a legion of foreign and domestic government actors, violates the Constitution and calls into question the rule of law and the integrity of the country’s political system.

Amen. And good luck. As most of you know, my position from the beginning has been that Tr-mp should be immediately impeached and convicted for violating these provisions of the Constitution. If he isn’t, then we should give these two provisions, if not the Constitution itself, a decent burial somewhere. Perhaps in Paul Ryan’s back yard.

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As far as lawsuits, perhaps one day someone will file a suit over Tr-mp blocking people from his infamous Twitter account. Columbia University’s “Knight First Amendment Institute” sent Tr-mp a letter stating,

We write on behalf of individuals who have been blocked from your most-followed Twitter account…because they disagreed with, criticized, or mocked you or your actions as President [sic]. This Twitter account operates as a “designated public forum” for First Amendment purposes, and accordingly the viewpoint-based blocking of our clients is unconstitutional. We ask that you unblock them and any others who have been blocked for similar reasons.

I, for one, don’t find this a frivolous matter. In fact, it may demonstrate more clearly Tr-mp’s disdain for democracy than just about anything else he has done. If he wants to take advantage of the opportunities to publicly embarrass himself that Twitter affords him, he is obligated to give the rest of us the opportunity to embarrass him too.

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That millionaire Montana congressman-elect who body-slammed a journalist had his day in court. Naturally, he escaped the hoosegow, paid a fine, and will pick up trash along the Interstate, or some such thing. Now this Jeezussy Republican is free to go to Washington and body-slam the American people.

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Speaking of body-slamming:

Riot police descended on thousands of anti-Kremlin protests across Russia on Monday, kicking, shoving and beating demonstrators.

Tr-mp, of course, had something to say about this on Twitter:

My daughter, Ivanka, will be on tomorrow morning. Enjoy!

I sure hope those bruised or bloodied protesters were able to catch the show!

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Speaking of Fox & Friends and its daily dose of dementia-inducing drivel, the show recently “reported” that, “A New York City play appears to depict President Trump being brutally stabbed to death by women and minorities.” God. That sounds awful. Who would write such a thing? Shakespeare, you say? Julius Caesar, you say? But, but, but, “his wife is depicted with a ‘Slavic accent’ and he is being stabbed by women and minorities” and stuff. That has to mean that this particular production of the classic play is meant to send the message that Tr-mp should be stabbed to death by patriots, right? Wrong.

The artistic director who presented this interpretation of Julius Caesar, Oskar Eustis, reminded everyone about the point of the original play: that fighting “the tyrant does not mean imitating him.” And a review in the New York Times pointed out the basics:

Even a cursory reading of the play, the kind that many American teenagers give it in high school, is enough to show that it does not advocate assassination. Shakespeare portrays the killing of Caesar by seven of his fellow senators as an unmitigated disaster for Rome, no matter how patriotic the intentions.

It turns out it is fairly common to portray American presidents as Julius Caesar. Even Barack Obama was so portrayed, although I don’t remember Fox & Friends worrying on the air about that or about any potential assassination of our first African-American president. What Fox & Friends should worry about is how many IQs that show murders, not just on the Ides of March, but each and every day.

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Speaking of tyrants, former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara refused to take a phone call from Julius Tr-mp and ratted him out to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Twenty-two hours later, I was fired,” said Bharara. It took Tr-mp 18 days and a Washington Post story to fire Russia-friendly Michael Flynn, after it was clear Flynn was a liar and a threat to national security. It took Tr-mp less than a day to fire a prominent public servant who dissed him. Now, that is unpresidented and that is why we all should continue the noble work of unpresidenting Tr-mp, not with knives or guns, but with the one thing that bothers him the most: denying him the respect he thinks he deserves.

What If The Tr-mp Were On The Other Foot?

Posted June 12, 2017

I was recently asked a question that I have thought about many times since Tr-mp stunned us with his Russian-supplied “victory” last November. The question is essentially this:

What if Tr-mp were a liberal?

I can only speak for myself: I would attack Tr-mp even more fiercely if he were a liberal than I do now, if you can believe that. I’ll explain why in a minute.

I know that if the situation were reversed, there would be some people on the left who would invent some of the same excuses for Tr-mp as, say, Paul Ryan has disingenuously invented: he’s “new” to governing and all that utter nonsense. It’s nonsense because it is not his inexperience with government but his inexperience with ethics and truth and mental health that is the problem with Tr-mp. Most Americans can see that by now, as polls show.

Surely others on the left would invent similarly ridiculous arguments as part of their willingness to defend the indefensible and rationalize the irrational, although I don’t think you would find anywhere near the willingness to defend a liberal Tr-mp as you do a reactionary Tr-mp. There simply isn’t the left-leaning equivalent of the conservative media complex, what uber-journalist Claire Wardle believes is part of a disinformation ecosystem.”

I have been writing about Tr-mp at least since 2010 and there is no ideological switch he could make, no policy proposal he could embrace, no change of heart he could undergo, that would make me defend him in any way. Why? Well, one reason is that nothing about him is real—except his narcissism. He couldn’t be trusted to do what he said he would do, or that he was genuinely committed to any world view, except one he believed would serve his own interests.

But the most important reason a liberal Tr-mp would be indefensible is because of what we have seen happen to conservatism and the Republican Party within which that conservatism lives. Ideological conservatism has been corrupted for a long time now, as I have chronicled over the years. And Tr-mp didn’t start that corruption process. He represents (hopefully) the end of it. Conservatism is now thoroughly and, I believe, irredeemably corrupt. Conservatism is Tr-mpism and Tr-mpism is conservatism. The two are one and the same. And what we used to think of as principled conservatism is unlikely to ever recover from this moment, so long as the things that made Tr-mpism triumph—talk radio, Fox “News,” Drudge, Infowars, etc.—are with us, and so long as so many leaders of the Republican Party are afraid to take them on.

I wouldn’t want that same thing to happen to liberalism or the Democratic Party. I wouldn’t want Tr-mp to be the face of an ideological posture that I think the country needs, and needs desperately, to embrace. I wouldn’t want a liberal form of Tr-mpism, or a Tr-mpian form of liberalism—with all the attending corruption and chaos—to flourish, even if it meant getting a single-payer health system or realizing any other liberal dream. Why? Because the integrity of our political system, the integrity of democracy itself, is more important to maintain than any one or two or ten policy goals. It’s that simple for me.

I am as fond of President Obama as one distant voter should be. But if he, a highly intelligent man with impeccable ethics, were a conservative Republican, I might pay grudging respect to his intelligence and his ethics, but I would abhor his ideology and resulting policies. The policies do matter a great deal to me. But not as much as the underlying system of government and political institutions through which they can be applied. If that system and those institutions were to tolerate the level of disorder and corruption that even a liberal Tr-mp would present, it wouldn’t serve any of us, including liberals, in the long run. A liberal Tr-mp would still mean there is something seriously wrong with our democratic system and the institutions that support it. Even if a liberal Tr-mp championed progressive policy goals that would make Bernie Sanders blush, a sad and disturbing fact would remain: a sick and disordered man, a demagogue without a trace of ethics, had managed to con a Image result for pee in the poollot of people and debauch the system, severely threatening our experimental democracy.

To put it rather crudely, we all swim in the same democratic pool. And whether it is our political friends or our political enemies who pee in that pool, it doesn’t matter. The result is a piss bath.

Meanwhile, Republicans Aren’t Focused On How Corrupt Tr-mp Is. They’re Busy Doing Stuff—In The Dark.

Missouri’s own Claire McCaskill produced a video that has gone viral. In it she calls out Senate Republicans—to their faces—for what they are doing on healthcare. Wouldn’t you know it, it fell on a strong Democratic woman to mount a strong attack against dirty old GOP men.

By now, most of you have seen the three-minute video below, but I urge those who haven’t to watch how Senator McCaskill reduces Orrin Hatch, and by extension the entire Republican Party, to a quivering blob of perspiring, I-got-caught-exposing-myself-in-the-park indecency:


As the great Steve Benen put it:

Even by the low standards of contemporary American politics, the dynamic sounds ridiculous: Congress’ majority party is prepared to overhaul the nation’s health care system, making life-or-death decisions affecting tens of millions of Americans, and senators are writing legislation in secret. No hearings, no amendments, no transparency, no input from subject-matter experts, and no effort at bipartisan negotiation.

A group of conservative men are meeting behind closed doors, crafting a plan that will be brought directly to the floor for a vote. There is no precedent for anything like this in the American tradition.

But it’s precisely what we’re watching unfold.

And while I’ve seen some health care proponents express confidence that the Senate GOP’s secret proposal is doomed to fail, I think that confidence is badly misplaced. Republicans have made considerable progress this week on a far-right plan that may have enough support to pass.

While we all have been, understandably, focused on how corrupt Tr-mp and his administration and the Republican Party are, the GOP’s agenda moves on, an agenda that is not only worse than we, as Democrats, think, but worse than we can think.

Follow-Up On “That Thing”

In a post yesterday about former FBI Director James Comey’s statement to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I focused on one question I would have asked Comey. It had to do with the last conversation Comey ever had with Tr-mp, on April 11, in which Tr-mp said:

Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.

I wrote yesterday:

…my attention was directed at Comey’s lack of interest, or curiosity, in what Tr-mp meant by “that thing.” That lack of curiosity to find out what Tr-mp meant seems very odd to me, especially in the context of  Tr-mp’s “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal” preface. Comey says he “did not reply or ask him what he meant.” Why? Why wouldn’t the FBI Director, who clearly by the time of this call was worried about interference from Tr-mp, not want to know what “that thing” meant?

Now, I watched the hearing for two and a half hours and after all that time no one had yet bothered to ask him anything about what I considered a crucial matter. It was crucial because, as I put it,

It appears to me Tr-mp was directly suggesting that he had some “understanding” with Comey or that he had been trying to obtain some understanding or that he wanted Comey to think he would tell others he in fact had such an understanding. In other words, Tr-mp may have been purposely suggesting that Comey had been compromised by all of their discussions or that he saw it that way and might tell others about it. So, why wouldn’t Comey, knowing he would document this very important conversation, want to get Tr-mp on the record about such a crucial matter? It could have been impeachment-worthy information. Wasn’t obstruction of justice ever on Comey’s mind?

Lo and behold, just when I had given up hope, at the end of the hearing the question about “that thing” was finally asked. Unfortunately, it was asked by John McCain, whose previous questions were, well, to put it kindly, unworthy of your drunk uncle, not to mention a U.S. Senator. In any case, McCain did ask about “that thing” and here are the relevant parts of how that went:

MCCAIN: …when the president said to you — you talked about the April 11th phone call, and he said, quote, “Because I’ve been very loyal to you, very loyal. We had that thing, you know,” did that arouse your curiosity as what, quote, “that thing” was?

COMEY: Yes.

MCCAIN: Why didn’t you ask him?

COMEY: It didn’t seem to me to be important for the conversation we were having, to understand it. I took it to be some — an effort to — to communicate to me this — that there is a relationship between us where I’ve been good to you, you should be good to me.

MCCAIN: Yeah, but I — I think it would intensely arouse my curiosity if the president of the United States said “We had that thing, you know” — I’d like to know what the hell that thing is, particularly if I’m the director of the FBI.

COMEY: Yeah, I — I get that, Senator. Honestly, I’ll tell you what — this is speculation, but what I concluded at the time is, in his memory, he was searching back to our encounter at the dinner, and was preparing himself to say, “I offered loyalty to you, you promised loyalty to me,” and all of a sudden his memory showed him that did not happen, and I think he pulled up short.

That’s just a guess, but I — I — a lot of conversations with humans over the years.

MCCAIN: I think I would have had some curiosity if it had been about me, to be honest with you.

Okay. So, we now know why Comey didn’t bother to ask Tr-mp what “that thing” meant. It was because Comey was sure he already knew what it meant. He knew what Tr-mp was getting at:

I took it to be some — an effort to — to communicate to me this — that there is a relationship between us where I’ve been good to you, you should be good to me.

In other words, Comey believed Tr-mp thought the then-FBI Director was somehow compromised by their exchanges, by their “relationship.” Now, given that, given what Comey said in response to McCain’s question, if I were a Republican trying to defend the indefensible Tr-mp, I would use this against Comey. Why? Because it was clear from yesterday’s fascinating and historic testimony, that Comey believes Tr-mp committed, or ineptly tried to commit, obstruction of justice. That is why Comey engineered, through leaking his memo to the press, the establishment of a special prosecutor. And if I were a Republican, trying to undermine (as almost all of them shamefully were) this obvious conclusion from Comey’s testimony, I would have drilled Comey along these lines. If I were a coherent John McCain I would followed up with this:

COHERENT JOHN MCCAIN: If, Mr. Comey, you thought “that thing” was Tr-mp’s way of trying to “communicate” to you that there was a “I’ve been good to you, you should be good to me” relationship between you, and if you believed that Tr-mp was at least flirting with obstruction of justice, then why didn’t you simply ask him directly what “that thing” meant? Why didn’t you get him on the record, so that you could memoralize his answer?

You went to a lot of trouble today, Mr. Comey, to make Tr-mp look guilty of something, especially obstruction of justice, and you had your chance, when he talked about “that thing” in the context of loyalty, to really nail him down on what he meant. Don’t you think, as the leader of the nation’s top law enforcement agency, as someone who was clearly troubled by Tr-mp’s behavior, that you should have used your investigative instincts to draw more from Tr-mp at that moment? The fact that you didn’t bother to do that leads me to believe that you really didn’t take all that seriously the idea that Tr-mp meant to commit obstruction of justice, isn’t that right?

Obviously there was no coherent John McCain present yesterday, and obviously, if there were, I don’t know how Comey would have responded to such reasoning and such a question. But I do think Comey missed a perfect opportunity on April 11 to get Tr-mp to fire the gun of obstruction of justice right in front of him, if he had not just assumed (and I think assumed correctly) that he knew what Tr-mp meant and that Tr-mp’s actions had already amounted to an attempt at obstruction. (Incidentally, the obstruction of justice Image result for heavyweight fighter versus lightweightgun was fired with a firing, when, on May 9, just short of a month after their last talk, Tr-mp dismissed Comey in an awkward and cowardly way.)

All in all, Comey’s appearance and testimony, whether they will admit it publicly or not, rattled Republicans in Congress, at least those who aren’t cultishly tied to Agent Orange. It was a devastating counterpunch from a heavyweight fighter against an intellectually and morally malnourished kid who has no business being in the ring of leadership of our fragile democracy. And the fact that Tr-mp and his lawyer are now furiously trying to trash the integrity of James Comey proves that beyond any doubt.

That Thing

Appearing before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence today, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Michael Rogers embarrassed themselves. Now that’s not new for those who choose to associate or stay associated with Tr-mp, but it was at times cringeworthy. And kind of sad to watch.

There was one good thing about their ridiculous refusal to answer the questions of aggressive Democrats (including Angus King, who was great) about the report in The Washington Post that Tr-mp tried to get the two intelligence chiefs to interfere in the Russia investigations. That one good thing was that through their refusal to answer, rather than deny the essence of the story, they did confirm that the Post got it right. Tr-mp did try to interfere. And how Coats and Rogers felt about it, as Senator King made clear, had nothing to do with it. Either Tr-mp tried to interfere or he didn’t, and now we know, through inference, that he did.

That leads me to a quick take on former FBI Director James Comey’s “Statement for the Record” that he submitted to the same Senate committee we saw in action today, prior to his testimony tomorrow. Since the statement has been released, there has been plenty of analysis of it. It’s generally a fairly damning document (and its early release by the committee will give members time to obtain more details from Comey), in terms of how much interference, sometimes with a wink and a nod, Tr-mp tried to inflict on Comey. But I just want to look at one thing that hasn’t got much, if any, attention in the statement.

When I first read the document, I focused on something I found odd. It comes at the end, when Comey is describing the last time he talked with Tr-mp. Here is the relevant part:

On the morning of April 11, the President called me and asked what I had done about his request that I “get out” that he is not personally under investigation. I replied that I had passed his request to the Acting Deputy Attorney General, but I had not heard back. He replied that “the cloud” was getting in the way of his ability to do his job. He said that perhaps he would have his people reach out to the Acting Deputy Attorney General. I said that was the way his request should be handled. I said the White House Counsel should contact the leadership of DOJ to make the request, which was the traditional channel.

He said he would do that and added, “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” I did not reply or ask him what he meant by “that thing.” I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.

Now, first, it is obvious “the cloud” Tr-mp is speaking of is Tr-mp himself. He is the cloud that gets in the way of his ability to do his job. He simply doesn’t have the ability. But, second, my attention was directed at Comey’s lack of interest, or curiosity, in what Tr-mp meant by “that thing.” That lack of curiosity to find out what Tr-mp meant seems very odd to me, especially in the context of  Tr-mp’s “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal” preface. Comey says he “did not reply or ask him what he meant.” Why? Why wouldn’t the FBI Director, who clearly by the time of this call was worried about interference from Tr-mp, not want to know what “that thing” meant?

It appears to me Tr-mp was directly suggesting that he had some “understanding” with Comey or that he had been trying to obtain some understanding or that he wanted Comey to think he would tell others he in fact had such an understanding. In other words, Tr-mp may have been purposely suggesting that Comey had been compromised by all of their discussions or that he saw it that way and might tell others about it. So, why wouldn’t Comey, knowing he would document this very important conversation, want to get Tr-mp on the record about such a crucial matter? It could have been impeachment-worthy information. Wasn’t obstruction of justice ever on Comey’s mind?

I don’t know the answer to that question. But if I were on that committee tomorrow, I would ask him. It’s strange behavior to me. But I suppose, given what got us in this Tr-mpian nightmare, much of Comey’s behavior has been rather strange.

Some Hope In The Midst Of Despair Over Tr-mp’s Climate Stupidity And Cynicism

Scientific American.com had an excellent article (“Tr-mp Pulls Out of Paris: How Much Carbon Will His Policies Add to the Air?” that went into some detail, some of it technical, as to what the U.S.’s abdication of its position as the world’s leader in the fight against climate change may mean for the future (all done just so Tr-mp could please the worst of his cult followers). You can read the article for yourself, but essentially what the failure of leadership means in terms of carbon reduction goals is pretty much unknowable right now, mainly because no one knows what other policies—for instance, the possible “rollback of vehicle efficiency standards” and the possible relaxation of “regulations for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry” that is managed by the EPA (which is under the control of a climate change denier)—the Tr-mp administration may pursue in the future.

Tr-mp has already axed Obama’s Climate Action Plan, the centerpiece of which, according to SciAm, was the ambitious Clean Power Plan, which is held up in court (naturally) and which was specifically targeted for elimination in Tr-mp’s budget proposal, but because of the process of formal rulemaking, Tr-mp had to issue an executive order for the EPA to “review” the plan. But, come on, we know where that is going.

The SciAm article ended with words from David Keith, a physics and public policy professor at Harvard, and Noelle Selin, MIT’s associate director of its Technology and Policy Program. Admittedly, they don’t know as much about this subject as Tr-mp does, but here’s the concluding paragraph of the article with their views of what may happen:

Keith and Selin stress that policy reversals by the administration could undermine global goals beyond the U.S.’s own emissions. “Emissions reductions depend on cooperation,” Keith explains. Right now, China and India—two of the top greenhouse gas emitters—appear set to overachieve their Paris goals, according to the new report, largely because they seem likely to decrease their coal use sooner than predicted. But as it becomes clear the U.S. is not pushing for more ambitious climate actions, Selin notes, that may lead to other nations not meeting their targets. “That’s the real impact,” she says.

So, we end up with a fairly depressing picture. We aren’t leading the climate change parade anymore. We have to depend on others to do so.

But I don’t want to leave it there. I want to add something that I found a little more hopeful. It comes from a Twitter thread written by Ben Wikler, affiliated with MoveOn.org, a man whom Howard Dean once called “one of the smartest people under 35 in the entire country.” I will put Wikler’s thread in easy-to-read form:

I spent years of my life fighting for a global climate deal. Yesterday was crushing. Here’s why—and how I found perspective this morning.

First, to level-set: here’s how bad it is that Tr-mp is going to rip the United States out of Paris. In 2001, in college, I was lucky to meet John Kenneth Galbraith, who served 4 presidents & shaped 20th century liberalism. He was 93. He said the two existential threats to humanity that kept him awake at night were nuclear war and climate change. Nukes and climate. Tr-mp, of course, spikes up the risks from both. 

The Paris accord wasn’t going to solve climate overnight. But its core contribution was vital: it aligned the world. Yes, Paris targets were voluntary. But by jumping together—making simultaneous promises—the world’s nations made compliance more likely. Pulling out—abdicating leadership—not only hurts us (green jobs, world standing) but gives excuses to those opposing action elsewhere.

All of this while more and more signs (see: the unraveling Arctic) suggest the climate crisis is accelerating faster than predicted. The likely-case climate scenarios are now profoundly disruptive. The worst-case scenarios are nightmarish. Paris is structured so that worsening forecasts and greater willpower translate into more stringent targets… if countries don’t quit. 

Meanwhile, more subtly, every tear in the fragile fabric of the aspirationally-described “international community” raises other risks. When the world’s nations are bound together by mutual commitments that generate mutual benefits—even if those bindings are easily torn—we create safeguards against the relentless centrifugal forces that pull the world apart and can lead to catastrophic wars. That insight was central to the (US-led) creation of the post-WWII order. The UN, the international financial institutions, even the EU. Per : “Democracy, borders that are peaceful rather than armed and bloody—none of these things are natural states of being” (read: ).

Tr-mp’s attack on Paris isn’t strictly about climate change. It’s also a middle finger to the idea of an international order. None of this is to say that the global order is perfect, or even acceptably just. It’s not. The present global system is riddled with gaping injustices & inequity. It’s unsustainable. But many alternatives are far, far worse. Withdrawing from Paris correctly causes every other country to wonder what else about the global system is at risk. The less confidence in a stable global system, the more states look for other ways to defend themselves. Result: nuclear proliferation. And as more countries get nuclear weapons, more countries can fatally misread each other. The risk of nuclear war rises exponentially. 

So, yes: Tr-mp pulling out of Paris is really, seriously bad. But here’s the thing. This catastrophe didn’t happen yesterday. It happened on November 8, 2016, the day the United States ingested poison. Everything that has happened since Tr-mp’s election, and all that is likely to happen, is the poison working its way through the body. We woke up on November 9 in a different world with a darker future than the world in which we’d lived before. It’s an act of constant will to revise our expectations down without losing hope. To strive for “depressive realism” without depression. 

Consider how George W. Bush’s presidency ended: global economic meltdown, a catastrophic war of choice, Katrina. Now consider that W was obviously far better equipped—morally, temperamentally, intellectually—for the presidency than Tr-mp. You have to *expect* things to deteriorate much worse much faster under Tr-mp than they did under W. Recession, war, disaster. If you hold that dark expectation, & fight like hell to avert damage and win back power, you can be saddened by tragedy—but not shocked. Tr-mp said over and over in 2016 that he’d pull out of Paris. It’s horrible. But it became the likeliest outcome the moment he won. 

If Tr-mp promised something, don’t be shocked when he actually tries to do it. Here are 282 of his promises. Many of his promises were clearly nonsense or beyond his control. But the worst actual things that he can do unilaterally? Expect them. Expecting the worst and fighting for better—hope—is a decision. Optimism of will. A moral posture [read Josh Marshall’s “Observations on the Day After”]. Every ugly promise Tr-mp keeps should merely confirm your expectations. Every one we thwart: a cause for celebration. 

The courts, so far, have stopped the Muslim ban. The , so far, has slowed the assault on health care. Iran deal? Holding. Senseless, brutal deportations are up, but a mass deportation force is not yet rounding up millions. We haven’t started a major new war. Structures resilient so far. Executive branch appears to be obeying court orders. Congress isn’t handing Tr-mp vast new powers. 

Tr-mp’s election was a track-jump. Vast array of terrible outcomes ahead. They’ve just begun. Don’t be shocked as we slam into them. Each tragedy, emergency, or disaster that unfolds under Tr-mp will cause sorrow and pain, but it shouldn’t cause surprise—or despair. If you decided, in the days after Tr-mp was elected, to stay and fight, then no consequences of Tr-mp’s election should deter you. Indeed, the very reason so many millions of us rose up after Tr-mp won was that we could sense that these awful things were coming. 

So as the future you foresaw comes to pass in bits and pieces and jagged shards, don’t give up. Remind yourself that you predicted this. Reset your expectations back down. Grit your teeth. And then go out and raise your voice again. No matter how bad it gets, it could get worse. And it could get better. And you will play a role in determining which comes to pass. Yesterday was awful. No sense in sugarcoating. But don’t succumb to climate fatalism, Tr-mp fatalism—any fatalism. Get back up. Fight. Eyes open. Find perspective. This is the moment we’ve been given. Bad things will happen. Our choices are all we control.

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