Proper Outlets

The fight over whether Trump should be removed from office is already raging, and distorting everything it touches. Activists are radicalizing in opposition to a president they regard as dangerous. Within the government, unelected bureaucrats who believe the president is acting unlawfully are disregarding his orders, or working to subvert his agenda. By denying the debate its proper outlet, Congress has succeeded only in intensifying its pressures.

– Yoni Appelbaum “Impeach Donald Trump” The Atlantic, March , 2019

This week’s featured post is “The Scoop That Wasn’t“.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

For about 24 hours, it looked like we were headed there sooner rather than later. BuzzFeed apparently had a scoop that showed Trump to be guilty of the same sort of crime that brought down Nixon. Then the Special Counsel’s Office released a cryptic statement casting doubt on that article. The featured post examines where that leaves us.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani moved the goal posts again:

I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or between people in the campaign. I have no idea. I said “the President of the United States”. There is not a single bit of evidence the president of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.

So the denial is down to this: The President himself wasn’t personally involved in hacking the DNC. They used to claim that the whole Mueller investigation was a witch hunt. Now they’re just denying that Trump was responsible for one particular act of witchcraft.

and Brexit

The March 29 deadline for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union keeps getting closer, but Parliament is no closer to approving a plan for what happens then. If March 29 arrives without any action from Parliament, the UK faces what is called a “hard Brexit“: The European Union views it as a foreign country with hardly any special privileges. For example, thousands of flights between British and European airports might have to be cancelled. UK citizens could only come into the EU if they had at least six months left on their passports.

Prime Minister May’s plan for Brexit got crushed in Parliament, 432-202, with opposition both from pro-EU MPs and from those who don’t think her planned break with the EU is sharp enough. She’s expected to present her Plan B today, but moves in either direction may lose as many votes as they gain.

The EU’s highest court has ruled that the UK can unilaterally cancel Brexit and stay in the EU on the same terms as before. But it’s not clear that plan could pass Parliament either.

Lesson for the future: Never hold a referendum where the choices are (1) something as specific as staying in the EU under the current agreement, and (2) a vague “do something else”. A more rational process would have been to authorize the PM to negotiate a leave-the-EU agreement, without making any commitment to go through with that plan until it went up for a referendum against staying in the EU under the current agreement. Two choices, equally specific.

and the shutdown

Four weeks into the shutdown, Trump made his first offer to Democrats. (Up until then, he’d issued nothing but demands.) The offer isn’t much: In exchange for $5.7 billion for his Wall,

  • participants in the DACA and Temporary Protected Status programs get three more years of protection from deportation. These deportations are already on hold until court cases play out, so it’s not clear how much of an improvement three years is over whatever will happen anyway.
  • an additional $800 million would go to humanitarian services at the border.
  • Trump would allow Central American minors to apply for asylum without leaving their home countries, at the cost of making them easier to deport if they come here.

These are all examples of Trump partially undoing damage he has caused since taking office. Trump is the one who announced the end of DACA and removed hundreds of thousands of refugees from TPS. His family-separation and zero-tolerance policies created the humanitarian crisis on the border. And Central American minors only lost the ability to apply for asylum from home when Trump cancelled an Obama program.

So basically, he’s just offering to sell back a bunch of hostages he has taken, with the option to take them again if he gets re-elected. A real concession would be something that moved the ball from where it was when he took office, like offering DACA recipients some kind of permanent legal status. (I am undecided about whether such a concession would be enough to make a deal. But at least it would be a concession.)

Meanwhile, Democrats are making their own offer: more money to do border security right, rather than build a giant monument to xenophobia and racism. The next open-the-government bill in the House will include more money for ports-of-entry (where illegal drugs really come in), and to hire more immigration judges (to drive the case backlog down). Offering asylum to those in danger in their home countries, after all, is a treaty commitment backed by our own laws (laws which the President is sworn to faithfully uphold). If the length of the processing backlog is creating problems, let’s address that directly.

The basic problem is that Trump is living in his own reality. He thinks keeping the government closed gives him leverage, and that he should be able to extort some real price to open it again. Democrats, meanwhile, see Trump’s poll numbers falling and don’t understand why they should pay to make that stop.

Trump has complained that he’ll “look foolish” if he ends the shutdown without getting anything for it. But he WAS foolish. He can’t expect Democrats to cover that up for him.

The humanitarian crisis at the border didn’t just happen, it was planned. NBC News reports:

Trump administration officials weighed speeding up the deportation of migrant children by denying them their legal right to asylum hearings after separating them from their parents, according to comments on a late 2017 draft of what became the administration’s family separation policy obtained by NBC News.

The draft also shows officials wanted to specifically target parents in migrant families for increased prosecutions, contradicting the administration’s previous statements. In June, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said the administration did “not have a policy of separating families at the border” but was simply enforcing existing law.

Senator Jeff Merkley wants to investigate Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen for lying to Congress when she declared “we’ve never had a policy for family separation“.

I think Nancy Pelosi’s suggestion that Trump delay the State of the Union (which is traditionally delivered in the House chamber) was brilliant. Trump is unmoved by the strains on the country that his shutdown is producing, but if he has to forgo his biggest TV extravaganza of the year, that hits him where he lives.

and more people running for president

Kamala Harris and Kirsten Gillibrand are in. Along with Tulsi Gabbard and Elizabeth Warren, that makes more women candidates than any party has ever fielded. It will be interesting to see what difference that makes in the process.

In 2016, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina were each “the woman” in their party’s race. In some symbolic sense, they were women entering a men’s club, so how the men would treat them was up in the air. When Trump made sexist comments about Fiorina’s looks, for example, no other women were in a position to call him on it. But when the numbers are more equal, men may not get away with the same behavior.

It will also be harder to use sexist stereotypes while implying that they refer to something specific about a particular candidate. If there’s just one woman in a race, maybe she really does dress funny or have a screechy voice or disappoint in some other way that coincidentally matches a stereotype. But if all the women are counted out for reasons like that, it’ll be pretty clear what’s going on.

but we should be talking about Martin Luther King this weekend

MLK Day should be more than an excuse for a three-day weekend. We should do our best each year to remember King as he was, resisting the temptation to whitewash his message into some vague “color blindness”, and refusing to let his name be co-opted by people working against the principles he championed.

and the incident on the Capitol Mall

First there was a viral video showing MAGA-hatted teen punks harassing a Native American elder on the Capitol Mall. They apparently came from Covington Catholic High School in Kentucky, and had come to the Mall for a pro-life rally. Here’s one observer’s account:

The group outnumbered us and enclosed our small group, chanting ‘build the wall’ and other trumpisms. The group was clearly looking for ANY opportunity to get violent and they consistently infringed upon our space, inching closer and closer, bumping into us and daring us to get physical. They surrounded us, screaming, cajoling, and mocking the elder singer with intentionally disrespectful dancing and attempting to chant/sing louder than him.

Then a much longer video became available, and conservative media started claiming it vindicated the Covington kids. It’s an easy claim to make, because who’s going to watch two hours of video to check you?

I haven’t. But here’s the impression I’m getting from people who have. A handful of Black Hebrew Israelites, the kind of street preachers who like to bait passers-by into debates, started baiting the Covington Catholic kids “using aggressive, provocative and sometimes offensive language to engage, as they usually do.”

The kids could have walked away, which is what most people do when street preachers try to engage them. But instead they responded with their own hostility. This is where the Native American elder, Nathan Phillips, entered the scene. He was on the Capitol Mall for an indigenous people’s rally, and thought the Covington kids were about to get violent against he Black Hebrew Israelites, who they greatly outnumbered. So he walked into the space between the two groups, trying to drum and sing them apart.

Phillips then tried to get to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, so he could do his song from the top, but the kids blocked his way. That’s where the viral video starts.

and you also might be interested in …

Of all the ways that Trump has profited off his presidency, the most obviously illegal has been the Trump International Hotel in Washington DC. The hotel is housed in the Old Post Office, which is owned by the federal government and managed by the General Services Administration. The Trump Organization’s lease with the government says

No member or delegate to Congress, or elected official of the Government of the United States or the Government of the District of Columbia, shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom

Also, the Hotel does business with foreign governments (even moreso now that dealing with the Hotel is a way of bribing the President), which raises the issue of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.

Those both seem pretty clear, but in March, 2017 the GSA ruled that its new boss could continue to benefit from the lease, without regard to the emoluments issue. This is literally the definition of self-dealing: As head of the government, Trump was overseeing the lease that he was holding as a private businessman.

This week the GSA inspector general issued a report on this decision. The IG doesn’t get into a legal analysis of either issue, but makes it clear that GSA didn’t even consider the constitutional issue. (The word “punted” comes up.)

the decision to exclude the emoluments issues from GSA’s consideration of the lease was improper because GSA, like all government agencies, has an obligation to uphold and enforce the Constitution

The report ends by making recommendations about future leases. Apparently the IG expects the current issues to play out in the courts.

A clear example of why the Trump International Hotel shouldn’t be owned by the President came up Wednesday. T-Mobile had a big merger deal brewing with Sprint, and it needed approval from the administration. So what did it do? It had its executives repeatedly stay at the Trump International.

These visits highlight a stark reality in Washington, unprecedented in modern American history. Trump the president works at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Trump the businessman owns a hotel at 1100 Pennsylvania.

Countries, interest groups and companies such as T-Mobile — whose future will be shaped by the administration’s choices — are free to stop at both, and to pay the president’s company while also meeting with officials in his government. Such visits raise questions about whether patronizing Trump’s private business is viewed as a way to influence public policy, critics said.

Vicious cycle: climate change plays a key role in a wave of destructive fires in California. Responsibility for the fires sends Pacific Gas & Electric into bankruptcy. In bankruptcy, it can renegotiate the terms of contracts it signed with providers of renewable energy, possibly sending them into bankruptcy, and making climate change worse.

Republicans in Congress have just noticed that Rep. Steve King from Iowa is a racist. I wonder how long it will take them to figure out that Trump shares the same viewsTrevor Noah makes fun of just how apparent King’s racism has been for many years.

I can’t believe we’re all talking about a Gillette ad. This one.

First off, I can’t see what there is here for anybody to get upset about. Whoopi Goldberg on The View summed up the message as “Don’t be a jerk”, which is pretty much the way I saw it.

And second, I’m never going to be a Gillette fan anyway, for reasons I outlined in a 2012 article “What Shaving Taught Me About Capitalism“. For generations, Gillette has used its advertising moxie and market power to drive up the cost of shaving. I think if a young man learns how to use either an old-fashioned double-edged safety razor or an even more old-fashioned straight razor, within a week or two he won’t be cutting himself any more, and he’ll save many thousands of dollars over his lifetime. Or he could skip the whole thing and grow a beard as soon as he could.

So I think it’s ridiculous to boycott Gillette over a commercial that tells you not to be a jerk. But I couldn’t boycott the company if I wanted to, because I stopped buying their products a long time ago.

and let’s close with something

If, like me, you’re in the deep freeze this week, look at how much fun winter is in Russia.

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  • Jeff R.  On January 21, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    In your discussion on the shutdown, the name Mitch McConnell does not appear. I agree with your analysis vis-a-vis Trump and the Democrats. However, we know what Trump is. And, in light of that, it seems central to include in this summary the role of Senator McConnell. He is indeed a master of obstruction. It is in his hands to empower Congress to end the shutdown though that may likely mean overriding a veto from Trump.

  • nicknielsensc  On January 21, 2019 at 8:50 pm

    By the time I enlisted in the Air Force at the age of 20, I was already using my father’s 20-year-old Norelco electric. I caught some hell over it, but the TIs never found a missed hair. Or blood. I stayed with the electric until the day I retired. I didn’t keep track of total expenses, but between pre-shave, annual blade replacements, and a new shaver at the 10-year mark (that poor old Norelco just fell apart!), I don’t think I spent more than $500 total on shaving over those 24 years. And I haven’t spent a dime on shaving since then

  • Jeff R.  On January 22, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    Here’s a perspective on the timing of the Wall crisis: “Trump had 2 years of Republican rule. Waited til the second he has zero chance of getting a wall to demand it. He wants the distraction and the fight. He wants the “build the wall” chant at his rallies. I think like a dog chasing a car, he would prefer not to get the wall.”

  • Jeff R.  On January 22, 2019 at 3:19 pm

    And here’s a comment that explains the dynamic at play: “If Republicans had really wanted a wall, they could have passed an appropriation during the two years they had complete control of all three branches.

    They still don’t want a wall – they want a narrative that Democrats are against border security.

    The GOP still hasn’t learned how to actually govern, but they remain adept at guerilla warfare.”

    • weeklysift  On January 23, 2019 at 6:53 am

      Imagine how different the politics would be if this had happened a year ago: The House passes funding for a Wall, the President insists he won’t sign a bill without it, and the Senate has a majority for the bill but can’t get it past a Democratic filibuster. Those Democratic senators would be feeling real heat about holding up the paychecks of 800K people.

  • knb  On January 25, 2019 at 5:49 am

    An idea regarding ending the government shutdown: Adopt a red state

    The Senate finally voted on a couple of bills to end the government shutdown. The bill that didn’t include wall funding had a few Republicans vote for it, and got a couple more votes than the bill that did include wall funding, although neither passed.

    One possible path to ending the shutdown is to get more Republican senators to vote in favor of the bill that has already passed the house, and which got marginally more support in the Senate.

    These are the states that have at least one Republican senator:
    AK, AL, AR, AZ, CO, FL, GA, IA, ID, IN, KS, KY, LA, ME, MO, MS, MT, NC, ND, NE, OH, OK, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, WI, WV, WY

    Senators generally care much more about the opinions of people who live in their states than they do about the opinions of those who don’t. So if you live in one of those states, make as much noise as possible, and put as much pressure as possible on your Republican Senator(s).

    If you don’t live in one of those states, adopt one. Every state, even the reddest of the red states, has a Democratic party. Look them up, follow what they are doing to pressure their Senator(s), and do whatever you can to support them. Follow their lead, because they’ll know the dynamics of the state better than you do, but do whatever you can to support them.

  • Dale Moses  On January 26, 2019 at 2:57 pm

    Worth noting that the ayslum application had a wrinkle in the text. It required that aplocations be processed at a facility in South America… that did not exist and was not created by the bill.

    It was another false promise intended to trick well meaning people into believing something was actually given up. Just like the republican proposals to “automatically fund the government at a decreasing level” are backdoors to cutting essential policy rather than serious attempts to produce good policy

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