Morally Centered People

I hear this, too, from my Republican Senate colleagues. There is a belief that there is a group in every corner of the government that is out to get Trump. There really are morally centered people who find him deeply distasteful, and it is required of them to raise questions of corruption if they see it. The Trump Administration sees that as a conspiracy.

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT)

This week’s featured post is “More Answers to Impeachment Objections“.

This week everybody was still talking about impeachment

I focused on that in the featured post. Other new developments are that a second whistleblower is emerging. I suspect we’re about to see a flood: If you’re not objecting to what Trump did, then you’re part of the cover-up.

It’s not immediately related to impeachment, but a federal judge just turned down Trump’s attempt to block a grand jury from subpoenaing his tax returns. The judge said Trump’s claim that a president has “”absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind” is “an overreach of executive power”.

I think we’re going to find out just how partisan this Supreme Court is. The law is clear, but what they’re going to rule isn’t.

Secretary of State Pompeo has not complied with a subpoena from the House.

Something I’ve been wrestling with for months is when a bad president should be impeached and when the voters should just refuse to re-elect him. Nancy Pelosi has come to more-or-less the same conclusion I have: Elections are the way to correct bad policies or to reprimand a president’s character.

If you think he’s a coward on protecting children from gun violence, and you think he’s cruel for not protecting ‘dreamers,’ if you think he is in denial on climate change, take that up in the election. That has nothing to do with what we are doing here. If you think his vocabulary and his behavior and his immorality and his indecency are personally offensive, take it up in the election.

Impeachment, on the other hand, is for abuses of power that endanger the Republic, especially the ones that damage the integrity of the election itself.

No Republicans in Congress have shown real spine yet, but some of them are creating space where a spine might go someday. Mitt Romney is the most obvious. He thinks that it’s “wrong and appalling” for Trump to ask the Chinese to investigate Joe Biden, but he hasn’t said that anything should be done about it. Likewise Susan Collins and Ben Sasse.

Trump has been tweeting that Romney should be “impeached”, apparently not realizing that impeachment is not a thing for senators. There’s also no way for voters to recall a senator. (New presidents really ought to get an introductory lecture on the Constitution.)

and Trump’s Ukraine conspiracy theory

Trump’s attempt to get bogus Biden corruption investigations going is getting all the attention, but he’s been asking for another investigation as well: into Ukraine’s role in 2016. (BTW: I don’t think Trump cares that the investigations of Biden won’t find anything. Clinton was never found to have done anything wrong during Benghazi, but the investigations helped create a fog of uncertainty around her. It would be enough to have a bunch of headlines saying “Ukraine opens investigation into Biden corruption charges”.)

You seldom see the Ukraine theory spelled out in detail, because it is in fact a long series of conspiracy theories rolled into one: The DNC computers were never hacked by Russia, but instead DNC staffer Seth Rich leaked the emails and was murdered for it. Then Ukraine and the Clinton campaign conspired to fake the evidence of Russian hacking, and all the US intelligence services (and a number of foreign intelligence services as well) were either fooled by this evidence or were in on the plot. All the predicates of the Mueller investigation were planted or manipulated in some way. Ukraine also framed Paul Manafort, and Mueller tried to use that frame to pressure Manafort to invent evidence against Trump and Russia.

It goes on.

What Trump seems to be hoping for out of the investigations is wiggle room that will allow him to pardon Paul Manafort and relax the sanctions against Russia.

If you want to get more fully read in to this cesspool of speculation and invention, here are some links.
Trump, Giuliani, and Manafort: The Ukraine Scheme

How a Fringe Theory about Ukraine Took Root in the White House

and abortion

In 2015, the Supreme Court threw out a Texas law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. (When you state it like that, the provision sounds reasonable, but the point is that it’s easy to pressure hospitals to deny such privileges. That’s a roundabout way to keep abortion clinics out of a region.) Now Louisiana has a similar law. In the ordinary practice of law, courts would just apply the Texas ruling to Louisiana and that would be that.

Instead, the Court is going to hear the Louisiana case this term. Nothing has changed in the law, but the vacancy created when Justice Scalia died has been filled by Justice Gorsuch (and not Merrick Garland), while Justice Kennedy has been replaced by Justice Kavanaugh. So the Court may have changed its mind, and “activist judges” may be ready to ignore precedent. Roe v Wade may be in trouble.

People in Maine need to remember: We have Susan Collins to thank for Justice Kavanaugh.

and the Democrats

The Trump-Ukraine scandal is taking up all the attention the public has for politics, which is a problem for Democratic presidential candidates, particularly the ones who are trailing in the polls and need a break-out moment.

The whole thing is unfairly bad for Biden, simply because Trump keeps smearing him. The mainstream news outlets have been pretty good about reminding the public that there is no evidence for Trump’s claims, but the simple repetition is bound to take a toll. After 2016, a lot of Democrats are understandably skittish about nominating a candidate whose rectitude we will need to defend.

The problem is: that’s everybody. Biden isn’t being smeared because there’s something uniquely slimy about him. He’s being smeared because he’s the candidate Trump is most afraid of. If the Democrats nominate someone else, that person will face smears too. No one is so perfect that Trump can’t lie about him or her.

Elizabeth Warren’s recent rise in the polls has brought a smear her way as well. The same guy who tried to gin up false sexual harassment claims against Robert Mueller now says that Warren had sex with a 24-year-old Marine.

Warren responded with humor, tweeting a double entendre connecting her University of Houston degree to a slang term for older women who date younger men. (“Go Cougars!“) In general, her fans laughed with her in a you-go-girl way.

In 2016, a lot of Bernie Sanders fans objected when I wrote that Bernie had never been targeted by the right-wing smear machine, but this is the kind of thing I meant. Right-wingers may refer to Bernie as a crazy Socialist, but he hasn’t faced some complete invention. And Warren hasn’t faced her last one yet, either. No one is so perfect that Trump can’t lie about them.

Sanders had a heart attack Tuesday night. He spent two and a half days in the hospital, had stents inserted into a blocked coronary artery, and says he’s “feeling so much better” and is eager to “get back to work”.

Lots of men have heart attacks and go on to have many more productive years, but this incident is not good for Sanders’ campaign. It feeds the argument that he is too old for the presidency, and comes at a time when his rival for the progressive vote, Elizabeth Warren, is starting to break out in the polls.

Sanders plans to participate in the debate a week from tomorrow.

The NYT ran a piece yesterday on Kamala Harris’ changing strategy — namely, deciding to contest Iowa rather than focusing on later primaries in South Carolina and then California.

But in my view, Harris’ problems run deeper than how she deploys her campaign assets: I don’t know a clear one-line summary of why she’s running in the first place. Biden represents a return to the path America was on before Trump. Sanders and Warren have a bold progressive agenda. Buttigieg is the non-Washington outsider with Midwestern common sense. But what is Harris?

I’m reminded of Marco Rubio in 2016. Demographically, he was exactly what the Republican Party needed: a young, handsome, conservative Latino. But there was never a convincing story about what a Rubio presidency would mean for the country.

but I read a book this week

Samantha Power turns out to be an engaging writer. Her autobiography The Education of an Idealist combines policy with interesting characters — some in her family, some in the Obama administration, and some in the UN.

The main philosophical theme that runs through the book is the relationship between power and principle. You can do a lot of good in the world if you manage to get into the room where decisions are being made. But if you compromise too many of your principles to stay in a position of power, you become just another cog in the system of global injustice.

Early in Power’s career, she’s a free-lance journalist covering the genocide in Bosnia at considerable personal risk. She resents the government officials she sees zipping by in their armored limos, who could do so much to end this genocide if they just would. The whole point of her journalism was to make Bosnia harder for officials to ignore.

Years later, she’s in the Obama administration when Assad is killing large numbers of his own Syrian people, creating the refugee crisis that then destabilized much of Europe. Obama isn’t doing as much to stop Assad as she wants. What to do?

The book doesn’t provide an easy answer, and she isn’t smug that she got the balance right.

The book also has a lot of sparkling personal stories. During Obama’s 2008 campaign, she met and then married Cass Sunstein, who is famous in his own right. During Obama’s first term, the two of them are like West Wing characters — working long days, eating takeout in their offices, and so on.

In Obama’s second term, Sunstein goes back to teaching and Power becomes UN Ambassador. That means her official residence is now the huge, posh penthouse apartment of the Waldorf Astoria, with its full staff of servants. There are many amusing culture-shock stories, since neither Power nor Sunstein had ever lived that way before.

My favorite is when she finds herself on a ladder, collecting the ping-pong balls that have accumulated in the chandelier of the apartment’s Great Room, where an official event is going to be held soon. The balls got there because she had been pitching them to her eight-year-old son, who hit them with a whiffle bat. She thinks: “Somehow I can’t see Adlai Stevenson doing this.”

and you also might be interested in …

According to a new book by University of California Professors Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman

For the first time on record, the 400 wealthiest Americans last year paid a lower total tax rate — spanning federal, state and local taxes — than any other income group, according to newly released data.

It didn’t used to be like this.

The overall tax rate on the richest 400 households last year was only 23 percent, meaning that their combined tax payments equaled less than one quarter of their total income. This overall rate was 70 percent in 1950 and 47 percent in 1980.

We appear to be turning on an ally: the Kurds in northern Syria. Turkey has been warning that it plans to send troops into northern Syria, and now Trump is pulling back American troops who otherwise would be in the way.

In a major shift in United States military policy in Syria, the White House said on Sunday that President Trump had given his endorsement for a Turkish military operation that would sweep away American-backed Kurdish forces near the border in Syria.

Turkey reportedly plans to establish a buffer zone in Syria, and repatriate Syrian refugees into it.

The Kurds have been major allies in the battle against ISIS, and are holding a number of ISIS prisoners. What will happen to them is anyone’s guess.

Brett McGurk, who was the special presidential envoy for the coalition to defeat the ISIS until he resigned last December shortly after Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned in protest over Trump’s decision (slightly relaxed since) to withdraw all US troops from Syria, said:

This looks to be another reckless decision made without deliberation or consultation following a call with a foreign leader. The White House statement bears no relation to facts on the ground. If implemented, it will significantly increase risk to our personnel, as well as hasten ISIS’s resurgence.

Having just read the Power book, I worry about genocide. The Syrian refugees that Turkey settles in their buffer zone will be people that no one cares about. What will happen to them?

Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) resigned from Congress prior to pleading guilty in an insider-trading case. He was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump’s candidacy. And he took at least one page from Trump’s book, denouncing the charges against him (to which he now pleads guilty) as “fake news“.

North Korea says the Trump administration has been misleading the public about their nuclear negotiations, which have broken down.

Meanwhile, missile tests have resumed. North Korea recently tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

About a hundred people have died in anti-government protests in Iraq.

The protests began last Tuesday, starting small and driven by social media with calls for an end to corruption and a new commitment to kick-start Iraq’s moribund economy. The gatherings have mushroomed into large demonstrations of thousands calling for the downfall of the government in an intentional echo of the 2011 Arab Spring protests that brought down leaders in several Middle East countries.

Remember how much grief Obama took for not doing more to back democracy protesters in Iran? Trump has agreed to say nothing about the Hong Kong protests to keep trade talks with China moving.

and let’s close with something portentous

Let’s hope there’s some symbolic significance in this collection of falling dominoes.

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  • Jacquie Mardell (@jacquiemardell)  On October 7, 2019 at 4:06 pm

    “New presidents really ought to get an introductory lecture on the Constitution.” Never been needed before. Most have at least audited the course prior to taking office.

  • Susan M Brewer  On October 7, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    It matters not a whit to me that Susan Collins is noted as a Republican who might acknowledge that Trump messed up. She has a long track record of very publicly agonizing and clutching her pearls before ALWAYS going along to get along. Her timing is excellent — it’s autumn and Lucy just jerked the football away from Charlie Brown yet again, just like Senator Collins.

  • lffile  On October 9, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    It might make sense for the Democrats in the House to propose a study of existing regulations concerning Federal Employee progeny making use of familial connections – especially foreign connections – for personal gain.

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