Ethical Means

The ninth rule of the ethics of means and ends is that any effective means is automatically judged by the opposition as being unethical. 

– Saul Alinsky,Rules for Radicals

This week’s featured posts are “Why Impeachment is Necessary” and “Religious Freedom for Loganists!

You also might be interested in the talk I gave to the Unitarian Church of Quincy last week. It’s called “The Spirit of Democracy” and is more Sift-like than my typical sermon. I’m looking at the question of what is making our democracy vulnerable to the attack of authoritarian populism.

This week everybody was talking about impeachment

As I mention in the featured post, the most damning evidence against Trump is still his own words: “I would like you to do us a favor, though”, in response to President Zelensky’s request for Javelin missiles. The corruption here is clear: Trump wants Zelensky to boost his re-election campaign in exchange for Trump releasing money that Congress had already appropriated. In short, Trump was exchanging public money for private benefit, which is virtually the definition of corruption.

The parade of witnesses we’ve seen the last two weeks mainly provides context for those words: Trump had instructed his people to hold up the money, Zelensky already knew Trump was holding up the money, and he already knew what Trump wanted. So it wasn’t necessary to spell out the quid pro quo in explicit detail on the phone. It’s like in Mafia trials: The boss saying “It’s time for you to do the thing we talked about” qualifies as ordering a murder, if other evidence establishes that murder is “the thing we talked about”.

All that testimony happened behind closed doors, as is entirely appropriate for this phase of the investigation. Early phases of an investigation shouldn’t be public, so that witnesses don’t influence each other. Republicans tried to make a big deal out of this perfectly ordinary process by comparing it to the Nixon and Clinton impeachment hearings, which started out in public. However, both of those investigations were preceded by a special counsel investigation of the same events, in which testimony was taken behind closed doors. The right comparison here would be if one of the impeachment counts comes from the obstruction-of-justice evidence collected by the Mueller investigation; the House can go right into open hearings about that, because the preliminary investigation has already happened.

Thursday, the House approved a resolution outlining how the process will go from here. (Lawfare has a detailed explanation.) Transcripts of the closed-door testimony will become public, probably starting this week, with possible redactions to protect classified or otherwise sensitive information. Public hearings will begin soon; Nancy Pelosi has said “this month“.

The White House had claimed that the lack of a formal resolution made the previous hearings illegitimate, and used that as an excuse to refuse to cooperate. Now that there has been a formal resolution, they’re still not cooperating. Who could have guessed?

John Bolton may or may not testify Thursday.

An appeals court has agreed with the lower court that Trump’s accountants have to turn his tax returns over to prosecutors in New York. The court dodged Trump’s claims of “absolute immunity” from all legal process — which the lower court characterized as “repugnant to the nation’s governmental structure and constitutional values” — by noting that the subpoena applied to an accounting firm, not to the White House or Trump himself.

Inevitably, this is going to wind up in the Supreme Court, where we will find out whether Trump has managed to corrupt that court or not.

NPR has a collection of key public documents in the impeachment inquiry, which are mainly transcripts of opening statements that witnesses have made available voluntarily: Catherine Croft, Gordon Sondland, Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, Bill Taylor,

Vindman says that the rough transcript of the Ukraine call is inaccurate, and that his attempts to use the usual correction process were rebuffed.

Who moved the transcript of Trump’s Ukraine call to the ultra-secret computer system? Apparently, John Eisenberg of the White House Counsel’s office. That action undermines Trump’s claim that the call was “perfect”, because it seems his own staff knew it needed to be hidden. Eisenberg was supposed to testify today, but didn’t show up.

Republicans have been struggling to find ways to defend Trump. The only viable path of defense — other than just he’s-my-guy-I-don’t-care-what-he-did — is something Trump himself would fight: an admission that what he did was wrong, but that it wasn’t that bad and he has learned his lesson and won’t do anything like that again. The American people can be forgiving, but it’s hard to forgive somebody who insists he’s never done anything wrong.

Josh Marshall‘s assessment of Sondland:

Sondland stands out here as neither ethical or moral enough to see that this plot was wrong and limit his involvement accordingly nor experienced enough at being evil to lie about it effectively.

Meanwhile, Trump appeared twice before unscreened crowds — something he almost never does — and was soundly booed both times. The first was at Game 5 of the World Series, and the second at a UFC fight at Madison Square Garden.

Various Trumpist commentators have criticized the rudeness and disrespect the crowds showed.  “They should hold those fans accountable,” Frank Luntz said on Fox News. I will repeat what I’ve said before: What standard of conduct does Trump uphold that would justify such a condemnation? When Trump accepts some kind of behavioral standard, I am willing to treat him according to that standard. But the idea that there are rules for how I should treat him, but none for how he treats everybody else — that’s not acceptable.

Joe Keohane’s review of Aaron James’ book Assholes: A Theory, summarized James’ definition like this:

James’s asshole has a sense of ironclad entitlement. He’s superior, immune to your complaints, though he insists you listen to his. He’s reflective, but only to the extent that it allows him to morally justify his behavior.

That’s Trump to a T.

and California wildfires

The fires near Los Angeles are mostly under control now. Ditto for the Kincade fire in the wine country.

and the economy

The economy is growing at a significant but not very exciting pace: 1.9%, or about what it was averaging during Obama’s second term. If you drill down into that number a little, you see how the promises made to justify Trump’s tax cut have come up empty: The consumer is propping up the economy, while business investment falls. Meanwhile, manufacturing jobs continue to vanish, and major coal companies are still going out of business.

The October jobs report told a similar story: It came in with more jobs than expected, but the rate of job growth has slowed.

and the Democratic presidential candidates

Elizabeth Warren answered the challenge to explain how she’d pay for Medicare for All without raising middle-class taxes. Like all such plans, it relies on assumptions that you may or may not believe, and no president is going to get exactly the plan she or he proposes. Ezra Klein goes into detail.

What is clear is that she took the challenge seriously, as Paul Krugman explains. This isn’t like Paul Ryan’s “magic asterisk” of unspecified spending cuts that somehow would lead to balanced budgets in the distant future.

Joe Biden changed his mind, and will now have a super-PAC that donors can give unlimited amounts of money to. I really can’t see how this is a good idea.

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Pete Buttigieg are the leaders in contributions and number of contributors. Biden still has a substantial lead in the polls. All the other candidates seem to be struggling.

Tim Ryan and Beto O’Rourke have withdrawn from the race.

and you also might be interested in …

The new Brexit deadline is January 31. On December 12, the UK will elect a new Parliament.

Vox explains what net neutrality has to do with the streaming-service wars: Streaming plans (like HBO Max) that are owned by distribution giants (like AT&T) may be more affordable than plans (like NetFlix or Disney+) that have to work out deals with the ISPs.

Car companies are picking sides: Ford, Honda, BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen are voluntarily agreeing to meet California’s mileage and emission standards, which are a bit lower than the standards the Obama administration had laid out, but are considerably higher than the standards the Trump administration has replaced them with. GM, Toyota, Hyundai, Nissan, and Fiat Chrysler are going with the Trump standards.

Toyota’s decision is particularly disappointing, as Prius owners are among the most ecologically-minded car buyers. I have a Honda hybrid, which has been a good car. When I look for a new car next summer, I was planning to compare Toyotas, but now I don’t think I will.

Katie Hill’s situation demonstrates that male privilege is still a thing in politics. OK, the California congresswoman had a messy divorce and an affair with a staffer who doesn’t seem to be complaining about it. (Congressmen who fit that description or worse, line up over there.) But she had to resign because intimate texts and photos wound up on RedState and the Daily Mail. She claims the material came from her ex-husband’s “cyber exploitation”.

As attorneys who work day-in and day-out for individuals suffering the hell of intimate partner and sexual violence — online and offline — we have something important to say: Hill’s allegations cannot be reduced to “revenge porn.” It was far more insidious than that. We attribute it to a perfect storm of three things: 1) an alleged abusive ex, 2) a far-right media apparatus that enabled and amplified misogyny, and 3) a society gleefully receptive to the sexual humiliation of a young woman who dared be powerful.

Hill’s farewell speech to the House is worth reading. She mentions that she resigned not because of what has already come out but because of “hundreds more photos and text messages that they would release bit by bit until they broke me down to nothing”.

The forces of revenge by a bitter jealous man, cyber exploitation and sexual shaming that target our gender and a large segment of society that fears and hates powerful women have combined to push a young woman out of power and say that she doesn’t belong here. Yet a man who brags about his sexual predation, who has had dozens of women come forward to accuse him of sexual assault, who pushes policies that are uniquely harmful to women and who has filled the courts with judges who proudly rule to deprive women of the most fundamental right to control their own bodies, sits in the highest office of the land.

So today, as my last vote, I voted on impeachment proceedings. Not just because of corruption, obstruction of justice or gross misconduct, but because of the deepest abuse of power, including the abuse of power over women.

Slate’s legal reporter Dahlia Lithwick, whose opinion on key court cases I have often quoted, has written a powerful essay explaining why she can’t bring herself to cover the Supreme Court now that Brett Kavanaugh is on it. It’s a meditation on how “getting over it” so often means making peace with the fact that an injustice is beyond correction now. The powerful get forgiven in hope that maybe they won’t be quite so vindictive against those who tried to hold them accountable. And the powerless just have to suck it up one more time.

I haven’t been inside the Supreme Court since Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed. I’ve been waiting, chiefly in the hope that at some point I would get over it, as I am meant to do for the good of the courts, and the team, and the ineffable someday fifth vote which may occasionally come in exchange for enough bonhomie and good grace. There isn’t a lot of power in my failing to show up to do my job, but there is a teaspoon of power in refusing to normalize that which was simply wrong, and which continues to be wrong. I don’t judge other reporters for continuing to go, and I understand the ways in which justices, judges, law professors, and clerks must operate in a world where this case is closed. Sometimes I tell myself that my new beat is justice, as opposed to the Supreme Court. And my new beat now seems to make it impossible to cover the old one.

As you might have guessed, Trump’s wall isn’t all that he makes it out to be. Smugglers have been sawing through sections of it with a $100 saw. It’s the age-old problem: When you invest your resources in a fixed defense, your opponents know what they have to work around. Eventually they figure out how.

and let’s close with something calming

I don’t think I’ve seen quite enough puppy pictures yet. Here’s a gallery of them.

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  • D. Michael Wells  On November 4, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    I read Representative Hill’s final speech which was elegant and moving. Her ex husband is a scumbag and the right wing media are pigs (with apologies to pigs). However, I have a question: How is her resignation inappropriate when she admittedly had a sexual relationship with a staff member in violation of a House rule that was adopted to prevent (in most cases) the sexual harassment or abuse of a female subordinate? If she didn’t suffer some form of punishment, then those who want to exploit their positions of power would argue: “See, it works only one way, against men.”

    • George Washington, Jr.  On November 4, 2019 at 2:40 pm

      She only admitted to the relationship with the campaign aide, which occurred before she was in Congress. Her alleged relationship with the staffer after she was elected has not been proven, but my guess is that the “hundreds” more photos that her ex-husband would have released included some with the staffer, which would have gone against House rules.

      This is just another example, like that of Al Franken, where Democrats are holding themselves to a standard that Republicans have no intention of respecting. It’s admirable to hold the moral high ground, but it doesn’t seem to make any difference, especially with the crowd that thinks Trump is a saint.

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