The right choice; the only right choice

This isn’t the New York Times or the Washington Post or CNN, or any of Donald Trump’s other favorite targets.  This is the Wall Street Journal, fer cryin’ out loud, adding its credibility to that of many other outlets in reporting the story that seems to have shaken loose the impeachment process in Washington, D.C.: “President Trump in a July phone call repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son, according to people familiar with the matter, urging Volodymyr Zelensky about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani on a probe that could hamper Mr. Trump’s potential 2020 opponent.”

To summarize: the president is accused of using his official position, by withholding and threatening to withhold American military aid to another country, to pressure that country’s leader into conducting an investigation meant to damage the political career of one of his potential political rivals in advance of the 2020 election.

And this came after the report last week that someone inside the intelligence community had filed an official whistleblower complaint about Trump making a commitment to a foreign leader, which the inspector general for the intelligence community determined was legitimate and an urgent matter that should, by law, have been forwarded to Congressional committees.  But it wasn’t—still hasn’t been—because the acting director of national intelligence blocked it.  A Trump appointee who was never confirmed by the Senate, made that decision in conjunction with Bill Barr’s Justice Department.

Today Trump insisted there was nothing untoward in his conversation with the president of Ukraine, and later said he would release a transcript of that phone call…tomorrow.  We have some idea of how reliable a document that might be.  But in the meantime, these developments led House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to change her mind and announce a formal impeachment inquiry.  At last.  It’s about time.

(Earlier today, prior to the Democratic caucus and Pelosi’s announcement, Slate restarted the Impeach-O-Meter as a “(still wildly subjective and speculative) estimate of the likelihood that the House votes to impeach Trump before the end of his first term” and which I intend to try to keep up with, and late this afternoon published a helpful refresher guide on How to Impeach a President.  Neat.)

Go online and search “Trump’s impeachable offenses”  to refresh your recollection if you need to.  Since inauguration day this president has repeatedly and unashamedly shown his disdain for the Constitution and the law, for tradition, for the separation of powers, and for the intelligence of the American people—especially, I think, for the ones who supported him out of a misplaced belief in his promises about…everything!

(Those are just from the past week.)

It’s past time that our Congress took the action the Constitution provides for in a case like this—this is what impeachment is there for, dammit.  Up to now the Republicans in Congress have proven themselves unable to undrink the Trump-aid, and there’s no real doubt that the Senate would never convict Trump of any accusations brought by the House.  But the Democrats simply cannot abdicate their responsibility to their constituents, and to history, to do what they can.

For so many of his actions as president, Trump deserves impeachment by the House.  He deserves to be condemned to that short short list of impeached presidents, right next to Hillary’s husband, even if he’s not removed from office by the Senate.  As a more practical matter, Adam Jentleson, a staffer for former Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid, argues that the impeachment process itself will hurt Trump politically, and that not moving ahead with impeachment opens the door for Trump to insist that he was fully exonerated of all wrongdoing.  You want to listen to that for the rest of your life?

There are two lessons here for House Democrats as they debate whether to open an impeachment inquiry into President Trump.

First, polling can change.

I don’t know how else to say this: getting impeached is bad. It is not something you want to happen to you, especially if you’re president. You do not want to go down as one of only four [sic] presidents in history to be impeached. This is a bad thing. Only Democrats, bless our hearts, could convince ourselves that it is good for a president to be impeached.

Richard Nixon’s approval rating was at 65 percent when his impeachment process began and only 19 percent of the public supported his impeachment. By the end, the numbers had flipped: his approval was 24 percent and support for impeachment was 57 percent.

(snip)

The second lesson from the [Merrick] Garland experience is that like nature, power abhors a vacuum. The decision not to impeach is not a decision to focus on other things, it is a decision to cede power, control, and legitimacy to Trump. Trump is not a master chess player, he just bluffs his opponents into forfeiting their moves—and that is exactly what he is doing to House Democrats.

For their part, House Democrats have argued that by foregoing impeachment they can shift the conversation to topics their consultants tell them are safer ground, like health care. That’s not going to happen. Reporters cover news, and only events that drive news can shift the message.

(snip)

Impeachment is a long process that will highlight Trump’s crimes, which according to (literally) one thousand former federal prosecutors, include “multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.” Imagine the Michael Cohen, James Comey, or William Barr hearings but on steroids, for many weeks. Anything can happen and hearings can go haywire, but the odds of making a convincing public case against Trump are stacked strongly in Democrats’ favor. Trump’s crimes are serious and laid out in meticulous detail by an unimpeachable source. The public already believes he committed serious crimes by a margin of two to one. There is already a loud chorus decrying Trump’s crimes and arguing that he should be impeached, ranging from Kellyanne Conway’s husband to a sitting Republican Congressman. In this case, the impeachment process is like one of those meals where all the ingredients come in a box: you have to boil some water and maybe crack an egg, but it’s basically idiot-proof.

If and when the House votes to impeach, the ball goes to the Senate. The Senate can ignore it, which means the House’s impeachment is the last word. That would be fine. But McConnell would be under enormous pressure from Trump and the entire right-wing echosphere to call a Kangaroo court into session for the purpose of letting Trump off. If the Senate conducts a trial, Senate Republicans up for reelection in 2020—like Maine’s Susan Collins and Colorado’s Cory Gardner—will have to decide whether to vote to remove from office a President who has been shown to have committed serious crimes, or protect him. They will likely vote to protect Trump and it will cost them: they will have to explain which of Trump’s many crimes they think are no big deal, why they disagree with the many voices from their own party saying his crimes make him unfit, and why a criminal president should be allowed to continue in office.

More importantly, if the public believes Trump is guilty but the Senate lets him off anyway, he won’t ever be truly exonerated—he’ll be O.J. Simpson, assumed guilty but sprung by allies and circumstance. Some Democrats have argued that we should skip impeachment and vote Trump out instead. But if the House impeaches Trump and Senate Republicans fall in line to protect him, the argument that the ballot is the only way to remove him will be supercharged.

By contrast, declining to impeach Trump validates his claim that Mueller exonerated him.

(snip)

Even more ominously, Trump’s weaponized Department of Justice under Barr, who has shown himself to be Trump’s eager and obedient partner in abusing the power of the state to advance the president’s political interests, will inevitably invent a pretext for investigating the Democratic nominee. Democrats should consider whether they’d rather engage that fight against a president who has been impeached for serious crimes, or against a president strengthened by the de facto exoneration bestowed when his opponents declined to pursue the evidence against him.

https://twitter.com/tonyschwartz/status/1175403260590657536

And remember this:

I can always count on Dahlia Lithwick to see through to the crux of the matter: “The integrity of our democracy isn’t threatened when a president breaks the law. It’s threatened when we do nothing about it.”

It defies logic for House Democrats to insist that their sole hope for salvation will be found in the 2020 election, when the 2020 election is subject to the same acts of foreign interference that poisoned 2016; when indeed they are failing to respond to the admitted acts of interference that happen before their eyes. By refusing to hold the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell responsible for any of that interference—indeed by pretending it was very, very bad but let’s look forward and not backward, House leadership is inviting even more abuse. And in the face of it, Democrats continue to insist that the long game is what matters, even as the short game is making the long game increasingly unwinnable.

The net outcome of doing nothing is not politically or morally neutral. The net outcome is future loss after future loss.

When Corey Lewandowski puts on a clinic about contempt of Congress and nothing is done by the only body capable of doing something, that sends a powerful signal that all such future contempt will be welcome and effective. And when Robert Mueller says plainly and unequivocally that the next election is already in the process of being stolen, and nobody acts to secure it, that sends a powerful signal that all such interference is welcome and effective. To be sure, Democrats have very limited power at present and nobody doubts that the Senate will cower, whatever the results of an impeachment probe may be, and fail to convict. But by sitting on that limited power, fretting about how sad and mad they are, House Democrats are in point of fact giving over those limited powers to the other side.

By seemingly forgiving and forgetting the past, House Democrats are implying that they’ll also forfeit their chance at oversight in the future. In failing to say that the last worst thing was the impassable red line, they imply time and again that they are waiting for the next worst thing, which may really be the red line. But the implication that everyone’s waiting for the “big one” ignores the fact that the big one happened when this president endangered spies in a casual conversation in the Oval Office, when he took Vladimir Putin’s side over his own security advisers in Helsinki, when he tried to have Jeff Sessions fired, and when he conditioned foreign aid on helping to bury a political adversary.

Almost halfway

Two years…really?  Is that an eternity, or does it seem like no time at all?  It seems like…it seems like I’ve been on a merry-go-round that not only hasn’t slowed down in almost two years but occasionally cranks up to “dizzying,” and it feels like we all could use a rest.

Let’s see how smart I was two years ago (“Eyes Open, moving ahead” Nov. 11, 2016): I said, we owe it to the new president to give him a chance to perform in office, to get up to speed and be the best he can be and live up to the responsibilities of the office, blah blah blah…something like that.  I still think that was the only right attitude to take at the time; so, where are we now?

Well, the only real “important legislation” I can think of that this president has passed was the ill-considered December 2017 tax cut, and last month it was reported that it has contributed to the fact that today we have a $779 billion federal budget deficit, exactly the thing Republicans used to cry about—when Democrats were in power. (Now, not so much?  Nope; now, not at all.  E.J. Dionne likens today’s GOP “tax policy” to an artful scam pulled by some high-end grifters.)  Anything more recent?

BFD Trump (big freakin’ dealmaker), who campaigned on stopping the bleeding in the American car industry and promised to save the steel industry, has pretty much watched dumbfounded as there’s been no resurrection in steel and, this week, General Motors announced plans for plant closings and more than 14,000 layoffs to prepare for the future in sight of a present in which Trump tariffs have raised its costs.  (Yours and mine, too.)  And when he talked to the Wall Street Journal, long-time friend to Republican presidents, Trump demonstrated he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

(That extends beyond economics: he displayed the breadth of his ignorance warped view of the world when he talked to the Washington Post on several topics, including his pals in Russia and Saudi Arabia and his own Fed chairman.)

Thirteen federal government agencies released the latest report on the on-going investigation into climate change, in which they find many previously-predicted negative results of the climate changes that have already resulted from human activity are coming true and warn of “a profound threat to Americans’ well being.”  But Trump says he doesn’t believe the report, so, that’s that—nothing to worry about here, everybody, go about your business.

(Not so fast, conservatives: S.E. Cupp writes that it’s “both willfully ignorant and negligent not to acknowledge that there is in fact a scientific consensus that the Earth is warming and man is responsible for much of it” and suggests we get about doing something.)

Of course, there’s endless amusement in watching Trump twist helplessly in the wind waiting for another shoe to drop in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, which has been moving along pretty briskly, thank you very much.  It just secured a second guilty plea from Trump’s former personal and business attorney, Michael Cohen, who now admits he lied to Congress about the ongoing effort of the Trump Organization to arrange a deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow, an effort (he now concedes) that was still active even during the latter stages of the 2016 presidential campaign—a time during which the candidate himself repeatedly denied he had any business dealings with the Russian government or Russian businessmen, because, you know, people would have frowned at that.

(The Mueller investigation is not a witch hunt, unless you count as witches all the people on the list of “Trump people who have admitted criminal activity.”  Also, I read an interesting piece in Wired that argues the Mueller investigation could be close to an end, and has been leaving its conclusions strewn along the way in various court filings that no hack political appointee acting attorney general can ever hide from us even if he succeeds in firing Mueller himself.)

Wow.  And all of that…all of that is just some of what has happened in the past week.  Doesn’t even touch on the constant and inveterate lying from Trump and his press secretary and other subordinates and acolytes.  Gotta tell you, I know that what he says matters since he’s the president of the USA and all, but I don’t understand why anyone ever believes anything that comes out of his mouth.  He says what he wants to be true, or needs to be true, at the time he’s saying it; there’s seems to be no positive correlation between any statement made and discernible factual truth, nor any need even for niggling and inconvenient consistency between what he said today and anything he said before.  Ever.

I look forward to a beginning of some checks and balances of the Executive branch from the House of Representatives in the new year, and I will say that I hope the Republicans who serve in the current Congress are ashamed of the way they have blown off their constitutional responsibility and rolled over for this guy.  I have no doubt that Trump is deserving of being removed from office, but I don’t know that in the current circumstance that an impeachment effort would be worthwhile, what with Republicans still controlling the Senate and the alternate-facts-Fox-universe unlikely to see the light.  But Democrats could take a lesson from history:

The president of the United States was both a racist and a very difficult man to get along with.

He routinely called blacks inferior. He bluntly stated that no matter how much progress they made, they must remain so. He openly called critics disloyal, even treasonous. He liberally threw insults like candy during public speeches. He rudely ignored answers he didn’t like. He regularly put other people into positions they didn’t want to be in, then blamed them when things went sour. His own bodyguard later called him “destined to conflict,” a man who “found it impossible to conciliate or temporize.”

But the nation’s politicians simply had to interact with Andrew Johnson, for he had become the legitimate, constitutionally ordained chief executive upon Abraham Lincoln’s death by assassination.

Their path for managing this choleric man reveals that a president need not be kicked out of office to be removed from holding a firm grip on the reins of power. It also shows that people around the president, from Congress to the Cabinet, have many more tools at their disposal than, say, writing an anonymous New York Times op-ed to stop a leader they consider reckless or dangerous.

Read how they did it in this terrific piece by David Priess in Politico.  And get ready for the second half.

Furlough Journal: Blaming the guilty

Welcome to the first full day of my unexpected fall vacation.

As a contractor for a federal agency I’m technically not on furlough right now during this partial government shutdown, like my civil service colleagues are, but we can’t use our government offices or any government equipment to do our work, and I’m just not feeling it about doing the work from home.  (Maybe tomorrow, while I wait for the guy to come to service the heater…I, too, have a spouse who has some ideas about the best use of my time!)

First of all, I got to sleep late, and that should never be underestimated as a means of improving your state of mind.  Then I got to read the papers (in print and online) rather than skimming through them.  Not surprisingly, at least in the mainstream press, there seems to be plenty of criticism for the extremist Republicans in Congress who are responsible for more than 800,000 government employees getting some unplanned, unpaid leave.  They constitute well less than one-half of the party that controls one half of one third of the government, and yet their temper tantrum over the Affordable Care Act—a fight they have lost in Congress, at the ballot box, and at the Supreme Court—has brought a good portion of the government to a halt.  On the other hand, it’s bought me extra time for golf, so…

Of particular interest this morning was The Washington Post, where the notoriously-conservative editorial board has finally gotten off the fence and stopped with the “there’s plenty of blame to go around” bull and identified the guilty party: “the Republican leaders of the House of Representatives are failing. They should fulfill their basic duties to the American people or make way for legislators who will.”

Republicans have shut much of the government in what they had to know was a doomed effort to derail the Affordable Care Act. That law, in case you’ve forgotten in the torrent of propaganda, is hardly revolutionary. It is an effort to extend health insurance to some of the 40 million or so people in this country who have none. It acts through the existing private-insurance market. Republicans tried to block its passage and failed; they hoped to have it declared unconstitutional and failed; and they did their best to toss Mr. Obama out of the White House after one term in order to strangle it in its cradle, and they failed again.

They’re entitled to keep trying, of course — though it would be nice if someday they remembered their promise to come up with an alternative proposal. But their methods now are beyond the pale.

After months of refusing to confer with the Senate on a budget proposal, they have demanded a conference committee to keep the government funded for six weeks. They are rejecting a budget extension that includes limits on federal spending — the so-called sequesterthat they insisted on [my emphasis; PR] and that Democrats oppose. In a particularly shabby piece of faux populism, their final proposal Monday night included a measure to deprive congressional aides, many of whom earn considerably less than the esteemed members, of the subsidy to purchase health insurance that employers routinely provide.

E.J. Dionne:

The issue here is not that Congress failed to reach a “compromise.” The Democrats already have compromised, lopping some $70 billion [this number has been updated from an earlier version] off their budget proposal, to the dismay of many liberals. That was meaningless to a tea party crowd that seems to care not a whit about the deficit, despite its fulsome talk. It will be satisfied only if Congress denies heath-care coverage to some 25 million Americans, which is what “repealing Obamacare” really means.

It needs to be said over and over as long as this stupid and artificial crisis brewed by the tea party continues: Financing the government in a normal way and avoiding a shutdown should not be seen as a “concession.” Making sure the government pays its debt is not a “concession.” It’s what we expect from a normal, well-functioning, constitutional system. It’s what we expect from responsible stewards of our great experiment. The extremists who have taken over the House do not believe in a normal, constitutional system. They believe only in power.

Even conservative Michael Gerson, who argues that the tea party elements refuse to accept reality:

We are no longer seeing a revolt against the Republican leadership, or even against the Republican “establishment”; this revolt is against anyone who accepts the constraints of political reality. Conservatives are excommunicated not for holding the wrong convictions but for rational calculations in service of those convictions.

(snip)

This is reinforced by the development of an alternative establishment — including talk-radio personalities, a few vocal congressional leaders and organizations such as FreedomWorks and Heritage Action — that creates a self-reinforcing impression of its power to reshape politics (while lacking much real connection to the views of the broader electorate).

(snip)

The problem for Republicans (as Democrats found in the 1970s and ’80s) is that factions are seldom deterred by defeat. Every loss is taken as proof of insufficient purity. Conservatives now face the ideological temptation: inviting an unpleasant political reality by refusing to inhabit political reality.

If he’s right, imagine what we’ll see just a few weeks from now when Congress comes up against another highly politicized decision: increase the nation’s debt limit or allow the possibility of government default on payments.  I don’t think I’ll be able to just take a vacation from that one.

“We are better than this; we must do better”

I knew it:  I knew right away that whether or not there was any evidence that the person who shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was motivated by the loudmouths on radio and TV, that some of those loudmouths would be blaming the others for inciting political violence.  And I was right…I also predicted the sun would rise in the east this morning.

405992-giffordsMore than two days after the fact and there is no evidence (of which I’m aware) that the man who shot Giffords and 19 [1/12, authorities have revised the figure to] 18 others was persuaded to lethal levels of violence by radio and TV stars; short of his declaration that “so-and-so said it was the right thing to do,” I don’t see that there ever will be.  So let’s leave that alone.

Starting with Sheriff Clarence Dupnik at Saturday’s news conference, there has been a lot of ink spilled calling for restraint, for throttling back the vitriol that fuels so much of the political discussion in our halls of government and our radio and television studios.  It is worth considering to what extent the personal viciousness—and the attendant self-satisfied smugness—of the professional politicians and the paid-to-be-controversial “opinion hosts” has created an environment where consideration of physical violence becomes less theoretical.

I’ve written about the tone of modern political discussion, which is clearly not intended to appeal to the intellect but to rouse the emotions and appeal to paranoia.  And I’m troubled by how successful those messengers and their messages are.

Sure, I’d like to see more restraint and less accusation in political speech, but I know that real world politics isn’t an academic debate.  And I agree with Jack Shafer’s insistence that there be no government-imposed restriction on political speech—the First Amendment makes clear that is not allowed.  (Check my We the People page for a collection of quotations on free expression.)

But I wish there was more self-control when it comes to speech intended to demonize political opponents: to say not just that someone’s position or opinion is wrong, but that those people are evil, or hostile to American ideals and virtues, because of what they believe.  Disagree with me?  Fine; argue my conclusion, dispute my facts, prove me wrong, ridicule my reasoning, do so with vigor; but to respond that my disagreement with your point of view is evidence of imbecility or treason is not a rebuttal.  It’s a sign of the weakness of your position; it’s a sign that you have nothing to say.

One of the more touching observances of a moment of silence for the victims of the shootings in Tucson came this morning from Giffords’ brother-in-law: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, the current commander of the International Space Station.  (Full disclosure—I work at NASA Johnson Space Center and am acquainted with both Scott Kelly and his brother Mark Kelly, Giffords’ husband.)  The good stuff starts 1:27 into the clip–

We have a unique vantage point here aboard the International Space Station.  As I look out the window I see a very beautiful planet that seems very inviting and peaceful; unfortunately, it is not.  These days we are constantly reminded of the unspeakable acts of violence and damage we can inflict upon one another, not just with our actions but also with our irresponsible words.  We are better than this; we must do better.  The crew of ISS Expedition 26 and the flight control centers around the world would like to observe a moment of silence in honor of all the victims, which include my sister-in-law Gabrielle Giffords, a caring and dedicated public servant.  Please join me and the rest of the Expedition 26 crew in a moment of silence.

Last Call for 2010

party-hat I’m cleaning out files and dumping what I’ll never use—some of it because the crummy foreign-made hyperlinks are broken—and while reorganizing the rest I found some things that need to be posted now, as a benchmark, because I’m sure this stuff isn’t over yet.

I’ve been very interested in the growing disaffection with American politics and politicians, and not just what’s coming from tea parties.  Back in April Mark McKinnon and Lawrence Lessig called for a constitutional convention if only to shock the legislative classes into understanding that people have had enough of the corruption that has institutionalized itself  in Washington, D.C.  By fall, of course, Jon Stewart got tens of thousands to rally for simple reasonableness in politics and government, and by the end of the year McKinnon and some other esteemed names were launching the No Labels approach to finding solutions to problems.  This could just generate “passionate ambivalence”, but I’m optimistic: the dismissive comments coming out of the loudest mouths on both ends of the spectrum might just mean the center has found a weapon to use against the unreasonable and the extreme.

Inconceivably, the Roman Catholic Church took the disgrace of the priest sex abuse scandal, and made it worse: first a senior official says criticism of the church is like anti-Semitism; then we learn that while in his prior job the man who now leads this church had authority directly from Pope John Paul II to act in these cases, and for 20 years chose not to; and now for Christmas, the pope says western society and its permissive sexual attitudes are partly to blame for many of the church’s celibate employees sexually abusing underage members of their parishes.  Like I said before, why aren’t these people in jail?

On the subject of blogging, I recently found some great sites that have helped boost traffic here at the corner idea stand.  Take a look at Blogiche, Alpha Inventions, and BlogSurfer if you want to get more eyeballs on your blog; you’ll get a new insight into what else is out there, too.

I’ll wrap up with syndicated columnist Scott Burns and his column from last January which reminded us then (and now) that everything old is new again: there’s always a crisis, we can’t rely on our government to take care of us, and we are getting better as the years go by.