Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

Author: Evan Sarzin (Page 1 of 19)

Will Orange Be the New Orange?

 

According to latest filings in the Michael Cohen case, the Southern District of New York prosecutors have determined that the evidence shows that the man who would be FEPOTUS directed Cohen to pay hush money to cover up one of his affairs to keep it from the voting public. That’s a felony. Although he deserves to be prosecuted,  it’s not clear that he should be prosecuted.  Sometimes the best way to deal with a bum is just to give him the Bum’s Rush.

If there’s evidence that Trump directed Cohen to gag Stormy Daniels and the Enquirer to pay off Karen McDougal, to keep it from the voters, then it’s a strong case. It’s not beyond him to have done it, although for his supporters it wasn’t necessary. His voters had already crossed that Rubicon. They would stick by him if he shot someone, especially a Democrat. They had steeled themselves against Trump’s womanizing. Surely, his people wouldn’t have cared if he bonked a porn star about ten years earlier.

It’s possible that the Toxic Revenger was trying to keep it from the kids. They are the only ones with blinders as to his character defects. As for Melania, if I am reading her fashion tips correctly, she doesn’t care.

The Southern District prosecutors might not have a slam-dunk case against him for election fraud.   They have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to defraud voters, not just to deceive his family.  What’s more, any prosecution would have to wait until he leaves office, which, unless we’re lucky, probably won’t happen before 2020.

There’s lots of time remaining for him to do additional stupid things and further run the country into the ground like it was the Trump Taj Mahal. It would be great if he quit or if there were votes to remove him. Yet, it might not be a good idea to prosecute him once he’s gone.   If no one is going to prosecute him, indicting him is just waving the red cape in front of this Bull Artist without having the hidden sword to finish him off.

Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon, and it most likely cost him the bicentennial election of 1976. Ford thought that it was more important for the country to move on.  A case against Nixon would have lasted years and would have reignited a partisan battle. If somehow, Nixon was acquitted by a jury unwilling to send a former president to jail, then his forced resignation would become a cause celebre. We would still be litigating how badly Nixon had been treated when the Democrats forced him out of office – unconstitutionally.  Donald Trump would now be standing on the ruins of Nixon’s battlements.

FEPOTUS has screwed us all as thoroughly as he has his other victims. Think about the 2016 election like it was a massive Trump U. matriculation. There is no hell hot enough for a scoundrel like him. Punishing him comes with a heavy price, though. In 2020 we can run him and his bag of snakes out for good. We wouldn’t be well-served by continuing the battle. Besides, his base might really put their torches and pitchforks to use.

I Don’t Need to Know Stephen Vladeck has a Pug Dog Named Roxanna

Professor Stephen Vladeck, being formally informal

I despise Twitter, the Black Hole of social media. Full of information, yet uninformative.  Meaningful discussion doesn’t take place 240 characters at a time. Still, I am drawn back.

This morning I was pulled in by a (Stay Tuned with) Preet Bharara tweet, cited in an article I was reading.  One thing led to another, and I came up fore square  with the twitter account of Stephen Vladeck,  CNN’s Supreme Court analyst and the A. Dalton Cross Professor in Law at the University of Texas School of Law.  I think he might have some interesting things to say.  After a nod to his “better 1/2,” Prof. Vladeck gives a shout-out to Roxanna, his Pug Dog.

I recoil. Less than a minute ago, I didn’t know of Steve Vladeck’s existence. Now, I am knee-deep in the details of his household.  I quit after his nod to Roxanna, his beloved Pug .  I don’t need to know that Vladeck has a Pug Dog.  No disrespect to the estimable Professor, but I’m still not sure I need to know about Vladeck at all.

What’s more, I don’t want to know about the greater Vladeck cohort.  It takes up brain space, and I can’t spare any. Now I’m stuck with another Roxanna in my head, loitering with Police’s Roxanne and a girl from grade school.  This absorbs capacity needed for important information, like the phone number of my dog’s vet. That’s the kind of info that for me was always on standby. Now,  it’s being displaced by the dog name of a complete stranger. 

When I speak to people I might mention our dogs as a common interest or breeds for the same reason.  But no names, please.  There’s something too familiar about that.  

I shouldn’t be thinking about a Pug Dog named Roxanna, any more than I should be on a first-name basis with Prof. Vladeck.  I just can’t call him Steve. It’s too intimate, and I’d  get him mixed up with a bunch of other Steves already on my personal server.

Professors like Steve Vladeck are usually wrapped in the formality of their offices. I doubt he goes by Steve for his One-L  students.  Why any stranger should think of him as Steve puzzles me.  I’ll bet it’s not on his CV.  Nobody introduces him as plain old Steve at his lectures on constitutional law.  “It’s Prof. Vladeck, thank you very much.”  But for 47.1K of his closest friends, the CNN audience and me, it’s Steve. 

Nothing against the highly-regarded pedagogue. We are disarmed by informality. Like a man boxed in an anonymous suit, formality, not education, is the great equalizer.  Now, it’s Steve or Bernie or Hillary. It’s the tyranny of the familiar. We now go by given names with strangers; everyone, really, except  for doctors.  Time was, there were no given names without a courtship. Now we’ve gotten used to familiarity by telemarketers and robocallers.  I think Bill Clinton started it. Maybe Bill and Hillary. And Buddy, another dog coopted by his celebrity owner.

I like the comfort of formality.  It’s a handshake, not a hug.  Hugs are tricky. Was that hug affectionate? Was it intimate?  Was that an “I-don’t-know -you-that-well” hug or a “guys-don’t-hug” hug? Do we know each other well enough for a conventional hug or just a side hug?  Handshakes are dignified but noncommittal. You will soon find out if your new acquintance is wielding an olive branch  or a subpoena.

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When a Blue Wave Meets a Red Wall, No. 1

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We Americans had our Kumbaya moment. Now it’s back to war.

The mid-term election may not have been a lovefest. If we are in for two years of political mayhem, it may look like one.  Less than one day after the voting, Future Ex-President Donald Trump forced AG Jeff Sessions into quitting his post. He appointed Matthew Whitaker, a Trump sycophant, as Acting AG, promoting him over Rod Rosenstein, a Trump nemesis. FEPOTUS may have shot himself in the foot, as the appointment seems to violate the law. Sessions’ resignation was coerced, which his letter explicitly states. In addition, Whitaker has not been confirmed by the Senate for any principal position and therefore is not legally qualified for the temporary appointment.

The appointment has thrown the administration into controversy, once again forcing Republican legislators into an uncomfortable position. Whitaker is openly critical of the Special Prosecutor’s office. His appointment is viewed as a threat to the Mueller investigation, and it has triggered renewed talk of the need for a law protecting Mueller from being handcuffed or fired. Republicans who vote for this law will incur the wrath of and suffer retribution from FEPOTUS.

As Majority Leader and President, Lyndon Johnson manipulated senators and representatives. Whereas Johnson twisted arms, Trump just rips them out of their sockets. He demands loyalty, and he crushes anyone who refuses it. Trump’s savaging of legislators caused a number of them to “retire” ahead of the mid-terms.

Trump’s purge of renegades, including Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, opened the door for Democrats to take back seats in the House, one reason leading to Republicans’ loss of the majority. He hasn’t learned anything from the defeat.

Surfing the Blue Wave

Does anybody remember the election in 2016 — because one of the same patterns is emerging. The polls are giving the Democrats an 80% probability of taking back the house. Uh oh, Trump may have them right where he wants them.

In 2016, polls overwhelmingly projected Hillary Clinton to win the election. Nate Silver’s forecaster, Fivethirtyeight.com, before Election Day gave Clinton a 70% probability of winning, and he has been a very accurate forecaster of elections. By 11 P.M. that night, after Pennsylvania was called for Trump, her chances had dropped to 5%, and that was being generous. To focus attention, it’s better to think that she started with a 1 in 3 chance of losing, which is what happened. The Democrats have a 1 in 5 chance of not taking back the House. Is that a cold shower or what?

A probability of 80% assumes that everything goes as the Democrats expect. If things do not go perfectly, the percentage diminishes rapidly. The polls get a whole lot more accurate once voters go to the voting booth. Forecasting polls are a snapshot and contingent; who answered the phone and who didn’t. They are inexact and can’t be treated as a foregone conclusion. Don’t look at the 80%; look at the 20%. That’s the key.

Don’t hold your breath until the House turns blue. Get out and canvass, make phone calls and get everyone to vote. If you’re in a safe district, assuming there is one, work for a district that is contested. Participatory democracy means pushing beyond complacency and escaping your own gravity. Step out of your front door and roll up your sleeves.

Truth: The Comeback Tour

Press Release

Truth, the legendary performer, is coming out of seclusion for a reunion tour with former band mate Integrity. Truth hasn’t performed since 1980, when she was booed off the national stage after a series of disappointing performances.

“I never stopped performing,” said the artist. “People stopped showing up. All this business of Truth setting you free sounds great, but there are times when it hurts,” she said, speaking in the third person. “Your audience finds you, not the other way around.”

After being well-received last week in a surprise appearance at an Integrity concert in Washington, DC, Truth’s friends encouraged her to take to the road again. She was heartened especially by the reception of Integrity fans and by Integrity himself.
“Integrity said that it was time to reach out to our public again. He warned me that if I didn’t get back into the business, my next performance might be a farewell appearance.”

Integrity is a former band mate in the Virtues, a popular group in the 1960’s. Since the Virtues broke up in summer 1970, Integrity has established a devoted cult following and has never been off the road. Enlightenment, the third member of the original Virtues and its primary songwriter, has agreed to rejoin as a writer-producer. “No touring for me. I still get hate mail from the Virtues days.”

“The entertainment business has never been easy, particularly for us,” said Truth. “The fans are great; the promoters not so much. We’re going to start with a few small venues and see how that goes. The Virtues have been booked into college towns, starting in suburban Washington DC and winding up in New Haven.  We’ll have a better idea after that.”

The early indicators are mixed. Ticket sales in the nation’s capital, where Truth never had a strong following, have been sluggish. New Haven, on the other hand, is practically sold out.  “This is no nostalgia tour,” said Truth, bristling at the notion. “The fans are the grandchildren of our original fans. “In fact, some of those [original fans] now are just a bunch of entitled [non-followers].”

Fans expect to hear the famous songs of the Virtues. Integrity has been updating the arrangements. If the dates go well, they will plan to go into the recording booth in early November.

For further information, please contact Christopher Wray, Promoter
telephone: 1-800-CALLFBI (225-5324)
email: seawray@fbi.gov

Freaky, Flakey Friday

Last night, some blowhard was talking about the Senate and the power of one; meaning one retiring senator, Jeff Flake (R-AZ), overwhelmed by a spasm of conscience, brokered a deal with his pal, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), to hold up a confirmation vote on beer enthusiast Brett Kavanaugh. The Senate won’t vote until the FBI has conducted a further, limited investigation into the Kegger’s school-boy and adult-boy antics.

While Flake and Coons enjoy a relaxing smoke in the rosy afterglow of bipartisanship, they should remember that it took three women to move their conscience to break from the Republican cohort.  It took the power of one, Christine Blasey Ford, who, in spite of her revulsion and fears,  spoke her truth before the Senate committee and the world. Through the agency of another woman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ford forced the Senate to listen to her story. After that, it still took another woman, Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, to force Flake to check his own conscience. Archila demanded that Flake look her in the eye while she told him tearfully that a vote to confirm would mean that women’s ordeals don’t matter and that men don’t care.

  Nevertheless, Flake deserves credit for forcing the issue in committee. He is stepping down because he has become unelectable. At least, it’s given him the opportunity to break ranks and, in doing so, slow down the Republican juggernaut.

The power of one senator who is willing to reach across the aisle carries tremendous power. Flake’s rebellion gives cover to other Republicans to vote their consciences, free of recrimination. If there are a few reasonable actors within the majority caucus that who will vote free of party pressure on important issues, the leadership might have to engage in meaningful negotiation. It’s too bad that Flake had to resign as a result of opposing FEPOTUS. Maybe one of the other GOP apostates will survive. If so, the Senate may be pushed back toward collegiality and compromise, notwithstanding Lindsey Graham’s partisan eruption. From time to time, a pair of Senate co-sponsors might emerge from one of the its delivery rooms to announce the birth of a meaningful bipartisan agreement.

To paraphrase Barack Obama, that is what change would look like.

And to paraphrase Joe Biden, that would be a big fucking deal.

The Kegger Plays His Trump Card

Yesterday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee predictably satisfied the expectations of political junkies, #metoo activists and garden-variety voyeurs. The crowd also experienced the rare surprise of the cool and collected Brett Kavanaugh putting on his angry Trump face for the galleries and the folks at home. Trump’s Justice in utero wasn’t going to go out without a Trumpian rant.

Kegger spent several days in White House captivity, mastering the Trump playbook. He roared about the Democrats’ chicanery, lamented that his days of teaching and coaching girls’ sports may be over, and raged that the coveted prize, a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court was being pulled out of his hands. He didn’t use the words “rigged” or “witch hunt,” and he wept and cursed his fate. Otherwise, it was unvarnished Trump-speak. Trump’s hand was up the Kegger’s back, moving his lips and waving his arms.

The Republican senators had hired Rachel Mitchell, an able and experienced sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona, to question accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in their stead. Mitchell took each majority members’ five-minute segment in the Ford questioning, and she was scheduled to do the same with the Kegger. However, chairman Grassley and his bloc, fortified by the nominee’s new-found belligerence, decided to take back the microphone.

First up, Lindsey Graham (R-NC) lay the groundwork for the rest of the afternoon. Turning away from the judge, he fixed his pole axe on his Democratic colleagues.

“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics and if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy!”

His target was his friend, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who bore the brunt of accusations that she held back Ford’s accusation until after Kavanaugh’s first hearing finished.
At long last, the combatants dismissed Ford and Kavanaugh, the proxies for the war between the statesmen. The Repubs were in high dudgeon over the Dems’ treatment of Kavanaugh, and the Dems were tacitly taking their revenge for their rivals’ dismissal of Merrick Garland in 2016 – and for a bagful of other indignities and slights.

The public got to see what kind of shit show we’ve enabled in the halls of government. Blame everybody — we’ve demanded winner-take-all politics, and now we have it. The Democrats led by former Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) set this in motion by eliminating the filibuster in connection with judicial appointments below the Supreme Court level This reduced the vote to a simple majority. When Mitch McConnell (R-TN) extended the rule to Supreme Court confirmation, the nuclear option, the stage was set for extreme appointees who did not require bipartisan support.

In 2016 Merrick Garland was put forward by Barack Obama, a centrist judge who previously had garnered the approval of both parties. He did this to dare the Republican house to gamble on the outcome of the presidential election.  McConnell, in complete control of the Senate, refused even to consider his nomination, rolling the dice that, if Clinton had won, he could always activate Garland’s nomination. With Trump in the White House and a Republican majority in the Senate, McConnell has been rolling sevens, judicially speaking. The Democrats, outmaneuvered, lament lifting the filibuster in the first place.

Dick Durbin (D-IL) had predicted in January that ending the filibuster would be the “end of the Senate,” as we know it. Yesterday, he lamented that his prediction had come true.

“It’s interesting, a Republican senator this morning in the gym raised the same question with me. And I said, ‘I think we’re learning our lesson here.’ That eliminating the filibuster on the Supreme Court at least, and maybe the other federal positions, has really created a much more political process. It is better for us to move toward with something that is bipartisan and try to find more moderate people to serve on our federal judiciary.”

Good luck with that. It’s a great aspiration but no one in this Senate presently will lead the institution out of its quagmire. So much needs to be unwound to return to lower-case d democracy in our politics. The Senate and House must reclaim their preeminent places in our government, and the imperial presidency, begun long before Trump, must be contained. These changes require the Supreme Court to recognize congressional primacy, and Brett Kavanaugh won’t let that happen — unless his puppeteer loses the White House.

Who Said Life is Fair?

Three accusers so far, and we’ve only gotten as far as freshman year. Imagine what’s in store for Brett “Kegger” Kavanaugh as an upper-class man at Yale. Boola, boola.

All of his accusers could be mistaken or lying, but the odds are against it. Predict It, the UK bookmaker, had confirmation at 96% last week, now down to 30%.

Kegger’s self-driven PR campaign hasn’t moved the needle. It didn’t help that he was sharing the headlines with Bill Cosby’s sentencing for drugging and raping a woman (and a lot more whose cases were too old to be brought). It’s bad luck too that there’s no statute of limitations in a Senate Confirmation hearing to protect 100-Keg from his own history.

Kegger caught another bad break being before the Senate and not a courtroom. No one has to presume his innocence or give him the benefit of the doubt, even if his sponsors have brought in a prosecutor and want to turn the hearing into a quasi-trial.   He could use a little legal aid about now.

Kegger is by far the sweatiest Supreme Court nominee in my lifetime. He looks like he’s got hives. He’s lost  his composure. When he appeared on Fox News two nights ago, begging for fairness, you could smell the tension. Why so uptight? Come on, man, we’re impartial, just calling balls and strikes. It’s not our fault you’ve got a big strike zone and a few holes in your swing.

There are plenty of second acts in American lives, and Kavanaugh has had his allotted two. He’s parlayed his privilege from high school hedonist to Judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Not bad, but now Kegger’s looking for a third act, and that curtain’s not going up. He shouldn’t complain. He’s a judge on one of the most respected courts in America. He’s lucky; in fact, he works for Merrick Garland.

Considering Kegger’s questioned past and his proven lies in earlier confirmation hearings, he’s gotten more than his share of fair. There are jurists out there as good or better, who couldn’t get so much as an interview. Merrick Garland comes to mind.

Do you remember telling your parents that something was unfair and their response? Life isn’t always fair. Kavanaugh should wipe away his tears and return to his very special job, which he is very lucky to keep. For now.  A criminal complaint has been filed before the Committee on Judicial Conduct against Kavanaugh, alleging perjury during his 2004 and 2006 confirmation hearings.  The committee chair?  Merrick Garland.

Real News: The Times Had a Duty to Publish the Rosenstein Story

Some progressives have expressed outrage at the New York Times for publishing its reporting on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s statements at a 2017 DOJ-FBI meeting held immediately following FEPOTUS’S firing of James Comey.  Their argument is that the Times should have held the story back because its potential damage to Rosenstein and by extension to the Mueller investigation, which he directs.

Sourcing the Story

Based on interviews of the reporters conducted by Michael Barbaro, also of the New York Times, the article was a well-sourced piece that resulted from their attempt to document the official reaction to Comey’s firing. The reporters can’t be faulted for their practice, and the Times can’t be accused of publishing a story that its detractors could label, “fake news.” 

Post-Publication Confirmation

The follow-on from the publication has confirmed that Rosenstein did mention the idea of recording meetings with Trump, and he also mentioned raising the application of the 25th Amendment with a couple of cabinet-level officials. Rosenstein has signaled his intent to step down. Presently, he is scheduled to meet Trump at the White House on Thursday. 

National Security Justification

The progressive view is that the Times potentially jeopardized the Mueller probe by printing the story. If Rosenstein departs, he will no longer block Republican attempts to end the special prosecutor’s work, which these progressives consider a matter of national security. There’s precedent for news media holding back stories when such concerns may be adversely affected.  There is also precedent, and law, to support publication even if national security interests are implicated.  The publication of the Pentagon Papers most readily comes to mind.

Mueller’s probe touches on issues of national security.  Within the framework of the investigation, many subjects concerning our security have been publicly reported.  A case can be made that almost all the investigation could be deemed classified.  

In the Service of Democracy

The investigation itself is vital, but not as a matter of national security. It is vital as a matter of democracy; undertaken to prosecute anyone who conspired to undermine our 2016 elections.  Mueller’s investigation is not forward-looking, as the Congressional investigations should be. It is to cite and prosecute past criminal conduct.

The Times has a duty to report stories which address the democratic process. When the Deputy Attorney General and FBI Director are considering the need to conduct surveillance on the president or to assess his constitutional fitness to serve, that’s news and of vital national interest.  

Rosenstein, Mueller and the Rolling Report

On Friday night, the New York Times reported that top officials of the Department of Justice and of FBI met to discuss how to move ahead with respect to the new president within days after he fired FBI Director James Comey.  Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, was nominally in charge of the meeting. Andrew McCabe, then acting FBI director, also attended.  Subsequently, McCabe was fired. Rosenstein is still in place for the moment, amid rumors that he will be fired.

Prior to being fired, Comey had made memos of his meetings with Trump.  According to Comey, in one meeting Trump asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty, which Comey could not deliver.  In a follow-up meeting, for which Trump requested privacy, Trump asked Comey to go easy on Flynn, the National Security Adviser fired for lying about his ties to Russia and other foreign governments.  Comey had shared the memos with some colleagues as these meetings had occurred.  With Comey now fired, the conclave of top law enforcement officials reviewed the ex-director’s memos again.

At some point during this meeting, Rosenstein allegedly discussed his wearing a wire to record his meetings with the president.  The attendees also discussed the role of the 25th amendment to the Constitution, the one which makes provision for removing a president who is unfit to serve.  Rosenstein has not unequivocally denied discussing either recording or removing the president, or discussing recruitment of cabinet members to join the effort to unseat Trump.   

Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as Special Prosecutor on May 17, 2017, within days of the Comey firing and the DOJ-FBI strategy meeting.  Rosenstein’s order of appointment gave Mueller a lot of latitude to investigate.  Presumably, Rosenstein delivered at least one unwritten instruction with the appointment.  Rosenstein undoubtedly urged Mueller to have a report at the ready, just in case one of them is fired without warning.

Mueller, a preternaturally cautious man, has probably done even more than Rosenstein would have suggested.  Pieces of the investigation have been stashed with federal prosecutors’ offices in New York and Virginia, and there are likely materials being safeguarded elsewhere to protect against preëmptive action by FEPOTUS.   These proto-reports would be updated regularly, like a computer backup, so that if the system crashes, the data won’t be lost.

This isn’t spy craft; it’s legal tradecraft.  Memos of this kind speak of events more clearly than human memory.  The participants of the DOJ-FBI meeting took notes, and some if not all wrote memos. One day the record will be open but that may be a long time from now.

If Trump fires Rosenstein he will try to appoint a successor who will end the Mueller probe. Even so, there will be records: recorded interviews, memos, notes, transcripts, grand jury minutes, and rolling reports; up-to-date status accounts of an investigation that has moved in many directions at once. One of those massive jigsaw puzzles, unfinished by Rosenstein and Mueller, pieces scattered, needing someone else to put them together.

 

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