Category: Government (Page 1 of 11)

Ok, Now Let’s Kill All the Lawyers

The best news Attorney General William Barr delivered Thursday morning is that Congressional leaders from both parties will see the almost-naked Mueller Report. Grand jury testimony will remain sealed because Barr refuses to seek its disclosure. He’s exercising his discretion and is acting within the scope of his authority.

Barr’s refusal lays the groundwork for House Democrats to try seek the grand jury testimony legally, which Barr no doubt would oppose on legal grounds. The process  could take a year, which will allow Barr to run out the clock legally.

Barr’s recap of the Report falls squarely within the law. Barr and Rosenstein decided that there was as much evidence of Trump’s frustrations at being stymied after the inaugural as there was that he was trying to kibosh on the investigation. I don’t buy Trump’s defense but he has a right to assert it. Then it’s left to a jury, and juries are unpredictable.

Prosecutors get to decide which cases to prosecute. The U.S. Attorney doesn’t bring cases that are a toss-up, especially hot potatoes. In fact, judges run from those cases, too. They call them, “political questions,” and it’s the law.

We appoint a Special Prosecutor who works as free from political influence. Prosecutors don’t bet on trial outcomes because juries are just so unpredictable as possible . Even in a solid case, a defense verdict is always possible. Even if Trump we enough to see indicted, he might walk.   If Mueller was undecided then it’s hard to tackle Barr for putting his finger on the scale. He is acting within the scope of his office. That’s the criminal law.

There was plenty of red meat for progressives in Barr’s press conference. Beyond any reasonable doubt, Barr is Trump’s boy.   Pundits and Congress have good reason to see Barr as Trump’s fixer. He was Bush I’s operative in his first stint as Attorney General. Barr is a highly skilled lawyer. He knows how to find a matter’s  seams; the loophole; the catch; the escape clause; the space; the slack; the soft underbelly. That is where he has discretion. That’s especially where lawyers lurk.  Under the law, the only way to override Barr’s discretion is to show that he has abused it. It’s a high bar.

While I see the issues differently, I can’t attack Barr’s legal process. He has done what people demanded.  He has invoked the rule of law. He has twisted it to fulfill his political view.  Democrats are capable of the same sleight of hand.  That’s good lawyering for you.

The obstruction case against Trump is over. It won’t be reopened. House Democrats aren’t bound by Barr’s decision. They might see impeachable offenses where the DOJ  saw nothing to prosecute. The House will investigate as long as it have public support. It won’t impeach because it can’t convict in the Senate trial.   But that’s Politics, and 2020 is no longer very far away.

Bridge and Tunnel to Nowhere

 

The other night, a friend asked me who I would vote for in Tuesday’s Special Election to fill out the remainder of Letitia James’ term as Public Advocate, I answered plainly: I don’t know. I’ve had a day to think about it and to read up on many of the seventeen candidates, and I can now give a more informed answer: I don’t know.

Public Advocate is the minister-without-portfolio office created by the City of New York to replace the elected position of City Council President once it had been declared unconstitutional. The PA has no official duties, which is fortunate because the office has no executive power. It can investigate but can’t issue subpoenas or hold hearings. It is an office that is mostly about being a foil to the mayor. Historically, the office has been a stepping-stone for young pols, who seek the searchlights of the City.

The PA’s megaphone and $3.6 million budget galvanize ambitious people. Seventeen heat-seeking prodigies (15 Democrats and 2 Republicans) have stepped forward for this one-off vote. The Democrats are fighting for the ambience of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s bright sunlight. They agree in varying but insignificant ways on the two leading issues of the day: Diversity and Amazon, as the embodiment of all income inequality issues. The better-known Republican has been the only supporter of the now-scuttled Amazon deal. This may boost him above the mostly-partisan affair; aside from political rhetoric, many New Yorkers considered Amazon’s selection of Long Island City to be good for New York. For good or ill, Amazon has been a linchpin for his pitch.

New York is a city engulfed by end-stage capitalism, having fully gentrified two of five boroughs already. Progressives have good reason to fear the introduction of a new corporate predator to the already-unbalanced New York Eco-System, More corporate jobs, more displacement of long-time residents and the dismantling of residential communities. The crux of the Democratic argument is that rather than suck up $3 billion in tax subsidies, Amazon should have been willing to pay for its place in the New York firmament.

The law of supply and demand is sometimes suspended in New York politics. Over the past 50 years, New York has lost its position as the center of the corporate and financial universe. It is a notoriously expensive and challenging place to live and work. This is one reason that so many corporations removed headquarters from Manhattan. It was astonishing that Amazon selected New York at all. Naturally, tax subsidies sweetened the pot.

Amazon had pledged 25,000 corporate jobs, the kind that creates the demand for new housing stock, services, good schools, etc. This is a boon to a city whose economy is closely tied to finance, real estate and tourism. The return of corporate jobs is a good thing but for the fact that those who provide services to the new enclaves are being priced out of the places where they now live and arguably would work. Many working people already have long and largely unpleasant commutes. A good transit system would help, but our crack lawmakers don’t have a clue about that. New York needs the jobs and the revenues but it also needs to figure out a way to make life available and affordable within the city precincts.

I’ve searched in vain for a candidate who articulates even an acknowledgment of the complexity; never mind the solution. Retail politicians advance on the quality of rhetoric. They depend upon others to develop new ideas. Judging by the discourse, New York’s think tanks are at drought levels. Its public advocate candidates have nothing new or interesting to offer. Under the circumstances, I Don’t Know is a ringing endorsement.

Worth a Thousand Words and a Shove Out the Door

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, Democrat, admitted yesterday that he posed in a racially offensive photograph . In 1984 he and another medical school student posed as a black man in black face and a Klansman in a Ku Klux Klan hooded robe. The picture was published as his yearbook page. The editors at the East Virginia Medical School didn’t have a problem running it.
The two men are shown standing next to each other but it isn’t a promotion for National Brotherhood Week. Northam issued a public apology (although, today he’s denying it) and didn’t try to defend the photo or offer context. So far, despite calls for his resignation, he refuses to step down. He will probably be forced to resign; replaced by Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, who is black.

It’s hard to look at the picture and say, “That was then and this is now.” Certain instances of racially and sexually abusive behavior have ended public careers and caused public ostracism. There is no statute of limitations  and no possibility of rehabilitation. Some acts are so shocking and offensive that forgiveness would be considered acceptance. In those cases, there is zero tolerance.  Our society is still working through how Northam and others like him should be treated for such offenses. There is a compelling reason, other than politics, to banish Northam. Short of physical violence, black face, along with the “N word,” is the most publicly reviled display of racism. The photo is a graphic representation. It is more nauseating to see it than to hear about it. Ostracism sends a clear signal to parents and children to preach against this form of hatred, or else make sure it’s hidden in a place where no one will see it.

For now, Northam, a Democratic politician, will be forced out due to the 1984 photo. For now, Steve King, a Republican politician, was stripped of all leadership positions by Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader, due to racially offensive statements made publicly and reported.  However, Congress stopped short of censure and removal. Different result if there was no picture of Northam or if King had been videotaped? I think so. Different result if Northam was a Republican and King a Democrat? Without a doubt.

Game, Set and Match?

If Trump specifically directed Cohen to conceal the true status of Trump Moscow in his Congressional testimony, that is subornation of perjury, a crime.  It’s the kind of crime Congress can’t ignore. 

It would have to be that precise and there’s got to be corroborating evidence. Cohen vs Trump won’t do it.

Wait! There’s More!

Prior to his testimony, Cohen filed a written statement with Congress, reviewer in advance by the White House, which falsely represents Ed that the Moscow project ended in January 2016  in fact, it didn’t end until the following November.

Cohen: “I assume we will discuss the rejected proposal to build a Trump property in Moscow that was terminated in January of 2016; which occurred before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary.”

No one st the White House interceded to correct the record.

As Heads Continue to Roll

Mick Mulvaney: Out of the Sandbox

Donald Trump wasn’t conservative enough for Mick Mulvaney. Mulvaney said that candidate Trump was a terrible person, and he wouldn’t vote for him. Nevertheless, he accepted the President-elect’s offer to run the Office of Management and Budget. Later, he added the title of Director of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau after Obama appointee Richard Cordray was fired.

As CPFB director, Mulvaney immediately fired all members of the agency’s advisory board and defanged the pro-consumer agency. As  OMB director, his office has become a way station for the stray lobbyist or dissatisfied donor. Yet, after two years of service, Mulvaney is not the object of a criminal investigation. High praise, indeed.

On paper Mulvaney, a deficit hawk, is an unlikely chief of the OMB, which has overseen a historic increase in the national debt.   Mulvaney claimed that the United States would outgrow its spending hikes, which so far is not the case. Growth as measured as a percentage of GDP fell from the promising 4% range into quicksand of 2%. Mulvaney’s hoped-for growth by tax cut has not materialized.

Trophy Hunter

All the more surprising is Mulvaney’s willingness to take on another job, this time as Acting Chief of Staff. He’s going to hold on to the OMB title, avoiding the necessity of  ramming another anti-agency industry hack through the Senate confirmation process. Mulvaney coming aboard with the title of Acting Chief of Staff gives him cover if he is dumped like Priebus and Kelly were. It also gives him control on domestic policy and relations with congress. At least, Mulvaney has more latitude to conduct government business in a comparatively conventional way.

Translating Trump

Can Mulvaney do what his predecessors could not? For starters, he is trying with some success to translate Trump’s impulsiveness into political norms. This morning on Meet the Press, he addressed many  pressing issues.  On the border wall: “We gave [Democrats] an offer [between the $5 billion figure and the $1.6 billion figure] and we’re waiting to hear back from them right now.” His statement is addition by subtraction. The administration will drop its settlement number to end the shutdown, making it sound like the usual congressional horse-trading. Still, no DACA, no wall, as far as the Democrats are concerned.

Mulvaney tries to be plain spoken-ish. “The president is not going to not accept money for a border wall.” Mulvaney also shifted the administration on getting Mexico to pay for the wall.  He conceded matter-of-factly that the administration cannot actually make Mexico pay for the wall. He  suggested that Trump’s promise was aspirational,  not transactional.  For Mulvaney, Mexico’s greater deterrence of Central America migrants becomes a stand-in for the wall. The slatted fence with the points is another stand-in for the wall. Without fanfare, Mulvaney downgraded the wall from BBW (Big, Beautiful Wall) to FWB (Fence with Benefits). Border wall has been re-purposed as border security, opening the door to non-wall measures which are acceptable to the Democrats and don’t look to Trump’s base like surrender.  Congress will make a deal sooner or later, and Mulvaney will be smack dab in the middle of it.

Mulvaney is the Message

Mulvaney also is also seizing control of the message. If this morning’s appearances are a preview of things to come, Mulvaney will get the chance to move the congressional pile and to propose compromises that don’t completely forfeit the boss’s political capital.

Making It Real

According to Mulvaney, Trump now realizes that he can’t fire the Fed Chief.  If so, this recognition is uncharted territory for the Accidental President.  Mulvaney chalks up Mattis’ firing to a difference in philosophy between Trump and Mattis. Of course, it is just as much a difference in process, which Mattis identified as a reason for leaving.   Mulvaney is trying to forge a real-world convergence of American politics and Trump’s alternste universe.

Shortly after the Sunday shows, the White House announced that the nomination of a new Defense Secretary has been advanced from to January  3rd from February 28th.  The announcement is meant to assure the public that this administration is not the shambles it appears to be, and to persuade the public that there is at least one person ready to lead the Pentagon under this president. Mulvaney’s fingerprints are on this too.

Out of the Sandbox

For the moment and until further notice,  Mulvaney will play the adult in the room. He is attempting to project himself as the savior of a lost administration, or at least the voice of reason drowned out by the White House din.  If this is political calculation by Mulvaney, he is playing it smart. ​

Kelly never had any political arrows in his quiver.  He is a former general, not a former legislator. On the other hand, Congressman Mulvaney was washed ashore in Washington bu the Tea Party tsunami. Paradoxically, he’s trying to build an unsinkable platform using the DC swamp as his foundation.

Bienvenidos a Tijuana

6479944A-25DF-4E78-8053-56AAA3D059F5.jpegThe first migrants have reached Tijuana. But the troops are not engaging them. That’s because the services are not authorized to perform law enforcement. In fact troops helping protect the border are packing to go home.

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

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