Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

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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.

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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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

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.

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