Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Endangering the earth

Paraphrased from The New Yorker's Jane Mayer:
California is on fire.    Monster storms are flooding our southern coasts.   The polar ice caps are melting, faster and faster.   Temperatures in some densely populated areas like Pakistan are soaring to 120 degrees.

Meanwhile, President Trump is about to nominate Andrew Wheeler as permanent head of the EPA.    Wheeler is a climate change denier and a former lobbyist for the coal industry.

Will Trump change his #2 for 2020?

Since the bad news for the Trump Party in the midterm election, President Trump has been asking around about keeping Mike Pence as his running mate for 2020.   Or, more specifically, he's been asking, "Is Mike Pence loyal?"'

When the question was posed to Trump by a reporter recently, with Pence standing nearby, Trump did this little song and dance of turning to Pence and asking him point blank:   "Mike, will you be my running mate?"   Pence stood up, raised his hand and nodded -- and Trump pretended to be very pleased.

But, according to recent New York Times reporting by Maggie Haberman and Katie Rogers, in private it's a different story.  "In one conversation after another he has asked aides and advisers a pointed question:   Is Mike Pence loyal?"

Haberman and Rogers continue:  "Mr. Trump has repeated the question so many times that he has alarmed some of his advisers.   The president has not openly suggested dropping Mr. Pence from the ticket . . . but the advisers say those kinds of questions usually indicate that he has grown irritated with someone. . . .

"Within the White House, most people he has talked to have assured the president that Mr. Pence has been a committed soldier . . . .  But some advisers, primarily outside the White House, have suggested to him that while Mr. Pence remains loyal, he may have used up his utility.   [They] argue that Mr. Trump has forged his own relationship with evangelical voters, and that what he might benefit from more is a running mate who could help him with women voters, who disapprove of him in large numbers. . . .  

"Mr. Trump has kept close counsel about whether he is seriously considering making a change to the ticket, or simply poll-testing advisers as the campaign begins."

The authors also spoke with Dan Pfeiffer, former communications director for President Obama, who said that such questions are usually raised when contemplating a re-election campaign;  but a change "almost never happens."   Pfeiffer added that the electoral significance of the VP nominee "is one of the most overrated things in U.S. politics, particularly in a re-election, which is almost always a referendum" on the president.

Robert P. Jones, chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, points out that, although Mr. Pence may have served as "a validating figure for white evangelicals, recent research showed that 7 out of 10 white evangelicals who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party would prefer Mr. Trump over any alternative Republican candidate in 2020."

And presumably that would include Pence himself, if he should prove to be disloyal enough to run against Trump in a primary.

Which brings us to Nikki Haley, former popular governor of South Carolina, who has served quite credibly as Trump's Ambassador to the United Nations -- a post that she has previously announced she will be leaving at the end of this year.

To a large extent, it seems a waste of time to even be discussing this -- given the great unknown of what bad news Robert Mueller's report will have for Trump.   But, assuming that he survives politically to run in 2020, I think Nikki Haley would be his best choice as a running mate.

She's smart, politically savvy, ambitious -- and she's proven that she can exist in the Trump world without selling her soul or becoming corrupt herself.    That might not be possible in a closer relationship, such as Vice President;  and she might just be too willing to speak her own mind for Trump to tolerate.

But it could be a formidable ticket.   And I worry about it.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Judge restores reporter's White House pass

For the back story, see Friday, November 16th post, numbered paragraph 3.   President Trump didn't like CNN's Jim Acosta's challenging questions.  Instead of answering, Trump called him rude and a "terrible person."    Subsequently the White House press office took away Acosta's White House press credentials, even though he is CNN's chief White House correspondent.

CNN sued based on first amendment rights and lack of due process.   A judge heard arguments for a preliminary injunction, found in favor of CNN on the narrow grounds of due process, and ordered the credentials to be restored pending a full trial of the case.

So President Trump lost this round in his fight with the press.   But the basic question remains:   does the president get to decide which journalists can have access to the White House?    Trump claims that it is his right to choose who gets to come to WH news briefings and has easy access to come in to talk with WH staff.

In other words, whether Trump's actions violate the constitutional mandate for a free press remains to be litigated.    But Acosta's and CNN's right to be there was at least temporarily restored, which bodes well for the larger question.

The Founding Fathers deemed an unfettered free press vital enough in a democracy that they called it the "Fourth Estate," meaning that it is the fourth power along with the legislative, administrative, and judicial powers.   It is the free voice of the people.

To imagine what it would be like without a free press:   go to Russia -- or just imagine that right-wing radio and Fox's Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson were our only news media.


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Abrams ends campaign, but may sue state for mismanagement of election

Georgia Democratic nominee for governor, Stacie Abrams, has acknowledged that Brian Kemp will be the next governor.    But she makes a distinction from that and "conceding" defeat and giving up her fight for a fair election.   She has simply concluded that the numbers are not there for her to win -- but she still wants to challenge the "mismanagement" of the whole election.

Abrams has formed a new advocacy group, "Fair Fight Georgia," and is considering filing a lawsuit against the state for gross mismanagement of the election process.

Lest this sound like sour grapes of a sore loser, Abrams does have valid accusations -- the most glaring being that her opponent, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, has overseen the election process while himself being the Republican candidate for governor in that election.

More than that, according to an article on Vox.com, Kemp's actions paint him as an ardent voter suppressor.

1.  Kemp's dual role as a candidate and also the top election official overseeing his own election became a subject of concern nationwide, bringing much negative publicity to the state.   Kemp refused to give up his role as chief elections officer until two days after the election.

2.  In the last five years leading up to this election, Kemp's office had purged hundreds of thousands of names from voter roles -- a move he claimed was an effort at maintaining up to date records, removing people who had died or moved away.   Criticism came however because of some of the tactics, which included purging people who had not voted within a certain period of time and failed to respond to a "postcard" notification asking them to verify their registration information.    Critics noted how easily we all ignore insignificant-looking, mail-in, form-postcards in the pile of trash mail we routinely receive.

3.  In addition, 53,000 recent voter registrations (70% of them from people of color) were put on hold for failing the extreme "exact match" process of comparing registration data with other state records.    Anecdotal examples included such trifles as the omission of a hyphen in a hyphenated last name, or the typographical transposition of two letters in an obvious name (like Smtih for Smith).    Yes, these voters were allowed, if they asked, to fill out a provisional ballot -- and then had to later go to the county office to clear up the inconsistency, which is an extra hardship for low-wage earners who can't take time off work.

4.  During the vote counting process, some counties were throwing out absentee ballots where someone decided the signature on the ballot didn't match the one on record.  As someone pointed out, in some instances this involved one signature having been required on a touch-screen pad -- which almost always fails to match close scrutiny with a regular signature.

5.  In the final weeks leading up to the election, Kemp was hit with multiple lawsuits from the NAACP, the ACLU and local organizations accusing election officials of practices that negated votes that routinely affected voters of color more often.

6.  Even before the election, Abrams headed the New Georgia Project, which worked to register new voters of color.    This often led to clashes with Kemp and his office over how registration applications were being processed, even before the election.

7.   Kemp's defense has been to push back against complaints, citing the number of new voters that have been registered during his term as Secretary of State and saying that "voting has never been easier in our state."   He also says his concern has been to get rid of voter fraud -- despite the fact that study after study has shown that in person, voter impersonation almost never happens.

I don't know what Abrams will decide as her next step, but I want to thank her personally for the efforts she has made to ensure that every eligible voter has a chance to register and vote and that every vote cast gets counted.   If it takes the courts to complete her task, then let's support her in that.


Friday, November 16, 2018

What's going on with Trump?

1.  You know what else has gone missing since election day?  -- I mean something else besides the caravan bringing those "hordes of bad people" to storm our southern border.  Yeah, I mean those "hordes" of women with children in strollers, with nary a gun amongst them, that we were warned were so dangerous.    The hordes that Trump apparently forgot all about when election night was over.

Also MIA is the 10% middle class tax cut that President Trump trumpeted during another campaign stunt.   Republicans are acting as thought the less said about it, the better -- especially since they lost control of the House.  Newly elected Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy said it had been conditional on Republicans winning both houses of congress.   Didn't happen.    And the tax cut won't happen either.

Who would've ever guessed?

2.  Our president is reportedly in a bad mood.   It's beyond pouting and tweeting, they say.   It's gone to the level of raging and foot-stomping -- and firing people.   It seems that he blames his advisers for failing to convince him that he would get media criticism for not going to Arlington Cemetery to say a few words on Veterans Day.

Gee, what a surprise!   People actually want their president to honor our brave, fallen soldiers on Veterans Day?    And the media criticizing him for failing to do so?   Now who could ever have anticipated that?  Especially coming on the heels of his letting a little rain keep him from going to the U.S. World War I soldiers' cemetery in France -- and then that snotty little Emmanuel Macron dared to make a speech, with Trump sitting there, decrying the "nationalism" that Trump had himself embraced a few days before.   Such a weakling, that Macron.   We ought to cut off all deals with France.

3.   Last week, when he was already well into being pissed off about the increasing losses in the midterm election, the president held a news conference in the White House.    CNN's reporter Jim Acosta, who tends to be a bit tough with his questions, did it again, asking about that "nationalism" thing . . .  and it really made Trump so mad.   He called Acosta a terrible person and refused to take another question from him.   When Acosta balked at giving up the microphone, Trump railed at him for being rude -- and subsequently Acosta was barred from access to the White House -- even though he is CNN's chief White House correspondent.  Trump claims the prerogative to choose which reporters can come to the White House.

CNN has now sued the administration, citing an assault on the first amendment and interfering not only with Acosta's free speech but also CNN's.    Fox News was one of the first news organizations to file a similar brief in solidarity with CNN in support of a free press.  Now some 50 news organizations have signed or otherwise lent their support to CNN.    There was a preliminary hearing before a judge on Wednesday, asking for an injunction to prevent the barring, pending a full hearing.   The judge has not yet rendered his opinion.

4.   But you don't need all these stories to know that the president is in a foul mood.   Just look at his face whenever he appears in public.   Such a deep scowl, such anger and fear showing in his eyes.   I've never seen him so down.  Theories abound:    the midterm results;  the Mueller investigation coming closer and closer.   But perhaps the best explanation came from Matt Miller, former spokesman for the Justice Department speaking on Nicole Wallace's MSNBC show.

According to Miller's theory, Trump has spent the last three days huddled with his lawyers crafting his written answers to questions from Mueller (in lieu of an in person interview).   Miller suggests, quite rightly I think, that arrogant narcissists like Trump do not actually perceive the depth of their legal vulnerability until they are forced to answer questions, either in court or in writing for the court.   Then they finally get some inkling of what we've known all along.    Trump is in a whole lot of trouble, and he can't just click his ruby red shoes, hear the roar of his rally crowds, and suddenly make it all go away.

It's all very real . . . and it's bad.


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Trump has taught Lindsey Graham to lie

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) may be getting -- or hoping to get -- some important favor from President Trump.   It's not clear what -- either an appointment as Attorney General to replace Jeff Sessions or, as has been reported, Secretary of Defense, to replace Mattis when he leaves.

But one thing is not in doubt.   Lindsey Graham has sold his political soul to Trump . . . for something.    Remember his denunciation of Trump, during the presidential campaign, when he declared Trump totally unfit to be president.    Now he's one of Trump's chief defenders on TV and a frequent golfing buddy.

Here's the sad thing.  Trump's corruption is corrupting Lindsey Graham.   He's learning to lie, just like Trump.   And remember Graham's angry outburst during the Kavanaugh hearings that turned the tide back to Kavanaugh?  That was pure Trumpism.

Last week, when the new job numbers came out, Graham  bragged on social media about the number of jobs President Trump had created during his 21 months in office.   He said that, if President Obama's jobs numbers had been "anywhere close" to Trump's, " the media would stop the Earth from rotating to make sure everybody heard about it."

There's a problem -- as there always is with Trump's claims -- and now with Little Lindsey as well.  In Obama's final 21 months in office, the jobs numbers were better than Trump's by nearly half a million.   Obama added 4.47 million in 21 months, while Trump had only 4.05 million.

Now Lindsey Graham is not my favorite senator.   In fact, probably the best thing about him was that John McCain seemed to like him a lot.   But, now that this best bud is gone from the earth, Lindsey seems to have turned to Trump as a replacement.

How ironic, given Trump's cruel and small-minded insult to McCain -- saying that McCain was a hero only because he was captured by the Vietnamese;  and he, Donald Trump, preferred those who didn't get caught.

Trump has absolutely no standing to pass judgment on McCain's heroism, given that he avoided the war altogether by getting a doctor to say he had "bone spurs" in his heel  (that same long-haired dude, perhaps, who declared Trump's health to be "extremely excellent"?   No doctor uses language like that.)

So, Lindsey, what is it that you're angling for by kissing up to Trump?    Or does he perhaps have something incriminating on you?


Monday, November 12, 2018

Why Trump's Acting AG is unqualified

As expected, after the midterm election, President Donald Trump wasted no time in ousting his Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installing Sessions' Chief of Staff, Matthew Whitaker as Acting AG.   But on multiple counts, Whitaker is not qualified to hold the post, even as a temporary appointee.

1.  The Constitutional Argument:  A New York Times op-ed on Friday, by constitutional scholars Neal Katyal and George T. Conway, argues that Whitaker is not qualified because, even as Acting Attorney General, he is a "principle officer" in the federal government but has not been vetted and confirmed -- as required -- by the U.S. Senate.   A principle officer is one who reports directly to the the President and has no other supervisor.

Katyal and Conway back up their claim with analysis of Supreme Court decisions, which I won't detail here;  but their reasoning seems sound to me.  Just last year, SCOTUS held that the general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board had not been legally appointed because he did not have Senate confirmation.    What applies to a mere lawyer for the NLRB should apply in spades to the Attorney General himself -- the highest law enforcement individual in our country.   Conservative Justice Clarence Thomas himself wrote this opinion.

There could some time be an emergency situation where a vacancy had to be filled by a non-confirmed officer for a very short time.  But there was no such urgency last week, since the timing of Sessions' "resignation" was nothing more than Trump's finally accepting the letter written by Sessions months ago at Trump's own request.   And there was a whole line of succession of better qualified Justice Department officials who do have Senate confirmation that could have stepped into the position:    the Deputy AG, the Solicitor General, and others.

2.   The Lack of Legal Qualification Argument:   The highest position Whitaker had occupied in the DoJ was as Chief of Staff for Sessions.   He is not known as a legal scholar, nor does he have significant experience even in law enforcement or as a prosecutor.

3.   The Conflict of Interest Argument:    It's quite clear that Trump chose Whitaker for one reason:   his past public statements -- and probable private assurances -- that Whitaker will do what Trump wants to kill or severely limit the Mueller investigation.   He has made TV appearances in which he called it a "witch hunt," spoke about how the DoJ could limit funding for it, and how the AG could restrict areas that Mueller could investigate.   Specifically, he also has said that, like Trump himself, he would consider Mueller was crossing a "red line" into forbidden territory if he investigated Trump's finances.

Further, Whitaker has said publicly and adamantly that he will not recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation.  This then would also give him control over what happens to any report Mueller might write.

4.   The Lack of Independence Argument:   From all of the above -- plus reports just out that allege, despite Trump's having told reports "I don't even know Whitaker," that he has met with Trump multiple times, secretly, in the White House;  and that they have talked multiple times on the phone.   Speculation is that he has been Trump's "mole" in the Justice Department as Sessions Chief of Staff, reporting to the president what's happening in the investigation.   This is highly improper.   The Justice Department must have a certain distance and independence from the president and the White House staff.

5.  The shady and improper financial past of Whitaker:   Mr. Whitaker, rather than having followed a career path primarily as a lawyer, has dabbled in many business ventures.   He was a paid member of the Board of World Patent Marketing, which was charged by the Federal Trade Commission with fraud for misleading customers.   A federal could ordered the company to pay a settlement of $25 million and close up shop.   The company accepted the judgment without admitting guilt.

So . . . the handwriting on the wall is easy to read.    Trump's complaint about Sessions' recusal was that it left him without an AG that would "protect" him from investigations and DoJ scrutiny -- i.e., putting Trump above the law.   Now Trump has installed -- probably illegally, and at least politically untenable -- his own lackey who has most likely already assured his loyalty to the president rather than to the country.

Within three days, protest marches had been organized in multiple cities around the country.   Members of both parties in congress are speaking against this appointment.   At the very least, we will now have a Democratic majority in the House, which can open its own investigation and pick up whatever Mueller can't get finished.

Heck, they could probably even hire Muller to be the lead investigator for them.


PS:   These arguments don't even address obvious, out-in-the-open evidence of (1) abuse of power of office and (2) obstruction of justice arguments against both Trump and Whitaker through their attempts to interfere with an ongoing investigation.