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Trump’s Entire Shutdown Approach, Encapsulated in One Tweet

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David Graham has a column in the Atlantic. I’ll excerpt the beginning down to the eponymous tweet:

Imagine you were charged with choosing an artifact to put in a time capsule so that future Americans could understand the current government shutdown. This is an unrealistic scenario, of course. No single item can explain the current moment, and moreover, there’s no reason to believe that the shutdown is actually going to end.

But playing along with the game, your best bet would be this Donald Trump tweet from Friday morning: . . .

Continue reading.

His explanation of why the tweet so perfectly embodies the Trump approach, with its strengths (loud) and weaknesses (everything else), is quite cogent.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2019 at 2:47 pm

A Shutdown for the 99 Percent, Concierge Government for the 1 Percent

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Eoin Higgins reports in the Intercept:

THE GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN is into its fourth week with no end in sight. President Donald Trump started the crisis on December 22 by refusing to sign a funding bill unless it contained money for his southern border wall.

A wide range of interests across the economic spectrum are jeopardized. But not all interests are suffering equally: Wealthier and more powerful interest groups have been granted preference by the government.

Over Christmas, the shutdown threatened to stop the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, from issuing flood insurance certificates. According to federal law, FEMA must provide flood insurance certifications before banks may issue federally backed mortgages to prospective homeowners living in federally designated floodplains — even in areas that FEMA has determined should not be built on due to high risk of flooding. The National Flood Insurance Program of 1968 ensures that FEMA has the ability to issue and pay out claims for the insurance.

Without the certificates, roughly 40,000 closings a month would be at risk, resulting in millions in lost revenue for banks and mortgage companies. So it came as no surprise when interest groups successfully lobbieda bipartisan congressional cohort to temporarily reauthorize the NFIP through May on the eve of the shutdown. The stopgap bill was signed into law by Trump on December 21, hours before the federal government shuttered.

“There are 140 million Americans who live in coastal counties, millions of whom depend on this program to protect them from flood risk,” said former Rep. Tom MacArthur, a Republican from New Jersey who lost his seat in the midterm elections, during the brief House debate on the bill. “Without this program, they cannot buy or sell homes.”

But that wasn’t the end of it. Despite the reauthorization, FEMA believed that the shutdown meant that the agency could not, by law, provide these certifications. The reason? A law called the Anti-Deficiency Act prohibits government agencies from entering into contracts or spending money if the projects aren’t funded.

Craig Fugate, the former administrator for the agency from May 19, 2009 to January 20, 2017, disagrees with FEMA’s take. The NFIP is solvent, Fugate explained, subject to a different funding source and funding code, and generates its own revenue. That allows the NFIP to continue operations in the face of a shutdown. There’s no lapsed funding for the program and thus, no need to stop it from working, even in a shuttered FEMA. “As long as they’re reauthorized, they’re up and running,” said Fugate.

Nevertheless, FEMA announced on December 26 that the agency was not going to issue the certifications, citing the shutdown and anti-deficiency. The reaction from interest groups was as swift as it was predictable.

The National Association of Realtors, the largest lobbying group for the industry, made its displeasure over the possibility of lost revenue and closed home sales known. “Today’s surprise FEMA ruling jeopardizes tens of thousands of home sales across America,” said the association’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Shannon McGahn, “as NAR estimates up to 40,000 closings are disrupted each month that the NFIP cannot issue flood insurance policies.”

Once the rage of the business sector — and Congress — was made clear to the White House, the administration ordered FEMA to resume issuing the certificates. “Upon realizing the trouble they were in — especially with Republicans — they back tracked pretty quickly,” Stephen Ellis, executive vice president for government watchdog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, told The Intercept in an email.

In a December 28 statement, the agency announced that it would consider the 48-hour lapse in the program to never have happened, and that the program would be regarded as having continued without interruption since December 21.

“FEMA worked with the administration and industry partners during this funding lapse to assess the impact and determine what options exist to enable the NFIP [National Flood Insurance Program] to allow the sale and renewal of flood insurance policies to continue,” Alex Bruner, a FEMA spokesperson, told The Intercept in an email.

Looking at what happened to the NFIP, said Fugate, gives a lot of insight into the priorities of the government when it comes to the shutdown. Federal workers in the Transportation Security Administration, the Secret Service, and other agencies are expected to work without pay. Public lands are being destroyed by garbage and misuse in the absence of rangers. Those effects haven’t spurred the president or Congress to act.

“As long as the only people feeling pain are federal employees, nobody really cares about shutdowns,” said Fugate.

But when the unintended consequences of the political struggle affect the rich, the rich apply pressure. And the government doesn’t even allow half a week to go by before fixing the problem. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

19 January 2019 at 8:51 am

House Republicans recognize important priorities; Senate Republicans (and Mitch McConnell in particular) do not

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From today’s Daily 202 in the Washington Post:

— More than 130 House Republicans voted against the Treasury Department’s plan to lift sanctions against companies owned by a Russian oligarch with close ties to Putin. Karoun Demirjian and Jeanne Whalen report: “The overwhelming 362 to 53 vote will not prevent the Trump administration from easing sanctions on three companies connected to [Oleg Deripaska], as Senate Republicans narrowly blocked a similar measure on Wednesday. But the House vote does mean that a majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill oppose [Trump’s] efforts to soften punitive measures on a Russian oligarch — a rejection with potential implications for the administration’s continued stance on Russia, and for the GOP lawmakers who backed the plan to ease the sanctions. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and GOP Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) both broke with Trump to join Democrats to support the resolution, along with the rest of their leadership team — a particularly awkward rebellion for the White House and [Mitch McConnell].”

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2019 at 10:18 am

Trump can travel, but Pelosi can’t (or so Trump rules)

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Jennifer Rubin has a good column today in the Washington Post:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pulled a fast one on President Trump on Wednesday by postponing the State of the Union address until the shutdown is over — or allowing him to submit his remarks in writing. Trump feigned indifference. But he couldn’t contain himself — much as he could not control himself on the day Pelosi was sworn in and showed up in the White House press room to get some attention.

On Thursday, Trump, in an error-filled letter (are fact-checkers on furlough?), told Pelosi that he was postponing the trip that she and others were planning in order to visit NATO leaders in Brussels and troops in Afghanistan. (He said the trip was seven days; it was five. He said they were to stop in Egypt; no Egypt stop was planned.)

Let’s count Trump’s most obvious blunders.

First, you cannot claim to be indifferent about a punch to the gut and then in 24 hours retaliate in such petty fashion while claiming — no, really — that this wasn’t about retaliation at all. Trump could not help appearing spiteful because, well, he was acting out of spite.

Second, Trump, as narcissists are wont to do, cannot imagine that every event isn’t about him. He was denied the SOTU, so he’ll take something away from her. But unlike Trump, Pelosi knows that the trip isn’t about her; it isn’t some kind of perk. As her spokesman Drew Hammill explained via Twitter, “The purpose of the trip was to express appreciation & thanks to our men & women in uniform for their service & dedication, & to obtain critical national security & intelligence briefings from those on the front lines.” The trip to Brussels wasn’t for pleasure-seeking but to reassure freaked-out allies about whether Trump is still keen on pulling out of NATO.

Third, Trump doesn’t know how to treat anyone, especially a woman, as an equal, so he treats her like she works for him. She is a co-equal, constitutionally speaking. The Post reports, “Trump didn’t explain what authority he has to cancel Pelosi’s trip, but it probably would require the use of military aircraft controlled by his administration. He said Pelosi could fly commercial if she chose.” Congress, however, has its own obligations and does not report to him. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who was to accompany Pelosi, blasted the president, calling him a fifth-grader and vowing to do his oversight regardless of the president’s antics. Trump wound up making himself seem small and congressional Democrats look mature by comparison. “We’re not going to allow the President of the United States to tell the Congress it can’t fulfill its oversight responsibilities, it can’t ensure that our troops have what they need whether our government is open or closed,” he declared. “That work must go on and I think it’s vitally important now, in particular that the President has announced withdrawals from Syria and Afghanistan, that we understand the situation on the ground.”

Fourth, while denying a visit that is of benefit to the troops and our national security, Trump had dispatched Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to hobnob in Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum — a laughably elitist and unnecessary function for the rich and famous (and popular with autocrats trying to convince the West that they are sophisticates). That was just dumb — and the result of letting the president do whatever he pleases, with no adult supervision. It took until Thursday night for someone to recognize how awful this would appear; the Davos trip was canceled, thereby depriving his own people of their boondoggle.

Finally, Trump committed a rudimentary, blatant violation of national security protocols. As Schiff and others pointed out, one does not disclose the destination of an official trip to a war zone. But alas, Trump thinks only of himself; national security is secondary.

Trump’s move was blasted by Democrats but also by one of his most faithful lapdogs. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) said:

“One sophomoric response does not deserve another,” Graham said. “Speaker Pelosi’s threat to cancel the State of the Union is very irresponsible and blatantly political. President Trump denying Speaker Pelosi military travel to visit our troops in Afghanistan, our allies in Egypt and NATO is also inappropriate.”

Graham — who a Senate aide said could be heard shouting in his office at the matter — added that while he was disappointed in how Pelosi was handling the State of the Union situation, he was “glad the Speaker wants to meet our troops and hear from our commanders and allies.”

Trump makes his position worse with each new misstep.  . .

Continue reading.

Rubin added an update:

UPDATE: Unbelievably, the story gets worse for Trump. Hammill, Pelosi’s spokesman, released a statement Friday morning, which read in part: “After President Trump revoked the use of military aircraft to travel to Afghanistan, the delegation was prepared to fly commercially to proceed with this vital trip to meet with our commanders and troops on the front lines.” The statement continued: “In the middle of the night, the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service provided an updated threat assessment detailing that the President announcing this sensitive travel had significantly increased the danger to the delegation and to the troops, security, and other officials supporting the trip.” He added, “This morning, we learned that the Administration had leaked the commercial travel plans as well.” Hammill concluded,”In light of the grave threats caused by the President’s action, the delegation has decided to postpone the trip so as not to further endanger our troops and security personnel, or the other travelers on the flights.”

This stunning violation of his duties as commander in chief in order to serve his petty personal desire for revenge tells us just how unfit Trump is to serve. A House vote resolution condemning the president’s conduct as well as an oversight hearing on his attempts to sabotage and potentially endanger others should proceed.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2019 at 9:51 am

GOP senators protect Trump administration’s plan to lift Russian sanctions

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Who would have thought that Republican Senators would become protectors of Russia. (House Republicans voted overwhelmingly not to lift the sanctions.) Jeanne Whalen reports in the Washington Post:

Republican senators Wednesday successfully defended the Trump administration’s plan to lift sanctions on companies controlled by a Vladimir Putin ally — despite the defection of nearly a dozen Republicans who broke ranks to vote with the Democrats.

The Democratic effort to block the relaxation of sanctions on the companies of Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska fell just a few votes shy of the 60 needed to advance the resolution to a final vote, even after attracting the support of eleven Republican senators including Marco Rubio of Florida, Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

The defeat means the Treasury Department is likely to lift the sanctions in the coming days. Treasury, Deripaska and his companies didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The U.S. sanctioned Deripaska and his companies in 2018, among a group of Russian elites the U.S. said had furthered “the Kremlin’s global malign activities, including its attempts to subvert Western democracy.”

Some Democrats said they were wary about relaxing sanctions on Deripaska’s companies, in part because of his ties to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who pleaded guiltylast year to conspiring to defraud the United States and obstruct justice in the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. Deripaska helped fund consulting work Manafort did for a Ukrainian political party, invested in a Manafort investment fund and lent Manafort millions of dollars, according to court records.

The Treasury Department in December proposed lifting sanctions against the companies while leaving those against Deripaska intact, after protests from European countries that the company sanctions were causing havoc in aluminum markets.

Treasury notified Congress on Dec. 19 that it intended to lift the sanctions because Deripaska had agreed to reduce his stake in En+ Group, the holding company that controls the aluminum giant Rusal, from about 70 percent to 44.95 percent, and to limit his voting shares to 35 percent. This would protect the companies “from the controlling influence of a Kremlin insider,” which had been the goal of punishing the firms, Treasury said.

But Senate Democrats balked at the plan, and tried to stop it through a resolution of disapproval. Some Republicans agreed, breaking with the Trump administration and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

“I’ll vote to disapprove Treasury’s easing of sanctions on Russian businesses involving oligarch & Putin ally Oleg Deripaska. He still would maintain significant control given his ties to Putin. Easing the sanctions sends the wrong message to Russia & to Deripaska,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) tweeted, before voting with Democrats to try to block the Treasury action.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said he supported the resolution to “keep pressure on the Kremlin for their aggressive actions toward Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and around the world.”

Sen. Rubio criticized Treasury’s plan to shift some of Deripaska’s shares to a Russian state-owned bank. Under the Treasury planto reduce Deripaska’s ownership, Russia’s state-owned VTB Bank or another Treasury-approved entity will take ownership of a block of Deripaska’s shares in En+ that had been pledged against a loan.

The Obama administration added VTB Bank to a sanctions list in 2014, as punishment for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The Trump administration issued sanctions against VTB’s chairman, Andrey Kostin, last year, as part of the actions against Deripaska and others.

“Under this agreement Oleg Deripaska loses shares but not influence or effective control of Rusal,” Sen. Rubio said Wednesday. “Between his 35 percent of voting shares and those held by others close to him, including 7 percent by Putin’s bank, his control over the company remains.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 January 2019 at 9:44 am

Kamala Harris Was Not a ‘Progressive Prosecutor’

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I lived in California and I never liked Kamala Harris, who seemed to do poorly at her job as Attorney General.

Lara Bazelon, a law professor and the former director of the Loyola Law School Project for the Innocent in Los Angeles, writes in the NY Times:

With the growing recognition that prosecutors hold the keys to a fairer criminal justice system, the term “progressive prosecutor” has almost become trendy. This is how Senator Kamala Harris of California, a likely presidential candidate and a former prosecutor, describes herself.

But she’s not.

Time after time, when progressives urged her to embrace criminal justice reforms as a district attorney and then the state’s attorney general, Ms. Harris opposed them or stayed silent. Most troubling, Ms. Harris fought tooth and nail to uphold wrongful convictions that had been secured through official misconduct that included evidence tampering, false testimony and the suppression of crucial information by prosecutors.

Consider her record as San Francisco’s district attorney from 2004 to 2011. Ms. Harris was criticized in 2010 for withholding information about a police laboratory technician who had been accused of “intentionally sabotaging” her work and stealing drugs from the lab. After a memo surfaced showing that Ms. Harris’s deputies knew about the technician’s wrongdoing and recent conviction, but failed to alert defense lawyers, a judge condemned Ms. Harris’s indifference to the systemic violation of the defendants’ constitutional rights.

Ms. Harris contested the ruling by arguing that the judge, whose husband was a defense attorney and had spoken publicly about the importance of disclosing evidence, had a conflict of interest. Ms. Harris lost. More than 600 cases handled by the corrupt technician were dismissed.

Ms. Harris also championed state legislation under which parents whose children were found to be habitually truant in elementary school could be prosecuted, despite concerns that it woulddisproportionately affect low-income people of color.

Ms. Harris was similarly regressive as the state’s attorney general. When a federal judge in Orange County ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional in 2014, Ms. Harris appealed. In a public statement, she made the bizarre argument that the decision “undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants.” (The approximately 740 men and women awaiting execution in California might disagree).

In 2014, she declined to take a position on Proposition 47, a ballot initiative approved by voters, that reduced certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors. She laughed that year when a reporter asked if she would support the legalization of marijuana for recreational use. Ms. Harris finally reversed course in 2018, long after public opinion had shifted on the topic.

In 2015, she opposed a bill requiring her office to investigate shootings involving officers. And she refused to support statewide standards regulating the use of body-worn cameras by police officers. For this, she incurred criticism from an array of left-leaning reformers, including Democratic state senators, the A.C.L.U. and San Francisco’s elected public defender. The activist Phelicia Jones, who had supported Ms. Harris for years, asked, “How any more people need to die before she steps in?

Worst of all, though, is Ms. Harris’s record in wrongful conviction cases. Consider George Gage, an electrician with no criminal record who was charged in 1999 with sexually abusing his stepdaughter, who reported the allegations years later. The case largely hinged on the stepdaughter’s testimony and Mr. Gage was convicted.

Afterward, the judge discovered that the prosecutor had unlawfully held back potentially exculpatory evidence, including medical reports indicating that the stepdaughter had been repeatedly untruthful with law enforcement. Her mother even described her as “a pathological liar” who “lives her lies.”

In 2015, when the case reached the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco, Ms. Harris’s prosecutors defended the conviction. They pointed out that Mr. Gage, while forced to act as his own lawyer, had not properly raised the legal issue in the lower court, as the law required.

The appellate judges acknowledged this impediment and sent the case to mediation, a clear signal for Ms. Harris to dismiss the case. When she refused to budge, the court upheld the conviction on that technicality. Mr. Gage is still in prison serving a 70-year sentence.

That case is not an outlier. Ms. Harris also fought to keep Daniel Larsen in prison on a 28-year-to-life sentence for possession of a concealed weapon even though his trial lawyer was incompetent and there was compelling evidence of his innocence. Relying on a technicality again, Ms. Harris argued that Mr. Larsen failed to raise his legal arguments in a timely fashion. (This time, she lost).

She also defended Johnny Baca’s conviction for murder even though judges found a prosecutor presented false testimony at the trial. She relented only after a video of the oral argument received national attention and embarrassed her office.

And then there’s Kevin Cooper, the death row inmate whose trial was infected by racism and corruption. He sought advanced DNA testing to prove his innocence, but Ms. Harris opposed it. (After The New York Times’s exposé of the case went viral, she reversed her position.) . . .

Continue reading.

I do not want this sort of person (lacking in integrity, lacking in honesty, lacking in values) holding any office.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 January 2019 at 9:47 am

Subpoena the Interpreter

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David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush and a conservative Republican, writes in the Atlantic:

Now Congress faces a very hard question: Subpoena President Donald Trump’s translator, or not?

On Saturday, The Washington Post’s Greg Miller reported new details of the extreme things done by Trump to conceal his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin from even the senior-most members of Trump’s own administration. Trump even reportedly seized the interpreter’s notes after one of his meetings, the Trump-Putin sit-down at the Hamburg G20 meeting in July 2017. Even more disturbingly, Trump and Putin met privately a second time at Hamburg—with no American present. In an act of astonishing recklessness, Trump relied entirely on the Russian interpreter, preventing any U.S. record-keeping at all.

All this would be unusual enough for any president. It is more than suspicious for a president being formally investigated by the FBI as a possible Russian-intelligence asset.

Concern focuses most on Trump’s meetings with Putin at the Helsinki summit in July 2018. The Russian president, and the American president helped into office by the Russian president, met for two hours with no aides. No agenda was published before the meeting, no communiqué issued afterward. The Russian side later claimed that a number of agreements had been reached at the summit. Nobody on the American side seemed to know whether this was true. At a press conference four days after the meeting, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said, “I’m not in a position to either understand fully or talk about what happened in Helsinki.”

There’s only one American who does know: Marina Gross, the professional interpreter who assisted Trump.

Should she be asked? It’s a tough, tough, tough question.

Arguments against:

  • A friend who holds a senior foreign-policy position in an EU government was absolutely horrified at the prospect of a subpoena for Gross. No admirer of Trump’s, this person felt such a subpoena would create a new precedent that would shadow all future confidential presidential conversations with non-English-speaking heads of government, allied as well as adversarial.
  • The Trump administration would surely raise an executive-privilege objection. In the 1974 case U.S. v. Nixon, the Supreme Court rejected an absolute claim of internal privilege within the executive branch. But it acknowledged “the valid need for protection of communications between high Government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties.” The court stressed that this privilege was at its strongest in military and diplomatic affairs, which would presumably describe the Helsinki meeting.
  • There is a nontrivial possibility that Gross might refuse to testify. Interpreters have a strong professional code of confidentiality. This code is not recognized in law, but like a newspaper reporter protecting his or her sources, Gross might feel honor-bound to uphold the code anyway—risking a contempt citation or even jail. Should she be put in that position?

Against those arguments is this fact: We are facing very possibly the worst scandal in the history of the U.S. government. Previous high-profile cases of disloyalty to the United States—Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s betrayal of atomic secrets to the U.S.S.R.; Secretary of War John B. Floyd’s allowing federal arsenals to fall into secessionist hands in 1861—did not involve presidents. Previous presidential scandals did not involve allegations of disloyalty.

Is the president of the United States a Russian asset? Is he subject to Russian blackmail? Is he at this hour conniving with the Russian president against the interests of the United States? These are haunting questions, and Trump’s own determination to defy normal presidential operating procedures to keep secret his private conversations with Putin only lends credibility to the worst suspicions.

I wrote in my book Trumpocracy about the “autoimmune disorders” triggered by this most corrupt, most authoritarian, and perhaps most compromised of all presidencies. Trump’s breaches of norms force other agencies of government to breach norms in reply, in order to protect supreme public interests threatened by Trump. These norm-breaches by the other agencies do genuine harm, just as the aggressive autoimmune responses of the human body do real harm. But the alternative—suppressing all immune responses—is to allow the infection to fester and eventually destroy the host it occupies.

The scandal of the Trump presidency leaves Americans only bad choices. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 January 2019 at 10:13 am

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