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Democrats still cannot level with voters about the American empire

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Jon Schwartz writes at the Intercept:

IN THE PAST few years, the Democratic Party has started dealing with reality on domestic policy. Largely thanks to leadership from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, actual solutions to actual problems are now on the agenda: Medicare for All, a big minimum wage hike, a Green New Deal, and the most radical, important idea — changes in who runs corporations.

Unfortunately, the presidential debate in Ohio on Tuesday night showed that Democrats are still a million miles away from reality on foreign policy.

Thanks to President Donald Trump’s recent green light to Turkey to invade northern Syria and assault the Kurds there, the debate contained an unusual amount of discussion about foreign policy.

That was the upside. The downside was that almost all of the discussion was totally specious, because no one on stage wanted to tell Americans the awful truth. That truth is, first, that the grim reality in Syria available for viewing via Twitter videos is the climax of decades of bipartisan foreign policy. And second, by this point the only choices available are either wretched or horrible or both.

The worst offenders were South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, and former Vice President Joe Biden. But even Sanders and Warren came nowhere near the honesty of their domestic policies.

Buttigieg delivered an ode to an imaginary America, proclaiming that “when I was deployed, I knew one of the things keeping me safe was the fact that the flag on my shoulder represented a country known to keep its word. And our allies knew it and our enemies knew it.” In reality, of course, the U.S. has — like all powerful countries throughout history — continually betrayed allies whenever necessary. We’ve previously betrayed the Kurds alone seven times. This particular betrayal was inevitable, although a more competent president could have kept it smaller and quieter.

Meanwhile, Booker declared that Trump is “turning the moral leadership of this country into a dumpster fire.” As the Kurds or the Cherokee, Filipinos, Vietnamese, or many others would be happy to tell you, this glorious moral leadership is something that exists mostly on the op-ed pages of the New York Times and Washington Post.

For his part, Biden said that Trump throwing the Kurds to the wolves is “the most shameful thing any president has done in modern history.” Of course, as bad as it is, it’s far less shameful than many other U.S. actions — including the Iraq War, for which Biden voted. In terms of the Kurds specifically, it is at least to date less shameful than the Clinton administration’s fervent support in the 1990s for Turkey’s slaughter of tens of thousands of Kurds. One of the key defenders of that policy was then-State Department spokesperson Nicholas Burns, who is now a top adviser to Biden’s campaign.

Sanders said little about Syria, mostly just echoing Buttigieg’s concern about the rest of the world losing trust in America. By contrast, Warren and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard dipped their toes into the complicated truth before scurrying away.

Warren said, “I don’t think we should have troops in the Middle East. But we have to do it the right way, the smart way.” This sounds great, but what is this right, smart way? When even Noam Chomsky wants U.S. troops to stay in Syria, it’s a little tricky.

Gabbard did aggressively challenge standard U.S. foreign policy blather. She decried “this regime change war” in Syria and mentioned the unfortunate facts about “the U.S. actually providing arms in support to terrorist groups in Syria, like Al Qaida, HTS, al-Nusra and others.”

What Gabbard didn’t say is that, by this point, any plausible exit by the U.S. will be extraordinarily ugly, with the Assad regime brutally reestablishing control over Syria. The U.S. certainly bears some of the blame for that, as Gabbard said. But she did not mention that Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are also responsible for the past, present, and future carnage. Most importantly, she did not mention the much larger context for what’s happening.

And it’s that context that Democrats must get comfortable talking about, if they ever want to deal with the reality of U.S. foreign policy. Any politician brave enough to do that Tuesday night would have had to say something like this:

Look, the U.S. is the center of the most powerful empire that’s ever existed. We’re not . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2019 at 11:12 am

I keep returning to this image

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Written by LeisureGuy

18 October 2019 at 4:36 pm

Nancy Pelosi stands up to Donald Trump — something those in the White House cannot do

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Finally Trump is facing some decent and principled pushback. From the photo above, you can see President Trump looking dazed and confused. He doesn’t understand just how bad his Syria decision was, and because he has difficulty in assimilating information that conflicts with his biases, he is floundering — and he quite clearly doesn’t like that feeling, so naturally (being Trump) he blames others. He simply cannot process the idea that he might have been wrong.

Lawrence O’Donnell has an excellent comment on the meeting and photo and their significance:

Written by LeisureGuy

17 October 2019 at 10:26 am

Kamala Harris’s Prosecutors Sent This Innocent Man to Prison for Murder. Now He’s Talking

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I lived in California when Kamala Harris was Attorney General and I thought she was entirely too punitive and eager to convict. I’m not surprised her prosecutorial zeal resulted in sending some innocents to prison. She seems to be of the mindset “Better to send 10 innocent persons to prison than to fail to convict one guilty one.”

Chris Roberts reports in Vice:

Jamal Trulove almost saw it coming.

He figured he might be arrested, or at least spend some quality time with police, after his friend Seu Kuka was shot and killed one warm night in July 2007.

“When somebody dies in the hood, everybody feels like they’re involved,” he explained recently, during a sit-down with VICE at the clubhouse of United Playaz, a violence-prevention nonprofit based in his hometown of San Francisco. “When someone gets killed, you can plan on getting jacked up by the police regularly.”

Trulove had made it out of the city’s Sunnydale housing projects, his childhood home, where he had learned to record music and spent years selling CDs out of the trunk of his car. He’d won an internet vote to appear on I Love New York 2, a reality show on VH1. Though he was kicked off on the first episode, he had done enough right to relocate to New York City, where he was trying to develop another reality TV project and advance his music career.

But then he visited the mother of two of his children back in Seaside, California, in October 2008, and his wrongful conviction nightmare began.

He got into an argument with the kids’ grandmother, and police were called, Trulove said. The officers went from almost bored to wide-eyed and agitated after running his ID, reaching for their weapons and shouting at him to get on the ground, he recalled. “I’m like, ‘Oh, man, whatever this is, I’ll be out within 72 hours,'” the maximum length of time police can hold someone without charging them with a crime.

But rather than investigate, as an appellate court later found, San Francisco cops tasked with solving Kuka’s murder worked to frame Trulove as the killer within hours of the shooting. Though two dozen or more people saw Kuka die, only a single eyewitness agreed to talk to police. And though she failed to pick Trulove out of a series of photos and identified someone else by name, police eventually coerced her into fingering him, including shortly after his VH1 show aired in late 2007.

An arrest warrant was issued the following year when a second person facing third-strike felony charges told police Trulove was the shooter. It was bad luck that he happened to have a run-in with law enforcement soon afterward.

Trulove was transferred to jail in San Francisco, charged with first-degree murder, and brought to trial in early 2010. Despite no physical evidence linking him to the crime—and the fact that eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable—he was convicted and sentenced to 50 years to life. For her testimony, the alleged eyewitness also received more than $60,000 in housing and relocation benefits from the office of a rising political star: San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris.

Trulove’s story of wrongful conviction and eventual exoneration has been told before; he even won a $13.1 million payout from the city of San Francisco. But now one of the key players is making a serious run for the White House, and Trulove is anxious to tell his story again—this time including the role Harris played in it, he told VICE in his first-ever interview about Harris and his wrongful prosecution.

As a marijuana legalization-supporting, Trump-trolling 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, U.S. Senator Harris portrays her career in law-enforcement as that of a “progressive prosecutor,” an empathetic and thoughtful purveyor of help who addressed the root causes of crime rather than merely punishing wrongdoers. But Trulove’s case is perhaps the most glaring contradiction in Harris’ record, one critics like him say is littered with carceral overkill she declines to acknowledge.

Back in 2007, when Harris was San Francisco’s D.A., the city’s homicide rate hit a 14-year-high. Seventy-five percent of the time, no suspect was ever arrested. Though she faced no serious opposition and was easily reelected that year, Harris arguably wasn’t making enough cases to win over the more conservative voters she might need to make a play for statewide or national office in 2010.

That may have served to make winning murder cases like the one against Trulove all the more urgent.

According to Trulove, Harris was present at the hearings announcing both the verdict and the sentencing in his case. She even briefly locked eyes with him at one of the proceedings, offering what seemed like a “smirk,” he said.

“She wanted to be present for a celebration of a conviction,” Trulove said. “That’s what it felt like—a celebration.”

Harris’ victories with voters followed the win in the courtroom. Months after Trulove’s 2010 conviction, buoyed by an endorsement from President Barack Obama and touting an increase in her office’s felony conviction rate, Harris upset Steve Cooley, the Republican D.A. of Los Angeles County, by a razor-thin margin to become California attorney general. She has not lost an election since, and was elected to the U.S. Senate the same night Donald Trump was elected president.

Meanwhile, following more than a year in San Francisco County Jail, Trulove spent almost five years in state prison. On his very first day, he said, he witnessed a fellow inmate’s murder. Later, he survived being shanked in the stomach in San Quentin, one of the most notorious prisons in California’s overcrowded penal archipelago, according to his successful civil suit against his city. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 October 2019 at 10:12 am

In Deranged Quasi-legal Rant, Trump Calls Impeachment Unconstitutional

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It’s really getting crazy. Impeachment is not unconstitutional because it’s defined in the Constitution. Jonathan Chait writes in New York:

Advising President Donald Trump on the law, and formally expressing his views thereof, is a pitiable task. Trump’s worldview is almost wholly incompatible with the law. The latter is premised on neutral rules, mediated by precedent and constructed with the goal of some notion of abstract fairness. The latter is rooted in an entitlement to absolute domination regardless of circumstance.

The White House letter rejecting the House impeachment inquiry is an effort to reconcile the irreconcilable. At the level of tone, it reads like an extended Trumpian rally diatribe lightly edited by an attorney. At the level of substance, it is almost pure, uncut Trump. It repeats a series of immaterial, laughably false claims, surrounding the audacious thesis that impeaching Trump is literally illegal.

The letter’s most persistent argument revolves attacks on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff. In one of the letter’s few concessions to legal propriety, it does manage to avoid calling him “pencil neck”, “shifty”, or “lil’ adam schiff.” Other than this, it hews closely to Trump’s methods of argument.

The letter charges that Schiff “chose to concoct a false version of the call and to read his made-up transcript,” a “fact” that, it proceeds to assert, proves Trump did nothing wrong. The “fact” is also one of those bizarre implanted memories from the Fox News fever swamp. Schiff, in a hearing, paraphrased Trump’s call to Ukrainian President Vlodomyr Zelensky, saying “In not so many words, this is the essence of what the president communicates,” before going on to summarize Trump’s meaning. Trump and his allies have pretended this paraphrase, which Schiff openly billed as a paraphrase, was an attempt to concoct a falsified transcript of the call. It is unnerving to see this unhinged fantasy not only making its way into a formal White House legal document but playing a central role in its argument.

The letter also cites, by way of defending Trump, two additional pieces of evidence to establish his innocence. It notes that the Department of Justice reviewed the call and did not find a campaign finance violation — as if a campaign finance violation is the only, or even primary problem with extorting a foreign leader for dirt on domestic rivals, and as if Trump’s Attorney general is a remotely credible figure. Even more comically, it notes that Zelensky has publicly stated, in Trump’s presence no less, that he was not pressured on the call — as if the leader of a country dependent on American support for its very existence, who has already been extorted, is in a position to undercut its president.

The presence of these vapid talking points in a putative legal document is tribute to the dearth of support for its shocking central claim: that the House has no right to impeach Trump. It calls the proceedings “illegal,” and one of Congress’ “unconstitutional efforts to overturn the democratic process.” There is no remotely plausible constitutional theory to support this claim. The Constitution gives the House absolute right to conduct impeachment hearings in a manner determined by the House.

The letter complains that the House fails to grant Trump sufficient control over the impeachment agenda. Though there’s a reason for that — the trial takes place in the Senate, not the House — Trump could in theory try to negotiate for more Republican input into the process. In a briefing with reporters, a senior administration official was asked what changes Trump would need to cooperate. “A full halt” was the answer. That is, Trump will cooperate with an impeachment probe if Democrats stop the impeachment probe.

Such Catch-22 absurdities give this administration no embarrassment. Since Democrats took control of the House last January, Trump has asserted it has no right to investigate him for crimes, no right to obtain his tax returns despite a law clearly authorizing exactly that, and that prosecutors can neither charge nor even investigate his criminal activity. He has claimed the right to start or stop any federal legal proceeding. Some of his positions grow out of the extreme unitary executive theory that figures like William Barr have developed for years, though only for Republican presidents.

But it is, in the main, an expression of Trump’s idiosyncratic convictions. This is a president who asserted his “absolute right” to investigate any person he wants, for any reason even while facing impeachment for abuse of power.  . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 October 2019 at 7:23 pm

Trump’s terrible tactics for avoiding the inevitable

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Jennifer Rubin has an interesting column in the Washington Post:

President Trump and his Republican dead-enders are behaving as if it were possible to stave off impeachment in the House. The Associated Press reports on the administration’s decision to prevent ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland from testifying or turning over text messages:

The strategy risks further provoking Democrats in the impeachment probe, setting up court challenges and the potential for lawmakers to draw up an article of impeachment accusing Trump of obstructing their investigations. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, said that Sondland’s no-show would be grounds for obstruction of justice and could give a preview of what some of the articles of impeachment against Trump would entail.

Moreover, “As the impeachment inquiry ramps up, the White House plans to reprise its past response to congressional oversight: open scorn. The president’s aides have ignored document requests and subpoenas, invoked executive privilege — going so far as to argue that the privilege extends to informal presidential advisers who have never held White House jobs — and all but dared Democrats to hold them in contempt.”

The problem with this tactic, obvious to those outside the Trump cult, is that it is hard to imagine the House forgoing impeachment, unless of course Trump resigns before it can. Furthermore, while the House is free to pursue contempt proceedings against Sondland and other non-cooperating witnesses, it does not have to hold up impeachment proceedings. There is nothing wrong with moving forward with multiple articles, including one on obstruction, while also seeking enforcement of a contempt proceeding against current or former officials who refuse to appear or provide documents.

Impeachment is a political process, and there is no requirement that an article based on obstruction requires a court order that witnesses must appear. Former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal tells me, “Definitely Congress can and should proceed on impeachment inquiries for the underlying offenses (Ukraine)” while pursuing remedies against non-cooperating witnesses. The House is permitted to take the White House’s refusal as its last and final position, proceed on the underlying offense (procuring foreign help in an election) based on what evidence it does have and throw the acts of defiance into the obstruction hopper.

Another option is to continue on the impeachment track without going to court at all. “I think the time has come for the House to proceed without making further detours to court or testing its powers of inherent contempt,” suggests constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe. “Even expedited judicial proceedings proceed at best ‘with all deliberate speed,’ which is legalese for ‘at a stately pace.’” He reminds us, “Article III of the Nixon Articles of Impeachment provided the model for going forward. In the Article, the House Judiciary Committee identified the systematic defiance of congressional impeachment inquiries as independently an obstruction of Congress and a violation of the president’s duty faithfully to execute and cooperate with executing the laws.”

Tribe continues: “That is exactly what should happen here. Directing the State Department to prevent Ambassador Sondland from appearing for his deposition when his information is obviously valuable in corroborating and elaborating on the whistleblower’s account would be inexcusable even if there were a relevant privilege or immunity otherwise applicable.” However, he concludes, “The fact that there is no such privilege or immunity to justify this stonewalling clinches the case for an article of impeachment, given that the underlying conduct of extorting Ukraine for the benefit of Trump’s own political survival and to help his benefactor Vladimir Putin is itself clearly impeachable.”

In short, there is more than enough evidence already and more than enough public support as we speak for the House to move to impeachment right now. To the extent over the next few weeks that it can gain further incriminating material or reveals incriminating material it possesses, the House will only bolster its case. However, nothing we have seen in the underlying evidence or the polling suggests any reason not to proceed to impeachment. To the contrary, as Joyce White Vance, a former federal prosecutor, puts it, “The president’s conduct, making foreign policy and threats by Twitter, are a strong indication that we cannot wait for drawn-out court battles on contempt of court and there is more than sufficient conduct for Congress to investigate as high crimes and misdemeanors and determine whether articles of impeachment are warranted.”

Trump, however, seems unwilling to accept the inevitability of impeachment. He rails at Democrats, but they ignore him. He resists cooperating, but Democrats slap an obstruction label on his efforts and proceed with their investigation. By fighting against the inevitable, acting more illogical and unhinged than usual and refusing to give Senate Republicans reason to support him, his current strategy only makes it easier for more Senate Republicans to break with him in a trial for removal. His flailing just heightens the perception among voters that one way or another, this guy has to go.

So what should Trump be doing? Trump is not capable of . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 October 2019 at 4:03 pm

House Democrats Are So Focused on Ukraine That They’re Overlooking Another Impeachable Offense

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David Corn writes in Mother Jones:

This is the way things work now: Donald Trump is credibly reported to have given aid and comfort to an enemy that attacked the United States—and this allegation, several days later, is not part of the news cycle or the scandal that is fueling the impeachment drive on Capitol Hill. The story of the most profound betrayal a president can commit has vanished from the national discourse. And that is partly because of the Democrats.

Last Friday night, the Washington Post published a stunning article reporting that during an Oval Office meeting in May 2017, Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then–Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that Trump was unconcerned about Moscow’s attack on the 2016 presidential election. Trump noted the Russians that their assault on the United States was no big deal because the United States did the same in other countries, according to three former officials. It was at this meeting that Trump, as had been previously reported, revealed highly classified information to his Russian visitors and said that his firing of FBI chief James Comey the previous day had relieved “great pressure” on him. Yet Trump’s comments dismissing the importance of the Russian attack—which, according to the US intelligence community, was mounted in part to help Trump win the White House—now stands as the most significant moment of that gathering, where Trump and the two Russians were photographed smiling.

The Post noted that after this discussion, White House officials took steps to keep Trump’s comments from becoming public, and limited distribution of a memo summarizing the conversation to only a few officials with the highest security clearances. The memo was kept from officials who normally would have access to this sort of report. (The newspaper also reported it was unclear whether the memo was hidden in the supersecret White House server, as were documents related to those Trump interactions with Ukraine that are now the subject of the impeachment inquiry.)

It has long been assumed that Trump’s meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak was in keeping with Trump’s stated desire to get past the 2016 election and Russia’s interference. But Trump telling the Russians he did not care about the attack goes much further. That would mark a dereliction of his primary duty as president: to protect the nation. The US intelligence community, the report of special counsel Robert Mueller, and two congressional investigations (led by Republicans) have each declared that Moscow covertly waged extensive information warfare against the United States to subvert American democracy. Yet here was Trump sending a message to the foreign adversary that staged this attack that he was indifferent about it—that Russia could get away with it and perhaps do so again. Certainly, Moscow could have read Trump’s I-don’t-care comment as an invitation for future underhanded intervention.

Numerous national security officials in Trump’s own administration, including current FBI chief Chris Wray and former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, have said Russia poses a serious threat to the 2020 elections. On Wednesday, when asked if Moscow would target the coming US election, Russian leader Vladimir Putin joked, “I’ll tell you a secret: Yes, we’ll definitely do it.” And he added in a stage whisper, “Just don’t tell anyone.” But Trump, who has denied or discounted the Russian attack ever since the campaign, has never echoed concerns about a Russian assault in 2020, and he has not signaled that thwarting another Moscow attack (or an attack on US elections from any other source) is a priority for him.

At that Oval Office meeting with the Russians, Trump was abandoning his primary responsibility as commander in chief. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 October 2019 at 4:00 pm

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