Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Silver Lining for Democrats


There's this scene from the movie Die Hard, in which the villain, Hans Gruber, is looking for a diversion so he and his murderous gang can make off with the bearer bonds that are locked in the vault at Nakatomi Plaza, when two agents from the F.B.I. decide to cut the power to the tower. The power, as it turns out, is the thing keeping the vault from automatically opening up.

Upon realizing his good fortune, Hans turns to one of his cohorts and remarks, "You ask for miracles, I give you the F.B.I."

Look, guys, I realize it's been a tough few days since Sgt. Schultz, AKA, Attorney General William Barr released his four-page summary of the Mueller report. Personally, I was so depressed, I decided to watch a Knicks' game on Sunday. I thought it would better than banging my head against the wall. It really wasn't.

And I know that watching President shit-for-brains and his contingent of enablers gloat has been insufferable. Kevin McCarthy, who brings new meaning to the term minority leader, is calling for Adam Schiff to step down from his position as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which is really quite hysterical when you consider that for two whole years that committee was run by Devin Nunez, a man who had more frequent flyer miles to the White House than a flight attendant has on the red eye to Chicago.

But, cheer up, my buckaroos. For like the aforementioned movie, fate appears to have intervened to save the day, even if may not seem that way right now. Before you suggest that maybe I did, in fact, bang my head against that wall, let me explain.

First off, all we have is Barr's summary, and that summary appears to have taken some peculiar liberties that a less conflicted attorney general would never have taken. For instance, when your lead prosecutor says the subject of a criminal investigation - which is what Trump was and is - cannot be fully exonerated, it is proper to say that there is insufficient evidence at this time to proceed with an indictment, therefore we are referring the matter to Congress for further adjudication; it is not proper to say, as Barr did, that "the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense." The former leaves the matter open for further investigation by the appropriate branch of the government; the latter closes the door entirely. Even a first-year law student would know that in a criminal proceeding, unless you're up against a statute of limitations, you keep the case file open as long as possible.

And that's why it is absolutely essential that Democrats get their hands on Mueller's report; and by report, I mean the full report, not a summary. If Barr wants to give it to the committee chairs first, fine, but then both Houses should get a copy and then the American people must see for themselves what Mueller found out in his own words. If they have to subpoena the DOJ to get it, then do so. They should also call Mueller to testify in an open hearing and let him give his side of the story. Even if he can't divulge grand jury testimony on still active cases, something is better than nothing. As for calling Barr, I seriously doubt that would help. At this point, he would only repeat the same drivel he gave at his Senate confirmation hearing. Two times zero is still zero.

But the real silver lining here is that, thanks to Barr and maybe even Mueller, Democrats can now focus on the real issues that will determine the 2020 presidential election. Let's face it, had Mueller come back with a scathing report recommending Trump and his whole family be indicted for collusion and obstruction, as fulfilling as that would've been for those of us who know he's dirty, it would've changed nothing.

Admit it: there was no way that Democrats were going to remove Trump from office through impeachment. No amount of evidence presented by Mueller would've moved the needle among Republicans enough to get to the magic number of 67 "yes" votes to convict in the Senate. You know it and I know it. All a recommendation of indictment by Mueller would've accomplished is to further polarize a country that is already on a razor's edge. If you think Trump's smugness was too much to take, imagine his response had the Mueller report been as bad for him as all us were hoping for. The Battle of Gettysburg would've looked like an arm wrestling match by comparison.

Now times that response by a factor of ten going into next year. Imagine Trump's supporters going bat-shit crazy, 24/7 about Mueller, the Democrats and the "coup." Imagine every single Democratic candidate having to deal with this day in and day out throughout the entire campaign. This, not healthcare or the middle class, would be the defining issue going into the most consequential election since the Reconstruction era. Trump's base would turn out in droves to save their hero, while the Democratic base, disheartened and, perhaps, disillusioned would likely stay home. The result? Four more years of Cadet Bone Spurs slowly turning the United States of America into a banana republic.

With the prospects of a Trump impeachment now completely off the table, Republicans will be forced to come up with actual ideas. The last time they had to do that it didn't go well for them. Turns out the GOP isn't all that popular when it comes to their policies. That's what happens when you try to take away people's healthcare coverage and you give billions of dollars in tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires, while screwing hard-working, middle-class families out of their deductions. Ever wonder why not one Republican ran on the new tax law last year?

Democrats desperately needed the narrative to change and now that it has, they can do what they did so well in the 2018 midterms: talk to the electorate about meat and potato issues that affect their daily lives. Wonks like me may fixate on Russian collusion and obstruction of justice, but out there in real America, voters, for the most part, could care less about those things. What they care most about are issues like rising healthcare costs, paying for their kids tuition, the potholes on the roads, their taxes that keep going up and the fear they won't be able to retire.

I'm not suggesting that a foreign government conspiring to undermine this country's electoral system is not a serious threat to our democracy. Or that this president, whether overtly or not, did everything within his power to discredit a legitimate investigation into that meddling. Far from it. What I'm suggesting is that, given what has just transpired, it is time to shift gears and move on to greener and more productive pastures. The House should continue to hold hearings, though if I were running the show I'd concentrate on things like Trump's financial records and tax returns. Remember, that's how they got Capone.

And on the campaign trail, it is imperative that each and every candidate turn the page right now. If you want to remove Trump from office, do it through the ballot box. Instead of focusing on his scandals, which is what he wants, focus on his policies. There is very strong case to be made here.

Exhibit number one comes courtesy of Trump's own justice department, which on Monday said it would support the decision by District Judge Reed O'Connor which held that since Congress voted to rescind the tax on the Affordable Care Act's mandate, that meant the entire law was unconstitutional. If the decision is upheld by the Supreme Court, millions of people would lose healthcare coverage and millions more would be at the mercy of pre-existing clauses that were rendered illegal by the Act.

It is a brazen and despicable move, but hardly surprising given that since he took office, Trump has tried repeatedly to repeal the law that bears his predecessor's name. So obsessed is he with destroying the legacy of Barack Obama that he had what can only be described as a meltdown on Twitter last weekend that was directed almost exclusively at John McCain, a man who's been dead for almost a year, but whose "no" vote on the floor of the Senate allowed the ACA to survive.

And now that obsession has given the Democratic Party an enormous opportunity that it otherwise wouldn't have had. Trump's vindictiveness and his propensity for needlessly shooting himself in the foot are still his biggest liabilities going into the 2020 election. The best thing Dems can do is let him and his entire party bleed out.

Think about it: Twenty-four hours ago the major news story that most of the media was talking about was the Mueller report. Now it's healthcare. And that's because a very insecure, incredibly petty little man, who caught the break of a lifetime through the generosity of his own attorney general, couldn't leave well enough alone and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

To paraphrase old Hans, "You ask for miracles, I give you the G.O.P."

Friday, March 22, 2019

What Happens After Mueller Issues His Report


After 22 months, 37 indictments and 7 guilty pleas and / or convictions, the Russia investigation has finally come to a close. Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted his report to Attorney General William Barr this afternoon without handing down any further indictments. The only two questions that beg to be answered are what will be in the report and how much of it will we see?

As to question number one, it's clear that Mueller and the Southern District of New York have uncovered a vast conspiracy by Russia to interfere with this country's elections; and that interference is still going on even as we speak. To what extent Trump and / or his campaign were involved only the special counsel knows.

Based on Cadet Bone Spur's recent meltdowns on Twitter, I'd say the report will be damning. Even if a case for collusion can't be directly made - seriously, I always thought that was a tough row to hoe - there is more than enough evidence of obstruction of justice and, depending on what was discovered in the financial records, money laundering. I firmly believe it's the latter that most concerns Trump and his whole crime family. If the extent of his corporation's financial corruption were ever made public, his whole crooked empire would collapse. Face it, next to Trump, Gotti was Father Flanagan.

Unfortunately, none of it may ever see the light of day, and that's because of two Department of Justice rules that, according to many legal experts, will shield this president, not only from criminal prosecution, but from any public disclosure of his wrong doings. I'll explain.

Back in October of 2000, the DOJ issued a memorandum that read in pertinent part, "The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions." So, based on that memorandum, Trump cannot not be indicted while in office for his high crimes and misdemeanors. The only entity that could deal with him would be the Congress through impeachment, and as I've already said, without a conviction in the Senate, an impeachment in the House is meaningless.

But the bad news doesn't end there. Turns out there's a long-standing policy at the DOJ that prohibits the department from naming anyone in a criminal investigation that hasn't been indicted. Title 9-11.130 of the Criminal Code says, again in pertinent part, "In the absence of some significant justification, federal prosecutors generally should not identify unindicted co-conspirators in conspiracy indictments." It goes on to add that "In any indictment where an allegation that the defendant conspired with 'another person or persons known' is insufficient, some other generic reference should be used, such as 'Employee 1' or 'Company 2'." This is what the SDNY did in the Michael Cohen indictment. It referred to Trump as Individual 1, the co-conspirator. P.S., the SDNY is still conducting its investigation into Trump and his organization. That means that Junior and Kushner aren't out of the woods yet. Stay tuned.

So, to sum up: Trump can't be indicted because he's a sitting president; AND because he can't be indicted, he can't be named - at least not directly - in Mueller's report for any alleged malfeasance. Beautiful. This is what they refer to as circular reasoning. Now that I think about it, maybe Trump was right: he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it; at least while he's still in office.

And that, my friends, might be the only good news we get out of this whole messy affair. Trump has left enough bread crumbs to start his own bakery. Maybe Mueller can't indict him or include his name in his report to Barr, and maybe the SDNY also can't indict him for the very same reason. But that prohibition expires the second he becomes a private citizen. Right about the time the next Democratic president repeats the words from Chief Justice John Roberts, "So help me God," an indictment with Trump's name on it will be served upon his personal attorney. You can bet the ranch on that.

Bottom line, whether he answers for his crimes now or in two years, he WILL answer for them. He may think he's above the law, but he really isn't. He can no more outrun 240 years of jurisprudence than he can stop lying.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Beto O'Rourke Is No Barack Obama


There are two ways of looking at Beto O'Rourke's unsuccessful run for the United States Senate last year. First, he almost won in a state where Democrats haven't been the flavor of the month since Ann Richards was governor two decades ago; Second, he lost to one of the least likable men in Washington. I'm going with the latter.

It cannot be overstated enough just how unpopular Ted Cruz is. In fact, he's despised, and by a majority of his fellow Republicans. That's because Cruz has burned more bridges in his relative short stint in politics than Rommel did in all of World War II. The man once called his own majority leader a liar on the floor of the Senate, then managed to stage a real-live 21 hour filibuster, while reading from that Pulitzer Prize book, "Green Eggs and Ham." The stunt made the rounds of every late-night comedian for at least a month. It wouldn't be a stretch to say that if Cruz were on fire, he have a hard time finding someone willing to pour a bottle of water over him.

So when supporters of Beto point to his near victory in a deep red state as evidence that he would make a good presidential candidate, I would point out that close only counts in horseshoes and grenades; also, Texas, while red, isn't exactly Mississippi or Wyoming. There are parts of it that are purple like Houston and even a few that are blue like Austin. And while it maybe premature to think this state could flip in 2020, it would not shock me one bit if it becomes a tossup state by 2024.

And that means that far from being remarkable, O'Rourke's near miss might just be the result of a demographic shift that's taking place not just in the lone star state, but throughout all of the Southwest. A closer look at the results in Arizona, where Democrat Krysten Sinema defeated Republican Martha McSally, confirm that Republicans may be losing their grip on this part of the country. We haven't seen anything like this since Proposition 187 turned California permanently blue.

But getting back to O'Rourke, my concern here is that potential voters might be seeing something in him that just doesn't exist. He's charismatic, sure, but he's the least substantive candidate running for the nomination. Compare and contrast him to South Bend mayor, Pete Buttigieg, who, unlike O'Rourke, actually won his last election with 80 percent of the vote in a state every bit as red as Texas. Mayor Pete, as he prefers to be called, has a striking command of the issues and comes to the table with practical and workable solutions to many of the problems besetting the country. His town hall on CNN should be a must see for every Democratic voter.

O'Rourke, so far, has acted more like a rock star than a presidential candidate. He kicked off his campaign by announcing he was "born to be in it." And that wasn't the worst thing to come out of Bruce Springsteen's mouth. In an interview in Vanity Fair, O'Rourke he had this to say about his race against Cruz:
"I honestly don't know how much of it was me. There is something abnormal, super normal. I got in there, and I don't know if it's a speech or not, but it felt amazing. Because every word was pulled out of me. Like, by some greater force, which was just the people there. Everything I said, I was, like, watching myself, being like, how am I saying this stuff? Where is this coming from?"
All this was enough for late-night comic Seth Meyers to remark, "Seriously, I did not know that weed was legal in Texas." Personally, I was thinking more like Art Carney channeling his inner Captain Video. Can you imagine Barack Obama saying something like that? Neither can I. In fact, as far as I can see, there's very little about O'Rourke that reminds me of Obama, apart from their good looks. The latter was a thoughtful man who was inspiring and inspired others; the former blurts out the first thing that pops into his head and is a non-stop gaffe machine.

What bothers me most about O'Rourke's candidacy is that it's sucking the oxygen out of a crowded room. Candidates like Buttigieg and Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar aren't getting the coverage they deserve because of a flake like O'Rourke. Even now, some pundits are grooming him as a possible running mate for the eventual nominee. Somewhere, Dan Quayle is laughing his ass off.

The 2020 presidential election is just over a year and a half away, and the Democratic field is taking shape right before our eyes. What the party needs to do is to put forth a candidate who can offer the country a vision for the future that is better than Trump's. What it cannot afford to do is indulge a prima donna who believes that he somehow has a pre-ordained right to the presidency.

We already have one space cadet in the White House who thinks he's God's gift to the universe. We don't need another.

Friday, March 8, 2019

47 MONTHS!

Paul Manafort, who was facing a possible 19 to 24 year prison sentence, instead received a 47 month sentence, which ended up becoming 38 months, because Judge T.S. Ellis counted the nine months he spent in jail for witness tampering as time served. And then this same judge added insult to injury by saying that apart from the crimes he committed, Manafort had led an otherwise blameless life.

Seriously, I'm beyond dumbfounded. Even if you agree that 24 years was a bit excessive, 47 months is nothing short of an insult to the entire legal profession. There are people serving decades for crimes far less egregious. And those people are far more "blameless" than Mr. Manafort could ever hope to be. Read Franklin Foer's piece in The Atlantic to learn about the "otherwise blameless life" this scumbag has lived.

A friend of mine may have summed up this atrocity best. "This is not and has never been about Left vs. Right or right vs. wrong; it has always been about rich vs. fucked." What can I say? The man's eloquence puts me to shame. Sadly, those who have the resources to hire the best lawyers often wind up with considerably shorter prison sentences than those who don't, and the majority of those who seem to have those resources are white. Just take a look at the makeup of America's prison population and you'll know something is terribly wrong. While non-whites account for roughly 37 percent of the overall population of the country, they account for 67 percent of the prison population.

Hopefully next week, Manafort will get what's coming to him. That's when he is scheduled to appear in a D.C. courtroom before Judge Amy Berman Jackson for sentencing. This is the judge who ruled that Manafort had violated his cooperation agreement when he lied to prosecutors. I suspect Jackson will not be nearly as forgiving as Ellis. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if she doles out a sentence of at least ten years to be run consecutively. And that would mean Manafort would be in his eighties by the time he got out of prison. That is of course assuming Trump doesn't pardon him before that.

And don't kid yourself: Trump might just go ahead and pardon Manafort, and Michael Flynn, and Roger Stone, and anyone else connected with the Russia investigation. With the exception of Michael Cohen - who Trump views as a traitor - he has dropped hints that he might, in spite of the political risks to him, thumb his nose at his own justice department.

But that's an entirely different story, isn't it?

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

The DNC and Tom Perez Just Handed Trump a Talking Point


Will Rogers once said, "I don't belong to an organized political party, I'm a Democrat." Sometimes it feels as though Rogers was guilty of the understatement of the century. I've said this before and it bears repeating: these people could screw up a sunset.

Case in point, the DNC's decision to bar Fox News from hosting any of the twelve Democratic debates. I personally don't care what you think of Rupert Murdoch's love child, this decision is asinine for the following reason: it unnecessarily gives Trump a talking point. And believe me Trump needs a talking point the way an alcoholic needs a drink.

That's right, people, the man who has spent his entire administration calling the main-stream media the enemy of the people, now gets to stand up in front of the entire country and say, "Look at those Democrats, they're hypocrites. They accuse me of bad-mouthing the media and now look what they're doing to Fox News."

Trump even tweeted the following: "Democrats just blocked @FoxNews from holding a debate. Good, then I think I’ll do the same thing with the Fake News Networks and the Radical Left Democrats in the General Election debates!"

This might be the one and only time you'll hear me say these words: Trump is right. Yep, the man who lies about as often as the average person takes in a breath of air, came off looking like an adult, while the people who thought they were sending a message to the conservative media came off looking like the spoiled brats they are. Talk about your role reversal.

The one thing I detest more than anything else is unforced errors, and the DNC just made a beaut. I'm not sure who's responsible for this boner. Rumor has it, Tom Perez was all set to include Fox News as one of the hosts for its debates, but buckled under pressure from the progressive website Daily Kos. It's founder, Markos Moulitsas, issued a statement that said the following:
The DNC is giving Fox News and the conservative movement a giant credibility boost by even considering granting them a debate. At a time when activists have worked so hard to convince advertisers to abandon that den of racism, bigotry and misogyny, here comes Tom Perez like a jackass undermining all that work.
Translation, Democrats can't handle tough questions from journalists who don't agree with their philosophical leanings. At least that's how it will look to the electorate. Think about this for a moment: One of these candidates is going to become the Democratic nominee, and that nominee could well become the next president of the United States. What is that president going to do the first time a reporter from Fox News asks a question he or she doesn't like? Bar the reporter from the White House press briefing room, like Trump barred CNN's Jim Acosta?

Because that's the only conclusion you can draw if you buy the DNC's convoluted logic here. And I, for one, think it's terribly short sighted and small minded. Fox News, despite its over-the-top praise of Trump, is also home to some pretty good journalists, such as Chris Wallace. I've been a fan of Wallace's Sunday morning show on Fox for years. Like his father, Mike, he's a tough, but fair interviewer who doesn't pull any punches. It would've done Democrats some good to have a moderator like Wallace at one of their debates. Now they and the country will be deprived of that.

One can only hope that Perez will reconsider this ill-advised decision. The progressive wing of the party may have all the energy behind it, but by no means does it represent the majority of Americans. Millions of people will take to the polls next year to decide the 2020 presidential election. And you can bet the ranch on one thing: they aren't going to vote for a candidate who can't take a little heat. I swear to God, if Democrats blow the chance to make Trump a one-term president they will never live it down as a party.

Monday, March 4, 2019

It's Time for Joe Biden To Shit or Get Off the Pot


At this point, there's no way of telling whether Joe Biden, had he decided to run in 2016, would've won the Democratic nomination. Based on a piece I wrote in September of 2015, I had my doubts. My fear back then was that he would've siphoned off votes from the then presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton, all but guaranteeing Bernie Sanders the nomination. And I was quite adamant that Clinton was a much stronger candidate in a general election against Donald Trump, who I predicted months earlier would be the likely Republican nominee.

Well, as it turns out, I was half right. Trump did in fact win the GOP nomination, but Clinton turned out to be a flawed candidate who ran a lousy campaign against the worst candidate ever to run for political office in the history of the Republic. In retrospect, maybe Sanders could've won, especially in the all-too critical Rust Belt state region, where Clinton was never able to make a connection, and where Trump pulled an inside straight. Then again, who knows?

Unfortunately, there are no do overs in politics. The 2016 election has been relegated to the history books, and the man no one - except me - believed had an ice-cube's chance of becoming president, is sitting in the Oval Office and doing to the country what he has managed to do to just about every thing else he's gotten his hands on - destroy it. And while Democrats are tripping over themselves vying for the chance to limit the damage he's doing to one term, one man sits in the bullpen contemplating what might've been and deciding whether or not his time has finally come.

I can't begin to imagine what's going through Biden's mind. The man has wanted to be president longer than I've been an adult. Had it not been for the unfortunate plagiarism charge that ended his 1988 campaign, he, and not Michael Dukakis, might've won the Democratic nomination. And then in 2008, he came up short against a charismatic first-term senator by the name of Barack Obama. Whoever coined the expression "always the bridesmaid never the bride" had Joe Biden in mind.

Life presents us with only so many opportunities. At 76, this might be the former Vice President's last chance at fulfilling a life-long dream. And, unlike 2016, there's no establishment candidate out there for him to split the vote with. Indeed, Biden would be the establishment candidate running against a field that is far-more to the left than Hillary was. Bernie's still there, but now he's sharing the progressive spotlight with Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and, maybe, Beto O'Rourke. All support Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. A Biden candidacy could give the more pragmatic voters in the party a clear choice. And based on the polling, he would be the frontrunner.

Yes, Biden is a Democrat the way Bob Dole was a Republican. But that doesn't mean he's your typical run-of-the-mill centrist sellout. Lest we forget it was Biden who forced Obama to come out in support of gay rights when the latter would've preferred not to do so. Apart from his support of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act - admittedly a terrible error in judgment - the man has a story to tell, and that story will resonate with the part of the country that alluded Democrats in 2016. Does anyone seriously believe Biden couldn't win Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin?

It's now or never for Joe Biden. If he plans on running in 2020, he has to make up his mind soon. Time is running out. While he vacillates, the other Democrats who have announced are gaining momentum. Already Kamala Harris is solidifying her donor base in California, while Bernie's crowds are rivaling even those of 2016. A Biden / Harris ticket would be a formidable foe for Trump. But until and unless Biden throws his hat into the ring, the country will never get the chance to vote for it.

Over the last 45 years, Joe Biden has served his country with distinction and honor. The romantic in me still thinks there's one more chapter in his life to be written. And I can think of no better way to write it than with a parade down Pennsylvania Avenue.