Thursday, May 30, 2019

Mueller To Congress: You're Up

Robert Mueller finally broke his silence. The Special Counsel, who for the last two years has been as vocal as a mime, decided it was time to hold a press conference and clear the air. In ten minutes, Mueller gave his own summary of a 448 page report he submitted to the Department of Justice, and he did not mince his words. There were four major points he made:
  1. Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign benefited from that interference.
  2. Despite finding multiple instances of obstruction of justice, based on the guidelines set forth by the Office of Legal Counsel, Mueller was unable to indict Trump.
  3. Contrary to what his boss Bill Barr said in his summary, Trump was NOT exonerated by Mueller.
  4. It is now up to Congress to do what the D.O.J. couldn't: hold this president accountable.
And that brings us back to the "I" word, and I don't mean infrastructure. Like it or not - or even fair or not - Robert Mueller has dumped this mess on Nancy Pelosi's desk and it's now her headache. He made it crystal clear in his presser that there are no legal remedies that can be employed here. The only way Trump can be removed from office is either through the impeachment process which includes a conviction in the Senate or through the ballot box in 2020. That's it. Mueller provided the bread crumbs; it's up to House Democrats to bake the cake.

Legal scholars will no doubt argue over just how powerless Mueller truly was. Some have suggested that he could've defied Justice Department guidelines and indicted Trump anyway. The prevailing sentiment, though, is that Barr or Rod Rosenstein simply would've overridden him and killed the indictment, citing departmental policy, and even if they didn't, the Administration would've challenged his findings in court, leading to a landmark Supreme Court decision that would've rocked the country and established a new legal precedent for generations to come.

Or if Mueller didn't want to go that route - and there's nothing in his resume that suggests he would've - he could've been more definitive in his findings. For instance, instead of writing, "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him," he could have written, "this report concludes that the President engaged in multiple acts of obstruction of justice that, were he not President, would've led to his indictment and prosecution in federal court." Now that would've been definitive. That would've been a finding worth waiting almost two years for.

And, sadly, that would've had the effect of reducing Robert Mueller to the level of James Comey. Face it, regardless of how you feel about how he was treated by Trump, Comey's conduct, both in and out of government, is the very definition of political grandstanding. He overstepped his authority as FBI Director twice during the Clinton email investigation by interjecting himself into the political spotlight; the latter coming just weeks before the 2016 election. That was not only unprecedented, it was inexcusable.

But once he was fired by Trump, Comey added insult to injury by going on a dog and pony tour to peddle his book; a book that was nothing more than a series of self-justifications for his bizarre behavior during the most consequential election of our lifetime. As a result, what was once a distinguished FBI career has now been reduced to a punchline. The man is an embarrassment and a shill. Credit Mueller for not following in his footsteps, for recognizing the limits of his office, and for having the mental discipline not to stray from them.

Maybe that's the reason why, despite Trump's best efforts at impugning his integrity, Mueller's reputation remains intact. He never crossed the line Comey did from prosecutor to judge and jury. He never went down the "no reasonable prosecutor" path. Instead, he carefully laid out the evidence for all to see, and then handed it off to the only agency with the authority to act: Congress. His professionalism harkens back to a time when Washington wasn't paralyzed by bitter partisan divides and things actually got done.

If there's one thing you can fault him with, it's that Mueller truly believes that this Congress, which can't pass a ham sandwich, is actually capable of conducting an impeachment inquiry, but that isn't his problem. He did his job; now it's up to the legislature to do its.

As he stated in his press conference, "The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing." Translation? "You're up, Congress."

Friday, May 24, 2019

Hey, Donnie, Where Are Those Deals You Promised?

Lost in the temper tantrum that our "esteemed" president threw in front of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer at the White House the other day, and the subsequent pity party he threw for himself in the Rose Garden later that afternoon when, for the umpteenth time, he reiterated that the Mueller Report cleared him of wrong doing - even though it clearly didn't - was the sad fact that the man who ran on being the greatest deal maker in the history of western civilization, once more couldn't compose himself long enough to negotiate with members of the opposition party to hash out even the framework of a deal.

In the two and a half years since he was elected, Trump, the so-called "author" of "The Art of the Deal," has been an abject failure at the one thing he built his entire brand on. Indeed, the only "accomplishment" his party can "boast" about - and I use the terms accomplishment and boast loosely - is the tax bill that passed at the end of 2017; a bill that stole billions of dollars in tax deductions from hard-working middle class Americans and gave them to the top one percent and multi-billion dollar corporations. And the only reason that ghastly bill became law was because Trump stayed the hell out of the way.

Really, name a single thing that Trump has touched that hasn't turned to shit. Remember the bargain he was going to strike with Democrats back in 2017? He would've gotten billions for his stupid wall in return for a deal on DACA. He blew that up because Stephen Miller, AKA, Joseph Goebbels, objected. Lindsey Graham may have blamed Miller at the time, but the last time I checked Miller wasn't the president; Trump was.

Then there was the great government shutdown of this year; the one where Trump furloughed hundreds of thousands of federal workers for six weeks just so he could wind up with the same deal he could've gotten BEFORE the shutdown. Now that's what I call negotiating. If Jefferson had had Trump's talent, Louisiana would still be a part of France.

Infrastructure is the one issue where there is consensus between Democrats and Republicans. Regardless of whether you live in a blue state or a red state, if you've spent more than five minutes behind the wheel of a car, you know that the roads and bridges in this country are in dire need of repair. In my neck of the woods, both the Long Island Expressway and Northern State Parkway are a disgrace. There are parts of the Northern State where if you drive faster than 50 miles an hour you run the risk of damaging the suspension on your car. You expect road conditions like this in a third-world country, not the greatest nation in the world.

Perhaps there wasn't a trillion dollar deal to be had, but that was still no excuse for Trump not rolling up his sleeves and trying anyway. To storm out of a meeting because he's pissed that Democrats are investigating him isn't just juvenile, it's contemptible. Both Nixon and Clinton managed to negotiate with the opposing party while they were being investigated and both even managed to get some things done. Clinton, in particular, worked with Republicans in both chambers to pass the S-CHIP program and to produce federal budgets that eventually led to three consecutive budget surpluses. The idea that you can't do your job because the other side is picking on you is anathema to the very duties he was elected to perform.

And then there's trade: the issue he spent the majority of his campaign reminding everyone under the sun just how incompetent his predecessors were. If I had a dollar for every time he said the U.S. was getting ripped off, my wife and I would be touring Europe right now. Since he was sworn in, he's blown up NAFTA, pulled out of TPP and imposed a series of tariffs on Canada, Mexico and China that not only haven't produced the results he was looking for, but have hurt consumers at the cash register and damaged our exports. Way to go, Skippy! When it comes to screwing up, as the song goes, nobody does it better.

Regarding foreign policy, Trump's flirtation with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un has not only been an embarrassment to this country, it has had the effect of strengthening Kim's hand rather than weakening it. Not only hasn't Rocket Man - Trump's nickname for Kim - given up his nukes, he's managed to get Trump to agree to end joint military exercises with South Korea that Kim viewed as provocative. Then after he got Trump to cave on that, he resumed his missile launching program. If Kim ever decides to write a book about his dealings with Trump, I've got the perfect title for him: "How I Played A Fool and Came Out On Top."

His unwillingness to work with people who don't kowtow to his every whim and who fail to stroke his massive ego; his inability to successfully utilize the leverage his office affords him; his reticence to accept any and all advice given him that directly challenges his preconceived worldview; none are emblematic of a great deal maker. What they do reveal is a very insecure man who for the last three and a half decades has peddled this false narrative of a master negotiator who could simply enter a room, snap his fingers and magically get people to do what he wanted. But just like the wizard in the Wizard of Oz, once the curtain was pulled back, the audience finally got a chance to see for themselves who was really running the show. Not some "stable" genius with a game plan, but an aging con artist with nothing but a bag of useless, old tricks and a ton of stale, worn out cliches.

Dorothy shoulda stood in bed.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

An Open Letter To Nancy Pelosi

Dear Madam Speaker,

I usually don't write letters to politicians. In fact, over the last ten years, I can count on one hand the number of times I've sat down and actually composed one. Hell, I even have a problem finding the right words to add to the Hallmark card I give my wife on our anniversary. I guess I figure for the money they charge, they should be able to come up with the right words on their own without my help. Okay, that was probably too much information. My point is that this was one occasion where a mere greeting card wasn't going to suffice.

Let me just come right out and say I am not one of those Democrats who embrace the Green New Deal or Medicare for All. I hail from a suburban district that went for Trump in 2016, and may well do so again in 2020. It was those districts flipping last year that made you Speaker of the House for the second time in your career. You know it, and I know it. And there is no path to the White House for Democrats that doesn't go through swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

The reason for this letter has nothing to do with policy or tactics. You've written the book when it comes to both anyway as evidenced by the futility of your two predecessors. And I'm quite certain you can handle the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, just like Joe Biden appears to be handling Bernie Sanders on the presidential campaign trail. The issue before us - indeed, the issue before the country - is Donald Trump.

I'll cut right to the chase: your refusal to move forward with a formal impeachment proceeding or inquiry against this president, while laudable, is simply wrong. Yes, wrong. Look, I get the politics. You know who else gets the politics? Trump. He's betting there's no way in hell you'll impeach him. That's why he's blocking every subpoena your committee chairs have issued. He's trying to drag this out past next year's election in the hopes that he'll win reelection and that a potential future Republican majority will give him the cover he needs to shred what's left of the Constitution.

You cannot let him get away with this atrocity. This isn't about bowing to the Tom Steyers of the country. Nor is it about actually removing him from office. You and I both know there's no way the Senate will convict. That's not the point. The point is that for the last three months your committees have been trying to investigate his administration and they've been frustrated at every turn. Face it, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, you don't want the possible political fallout of an impeachment inquiry. On the other, you don't want to turn off a base that's screaming for blood; a base, by the way, the party will badly need come next November. So rather than choose one over the other, you're trying to navigate between the two, hoping you don't wreck the entire caucus on a reef.

How's that working out so far? You needn't reply. We both know the answer. You've been around this town way too long not to know that trying to have your cake while eating it too rarely, if ever, happens. To put it another way, you're getting all the grief without any of the glory. You don't want to give Trump something he can use to gin up his base in 2020, I understand. But do you seriously think he's not going to gin up his base? Have you seen his rallies lately? He's talking about locking up the people who investigated him. Now he's turning his heat beams on Fox News because they're hosting town halls for Democratic candidates. He's in 8th gear on an 8 speed transmission. There is absolutely nothing you can do to throttle him up or down.

You say you're not at the impeachment stage yet. When might you be? What bit of information do you need to make a determination to move forward? Don McGahn's testimony? Robert Mueller's? The former was just ordered by the Justice Department to ignore a lawful subpoena; the latter might end up "declining" to show up altogether. As for the tax returns, good luck getting those. And don't celebrate just yet over the decision by a district court judge that authorizes Deutsche Bank and Capital One to release Trump's financial records to the Congress. We both know that John Roberts will have the final say in the end.

And that, more than anything else, is why you must initiate an impeachment inquiry now. You accomplish two things almost immediately: one, you clearly define for the American electorate that this isn't some random fishing expedition; that there's a real purpose to it. You also make it clear that this is ONLY an inquiry to determine whether Trump should be impeached, not an actual vote to impeach. That's an important distinction, and it's a distinction that a majority of Americans do not completely understand. And speaking of purpose, terms like "specific and legitimate legislative purpose" tend to hold more weight legally, especially in front of the Supreme Court.

Now let's talk about the politics of this. The longer you wait, the harder this gets, not easier. Think back to Nixon. It took over a year from the time the Senate started its hearings into Watergate before the public began to warm to the idea of impeachment. If you think the politics of this is ugly now, try the fall of 2020. Do you really want every question that the eventual Democratic nominee gets asked at the debates to begin and end with, "Where do you stand on impeachment?" While Biden or Sanders or Kamala Harris try to define their agenda, Trump cries government coup. Can you spell reelection?

Look, I know you think you're in a no-win situation. You're really not. The decision before you is really quite simple. I didn't say it was easy, just simple. Just today, Trump stood in the Rose Garden of the White House and said there would be no talks until the investigations end. That's right, the President of the United States issued an ultimatum to the House of Representatives. It's his way or the highway. This is what you're dealing with: a little boy who thinks all the toys in the toy chest belong to him. The way to deal with boys like that is to take away their toy chest, not coddle them. You want an infrastructure bill? Don't wait for Trump. Pass one yourself and then dump it in Mitch McConnell's lap. The same with health care, tax reform, etc... There's no reason why you can't walk and chew gum at the same time. While this president takes his ball and goes home, you can make the case to the American people that you have the temperament to run the country.

Since he assumed the presidency, Trump has told more lies than all of his predecessors combined, and that includes Nixon. But there was one instance where he did speak the truth, if halfheartedly. That was when he said this was about setting a precedent for future presidents. Yeah, like he really gives a shit about who succeeds him. If he had his way, he'd be dictator for life. But, seriously, Madam Speaker, he's right about one thing: this IS about setting a precedent; a very dangerous precedent. If you fail to hold this man accountable, you will encourage the next president - be it Democrat or Republican - to behave in the same lawless manner. In fact, you all but guarantee it.

You're facing a possible rebellion within your rank and file. You have a sitting president who's literally shitting all over the Constitution. Your duty requires you to do more than just bring him a fresh role of toilet paper.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

This Is the Reason Why the Rust Belt States Don't Like Democrats

I rarely, if ever, go after an op-ed writer. If I disagree with something they've written, I may mention it in passing in one of my own pieces, but with the exception of an op-ed that Thomas Friedman wrote several years ago about how the U.S. needed a strong third party to challenge the political establishment - an argument I found totally nonsensical to the point of calling it an "obsession" - my philosophy has always been to respectfully disagree and move on. That's my way of saying, go with God. After all, that's why they're called op-ed writers and not reporters, right?

But an op-ed written by Jill Filipovic for The New York Times called, "Does Anyone Actually Want Joe Biden To Be President?" made me so upset, I simply couldn't let the opportunity pass without taking her to task.

Let's start with the title of the piece, which I assume is a question since Ms. Filipovic ended it with a question mark. Though, given the sarcasm implied, I'm fairly certain it wasn't. But I'll answer it nonetheless: Yes, there are people who actually want Joe Biden to be president, at least that's according to the polling which shows him with a considerable lead over Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination and a single-digit lead over Trump in the general election. The last time I checked, pollsters contact actual people on these things. But I could be wrong; maybe they're contacting aliens from another planet. By the way, Jill, nice picture of Biden with his head down. Where'd you get it from, Fox News?

In her opening paragraph, she throws down the gauntlet on the issue of electability.
The most important requirement for the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee? Electability. It matters more, we keep hearing, than nominating a candidate who has good policies. It matters more than nominating a candidate with a track record of passing progressive legislation. It certainly matters more than nominating a candidate who could be the first female president.
Wow, so much to unpack. First off, she assumes that "electability" and "good policies" are somehow mutually exclusive. They aren't. Case in point, Trump's policies have been terrible and yet he somehow got elected. On the other hand, Barack Obama won two consecutive presidential elections espousing some pretty good policies. One should never conflate these two terms. As for the importance of nominating a candidate with a track record of passing progressive legislation, the last truly progressive piece of legislation that passed Congress was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. For your edification, Jill, Lyndon Johnson, the president who signed that legislation into law, was this country's last real progressive to reside in the Oval Office, not Jimmy Carter, nor Bill Clinton, nor Obama. The Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law by Obama, was viewed by many progressives as a sellout to the insurance and pharmaceutical industries. Oh, and by the way, the first female president could've been Hillary Clinton, but four years ago, I suppose she would've been one of those  "electable" candidates that nobody wanted to be president; that is if I follow your logic.

Let's jump to paragraph four,
Mr. Biden, whose campaign officially kicks off this Saturday in Philadelphia, is the kind of guy you could see sitting behind a big desk, acting as a wise custodian of our democracy without posing any threat of changing much. He is from one of those scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by so many pundits — people who believe that the imaginary working-class white voter who is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats wants Joe Biden, which is what, in turn, makes Joe Biden electable.
"He is from one of the scrappy Rust Belt cities fetishized by so many pundits - people who believe that the imaginary working-class white voter who is going to deliver the White House to the Democrats wants Joe Biden." This in a nutshell is how Trump became president. The sheer arrogance of that statement is why Democrats are so despised in that region of the country. Can you imagine Obama making such an asinine statement? Me neither. Know who else wouldn't make that statement? That's right, Biden, old Mr. Gaffe himself. Maybe that's why he's up by 11 over Trump in Pennsylvania, you know, that state with all those scrappy working-class voters that people like Filipovic shit all over.

Now down to paragraph eight,
The Democratic Party of 2019 does not look much like Joe Biden. Women, African-American, Latino and Asian voters are all much more likely to say they support Democratic candidates than Republican ones. White voters, male voters and especially white male voters generally support Republicans.
There are two huge assumptions made in this paragraph, and both are vastly misunderstood and, I might add, a tad bit overrated by many pundits. Yes, it's true that today's Democratic Party doesn't look like Joe Biden, but that apparently hasn't hurt him, especially with respect to African American voters, who don't appear to be enamored of progressive candidates like Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. This was one of the reasons why Hillary ran away with the nomination in 2016. With respect to white, male voters, perhaps the majority of them do support Republicans, but that's still no excuse to ignore them the way so many Democratic candidates are doing this year, or take them for granted, which is what the party as a whole did in 2016.

Paragraphs eleven and twelve should be taken together,
But what about those Obama-to-Trump swing voters who will reportedly make or break this election, as they did the last one? The Democratic Party shouldn’t leave anyone behind, but working-class white men are declining as a share of the Democratic base, while whites generally are declining as a share of the general population. The entire premise that white men without college degrees are the only possible swing voters is a faulty one. 
There’s also little evidence that most voters pick a candidate based on policies and that a moderate candidate who wrote campaign talking points to appeal to a broad swath of voters would do significantly better than a more visionary and progressive one. Instead of trying to win back a waning electoral and demographic force, Democrats would be better served to consider what will get voters to the polls. Hillary Clinton’s loss can only be explained by a long list of factors, but surely one of them was apathy: The certainty that she had the election in the bag probably depressed voter turnout.
I'll cut to the chase: the Obama-to-Trump swing voter was THE reason Trump won. Just take a look at the results in Ohio. Obama won the state by 166 thousand votes in 2012; Trump won it by 455 thousand in 2016. That's a difference of over 620 thousand votes. Across the entire Rust Belt region, the results were similar: Obama voters abandoning the Democratic Party in droves for Trump. And while I agree in principle that most voters don't pick a candidate based solely on policies, they do tend to vote for the candidate that they feel best represents their interests and who shows at least a modicum of empathy. Hillary's main problem had little to do with apathy; it had everything to do with arrogance. The belief that she "had the election in the bag" didn't so much depress voter turnout as it motivated people to go out and vote against her.

It took a while for Filipovic to get around to the 2018 midterms, but in paragraphs fourteen thru sixteen she finally does,
Women made record numbers of political contributions in 2018 and, at least anecdotally, dominated campaigns behind the scenes. Mr. Trump’s white working-class base still voted Republican, although in lower numbers than when he triumphed. Women of color, and particularly black women, continued their trend of staunchly supporting Democrats, and turnout among racial minorities hit a highat 28 percent of voters, and 38 percent of voters under 30. A majority of white women with college degrees voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it was this group that gave Democratic candidates a new advantage in 2018, increasing its support for Democrats over Republicans by 13 percentage points from two years earlier.
In several key states, including Ohio and Florida, white women with college degrees flipped: A majority voted Republican in 2016 and Democratic in 2018. White men, regardless of education, did not. It’s white women, not working-class white men, who are the most promising swing voters for Democrats in 2020, and who could wind up as loyal lifelong Democrats.
Strong turnout among voters of color, a Democratic shift among white voters, and significant flips by college-educated white women all reaped dividends for the women who ran in 2018. Female candidates in the midterms outperformed male ones by a significant margin, on both the left and the right (and the gap was larger with Democratic candidates than Republican ones). In other words, if the 2018 election is any indication, women are more electable than men are — especially, but not only, with Democrats.
There's no other way to put this: the vast majority of House pickups for the Democratic Party in last year's midterms came in suburban districts that went for Trump in 2016. While many of those candidates may have been women, some of them black, they were hardly progressive; if anything most of them were centrists. Given that Trump's base will turnout in greater numbers in 2020 than they did in 2018, the margin of error for Dems is smaller than you think. White women with college degrees voting blue last year did NOT prevent Republicans from retaining the governor's mansion in Ohio or flipping Senate seats in Florida, Indiana and Missouri. If, as Filipovic states, women are more electable than men, especially with Democrats, it appears as though the majority of Democratic voters haven't gotten the memo. So far, Biden and Sanders - two men - are collectively polling over 50 percent, while Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar - three women - are collectively polling at just over 17 percent.

And, finally, there's this,
Since Donald Trump’s election in 2016, no force has been greater, bolder, louder and hungrier than women. . . It is baffling, then, to know all of this and conclude that the most electable candidate is Joe Biden, an older white man tightly associated with sexual harassment and racism, even if he is polling ahead more than a year before the election.
Sexual harassment and racism? Please! Look, the man has a history of being a little too, shall we say, handsy, and his support for the 1994 crime bill is a black mark that will plague him throughout the campaign, I get it, but neither makes him a sexual predator or a racist. Whatever else you might think of Biden, he's hardly Harvey Weinstein or David Duke. This moral equivalence crap that people like Filipovic keep peddling is why some people can't stand progressives.

Look, as I've said on several occasions, it's still early, and no one can predict who will emerge as the Democratic nominee. It may well be Biden, or perhaps Sanders, or Harris, or Warren, or Pete Buttigieg, or Johnny Galecki - I hear he recently lost his job and is looking for a new career path. We just don't know. But what is certain is this: the conclusions that Filipovic draws in her op-ed piece run counter to the available data, and no amount of wishful thinking or personal grievances on her part is going to change a reality she can't bring herself to accept.

In 2016, the so-called fly-over states sent a message loud and clear to the country. If Democrats don't stop listening to writers like Jill Filipovic, they'll send the same one again in 2020.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Democrats' Trade Problem

Once more, President Shit-for-Brains has screwed up a sunset. In a move that will undoubtedly hit consumers in the wallet and prove to be a drag on an economy most presidents would give their eye teeth for, Trump's escalating trade war with China is a gift for Democrats heading into the 2012 election.

There's just one problem: Democrats are hardly in a position to capitalize on it. That's because the party's stance on trade, for the most part, lines up almost directly with Trump's. They are anti-free trade, are on record as being against both NAFTA and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), and believe very strongly in punishing China. Kamala Harris, in an interview she did for CNN's State of the Union, said she would not have voted for NAFTA had she been in the Senate back then.

There's no doubt that China has been a bad actor when it comes to trade and intellectual property rights, and there's little disagreement among economists that if the West doesn't deal with them soon, it will be too late. But Trump's unilateral, go it alone approach, is hardly the answer. It isolates America from the kind of support needed to extract concessions from President Xi. And Trump's continued insistence that somehow the tariffs that are being imposed on Chinese goods are being directly deposited into the U.S. treasury is the kind of stuff that would make a first-year economic's student chuckle with laughter.

But when pressed, Democrats don't appear to have a coherent strategy that would hold China accountable without sabotaging the economy. That's because almost collectively they've bought into a long-discredited myth that NAFTA and the TPP are responsible for the job losses in the industrial Midwest. As I pointed out in a piece I wrote back in May of 2016, Robert Reich, who was a Bernie Sanders supporter, said that NAFTA on the whole "was a net positive for job creation."
The real problem isn't free trade but the lack of a system that helps displaced workers find comparably paying jobs. In a global economy there will always be winners and losers. It's how you deal with the losers that determines the overall strength of an economy.
Yet throughout the 2016 campaign, the one thing both Sanders and Trump agreed on was how horrible NAFTA was and how it had to go, along with the TPP. Even front runner and eventual Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was forced to abandon her husband's signature accomplishment just to appease the far Left.

And now the party that swallowed a lie has no viable economic argument to use against a president who is slowly undermining the last five decades of global expansionism, all because some flunky economist by the name of Peter Navarro told him it was possible to return to the '50s.

Seriously, what's their solution with respect to trade? We agree with Trump, but we just won't be as inept? Yeah, that'll really play well in Michigan and Wisconsin, not to mention Ohio, where Hillary got crushed and where Democrats are about as popular as a vegan at a steak house.

The fact is Democrats have boxed themselves into a corner when it comes to trade. They can't backtrack and suddenly become free traders because they'd be conceding the Rustbelt to Trump; and they can't do the old "kinder and gentler" anti-China, anti free trade bit because it makes Trump's point for him. I can just see Trump now: "Democrats say they'll be tough on China but they won't. They're just pussies." And, yeah, Trump would say that; he's said worse.

This is what happens when you adopt populist solutions to complex and far-reaching problems. Ever since Brexit, the West has been struggling to defend its policies to an ever increasingly frustrated segment of the population that is fearful of the future, contemptuous of the multiculturalism that is changing their world, and nostalgic for a return to a past where everything made sense.

Both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump sold a bill of goods to a lot of gullible and vulnerable people, and in the process, they chartered a course for their respective countries that could well lead to severe financial hardships for both countries; hardships that will target the very people they claimed to champion the most. Johnson, thankfully, has been thoroughly discredited in the U.K., but Trump, despite his legal difficulties here in the U.S., remains a very real and potent threat. His base still loves him and his opposition has, thus far, failed to come up with an alternative to combat his brand of economic and cultural populism.

All of which could doom their prospects in 2020.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Case for Impeachment

It's becoming increasingly clear that the strategy Democrats are employing with this White House simply isn't working. Trump has decided to ostensibly ignore any and all Congressional subpoenas, and his attorney general is in lock step with this obvious obstruction of justice. It's as though Trump is daring Democrats to impeach him. So, if that's the case, I say give him what he wants.

What? Are you kidding? Why would Democrats give this president what he wants? Isn't that just playing right into his hands? In a way, yes. But let's be honest for a minute. The longer this goes on, the more dragged out the investigations become with no results to show for them, the more it looks as though Democrats are just fishing for anything they can to pin on Trump. And with a presidential election just under eighteen months away, that is a recipe for disaster.

Face it: Democrats have for the last three months been conducting an impeachment proceeding without actually calling it that. Yes, they've been careful with their choice of words. We're conducting oversight on this administration, they keep insisting. No, we're not impeaching the president, at least not yet. Except, with all due respect, no one believes that for a moment. Everybody this side of the Milky Way galaxy knows where this will eventually lead. So, why dick around? It's time for Democrats to make it official. If you're going to impeach, then impeach.

Last December, I wrote that Democrats shouldn't be afraid to impeach Trump if the evidence warranted it. As the Mueller report clearly stated, there were multiple instances of this president interfering with a lawful, criminal investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Just the other day, over 800 former prosecutors signed a letter stating that based on the evidence Mueller obtained, had Trump been a private citizen they would've sought an indictment against him for obstruction of justice. Assuming one article of impeachment for every instance of obstruction, that's a total of ten articles, six more than were brought against Bill Clinton.

But what about the polling that shows a majority of people opposed to impeachment? Funny you should ask. A recent poll conducted by Reuters indicates that support for impeaching Trump has gone up five points in the last month. 45 percent are now in favor of it versus 42 percent who aren't. Granted, it's only one poll, and we all know the danger of outlier polling. Still, what it reveals is that Trump may have overplayed his hand by so arrogantly defying Congress.

But here's the thing. Let's say just for the moment that the Reuter poll is an outlier. Maybe the actual percentage of people in favor of impeachment is considerably less, say in the low to mid 30s. That would present a considerable problem for Democrats going into the most consequential election of our lifetime, right? Not necessarily.

In May of 1973, when the Senate began its hearings into the Watergate scandal, support for impeaching then president Richard Nixon stood at a paltry 19 percent. Nixon was in the first year of his second term, having won a landslide reelection against George McGovern the previous November. His popularity, though - after peaking at over 60 percent around the time of his inauguration - began to slowly erode. It went from the mid-40s in the Spring of '73 to the mid-20s throughout most of '74. Not coincidentally, support for impeachment began to tick upward. By February of '74, when the House formally began its impeachment proceeding, it was hovering in the mid-30s, and by the summer of '74, it was over 50 percent. It peaked at 57 percent just a couple of weeks before Nixon's resignation.

So what changed? Well, for one thing, the formality of an actual impeachment proceeding lent an air of legitimacy to the hearings. It also gave Congress the leverage it needed to overcome Nixon's stonewalling efforts to block their subpoenas. The public witnessed, first hand, damning testimony from members of Nixon's cabinet that painted a portrait of a corrupt administration and a president knee-deep in the scandal. The infamous Watergate tapes - the smoking gun in the whole investigation - were obtained only because the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that Nixon's claim of executive privilege blocking their release was unconstitutional. Once the public had a chance to hear, in Nixon's own words, the breath and scope of the coverup, his fate was sealed. His own party turned on him and he was forced out of office.

You might say that was then, this is now. Nixon didn't have a 24-hour cable news channel and Twitter at his disposal. Perhaps if he did, he might've survived. I'll admit that's a distinct possibility. But it's one of those things we'll never know because it's impossible to go back in time and recreate the exact circumstances. It's kind of like those football fanatics who want to know how Bill Belichick's Patriots would've fared against Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers. Good luck with that one! What we do know is that the more the public found out about Watergate, the less popular Nixon became. And it only found out because the courts gave deference to Congress's constitutional right to conduct a legitimate criminal investigation, not merely a hearing.

Look at what Trump is doing; not even Nixon would've been so ballsy. Not only is he thumbing his nose at House Democrats, we now find out that he asked Don McGahn, the former White House Counsel, to lie about him trying to have Mueller fired. If you'll recall, one of the articles of impeachment against Clinton was encouraging Monica Lewinski to file a false affidavit. And while a formal impeachment proceeding would not automatically overcome Trump's exertion of executive privilege against McGahn testifying, or for that matter Mueller, it would give Democrats a stronger hand to play in court. Even conservative judges are reluctant to interfere with Congressional oversight committees, especially ones conducting an impeachment proceeding.

And then there's Trump's tax returns, which Democrats issued a subpoena for after being told by Steve Mnunchin to go fly a kite. It's highly unlikely that Treasury will turn them over, which means a protracted court battle that could take months and possibly drag into next year. A bill that is likely to become law in New York might give House Democrats the chance to see Trump's state returns, but there's a catch. The wording of the would-be law says there must be a "specific and legitimate legislative purpose" to the request. An impeachment proceeding would certainly satisfy both requirements should Trump decide to challenge them in court, which he most assuredly would.

While I understand that impeachment is a pretty big step - not to mention a risky one - I frankly don't see any other alternative given the circumstances. It's obvious Trump has no intention of cooperating. He's pissing all over the Constitution, and with each passing day he grows more and more emboldened. A formal impeachment proceeding would focus the country's attention on his misdeeds in a way that is currently not happening. Trump may think an impeachment proceeding is his golden ticket to another four years in the White House, but it's worth noting that the last two presidents to go through such an ordeal ended up costing their party the White House in the subsequent election.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Not All Apples Are Created Equal

It's been just over a week and a half since Joe Biden announced he was running for president and already the pundits are tossing around terms like electability. Some are comparing his campaign to another highly electable candidate, Hillary Clinton. Biden, they say, suffers from the same set of problems that doomed her candidacy. Both have been around forever; both are establishment Democrats at a time when the party is not only drifting to the left but looking for new blood; and both have checkered pasts that are problematic in a general election.

There's no doubt that there's some truth to these concerns, especially the "been around forever" part. Biden's first term in the Senate began before Bill Clinton's first term as Arkansas governor and before Richard Nixon resigned the presidency. That's about as forever as you can get in today's political world. Biden is also the embodiment of establishment, even more so than Clinton. And, yes, Biden has more than his fair share of skeletons in the closet, all of which will come tumbling out should he win the nomination.

But here's the thing. Biden's main competition - Bernie Sanders - has been in Washington for almost thirty years himself, and while his positions are considerably to the left of Biden's, it's not like he doesn't have some skeletons of his own to deal with. That trip he took to the Soviet Union on his honeymoon is an attack ad just waiting to happen. And, trust me, if Sanders wins the nomination, it will run almost non-stop in every swing state right up until election day.

But that's where the similarities between Clinton and Biden end, for both are radically different types of politicians. Clinton, for all her accomplishments, was about as programmed as a computer. I wrote at great length throughout the 2016 campaign about Hillary's lack authenticity and how it made her look smug and condescending. All the poll-tested positions and the carefully worded answers she gave that never seemed to answer the actual question she was asked, only served to make her even less likable than she already was.

Biden is the polar opposite of Clinton both in temperament and in style. He's about as programmed as an exploding star. Of all the 2020 candidates in the field, Biden is by far the most authentic. He almost reminds you of Jim Carey in Liar, Liar. The man literally falls into the truth, sometimes to a fault. And those legendary gaffs that always seemed to disqualify him in past elections, might well benefit him in the age of Trump.

In a piece he wrote for New York magazine, Andrew Sullivan makes the argument - and a good one, I think - that Biden, despite all his quirks, "might be the best bet to beat Trump." To sum up, his ties to white, working-class voters are genuine. Yes, policy wise, he and Clinton are virtually indistinguishable, but unlike Clinton, his appeal crosses many demographics. One of those demographics concerns itself with political correctness. In a word, Biden has none, or at least none that anyone has yet discerned. Sullivan writes,

In what was a brilliant ad-lib, Biden began a speech to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers by making a joke about the excesses of #MeToo — “I had permission to hug Lonnie,” the union leader, he quipped. Later, as he brought some kids onstage, he joked again, as he put his hands on the shoulders of a boy: “He gave me permission to touch him.” The crowd’s reaction both times was bellows of laughter.

Sullivan adds that while Biden's joke was "insensitive" and "tone-deaf," it let those in attendance, and those who read about it later, know that he isn't one of those "white urban elites" as Sullivan refers to them. In short, Biden knows who he is and where he comes from. He hasn't forgotten his roots, unlike the Clintons. For people who see politicians the way most people see used-car salesmen, he is a breath of fresh air.

Of course, there's always the possibility that Biden's appeal to white, working-class voters could come at a cost. Sullivan cites a piece written by Charles Blow who points out that these voters are "fickle, getting smaller and smaller as a segment of the electorate, and are hostile to the interests of women and minorities." Assuming that's true - and I'm not prepared to say it is - that means that Biden will have to straddle a precariously line between an older, white electorate and a more diverse, younger one. Not an easy task, to be sure. But Biden has one thing going for him: he was Barack Obama's vice president, and Obama didn't just straddle that line, he owned it.

The Obama campaign of 2008 was one of the truly great success stories in American politics. As a candidate, Obama managed to reassure nervous white voters that he could be trusted to represent their interests while at the same time not losing the support of his base. In a country as polarized as this, that was no easy task. Clinton tried to replicate Obama's strategy, but as Sullivan points out, she failed "because of her thinly veiled contempt for the white working classes in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ohio." And while Democrats focus on the combined eighty thousand votes they lost to Trump by in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, the real nightmare was Ohio, where Clinton lost by almost half a million votes, four years after Obama won the state by a hundred thousand. That isn't a close shave, it's a beheading, and it reveals an enormous divide between the party and white working-class voters. Trump didn't just fill that vacuum, he booked the whole damn banquet hall.

Whatever else you may say about him, Joe Biden is no fool. He can read the tea leaves, even if many in his party can't or won't. My gut tells me that he knows full well what he's doing. Far from a gaff machine, Biden's remarks seem intended for a specific audience; one that Democrats had taken for granted for years and now is in Trump's column. The good news is that this audience is up for grabs. Biden may not get it all back, but he'll get a good chunk of it.

And Trump knows this. That's why he's going ape shit the last few days. It isn't just that Biden's leading him by six points in a recent CNN poll, it's that Biden's strength just happens to be in the same region of the country where he beat out Clinton in 2016, and where he'll have to prevail again in 2020 if he wants another four years in the White House. Trump and his people also know that Biden is no AOC / Bernie liberal, so the plan to paint him as some socialist bent on destroying the country is dead on arrival.

My only concern about Biden is this insistence by him that somehow everything was hunky dory in America before Trump came along. Biden refers to his presidency as an "aberrant moment in time," as though it were some blip on the radar screen. This differs with many of his fellow Democrats and virtually every pundit worth a damn who see him as more of a symptom of a broken political system rather than the cause of it. And, as Michael Tomasky writes in The Daily Beast, Biden also appears to be wearing rose-colored glasses when it comes to the Republican Party. The fact is the GOP that Biden envisions waiting for him should he win the presidency hasn't existed since the days when Jacob Javits was an actual senator and not just a convention center on the west side of Manhattan. For his sake - and ours - I hope he is just being overly kind and not overly naive.

Look, as I said earlier, it's still early. Anything can happen. Biden could flare out and maybe someone like Pete Buttigieg could rise to the top of the polls. With over twenty candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, it would be foolish for anyone to predict who will emerge from this field victorious. But if terms like electability have any meaning at all, it's worth noting that not all apples are created equal. The fact that Hillary Clinton's "electability" was suspect from the beginning, doesn't mean that Joe Biden will suffer the same fate as her.

He has his flaws, this much is certain, but one of them isn't arrogance.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Keep It Simple, Dems, Keep It Simple

As someone who considers himself to be a connoisseur of the buffet line at Chinese restaurants, I know a thing or two about plate management. The goal is to make sure you leave enough room for the good stuff. Nothing against egg rolls or dumplings, but I'm here for the spare ribs, Lo Mein and General Chow's Chicken, thank you. And please spare me the pudding. My wife can pick that up at the supermarket.

Looking at Democrats these days, it's clear that most of them have never poked their heads inside of a Chinese restaurant, let alone stood on the buffet line. Because I'm seeing an awful lot of egg rolls on their plates, not to mention some pudding.

Look, I get it: keeping track of this administration's misconduct is like trying to count the grains of sand in the Sahara. It's a never ending process that even with the most advanced computer, is an impossible task. That's why it's incumbent upon House Democrats to focus their attention where it will be the most effective.

Case in point, Attorney General - and personal lackey - William Barr. With the exception of an exchange between him and Kamala Harris, in which the latter clearly cleaned his clock, most Senate Democrats were swimming upstream. When James Comey remarked that Trump had "eaten" the souls of both Barr and Rod Rosenstein, he left out one salient point: you have to have a soul for it to be eaten. Anyone who willingly signs up to work for Trump has made it abundantly clear that they not only don't have one, they also don't have any pride or self respect. The only question that remains for Barr is whether he will suffer the same fate as everyone else who has done this president's bidding.

And regarding Barr, to say he was a hostile witness would be putting it mildly. I've seen enough episodes of Law and Order to know that hostile witnesses more often than not muddy up the waters and confuse the jury. And confused juries tend to return unpredictable verdicts. The jury in this case is the American public.

So when House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler says he will hold Barr in contempt for refusing to appear before his committee, the question I would ask him is why? Why on Earth would you give a man who has disgraced the oath of his office a platform to continue to pedal Trump's lies? Move on, Jerry. You have bigger fish to fry.

In fact, Democrats need to face some hard truths. They don't have the resources, nor the time, to chase down every scandal this White House is embroiled in. In 18 months, the electorate will go to the polls to decide the presidential election. They will also decide which party controls Congress. The Senate, at this point, is no better than a tossup, but the House should be safe. That is, unless, voters feel as though Democrats have overreached; i.e., stuffed too much shit onto their plates.

So in the interest of making sure that doesn't happen, Democrats should employ the KISS method to their hearings. If Barr doesn't want to testify, tell him fine. Move on to the next contestant. And that would be none other than Robert S. Mueller III. It was his report that Barr mischaracterized, and it was his letter to Barr that expressed his, shall we say, misgivings about that mischaraterization. This is the guy you want testifying in front of the American people, not some flunky holding Al Capone's water.

Remember how foolish Republicans looked trying to impeach Michael Cohen's testimony? Times that by ten after Mueller gets done telling his story. Anybody else think it's more than just a little strange that for 22 months we didn't hear a peep out of the Mueller team and now there are more leaks coming out of them than the Titanic? You don't besmirch the integrity of career prosecutors the way Barr did in his four-page summary without paying a price. And Barr is about to find out - courtesy of his old pal - just how high that price was.

After Mueller testifies, Don McGahn should be up next. That the White House is threatening to invoke executive privilege when they waived it twice during the Russia investigation is laughable and doomed to failure. McGahn is no "angry Democrat." He's the former White House Counsel who was responsible for the nomination and confirmation of two conservative justices to the Supreme Court, and who gave 30 hours of testimony in front of prosecutors, that included, among other things, Trump ordering him to fire Mueller. That's called obstruction, no matter how Barr frames it.

While Democrats are busy holding those two hearings, they can and should move forward with the emoluments lawsuit, which a district judge has now ruled can proceed, and double their efforts to get a hold of Trump's tax returns as well as his financial records at Deutsche Bank. The law is clear: Trump cannot block Congress from looking at his tax returns or financial records. He can huff and he can puff, but that's all he can do. He has no legal standing to thwart them, and he knows it. All he's trying to do is run out the clock in the hopes that Republicans will take back the House in 2020. Absent that, he knows he's fucked. As I've said for more than two years, it's about the money with this president.

And last but not least, in between holding hearings and suing for financial records, House Democrats should leave plenty of time to focus on those things that voters expected them to attend to when they gave them the majority last November: healthcare, middle-class tax relief, infrastructure, etc. The suburbs were the key to their success in 2018, and it will hold the key to their success again in 2020.

Now, before I go any further, let me address the "I" word. While it's tempting for them to move forward with impeachment, Democrats should wait until after Mueller testifies. Then, based on what they hear, they can make a determination. For instance, if Mueller says that had Trump not been president he would've sought an indictment, they will have more than enough ammunition to proceed. However, if Mueller hems and haws even in the slightest, I would hold off. Trump would like nothing better than to trap Democrats into an impeachment trial they know they cannot win in the Senate; a trial in which their star witness couldn't definitively state whether or not he would indict. That would all but ensure Trump's reelection.

So, to sum up: Get Mueller and McGahn under oath, get a hold of Trump's financial records, make sure to deliver on the agenda they ran on in 2018, and proceed with caution with impeachment. If that sounds like a pretty robust and full "To-Do" list that's because it is. No dumplings or egg rolls on that plate; just a lot of main entrees that Trump will not find all that appetizing, but, God willing, the American people will scoff down next year when they head to the polls.