Friday, August 12, 2022

Happy Friday

Oh, you mean those nuclear documents.

Classified documents relating to nuclear weapons were among the items FBI agents sought in a search of former president Donald Trump’s Florida residence on Monday, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Experts in classified information said the unusual search underscores deep concern among government officials about the types of information they thought could be located at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and potentially in danger of falling into the wrong hands.

Too late, Captain Obvious; they fell into the wrong hands in 2017. It will be fun to see how Fox turns this into good news for the GOP, which they will as sure as a goose goes barefoot.

Meanwhile, the summer at camp in the mountains came to an end earlier this week and at the high altitudes, the aspens are already turning.  Enjoy the view.

Thursday, August 11, 2022

Gaming The Refs

Charlie Pierce thinks the Republicans are already sowing seeds of doubt about the FBI search.

From here in the COVID Ivory Tower, I admit, the news can look pretty plainly hilarious.

From the AP:

Trump arrived at Attorney General Letitia James’ Manhattan offices in a motorcade shortly before 9 a.m., before announcing more than an hour later that he “declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution.”

“I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Now I know the answer to that question,” the statement said. “When your family, your company, and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded politically motivated Witch Hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors and the Fake News Media, you have no choice.”

So, under the pitiless gaze of New York Attorney General Letitia James, the former president* of the United States melts right down to the fundamental civil libertarian who has always been there underneath. Trump’s previous observation—“You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”—is thereby rendered “inoperative,” as Ron Ziegler, an aide to an earlier Oval Office crook, once put it.

It’s important to remember that this is a civil action at the moment, not a criminal one (so far). In most of the civil actions in which he has been forced to testify throughout his public life, El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago has played three card monte-style word games with prosecutors and plaintiff’s attorneys. Today, he took the Fifth, which might indicate that he thinks that James has information that could put him in peril of criminal action. It’s a change in tactics worth noting. Certainly it seems a more likely scenario than the contention that he suddenly tapped into his inner William Brennan.

Meanwhile, on the outside, the marching orders have gone out. It began with Christina Bobb, who is the former president*’s latest local lawyer, and fanned out through the MAGA ecosystem until it reached the curiously coiffed brainpan of the junior senator from Kentucky. From the Washington Post:

“Do I know that the boxes of material they took from Mar-a-Lago, that they won’t put things into those boxes to entrap him?” [Sen. Rand] Paul said. “How do we know? … How do we know they’re going to be honest with us about what’s actually in the boxes? How do we know that was in the box before it left the residence if the lawyers weren’t allowed to see everything?”

Philip Bump of the Post struggles manfully to keep events anchored in reality, but by the end, even Bump admits that a useful new reality is under construction among the Members Of The Body, one that’s ready to spring to life as soon as anything incriminating jumps out of one of those boxes: The FBI did it.

And elements of the media are doing nobody any favors by arguing that, because this alternate reality is spreading, the Department of Justice has an obligation to release the supporting material behind the Mar-a-Lago warrant—as though that will stop it from spreading, as though that will assuage the Members Of The Body and make Rand Paul shut his gob. Stop making this argument, media. You look like idiots, and the country gets dumber for your efforts. I mean, look at the gibbering wreck that once was Marco Rubio:

The game is afoot, however. And that’s why I don’t think throwing the former president*’s old quotes about the Fifth Amendment back in his face are very much fun right now. It’s not like he gives a damn about his credibility with the public at large. He’s the only one with the activation codes, and things are moving again.

The Trumpists have very little left to them that all they can do is get the crowd angry at the referees.  They saw it work against Hillary Clinton in 2016, so they’re trying it now.

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Oh, The Horror

Via Alexandra Petri at the Washington Post:

If this is what investigators will do to the former president of the United States — follow all the steps to obtain a warrant from a judge to search his home for documents that they (and the judge) believed probable cause suggested were there, then leave without arresting anybody — imagine what they will do to you! You might also have to deal with a search warrant from a judge! You, too, might receive due process when suspected of committing a crime!

Bonus:  Trump once said, “You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”  Guess what:

NEW YORK — Former president Donald Trump arrived at the office of the New York attorney general Wednesday morning to give sworn testimony in a long-running civil probe of his business dealings, specifically his representations to lenders and tax agencies about the value of his assets.

In a lengthy statement, Trump denied wrongdoing, accused the U.S. government of unfairly targeting him and said he would refuse to answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.

Imagine my surprise.

Freak Out vs. Calm Down

One of the expected outcomes of the execution of the search warrant at Trump’s place up the coast from here was that the GOP and their minions would lose their collective shit.  And they did; the papers and the Very Serious People on cable TV were running stories about members of Congress who still pay fealty to Trump and the neo-Fascist on-line forums were exploding with screams of “lock and load” and predictions of civil war, reminding me of the old adage that the closer you get to the bacon, the more the pig will squeal.  (And it goes without saying that Trump’s gang is already fund-raising off it.)

But I am skeptical that the 101st Flying Keyboardists will truly do much more than carry on like banshees with their nuts in the wringer, especially since their short-term memory has failed them; in 2016 they were all over Hillary Clinton and demanding that the FBI raid the basement in Chappaqua.  If anything, it will prompt Trump’s gang to do more stupid things and it may even push him to announce — surprise surprise — that he’s running in 2024.  And that, as Josh Marshall at TPM notes, cannot be a good thing for the Republicans.

As a narrowly political matter, step back and see the broader context. Republicans have been trying very hard to keep Trump out of the midterms. They don’t want an election that is a choice between Biden and Democrats or Trumpism. They want a referendum about Biden and the general sense that everything kinda sucks. Until the summer that was working quite well and it may still work enough to hand them the Congress. Putting Trump at the center of things in the home stretch isn’t a plus for the GOP and they know it. They just have no choice.

If and when the Department of Justice releases the details of the search warrant and we find out the process they went through to get it, it’s still going to be in the news.  Given the pace that the DOJ has taken in dealing with Trump and the failed coup attempt, it may be a helluva an October surprise.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Probable Cause

From the Washington Post:

Former president Donald Trump said Monday that the FBI had raided his Mar-a-Lago Club and searched his safe — activity related to an investigation into the potential mishandling of classified documents, according to two people familiar with the probe.

One of the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss its details, said agents were conducting a court-authorized search as part of a long-running investigation of whether documents — some of them top-secret — were taken to the former president’s private golf club and residence instead of sent to the National Archives when Trump left office. That could be a violation of the Presidential Records Act, which requires the preservation of memos, letters, notes, emails, faxes and other written communications related to a president’s official duties.

Searching a former president’s property to look for possible evidence of a crime is highly unusual and would require approval at the top levels of the Justice Department. It represents a historic moment in Trump’s tortured relationship with the Justice Department, both in and out of the White House.

A department spokeswoman declined to comment when asked whether Attorney General Merrick Garland approved the search. The FBI also declined to comment.

[…]

The president of the FBI Agents Association, Brian O’Hare, issued a broad defense of the investigators who carry out court-approved searches, without commenting specifically on the Trump case.

O’Hare said search warrants are issued by federal judges, “must satisfy detailed and clear procedural rules, and are the product of collaboration and consultation with relevant Department of Justice attorneys.”

FBI agents, he added, “perform their investigative duties with integrity and professionalism, and remain focused on complying with the law and the Constitution.”

Anyone who went to law school, paid attention in civics class in high school, or has watched “Law & Order” knows that a search warrant is only issued when detectives can present enough evidence to a judge to justify a search. It’s called probable cause, and it’s detailed in the Fourth Amendment.

The Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV) to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. It prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. In addition, it sets requirements for issuing warrants: warrants must be issued by a judge or magistrate, justified by probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and must particularly describe the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.

Fourth Amendment case law deals with three main issues: what government activities are “searches” and “seizures”, what constitutes probable cause to conduct searches and seizures, and how to address violations of Fourth Amendment rights. Early court decisions limited the amendment’s scope to physical intrusion of property or persons, but with Katz v. United States (1967), the Supreme Court held that its protections extend to intrusions on the privacy of individuals as well as to physical locations. A warrant is needed for most search and seizure activities, but the Court has carved out a series of exceptions for consent searches, motor vehicle searches, evidence in plain view, exigent circumstances, border searches, and other situations.

It would be ironic if Trump ended up in legal jeopardy for violating the Presidential Records Act as opposed to fomenting a rebellion against the government. Remember that Al Capone went to jail for tax evasion, not bootlegging or murder.

Monday, August 8, 2022

A Very Big Deal

From the Washington Post:

The Senate on Sunday approved a sweeping package to combat climate change, lower health-care costs, raise taxes on some billion-dollar corporations and reduce the federal deficit, as Democrats overcame months of political infighting to deliver the centerpiece to President Biden’s long-stalled economic agenda.

The party-line vote was a milestone in a tumultuous journey that began last year when Democrats took control of Congress and the White House with a promise to bring financial relief to ordinary Americans. With a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Harris, the 50-50 Senate sent the bill to the House, which aims to approve it and send it to the White House for Biden’s signature later this week.

Dubbed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, the package would authorize the biggest burst of spending in U.S. history to tackle global warming — about $370 billion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below their 2005 levels by the end of this decade. The proposal also would make good on Democrats’ years-old pledge to reduce prescription drug costs for the elderly.

In part by tweaking federal tax laws — chiefly to target tax cheats and some billion-dollar companies that pay nothing to the government — the bill is expected to raise enough money to cover its new spending. Democrats say the measure is also expected to generate an additional $300 billion for reducing projected budget deficits over the next 10 years, though they have not yet furnished a final fiscal analysis of their legislation.

It should be well-noted and long-remembered that the Republicans contributed nothing but whining and bullshit, not to mention a great deal of opposition research for the Democrats to run on in the mid-terms and on to the presidential election of 2024. They stood in the way of everything, including the price cap on insulin because of course Big Pharma has made it their mission to screw over every diabetic to make up for the fines and criminal liability some of their cohorts are paying for the opioids they flooded into the country. They make Walter White (“Breaking Bad”) look angelic.  There is not a little schadenfreude in certain quarters this morning for Mitch McConnell who is finding out just what it feels like to be given the fuzzy end of the lollipop.

More important, though, than the political gamesmanship that the Democrats were able to finally pull on the Republicans is that this is actually good for all of the country, not just tax cuts for the rich and special deals for their lobbyists.  This will benefit everybody, and it will actually begin to make a dent in the climate change that is beginning to ravage the planet.  It will get the biggest corporations to pay for privilege of stinking up the air and fouling the water, and it will generate revenues to bring down the deficit that the Republicans ran up during the last administration.

So, this is a big deal, capping off a week in which a lot of good things were done.  A terrorist taken out.  Job growth at pre-pandemic levels and unemployment down to the lowest level in decades.  Gasoline prices falling again: at my local station they’ve dropped a dollar a gallon since June.  And now passing this bill that will give us hope that we can do what needs to be done, proving that every now and then, intentionally or otherwise, Congress can do the right thing.  There’s hope yet.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Sunday Reading

The Past Is Prologue — Charles Pierce on the warning from President Kennedy.

In the fall of 1963, President John F. Kennedy was on one of the great rhetorical hot streaks ever enjoyed by an American president. Earlier that year, he had delivered his memorable commencement address at American University, in which the lessons he had learned during the perilous days of the Cuban Missile Crisis finally found their voice in his vision for peace through rapprochement with the USSR and with Cuba.

In June, he had delivered an address on civil rights that, at last, put him clearly on the side of that movement. (It was shortly after his broadcast ended that Medgar Evers was murdered in his driveway in Jackson, Mississippi, in front of his wife and children, who had watched Kennedy’s speech on their television set.)

In November, Kennedy flew to Texas on a purely political trip. He was trying to heal a split among the Texas Democrats, and he also aimed to raise a potful of money for his own reelection effort the following year.

The trip was a resounding success. The crowds were rapturous, reflective of Kennedy’s increased popularity in the wake of the successful resolution of the missile crisis. On November 22, he was scheduled to speak before a diverse audience of business leaders, country-club types and research scientists. He needed a theme common to them all and, working with genius speechwriter Ted Sorensen, Kennedy found one.

There was also a wildness in the land. In 1962, the University of Mississippi had exploded into armed insurrection over the admission of James Meredith, the first black student in that institution’s history. Evers had been killed four months before Kennedy flew to Dallas. In October, UN ambassador Adlai Stevenson had been assaulted by a mob in Dallas. Elements of the intelligence community and the military hierarchy were flirting with revolt; Gen. Edwin Walker was openly seditious. When JFK granted permission for director John Frankenheimer to film “Seven Days In May,” his movie about a military coup against civilian authority, at the White House, the president was sending a signal to his entire government.

And it looked like the Republicans were preparing to nominate Sen. Barry Goldwater—a fiery conservative who already was flirting with the wildness in the land—to run against him in 1964. Kennedy and Sorensen looked into the heart of the wildness and found their theme.

“America’s leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem,” the speech began.

Then the president planned to go to town.

But today other voices are heard in the land — voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the Sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest single threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.

Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country’s security…We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will ‘talk sense to the American people.’ But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense.

I trust I don’t have to explain why Kennedy never got to deliver this speech. By the time he was scheduled to address this slice of the Dallas elite, he was already dead, claimed by the wildness.

The prescience of Kennedy’s undelivered remarks should be obvious. In fact, he was operating from his profound knowledge of American political history: There always has been pulling and hauling between the national intellect and the national id. It’s how we went from John Quincy Adams to Andrew Jackson. It’s the dynamic behind all the campaigns by so-called non-politicians, behind all the “Ordinary Joe” bait-and-switch that millionaire legislators use to bamboozle their constituents. It’s what all those reporters were looking for while haunting diners in Ohio and gas stations in Michigan.

This, of course, is contrary to what the Founders had in mind (at least for white men). In an 1822 letter, James Madison wrote:

The liberal appropriations made by the Legislature of Kentucky for a general system of Education cannot be too much applauded. A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

We are still emerging from the single-most heretical administration* ever elected. It was an exercise in exact opposites that even Orwell would have found preposterous. And its immediate legacy has been a wide-ranging assault on free thought and public education, an assault based on the threat of imaginary bogeymen and manufactured spook stories.

This is what keeps me coming back to the speech Kennedy never got to deliver.

But today other voices are heard in the land—voices preaching doctrines wholly unrelated to reality, wholly unsuited to the Sixties, doctrines which apparently assume that words will suffice without weapons, that vituperation is as good as victory and that peace is a sign of weakness. At a time when the national debt is steadily being reduced in terms of its burden on our economy, they see that debt as the greatest single threat to our security. At a time when we are steadily reducing the number of Federal employees serving every thousand citizens, they fear those supposed hordes of civil servants far more than the actual hordes of opposing armies.

You will note how Kennedy and Sorensen cite concrete political examples of the consequences of believing nonsense in a free society. The “threat” of the debt. The specter of a horde of bureaucrats. Eighteen years later, Republican President Ronald Reagan, a political creature of Goldwater’s imaginary menagerie, stood up at his own inauguration and said:

In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem. From time to time we’ve been tempted to believe that society has become too complex to be managed by self-rule, that government by an elite group is superior to government for, by, and of the people. Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?

And thus did it begin, the long march to the Capitol steps, every step of the way a refutation of the secular prayer that John F. Kennedy wanted to deliver to his audience on the day he was killed:

We cannot expect that everyone, to use the phrase of a decade ago, will ‘talk sense to the American people.’ But we can hope that fewer people will listen to nonsense.

Yes, we can certainly hope for that. But it’s not the way to bet these days.

Doonesbury — Long-term effects.

Saturday, August 6, 2022

Friday, August 5, 2022

Happy Friday

Two bits of good news.

All Aboard — From the Washington Post, the last hold-out on the tax/climate change bill is with it.

Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) said she would soon be ready to “move forward” on a revised version of Senate Democrats’ health-care, climate and deficit-reduction package, opening the door for party lawmakers to adopt the long-stalled bill as soon as this weekend.

Sinema offered her must-have support after Democratic leaders agreed to scale back some of their original tax proposals, capping days of speculation about her public silence and moving her party one step closer to fulfilling a central element of President Biden’s economic agenda.

And Alex Jones finds out that lying your ass off can have consequences.

Infowars founder Alex Jones must pay $4.1 million in compensatory damages to the parents of a 6-year-old boy killed in the Sandy Hook mass shooting, an Austin jury announced Thursday, after the right-wing conspiracy theorist’s false claims that the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history was a “giant hoax” created a “living hell” for the family.

The decision means Jones, America’s foremost purveyor of outlandish conspiracy theories, could pay less than the $150 million sought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, for remarks nearly a decade ago after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., that killed 26 people, 20 of them young children.

But it remains to be seen how much Jones, 48, might be ordered to pay in punitive damages. The jury is expected to return Friday to weigh that amount — a sum that could be considerably higher. While the damages awarded to Jesse’s parents Thursday acknowledge the suffering they endured, punitive damages can be levied to punish a defendant and prevent future abuse.

“Punitive damages are the opportunity for the jurors to send a message,” said trial consultant Jill Huntley Taylor, who was not involved in the case.

It is worth noting that nowhere in the award or in the trial itself did anyone call for Jones to be taken off the airwaves or the internet. He still has his First Amendment right to say whatever he wants. That was never the issue. It was that one of the obligations that comes with rights is the responsibility to exercise it without harming others. A lot of people fail to grasp that concept. Frankly, I doubt he does. But the rest of us get it.

Thursday, August 4, 2022

Beyond Kansas

Some thoughts from Josh Marshall on the resounding vote in Kansas in support of reproductive rights.

The Kansas vote shows us how unpopular Dobbs is. But that’s not all it showed. Kansans didn’t turn out to send a message about Dobbs or Roe. They turned out because with a single vote they could ensure that abortion rights remained protected in their state for the foreseeable future. The closest Democrats can get to duplicating that dynamic at the federal level is with a Roe and Reform pledge. You give us this and we will give you that. But there can’t be any ambiguity, no vagueness about the filibuster or hemming and hawing. Right now 31 of the 48 senators have committed. 15 are sort of, kind of there but haven’t been willing to make a clear commitment — thus short-circuiting the whole effort. There are two possible hold outs — King of Maine and Warner of Virginia. But they will get on board if their constituents apply pressure. Here’s the list of where everyone stands.

If they’re basically on board why won’t they just say it? Well, some of it is just SenateWorld, that instinctive resistance to making firm commitments, the myopia of thinking that what matters is the internal politicking of the Senate as opposed to the actual political world outside the body. I know specifically some of the senators and their staffs say privately, ‘Of course we’ll be there if it comes to a vote. But I don’t want to make it uncomfortable for colleagues who are more hesitant.’ In other words, everyone is basically on board but waiting for everyone else to take the plunge and thus in their collective dillydallying ruining the chances of a clear election message. Voters — you and your phone — can change this right now.

After all, we are supposed to be a representative democracy.  So let us show our representatives that we mean it when we support reproductive rights.

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

When No Means Yes

Good for you and all of us, Kansas.

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — In a major victory for abortion rights, Kansas voters on Tuesday rejected an effort to strip away their state’s abortion protections, sending a decisive message about the issue’s popularity in the first political test since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June.

The overwhelming support for abortion rights in a traditionally conservative state bolsters Democrats’ hopes that the historic Supreme Court ruling will animate their voters in an otherwise difficult election year for their party. The Kansas vote signals that abortion is an energizing issue that could affect turnout in the November midterms.

The question presented to voters here was whether abortion protections should be stripped from the state constitution. A “yes” vote would allow Kansas’s Republican-led legislature to pass future limits on abortion — or ban it altogether — in its coming session in January. A “no” vote would leave those protections in place.

With 90 percent of the vote counted, 60 percent of voters wanted to maintain those abortion protections compared with 40 percent who wanted to remove them from the state constitution. Turnout for Tuesday’s primary election far exceeded other contests in recent years, with around 900,000 Kansans voting, according to an Associated Press estimate. That is nearly twice as many as the 473,438 who turned out in the 2018 primary election.

I think this goes far beyond the question of reproductive rights. This is the voters of one of the most conservative states in the union telling the state government that they have had enough of interference in personal decisions about their lives, their bodies, and how to live in a supposedly free society. This has less to do with being liberal or conservative. Liberals have their fair share of nanny-state foibles, but nothing to the degree that the right wing has demonstrated in the last few years. They have proved that conservatives believe in smaller government and more freedom… as long as they agree with it.

One state referendum doesn’t make a trend, but it’s a warning shot that I hope is heard in other places, most specifically Tallahassee.  Ron DeSantis has made his bones, so to speak, by stomping on local government, ruling on high in matters ranging from wearing masks on cruise ships to drag shows in Miami, and not with a small amount of bullying and childish petulance.  His supermajority of Republicans in the statehouse have followed along by enacting everything from limits on reproductive rights to “Don’t Say Gay” in schools.  They very effectively talked out of both sides of a bodily orifice to proclaim parental rights over school curriculum, but swept them away in limiting how a family deals with a much more intense and life-changing question on what happens when a ten-year-old is raped and becomes pregnant.  They cannot seem to decide where the role of the family ends and the state begins, but perhaps the voters can.

And they may soon find out, to coin a phrase, they’re not in Kansas anymore.