Monday, January 27, 2020

Anything For A Buck

The New York Times has gotten an advance — remember that word — copy of former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton’s forthcoming book in which he spills the beans about what Trump knew and when he knew it about holding back the Ukraine aid until he could squeeze them on doing his bidding on the Bidens.  Much of this we already knew from the testimony to the House Intelligence Committee by various witnesses, but the Democrats have been trying to get Mr. Bolton to come forth and testify in the Senate to put the cherry on top of the impeachment sundae.

So far Mr. Bolton has been teasingly offering to come forth.

Mr. Bolton would like to testify for several reasons, according to associates. He believes he has relevant information, and he has also expressed concern that if his account of the Ukraine affair emerges only after the trial, he will be accused of holding back to increase his book sales.

So it would seem that Mr. Bolton is more interested in boosting his public image along with his book sales.  Forget the fact that Trump and his gang have been actively attempting to subvert the 2020 election; he’s got books to sell, and who’s gonna fork over $35 or whatever for old news and the word of disgruntled warmonger?

Even if Mr. Bolton was a stand-up guy who really gave a real damn about whether or not his former crime boss was trying to win reelection based on a phony piece of propaganda from the Kremlin, and even if he does come and testify in front of the Senate and provides proof beyond a reasonable doubt that not only did Trump do everything he’s accused of and also knows where the Lindbergh baby is buried and who cremated Jimmy Hoffa, the Republicans have enough votes and venality and self-ass-saving to acquit him.  So John Bolton can go ahead and sell his books, make his money.  He changes nothing.  Prove me wrong.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday Reading

They’re Not Listening — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

Each day this week, when the Senate impeachment trial of Donald John Trump has convened at 1 P.M., the proceedings have opened with a prayer by the Senate chaplain, Barry Black, pitched to the tenor of the day. On Wednesday, responding to the ill-tempered partisan exchanges that marked the trial’s contentious first afternoon and evening, Black urged senators to “remember that patriots reside on both sides of the aisle.” On Thursday, he practically begged senators to take their role seriously, cautioning them against “fatigue or cynicism,” and insisting that “listening is often more than hearing.” Black warned against jeopardizing friendships of many years in the heat of the impeachment moment, and, on Friday, he returned to the theme of “civility and respect” and implored senators to maintain their ability to “distinguish between facts and opinions without lambasting the messengers.”

I came to look forward to these homilies, but only because they seemed like pleas to a country and a Senate that no longer exist. If anything, the chaplain was pleading with senators to do the exact opposite of what we all know they are doing. In Trump’s exhausted, jaded capital, there is some listening, but certainly no hearing. Civility is as often as not a dirty word, a synonym for moral compromise and not a prescription for practical politics. In days of watching the trial, I have observed only a handful of instances of Republicans and Democrats interacting with each other in any way. The Senate of the United States in 2020 is not a place where meaningful talking across the aisle is possible. It is not a place where facts are mutually accepted and individuals of good will can look at them and come to opposite but equally valid conclusions. The distance is too vast, the gulf unbridgeable.

We already knew this, of course, before Trump was impeached by the Democratic House of Representatives and put on trial by the Republican Senate, a trial that has been fast-tracked toward his inevitable acquittal. But what a sad and powerful demonstration of the phenomenon we are witnessing. On Thursday night, at the start of one of his most passionate—and ultimately partisan—speeches, the lead House manager, Adam Schiff, began by making an overture to the senators, going on at great length about their fairness and thanking them for keeping “an open mind.” To say this was aspirational would be a stretch. Schiff knew there were few, if any, open minds in the Senate, where, in the course of twenty-four hours spread across three days, he and his fellow House managers made their opening arguments.

The House team’s approach to the problem of having an essentially unpersuadable audience was to veer between lengthy and at times repetitive PowerPoint-enabled recitations of the evidence against Trump—which was plentiful—and impassioned appeals to the Senate to do something about it. As the week built toward the House managers’ Friday-evening close, the level of passion seemed to rise, along with every senatorial tweet and TV interview confirming that their eloquence was largely lost on their audience.

On Friday afternoon, Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, offered an impressive recap of the lengths to which the White House went to keep Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign secret. He cited names and dates for the cover-up. At the end of his presentation, his tone changed. “There’s a toxic mess at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” Jeffries, who is often pegged as a future Speaker of the House, said. “I humbly suggest that it’s our collective job on behalf of the American people to try to clean it up.” A few hours later, Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman and another of the managers, went further. After outlining Trump’s assertion of essentially unlimited executive privilege and pointing out that Trump is the first President to categorically refuse to provide a single witness or document in response to a congressional impeachment inquiry, Nadler compared Trump to a would-be king. Trump is “the first and only President ever to declare himself unaccountable,” Nadler said. If he is left unchecked by Congress, Nadler concluded, “He is a dictator. This must not stand.”

In his own closing, Schiff hit many of the same themes. He ran through a litany of Trump’s obstructive acts. “That has been proved,” he said, over and over again, as he checked off each item on his list. His disdain for the President was palpable. (“For a man who loves to mock others, he does not like to be mocked,” Schiff, a frequent target of Trump’s attacks, said.) And then he ended with an homage to “moral courage” and the real political bravery needed in “disagreeing with our friends—and our party.” It was a moving speech, as Schiff’s usually are, and it sought to acknowledge that Republicans would have to do something very brave indeed: listen to his case and truly hear it. He even proposed that Republicans merely punt the remaining question of whether to call witnesses in the trial to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the Senate proceeding. “Give America a fair trial,” he implored. “She’s worth it.” But, of course, it was not to be. Indeed, a riff in Schiff’s speech citing a CBS story that Trump associates had reportedly threatened that any Republican who dared to vote against Trump would end up with his or her “head on a pike” soon had G.O.P. senators claiming to be offended and outraged by Schiff’s words. As Schiff was speaking, the Associated Press tweeted out a news story that captured the moment. It said, “Democrats do not appear close to getting the 4 GOP votes needed for witnesses to appear in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.” The game is all but over.

Who, in the end, were they speaking to? And to what end? Jeffries and Nadler and Schiff spoke of Trump as a liar running a dangerously dysfunctional Administration—which counts as an incontrovertible truth in their world but clearly does not in that of the Republican senators. Those senators, after all, have been Trump’s enablers and supporters for three years now, no matter how initially reluctant they were to back him. They have voted almost entirely in lockstep with his priorities, even those that diverged from the Party’s previously held orthodoxies or the senators’ own longstanding beliefs. If Trump’s Washington is the toxic hot mess that Jeffries spoke of, these folks cannot conduct the cleanup. They voted for the pollution.

There are two observations from the Senate floor that stick with me after three long days of hearing the House present its case. These observations speak to how essentially impossible the task of addressing the jury was for Schiff and his fellow-prosecutors. The Republican John Kennedy, a canny Rhodes Scholar from Louisiana who is nonetheless known for his folksy observations, told a reporter, as he headed into the arguments on Friday morning, that the managers had made a mistake in reading their audience. “Very few souls are saved after the first twenty minutes of the sermon,” he said. Less charitable was the view of Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, who said that she had been watching her Republican colleagues squirm in their chairs and understood that nobody likes to be forced to listen to something that they disagree with. “Most of us get restless when we are presented with information we don’t want to hear,” Hirono said, and of course she was right. Imagine doing that for twelve hours or more a day, confined to a hard wooden seat, with no food and every bathroom break you take scrutinized by reporters as proof that you are not taking your job seriously. That, roughly, is the predicament in which the Senate Republican members found themselves this week. It is no surprise that they looked unhappy.

But, still, if the goal of the House managers was to sway any votes, then it is hard not to see their presentation of the case as a failure. On Thursday night, the Republican Rob Portman, of Ohio, spoke to CNN’s Manu Raju outside the chamber and made what counts these days as a concession of sorts to the Democrats. Portman acknowledged that Trump’s withholding of millions in military aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine, as he sought politically motivated investigations, was problematic behavior. “Some of the things that were done were not appropriate,” Portman said. “I’ve used the word ‘wrong’ and ‘inappropriate.’ That’s a very different question than removing someone from office who was duly elected, in the middle of a Presidential election.”

This, in effect, is what I would have expected Republican senators to say in defense of Trump in a previous, less polarized era. It is a modified, updated, Trumpified version of the defense that Democratic senators used twenty-one years ago in voting to acquit Bill Clinton on charges of lying under oath about an extramarital affair: Wrong, bad, inexcusable, but does not rise to the level of impeachment and removal from office.

Had Senate Republicans adopted this argument en masse, the trial would still have the same partisan outcome, but at least it would have taken place in the world of shared facts and expectations. But Portman is no longer the mainstream of the G.O.P.; the center has not held. On Friday afternoon, Judy Woodruff, of PBS, asked Portman’s colleague Deb Fischer, of Nebraska, whether she at least accepted “their premise” that Trump had asked Ukraine to investigate his 2020 political rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden. “I don’t,” Fischer said. This is remarkable stuff. What must the Senate chaplain make of such willful defiance of the facts? The demand from Trump to investigate Biden—by name, no less!—is right in the summary of his July 25th call with the Ukrainian President—the “perfect” phone call, as Trump calls it. The President has tweeted dozens of times since September urging Americans to “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” How is it possible that one of the hundred senators is so disdainful of her duty that she has not bothered to do so or, if she has, is so willing to ignore what it so plainly says?

This is not a serious defense of Trump, of course, but it is amazingly revealing. The Senate trial of twenty-one years ago was for the Rob Portmans; the Senate trial of today is for the Deb Fischers. There is no audience for Adam Schiff, or if there is it has shrunk to a small handful of Republicans who may or may not vote next week to keep the trial going with witnesses and further evidence. For the rest of the Republicans and the forty per cent or so of America that has unflinchingly supported Trump through his Presidency, there will be another show, produced personally by the showman-in-chief.

That starts on Saturday, when the Trump legal team begins its opening arguments. Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, a Harvard Law School graduate who was the solicitor general of Texas before he became a senator, told the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, in an interview on Friday morning, that he was actively advising the Trump legal team after hours of sitting on the Senate floor each day. He said that he told the President’s lawyers, “No. 1, focus on substance more and process less.”

Don’t expect much substance. On Thursday morning, Trump gave a clear indication of the kind of defense he wants and where his mind is as he directs his lawyers. After “having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer & their crew,” Trump tweeted, “looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.” Later, Trump’s private lawyer for the impeachment, Jay Sekulow, elaborated, in the language of show business preferred by the reality-TV star in the White House. Saturday’s presentation by the Trump legal team will be like a “trailer,” Sekulow told reporters, during a break on Friday—a preview of “coming attractions.” The show, for a few more days at least, will go on.

Tick-Tock — Erin Blankemore in the Washington Post on really knowing what time it is.

If you tune a shortwave radio to 2.5, 5, 10 or 15 MHz, you can hear a little part of radio history — and the output of some of the most accurate time devices on Earth.

Depending on where you are in the United States, those frequencies will bring you to WWV and WWVH, two extremely accurate time signal stations.

Developed before commercial radio existed, WWV recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. It’s the oldest continually operating radio station in the United States.

Both stations are overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the federal agency that governs standards for weights and measures and helps define the world’s official time.

That time can be heard on shortwave radio 24/7.

Early on, WWV focused on experimental broadcasts (think Victrola concerts that wowed early radio users). Beginning in 1945, it began broadcasting time, too. In 1948, it was joined by a sister station in Hawaii for better Pacific Coast coverage. Unlike its Pacific counterpart, WWV also broadcasts at 20 MHz.

The format is bare-bones: Ticktock-like tones mark each second. Every minute, a voice announces Coordinated Universal Time, also known as UTC, which corresponds with Greenwich Mean Time. The stations also broadcast marine storm warnings, Department of Defense messages and updates on the status of GPS satellites and solar activity.

The information is provided by cesium atomic clocks and is accurate within less than 0.0001 milliseconds. The signal takes a tiny bit of time to travel to radio listeners, but is accurate within 10 milliseconds in most places within the United States. The stations are most recognizable to shortwave radio fans, and they are used to calibrate stopwatches, synchronize clocks for scientific and industrial applications, and even to tune pianos and time astronomical observations.

But another sister station, WWVB, is less familiar and arguably more widely used.

It doesn’t broadcast voices, just digital time codes over a ­low-frequency carrier. In North America, millions of radio-controlled watches and alarm clocks sync up with WWVB.

Don’t have a shortwave radio, but want to listen in? Call 303-499-7111 for WWV or 808-335-4363 for WWVH, and listen to up to two minutes of the oddly comforting broadcasts.

Doonesbury — Priorities

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Bored Pettifoggers

For all the money we pay them and for all the things we expect from them, you might hope that the Republicans in the Senate would at least act like they’re not a bunch of bored middle-schoolers in detention.  And you would be wrong.

An excerpt from Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post:

Just minutes into the session, as lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) presented his opening argument for removing the president, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) displayed on his desk a hand-lettered message with big block letters pleading: “S.O.S.”

In case that was too subtle, he followed this later with another handwritten message pretending he was an abducted child:

“THESE R NOT MY PARENTS!”

“PLEASE HELP ME!”

Paul wrote “IRONY ALERT” on another scrap of paper, and scribbled there an ironic thought. Nearby, a torn piece of paper concealed a crossword puzzle, which Paul set about completing while Schiff spoke. Eventually, even this proved insufficient amusement, and Paul, though required to be at his desk, left the trial entirely for a long block of time.

[…]

Some of Paul’s Republican Senate colleagues were only slightly better behaved as the House managers presented the evidence.

Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) read press clippings. (Blackburn had talking points on her desk attacking the whistleblower.) Sessions begin with an admonition that “all persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment,” but Ernst promptly struck up a conversation with Dan Sullivan (Alaska), who talked with Ron Johnson (Wis.). Steve Daines (Mont.) walked over to have a word with Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Tim Scott (S.C.), who flashed a thumbs-up.

Yeah, it’s all a big joke to them, and the reason is simple: they’re not going to do anything but vote in lockstep with the White House.  They could be presented with the corpse of the guy they just saw Trump shoot on Fifth Avenue and still acquit.  Hell, the dude just told the world he’s withholding evidence, and they’re still on their knees servicing him, assuming they can find it.

The Democrats know all this.  And so does karma.  November is coming.  And when Graham and Blackburn and Paul and the rest of the little toads get crapped on by the voters and Trump is dragged kicking and screaming out of the White House, they’re going to be the ones wondering why no one is paying attention to them.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Collaborators

Charles P. Pierce on fleeting hopes that any Senate Republican might actually give a rat’s patootie about the rule of law and the Constitution as demonstrated yesterday.

In the Senate on Tuesday, the Republican Party, represented by its majority caucus, formalized its fealty to this renegade administration*. It had several chances to demonstrate a modicum of independence, a smidgen of human courage, and it failed every time. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer proposed amendments to add further documents and witnesses to the deliberations. All of them failed by a straight, party-line 53-47 margin.

In this, no Republican was different from any other Republican. Lisa Murkowski and Tom Cotton were the same. Thom Tillis and Ted Cruz were the same. Cory Gardner and Jim Inhofe were the same. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse were the same as Mike Rounds and Mike Enzi. And they were all the same as Mitch McConnell. There were no moderate Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday. There were no Never Trumpers. There were only collaborators. There was no independence in the Senate on Tuesday, only complicity. And it was a deadening, sad thing to watch.

[…]

“I like to look around and see how many of my colleagues are looking guilty,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar. “I saw a lot of them just sitting there, looking down.” The Democratic senators seem content to plug along, letting the majority keep voting down what would seem to anyone who’s ever watched a police procedural on TV to be reasonable requests. “All this talk about how they’re asking the Senate to do the House’s work, that’s just BS,” said Senator Mazie Horono. “I’m listening very carefully, I take notes, and then I make my comments parenthetically, like, ‘What a bunch of…’”

House manager Hakeem Jeffries later made a fine presentation of how many witnesses testified in previous impeachments. (Andrew Johnson’s trial had 40 of them.) That’s the kind of thing that will survive on the record after all the knee-jerk constitutional negligence has been toted up. Barack Obama was wrong in 2008 and Joe Biden is wrong today. The fever never will break. The patient is going to have to die.

What’s even sadder is that when all of this is over, even if Trump loses reelection ignominiously and the Senate returns to a Democratic majority, there will be no accountability for the collaborators.  They’ll appear on cable chat shows and even if they have a scintilla of remorse, shame, or guilt for letting Trump off the hook, they will smile sweetly and say something mealy-mouthed like “what’s past is past, let’s move on.”  Yeah, no.

At the end of World War II when the occupied territories were liberated from the Nazis, people who collaborated with the Germans were marched through the streets, the women with shaved heads and striped of their outer garments, and a lot of them were killed outright.  Well, we’re better than that; we shouldn’t physically harm them.  But we should never forget, and those who marched in lockstep with the criminals should be held accountable.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Dumbing Down

As I noted below, the impeachment trial of Trump is a study in foregone conclusions to the point that, according to Paul Waldman in the Washington Post, his defense team isn’t even trying.

After the Democratic House managers released a 111-page indictment providing copious detail on the events that led to impeachment, the nature of Trump’s misconduct and the constitutional basis for his removal, Trump’s attorneys responded with a six-page document that would have been shocking were it not just the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from this White House.

Indeed, it reads as though it was written by a ninth-grader who saw an episode of “Law & Order” and learned just enough legal terms to throw them around incorrectly. It makes no attempt to contest the facts, instead just asserting over and over that the president is innocent and the entire impeachment is illegitimate, calling it “unlawful” and “constitutionally invalid,” with no apparent understanding of what those terms mean. The articles of impeachment, Trump’s lawyers say, “fail to allege any crime or violation of law whatsoever, let alone ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ as required by the Constitution.” They then repeat this argument multiple times throughout a screed seemingly pitched to the Fox News hosts who will spend the coming days repeating its absurd claims.

The trouble, as any historian or constitutional scholar will tell you, is that just as there are crimes the president could commit that would not be impeachable (say, shoplifting a candy bar), there has never been any requirement that impeachment can only be used for violations of criminal law. Not only were the Framers deeply concerned about the potential of the president abusing his office, at the time the Constitution was written, there was no such thing as a federal criminal code.

Trump has found the one constitutional “expert” who will take such a position, however: Harvard professor emeritus and frequent Fox News guest Alan Dershowitz, whom Trump added to his defense team last week. “Criminal-like conduct is required” in order for a president to be impeached, Dershowitz now claims, to the puzzlement of pretty much everyone who knows anything about this topic.

Since hypocrisy is something of a job requirement for working for Trump, Dershowitz is naturally on video making exactly the opposite argument in 1998. “It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty,” he said at the time.

The defense wasn’t written for a law school review or to be submitted as a legal brief in a court of law.  It was written solely for the consumption by the audience of Fox News denizens and the lawyers who are sworn to mount a zealous defense of their client until the money runs out.  I am certain that if this brief, written like a homework assignment on the bus to school the day it was due, was submitted to a judge, it would be tossed, followed by charges of contempt and referral to the Bar Association for malpractice.  But they’ll get away with it because even though the United States Senate is comprised of many lawyers, they are not going to be held accountable to the canons of judicial ethics or peer review: it will be by Twitter.

Open And Shut

The Senate trial of Trump will be a show trial of the likes of North Korea without the blaring music and TV broadcasters in native garb.  Other than that, the fix is in and over and out.

Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice has a detailed explainer of why it’s a pipe dream to think that there will be any Republicans with intact vertebrae and who will vote either to allow witness testimony or vote to convict.  They are, as they say, like bacon: fried, dried, and laid to the side.  And other than the few people who read this blog and others like this, the vast majority of Americans aren’t paying attention and don’t really care about the outcome.  Mitch McConnell knows that; he’s counting on it, and he’s very sure that next November the folks back home in Kentucky will re-elect him even if Trump is ground to ash.

Senator McConnell knows, because he has been doing it successfully since January 2009, that the majority of Americans do not care about process, if they even understand it. And that the vast majority of Americans aren’t political junkies either. So if he just does what he’s going to do, give his regular more in sadness than in anger remarks, and is boring, then the news media will move along to whichever shiny object catches their attention. This is how he stymied President Obama for eight years. This is how he brought the Republicans back into the majority in the Senate. This is how he stole a Supreme Court seat. This is how he stole over 150 Federal judgeships. And this is how he was able to place Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

[…]

If you are counting on Senators Romney, Murkowski, Alexander, and/or Collins to do what Senators Corker and Flake did not in 2018, please email me about the great bridge I have to sell you on a lovely beachfront in Florida. The Senate runs according to McConnell’s rules and Senator McConnell’s only rule is doing whatever he can get away with to maintain power to achieve his objectives. That’s it. Expecting anything else to happen is self delusion.

Now, America, go out there and make your Super Bowl bets.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sunday Reading

Spoiler Alert: No Justice for Trump — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

Shortly after 2 P.M. on Thursday, ninety-nine of the hundred members of the United States Senate raised their hands and swore en masse to do “impartial justice” in the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. That, of course, is an impossibility in the political world they inhabit. Neither impartiality nor justice is on offer in this proceeding. Three years into Trump’s tenure, there is precisely no one in the U.S. Capitol who is undecided about the President, on the subject of his impeachment or any other. And yet there is real suspense, in the way that the Trump Presidency has conditioned us to expect: Will there be wild new revelations? (There already have been in the past twenty-four hours.) Will there be inappropriate tweeting by the defendant in the White House? (A given.) Will even a single senator break from the calcified partisan battle lines? (Who knows?)

This Senate trial is only the third such proceeding in American history, and, despite what appears to be its preordained acquittal of the President by his fellow-Republicans, it is starting out with such great uncertainty that it’s still not even clear if there will be witnesses called and evidence submitted. How can it be a trial without them? The Democrat-controlled House voted to impeach Trump in a party-line vote in December, and yet key facts about the President’s aborted scheme to pressure Ukraine for his personal political benefit remain unknown (although they are very much knowable), owing to an executive-branch information blockade ordered by Trump. Will those facts come out before the Chief Justice of the United States bangs down the gavel on the trial’s seemingly inevitable outcome?

In today’s brutally dysfunctional capital—in which institutions of government are controlled by feuding clans that communicate with each other almost exclusively via hostile tweets and cable-news sound bites—anything can turn into an exercise in raw power politics. Even the ministerial matter of transmitting the articles of impeachment from the House to the Senate and beginning the Senate trial became the subject of an entire holiday season of made-for-TV drama. For weeks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to turn over the articles until she’d received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about what kind of trial he planned to run. No such assurances were forthcoming, although Pelosi arguably succeeded in one respect—turning the debate away from her side’s forthcoming defeat in the Senate to the matter of what would constitute a fair trial. Democrats have redefined victory to mean not necessarily winning the case but merely getting a proper hearing for it. For now, at least.

On Wednesday, after Pelosi finally ended her hold on the articles of impeachment, she named seven members of the House as managers who will prosecute the case in the Senate. On Thursday, at the stroke of noon, the House managers marched across the Capitol and physically presented the articles to the Senate in a self-consciously anachronistic twenty-first-century enactment of a process dreamed up by our eighteenth-century founders. There was gravitas, solemnity, talk of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” There were “wherefore”s and “hear ye, hear ye”s. Chief Justice John Roberts was summoned over from the Supreme Court to administer the senatorial oath and take up his duties as the trial’s presiding officer. The Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, later said that, as Roberts entered the chamber, “I saw members on both sides of the aisle visibly gulp.” “The weight of history,” as Schumer put it, was visibly upon the Senate. “God bless you,” Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican, who was sitting in the chair, told Roberts after he swore him in.

But even now that the constitutional formalities have been dispensed with, McConnell has not revealed whether and how there will even be votes on requiring the testimony of new witnesses and the submission of documents that the White House refused to provide to the House, a stonewall more complete than any Administration’s in history. If such votes do happen, they are not likely to be until a week or more into the proceedings. Meanwhile, new revelations continue to spill out about Trump’s Ukraine machinations, including a series of sensational interviews this week by the indicted Trump contributor Lev Parnas, who said that Trump knew of Parnas’s efforts with Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice-President Joe Biden. The suspense surrounding the trial mixes the dread certainty that today’s Senate is ill-equipped to handle its constitutionally dictated obligation with a lingering curiosity about whether a handful of Republican senators will force McConnell to hold a proceeding that is something other than a sham.

“The Senate is on trial as well as the President,” Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at the press conference where Pelosi introduced him and six others as the impeachment managers. It was a seemingly self-evident observation that nonetheless bears much repeating. The Senate trial could take between three and six weeks, according to one estimate, though Trump’s advisers are pushing Republicans for a much more abbreviated proceeding. However long it lasts, the trial will essentially consist of a hundred senators sitting silently at their desks, stripped of their cell phones and laptops and all the other accoutrements of modern political life, listening to the presentation of evidence in a case about which they have presumably already made up their minds. We listeners will have plenty of time to contemplate the Senate itself and what it has become in the Trump era.

“I understand that the politics of impeachment are difficult for many Senators,” Val Demings, one of the House managers, from Florida, tweeted soon after Pelosi appointed her to the job. “But I have not written off the Senate. Each Senator still has the power to do the right thing.” But this Senate is no closer to a real jury than the proceeding is to being a real trial. On Wednesday, Politico counted twenty-six Republican senators who had already put out statements or otherwise publicly indicated that they would vote against conviction and twenty-four more who probably would; Democrats were equally united around planned votes to convict. Republican sources have said that they don’t expect a single Republican defection on the final trial verdict, just as there was not a single Republican defection in the House on the impeachment itself.

For the past three years, the Senate has been one of the main arenas in which it has become clear just how totally and completely Trump has taken over the Republican Party. He has not only vanquished doubters; he has dominated them. Skeptics have been purged. Senators have abased themselves again and again. Those who stood up to Trump inside his own party have been exiled, silenced, or flipped. The President is on trial for holding hundreds of millions of dollars in congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine hostage for his own personal political ends, and, indeed, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan government watchdog, announced on Thursday, as the trial began, that the aid holdup was an illegal abuse of executive power. But Republican senators who claim an interest in national security have been loath even to acknowledge that there might be anything wrong with Trump’s behavior, even as an abstract matter of principle.

The suspense surrounding the trial, then, is not about the possibility that Republicans might suddenly change their minds about Donald Trump and his misdeeds. Lindsey Graham is not going to revert to his 2016 Trump-bashing self. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are not miraculously going to start talking and produce a plan for the trial that everyone can get behind. The Senate that voted 100–0 on the rules governing the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, twenty-one years ago, is a thing of the distant past. Today’s uncertainty is about the nature, shape, and contours of the trial that will result from this more intemperate political moment. Mitt Romney, of Utah, and a few other so-called moderates—Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee; Susan Collins, of Maine; Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska—may yet force their colleagues to vote on bringing in Administration witnesses, such as Trump’s former national-security adviser John Bolton, whom the White House does not want to testify. But it is doubtful that even a single one of them will ultimately vote to convict. This is why the real uncertainty remains what it has been since the day Pelosi and the House embarked upon this impeachment course, last September: it is an uncertainty about what comes after the trial—after Democrats have taken their shot at Trump and, in all likelihood, failed.

Soon after the day’s ceremonial start to the Senate trial had wrapped up, Trump appeared before the cameras to call the case against him a “big hoax,” “a witch-hunt hoax,” “a complete hoax,” and “a phony hoax.” What will he talk about when the trial is over and he is completely and totally vindicated in the greatest acquittal of all time? How will he govern then?

Did Virginia Amend the Constitution Last Week? — Russell Berman in The Atlantic.

The commonwealth of Virginia [on Wednesday] voted to amend the U.S. Constitution, becoming the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Virginia’s action could be a momentous day in the nation’s history, heralding far-reaching changes in the law and capping a nearly century-long fight to enshrine women’s equality in the Constitution.

Or it might mean nothing at all.

Whether the Constitution has actually been amended for the 28th time—and for the first time in more than a quarter century—is now officially in question and a matter for the courts to decide. Even before the two Democratic-led chambers of the Virginia legislature voted today, supporters and opponents of the ERA had filed dueling federal lawsuits, launching a legal battle that could wind up in the Supreme Court.

A deadline that Congress originally imposed (and later revised) for ratification of the amendment by the states has long since passed. ERA backers are trying to get the deadline invalidated, while foes want not only to keep the lapsed due date intact but to prevent Congress from retroactively eliminating it.

As a generation of American schoolchildren learned from Schoolhouse Rock, a bill becomes a law when the president signs it (or Congress overrides his veto). But the endpoint for affixing an amendment to the Constitution is a bit murkier. Congress, through a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber, proposes changes, and then three-quarters of the state legislatures must ratify them. But then what happens?

There is no assigned role for the president in constitutional amendments, nor one, directly, for the Supreme Court. Instead a relatively little-known federal official, the archivist of the United States, collects the documents from the states, certifies an amendment’s ratification, and publishes it in the Federal Register.

The current archivist is David Ferriero, an appointee of former President Barack Obama who has held the position since 2009. The bulk of Ferriero’s job is to oversee the National Archives and Records Administration, but he now finds himself caught in the middle of a rekindled fight over the Constitution as a named defendant in both federal lawsuits. Attorneys general for the states of Alabama, Louisiana, and South Dakota have asked a judge to prevent Ferriero from certifying the ERA’s ratification and to acknowledge that five states rescinded their ratifications and should not be counted among the 38. Two pro-ERA advocacy groups, meanwhile, are asking a different federal court to invalidate the 1979 deadline that Congress originally attached to the amendment, ignore the states that have tried to rescind their ratifications, and force Ferriero to certify the ERA as ratified once Virginia submits its paperwork.

In the past, Ferriero seems to have taken the position that the ERA is a viable amendment, the lapsed congressional deadline notwithstanding. He accepted the post-deadline ratifications of Illinois and Nevada and included both states on a list of those that had ratified the amendment. A National Archives and Records Administration spokesperson, Laura Sheehan, told me it was the archivist’s “responsibility to document the actions that have been taken by the states with respect to any proposed constitutional amendment. The [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion has separately determined that the recent state approvals cannot serve to cause the Equal Rights Amendment to be adopted.” (Ferriero was not available for an interview.)

Virginia was poised to become the 38th state to ratify the ERA in November once Democrats ousted Republicans from the majorities in the state House of Delegates and Senate. Party leaders immediately confirmed that they would make good on a campaign pledge to approve the amendment.

Facing a crucial decision and having already been sued preemptively by ERA foes, Ferriero asked the Department of Justice for legal guidance. Not surprisingly, the Trump administration came down on the side of the amendment’s opponents: In a 38-page opinion, the Office of Legal Counsel basically declared the ERA dead and said that in order to revive it, supporters would have to start from scratch. “Even if one or more state legislatures were to ratify the proposed amendment, it would not become part of the Constitution, and the Archivist could not certify its adoption,” the opinion states. “Congress may not revive a proposed amendment after a deadline for its ratification has expired. Should Congress wish to propose the amendment anew, it may do so through the same procedures required to propose an amendment in the first instance, consistent with Article V of the Constitution.”

In a statement last week, the National Archives and Records Administration said it would abide by the Justice Department’s opinion, “unless instructed otherwise by a final court order.”

Virginia Democrats knew that their votes today might be for naught, but they celebrated anyway. “We’ll see what happens, but from my perspective we have done what we needed to do to become the 38th state needed for ratification,” Delegate Charniele Herring, the majority leader of the Virginia House, told me by phone after the vote.

In addition to the courts, ERA backers are looking to Congress, where House Democrats hope to pass legislation that would remove the deadline for ratification altogether. Still, even action by Congress would provoke a certain legal challenge from ERA opponents who contend that lawmakers should not be able to remove a deadline long after it expired.

For now, however, Virginia Democrats are trying to tune out the obstacles, treating their votes today as a history-making moment. State Senator Jennifer McClellan told me she felt “a combination of joy and relief,” as well as the presence of a century’s worth of women activists “on my shoulders.” As for the possibility that the courts will block the ERA, leaving its adoption no closer than it was decades ago, McClellan sounded a note of optimism instead. “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” she told me. “I still have faith that this is going to happen sooner rather than later.”

Doonesbury — Jiminy Cricket!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Parnas Interview

The talk on TV today will no doubt devote a lot of time to discussing Rachel Maddow’s interview last night with Trump/Giuliani operative Lev Parnas and his attorney.  There’s analysis (no paywall) at TPM, and Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice goes through it and provides a critique of Ms. Maddow’s interrogation style.

The information that Parnas presented was a mixture of accurate information, misinformation, and agitprop. For instance, we already know, from previous reporting that has been verified by subsequent reporting, that Giuliani had a strange fixation on the Ukrainian black ledger that implicated Manafort. So it isn’t surprising when Parnas presented that in one of his answers. Nor was it surprising when he made it very clear that it was never about corruption, it was just about Vice President Biden, his son Hunter, and getting dirt on them for political purposes in the 2020 election. This too has been reported on extensively and verified in subsequent reporting. As was the information about the quid pro quo given to Ukrainian President Zelensky And the information about trying to get a deal cut for Dmitro Firtash in exchange for his help. And I have no doubt, despite his attempt to get ahead of things on Fox News tonight, that Congressman Nunes is up to his eyeballs in this meshugas.

[…]

The releases of the information that Parnas has turned over to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence are all interesting. And like tonight’s interview some of that information is accurate and true, some is disinformation, and some is agitprop. The proof will be in the vetting of that documentary information, just as it will be in the vetting of the information Parnas provided this evening. It is important to remember that Parnas is alleged to be a low level member or associate of post-Soviet and Russian organized crime. He is only as credible as his statements and documentary evidence can be verified.

And that’s where I get to the format/process problem. I’ve conducted semi-structured interviews as part of my work for the US Army and I’ve trained Soldiers on how to do them to collect information and intelligence. I’ve mentioned before that over a four to five month period I interviewed around 50 sheikhs, imams, and other local elites and notables using a semi-structured format across central Iraq (Baghdad Province and parts of Anbar, Wassit, and Diyala Provinces). I’m a huge fan of putting the subject of the interview at ease and letting them tell you their story – the true parts, the false parts, and the parts that fall in between. But there is a difference between doing that, and being prepared to ask sound follow up questions rooted within the context of the answers and information you’re being provided, and credulously just eating it up while looking focused and concerned. And this means asking questions like: “how do you know?” and “can you provide verification for that?” or “do you have documents about that?” or “who else should we talk to in order to verify that?”. I’m not qualified to judge whether Maddow’s interviewing process made for compelling television, but from an information gathering standpoint it was a failure. Maddow was far too credulous and failed to ask the necessary follow on questions. I will make an important caveat: she may have been prevented from doing so by agreement with Parnas’s attorney about the format of the interview. But, if that was the case, then it should have been disclosed. I’ve seen Maddow do far more adversarial and far better interviews with friendly guests. This was not one of her best outings.

The bottom line is that no matter what Mr. Parnas said and no matter how good or bad Ms. Maddow was in conducting the interview, nothing of substance will come out of it in terms of the impeachment trial.  The die is cast, the fix is in, Trump will be acquitted, and Lev Parnas will show up as an answer on the “Jeopardy!” GOAT tournament in 2035.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Another Straw

So John Bolton says he will testify before the Senate if he’s subpoenaed.

About a year ago a lot of people were hoping that the super-secret work of Robert Mueller would, when released, finally bring Trump and his gang to justice.  Yeah, well, it didn’t, and even the report itself didn’t really go far enough to give reasonable people something to pin their hopes on.

Now we’re looking at another possible moment that could, at last, bring about the demise before the election, which wouldn’t really help the situation because even if Trump is convicted in the Senate (which will happen at the same time I collect my Pulitzer), we’d be left with Mike Pence, and he’s just as bad, if not more, because he’s straight from Jesus.

First, I don’t think it’s going to happen.  The Senate under Mitch McConnell will not allow the Democrats to issue the subpoena, and I doubt that Mr. Bolton will show up uninvited and on his own.  If he really cared about righting the wrongs of this administration, he wouldn’t qualify his appearance.  In the words of my generation, he’s just a teaser.

Sorry to be so cynical, but I don’t think this is the straw that will break the camel’s back.  At this point, it’s just another straw to grasp at.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Sting

At the end of the 1973 film The Sting, after Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) pull off an elaborate con on Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) in revenge for murdering a friend, Gondorff turns to Hooker and asks him if it’s enough.  Johnny Hooker thinks about it and says, “It’s not enough.”  Then he laughs and says, “But it’s close.”

I think that’s how I feel about the impeachment of Trump.  I know that the Senate Republicans will not vote to convict him on either count because they are either beholden to their party line and that party line is Trump No Matter What, or they are too afraid of angry old white guys with Truck Nutz and deer rifles to stand up for the oath they took.  Most of them, it would seem, signed off on their oath of office the same way most people sign off on their software terms and conditions; click Yes to agree and move on to the porn or shopping cart.  So Mitch McConnell will quickly dispatch the trial, not allow witnesses or testimony from the House committees, and let Trump off the hook.

But the damage has been done.  No matter what happens in the Senate, the first line of Trump’s obituary will include that he was impeached, sharing that honor with Bill Clinton, the husband of his nemesis, and the 19th century’s paragon of Confederate revenge, Andrew Johnson.  History will record it, the archives will contain his rants and ramblings, and generations from now our successors will ponder the mindset of a country that eight years before elected an African-American and then, in a paroxysm of splenetic vitriol, elected the perfect antithesis of Barack Obama.

The defenders of Trump have been saying that the Democrats are trying to overturn the election of 2016.  Yes, they are.  That’s why the Constitution has the remedy of impeachment.  The folks who wrote it knew that at some point, there would need to be a remedy for an election that turned out badly for the country and that’s how it is done.  They didn’t anticipate that it would be a partisan issue, but they had the foresight not to take it lightly, so that’s why they made it as hard to impeach a president as possible: both the House and the Senate had to concur, and in conviction it had to be more than just a majority of votes.  The only thing harder to pull off is amending the Constitution.  So far, none of the presidents that have been impeached have been convicted; Johnson escaped by one vote, and it was hardly close for Clinton.  But the remedy of impeachment still carries the sting, and if for no other reason, this is the mark that Trump will take with him to posterity.

Trump’s defenders also claim that this impeachment is revenge for the Democrats losing the election; that they never got over Hillary Clinton’s defeat.  But that’s where they’re mistaking a fundamental difference between those who follow Trump and those who follow the law.  Trump’s entire life is geared towards revenge: getting back at the people who didn’t take him seriously as a businessman and harboring hatred for those who by their very nature attract good people and inspire them to do good things for others.  His hatred of Barack Obama is palpable; everything he’s done in office has been to tear down what President Obama achieved, and to take back what he believes rightfully belongs to the white guys.  Trump has never done anything in his life to elevate himself, either financially or politically, without tearing down or cheating someone else on the way.  To him, he cannot rise without destruction, and the landscape and jails are littered with the desiccated remains of those who tried to stop him or, paradoxically, enabled him.  But this time both the Constitution and his betters caught up with him, and for committing acts that to him have been normal practice all his life: coerce, extort, and bury the evidence.  He’s proudly admitted to it: we have the tapes and the witnesses.  And for once, the justice system has marked him.  There is no settlement offer that he can weasel out of, and even if the Senate does acquit him, the indictment still stands.  It is not revenge; it is justice.  The Republicans and Trump, however, cannot distinguish between the two.

So no, it’s not enough just to impeach Trump.  But it’s close.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Live Feed To The Foregone Conclusion

The House will vote sometime today to impeach Trump.  It will be very solemn, as it should be, and then turn it over to the Senate where we already know the fix is in.  I’m sure that there will be live coverage with lots of analysis and anecdotes about history and trivia.

At the moment I’m watching the gang on Morning Joe vamp until the coverage begins (interspersed with Christmas commercials) led by the sugared-up Chris Matthews, and they’re all saying that no Republicans are standing up to Trump.  And that’s news?

I get the historical meaning of it.  Twenty-one years ago the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton for lying about a blow job, and the roles were reversed: the Democrats saying it was a witch hunt and there was nothing to impeach him for.  We’re getting the same noise now from the Republicans.  We’re being told that this will forever mar the presidency* of Trump.  Um, even more than separating families at the border by force for seeking asylum?  For mocking and denigrating entire communities such as Muslims, the disabled, and Others?  For trashing the economy to benefit himself and his alleged friends?  Trust me, this interregnum has already been marred, tarred, and feathered.  The fact that he will have some sense of vindication the same way a dictator feels when he wins 99.9% of the vote in an “election” is just part of the show.

Writ Large

“Four score and seven years ago…” — Abraham Lincoln

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself…” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country…” — John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“Waaaaaaaaaah!” — Trump.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Poll Dance

The recent Fox News poll has a lot of Very Serious Pundits talking (including the borderline nitwit Mike Barnicle on Morning Joe who thinks America isn’t interested in impeachment anymore).  The bottom line is that, Mr. Barnicle notwithstanding, it looks dicey for the Republicans.

Polls change on a daily basis, and the attention span of the average American voter can be measured with an egg timer, but one thing has been remarkably consistent for the last three years: Trump’s approval numbers have never been over 50%, and they have wavered in the low to mid 40’s since his election.  This current poll shows the number of voters supporting impeachment and removal from office as steadily growing over the last few months as more and more of them become aware of what went on in the White House before, during, and after the July 25th phone call.  It’s all coming together: the guy’s a gangster, and a sloppy one at that.  It’s like the Corleone family was being run by Fredo.

We all know the fix is in from the git-go; that the Democratic House would vote out articles of impeachment and that the Republican Senate will conduct a trial modeled on the ones that take place in Pyongyang: Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham have basically said so.  Trump will be acquitted, he’ll bray about it at rallies and sell red hats, and the charges will keep on coming.  He could be impeached again, making his tenure the more notable for having been impeached more than once while in office.  But the polls seem to indicate that the Democrats have already made inroads to the 55% of Americans who do not support Trump and his Republican minions, and a day of reckoning, be it in November 2020 or some point along the way, will come.  And after he’s out of office, he’ll be subject to investigation and indictment by the Southern District of New York or any other jurisdiction that still stands for the rule of law.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sunday Reading

All In The Timing — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

Amid the many words spoken—some passionate, some false, some bitter—in the late-night session of the House Judiciary Committee last Wednesday, one line, in a speech by Representative Hank Johnson, Democrat of Georgia, had particular resonance. Johnson quoted Fiona Hill, a former national-security official who, in testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, had described a “blowup” she had had with Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, with regard to Ukraine. After hearing Sondland’s own testimony to the committee, Hill said, she’d had an epiphany about the source of their conflict: though she’d believed that they were both engaged in the grand mission of foreign policy, the President had actually dispatched Sondland on “a domestic political errand.”

That errand, Johnson said, was to make Ukrainian officials “an offer they could not refuse.” In the words of the first of two articles of impeachment that the Judiciary Committee’s clerk read on Thursday morning, at the start of a tense and long debate, Donald Trump “corruptly solicited” the Ukrainians, attempting to trade military aid and a White House meeting for two investigations. One involved a specific conspiracy theory about Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election; the other concerned Vice-President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump wanted Ukraine “to target an American citizen,” Hakeem Jeffries, Democrat of New York, said. Democrats have described this scheme, with some justice, as extortion or bribery, but the charge in the first article is abuse of power.

The Republicans on the committee used the debate to try to peddle a different story. “Show me the Ukrainian that was pressured!” Matt Gaetz, of Florida, said, although multiple witnesses had already testified that a number of Ukrainians were. Ken Buck, of Colorado, brought up the money that Hunter Biden received as a member of the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, and argued that Trump was within his rights to ask for an investigation: “This isn’t smearing. This is seeking the truth about corruption.” (Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, argued that Trump’s truth-seeking impulse arose only after Joe Biden declared his Presidential candidacy.) And Jim Jordan, of Ohio, offered his theory on what the meaning of “us” was when Trump, in the now infamous July 25th phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, said, “I would like you to do us a favor, though, because our country has been through a lot.” This “us” was not “the royal we,” reflecting a request for a personal favor, Jordan said, but an example of Trump’s “working on behalf of the American people.” In case that didn’t clear things up, Jordan had a simpler explanation for why anyone would want to impeach Trump. “They don’t like us,” he said. “All of us common folk in Ohio, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Texas.” Republican after Republican goaded the Democrats with the notion that they were just scared that Trump would win again.

The focus of the first article of impeachment is, of course, what Trump has already done to try to secure that victory—namely, enlist foreign officials in his reëlection campaign. His demand for the Ukrainian investigations, according to the charge, was not a backward-looking effort to get to the bottom of a corruption case but an attempt to anticipate and influence the 2020 election. That prospective threat is one reason the Democrats have given for moving the articles of impeachment along with great speed. They do not pretend that they have collected all the available evidence. For that shortfall, they have blamed what Jamie Raskin, of Maryland, described as Trump’s “blockading and intimidating.” At the President’s direction, witnesses under subpoena have failed to appear, and the Administration has refused to turn over documents. (During the debate, Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, offered the weak riposte that no “retribution” had been inflicted on the witnesses who did testify.) There are court fights under way now over the subpoenas, but the Democrats, rather than wait, made the President’s defiance the subject of the second article of impeachment: obstruction of Congress.

“The President is the smoking gun,” Pramila Jayapal, of Washington, said, adding, with a slightly too picturesque extension of the metaphor, “The smoking gun is already reloaded. And whether or not it gets fired—that’s up to us.” At a press conference on Tuesday, during which Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi introduced the two articles, Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said that to ask “Why not wait?” is the equivalent of asking “Why not let him cheat just one more time?” That may be a resounding appeal, but on its own terms it doesn’t make much sense. The rushed timeline almost certainly means that impeachment is hurtling toward an acquittal for the President in the Republican-controlled Senate by February, with nine months left before the election. A longer investigation might have been a better way to monitor and restrain Trump; it’s worth remembering that his call to Zelensky came the day after the testimony of the special counsel Robert Mueller in the House, which, he felt, had lifted a “phony cloud” from over his head.

This schedule may help get moderate congressional Democrats reëlected and the Democratic senators who are running for President back out on the campaign trail (and get Hunter Biden out of the spotlight). But, adding to the sense of missed opportunities, the articles largely bypass other issues that have been raised about Trump, such as violations of the emoluments clause and matters covered in the Mueller report—notably, a long list of possible examples of obstruction of justice.

The hearings in the Judiciary Committee provided a sad confirmation of the likelihood of the President’s acquittal. “Do we have abuse of power? Yes: Adam Schiff!” Guy Reschenthaler, Republican of Pennsylvania, shouted. He added that the committee had voted down his attempt to subpoena the whistle-blower: “That is obstruction of Congress!” (By way of compensation, Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, recited a list of names that included a person suspected of being the whistle-blower.) In the coming trial, the tone of the Republican senators may be more restrained, but it is unlikely to be more edifying.

Val Demings, of Florida, was one of several Democrats who spoke of the historic weight of the moment, and to an extent she was right: Trump will always be a President who was impeached, and the two articles describing his offenses will be scrutinized in textbooks. But domestic politics impose their own burden. Not one of the House Republicans is expected to vote yes on either article. They know their President, and they know their errand.

Middle Age Is Actually Good — James Parker in The Atlantic.

From the outside it looks steady.

It looks resolved. Sitting heavily in a chair, with settled opinions and stodgy shoes—there’s something unbudgeable about the middle-aged person. The young are dewy and volatile; the old are toppling into fragility. But the middle-aged hold their ground. There’s a kind of magnetism to this solidity, this dowdy poise, this impressively median state.

But on the inside … You’re in deep flux. A second puberty, almost. Inflammations, precarious accelerations. Dysmorphic shock in the bathroom mirror: Jesus, who is that? Strange new acts of grooming are suddenly necessary. Maybe you’ve survived a bout of something serious; you probably have a couple of fussy little private afflictions. You need ointment. It feels like a character flaw. Maybe it is a character flaw.

For all this, though, you are weirdly and unwontedly calm, like someone riding a bicycle without using his hands. You’re not an apprentice adult anymore. You’re through the disorientation period, the Talking Heads moment—“And you may find yourself in a beautiful house / With a beautiful wife / And you may ask yourself / Well, how did I get here?” You’re through the angst and the panic attacks. You don’t yet have the wild license of old age, when you can write gnarly, scandalous poems like Frederick Seidel, or tell an interviewer—as The Who’s Pete Townshend recently did—that “it’s too late to give a fuck.” But you’re more free. The stuff that used to obsess you, those grinding circular thoughts—they’ve worn themselves out. You know yourself, quite well by now. Life has introduced you to your shadow; you’ve met your dark double, and with a bit of luck the two of you have made your accommodations. You know your friends. You love your friends, and you tell them.

I’m generalizing from my own case, of course, because what else can I do? Besides, a sense at last of having some things in common with the other humans, the other wobbling bipeds—this, too, is one of the gifts of middle age. Good experience, bad experience, doesn’t matter. Experience is what you share, the raw weight of it. The lines around the eyes. The bruising of the soul. The banging up against your own boundaries, your own limits.

Limits, limits, thank God for limits. Thank God for the things you cannot do, and that you know you cannot do. Thank God for the final limit: Death, who now gazes at you levelly from the foot of your bed, and with an ironical twinkle, because you still don’t completely believe in him.

At any rate, if you’re reading this, you’re not dead. So: Should you leap gladly, grinningly, into these contradictory middle years, when everything is speeding up and slowing down, and becoming more serious and less serious? The middle-aged person is not an idiot. Middle age is when you can throw your back out watching Netflix. The middle-aged person is being consumed by life, and knows it. Feed the flame—that’s the invitation. Go up brightly.

Doonesbury — Who’s that?

Friday, December 13, 2019

Happy Friday

The House Judiciary Committee, after 14 hours of antics, hypocrisy (really, Matt Gaetz, you want to bring up someone else’s substance abuse problem?) and tin-foil hat accusations, put off the vote on the articles of impeachment until today, thereby depriving the Republicans of their “in the dark of the night” claims about the vote.

Clearly some of them needed a nap.

Meanwhile, the UK voted in a majority of Tories that will ensure Brexit. No, it’s not a lesson for the Democrats unless they nominate Jeremy Corbyn.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

In Essence

Daniel Goldman, the counsel for the majority in the impeachment inquiry, states the case.

In the eight-plus hours of testimony yesterday, not one Republican was able to refute the facts of the case.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Sunday Reading

Already A Win — John Cassidy in The New Yorker.

There appears to be an emerging consensus that the impeachment of Donald Trump won’t matter very much in November, 2020. “Impeachment will eclipse all for the next seven weeks. And then it will recede, and other events will supersede it as the election year moves on,” David Axelrod, the CNN commentator and former adviser to Barack Obama, commented in a Twitter thread on Thursday. In a Times Op-Ed, Michael Tomasky, the editor of Democracy, wrote, “I will bet you dollars to doughnuts that when we pore over the exit polls next Nov. 4, impeachment itself will have been a minor factor in people’s voting, let alone the question of how many articles the House passed.”

Axelrod and Tomasky are shrewd and experienced observers. Their opinions reflect several truths: the news agenda moves rapidly these days; voters say issues such as health care and the economy are their primary concerns; and polling data indicates that, at least thus far, the impeachment process has largely confirmed existing political divisions. Exactly three months ago, shortly before the news of an intelligence whistle-blower’s complaint blew open the Ukraine story, Trump’s approval rating in the Real Clear Politics poll average was 43.3 per cent. On Friday morning, it was 43.7 per cent, virtually the same.

With the polls also showing that Democratic voters are overwhelmingly supportive of impeachment, independents are more narrowly in favor, and Republicans are overwhelmingly opposed, it is tempting to conclude that the over-all impact will be a wash. But focussing too much on polling data can be dangerous. Presidential elections aren’t merely bloodless exercises in eliciting public opinion on a given day; they are titanic, coast-to-coast struggles, in which turnout, activism, and civic engagement also matter enormously.

Trump’s election, in 2016, prompted countless Americans who hadn’t previously taken an active role in politics, particularly women, to get involved. Through locally based groups such as Indivisible and Americans Against Trump, they turned out to protest against the President and his Republican allies and to prod Democrats in Congress to stand up to them. During the 2018 midterms, these novice activists held voter-registration drives, organized phone banks, raised money, and canvassed neighborhoods—all with the aim of getting more anti-Trump voters to the polls. The result was the highest turnout in a century for a midterm election and a blue wave in the House.

If Trump is to be defeated next year, his opponents will have to maintain that energy and build upon it. To do so, Ezra Levin, the co-founder and co-executive director of the Indivisible movement, which now has more than five thousand affiliated local groups, insists, it was utterly necessary for the Democrats to react to the shocking Ukraine revelations by issuing the ultimate congressional rebuke to Trump. Speaking hours after Speaker Nancy Pelosi confirmed that the House Democrats would go ahead and file articles of impeachment, Levin said, “I see only positive sides to this. I see a system that is working. For all the millions of people who got involved with politics after 2016, it shows that all the hard work they did mattered. That is going to get them involved again in 2020.”

From this perspective, the key thing isn’t whether the Senate actually removes Trump from office. Levin, who is also the co-author of a new book, “We Are Indivisible: A Blueprint for Democracy After Trump,” said that he wasn’t making any predictions about the outcome. But he added, “It was vital to demonstrate that elections do have consequences and that the Democrats will use their power to stand up to Trump.” If Pelosi and her colleagues had refused to launch an impeachment process, Levin went on, “it would have been enormously demoralizing for all these people who were newly engaged after 2016.”

This argument seems incontrovertible. I suspect it is why Pelosi ultimately came around to supporting impeachment, despite the reservations of some House Democrats who represent purple districts. (That and the fact that Trump’s abuse of Presidential power in pressuring Ukraine to dig up dirt on his domestic political opponents was so egregious.) Now the local activists who have spent three years opposing Trump can watch the House Judiciary Committee file articles of impeachment against him. When the process moves to the Senate, in January, they will be the ones demonstrating outside the offices of Republican, and, if necessary, Democratic senators and pressing them to convict the President.

To that point, Levin noted, participating in an impeachment trial may well create problems for a number of Republicans who are up for reëlection in purple and red states where Trump’s disapproval ratings are underwater. Pointing to Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Montana, and North Carolina as examples, Levin said, “These are all places where you are going to have a Republican senator forced to take a hard vote. It will be very helpful to Democrats that Senator Gardner, in Colorado, or Senator Ernst, in Iowa, or Senator McSally, in Arizona, cannot just hide behind nicely written tweets. They are actually going to have to register a historic vote and stand by it.”

Of course, none of this means that the impeachment process couldn’t end up alienating some independent voters who believe Trump’s misdeeds don’t rise to the level of impeachable offenses, or who think Congress should let voters determine his fate next November. That may happen. And an impeachment trial will certainly fire up pro-Trump activists as well.

But these threats have to be balanced against the imperative of maintaining an energized front against Trump going into an election year. As a disruptive insurgent who eagerly fans social and racial resentments, he has always had an enthusiastic base—that isn’t going to change. One of the big challenges for Democrats—or anybody else opposed to Trump—is to nurture and sustain a nationwide countermovement that is at least equally passionate and engaged. From that perspective, as Levin pointed out, impeachment is already a win.

State of the Art — From the Miami Herald, and proof stupidity is infinite.

Someone ate a really expensive snack at Art Basel Saturday afternoon — to the tune of $120,000.

For one banana.

By now you have probably heard of the now world-famous banana duct-taped to Emmanuel Perrotin’s outer gallery wall at Art Basel Miami Beach. The piece that sold to an art collector for $120,000.

The $120,000 banana — a real, rather ripe and edible one — is the work of Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan and titled “Comedian.” The work comes with a Certificate of Authenticity, and owners are told that they can replace the banana, as needed.

Instructions on how to replace the banana are not included.

But New York-based performance artist David Datuna ate the banana at around 1:45 p.m. in front of a convention center full of art lovers, according to gallery representatives.

While the banana was indeed consumed, apparently that doesn’t diminish the integrity of the six-figure art work, said Lucien Terras, director of museum relations for Galerie Perrotin.

“He did not destroy the art work. The banana is the idea,” Terras said.

Confused?

We were, too, but that’s where the Certificate of Authenticity comes in. Collectors are buying the certificate. The banana is not made to last.

“This has brought a lot of tension and attention to the booth and we’re not into spectacles,” Terras added. “But the response has been great. It brings a smile to a lot of people’s faces.”

Gallery owner Emmanuel Perrotin was about to head to the airport when he heard that the banana was eaten. He darted to the space, clearly upset. A fair goer tried to cheer him up and handed him his own banana.

Perrotin and a gallery assistant re-adhered the borrowed banana to the wall just after 2 p.m.

According to Peggy Leboeuf, a partner at Perrotin Gallery, a startled, and bemused, a woman in the crowd thought the original artist — Cattelan — was eating his own banana off the wall. But that wasn’t the case. When she saw Datuna eating the banana, which still had some duct tape on it, she asked him what he was doing.

Datuna allegedly responded he was a performance artist. “But you’re not supposed to touch the art!” Leboeuf told Datuna.

The London-based White Cube gallery in the booth next door to Perrotin removed a floor installation because the crowd to see the banana was just overwhelming.

Perrotin installed a silver rope line in an attempt to keep the crowd in check Saturday afternoon. Four Miami Beach police officers also gathered outside the gallery to keep order.

“That banana has been more photographed than the Mona Lisa,” remarked Terras.

“This has been interesting,” said Miami Beach police Capt. Steven Feldman. When asked if he had ever heard of someone deliberately destroying artwork at the fair, he said, “Not that I can remember.”

He noted it was a balancing act to accommodate the crowd.

“The gallery is OK with people taking pictures of the banana. It is a delicate balancing act. We just want to make sure the area is secure,” said Feldman.

For what Cattelan’s banana fetches, Datuna could have bought 631,579 bananas at Trader Joe’s, which sells bananas for .19 cents each.

The gallery reported the incident to security, but Datuna was not arrested.

Doonesbury — It’s snowing somewhere.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Law Schooling

Yesterday’s House Judiciary Committee hearing was as expected: boisterous and boorish on the part of the Republican shills, who displayed not only their fealty to Trump; they also showed how little they paid attention in law school.  They got schooled by one of the witnesses.  And how.

Charles P. Pierce:

I don’t mean to diminish the gold-standard, A-level Founders porn with which the nation was gifted on Wednesday. I am a ridiculous nerd for such stuff, and not even the woebegone visage of Jonathan Turley, who’s seeing all those juicy Clinton impeachment TV appearances coming back for him like the visitation of the spirits at Scrooge’s place, can take the smile off my face.

But the best practical argument made in the context of 2019 politics came from Professor Pamela Karlan, who announced her presence with authority by clapping back ferociously on Rep. Doug Collins, the bellowing bullshit auctioneer from Georgia. Because he apparently believes that everyone is as deeply afflicted by deliberate ignorance as he is, Collins snarked about how none of the expert witnesses possibly could have read all 300 pages of the House Intelligence Committee’s damning report by the time they came to testify. To which Professor Karlan replied:

Here, Mr. Collins I would like to say to you, sir, that I read transcripts of every one of the witnesses who appeared in the live hearing because I would not speak about these things without reviewing the facts. So I’m insulted by the suggestion that as a law professor I don’t care about those facts.

I do not envy those of Professor Karlan’s students who show up unprepared for class.

I didn’t stick around for the whole mess yesterday, but last evening as I was driving I heard one nitwit — Rep. Stubey, I think was his name — carry on about how Trump was denied his Sixth Amendment rights to confront his witness and how unfair it all was because he was being railroaded and tried and convicted. Well, A) the hearing was not a trial, and B) the Sixth Amendment applies only to criminal trials. Impeachment and removal is not a criminal trial. Trump may well have committed criminal acts, but he’s not going to be tried for those; he’s being removed from office. The criminal cases will come after, and no, double jeopardy will not be attached because a conviction in the Senate is the outcome of being voted out of office based on the articles of impeachment, not the actual criminal act itself. That’s for the Southern District of New York to do.

In my non-law-school way of thinking, the closest comparison impeachment comes to is a really drawn-out job termination hearing. If you suck at your job, you get evaluated, and then they fire you. If the reason for your termination was embezzlement or giving trade secrets to your competitor, you lose your job. If the company decides to report you to the authorities for your criminal act, that’s another matter. That’s pretty much what happens with impeachment. Trump’s life and liberty are not at stake; his job is in jeopardy, and there’s no constitutional guarantee to protect that.

If I were the law schools where some of these Republican minions got their degree, I’d take a close look at the poor examples of jurisprudence they turned out and think about getting their diplomas back.