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.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Live Feed — Here Comes The Judiciary

The impeachment saga moves to the House Judiciary Committee today.  The Washington Post says the Republicans are getting “ready to rumble.”

Defenders of President Trump often describe the impeachment inquiry as a “circus.”

But after the partisan theatrics expected during Wednesday’s first hearing in the House Judiciary Committee, they might need a stronger word.

When Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) gavels the room to order at 10 a.m., some of Capitol Hill’s most aggressive and colorful characters — Republicans and Democrats — will be seated on the dais, ready to inject new friction and hostility into the second phase of the inquiry.

There could be disruptions from Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), the Fox News favorite who led a conservative revolt against impeachment in mid-October by storming the secure room where depositions were taking place.

There could be conspiracy theories from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), who nearly named the intelligence community whistleblower during a recent speech on the House floor.

And there could be antics from Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a vocal Trump critic who brought a bucket of fried chicken to a hearing in May to highlight the absence of Attorney General William P. Barr, who was scheduled to testify.

Add to these another 38 lawmakers — many Trump loyalists or pro-impeachment Democrats ready to do battle — and you have a potentially explosive mix of personalities whose excesses could dominate the proceedings.

“It’s a bunch of brawlers sometimes on the Judiciary Committee, so it should get pretty hot under the collar as we go along,” said Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), a member of the panel, during an interview on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.”

“I don’t think things have been done the way they’ve been done in the past . . . so it causes some rancor and it should be much more feisty, I would say, than the Intel Committee was,” he said.

The reason for this expected response is rather obvious: they have no reasonable defense of Trump and his corruption, so they’re doing everything they can to distract the attention away from it short of releasing a flock of pigeons and running a stampede of goats through the hearing room.  And I wouldn’t put that past them, either.

Charles P. Pierce:

The Democratic report is an outright burial job. The president* tried to extort an agreement out of the government of Ukraine to help him ratfck the 2020 election. All the receipts are there, in four-part harmony and full orchestration, with circles and arrows and paragraphs on the back explaining how they all would be used as evidence against a renegade presidency.

In dealing with reports such as the one released on Tuesday, it is always important to remember the ARF Principle: Always Read Footnotes. For example, heres a piquant bit of information that you would miss if you abandoned the ARF Principle. Rep. Devin Nunes, Republican of California, ranking member of the House Intelligence committee and former White House lawn ornament, is all over this report. Calls between Nunes and John Solomon, the enormously useful reporter formerly working at The Hill, are featured. These are the people the president* left on the beach. And this is the true bottom line.

This will be all over the TV today because they love to put on the shouting matches; it’s great for ratings and the stakes are higher than the showcases on “The Price Is Right.”

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Send In The Clowns

Heather Digby Parton (“Hullabaloo”) in Salon on the upcoming hearings in the House Judiciary Committee:

We don’t yet know how [Committee Chair Jerry] Nadler plans to run the hearings but I think everyone hopes he follows Schiff’s example. A draft of possible impeachment proceedings from September indicates that Nadler plans to allow committee staffers “designated by the chairman and ranking member” to “ask questions of witnesses for a total of one hour, equally divided across the parties (in addition to the normal questions from members),” so it’s likely that the hearings will at least have an hour or so of meaningful exchanges.

But that’s going to be tough. This committee is one of the most rancorous in the House and it has twice as many members as the Intelligence Committee. Many of them are showboating egomaniacs on a good day. Both Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, who were highly combative during the Intelligence Committee hearings, also sit on Judiciary, so we can expect more of their red-meat performances. And we can be sure that Trump’s most loyal guard dog, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, along with borderline crackpot Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, will be looking for ways to upend the proceedings.

As Judiciary member Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., told Fox News on Sunday, “it’s a bunch of brawlers sometimes on the Judiciary Committee, so it should get pretty hot and under the collar as we go along. I don’t think things have been done the way they’ve been done in the past, Mike, and so it causes some rancor and it should be pretty — much more feisty, I would say than the Intel Committee was.”

If you tune in, you’re going to hear a lot of hot air and bullshit from the Republicans about how unfair the process has been.  That’s because they have not been able to defend Trump’s actions, so they won’t try.  Hence the clown show.

Monday, December 2, 2019

In All Fairness

The House Judiciary Committee picks up what Intelligence threw them.

As the impeachment inquiry moves into a critical week, President Trump and his Republican allies are debating the degree to which the president should participate in a process they have spent more than two months attacking.

On Sunday evening, White House counsel Pat A. Cipollone told the House Judiciary Committee in a five-page letter that Trump would not participate in its first impeachment hearing, scheduled for Wednesday. The invitation from Chairman Jerrold Nadler “does not begin to provide the President with any semblance of a fair process,” Cipollone wrote.

Four constitutional scholars — three chosen by Democrats, one by Republicans — are expected to testify on the standards for impeachment. Nadler (D-N.Y.) told Trump he had until 6 p.m. Sunday to notify the committee that he or his attorneys would attend; he has given Trump until Friday to decide whether to participate more broadly in the impeachment process.

It’s been a hallmark of Trump’s tenure that he and his minions are always talking about “fairness,” as if everything that happens to them is or isn’t fair.  Trump whines about how the press or the Democrats or the ice cream dispenser is so unfair to him, which is then followed by a tantrum, and then holding his breath until he shits his pants.  It’s like he’s never taken into account the simple fact that whether or not something or someone is fair or unfair to him and his fe-fe’s doesn’t really count for much, especially when the facts and the truth are what matter.

By definition, the impeachment process in the House is investigative.  Whether or not it’s fair depends on who participates.  If the White House refuses to comply with subpoenas and requests for information, they can’t then complain bitterly that they have been denied the opportunity to provide evidence.  If the Republicans who are in thrall to the White House sit through hours of depositions in closed sessions and then create a stink about the closed sessions being unfair, then they’re just pandering to their minders at Fox News.  In short, they can’t spend all their time trying to screw up the entire process and then pronounce it as unfair because the entire process somehow got screwed up.

As John F. Kennedy noted, life is unfair.  It’s something we should learn and take into account at about the time we learn how to take turns on the swing set on the school playground.  But trying to explain that to someone who has yet to rise to that level of maturity is a hard thing to do.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Sunday Reading

Impeachment as Spectacle — David Masciotra in Salon.

The House Intelligence Committee’s impeachment hearings have been the perfect sweeps-season exhibition of American dysfunction, weirdness and stupidity. Democrats are meticulously proving that President Trump is an inveterate liar who broke the law by transforming international diplomacy into a partisan, tabloid dirt-finding expedition in exactly the buffoonish manner that anyone would expect. Trump is a corrupt con artist unqualified for a junior high student council. Impeachment and removal are beyond debate to anyone of minimal sanity. In other breaking news, the Earth orbits the sun.

More shocking than the extent of Trump’s petty corruption is the obsequiousness of leading Republicans, all of whom have publicly invested in the personality cult surrounding the former host of “Celebrity Apprentice.” Apparently convinced that the country cannot survive without the leadership of the man who had the wisdom to fire Gary Busey in the boardroom, and later defend murderous white supremacists, the GOP have exposed themselves as lacking any of the principles — “family values”; belief in small, honest government; fiscal conservatism, patriotic loyalty to the laws and institutions of the United States — they previously boasted about.

House impeachment, and subsequent Senate removal, in any rational Congress would have taken all of four minutes, allowing the electorate to prepare for the alarming reality of President Mike Pence.

Instead, curious citizens are subjected to the monstrosity of Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, whose previous high-water mark was disregarding accusations of sexual abuse in the Ohio State locker room when he was an assistant wrestling coach, doing his best impersonation of a serious human being as he shouts about “process” in his shirtsleeves. Barring any bombshell, it looks as if the entire Trump fiasco will result in a repetition of the Bill Clinton episode — impeachment in the House, acquittal in the Senate.

That is not the only reason that the entire proceeding feels anticlimactic. It is deeply unsatisfying because it is focused on what is likely the least of Trump’s misdeeds.

At least 25 women have accused Trump of sexual assault – most of them alleging that he forcibly grabbed their genitals, which is precisely what he has bragged about doing on an open mic. Sexual predation and harassment are conspicuously absent from the congressional hearings on Trump, along with media dissection of his presidency. Occasionally, a pundit will casually reference the accusations as if they were nothing more than an unfortunate, but pedestrian reality of national politics. Rep. Katie Hill, a freshman Democrat, resigned over a consensual affair with a staffer, yet Trump faces no political consequences for, according to his credible accusers, a lifetime of assaulting women.

Defenders of the government’s inadequacy in the pursuit of justice might protest that none of Trump’s accusers have alleged any criminal behavior during his presidency. It seems odd that chronology would have any relevance — what if there was evidence that Trump murdered 25 women in the 1990s and 2000s? Would Congress have to ignore it? — but operating only within the confines of Trump’s term in office is equally devastating to not only his lack of leadership and character, but also to an impeachment that, while just and necessary, resembles the prosecution of Al Capone for tax evasion.

The last living Nuremberg prosecutor, Ben Ferencz, called Trump’s family separation policy at the border — ripping children out of their parents’ arms, locking them in cages, leaving them vulnerable to abuse — a “crime against humanity.” Explaining that it was “painful” for him to watch the news of the Trump administration’s cruel treatment of families seeking asylum, Ferencz said, “We list crimes against humanity in the Statute of the International Criminal Court. We have ‘other inhumane acts designed to cause great suffering.’ What could cause more great suffering than what they did in the name of immigration law?”

Ferencz’s outrage barely elicited coverage in the American press, and provoked a pathetically meek political response. The United Nations definition of “genocide,” formed in response to the Nazi holocaust of Jews and other minorities, extends far beyond murder. It also includes “forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

Genocide is not on the impeachment agenda.

What is on the itinerary, apparently, is a commitment to displaying many American failures of policy and cultural imagination without comment. EU Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s testimony that Trump orchestrated the bribery campaign against Ukraine was damning, but with the exceptions of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, no one appears compelled to discuss why ambassadorial posts are always on sale to the highest donor — a bipartisan tradition that Republicans, as is their wont, elevate to unexplored heights of irresponsibility.

Everyone of conscience should feel grateful to Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for helping to expose Trump as a criminal who wields presidential power for personal gain, but is it necessary and healthy to celebrate militarism while papering over unjust war?

Yes, Vindman is a lieutenant colonel in the Army. The “service” for which everyone is calling him a “hero” was contributing to one of the most reckless and immoral annihilations of human life in modern history — the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks Trump has pardoned three accused war criminals.

If by some miracle, the Senate actually convicts President Trump and removes him from office, Americans should applaud in the morning, but go back to protesting by the afternoon. The words that French journalist Claude Julien wrote following Richard Nixon’s resignation still ring true: “The elimination of Mr. Richard Nixon leaves intact all the mechanisms and all the false values which permitted the Watergate scandal.”

Be Nice — Annie Lowrey in The Atlantic on our epidemic of unkindness.

Take five minutes to meditate. Try to quiet the judgmental voice in your head. Call your mother. Pay for someone else’s coffee. Compliment a colleague’s work.

In an age of polarization, xenophobia, inequality, downward mobility, environmental devastation, and climate apocalypse, these kinds of Chicken Soup for the Soul recommendations can feel not just minor, but obtuse. Since when has self-care been a substitute for a secure standard of living? How often are arguments about interpersonal civility a distraction from arguments about power and justice? Why celebrate generosity or worry about niceness when what we need is systemic change?

Those are the arguments I felt predisposed to make when I read about the newly inaugurated Bedari Kindness Institute at UCLA, a think tank devoted to the study and promulgation of that squishy concept. But it turns out there is a sweeping scientific case for kindness. In some ways, modern life has made us unkind. That unkindness has profound personal effects. And if we can build a kinder society, that would make life better for everyone.

Darnell Hunt, the dean of social sciences at UCLA and a scholar of media and race, told me some of the questions the institute hopes to investigate or answer: “What are the implications of kindness? Where does it come from? How can we promote it? What are the relationships between kindness and the way the brain functions? What are the relationships between kindness and the types of social environment in which we find ourselves? Is there such a thing as a kind economy? What would that look like?”

Not like what we have now. Research proves what is obvious to anyone who has been online in the past decade: For all that the internet and social media have connected the world, they have also driven people into political silos, incited violence against minority groups, eroded confidence in public institutions and scientists, and made conspiracy theorists of us all—while making us more selfish, less self-confident, and more socially isolated.

“The internet is largely a cesspool,” Daniel M. T. Fessler, an evolutionary anthropologist and the new institute’s director, told me. “It is not actually surprising that it is largely a cesspool. Because if there’s one thing that we know, it’s that anonymity invites antisociality.” It is easier to be a jerk when you are hiding behind a Twitter egg or a gaming handle, he explained.

The political situation is not helping matters, either. Americans have become more atomized by education, income, and political leanings. That polarization has meant sharply increased antipathy toward people with different beliefs. “We’re in this hyperpolarized environment where there’s very little conversation across perspectives,” Hunt said. “There’s very little agreement on what the facts are.”

There’s plenty of pressure for people to be unkind to themselves, too. Matthew C. Harris and his wife, Jennifer, seeded the Bedari Kindness Institute with a $20 million gift from their family foundation. For him, the topic is personal. “I wasn’t kind to myself, which has roots in my own childhood experiences. I was judgmental of myself, and therefore others. I was very perfectionistic,” he told me, reflecting on his business career. “I realized: This is not sustainable.”

The antidote seems to lie in media, economic, social, and political change—lower inequality, greater social cohesion, less stress among families, anti-racist government policy. But kindness, meaning “the feelings and beliefs that underlie actions intended to generate a benefit for another,” Fessler said, might figure in too. “Kindness is an end unto itself,” and one with spillover effects.

At a personal level, there’s ample evidence that being aware of your emotions and generous to yourself improves your physical and mental health, as well as your relationships with others. One study found that mindfulness practices aided the caretakers of people with dementia, for instance; another showed that they help little kids improve their executive function.

Kindness and its cousins—altruism, generosity, and so on—has societal effects as well. Fessler’s research has indicated that kindness is contagious. In one major forthcoming study, he and his colleagues showed some people a video of a person helping his neighbors, while others were shown a video of a person doing parkour. All the study participants were then given some money in return for taking part, and told they could put as much as they wanted in an envelope for charity. (The researchers could not see whether the participants put money in or how much they put in.)

People who saw the neighborly video were much more generous. “One of my research assistants said: ‘There’s something wrong with our accounting; something’s going haywire,’” Fessler told me. “She said, ‘Well, some of these envelopes have more than $5 in them.’” People who saw the first video were taking money out of their own wallets to give to charity, they figured. “I said, ‘That’s not something going wrong! That’s the experiment going right!’” It suggests that families or even whole communities could pitch themselves into a kind of virtuous cycle of generosity and do-gooding, and that people could be prompted to do good for their communities even with no expectation of their kind acts redounding to their own benefit.

Interpersonal empathy might translate into political change, Hunt added. “We see this [research] as being civically very important,” he said. “Take homelessness in L.A., for example. How do we get the electorate to become more empathetic and support policies necessary to make a meaningful intervention? That’s not something you can just do by fiat. People have to be brought along.”

This holiday season, there are so many ways to bring yourself and your community along—among them little things like taking five minutes to meditate, calling your mother, and paying for someone else’s coffee. Maybe kindness is not a distraction from or orthogonal to change. Maybe it is a pathway to it.

Doonesbury — Remember the wall.

Monday, November 25, 2019

They’re In On It

Greg Sargent makes a very good point.

It’s time to drop the posture that Trump’s defenders can be shamed into accepting what has been unearthed, or that they can be shamed into arguing from a baseline of shared democratic values, or into arguing over how to interpret a comprehensive set of shared facts.

Instead, let’s rhetorically treat Trump’s defenders as his criminal accomplices. Not just as “enablers” of Trump’s corruption but as active participants in it.

Once this is accepted, it becomes obvious why they can’t be “won over,” because they are actively engaged in keeping the corruption in question from getting fully uncovered, in the belief that they, too, benefit from it, and that they, too, lose out if it’s exposed.

And to prove his point, we learn this from the Daily Beast:

Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018, Parnas’  lawyer Ed MacMahon told The Daily Beast.

Nunes aide Derek Harvey participated in the meetings, the lawyer said, which were arranged to help Nunes’ investigative work. MacMahon didn’t specify what those investigations entailed.

Nunes is the top Republican on the House committee handling the impeachment hearings—hearings where Parnas’ name has repeatedly come up.

Congressional records show Nunes traveled to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018. Three of his aides—Harvey, Scott Glabe, and George Pappas—traveled with him, per the records. U.S. government funds paid for the group’s four-day trip, which cost just over $63,000.

The travel came as Nunes, in his role on the House Intelligence Committee, was working to investigate the origins of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election-meddling.

Parnas’ assistance to Nunes’ team has not been previously reported. A spokesperson for Nunes did not respond to requests for comment.

So of course we’re not going to have Republicans flipping on Trump and his corruption: they’re part of it.

The funny thing about conspiracy theories is that every so often they’re real.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday Reading

Thank you, Fiona Hill — Rachel Sklar in the Washington Post:

I will say this for President Trump: He certainly makes you appreciate smart, accomplished women.

It is not because he appreciates them; we all know by now that the only thing about a woman he appreciates is whatever he can grab. But his bad behavior really does bring amazing women out into the spotlight from where they were formerly working competently but with little fanfare. Reluctantly, because they are far too busy to bother with vainglorious showboating, more and more of them have been compelled to step forward on behalf of a grateful nation to testify — with authority, expertise and conviction — about the corrupt and ill-advised actions of a self-dealing president.

The latest in a long line of amazing, impressive wholly stannable women to make us swoon with their briskly efficient competence is Fiona Hill, an expert in Vladimir Putin’s ways and former National Security Council official. Hill was the star witness in Thursday’s House Intelligence Committee impeachment hearings, not because of any glittery celebrity or grabby cable sound bites but because of the substance of her testimony. She did not have talking points; she just had her deep knowledge and years of experience (and, of course, the bare minimum common sense to know that, yes, two plus two equals four).

Hill had no time for Republican conspiracy-mongering about anyone other than Russia meddling in the 2016 election, and she scolded the GOP accordingly: “In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.” (Translation: Stop being useful idiots.) She also had no time for U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s ill-informed office politics, GOP histrionics or workplace sexism. (She did, however, have time for an I-told-you-so: “I said to him this is all going to blow up, and here we are.”)

It was a humdinger of a day — the word to describe its defining quality might be “pizazz” — and all because of yet another learned, righteous woman with an impressive command of those pesky things called “facts.” Which means Hill joined the ranks of former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. attorney (and, briefly, acting attorney general) Sally Yates, and, yes, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who could fairly be called the OG of smart, accomplished women getting under Trump’s skin. There’s also Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), Christine Blasey Ford (you know why), respected writer E. Jean Carroll (Trump knows why), Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), NBC’s Katy Tur and Mika Brzezinski, former Fox and NBC anchor Megyn Kelly, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederickson, “The Squad,” a.k.a. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, journalist April Ryan, and Taylor Swift. This is not an exhaustive list.

Comparing Trump to these women is like juxtaposing a dense, properly footnoted scholarly paper to his big-print Sharpie, and just to be clear, it is the Sharpie that is mentally exhausting. Yet it is instructive to realize these women are notable precisely for what he diminishes and dismisses: experience, hard work, credibility. Hill’s cool, crisp testimony was the opposite of Trump’s unhinged Twitter ranting; her calm authority gave us comfort that, yes, there are still people who actually know what they are doing in the executive branch (or at least, there were until she resigned). After an unsettling almost three years of knee-jerk, whiplash governance by a White House led by an impetuous, impulsive wannabe autocrat, it was almost … soothing. It was not just the cavalcade of people on Twitter declaring themselves fans (George Conway) and stans (or in progressive podcast host Zerlina Maxwell’s case: “stannnnnnnnnnnnnnn”), it was Hill’s book suddenly zooming into the Amazon top 100. That is a dense 520-page book on Putin, shipping weight 2 pounds, and yes, of course, I bought it. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Even more, the sense of relief and comfort was obvious everywhere. Listen to author Morra Aarons-Mele: “The grown-ups are back: smart and calm, informed and unbiased.” Or journalist Lizzie O’Leary: “Today’s episode of Impeachment really hitting the sweet spot of my personal Netflix algorithm: procedural drama and British female leads.” Or comedian Heather Gold: “Listening to Fiona Hill testify is the most relaxed I’ve felt since election night 2016.”

The point is, it is not just that Hill is impressive. (And don’t call her overprepared!) She is, but it is also the realization of how rare it is to see a person — let alone a woman — like her in this bumbling, ruinous, norm-shattering administration. Trump is all grifty bravado; he plays the strongman even as he withholds his tax returns, pays $2 million in settlement for shorting a charity, callously separates young children from their families, and oh yeah, uses the power and privilege of the Oval Office to push his reelection advantage (a.k.a. for a “domestic political errand,” as Hill put it, much to the chagrin of Stephen R. Castor, the Republican lawyer who unwittingly led her right into that line). Hill is due process and righteous anger, brains and brilliance and fire and loyalty ready to be deployed for her country, now and forever.

It is not just that we are hungry for norms and qualifications. We are desperate for someone competent and principled to be in charge. We want someone smart to tell us it will be okay and that they care.

It was nice, however briefly, to find her.

Don’t Let It Be Forgot — Charles P. Pierce

It was a cold and rainy afternoon, so I ducked into the great old Coolidge Corner Cinema, one of the last moviehouses left with an actual personality, and I watched The Report, Scott Z. Burns’s exceptional film about the Senate Intelligence Committee’s attempt to put together a report about how the CIA tortured people in the years after the 9/11 attacks. As a political thriller, it’s not Z, but, then again, almost nothing is. But considering it’s a thriller about people gathering data, it’s a remarkable achievement.

The thriller aspect, of course, comes in the fight that Senate investigator Daniel Jones—played by Adam Driver, who, I believe, is in 297 movies this fall—has not merely with the spooks at Langley, but also against government inertia and, sadly, against an Obama administration frozen in its own post-partisan timidity. The depictions of what happened in our name in the black sites overseas are stark and brutal, but not so much that they overwhelm the action back in Washington, where CIA operatives do a black-bag job on Jones’s team, and where Senator Dianne Feinstein, played by Annette Bening, afflicted by ambivalence but not overcome by it, finally decides to release a 500-page summary of the 7,000-page report.

It is a victory for the rule of law but not an unalloyed one, in that none of the criminals who tortured in our name ever will see the inside of a jail cell. For example, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, the two quack psychologists who sold the Bush Administration on “enhanced interrogation” techniques that did not work, are last seen flying off in the private jet they bought with some of the $80 million they scarfed from the U.S. Treasury. John Yoo gets a cameo in which he explains his now infamous constitutional theory of crushing a child’s testicles. Yoo is now in a comfy billet teaching law at the University of California. In one scene, Driver is in a bar watching television and Marc Thiessen, then a White House aide, comes on and starts spouting all sorts of nonsense about the mass attacks that were thwarted because we tortured Abu Zubaydah into insanity. Thiessen now gets paid some nice bank writing columns in the Washington Post.

And that, perhaps, is the cautionary tale for our times in this film. We cannot let the crimes of this Republican president* go down the memory hole the way we allowed the crimes of the last Republican president to do so. This is not merely a caution against entirely rehabilitating George W. Bush. (In fact, this film is vague about Bush’s actual involvement in the torture program.) It also is a caution against looking forward, and not back. And, to be honest, there’s a bit of a warning in it to be wary of the support you might be getting from people against whom you previously campaigned.

I have been a bit of a wet blanket on the subject of Never Trumpers. Any voice against this administration* is welcome, but, as The Report reminds us, an awful lot of our newfound allies were involved in the administration that made us a nation that tortures. When you see David Frum, or Nicolle Wallace, pronouncing themselves amazed that the Republicans are going along with the obvious grift from this White House, do not fully credit their surprise. If the House Republicans are complicit in this administration*’s crimes because they’ve done nothing to stop them, then former Bush aides are complicit in torture because they didn’t do anything to stop that. When you see John Brennan expressing his concern about the damage this president* is doing to the rule of law, ask yourself why Brennan wasn’t so tender about the rule of law when he was trying to bury the torture report as director of the CIA.

All through the film, I found echoing in my head the quote from Milan Kundera that David Remnick used as an epigram in Lenin’s Tomb, his stellar account of the days when the Soviet Union was coming apart.

The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.

Whenever this nightmare is over, we should try to win that struggle this time around.

Doonesbury — The further tweeting meanderings…

Thursday, November 21, 2019

“We Followed The President’s Orders”

Not that it will change the outcome in the Senate, but this sums up what we’ve been getting to all along.

WASHINGTON — An ambassador at the center of the House impeachment inquiry testified on Wednesday that he was following President Trump’s orders, with the full knowledge of other top administration officials, when he pressured the Ukrainians to conduct investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals in what he called a clear “quid pro quo.”

Gordon D. Sondland, Mr. Trump’s envoy to the European Union, told the House Intelligence Committee that he reluctantly followed Mr. Trump’s directive. He testified that the president instructed him to work with Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, as he pressured Ukraine to publicly commit to investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and an unsubstantiated theory that Democrats conspired with Kyiv to interfere in the 2016 election.

“We followed the president’s orders,” Mr. Sondland said.

His appearance amounted to an act of defiance by an official who has been described by other witnesses as a point man in the push to extract the investigations. In his testimony, Mr. Sondland linked the most senior members of the Trump administration to the effort — including the vice president, the secretary of state, the acting chief of staff and others. He said they were informed of it at key moments, an account that severely undercut Mr. Trump’s frequent claims that he never pressured Ukraine.

Instead, Mr. Sondland, a wealthy Republican megadonor, described an expansive effort to help the president do just that.

Later on Wednesday, a Defense Department official, Laura K. Cooper, testified that Ukrainian officials may have known as early as late July that a $391 million package of security assistance was being withheld by the Trump administration.

The testimony by Ms. Cooper called into question another central element of the president’s defense: that there was no pressure because Ukrainian officials were unaware that the money was frozen.

Mr. Sondland also took Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney with him.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo signed off on parts of the pressure campaign, Mr. Sondland testified, and Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, was deeply involved. They understood, as he did, that there was a quid pro quo linking a White House meeting for President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to a promise by him to announce investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals, he said.

“I know that members of this committee have frequently framed these complicated issues in the form of a simple question: Was there a quid pro quo?” Mr. Sondland said. “As I testified previously, with regard to the requested White House call and White House meeting, the answer is yes.”

“Everyone was in the loop,” he said. “It was no secret.”

Even with that, though, I still don’t think it’s going to change the inevitable outcome.  I also don’t believe the breathless speculation on the part of some wishful thinkers/hopers that Trump will decide that he really did have a reason to go to Walter Reed last Saturday and resign for “health concerns.”  He’ll stick it out, he’ll let others take the fall, the Republicans on the Hill will hang with him to the bitter end while he rallies the proto-fascists in red hats, and even if karma and nature resolve this via the Electoral College or a pulmonary embolism, the only sure bet is that he won’t attend the inauguration of his successor, assuming there is one.

And here’s a little cherry for the top:

Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, helped arrange meetings and calls in Europe for Rep. Devin Nunes in 2018, Parnas’  lawyer Ed MacMahon told The Daily Beast.

Nunes aide Derek Harvey participated in the meetings, the lawyer said, which were arranged to help Nunes’ investigative work. MacMahon didn’t specify what those investigations entailed.

Nunes is the top Republican on the House committee handling the impeachment hearings—hearings where Parnas’ name has repeatedly come up.

Congressional records show Nunes traveled to Europe from Nov. 30 to Dec. 3, 2018. Three of his aides—Harvey, Scott Glabe, and George Pappas—traveled with him, per the records. U.S. government funds paid for the group’s four-day trip, which cost just over $63,000.

The travel came as Nunes, in his role on the House Intelligence Committee, was working to investigate the origins of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian election-meddling.

Parnas’ assistance to Nunes’ team has not been previously reported. A spokesperson for Nunes did not respond to requests for comment.

That would probably explain why Mr. Nunes is so intent at yelling “SQUIRREL!” every time the mic is on in front of him.  He’s got some ‘splaining to do, too.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Go Greyhound…

I’m listening to Amb. Gordon Sondland’s testimony to the House Impeachment Inquiry, and it sounds like he’s throwing Trump, Rudy Giuliani,  and Mike Pompeo under the bus.

At this point (10:55 a.m.), the Republican bootlickers haven’t had a shot at him.  I imagine they’re going to do their best to extricate them, oil pan and all.

Performative Politics

Charles P. Pierce on yesterday’s testimony:

This moment, in the beginning.

VINDMAN: Dad, my sitting here today, in the US Capitol talking to our elected officials, is proof that you made the right decision 40 years ago to leave the Soviet Union and come here to the United States of America in search of a better life for our family. Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth.

And this moment, in the middle.

VINDMAN: I couldn’t believe what I was hearing… It was probably an element of shock, that maybe in certain regards my worst fear of how our Ukraine policy could play out was playing out and how this was likely to have significant implications for U.S. national security.

And this moment, at the end of it.

VINDMAN: Because this is America. This is the country that I have served and defended,” he said, adding, “Here, right matters.

There will be spinning and slander now. The flying monkeys are in formation and will be descending on Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman for the next few days. Hell, the entire Republican side of the House Intelligence Committee did little all day on Tuesday except informal show prep for the next few weeks of the Hannity program.

(Rep. Jim Jordan, in particular, used his last five minutes to deliver a screed that more properly belonged between male-enhancement ads on a drive-time radio talk show. And does Jordan, the Sergeant Schultz of the Ohio State wrestling room, really want to criticize Vindman for not alerting the proper authorities in the proper way?)

But those three moments will stand, as stark as black marble obelisks rising from a reeking landfill. There’s enough room behind them to fit whatever hope we still have for competent, decent government in a competent, decent nation. There is room there to keep that hope safe, at least for a while.

(And, it should be noted that Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, also stood in fairly well on Tuesday. There was just enough in her testimony to make Pence nervous.)

The Republicans have abandoned all sense of legislative duty. For all Devin Nunes’s mooing about how the whole business is just a show, it is his side of the table that’s going through the elaborate motions of performative politics. If it’s not John Ratcliffe tying himself in semantic knots about how many times the secret word—”bribery”—has been said, it’s Jordan and Nunes, playing the roles designed for them by the implacable demands of modern conservative cosplay. Jordan’s peroration at the end, in which he described the vast Democratic-Deep-State-Resistance conspiracy that began in July of 2016—or, it should be said, right about the time the hacked DNC emails began appearing, but I’m sure this is entirely coincidental—was absolutely a scriptwriter’s McGuffin, and not a very compelling one.

There was one thing about which the Republicans were absolutely correct: the president* is going to be impeached by the House of Representatives. It’s hard to imagine anything short of an intercession by the president*’s vascular system that can stop that now. And if the only reason that it happens is that, here in America, right matters, that will be good enough.

The Army has placed Lt. Col. Vindman and his family under protection because of backlash from Trumpers and Trump himself.  For that alone he should be run out office.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Live Feed

One of today’s witnesses at the impeachment inquiry is a genuine war hero.

The House impeachment hearing Tuesday is set to feature one of the Democrats’ star witnesses: Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a Purple Heart recipient who is expected to testify about his alarm at President Trump’s request that Ukraine investigate his political opponents.

But Republicans are also seizing on Vindman’s testimony as an opportunity, signaling that they plan to try to discredit one of the key witnesses in the inquiry by questioning his motives and his loyalty to the president.

The high-stakes appearance could provide some of the most contentious moments in the public hearings and set the tone as the inquiry heads into a busy week of testimony.

The spotlight will intensify the pressure on Vindman , who continues to serve in the White House as the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council. He previously told House lawmakers that he believed the president crossed a “disturbing” line when he asked the Ukrainian president for a “favor” during a July 25 call — that Ukraine investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

The fact that the Republicans are willing to smear a man with a Purple Heart, earned in a war that the Republicans lied us into, and in service of a draft-dodging liar, gives us the ground on which they stand.

Does A Goose Go Barefoot?

Via the Washington Post:

House investigators are examining whether President Trump lied to former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, the House general counsel told a federal appeals court Monday in Washington.

The statement came during arguments over Congress’s demand for the urgent release of secret grand jury evidence from Mueller’s probe of Russia’s 2016 election interference, with House lawyers detailing fresh concerns about Trump’s truthfulness that could become part of the impeachment inquiry.

The hearing followed Friday’s conviction of longtime Trump friend Roger Stone for lying to Congress. Testimony and evidence at his trial appeared to cast doubt on Trump’s written answers to Mueller’s questions, specifically about whether the president was aware of his campaign’s attempts to learn about the release of hacked Democratic emails by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks.

“Did the president lie? Was the president not truthful in his responses to the Mueller investigation?” General Counsel Douglas N. Letter said in court.

What an obvious question.  Of course he lied.  That’s his default setting.  He lies like the rest of us breathe.

The more important question is, What are you going to do about it?

For weeks now, senior Democrats have been privately playing down the suggestion that Mueller’s investigation is likely to be part of articles of impeachment against Trump, noting that it’s merely a legal tactic to get information from the executive branch to inform other investigations.

Behind the scenes, there’s been debate among Democratic lawmakers about whether articles of impeachment should include obstruction of justice allegations detailed in Mueller’s report. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and her leadership team have wanted to keep the focus on Ukraine, according to four aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk candidly. But some more liberal members, including several lawmakers on the House Judiciary panel, want to include charges surrounding Mueller’s inquiry.

What more do you need?

Monday, November 18, 2019

Lowering The Barr

Via the New York Times:

Attorney General William P. Barr on Friday vigorously defended President Trump’s use of executive authority and suggested that House Democrats were subverting the will of voters by exploring whether to remove the president from office for abusing his power.

Mr. Trump campaigned on a vow to upend Washington, and voters were aware of his agenda when they elected him president, Mr. Barr said.

“While the president has certainly thrown out the traditional Beltway playbook and punctilio, he was up front about what he wanted to do and the people decided they wanted him to serve as president,” Mr. Barr said in a speech at a conference hosted by the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group influential in Republican politics.

Mr. Trump’s opponents “essentially see themselves as engaged in a war to cripple by any means necessary a duly elected government,” Mr. Barr added.

His forceful defense of the president came after some of Mr. Trump’s allies have in recent weeks accused Mr. Barr of failing to vociferously back the president. Mr. Trump was said to be frustrated that Mr. Barr urged him to release a reconstructed transcript of the July call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine at the center of the impeachment case. The president also wanted Mr. Barr to hold a news conference to say the president had violated no laws, only to have Mr. Barr rebuff the request. Mr. Trump has denied that account.

Speaking for an hour at the upscale Mayflower Hotel a few blocks from the White House, Mr. Barr hit back at the president’s critics on an array of fronts as he argued that Mr. Trump, in his capacity as president, has not overstepped his authority.

While Mr. Barr never uttered the word impeachment, he castigated those he sees as stalling Mr. Trump’s agenda. He defended the president’s right to set policies, steer the country’s diplomatic and military relations and keep executive branch conversations confidential from congressional oversight.

“In waging a scorched-earth, no-holds-barred war against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in shredding norms and undermining the rule of law,” Mr. Barr said.

He noted that opponents labeled themselves “the resistance” immediately after Mr. Trump was elected and accused them of “using every tool and maneuver to sabotage the functioning of the executive branch and his administration.

“Resistance is the language used to describe insurgency against rule imposed by an occupying military power,” Mr. Barr said. He added that it connotes that the government is not legitimate. “This is a very dangerous and indeed incendiary notion.”

This is both hilarious and troubling at the same time; a common reaction to most of the antics of the current administration.  While they reek of rank hypocrisy — carrying on about how “resistance” to Trump is somehow undemocratic while forgetting how they supported the Tea Party antics and right-wing nutsery against President Obama — Mr. Barr, who has been Attorney General before in comparatively normal times, seems to forget that the job of being Trump’s personal lawyer is already taken by Rudy Giuliani, and he’s doing a bang-up job at that.  Unless, of course, Trump is putting the squeeze on him to support him regardless of the fact that the Attorney General is supposed to work for us, not him.  That would explain, perhaps, why Mr. Barr delivered a speech that, as Charlie Pierce remarked, would have been “best delivered while wearing a uniform and mirrored shades, and while standing on a balcony.”

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sunday Reading

Is Thee Talking to Me? — Teresa M. Bejan in the New York Times on what Quakers can teach us about pronouns.

George Fox, founder of the Quakers

Pronouns are the most political parts of speech. In English, defaulting to the feminine “she/her” when referring to a person of unspecified gender, instead of the masculine “he/him,” has long been a way of thumbing one’s nose at the patriarchy. (“When a politician votes, she must consider the public mood.”)

More recently, trans, nonbinary and genderqueer activists have promoted the use of gender-inclusive pronouns such as the singular “they/their” and “ze/zir” (instead of “he/him” or “she/her”). The logic here is no less political: If individuals — not grammarians or society at large — have the right to determine their own gender, shouldn’t they get to choose their own pronouns, too?

As with everything political, the use of gender-inclusive pronouns has been subject to controversy. One side argues that not to respect an individual’s choice of pronoun can threaten a vulnerable person’s basic equality. The other side dismisses this position as an excess of sensitivity, even a demand for Orwellian “newspeak.”

Both sides have dug in. To move the conversation forward, I suggest we look backward for an illuminating, if unexpected, perspective on the politics of pronouns. Consider the 17th-century Quakers, who also suspected that the rules of grammar stood between them and a society of equals.

Today the Quakers are remembered mainly for their pacifism and support for abolition. Yet neither of these commitments defined the Quaker movement as it emerged in the 1650s from the chaos of the English Civil War. What set the Quakers apart from other evangelical sects was their rejection of conventional modes of address — above all, their peculiar use of pronouns.

In early modern England, the rules of civility dictated that an individual of higher authority or social rank was entitled to refer to himself — and to be referred to by others — with plural, not singular, pronouns. (A trace of this practice survives today in the “royal ‘we.’”) The ubiquitous “you” that English speakers now use as the second-person singular pronoun was back then the plural, while “thee” and “thou” were the second-person singulars.

When Quakerism emerged, proper behavior still required this status-based differentiation. As one early Quaker explained, if a man of lower status came to speak to a wealthy man, “he must you the rich man, but the rich man will thou him.”

Quakers refused to follow this practice. They also refused to doff their hats to those of higher social standing. The Quakers’ founder, George Fox, explained that when God sent him forth, “he forbade me to put off my hat to any, high or low; and I was required to thee and thou all men and women, without any respect to rich or poor, great or small.”

The Quakers thus declared themselves to be, like God, “no respecter of persons.” So they thee-ed and thou-ed their fellow human beings without distinction as a form of egalitarian social protest. And like today’s proponents of gender-inclusive pronouns, they faced ridicule and persecution as a result.

But there is also an important difference between the Quakers and today’s pronoun protesters. While modern activists argue that equality demands displays of equal respect toward others, the Quakers demonstrated conscientious disrespect toward everyone. Theirs was an equality of extreme humility and universally low status. Even the famously tolerant founder of Rhode Island, Roger Williams, couldn’t stand the Quakers and complained of the “familiarity, anger, scorn and contempt” inherent in their use of “thee” and “thou.”

Indeed, the trend in pronouns at that time was toward a leveling up, not a leveling down. By the middle of the 17th century, in response to increasing geographic and social mobility, the plural “you” had begun to crowd out the singular “thee” as the standard second-person pronoun, even for those of a lower social station. This meant that everyone would soon become, effectively, entitled — at least to the honorific second-person plural.

One might expect principled egalitarians like the Quakers to celebrate a linguistic process whereby all social ranks experienced an increase in dignity. But Fox and his followers looked on the universal “you” with horror, as a sign of the sin of pride. Long before he founded Pennsylvania, the Quaker William Penn would argue that when applied to individuals, the plural “you” was a form of idolatry. Other Quakers produced pamphlets citing examples from more than 30 dead and living languages to argue that their use of “thee” and “thou” was grammatically — as well as theologically and politically — correct.

The Quaker use of “thee” and “thou” continued as a protest against the sinfulness of English grammar for more than 200 years. (In 1851, in “Moby-Dick,” Herman Melville could still marvel at “the stately dramatic thee and thou of the Quaker idiom.”) But eventually, in the 20th century, even the Quakers had to admit that their grammatical ship had sailed.

Modern practitioners of pronoun politics can learn a thing or two from the early Quakers. Like today’s egalitarians, the Quakers understood that what we say, as well as how we say it, can play a crucial part in creating a more just and equal society. They, too, were sensitive to the humble pronoun’s ability to reinforce hierarchies by encoding invidious distinctions into language itself.

Yet unlike the early Quakers, these modern egalitarians want to embrace, rather than resist, pronouns’ honorific aspect, and thus to see trans-, nonbinary and genderqueer people as equally entitled to the “title” of their choosing.

To their critics, however, allowing some people to designate their own pronouns and expecting everyone else to oblige feels like a demand for distinction. Yes, some of these critics may be motivated by “transphobic” bigotry. But others genuinely see such demands as special treatment and a violation of equality. They themselves experience “he” and “she” as unchosen designations. Shouldn’t everyone, they ask, be equally subject to the laws of grammatical gender?

According to the Quakers, both sides are right: Language reflects, as well as transforms, social realities. But the dual demands of equality and respect aren’t always in perfect harmony. Sometimes they are even in conflict. Respect can require treating people unequally, and equality can mean treating everyone with disrespect.

At present, the battle over the third-person singular subject in English seems to be resolving itself in the direction of the singular “they” — at least when referring to a person of unspecified gender. (“When a politician votes, they must consider the public mood.”) Pedants naturally complain. They argue that applying a plural pronoun to a singular subject is simply bad English. But as linguists note, spoken English has been tending that way for many years, long before the issue became politicized.

If the rules of grammar are indeed an obstacle to social justice, then the singular “they” represents a path of least resistance for activists and opponents alike. It may not be the victory that activists want. Still, it goes with the flow of the increasing indifference with which modern English distinguishes subjects on the basis of their social position. More fittingly, if applied to everyone, “they” would complete the leveling-up progress of equal dignity that “you” started centuries ago.

Of course, a 17th-century Quaker would be likely to dismiss the singular “they” as diabolically bad grammar. But hey, who asked them?

Witness Clarity — David Remnick in The New Yorker.

Long before Alexander Hamilton became an icon of the Broadway stage, he glimpsed the harrowing qualities of a man like Donald Trump. He did not like what he saw. As his definitive biographer, Ron Chernow, makes clear, Hamilton was an advocate of strong executive power, yet he also envisaged the rise of a demagogue who would put liberty and the rule of law at risk, and place his own interests before those of the country. Writing to George Washington, in 1792, Hamilton seemed to anticipate our current moment and the con on the golden escalator:

When a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents . . . is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”

Hamilton also paid close attention to the crimes and misdemeanors that such a scoundrel might commit, and how the country could protect itself from them. He wrote two Federalist essays about impeachment, and, as Chernow noted recently in the Washington Post, he would “certainly have endorsed” the current inquiry in the House. Only willful resistance to fact can obscure the reality that Trump, with the help of his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and various others, tried to extort a vulnerable ally in order to gain an advantage in the 2020 election campaign. The White House finally released three hundred and ninety-­one million dollars in defense funds to Ukraine on September 11th—not owing to a fit of moral reconsideration but, it would appear, because two days earlier the House had launched its inquiry into allegations that Trump had tried to press Ukraine into investigating a political opponent. Given the abundance of documentary evidence, testimony from high-ranking public officials, and self-incriminating public statements by Trump, Hamilton would have seconded the sentiments expressed by Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who gavelled open the public hearings on impeachment on Wednesday, saying:

If we find that the President of the United States abused his power and invited foreign interference in our elections  . . . must we simply get over it? Is this what Americans should now expect from their President? If this is not impeachable conduct, what is?

The first day of the hearings was notable for the sobriety, clarity, and unshakable dignity of the witnesses. William B. Taylor, Jr., a decorated Vietnam War veteran and the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent, who oversees Eastern European and Eurasian affairs, provided, as they had earlier in closed hearings, detailed testimony that the President of the United States sought to pressure the beleaguered President of Ukraine to sully the reputation of a Democratic rival, Joe Biden, in exchange for a meeting at the Oval Office and the release of the defense funds.

According to Taylor, Gordon Sondland, the U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, spoke with Trump by cell phone from a restaurant in Kiev; the President’s emphasis was single-minded. After finishing the call, Sondland told one of Taylor’s aides that “Trump cares more about the investigation of Biden” than about the fate of Ukraine. The date was July 26th––the day after Trump issued his now infamous demand that the Ukrainian President do him a “favor.”

Taylor and Kent were impassive, formal witnesses, but they were direct about their sense of dismay. Essential questions emerged from the stories they told: How could a President engage in such brazen self-dealing? How could he play games with the security needs of a state that had been invaded by Russia, first in Crimea and then in the Donbass? “To withhold that assistance for no good reason other than help with a political campaign made no sense,” Taylor said. “It was counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do. It was illogical. It could not be explained. It was crazy.”

The President dismissed the hearings as a “hoax.” He insisted that he was “too busy to watch,” although he retweeted more than a dozen video clips, articles, and commentaries in his putative defense. Conservative media outlets, from Fox News to Breitbart, declared the hearings “boring” and hoped their audience, the Trump base, would remain unmoved. Republican members of the Intelligence Committee, led by Jim Jordan, of Ohio, and Devin Nunes, of California, made every attempt to confound voters with misdirection and conspiracy theories. Nunes warned obscurely of the prospect of “nude ­pictures of Trump.” The Republicans ­complained that Taylor and Kent didn’t even know the President—their testimony was so “secondhand”—and yet these same legislators are in no rush to have the White House lift its block on witnesses with distinctly firsthand access—including Giuliani and the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney.

As Hamilton, Madison, Adams, and their colleagues were drafting the founding documents of the country, they expressed concern about “foreign influence” on the Presidency. The sources of their anxiety then resided mainly in France and England. It was therefore powerful to hear Kent compare the plight of the American colonists in their struggle against the British crown to that of the post-Soviet Ukrainians as they have struggled against the Putin regime in Russia. Trump favors Moscow. He has repeatedly dismissed the intelligence community’s conclusion that Russians interfered in the 2016 election. As President, he has made it plain that he welcomes outside interference again, if it helps him win reëlection.

The President and his confederates have warned of the consequences of impeachment. In 2017, the self-described “dirty trickster” Roger Stone, who is now on trial for lying to Congress, issued a characteristically Trumpish threat:

Try to impeach him. Just try it. You will have a spasm of violence in this country, an insurrection like you’ve never seen. Both sides are heavily armed, my friend. This is not 1974. The people will not stand for impeachment. A politician who votes for it would be endangering their own life.

Impeachment is a grave business, and the risks are manifest. But no democracy can overlook evidence of abuse of power, bribery, and obstruction in the hope that an election will set things right.

These hearings and a potential Senate trial will never get to the full range of Donald Trump’s corruptions, be they on Fifth Avenue or Pennsylvania Avenue, in Istanbul, Moscow, or Riyadh. But the focus of Congress is on this particular and outrageous abuse of the public trust, and for now that must suffice.

Doonesbury — Immigration status.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Live Feed

The sources for watching the impeachment inquiry hearings are legion: cable, networks, even through newspaper websites; on Wednesday, I watched it via the Washington Post.  So, if you’re so inclined, tune in. Or you can binge on “That ’70’s Show” on Comedy Central or “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” on WE TV.