Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sunday Reading

Immunology — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker on Trump’s frantic fight to stay out of reach.

Donald Trump, at times when it has served his purposes, has chosen to assume different personae. There was John Barron, an alias he used in the nineteen-eighties when giving false property valuations to a reporter. Later, there was John Miller, a guise he adopted to brag to People about his romances. (“He’s living with Marla and he’s got three other girlfriends.”) David Dennison was his stand-in for a hush agreement with the adult-movie actress Stormy Daniels, which has now led the Manhattan District Attorney to subpoena Trump’s accountant in an effort to get access, at last, to the President’s tax returns.

More recently, Trump has shown an elastic sense of identity in ways that exemplify his Presidential overreach and arrogance. On Halloween, in a case that has major implications for both the impeachment process and the future of executive power, a Justice Department lawyer told Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, in a district court in D.C., that Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, was “absolutely immune” from congressional subpoenas because he is “the alter ego of the President.” Apparently, he’s not the only one. The office of the current White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, has told potential witnesses in the House impeachment investigation—from Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, to Charles Kupperman, the former deputy national-security adviser—that they, too, are absolutely immune.

The argument is that certain associates work so closely with the President that they are, in effect, an extension of him, and thus free to ignore subpoenas or requests to testify. Others were told that, if they testified, they risked violating additional forms of Presidential privilege. Some witnesses, including Marie Yovanovitch, the former Ambassador to Ukraine, and Fiona Hill, a former National Security Council official, showed up anyway, and their testimony is proving devastating for Trump. More than a dozen witnesses, though, have failed to appear.

A prominent absentee was John Bolton, the former national-security adviser. On Friday, his lawyer said that Bolton’s willingness to testify depends on what the courts have to say about immunity. Bolton had a difficult relationship with Trump, who fired him, and a close view of his foreign dealings. (According to Hill, Bolton called the Ukraine scheme a “drug deal.”) His lawyer added that Bolton had new information, all of which could make him a dangerous witness for the President, particularly after this week, when public hearings begin.

But, even beyond the question of who will testify, the fights over immunity, along with a host of related legal battles, are critical, because Trump’s Presidency has been defined by his belief that he cannot be held to account. That conviction is particularly pernicious given that many of the questions at issue—What is executive privilege? Can a sitting President be indicted?—are surprisingly ill-defined in American jurisprudence. In fact, Presidents from both parties have on occasion tried to claim that close aides had absolute immunity. When President George W. Bush tested the assertion, in a case involving the former White House counsel Harriet Miers and the firing of U.S. attorneys, a federal judge ruled that no such immunity existed. But that case was settled, and never made it to even the appeals-court level. This may be the moment to establish some clarity.

The McGahn case is further along than other suits attempting to do so. (Last week, the House Intelligence Committee withdrew its subpoena for testimony from Kupperman, who had brought his own case, to keep the focus on McGahn.) The case arose from the Mueller report, which suggested that McGahn may have direct knowledge of Trump’s alleged obstructions of justice. By most accounts, Judge Jackson was taken aback by the breadth of the Administration’s claims, which included a denial that courts should be allowed to have any say in a fight between the President and Congress. “How will they resolve it on their own, then—sending the sergeant at arms to arrest Mr. McGahn?” she asked, referring to the House’s security guard. The Justice Department’s lawyers have suggested that a better idea might be for the House committees to rely on an “accommodation process”—in other words, if they were nice to Trump he might throw a few witnesses their way.

Similarly, in a case involving the Judiciary Committee’s efforts to get access to some of the Mueller report’s underlying materials, Judge Beryl Howell, the chief judge of the D.C. district court, said that the White House’s arguments that it was going along with normal processes “smack of farce.” (On October 25th, she ruled for the committee, although her order has been stayed.) And Judge Victor Marrero, the district-court judge in the tax-return case, noted that the President’s argument would “potentially immunize the misconduct of any other person, business affiliate, associate, or relative who may have collaborated with the President in committing purportedly unlawful acts.”

Marrero ruled against Trump on October 7th; an expedited appeal was heard two weeks later. In those oral arguments, Judge Denny Chin, of the Second Circuit, asked the President’s lawyer William Consovoy if he was actually arguing that, owing to Presidential immunity, Trump really could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue and local authorities would not be able to pursue the case while he was President. “Nothing could be done?” Chin said. Consovoy replied, “That’s correct.”

The crudeness of the Administration’s arguments obscure the delicacy of the constitutional questions. Trump appears unwilling to accept the idea that weighing the President’s powers and privileges against other parties’ rights and interests is essential to a healthy constitutional system. (The Supreme Court performed such a balancing test in ordering Richard Nixon to turn over the White House tapes.) For Trump, it’s all or nothing. But the corollary to any claim of criminal immunity is that the alternative the Constitution provides—impeachment—must not be undermined.

The House isn’t waiting for all the missing witnesses to appear, or for all the cases to reach the Supreme Court. Instead, Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, warned last week that the President’s frantic efforts to sabotage the process could, in themselves, be impeachable offenses. As the list of charges grows, more people will be called to testify before the House, and then, most likely, the Senate—and their names may even surprise Donald Trump.

I Can Drive My Own Car, Thanks — Beth Teitell in the Boston Globe on automated safety features.

Debbie Abdon was driving home to Milton from the Honda dealer, making what should have been a celebratory trip in her new white Accord, only to feel like she’d bought a haunted vehicle.

The wheel vibrated in her hands. It pulled her to the right. “It scared the daylights out of me,” she said. “She freaked,” her husband said.

Once she was off the highway, Abdon would learn that the wheel’s “possessed” behavior was intended to keep her safe, a feature of Honda’s Lane Keeping Assist System.

But when she was driving on I-95, the now-retired food service worker wasn’t thinking about how even entry-level cars now have “active” safety systems that come close to driving for you. She was thinking about how the big truck to her right was too close for comfort, which made her edge slightly leftward, which in turn prompted the safety system to fight her for control of the car by steering it back to the middle of her lane.

Once home, Abdon promptly disabled the feature. “Whoever is driving should be in control of the car,” she said.

For some large fraction of drivers that’s become a call to action. More than one in five drivers have disabled a safety feature, according to a new study by Liberty Mutual Insurance. The top reasons are good old-fashioned annoyance at all those beeps and flashing lights, and distrust of technology.

Millennials, by the way, disable the systems significantly more than other generations — 35 percent compared to 18 percent of Gen X and 10 percent of baby boomers, the study found. (The study was silent on whether the numbers reflect a youthful disregard for safety, or the boomers’ inability to figure out how to shut off the annoyances.)

If you’re still driving an older car, here’s a glimpse into the new world of automotive nagging: systems that can detect when a car is in your blind spot, or a pedestrian is about to step into your path, and even when another vehicle is about to come across behind you when you’re in reverse. Somehow the car can also figure out when a driver may be too tired, and suggests a break.

Many drivers find lane-departure warnings particularly annoying. The system uses a camera to monitor when the car drifts beyond the lane marking, and sets off an audio, visual, or other alert. Particularly aggressive systems, such as the one in Abdon’s car, not only vibrate, but steer a driver back to the center of the lane.

There is so much to these new safety systems that there’s now a website devoted to them: MyCarDoesWhat.org.

Driver-drowsiness detectors, the site explains, typically work by tracking how often a driver departs from the center of the lane over a set period of time.“More advanced versions can ‘learn’ what your normal driving patterns are when you aren’t drowsy,” the site explains. “If you then begin to drive unusually — such as making many sudden maneuvers or stops — the system may suggest you may be drowsy and should take a driving break.”

In Boston, where we’re blessed to have fellow motorists providing roadway guidance — in the form of a raised middle finger, perhaps, or honking — many drivers don’t want input from their cars, too. And they’re showing up at auto repair shops seeking help, unaware they can turn the offending systems off on their own.

George Jr., a co-owner of Brighton Motor Services, who declined to give his last name, said that not only do people use mechanics as therapists — “You wouldn’t believe half the stuff people tell us about,” he said, “their sexual relationships, they’ve got a family member in jail . . .” — but they also want mechanics to silence their cars.

Customers have asked him to disable blind-spot warning systems. “They buzz people’s butts and they don’t like it,” he said.

But there’s no way he’s assuming that kind of liability. “If I disable it and something happens, everything falls on the shoulders of the small auto repair shop,” he said.

Speaking of therapists, maybe drivers should look within themselves for the problem, and learn, for example, to stay within the highway’s painted lines, and not blame safety features, said Jim Motavalli, a freelance auto writer and the author of “High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug In the Auto Industry.”

He likened attempts to silence safety-related beeping to the irritation some drivers feel about the “check engine” light. “People are more concerned with getting the light off than addressing the circumstances behind why it came on.”

The warnings can be so confusing, in fact, that a driver may not even be sure what the car is trying to say. That’s what happened to Eric Mauro, a local stained glass artist, this summer, when he and his wife rented a car in Madrid and thought that thumping sound they kept hearing was the result of driving over what must have been bumps in the road.

Nope. The thumping was the rental’s way of telling Mauro that he was going over a painted lane marker without using his blinker. Considering how hectic the driving already felt — “people drive like maniacs,” he said — he took the time to figure out, in Spanish, how to disable it.

“The other drivers were already clear on what I was doing wrong,” he said.

Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute have found that many safety features reduce crashes. Cars with lane-departure warning systems had 11 percent fewer single-vehicle, sideswipe, and head-on crashes than those without the technology, for example. Blind-spot detection systems led to a 23 percent decrease in lane changes with injuries.

The technology isn’t foolproof, of course, as per this recent press release: “AAA Warns Pedestrian Detection Systems Don’t Work When Needed Most.”

Meanwhile, safety is one issue. Art is another. One shudders to think what this all means for Hollywood.

Imagine that famous scene in “On the Waterfront” in a modern vehicle: Marlon Brando playing the washed-up boxer Terry, confronting his brother in the back of a cab outfitted with today’s safety features.

“You shoulda looked out for me a little bit,” he would tell Charley, as Leonard Bernstein’s dirge-like score plays in the background. As Brando winds up for his big line, the cab driver makes the mistake of drifting out of his lane. “I coulda had class. I coulda been a’’ — beep, beep, beep.

Doonesbury — Read all about it.

Friday, November 8, 2019

The Basics

Josh Marshall sums up the case.

Here are some basic thoughts about what happened in this story, what matters and how to describe it.

The President used extortion to cheat in the 2020 presidential election. He used military aid dollars meant to aid an ally against his Russian patrons in order to force Ukraine to intervene in the 2020 elections, in order to remain in office by corrupt means.

There are various crimes that get committed along the way. But that is the core of it. The President is delegated vast powers to act in the national interest and he has vast discretion to determine what he or she believes the national interest is. But when he uses those powers for his own personal or financial gain they are illegitimate on their face, abuses of power and merit impeachment. The fact that he was doing so to sabotage a national election makes it vastly worse. And the fact that he was getting a foreign power to sabotage a US election makes it worse still. Any talk of “quid pro quos” and this and that minutiae is a distortion of what happened. Quid pro quos are simply exchanges of one thing for another. Presidents will ask for help on one bill in exchange for another. They’ll condition one kind of aid to a country on assistance on another foreign policy goal. In itself it means nothing. The crimes are bribery and extortion, the abuses of power are using presidential power for personal gain and the central offense against the state is the attempt to sabotage a national election, the event on which the legitimacy of the entire system rests.

It’s pretty obvious on its face that the President did these things for his own personal interest rather than the national interest. But even this isn’t left to accusations or logic or surmise. His chief coconspirator has said repeatedly that all his actions were done exclusively in the interest of Donald Trump. Rudy Giuliani reiterated the point as recently as last night.

We don’t even need to get into the other crimes involved, having a crooked lawyer taking over US foreign policy in a critical part of the world and sidelining professional diplomats. We just focus on the core thing. The President is given tremendous power to advance the national interest, see that the laws are enforced, preserve the national welfare. These aren’t powers that he owns personally. They are delegated for these ends. Your banker has great power to act on your behalf. They have no right to steal your money. A doctor has vast powers to cut your body, make decisions when you are unconscious. They no right [sic] to kill you or sell your organs or fondle you for their personal satisfaction. It’s all the same thing. Stop saying quid pro quo or getting lost in the details. The crimes are clear. Use language that accurately describes them.

This should be what the whole discussion should be about, whether it’s in the well of the Senate or across the Thanksgiving table with your Fox-addled uncle.  Game, set, match.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Desperate Defense

Sound familiar?

The problem with pivoting from “no quid pro quo” to “yes there was one, but it isn’t that bad” is that they then have to explain why Trump lied about it — and continues to. Apparently, they’re going with, “He’s too stupid to know what any of this means.”

But didn’t he tell us that he’s a Very Stable Genius and that no one is smarter than he?

I guess when you’re that desperate, you’ll try anything.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Out In The Open

The House impeachment inquiry is releasing the transcripts that the Republicans were demanding be made public.  Well, as they say, be careful what you wish for.

Republicans have complained for weeks about the secret House impeachment inquiry, accusing Democrats of rigging the process and interviewing witnesses behind closed doors — at one point storming the hearing room and chanting, “Let us in!”

But inside the secure room in the Capitol basement where the proceedings are taking place, Republicans have used their time to complain that testimony has become public, going after their colleagues who were quoted in media reports commenting on witness appearances, and quizzing witnesses themselves on how their statements had been released.

The efforts by GOP lawmakers to shape the Democrats’ inquiry emerged in full view for the first time Monday with the release of hundreds of pages of transcripts from two early witnesses: Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and Michael McKinley, a former senior adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

At one point, GOP lawmakers held up the questioning of McKinley to complain about a fellow lawmaker, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), who had made a public comment about witness testimony the day before.

“Obviously, we’ve talked about confidentiality in here,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), a top Trump ally. “. . . Is that a violation of the House rules?”

The Democrats’ point man on the inquiry, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), demurred, noting that he had told lawmakers not to discuss what happened in the depositions. But Republicans couldn’t let it go.

“I, like my colleague here, share the concerns,” said. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.). “We need clarification on the rules that apply to confidentiality.”

The release of the two transcripts Monday marked a new milestone in the Democrats’ investigation, which has thus far taken place largely out of public view.

The short version is that the Republicans were basically doing everything they could to undermine the credibility of the witnesses — at which they laughingly failed, at one time pondering the origin of Ms. Yovanovitch’s nickname, Masha — to drawing out these bonkers conspiracy theories perpetrated by Sean Hannity and his minions at Fox News.

Depending on your point of view, it’s only going to get better or worse for Trump and his gang of fools.  The more transcripts come out, the more they’re going to reveal that not only was Trump putting the bite on Ukraine for dirt on Joe Biden, he was being rather clumsy at it.  And it’s going to make the Republicans in the House who are rabidly defending him look even more like sycophants — if that it possible.

I’m pretty sure by the end of today we’re going to hear the Republicans wondering if the testimony should now be done behind closed doors.

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Sunday Reading

But Is It A Crime? — Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker on whether quid pro quo is a crime.

It’s long been clear that Presidents can be impeached for “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are not actual violations of federal criminal law. In an oft-cited passage from Federalist No. 65, Alexander Hamilton wrote that impeachable offenses “are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” They involve “the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” This, at the moment, is the core of the case against Donald Trump for his interactions with the President of Ukraine—that he abused his power by using taxpayer dollars as a tool to extract information potentially damaging to a political rival.

But, if Trump’s behavior was an abuse of power, was it also a crime? The leading candidate for a relevant criminal statute is a familiar one in the federal courts, called the Hobbs Act. The law, named for the Alabama congressman who sponsored it, was enacted in 1946. It prohibits what’s known as “extortion under color of official right.” But what does that mean in plain English?

Samuel W. Buell, a professor at Duke Law School who is a former federal prosecutor and the author of “Capital Offenses: Business Crime and Punishment in America’s Corporate Age,” said, “The traditional way the Hobbs Act is used is when public officials solicit bribes. The idea is that there is an inherent power relationship between a public official and people who need things from that official. If the public official demands money, that’s seen as extortion, and thus a violation of the Hobbs Act.”

So what does that have to do with Trump and Ukraine? “The idea behind the case would be Trump conditioned the release of military aid to Ukraine on the President of Ukraine coming across with the dirt on the Biden family,” Buell said, adding, “He’s misusing official power to obtain things of value to him. That’s the heart of what the Hobbs Act is supposed to prohibit.” Buell draws an analogy to the Hobbs Act prosecution of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois. “Lobbyists for a children’s hospital wanted Blagojevich to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates, which meant eight million dollars in revenue to the hospital,” Buell said. “But he put out the word through intermediaries that he would only do it if he got fifty thousand dollars in campaign contributions. That quid quo pro was a violation of the Hobbs Act. With Trump, the quid pro quo is taxpayer money in return for political dirt, but the idea is the same.”

There are problems with this theory, starting with the President’s constitutional prerogatives to conduct foreign policy under Article II. Trump, or his lawyers, could argue that such a case would criminalize the give-and-take of negotiation with foreign governments. International negotiations, by their very nature, involve exchanges of things of value. Quid pro quos are not only legal; they are the goal of most such interactions. The response to this argument would be that the terms of these sorts of negotiations must involve the national interest, not the political (or financial) fortunes of the President. Another problem relates to the question of mixed motives. If Trump also wanted to withhold aid to Ukraine because he thought that other countries were not kicking in a fair share of support—which was, clearly, a legal motive on his part—would that negate his improper motive on the Biden dirt? The proof issues for prosecutors would be daunting.

In some ways, the legal setting surrounding President Trump’s possible impeachment represents a kind of mirror image of the backdrop to President Clinton’s impeachment, in 1998. There, the core accusation was that Clinton lied under oath about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Perjury is clearly a federal crime, but the question in Clinton’s case was whether his misconduct involved an abuse of Presidential powers. With Trump, his intervention in Ukraine appears to have been an abuse of his powers, but, conceivably, not a crime.

The debate about the criminality of the President’s behavior with regard to Ukraine, on some level, will always remain a theoretical matter. Under Department of Justice policy, sitting Presidents cannot be indicted; impeachment and removal must always come first. But the President and his supporters have already started making the argument that he should not be impeached because there is no proof of any underlying crime. The provisions of the Hobbs Act show that Trump may be wrong about that.

Hold Your Applause — Jeet Heer in The Nation on Twitter’s ban on political ads.

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has learned that the fastest way to earn easy applause from progressives is to draw attention to the contrast between himself and Facebook head honcho Mark Zuckerberg. On Wednesday, Dorsey tweeted, “We’ve made the decision to stop all political advertising on Twitter globally. We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought.” This decision was an implicit but pointed rebuke to Facebook, which has been mired in controversy over its policy of not fact-checking political ads.

By taking a stance against political ads, Dorsey positioned himself as the anti-Zuckerberg. He was hailed as such by progressives. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described Dorsey’s move as “a good call.” She added, “Not allowing for paid disinformation is one of the most basic, ethical decisions a company can make.” This sentiment was echoed by a leading centrist Democrat, Montana Governor Steve Bullock, who tweeted, “Good. Your turn, Facebook.”

While Facebook deserves all the scorn heaped on it, Twitter’s policy only creates a new set of problems. Despite their different paths, the two social media giants are both setting themselves up as the police of political discourse.

Democrats believe, with ample reason, that Donald Trump will use Facebook’s laissez-faire rules to spread lies on social media in his bid for reelection. In a New York Times op-ed on Thursday, Aaron Sorkin, who scripted The Social Network (2010), a biographical film about Zuckerberg, claimed the Facebook policy allows “crazy lies” to be “pumped into the water supply that corrupt the most important decisions we make together. Lies that have a very real and incredibly dangerous effect on our elections and our lives and our children’s lives.” Currently, Facebook is running an ad that claims, falsely and with genuine absurdist brio, that Joe Biden, with the aim of protecting his son Hunter Biden, gave a billion dollars to a Ukrainian official.

Zuckerberg argues that such surrealist slanders have to be allowed in the interest of free expression. The underlying contention is that Facebook is a platform, not a publisher, so can’t be held liable for false information and advertising in the way a newspaper or magazine would. But this self-conceptualization of Facebook as a neutral platform is at odds with reality. It functions for countless users as a source of news and, in fact, has supplanted many publications. In effect, Facebook wants to have the advantages of being a publisher, including collecting ad revenue, without the responsibilities.

The invocation of free expression is all the more disingenuous since Facebook doesn’t hesitate to reject political ads on arbitrary grounds. To protest its purported policy, Adriel Hampton has registered to run for governor of California in 2022 and tried to place dishonest ads on Facebook, including one claiming South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham embraces the Green New Deal. Facebook has rejected Hampton’s ads, telling CNN, “This person has made clear he registered as a candidate to get around our policies, so his content, including ads, will continue to be eligible for third-party fact-checking.”

In making this decision, Facebook has made itself the arbiter of who is and isn’t a serious political candidate. The rule is that Facebook will give absolute free speech to politicians—but also gets to decide who is a politician. Facebook’s position is that it is acceptable to lie, as Trump does, to hold on to power—but not acceptable to lie in order to call attention to Facebook’s ad policy. In the guise of free speech absolutism, Facebook has arrogated to itself the right to define the parameters of political discourse.

The same problem of a private company’s policing the boundaries of political debate bedevils Twitter’s ostensibly different policy. As tech writer Will Oremus noted on OneZero, Twitter defines “political” in a way that will hamper labor unions, environmentalists, and activists of all sorts. Twitter defines political ads as “1/ Ads that refer to an election or a candidate, or 2/ Ads that advocate for or against legislative issues of national importance (such as: climate change, healthcare, immigration, national security, taxes).”

The second category creates a problem. Under prevailing conventions, advocating for consumption is never political speech, merely commercial speech. Conversely, advocating for changes in consumption or other aspects of the economic system is always political. Under Twitter’s rules, General Motors could buy an ad promoting a gas-guzzling car, but Greta Thunberg couldn’t buy an ad advocating climate action.

“This perverse dynamic isn’t limited to climate change,” Oremus observes. “Presumably, tech companies will still be able to run ads touting their commitment to user privacy, but watchdog groups will be barred from running ads suggesting that we need better privacy regulations. Big corporations will be able to boast about how they treat workers, but unions won’t be able to push for prevailing wage laws or workplace safety laws.”

No less than Facebook, Twitter has assumed a role that shouldn’t be held by a private business: the right to set the boundaries of political debate. In both cases, the root problem is that the proper authority for making such decisions, the democratically governed state, has abdicated responsibility. Social media needs to be regulated, with rules about what sort of political ads it can take. Failure to regulate leaves that crucial task in the hands of businessmen like Zuckerberg and Dorsey, who aren’t up to the job.

Doonesbury — Buzzword! Buzzword!

Did you move your clocks back last night (if you were in DST)?

Friday, November 1, 2019

Let The Games Begin

The House voted along party lines to formally open an inquiry to impeaching Trump.

The near party-line vote came as Tim Morrison, a top official on Trump’s National Security Council, testified in a closed-door deposition. Morrison backed up previous testimony that the president withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country into announcing investigations into former vice president Joe Biden and interference in the 2016 election, according to his prepared remarks and people familiar with his testimony, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door proceedings. He said he got the information directly from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, the administration official who communicated that apparent quid pro quo to Ukrainian leaders.

The timing is such that by the time they get to the House Judiciary Committee voting out articles of impeachment and sending them to the Senate for trial, we’ll be right up against the Iowa caucuses, which means six of the presidential candidates will be sitting in judgment on Trump.  That’s just one of the elements that’s going to make this an interesting winter.

It’s pretty obvious how this will play out.  In the beginning, the Trumpians were screaming about the process of the inquiry: it was all secret, there was no fairness, it was all a plot, it was un-American, it was unconstitutional, etc etc etc.  That was bullshit because A) that’s how the House does almost all of their inquiries, and in the last two times a president has been considered for impeachment, it’s how both the Democrats and the Republicans did it, and B) that’s how a grand jury works, which is the closest thing to that kind of process there is in law.  Even an occasional observer of “Law & Order” would know that.  So now that the House has opened a formal inquiry by dusting off the rules that were used in 1974 and 1998, the Trumpians are going to now go after the substance: there’s nothing impeachable here.  If that’s the case — that trying to coerce a foreign government into digging up dirt of a political opponent by withholding vital foreign aid doesn’t rise to the level of impeachment — then they need to kindly explain why not, and while they’re at it, explain why doesn’t the entire Republican establishment owe Bill Clinton several million dollars in restitution for all the shit they put him through for lying about an extramarital affair.

The Trumpians have basically handed the country their Dear Leader over for judgment on a rather simple matter.  Proving collusion with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election was going to be tough, and the Mueller investigation didn’t make it any easier.  But this Ukrainian coercion case is comparatively clear-cut, especially with all of the witnesses coming out of the woodwork to say, well, yeah, Trump did do it and we’ve got the goods to prove it.

I have absolutely no doubt that when the trial ends, Trump will not be convicted.  There are too many Republicans who place their own political future ahead of the laws and the Constitution; they have proven that time and again.  I also have no doubt that in the election, it will be a close contest between electing someone with actual principles of right and wrong based on the law or returning a provable felon to power with the help and support of sycophants and cowards.  There isn’t a Joseph Welch or Barry Goldwater to be found among them.

It makes you wonder why we’re going through all of this if we know ahead of time what’s going to happen.  But if we didn’t, what does that say about us and our simple but firm dedication to the rule of law and the principles that make up who and what this experiment we call the United States of America?  We owe it to ourselves and a candid world to do this.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

“Who Says I’m Dumb?”

Trump says that if he wanted to commit impeachable offenses, he’s smart enough, by golly.

As Donald Trump gets dragged deeper, and deeper, and deeper into his Ukraine scandal and the impeachment inquiry accelerates toward a likely House vote before the year’s end, the president is increasingly insistent that, if he wanted to commit a crime, he wouldn’t be stupid enough to get caught.

At other times, Trump has privately avowed that if he wanted to commit the crimes or outrageous actions he’s accused of, he’d be smart enough to do it—and that people should stop saying he’s too dumb or incompetent to do crimes.

Last week, the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal launched a novel defense of Trump, who Democratic lawmakers allege—as Capitol Hill testimony from senior administration officials suggests—attempted to force the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, a top political rival of Trump’s, in exchange for military aid that was being held up. The newspaper’s esteemed board argued that any talk of impeaching Trump is silly, in large part, because this president is likely too bumbling to execute that kind of scandalous quid pro quo.

“Intriguingly, Mr. [Bill] Taylor says in his statement that many people in the administration opposed the [Rudy] Giuliani effort, including some in senior positions at the White House,” the editorial board wrote. “This matters because it may turn out that while Mr. Trump wanted a quid-pro-quo policy ultimatum toward Ukraine, he was too inept to execute it. Impeachment for incompetence would disqualify most of the government, and most presidents at some point or another in office.”

Trump, a routine morning reader and skimmer of several newspapers’ print editions, saw this editorial—which was obviously meant to defend him—last week. And the president promptly began complaining about it to some of those close to him.

“[The president] mentioned he had seen it and then he started saying things like, ‘What are they talking about, if I wanted to do quid pro quo, I would’ve done the damn quid pro quo,’ and… then defended his intelligence and then talked about how ‘perfect’ the call [with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky] was,” said a source familiar with Trump’s reaction to the Journal editorial. Another person familiar with the president’s comments on the matter corroborated the account.

“He was clearly unhappy. He did not like the word ‘inept,’” the first source added.

Okay, then how about “thick”? “Doltish”? “Numbskull”? “Inadept”? “Unapt”? “Incompetent”? “Loser”?

Proving once again that stupid people don’t know they’re stupid because if they did know they were stupid they wouldn’t be stupid in the first place.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

First-Hand Testimony

The Trumpers and GOP enablers have been saying that all the evidence so far that Trump was going for quid pro quo with Ukraine was all second- or third-hand and therefore wasn’t worth believing.

Well, guess what.

A White House national security official who is a decorated Iraq war veteran plans to tell House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that he heard President Trump appeal to Ukraine’s president to investigate one of his leading political rivals, a request the aide considered so damaging to American interests that he reported it to a superior.

Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman of the Army, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, twice registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine, out of what he called a “sense of duty,” he plans to tell the inquiry, according to a draft of his opening statement obtained by The New York Times.

He will be the first White House official to testify who listened in on the July 25 telephone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry, in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”

Burisma Holdings is an energy company on whose board Mr. Biden’s son served while his father was vice president.

“This would all undermine U.S. national security,” Colonel Vindman added, referring to Mr. Trump’s comments in the call.

The colonel, a Ukrainian-American immigrant who received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq by a roadside bomb and whose statement is full of references to duty and patriotism, could be a more difficult witness to dismiss than his civilian counterparts.

“I am a patriot,” Colonel Vindman plans to tell the investigators, “and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party or politics.”

He was to be interviewed privately on Tuesday by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform Committees, in defiance of a White House edict not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.

Read his whole opening statement here.

This shit’s getting real.

Formal Notice

Nancy Pelosi basically tells the Republicans and Trumpers to STFU.

On the heels of a court ruling affirming that the House does not need a floor vote to launch an impeachment inquiry, Democrats will do so anyway.

A resolution on the impeachment process will be considered by the Rules Committee on Wednesday, the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA), announced Monday. The text of the resolution has not been released in full yet.

“As committees continue to gather evidence and prepare to present their findings, I will be introducing a resolution to ensure transparency and provide a clear path forward, which the Rules Committee will mark up this week,”McGovern said in his announcement.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said in a letter to her caucus that the resolution “establishes the procedure for hearings that are open to the American people, authorizes the disclosure of deposition transcripts, outlines procedures to transfer evidence to the Judiciary Committee as it considers potential articles of impeachment, and sets forth due process rights for the President and his Counsel.”

She said the vote will happen this week, reportedly as soon as Thursday.

Oh, you want it in writing? Okay.

See you at the inquiry, dudes.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Flailing

Via the Washington Post:

Republicans’ defense of President Trump grew more frantic and disjointed Wednesday, with House members storming a closed-door meeting, delaying the testimony of an impeachment witness as the GOP grappled with a growing abuse-of-power scandal centered on the president.

A group of Trump’s congressional allies escalated their complaints about the impeachment inquiry by barging into a secure facility on Capitol Hill where a Pentagon official was to testify before the House Intelligence Committee.

Their intrusion, which caused the testimony to be delayed for about five hours over security concerns, came a day after the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine testified under oath that the White House had threatened to withhold military aid unless the Ukrainian government announced investigations for Trump’s political benefit.

It’s not only desperate, but it has the added bonus of being egged on by Trump, and since they were trying to disrupt an evidentiary hearing, piles on the obstruction of justice charges.  Or, put another way: he committed impeachable offenses in his attempt to subvert his impeachment.  (But then, when your lawyers argue in court that you could literally get away with murder, what’s the big deal?)

More on the security concerns from Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice:

These morons, in an attempt to create a spectacle that will take over the news cycle about impeachment so that the majority of the public that isn’t paying close attention at all times just throws its hands up in disgust, didn’t just force entry into the House of Representatives’ Secure Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), they brought their unsecured cell phones with them. Moreover, they then took imagery with those phones – pictures and/or videos – of classified spaces and, potentially, any classified information that had been taken out in advance of the deposition and was in public view for those members of the House, Republicans and Democrats alike, who actually had the need to know to access it today. And then they started texting and tweeting and emailing that out. On unsecured devices and unsecured and non-governmental networks! This required, as was reported, the SCIF to be closed once they finished their pizza, Chick Fil-A, their stunt and finally gave up and left, so it could be swept and resecured before the delayed deposition could finally take place. What Congressman Gaetz, Congressman Scalise who is the #2 Republican in the House/Republican House Caucus, and their 28 or so colleagues did wasn’t just a stupid stunt, it was a major security violation.

How major? Off the top of my head the number of Federal felonies committed by Gaetz and his colleagues is:

  1. Forced entry into a SCIF
  2. Criminal trespass in a SCIF
  3. Bringing unsecured electronic devices into a SCIF
  4. Taking imagery – pictures and video – of classified spaces and materials on unsecured devices
  5. Transmitting imagery – pictures and video – of classified spaces and materials on unsecured devices to unsecured devices through a variety of unsecured platforms (texting, tweeting, emailing, etc)

It has now been reported that Congressman Thompson (D-MS), the chair of the House Homeland Security Committee, has asked the House Sergeant of Arms to take action against Gaetz and his colleagues.

Rep, Matt Gaetz (R-FL, of course) is in the running against Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) to the the stupidest person ever elected to Congress.

Is it any wonder why all of a sudden Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the Senate Majority Leader, has no idea what Trump is talking about in connection with Ukraine, his phone call with President Zelensky, or if he could pick Trump out of a line-up.  McConnell, who has his own re-election to worry about, is not about to expose himself to any chance he’ll be dragged down with Trump.

Things are going to get even more wild as we head to the end of the year.  Fasten your seat belt and get the popcorn.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

All He Wrote

Ambassador William Taylor spent nearly nine hours in closed session with the House committee yesterday.  His opening statement can be read here, and you can download it here.

From the Washington Post:

America’s top diplomat in Ukraine delivered a forceful blow to President Trump’s account of his “perfect” dealings with that nation, telling lawmakers Tuesday that the White House had threatened to withdraw much-needed military aid unless Kyiv announced investigations for Trump’s political benefit.

The explosive, closed-door testimony from acting ambassador William B. Taylor Jr. undermined Trump’s insistence that he never pressured Ukrainian officials in a potentially improper “quid pro quo.” It also offered House investigators an expansive road map to what Taylor called a “highly irregular” channel of shadow diplomacy toward Ukraine that lies at the heart of the impeachment inquiry.

In a 15-page opening statement, obtained by The Washington Post, Taylor repeatedly expressed his shock and bewilderment as he watched U.S. policy toward Ukraine get overtaken by Trump’s demand that newly elected president Volodymyr Zelensky “go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of [Democratic presidential candidate Joe] Biden and 2016 election interference.”

“ ‘Everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,” Taylor said he was told by Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union.

A seasoned diplomat, Army veteran and meticulous note taker, Taylor told lawmakers that former national security adviser John Bolton and other officials from the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA tried unsuccessfully to get a meeting with Trump to persuade him to release the money — nearly $400 million intended to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

But Trump’s hold on the aid extended well into September, and Taylor said he found himself considering resignation. “I could not and would not defend such a policy,” Taylor said.

The blockbuster testimony came hours after Trump escalated his attack on the impeachment inquiry, tweeting that it was a “lynching” and drawing swift condemnation from Democrats and some Republicans for equating the constitutional process with the barbaric killing of African Americans.

Cue up the attacks from the White House and let slip the lapdogs of toadyism to try to discredit Amb. Taylor — “Okay, who’s gonna believe a seasoned veteran and career diplomat over a sleazy real estate grifter?” — and then claim that because Ukraine finally got the money, there was no quid pro quo.  Yeah, no; if you walk into a bank and pass the teller a note demanding cash and they arrest you before you actually get the loot, you’re still guilty of attempted robbery.

So, Amb. Taylor’s statement has basically corroborated the testimony of Trump and the rough transcript he released of the call to President Zelensky and supports the conclusion of acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.  All that’s left now is to watch and be entertained by the Republicans trying to explain it all away and figure out a way to save their own asses after defending the indefensible.  At some point they have to decide it’s us or him, and when they do, it’s won’t be pretty for Trump.  One can only hope.

As for the “lynching” comment, that was purely aimed at the base of the party (like this fine example) who have been so put-upon for the insufferable oppression they’ve been under for not being able to use certain words and the utter shame of having to share a lunch counter with someone who doesn’t look like them.  Oh, the humanity.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Base Erosion

Polls are not always reliable, but since Trump is always telling anyone who will listen — and those who won’t — how much “everybody” likes him and agrees with him, so there, neener neener, this might at least open a few eyes among the Very Serious People who think that the Trump base is impenetrable… just like his wall.

From the Washington Post:

Trump loves to talk about how much Republicans love him. Given his long-standing unpopularity with the broader public, Trump often homes in on his overwhelming popularity in the GOP. And then he takes that overwhelming popularity and Trump-ifies it, jacking up the numbers and falsely claiming that it’s a “record” amount of support within the GOP.

For a president whose political identity is so tied to his base support, a new poll has some bad news.

A new Washington Post-Schar School poll shows support for an impeachment inquiry rising to a new high after Democrats formally launched one. The 58 percent who support the inquiry is higher than in any other poll; the 38 percent who oppose it suggests only Trump’s most devoted base is now opposed.

But even that isn’t quite accurate — because it shows some of Trump’s base does support the inquiry and even his removal.

[…]

It’s possible that support for impeachment in GOP circles is rising, as Trump’s actions vis-a-vis Ukraine come into focus. It’s also possible this is just a lot of polling noise. But despite Trump’s high level of support in the GOP, there has long been reason to believe there is something of a soft underbelly there, with many Republicans liking but not loving Trump and even disliking him personally. It’s possible many Republicans like Trump and even approve of his job performance but think there are legitimate questions here.

The party as a whole isn’t suddenly going to jump on board with impeaching and removing Trump. But it’s notable that the rising support for impeachment appears to include at least some of the base that Trump likes to tell us is so devoted to him.

As with any president facing this kind of news, there are two sure things: First, there will always be a solid core of supporters no matter what.  We saw it with Nixon and with Clinton.  But it’s always very small and fanatical, basing their devotion on nothing that has to do with politics or the rule of law.  The second sure thing is that polling is a lagging indicator; it is showing results from surveys taken two weeks ago and hasn’t caught up with the latest outrages, such as the WTF? letter sent by the White House Counsel that said Congress cannot investigate the president at all and you can’t make me cooperate.

As for the overall reaction to the poll, I’m thinking that even the Trump fan base is seeing they’ve gotten very little from him that he promised and are just tired of the noise.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Multiplication Table

Via the Washington Post:

An attorney for the whistleblower who sounded the alarm about President Trump’s pressure on Ukraine said Sunday that “multiple” whistleblowers have come forward, deepening a political quagmire that has engulfed the president as well as several of his Cabinet members.

The news comes as House Democrats are accelerating their impeachment inquiry and subpoenaing documents related to Trump’s efforts to push foreign countries to investigate one of his political opponents, former vice president Joe Biden.

“I can confirm that my firm and my team represent multiple whistleblowers in connection to the underlying August 12, 2019, disclosure to the Intelligence Community Inspector General,” the whistleblower’s attorney, Andrew Bakaj, said in a tweet. “No further comment at this time.”

Not unlike the Harvey Weinstein case where at first it was he said/she said, now with the “multiple whistleblowers” coming forward, it’s going to be that much harder for Trump’s supporters to say it was just one misguided traitor.  Granted, it won’t stop them from trying, but it’s going to make them look even more desperate, more claiming it’s all a vast conspiracy, and it will shorten the fuse on the inquiry.

And it may even get the pundits and the both-siders to put a stop to their chin-stroking and tolerance of the bullshit.  Hey, if Chuck Todd can finally show some backbone and exasperation, there’s hope yet.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Sunday Reading

The Smoking Arsenal — Charles P. Pierce.

What the hell do we call this? The smoking arsenal?

The release of a motherlode of criminal evidence in the form of texts between various inmates at Camp Runamuck, all of which concerns the president*’s attempt to extort Ukraine into helping him ratfck the 2020 election, establishes the guilt of the president* beyond the shadow of a doubt. In the released material, you can see a whole brigade of hapless functionaries stumbling from one crime to another, fully aware that they are doing so, and concocting strategies on the fly to carry out the president*’s criminal orders. You read for yourself how they all ended up toadying to Rudy Giuliani’s insane “mission” to Kiev. It’s like reading a John Le Carré novel starring the Marx Brothers.

The simple politics of the release is pure genius. On Thursday, former envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker briefed House investigators on the matter. Around midday, presidential* lawn ornaments Rep. Jim Jordan and Rep. Mark Meadows threw themselves at a microphone to deliver the Nothing To See Here party line. Then, the texts were released and now every single Republican in the Congress looks like a fool or a crook. There’s no third alternative.

But the politics of it are a lesser concern. The conduct revealed in the texts is as subversive as anything undertaken by any KGB operative in the high days of the Cold War. The president* set the government of the United States against itself, and he used a vulnerable ally to do so. He could have travelled the world shooting our ambassadors personally and done less damage. Nobody will trust American diplomats again for a very long time, nor should they. From NBC News:

In fact, the only U.S. official included in the text messages who pushes back is a career diplomat, William Taylor, who became the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine after Trump pulled Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch out of her post earlier this year. Yovanovitch’s ouster has become another topic of key interest to Democratic lawmakers in their impeachment inquiry.

“Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Taylor wrote, using an acronym for the White House, after Trump canceled a planned meeting with Zelenskiy in Poland. A week later, he told Sondland: “As I said on the phone, I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.” Sondland, several hours later, pushed back, telling Taylor that Trump “has been crystal clear, no quid pro quos of any kind.” He suggests they stop discussing the matter via text message.

That certainly sounds legitimate to me. Sondland is Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union. Now, Ukraine is not a member of the European Union. So what, you may wonder, is Sondland’s dog in this fight. Clearly, he was one of the White House messenger boys in the extortion and bribery plot that was unfolding all around West Asia. And the conspicuous “no quid pro quo,” followed immediately by a suggestion that they no longer put these perfectly innocent requests into writing, would be comic if the stakes weren’t so very high. From The New York Times:

Mr. Volker told the House investigators that the Ukrainians had earlier proposed language promising a statement on fighting corruption that did not specifically mention Burisma and 2016. When Mr. Giuliani was shown that original language, Mr. Volker told the House, he indicated to Mr. Volker that it was not sufficient and said the Ukrainians should be asked for specific public commitments to investigate Burisma and 2016.

By Mr. Volker’s account, according to the person familiar with his testimony, he was eventually told by Mr. Yermak that the Ukrainian government could not agree to the language being sought by Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Volker told Mr. Yermak that he was right, and the idea was dropped, according to the account Mr. Volker provided the House.

I have no sympathy for any of these people, and neither should you. They sold their souls to a crook and a charlatan who may well be half-mad into the bargain. They sold out the diplomatic status of the country in service to a lunatic conspiracy theory that was the obsession of a president* who believes anything his favorite TV commentators tell him. They sold out an embattled ally in order to aid in the reelection of a president* against whom this country may not survive in recognizable form.

On Thursday, just as the current storm was rising, the president* tweeted of his “absolute right” to conduct foreign policy in this manner. No president has an “absolute right” to do fck-all. The longer this man is allowed to infect this republic, the more it will change into something very different. He cannot be allowed to remain in office and, god help us, he cannot be reelected. That would be the end of things.

Glamour and Substance — Nichelle Gainer has an appreciation of Diahann Carroll.

I am an ’80s kid. I grew up in a New Jersey suburb that, to my mind’s eye, bore more than a passing resemblance to the fictional town in “Stranger Things.” While I enjoyed shows like “Square Pegs” and movies like “The Breakfast Club,” I was perplexed by how homogeneous they were, especially since my high school had nearly an even balance of black and white kids.

That’s where Jet magazine came in. At that time, black faces were still rare enough on the big and small screens that the publication printed out a listing of every black performer appearing on American television that week. Thanks to those listings, I discovered a magnetic performance by one of my favorite stars Diahann Carroll, who died this week at 84.

It was from the NBC TV movie “Sister, Sister,” which first aired in 1982. Written by Maya Angelou, the story follows three very different siblings and their struggle to heal old wounds and sell their family home following the death of their mother. In one of my favorite scenes, two of the sisters (played by Ms. Carroll and Rosalind Cash) confront each other about long-held secrets and their screaming match turns to blows. It is glorious and satisfying — a “cat fight” that would make the “Dynasty” divas Dominique Devereaux and Alexis Carrington applaud in respect.

Even when she was sparring onscreen, Ms. Carroll’s class and elegance went unquestioned, but early in her career, the public perception of her commitment to issues affecting black Americans was another matter. Like many black stars in the ’60s and ’70s, her personal and professional moves were scrutinized relentlessly. She wore clothes by white designers, married white men and, to the untrained eye, appeared to live in a mostly white world, seemingly oblivious to “real” problems. Her character on “Julia” was a single mother, and aside from the occasional guest star the show lacked a consistent black father figure.

Yet Ms. Carroll is also the same star who testified before Adam Clayton Powell Jr. about the lack of opportunities for black performers and held a fund-raiser in her home for the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, Shirley Chisholm. She never allowed public perception to dictate the choices she made.

It is crucial to remember her substance. Her educated and well-spoken character Julia Baker, the first black professional woman depicted in an American TV series, stood in stark contrast to the subservient roles typically reserved for black characters. Ms. Carroll was keenly aware of the responsibility she bore in this role and was strategic in how she handled the press at a time when riots in black neighborhoods in major cities across the country were not infrequent. She refused to do any interviews for “Julia” without “racial quotes” being read back to her.

She once said of a “well-meaning” reporter: “He was not aware that a little word here and a little word there could kill me.”

She added, “I told him I think everything going on in the black community now has a more positive feeling than before. He wanted me to say that a certain element was detrimental and I wouldn’t.”

She rebuffed those who felt she lacked social awareness. “I was not ignorant about the issues of civil rights in this country, or my place as a national celebrity who could voice opinions to help make changes,” she wrote in her 2008 memoir “The Legs Are the Last to Go.” She would point to the efforts she made in supporting the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee and the Black Panthers.

Beyond the checklist of history-making “firsts,” she was savvy throughout her career, navigating the minefields of racism and sexism with an aplomb that seemed effortless. She attended charm school, modeled for Ebony magazine as a teenager and transformed her glitzy look from her early days as a Las Vegas nightclub performer to the softer, housewife chic that would be more “relatable” to “Julia” television audiences who needed to be spoon fed images of a black woman who did not fit a stereotype.

She often told the story of her first meeting with Richard Rodgers, who created her Tony-winning role in “No Strings.”

“The day that he asked me to join him for lunch before he left for Europe, I thought it was very important that I startle him when I arrived at the restaurant,” she recalled in 1998. “I think that business of overwhelming people with your presence, and your grooming — it’s not part of today. It’s not important today. I cannot tell you what it meant then. I was dressed in Givenchy from head to toe. It meant a great deal during an interview.”

Sometimes, she deglamorized herself, as she did in her Oscar-nominated role as a poor mother of six in the 1974 film, “Claudine,” or as a fortune teller in the 1997 film, “Eve’s Bayou.”

Ms. Carroll’s career and life were long enough for her to bear witness to the fruits of her labor. Black performers of her generation were accustomed to the pressures of navigating rarefied spaces in Hollywood, and so it was no surprise that she said she was proud to see so many young black people behind the scenes on the set of “A Different World” and was “choked up” as she watched Shonda Rhimes call the shots on the set of “Grey’s Anatomy” nearly a decade later.

“Some people come of age as teenagers, I came of age as a senior citizen,” she wrote in her memoir. Sometimes we forget that even timeless legends don’t see themselves the way that we do. Diahann Carroll not only embodied glamour, she expanded its very definition with her bold choices while never attempting to hide herself behind a perfect image. I will forever be in awe.

Photo: NBCU Photo Bank, via Getty Images.

Doonesbury — Pick a fact!  (Click on the picture to embiggen.)

Friday, October 4, 2019

The Easy Way Out

It took the Supreme Court and the House voting out articles of impeachment to get Nixon to fess up to his high crimes and misdemeanors, and no one was ever truly convinced that Bill Clinton did anything more than what Newt Gingrich and apparently half of the GOP leadership was doing in 1998 to get him to the bar, but it still took a grand jury and a cringe-worthy deposition on tape to get him to acknowledge his mistakes.

For Trump all it takes is a press pool on the South Lawn of the White House to get him to brag about committing impeachable acts.  Who needs a grand jury or subpoena when there’s a gaggle of reporters around?

Thursday, October 3, 2019

If He Goes, Everybody Goes

Trump does not do a solo.

Trump repeatedly involved Vice President Pence in efforts to exert pressure on the leader of Ukraine at a time when the president was using other channels to solicit information that he hoped would be damaging to a Democratic rival, current and former U.S. officials said.

Trump instructed Pence not to attend the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in May — an event White House officials had pushed to put on the vice president’s calendar — when Ukraine’s new leader was seeking recognition and support from Washington, the officials said.

Months later, the president used Pence to tell Zelensky that U.S. aid was still being withheld while demanding more aggressive action on corruption, officials said. At that time — following Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenksy — the Ukrainians probably understood action on corruption to include the investigation of former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden.

I really doubt that Trump was thinking that if he got caught, impeached, and convicted, he’d make sure to take his veep with him, knowing that the next in line for the presidency would be the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, followed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, Charles Grassley, before it reverted back to the cabinet in order of the creation of the department.  Trump has no idea how that works; he probably thinks he can hand it off to Ivanka.  Involving the vice president wasn’t strategy or a part of the cover-up; it’s the way he does business.  He staffs the knucklehead and gritty work to minions and then takes credit for the outcome if it’s good and has a scapegoat if it blows up in his face, which this Ukraine mess is surely doing, with cheese.  That’s a part of the art of the deal.

Based on what we saw yesterday in the rant-fest of a press conference, Trump is ready to scorch the earth and leave no one behind to pick up the wounded or the bodies.

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Talk Like A Tyrant

From the New York Times:

The Oval Office meeting this past March began, as so many had, with President Trump fuming about migrants. But this time he had a solution. As White House advisers listened astonished, he ordered them to shut down the entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico — by noon the next day.

The advisers feared the president’s edict would trap American tourists in Mexico, strand children at schools on both sides of the border and create an economic meltdown in two countries. Yet they also knew how much the president’s zeal to stop immigration had sent him lurching for solutions, one more extreme than the next.

Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That’s not allowed either, they told him.

“The president was frustrated and I think he took that moment to hit the reset button,” said Thomas D. Homan, who had served as Mr. Trump’s acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, recalling that week in March. “The president wanted it to be fixed quickly.”

Mr. Trump’s order to close the border was a decision point that touched off a frenzied week of presidential rages, round-the-clock staff panic and far more White House turmoil than was known at the time. By the end of the week, the seat-of-the-pants president had backed off his threat but had retaliated with the beginning of a purge of the aides who had tried to contain him.

Today, as Mr. Trump is surrounded by advisers less willing to stand up to him, his threat to seal off the country from a flood of immigrants remains active. “I have absolute power to shut down the border,” he said in an interview this summer with The New York Times.

He’s talking about wounding and probably killing unarmed people trying to seek asylum.  Children, too.

What the hell is wrong with him?  And what the hell is wrong with us that we’ve let it get this far?

You should read the whole article.  It will scare the daylights out of you.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Foreign Aid

This is weird.

Trump pushed the Australian prime minister during a recent telephone call to help Attorney General William P. Barr gather information for a Justice Department inquiry that Mr. Trump hopes will discredit the Mueller investigation, according to two American officials with knowledge of the call.

The White House curbed access to a transcript of the call — which the president made at Mr. Barr’s request — to a small group of aides, one of the officials said. The restriction was unusual and similar to the handling of a July call with the Ukrainian president that is at the heart of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

Like that call, Mr. Trump’s discussion with Prime Minister Scott Morrison of Australia shows the president using high-level diplomacy to advance his personal political interests.

The discussion with Mr. Morrison shows the extent to which Mr. Trump views the attorney general as a crucial partner: The president is using federal law enforcement powers to aid his political prospects, settle scores with his perceived “deep state” enemies and show that the Mueller investigation had corrupt, partisan origins.

In a way, it’s kind of a relief to find out that Attorney General Barr is just as much of a political lackey and bag man as the guy who hired him.  Having a cabinet member who has morals and a sense of what’s legal would be so out of character.  It will also assure the historians that the ongoing efforts to rehabilitate the reputation of President Harding and his gang is going to be a lot easier now that there’s even more blatant corruption lying out there in the sun.

Aside from that, what is it telling our allies and adversaries in other countries about who’s running the store here?  They have their own problems and interests at stake in dealing with the U.S., and all of it has to be funneled through Trump’s political ambitions.

If that’s all he cares about, why should they lift a finger to help us when we really need it?

Monday, September 30, 2019

So, We’re Gonna Do This, Right?

After spending four days in the middle of the country steeped in theatre and characters and writing, I come home to this:

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff said Sunday that his panel has reached an agreement to secure testimony from the anonymous whistleblower whose detailed complaint launched an impeachment investigation into President Trump.

The announcement from Schiff came on the same day that Tom Bossert, a former Trump homeland security adviser, delivered a rebuke of the president, saying in an interview on ABC’s “This Week” that he was “deeply disturbed” by the implications of Trump’s recently reported actions.

Those comments come as members of Congress return to their districts for a two-week recess, during which they will either have to make the case for Trump’s impeachment or defend him to voters amid mounting questions about his conduct.

In appearances over the weekend, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) offered a preview of the Democratic message, casting the impeachment inquiry as a somber task that she chose to endorse only as a last resort.

“I have handled this with great care, with great moderation, with great attention to what we knew was a fact or what was an allegation,” Pelosi said Saturday at the Texas Tribune Festival in Austin. “This is very bad news for our country, because if it is as it seems to be, our president engaged in something that is so far beyond what our founders had in mind.”

While privately favoring a rapid probe confined to the Ukraine allegations, Pelosi said Saturday that the investigation would last “as long as the Intelligence Committee follows the facts.”

I have every hope that unlike the Roman candle approach that the Republicans took twenty years ago with Bill Clinton’s trip down the rabbit hole, this will be a deliberate and yet efficient investigation, resulting in a prompt rendering of cogent articles of impeachment stating the clear-cut facts of the case which will so impress and horrify the majority of Republicans in the Senate that they will see their clear duty to the Constitution and the oath they all took and render a resounding verdict.  Meanwhile, I’m getting my speech ready for the Tony awards.

This will be messy, noisy, disruptive, and the business of the country will be set aside while accusations of treason and threats are hurled.  It will make for wild TV: excerpts of Trump’s defenders calling for capital punishment and worse (what could be worse?) will go viral, and when the identity of the whistleblower (or is it whistle-blower?) is released, they will be alternately vilified and glorified on the same network.

Unlike Watergate, which took years and numerous court battles to unravel and resolve, this one is going along as fast as a Twitter thread.  Unlike Whitewater/Clenis, this one doesn’t have salacious overtones so we don’t have to come up with colorful euphemisms for oral sex so it can be described in front of the children (who have a language all their own).  And unlike Iran/Contra, we’re not dealing with underlings who are manipulating foreign policy while the president is drifting off into dreamland.  In this case, he’s proudly admitted to what he did, got his minions to yell “Fuck yeah!” in support, and dare the Congress to come and get him.

It’s blackmail and coercion, pretty much the stuff of “The Sopranos” if that classic show was cast with the Three Stooges.  It’s illegal, it’s immoral, and a danger to the country.  So yeah, we’re gonna do this.