Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Preview Of Coming Attractions

As you might know, later this week I’m going to the Valdez Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska.  (That’s why the content here has been a bit sparse; there’s a lot to do both at home and the office before I go.)  I promise to take a lot of pictures and post them, either while I’m there or when I get back.  But here, via Alaska Life, is one of the views on the way into town.

As much as I like living in the warmth of the subtropics, I still have a place in my heart for the mountains and the wilderness.  Interesting side note: my first produced play was about wilderness survival.

The conference and all the things that go with it will keep me busy, but I’ve been assured by the people who’ve been there before that there’s plenty of time to explore the scenery and just revel in the beauty of the Last Frontier.

Photo via Flickr-Mr Hicks46.

Tales From The Dork Side

This Axios interview with Jared Kushner is like something out of SNL.

Discussing the horrific death of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in an interview with “Axios on HBO,” White House adviser Jared Kushner was noncommittal on whether Saudi Crown Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) must account for Khashoggi’s body.

Kushner said he’s still waiting for results of a U.S. investigation to assign blame, even though the CIA reportedly determined with a high degree of confidence that MBS ordered the murder, and the U.S. Senate unanimously declared that he was responsible.

Why it matters: Kushner, who shares the president’s view that Saudi Arabia is a crucial partner to counter Iran, has formed a close relationship with MBS and helped promote him as a great reformer. We see here that even eight months after Khashoggi’s death in a Saudi consulate, the White House still refuses to publicly hold the Saudi leader accountable.

  • Asked whether he would join Khashoggi’s fiancée in calling on the Saudi government to release his body (or identify where they put the body parts) so that his family might bury him, Kushner said: “Look, it’s a horrific thing that happened. … Once we have all the facts, then we’ll make a policy determination, but that would be up to the Secretary of State to push on our policy.”

Other highlights:

  • Kushner talked about how his grandparents came to America as impoverished refugees, after surviving the Nazis, and “they were able to build a great life for themselves.” He said, “It’s a great reminder of how great this country is, where my grandparents could be on the precipice of life or death and then come to this country and … 70 years later … their grandson’s working in the White House.”
  • I asked Kushner what he makes of President Trump’s decision to slash America’s refugee intake to the lowest level in 40 years. He defended that decision, saying the overall numbers are irrelevant given the scale of the global refugee crisis. Read Axios’ Stef Kight’s story on our exchange.
  • Kushner passionately defended Trump against Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s charge that the president is a racist. I asked him whether Birtherism is racist. He wouldn’t answer the question — saying repeatedly that he wasn’t involved in Birtherism and that he knows who the president is. He also ducked whether Trump campaigning on a Muslim ban was an example of religious bigotry. Watch the clip.

Kushner said history will remember President Trump for two things above all else:

  1. Changing the types of people who come to work in Washington — “people who never would’ve been in Washington before who were not qualified by conventional standards … have brought great results to this country both economically and from a national security point of view.”
  2. Changing “how we think about America’s place in the world” — from a post-World War II era where everybody took advantage of America, to a new era of “rebalance” in trade and burden sharing. Kushner believes Trump has set America on a new course that will outlive his presidency.

It’s just mind-boggling.

Monday, June 3, 2019

How To Win The Impeachment Argument

Dan Pfeiffer in Crooked lays out the way to convince the country that Trump should go.

Despite the protestations from Democratic Leaders and handwringing from pundits and consultants, it seems like House Democrats will vote for an impeachment inquiry sooner rather than later. The moral and constitutional arguments for impeachment are much stronger than “Yes, Trump committed crimes, but we can’t impeach him because politics or something.”

With that in mind, Democrats need a plan to manage the politics and maximize the spotlight of an impeachment inquiry. Impeachment is undoubtedly the politically riskier path, but also the one with greater upside for the country and the party. If Democrats are united behind a smart strategy, they can use an impeachment inquiry to prosecute a devastating case against Trump that increases the likelihood that Democrats win the White House, expand our House Majority, and take the Senate.

First, Democrats need a message. They need a concise and compelling argument for what Trump did wrong, how his misdeeds connect to the lives and concerns of voters, and why this merits the extraordinary response of impeachment.

My suggestion for that message is:

Donald Trump has abused his power to hide multiple crimes and massive corruption. He has used the Presidency to punish his enemies, reward his friends, and enrich himself at the expense of the American people. No one is above the law, not even a rich politician.

This narrative (or one like it) needs to be repeated over and over again by every Democratic Member of Congress and talking head. The Democratic SuperPACs should run ads. The grassroots organizations should be delivering this message at the door, on the phone, and in townhalls. The Democratic presidential candidates should make it part of their message. No voter should be confused about why this is happening and what is at stake.

Second, the impeachment inquiry should be broader than the crimes outlined in the Mueller report. A narrow focus on Trump’s obstruction of the Russia investigation makes it easier for the Republicans to accuse Democrats of trying to relitigate 2016, and deprives Democrats the opportunity to introduce evidence of additional impeachable offenses that Trump has committed since taking office. An impeachment inquiry should look broadly at Trump’s abuse of power: his politicization of our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, his refusal to protect our elections and our country from foreign sabotage, and the rampant corruption in an administration where everyone from the president on down enrich themselves at the expense of American taxpayers and America’s security.

Third, an impeachment inquiry should be plotted out more like a TV show than a trial. The star witnesses and high-profile hearings should be spaced out and timed for maximum impact. They should tell a story about Trump’s misdeeds. There should be no rush to get this over with quickly or to meet some artificial timeline. The audience for this show is not the Senate. It’s not Twitter and it’s not the panel on Morning Joe. The audience is the American people – specifically the new and sporadic Democratic voters who came out in 2018, or the independents and Republicans who say they’re most concerned about Trump’s conduct. Our job is to persuade them, not the DC pundit class.

Fourth, turn the relative unpopularity of impeachment into an asset. The polls are clear that impeachment is unpopular. Majorities oppose it. While that fact may change over time, Democrats should make a virtue of the fact that they’re taking a principled position out of conviction, not calculation or convenience.

Fifth, use Senate Republicans as a foil. Mitch McConnell has already indicated that no matter what crimes Trump may have committed, he will do everything in his power to ensure that the president escapes accountability. Democrats should view this as an opportunity to pressure Republican Senators who are vulnerable in 2020. If Cory Gardner or Susan Collins or Martha McSally refuse to hold Trump accountable, paint them as Trump flunkies who put party over country. Every one of them is aiding and abetting the president’s corruption and criminality.

Finally, Democrats must show the public that they can walk and chew gum at the same time. At Trump’s unhinged statement in the Rose Garden last week, he previewed his response to impeachment. Trump wants to run against the “Investigate Everything, Do Nothing” Congress. Democrats should rob this argument of its political potency by laying out a detailed legislative agenda that focuses on the kitchen table issues that matter most to voters. Pass these bills in the House, and then hold public events demanding that McConnell give them a vote in the Senate. None of these bills will become law, but they’ll give Democrats a platform to run on, as well as a response to Republican attacks and media handwringing.

There is no question whether impeachment is the right vote, only if it’s the right politics. I can’t tell you how the politics of impeachment will play out – no one can. But through impeachment proceedings, Democrats have the power to shape the debate, grab the microphone away from Trump, and tell a compelling story about why he’s unfit to be president. The political risk is real, but so is the potential upside – if done well. No matter what Democrats do, Trump and Bill Barr will be falsely accusing Democrats of treason and spinning absurd conspiracy theories about the origins of the Mueller investigation. A well-planned and well-executed impeachment inquiry may be the only way to wrest the microphone from Trump and tell a story on our terms about who Trump is and the damage he has wrought on our country.

Make the case, then do it.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Sunday Reading

On Thin Ice — Charles P. Pierce on how climate change is killing people in Alaska.

For those Chinese climate hoaxsters, it’s all fun and games until people start dying, which is happening in a lot of places around the world, and which will keep happening as the hoax gets deeper and more serious and affects more and more of the world. For example, as Smithsonian informs us, Alaska. In March, when it is still supposed to be the dead of winter there, Alaska experienced temperatures that were 11 degrees Celsius above normal. There were consequences.

On April 15, three people, including an 11-year-old girl, died after their snowmobiles plunged through thin ice on the Noatak River in far northwestern Alaska. Earlier in the winter, 700 kilometers south, on the lower Kuskokwim River, at least five people perished in separate incidents when their snowmobiles or four-wheelers broke through thin ice. There were close calls too, including the rescue of three miners who spent hours hopping between disintegrating ice floes in the Bering Sea near Nome. Farther south, people skating on the popular Portage Lake near Anchorage also fell through thin ice. Varying factors contributed to these and other mishaps, but abnormally thin ice was a common denominator.

In Alaska, ice is infrastructure. For example, the Kuskokwim River, which runs over 1,100 kilometers across southwestern Alaska, freezes so solid that it becomes a marked ice road connecting dozens of communities spread over 300 kilometers. In sparsely populated interior Alaska, frozen rivers are indispensable for transporting goods, visiting family and delivering kids to school basketball games. Along Alaska’s west coast, the frozen waters of the Bering Sea also act as infrastructure. Each winter, frigid air transforms much of the Bering between Russia and Alaska into sea ice. As it fastens to shore, the ice provides platforms for fishing and hunting, and safe routes between communities. It also prevents wave action and storm surges from eroding the shores of coastal villages.

The ripple effects of this don’t stop. The warmer ocean makes for storms more and more heavy with rain. It also upsets the ecological balance that keeps Alaska’s economy rolling and keeps many of Alaska’s Native population alive. As Smithsonian points out, nobody really knows what the effect of the warming of the Gulf of Alaska will have on the salmon population, but nobody’s speculation is good.

For many, including Rob Campbell, a biological oceanographer with the Prince William Sound Science Center, it stirs unpleasant memories of the Blob, an enormous patch of warm water that formed in the Gulf of Alaska in 2013. It lasted over two years and upset ecological norms across our region. “Today we don’t see as much heat in the gulf as we had beginning in 2013,” says Campbell. “But in general, the northern gulf is 1.5 degrees Celsius above average. It’s a big anomaly heading into summer.” Campbell finds the conditions worrisome. “Continued warmth like this has cascading effects,” he says. “And we may not understand the consequences for species like salmon for years to come.”

Elsewhere in the Arctic and the sub-Arctic, things are no better. On Friday morning, a number of people attending a policy conference in Upper Michigan leapt to the electric Twitter machine to share photos of the gorgeous sunrises and sunsets that they were experiencing.

The reason these are so striking is because the forests in upper Alberta are burning down right now in one of the earliest starts to wildfire season that Canada ever has seen. Smoke from those fires already has ridden the weather systems south as far as Iowa. Some 10,000 people have been evacuated in Alberta, but the fires do make for a nice photo or two thousands of miles away, so there’s that.

Because He Can — Jeffrey Toobin on the douchebaggery of Mitch McConnell.

The boundless cynicism of Mitch McConnell is again on display. The Kentucky Republican, who is the Senate Majority Leader, told a home-state audience that, if there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court in 2020, he will make sure that President Trump’s nominee receives a confirmation vote. This, of course, conflicts with McConnell’s view on the election-year nomination of Merrick Garland, in 2016. After the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, on February 13, 2016, McConnell announced that he would refuse to allow a vote on President Obama’s nominee, and thus would keep the seat open for the next President to fill. McConnell has lately made a halfhearted attempt to distinguish the two situations; he said that Supreme Court seats should be kept open in election years when the Senate and the Presidency are controlled by different parties. (Needless to say, he did not raise this purported distinction in 2016.) But the main reason that McConnell might push through a Republican nominee to the Court while blocking a Democratic choice is simple: because he can.

There’s another, less obvious reason that McConnell can game the Supreme Court confirmation process with impunity. The Republican Party has been far more invested in the future of the Supreme Court, and of the judiciary generally, than the Democratic Party has. Judicial appointments, especially to the Supreme Court, are a central pillar of the Republican agenda, and Republican voters will forgive any number of other transgressions if the Party delivers on the courts.

Donald Trump understood this. That’s why, during the 2016 campaign, he released a short list of possible nominees to the Court. The list was largely compiled by Leonard Leo, the executive vice-president of the Federalist Society, and the names on it demonstrated to the Republican base that Trump was serious about following its agenda—starting with overruling Roe v. Wade. Trump’s nominations of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and of dozens of other conservatives to the lower courts, have been crucial to the President’s preservation of his stratospheric level of support from that base. Conservatives forgive Trump his louche personal life and his casual dishonesty because they know that they are getting the judges and the Justices they want.

Democrats are different. Consider what happened after McConnell blocked the Garland nomination. After a few days of perfunctory outrage, most Democratic politicians dropped the issue. Neither President Obama nor Hillary Clinton, in their speeches before the Democratic National Convention, in July, 2016, even mentioned Garland—or the Supreme Court. Its future was apparently something that neither of them wanted to discuss, or thought that their party, or the nation, wanted to hear about.

Four years later, this pattern is recurring. Consider, for example, the Web sites of three leading contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. Each site has thousands of words outlining the candidates’ positions on the issues—and none of them mentions Supreme Court nominations, much less nominations for lower-court judges. These omissions are especially striking in Biden’s case, because he served for decades on the Senate Judiciary Committee, including several years as the chair. He voted on more than a dozen Supreme Court confirmations (including, of course, that of Clarence Thomas) and, as Vice-President, he helped Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan win approval in the Senate. Likewise, since Warren was a law professor before she ran for office, she might be expected to focus on the significance of the Court. But, for the most part, Democrats barely mention it.

It’s difficult to pinpoint why Republicans are so much more motivated by the Supreme Court than Democrats are. Complacency could be part of the reason. Despite a preponderance of Republicans on the Court for the past couple of generations, the Justices have expanded gay rights, including the right to marriage, and preserved abortion rights, by reaffirming Roe. But, thanks largely to McConnell, and, of course, to Trump, those days are likely over. Trump rallied his supporters by promising to appoint Justices who will vote to overturn Roe, and the day of that vote may soon be upon us. By the time Democrats wake up to the importance of the Court, it may be too late.

Doonesbury — Paying the price.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Friday, May 31, 2019

Happy Friday

This is the one Friday of this month and the next where I am going to work: it’s month-end and we’re short-staffed with a lot of other people on vacation.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t put up a nice picture.

This is a view of Grand Traverse Bay in northern Michigan that was part of my summer from about 1959 to 1997. I learned to sail on these waters, made a lot of friends, and enjoyed long twilights and cool evenings.

Basic Education

Someone — presumably certified in early education — needs to sit down with Trump and explain how things like courts and the Constitution work.

“I don’t see how they can because they’re possibly allowed, although I can’t imagine the courts allowing it. I’ve never gone into it. I never thought that would even be possible to be using that word. To me, it’s a dirty word — the word impeach. It’s a dirty, filthy, disgusting word.”

Circling back to whether he thought he would be impeached, he told reporters, “I don’t think so, because there was no crime.”

He returned to a flawed argument he and his backers have long put forth to dismiss the threat of Trump’s impeachment.

“You know, it’s high crimes and, not with — or — it’s high crimes and misdemeanors,” he said. “There was no high crime and there was no misdemeanor. So how do you impeach based on that?”

I’ve had more cogent arguments with a four-year-old.

  • The courts — Supreme or otherwise — have nothing to do with impeachment.  It’s solely up to Congress.
  • He needs to read the Constitution on what it says about impeachment.  And taking reading interpretation instructions from him is like getting ice skating instructions from a snake.
  • His fixation on “dirty, filthy, disgusting” goes back to his germophobia, which is something that’s better left to a Freudian.

Where is “Schoolhouse Rock” when you need it?

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Molecules Of Freedom

This is not from The Onion.

According to the Department of Energy, the next critical export from the United States is made from “molecules of U.S. Freedom.”

You may wonder, what are these molecules?

The technical answer is liquefied natural gas. Or, if you are in charge of energy policy for the Trump administration, “freedom gas.”

Let that seep in.

On Tuesday, the department announced plans to increase exports of the fuel source from a new liquefaction plant that will be built off the coast of Texas on Quintana Island by Freeport LNG of Houston.

That announcement was quickly overshadowed by the colorful terminology in the release.

“Increasing export capacity from the Freeport LNG project is critical to spreading freedom gas throughout the world by giving America’s allies a diverse and affordable source of clean energy,” Mark W. Menezes, the under secretary of energy, said in a news release.

Steven Winberg, the assistant secretary for fossil energy who signed the export order, said that the announcement underscored the administration’s “commitment” to an America-first agenda.

“I am pleased that the Department of Energy is doing what it can to promote an efficient regulatory system that allows for molecules of U.S. freedom to be exported to the world,” Mr. Winberg said.

The last time someone around here let loose molecules of U.S. freedom, we blamed the dog.

Civic Duty

Robert Mueller’s nine minutes on TV yesterday pretty much wrapped up Trump and Attorney General Barr in Saran Wrap and delivered them to the front steps of the Capitol.  “Okay, Congress; this is your turd now.”

Departing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III finally spoke publicly Wednesday, and his carefully chosen comments highlight the ways in which he disagrees with his boss, Attorney General William P. Barr, about the facts and the law surrounding the investigation into President Trump.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said Wednesday.

Barr had that confidence. He declared in March that while Mueller’s principal conclusions did not include a determination of whether the president had committed the crime of obstruction of justice, Barr had reviewed the evidence and concluded Trump did not break the law.

“The Special Counsel’s decision to describe the facts of his obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime,” Barr wrote to Congress at the time.

In his report and his public remarks, Mueller indicated he holds a different view on the question of potential presidential crimes, refusing to clear the commander in chief and alluding to Congress’s impeachment power as the constitutional arbiter.

So now we will see what they will do with it.  If it was up to me, I’d send a cordial but unequivocal invitation to Mr. Mueller to show up at a Congressional hearing.  He can’t just ride into the sunset.

[…] that brings us to the most disappointing thing about Mueller’s brief appearance on Wednesday: his stated reluctance to appear before Congress. He has no excuse left. He is a private citizen now. And if he only repeats what’s in the report, on television, in front of the country, it will contribute mightily to the political momentum behind the demands that Congress do its damn job or shirk its duty entirely. He still needs to testify. He still needs to take questions. He’s only a citizen like the rest of us now, and he has a duty to do the right thing. We all do.

Shit happens when good people do nothing.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Give Him That Much

Dog knows I wouldn’t want an entire Congress made up of Justin Amash clones, but I have to admit he’s got some guts.

In his first town hall since coming out for impeachment, Rep. Justin Amash stood before his constituents and explained why he believed Donald Trump has committed impeachable offenses, and why he is standing firm in calling for his impeachment, in spite of being the sole Republican to do so.

“I think it’s really important that we do our job as a Congress, that we not allow misconduct to go undeterred. I’m confident if you read volume two [of the Mueller report] you’ll be appalled at much of the conduct and I was appalled by it. That’s why I stated what I stated. That’s why I came to that conclusion because I think we can’t go — we can’t let conduct like that go unchecked,” Amash explained.

A man in the crowd stood and said, “I want to salute your courage.”

The thunderous applause from the audience spoke volumes. The media continues to focus on this tiny little group of Trump cultists and pretend they represent the entire country when in fact, anyone who reads the Mueller report will conclude exactly what Amash has — that Trump has committed impeachable offenses and should be held to account.

He did it in his home district of Grand Rapids, Michigan, by far one of the most uptight and hard-right parts of the state; home turf to Amway and Betsy DeVos.  So to go in there and stand up for your Twitter feed deserves at least a golf clap.

Of Course He Would

From the Washington Post:

When President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to consider him, blocking the nominee until after the year’s presidential election.

He said then that “the American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.” The tactic cost Garland his spot on the court.

With his party now in the White House, McConnell said Tuesday he’d try to push through any nomination that President Trump might make to the high court — even if it comes during an election year. Some saw that stance, which McConnell has signaled before, as disingenuous.

McConnell responded to the hypothetical question at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Paducah, Ky.

“Should a Supreme Court justice die next year, what will your position be on filling that spot?” an attendee asked, setting up a scenario that would mirror 2016, when Justice Antonin Scalia died suddenly in February.

“Uh, we’d fill it,” McConnell said with a wry, tight-lipped smile.

I would expect nothing less than full-throated, unvarnished, and in-your-face hypocrisy from him.  I’d also like to see him with a case of explosive diarrhea on the floor of the Senate in full view of the C-SPAN cameras followed by an attack of rabid squirrels.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019