The Press Cannot Let Trump Pretend He Gives a Shit about Corruption

I’ve been on an epic road trip with June Bug the Terrorist Foster Dog and my brother (and will be for another week or so); right now I’m sitting in bmaz’s house with JB. So I haven’t followed the story about Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to invent dirt on Joe Biden as closely as I otherwise might have. But one thing is crystal clear: the press is giving Trump way too much room to claim his actions were driven by a concern about corruption, which is how Trump has been trying to justify this rather than deny it.

It’s very important to talk about corruption. If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?…It’s very important that on occasion you speak to somebody about corruption.

Every single report about this should start with a list of things Trump is doing to cover up his own corruption, starting with his numerous lawsuits to try to prevent anyone from reviewing his tax returns and his systematic effort to profit from the presidency.

If Trump claims it’s important to “speak to somebody about corruption,” that conversation should start with full transparency on his own corruption, and there should be no focus on his allegations about Hunter Biden until he has come clean.

Biden’s Opposition to Medicare for All: It’s All About the Billionaires, Baby

[Editor’s Note – this is a guest post by a friend of ours here at the Emptywheel Blog, Bob Lord. Bob is a longtime tax and finance attorney with some very salient thoughts on why the centrist Democrats are pushing back so hard on Medicare For All. One other note, we here at Emptywheel have purposefully not engaged on behalf of any particular candidate in the primary process, but the issues in play are fair game.]

By Robert J. Lord

Joe Biden has lots of reasons why he opposes the Medicare for All plan favored by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

The cost runs too high, the former vice-president tells us. People will have to give up their private health insurance. People will lose the right to choose their health insurance provider.

The list goes on, but do these reasons reflect Biden’s actual worries? Surely, he’s seen the studies that show Medicare for All would drive costs down, not up, as removing health insurance company profits and administrative costs from American health care totally changes the system’s accounting dynamics. Yes, an expanded Medicare would require administrative expenses, but nowhere close to the expenses that our current system requires.

Biden also knows Americans would welcome the chance to swap their private health insurance for Medicare. Don’t believe me? Speak to someone between the ages of 60 and 64 who’s relatively healthy. Ten to one she has her fingers crossed hoping to make it to age 65 without a major health challenge, so she can qualify for Medicare and never have to confront the insufficiency of her wonderful private insurance plan.

And very few Americans, we must keep in mind, choose their health insurance provider. Most of us get insurance through our employers. Employers choose the least expensive plan for all employees collectively, without regard to the needs and desires of individuals.

Given that Joe Biden’s stated reasons for opposing Medicare for All don’t pass the smell test, what could be the real reason for his opposition?

Could Biden simply be beholden to the health insurance industry and Big Pharma? Perhaps, but I suspect that something larger — the overall wealth of our wealthy — may be at play. After all, it’s not like health insurers and pharmaceutical companies are going to have his back come general election time.

Consider the difference between how Joe Biden, on the one hand, and Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, on the other, view the billionaires and centimillionaires who make up America’s super rich. Sanders believes the greed of America’s billionaire class threatens the social fabric of our country and has proposed a significant increase in the federal estate tax on grand fortunes. Warren has proposed a 2 percent annual wealth tax on all fortunes in excess of $50 million.

Biden’s differences with Warren and Sanders go deep. He has assured his rich donors — at big-dollar fundraising events — that their lifestyles will not change if he’s elected. Biden, whose donor list includes at least 13 ten-digit fortunes, has made it clear that he doesn’t think billionaires bear any more responsibility for America’s woes than any of the rest of us.

Just this week, he voiced his opposition to policies that would make it harder to become a billionaire.

But why would billionaires and centimillionaires particularly care whether we have Medicare for All versus the Obamacare-with-a-public-option plan Biden favors?

To answer that question, consider the fundamental difference between Obamacare and Medicare for All: who pays. Under Obamacare, individuals pay for their health care, through the insurance premiums they pay and their out-of-pocket expenses for the charges their insurance policies don’t cover. The government subsidizes insurance for lower income Americans through Medicaid, but the bulk of health insurance costs are paid by individuals or their employers.

The public option, Biden’s proposed fix to Obamacare, won’t change any of this. Even if every American healthcare consumer chose the public option, putting the private health insurance industry out of business in the process, individuals still would be responsible for their own health care costs.

Medicare works differently. Under Medicare, the government insures healthcare costs directly. Individuals don’t pay premiums or co-pays. Instead, tax dollars fund the cost of the program.

All this means that the transition from Obamacare to Medicare for All would transfer the burden of health care costs from health care consumers, who share in costs based on how sick or healthy they happen to be, to taxpayers, who would share in costs based on their respective incomes and tax rates.

The great majority of Americans live their lives as both health care consumers and taxpayers. Under Medicare for All, they would see an elimination of both insurance premiums and out-of-pocket medical costs. They would also see a tax increase, but ordinary Americans would save substantially more in health care costs than they’d pay in increased taxes.

But those billionaires and centimillionaires on Joe Biden’s donor list? Their tax increases would dwarf any savings they see in personal healthcare expense. Some could see seven figure tax increases.

Viewed through the billionaire lens, Biden’s loud opposition to Medicare for All makes distinct political sense. He needs billionaires to fund his White House aspirations, which still drive him three decades out from his first presidential run in 1988. He’s not only convinced himself that his billionaire supporters pose no threat to our social fabric, he even seems to believe that any health care reform that puts the squeeze on billionaire fortunes does pose a threat.

All in all, a classic case of why ambition often blinds us. In a 2018 speech, just a sentence or two after saying the billionaires he’s courting aren’t a problem, Biden lamented that the income gap in America is yawning.

What Biden’s ambition won’t let him see: Billionaires don’t exist in isolation. We have approximately 700 billionaires today in the United States. We have a larger number of half-billionaires and a still larger deep-pocket cohort of centimillionaires. And so on. Which leaves our top 1 percent controlling close to half the country’s wealth and the country with an income gap that Biden openly recognizes is “yawning” and, obviously, a problem.

In other words, those billionaires Biden’s won’t let himself see as a worry really are inseparable from the yawning income gap that he knows is a problem.

Sanders and Warren, by comparison, are clear-eyed. They can see that when the gap is so yawning that treatable or preventable injuries and illnesses are killing Americans who can’t afford healthcare and bankrupting millions of others, the only answer is that society — through taxation — must assume the cost of healthcare. Other countries, like Canada, recognized this reality decades ago.

And when America’s billionaires, with Joe Biden as one of their many mouthpieces, stand in the way of that process because they don’t want their taxes to increase, their greed tears at the fabric of American society.

Joe Biden can’t see that. His two leading rivals sure do.

[Robert J. Lord, a tax lawyer and former Congressional candidate, is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Bob previously served as an adjunct faculty member at the Arizona State University School of Law. Bob’s work focuses on the relationship of tax law to inequality. He contributes to both the Inequality.org website and to OtherWords, the Institute’s national syndicated editorial service. Bob also is a staff member at Blog For Arizona, the leading political blog in Arizona.]

Bill Barr Refuses to “Comply First, Complain Later” with Congressional Oversight

A number of people have talked about how dangerous — and how outdated — is much of what Attorney General Bill Barr said to a police organization the other day. I’d like to take another approach with his speech: to show what it looks like when you replace “police” with a co-equal branch of government constitutionally empowered to police the Executive. The italicized words below have swapped out the original. I’ve underlined my own additions.

The anti-oversight narrative is fanning disrespect for the law.  In recent years, we have witnessed increasing toleration of the notion that it is somehow okay to resist oversight.

Previously, it was well understood that, regardless of the circumstances, legal resistance is unacceptable because it necessarily leads to a spiral of escalating resistance that endangers the ability of Congress to oversee the Executive.  For that reason, virtually all jurisdictions have made resistance a serious crime.

Not too long ago influential public voices — whether in the media or among community and civic leaders — stressed the need to comply with oversight commands, even if one thinks they are unjust.  “Comply first” and, if you think you have been wronged, “complain later.”

But we don’t hear this much anymore.  Instead, when an incident escalates due to a suspect’s legal resistance to oversight, that fact is usually ignored by the commentary.  Congress’ every action is dissected, but the suspect’s resistance, and the danger it posed, frequently goes without mention.

We need to get back to basics.  We need public voices, in the media and elsewhere, to underscore the need to “Comply first, and, if warranted, complain later.”  This will make everyone safe – the police, suspects, and the community at large.  And those who resist must be prosecuted for that crime.  We must have zero tolerance for resisting police.  This will save lives.

[snip]

These anti-oversight Attorneys General have tended to emerge in jurisdictions where the nomination process is undermined by an abuse of Vacancy Reform Act.  Frequently, these candidates get rushed through because the incumbent is an entirely unqualified flunky and their confirmations are sometimes accompanied by large infusions of money from outside groups.

Once in office, they have been announcing their refusal to enforce broad swathes of the criminal law.  Most disturbing is that some are refusing to prosecute cases of resisting oversight.

Bill Barr doesn’t believe any average American should ask questions before complying with those empowered to force them to abide by the law.

But his view is entirely different when it comes to his boss complying with the only body — given the OLC memos Barr has reinforced — with the authority to police Executive branch abuses. Indeed, he has (unsurprisingly) refused to enforce contempt citations, and has instead fostered the kind of disrespect for the law he claims to believe in.

Don McGahn Is Not the Most Critical Witness on Impeachment

In the last several days, Jerry Nadler has stated more and more clearly that his committee is conducting an inquiry on whether to file articles of impeachment. Six months after gaining the majority, this feels like a slow walk perhaps intended to time any impeachment vote based on how it will impact the election.

In its press release and complaint seeking to enforce its subpoena against Don McGahn last week, the House Judiciary Committee made an alarming claim: that Don McGahn was the most important witness in its consideration of whether to file for impeachment.

McGahn is the Judiciary Committee’s most important fact witness in its consideration of whether to recommend articles of impeachment and its related investigation of misconduct by the President, including acts of obstruction of justice described in the Special Counsel’s Report.

That claim suggests that the House Judiciary Committee has a very limited conceptualization of its own inquiry and perhaps an overestimation of how good a witness McGahn will be.

McGahn’s probably not as credible as HJC Dems think

I say the latter for two reasons. First, in the early days of the Russian investigation, McGahn overstepped the role of a White House Counsel. For example, even after his office recognized they could not talk to Jeff Sessions about the Russian investigation or risk obstruction, McGahn followed Trump’s orders to pressure Dana Boente on the investigation.

At the President’s urging, McGahn contacted Boente several times on March 21, 2017, to seek Boente’s assistance in having Corney or the Department of Justice correct the misperception that the President was under investigation.326

Curiously, McGahn and Boente’s versions of what happened are among the most divergent in the entire Mueller Report, which might suggest McGahn was less than forthright in testimony that, per footnotes, came in one of his earlier interviews.

Plus, as the Mueller Report acknowledges, the NYT story that triggered one of the key events in the report — where Trump asked McGahn to publicly rebut a claim that he had asked McGahn to fire Mueller, which led him to threaten to resign — was inaccurate in its claim that McGahn had functionally threatened to resign (which was clear in real time). 

On January 26, 2018, the President’s personal counsel called McGahn ‘s attorney and said that the President wanted McGahn to put out a statement denying that he had been asked to fire the Special Counsel and that he had threatened to quit in protest.784 McGahn’s attorney spoke with McGahn about that request and then called the President’s personal counsel to relay that McGahn would not make a statement.785 McGahn ‘s attorney informed the President’s personal counsel that the Times story was accurate in reporting that the President wanted the Special Counsel removed.786 Accordingly, McGahn’s attorney said, although the article was inaccurate in some other respects, McGahn could not comply with the President’s request to dispute the story.787

Put McGahn under oath, and Republicans will ask if he was a source for that story, and if he was, why he oversold what he did. At the very least they’ll beat him up for letting the “#FakeNews NYT” spread lies.

There are far better (tactically and Constitutionally) reasons to impeach

More troubling still, asserting that McGahn is the most important witness — and stating that he’d be a witness in “criminal obstruction” — you prioritize that cause for impeachment over others, causes that might elicit some Republican support or at the very least mobilize the Democratic base.

To my mind, the best cause for impeachment — in terms of cornering Republicans and mobilizing the Democratic base — pertains to Trump’s repurposing of otherwise allocated funding for his Wall. This was an issue about which Republicans themselves had problems. It highlights Trump’s impotence to deliver on his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for his wall. It goes to issues of efficacy on national security issues. And it highlights how Trump has abused authority — authority which goes to the core of separation of powers — to facilitate his attacks on Latino immigrants. Plus, depending on when impeachment was triggered, having focused on the power of the purse would provide a tool to rein Trump in if he survived the election.

Democrats should also focus on Trump’s abuse of the Vacancy Reform Act in his appointments to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Board, DOJ, DOD, and ODNI. Violating the spirit of Consumer Financial Protection Board gave Trump a way to gut an entity meant to protect consumers, something that Elizabeth Warren will be able to magnify better than anyone (all the more so if and when the economy starts to turn south). Appointing Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker to fire Jeff Sessions provides a different way to get to the Russian investigation, and may (if BDTS prevented Mueller from naming Trump in the Roger Stone indictment) focus more attention on the resolution of that case (which has the potential of being both a really damaging trial or a pre-trial pardon). The appointment of Patrick Shanahan as Acting Secretary of Defense provides a way to focus on ethics complaints about his tenure, to say nothing about Trump’s tolerance for familial abuse. And Trump must be held accountable for whatever predictable problems selecting a loyalist over Sue Gordon as Acting DNI will cause — and some of the predictable problems, which might involve North Korea, Iran, or cybersecurity, could be quite damning.

Another impeachment cause that would invoke some of the same issues as the Russian investigation, but in a way that would be more awkward for the President, is Trump’s abuse of security clearances, starting with, but not limited to, Kushner’s (this is an issue where the Oversight Committee has done great work). An inquiry into why Trump gave Kushner clearance would provide a way to get to Kushner’s awkward role in foreign policy, particularly the possibility that he shared US classified information with Gulf oligarchs. If Kushner is found to have shared intelligence allowing Mohammed bin Salman to target Al-Waleed bin Talal or Jamal Khashoggi, it will invoke a slew of issues that will put Republicans in an awkward position (and have the salutary effect of focusing attention on Trump’s refusal to keep the Saudis honest).

Democrats would be idiots if they didn’t make an issue of Trump’s self-dealing, including but not limited to emoluments. It’s likely Republicans would defend the President on this point, but if they do, it can form the basis for legislation to more clearly prohibit such self-dealing going forward if Democrats do well in 2020. In addition, it goes to an issue that was absolutely key to Trump’s supporters, #DrainTheSwamp, but on which he has been (predictably) an utter failure.

Finally, Democrats should include Trump’s refusal to respond to violations of the Presidential Records Act in any impeachment inquiry. It is true that most Administrations have had problems adhering to PRA going back to Poppy Bush (Obama is to a large extent an exception, but Hillary’s avoidance of the Federal Records Act undermines that good record). But when pressed, most prior Administrations have been forced to admit the details of their failures to fulfill the law. Here, Trump has simply refused to respond to all questions about PRA violations. Some of these violations involve key players in the Russian investigation: Jared, KT McFarland, and Bannon. But these same people were involved in other scandals, such as the willingness to sacrifice US standards on nuclear security so that a bunch of Republicans can make $1 million per reactor (again, this would incorporate great work done by OGR).

This is a non-exclusive list. The point is, however, that HJC should frame their impeachment inquiry broadly, partly because some of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors have pissed off Republicans in the past, and partly because a failed impeachment trial can still frame Republican obstruction in a way that voters will care about.

Obviously, I think Trump’s conduct during the Russian investigation is important, and it’s all packaged up with a bow. But it’s not even just obstruction. Trump lied under oath in his written responses to Mueller. And Trump cheated to win an election. So even while pursuing impeachment on Russia, it needs to be more broadly conceived than the issues that Don McGahn can address. 

Other witnesses have more to offer than Don McGahn

So even in the emphasis on the Russia investigation, I think there is at least one better witness: Jay Sekulow. Sekulow has done a number of things that don’t qualify for attorney client privilege, such as his conversations directly with Michael Cohen to write a false statement hiding the President’s ties to Russia. That goes directly to Trump’s sworn lies.

Then there’s John Kelly. He was at DHS for the beginning of Trump’s abusive immigration policies. He knows details of Trump’s security clearance abuses (and might actually give a damn about them). He should know details of the PRA violations (and if not, should be accountable for why not). And he knows details of Kushner’s privatized foreign policy (and probably tried to control it). Kelly was a minor witness for Robert Mueller, but should be a key witness to any impeachment inquiry.

Finally, there’s the role of the Office of Legal Counsel and its head Steve Engel in all this. Some of OLC’s opinions enabling Trump’s abusive acts have been every bit as dodgy as John Yoo’s ones. It is the place of DOJ’s oversight committee to review the circumstances of those shitty opinions. While the government would likely fight this testimony particularly aggressively based on deliberative and attorney-client privileges, both John Yoo and Steven Bradbury have testified before, Yoo on an issue (torture) pertaining to abuse. Engel would still be able to testify about patterns of communication and the degree to which Trump dictated outcomes.

I’ll grant you, there are good reasons why McGahn may be a good tactical witness. I suspect that, by the time he testified, McGahn might be prepared to Bigfoot his testimony, not least in an attempt to cleanse himself of the Trump taint. So at that level, he may be a willing, damning witness.

So calling McGahn the most important witness might just be a legal tactic, a means to tie HJC’s obstruction inquiry with witnesses who have been blocked from testifying. And the White House Counsel position (to say nothing of the former White House Counsel position) is one for which there is precedent (under Clinton and Bush) for coerced testimony.

But I hope to hell HJC doesn’t really believe he’s the most important witness.

Ted Stevens, The “Toobz”, And The Idiocy Of The Internet

Alright, this will be a fairly short post, but I would like to remind people of some things. Namely, regarding Ted Stevens. As background, Marcy wrote a serious, and important, post on the Trumps Organization’s curious, and semi-hilarious, use of Microsoft. And, yes, Marcy is right, it was amazingly stupid. From clackers whining that Hillary Clinton had insecure internet. If it was not so stupid, it would be extra laughable.

But I want to cut back to something different. In comments, Rayne Loled at Ted Stevens and, then, a relatively new commenter (like just today as far as I can tell), “CJ” chimed in with:

Bizarrely, it’s not an entirely bad metaphor, though that’s probably accidental on his part. See, e.g., Andrew Blum’s “Tubes: A Journey to the Center of the Internet”.

This is bunk. Blum, and his book, tried to make hay off of Stevens, and at his expense, but without giving him much of his due, nor acknowledging how the “tubes” of the internet falsely allowed the demonization of Stevens and cheerleader his prosecution. A prosecution that turned out to be false and craven. In a review in the New York Times in 2012, Dwight Garner noted:

Reading this, you wish Mr. Stevens, who died in an airplane crash in 2010, were here to savor it. “Inside those tubes (by and large) are glass fibers,” the author continues. “Inside those fibers is light. Encoded in that light is, increasingly, us.”

That is exactly right, although Blum never really went deeper into the fraud by the Department of Justice that took Ted Stevens down before his untimely demise by plane crash.

So, as a bit of retrospective:

Say what you will about Ted Stevens, and much of that may be fair. But what was done to him at the end was wrong and a travesty. And the DOJ could not even deal with that then. Much less the pervasive and consuming wrong that is at hand today with Bill Barr and the DOJ he now administers.

For anybody that does not remember just how egregious and blatant the government/DOJ action against Ted Stevens was, here is one of my takes from 2008, and yet another in followup, from 2012.

You can joke about Toobz Stevens, and we have here before, but what happened to him was a complete travesty of justice. And there are serious lessons from that to keep in mind today. Without the “toobz” of the internet, I am not sure the reckless and false case against Stevens could have ever made it as far as it did. There is great irony in that, and it is a lesson that ought remain remembered, not just joked about.

That was a different, and in popular lore, more benevolent and honest era. So, what do you think are the odds for far worse from Trump and Barr? Somewhere, Ted Stevens has an idea.

Here for Misogyny’s Ratio

[NB: Not Marcy, check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

This tweet is a flaming POS and the ratio of Comments to Likes reflects a similar collective sentiment (currently running 7-to-1 Comments to Likes:

Wipe the shocked look off your face, Andrew. Believe it or not, secondary education instructors often have day jobs, and professionals often have instruction gigs.

Those day jobs ensure they are more qualified to speak about their field than instructors who teach on the subject directly out of school.

Best classes I ever took were taught by adjunct professors because they had real life experience to use as examples. (My favorite was my business ethics class taught by a local judge.)

This isn’t restricted to the law, either; pick a field from humanities to STEM and you’ll find instructors who are working in their profession while teaching.

But Andrew Kaczynski isn’t the only problem. The article he retweeted has a problem smack in the middle of it which gives me pause — it’s so bad I have to wonder how much of the rest of this report by Washington Post journalists Elise Viebeck and Annie Linskey may need vetting.

This bit:

One of her most controversial clients was Dow Chemical, which she advised in the mid-1990s. A subsidiary that manufactured silicone gel breast implants faced hundreds of thousands of claims from women who said their implants caused health problems. Dow Chemical denied that it played a role in designing or making the implants and sought to avoid liability as its subsidiary, Dow Corning, declared bankruptcy.

“In this case, Elizabeth served as a consultant to ensure adequate compensation for women who claimed injury from silicone breast implants who otherwise might not have received anything when Dow Corning filed for bankruptcy,” Warren’s list of cases read. “Thanks in part to Elizabeth’s efforts, Dow Corning created a $2.35 billion fund to compensate women claiming injury from Dow Corning’s silicone breast implants.”

The Post could not immediately verify this figure.

Emphasis mine. It took me less than 30 seconds to Google “dow corning $2.35 billion fund” and come up with In re Dow Corning Corp., 280 F.3d 648 (6th Cir. 2002):

And I didn’t have access to resources like the Washington Post’s team — cripes, WaPo probably reported on this case. It’s probably in their archives. What else in this article picking through Elizabeth Warren’s work history is just as thinly researched?

We have a malignant narcissistic lifelong scofflaw in office because the media was unwilling to do adequate research into his background before 2016. They focused to excess on the leading female candidate who had already been heavily researched during her tenure as First Lady, junior senator from New York, and Secretary of State.

Now we see slapdash research pushed misogynistically, to the detriment of a candidate who has also served in public office and proven her work history has informed her work as a senator and her policy proposals.

Imagine it: a corporate lawyer who, after working as a lawyer for corporate clients, decides they need more oversight like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and corporations’ owners need to pay more taxes.

But the media wants you to take away from their coverage that she’s been paid by corporations you may not like while teaching at the same time.

Wait until they figure out she’s a mother, too. OMFG!!1! What kind of being can possibly do all that — parent two kids, teach, and bill out at $675 an hour?

Give me a fucking break.

Reporters: Stop this goddamned double standard immediately. Do a better job of reporting, stay focused on what’s relevant and quit making sensation out of nothing.

Readers: Be more skeptical of everything you read, and when you read, do so carefully. Don’t rely on stupid white men’s tweets to tell you the truth. Demand better quality reporting.

This is an open thread.

The Facts: There Is No Crisis and No Emergency, Just Trump’s Campaign

[NB: Check the byline. /~Rayne]

After mixing it up with a old conservative over spring break — someone who doesn’t watch Fox News but spends too much time with people who do — it’s clear Trump’s and Fox’s lies have deeply infected right-wing minds.

They believe Trump’s falsehoods about a crisis at the border, that there was reason for Trump to declare an emergency.

They’re also incapable of fact checking. They’re authoritarians and believe whatever current authority figure tells them; the motivation to validate authority doesn’t exist.

They appear unable to analyze what they do see to make an independent assessment of their own. It doesn’t occur to them to ask, What would be so bad a family with toddlers and infants would flee their home, walking over a thousand miles for more than a month and through a desert to escape?

They’re sheep — our country is regressing under the leadership of fascist sheep.

I wanted to cram a bunch of facts in this conservative’s head but I honestly don’t know if they’d bother to read anything I gave them because I’m not a Fox talking head.

~ ~ ~
Fact: Trend data from DHS’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) about so-called illegal immigrants border crossings indicates it has trended lower over the last 15 years:

(source: U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Nationwide Illegal Alien Apprehensions Fiscal Years 1925-2018 pdf)

From another perspective there is no migrant crisis, shows Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) in this graph using CBP’s own data:

Fact: Trend data graphed by Pew Research drawn from DHS’ Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) about the so-called wave of asylum seekers Trump has called animals in his eliminationist rants reveals a wave of family units migrating from Central America, not Mexico:

Fact: Instead of performing a root cause analysis to determine why families and unaccompanied minors are so desperate to enter the U.S. to seek asylum, Trump wants to cut funding to Central American countries, which will exacerbate the underlying problems internal to the affected countries.

Fact: The largest number of families and children reaching the border came from Guatemala, fleeing crime and drought.

Fact: Guatemala’s volatility may have been exacerbated by multiple volcanic eruptions in 2018, affecting at least two million Guatemalans. The plume from a June eruption was visible from space:

Fact: Many Hondurans fleeing to the U.S. are also fleeing crime and violence; women in particular are fleeing because femicide has been a growing epidemic during the last six years, 95% of which has gone unpunished.

Fact: The U.S. ratified the U.N. protocol to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees in 1968. This expressed the country’s intent to acknowledge and recognize the rights of asylum seekers. The U.S. has not retracted its ratification.

Fact: Asylum seekers can request asylum under Title 8 U.S. Code § 1158, on either side of the border:

(a) Authority to apply for asylum
(1) In general
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States (whether or not at a designated port of arrival and including an alien who is brought to the United States after having been interdicted in international or United States waters), irrespective of such alien’s status, may apply for asylum in accordance with this section or, where applicable, section 1225(b) of this title.

Fact: Trump said “the system is full, can’t take you any more,” which is in opposition to U.S. law on asylum.

Fact: Until it became legal problem for the Trump organization, Trump’s golf courses hired undocumented workers from Central America, some of them for years. This illegal hiring practice, out of compliance with decades-long rules about screening hirees, didn’t become an issue until Trump wanted to use DACA and Temporary Protected Status as a bargaining chit to obtain funding for his “fucken wall” during the government shutdown.

Fact: El Paso, Texas, isn’t in a state of crisis; its mayor attests to this, and asked Trump to stop lying about it. But Trump wanted to shut down the border at El Paso altogether because of his lie that the border is in crisis.

Fact: When told that closing the border as he requested would cause serious damage to the U.S. economy by throttling free trade, Trump said, “I don’t care.

Fact: Trump has insisted that families be separated at the border because he believes it will discourage them from seeking asylum in the U.S.

Fact: Trump, “ranting and raving” at White House and DHS staff, stressed the “border is my issue” while issuing unlawful orders to separate families at the border. He isn’t following through on carefully considered policy but on a campaign issue — one from 2016, and now one for the 2020 race.

~ ~ ~
The bottom line: Trump both as president and as a business owner has violated federal law.

He has done so, deliberately employing cruelty and at cost of human lives, in order to fulfill a campaign promise in 2016, as a campaign theme in 2018 to assist the GOP in mid-terms, and as a campaign stunt for re-election in 2020. As he said, the “border is my issue.”

He has issued unlawful orders as part of his ongoing campaigning under influence of former adviser anarchist Steve Bannon and white nationalist Stephen Miller, a current White House adviser.

The Republican Party aids and abets this — endorses this — as political practice as long as it fails to check the de facto leader of their party. Cruelty and indifference to non-white, non-English-speaking people including infants and families is now their brand along with disregard for treaties and laws.

In doing so, the Republican Party destroys any pretensions to legitimacy if it supports systematic unlawful behavior.

We need to ask if it is now fact that there is no Republican Party.

Plus-Delta Analysis: CNN’s New Political Hire Isgur Flores

[NB: Check the byline. /~Rayne]

Let’s make like a cable news management team and assess CNN’s hiring of former GOP operative Sarah Isgur Flores as a Political Editor ahead of the 2020 election using a plus-delta analysis.

Plus:

Education background includes history, political science, and law; she has a JD from Harvard. History and law degree may be very important should the current administration face mounting investigations and the possibility of impeachment.

With a decade of experience in political campaigns, Flores should understand well how media works campaign cycle from a campaign’s perspective.

Her hiring provides assurance to conservatives that CNN will not exercise a liberal bias covering 2020 campaigns.

Flores’ presence as an openly pro-GOP editor may discourage further attacks on CNN after this past year’s bomb threats.

A woman editor may offer some diversity in perspective as 2020’s field of candidates already includes more women than ever.

Delta:

Flores has zero journalism experience yet bypasses political analyst position for political editor.

Worked exclusively for Republican Party candidates, revealing a partiality toward a particular political ideology.

She has been extremely open about her conservative ideology which may be off-putting to a moderate audience, ex. her strident anti-choice beliefs, evident in her Twitter feed, may offend women.

Worked for the Trump administration as Jeff Sessions’ spokesperson, revealing a willingness to work for problematic Republicans.

Made a show of loyalty before accepting roll with DOJ by visiting Trump to assure him she was “on board with his agenda and would be honored to serve him.” Not clear when this loyalty and service ends.

It’s not clear whether a non-disclosure agreement was signed by Flores muzzling her from speaking about the Trump administration.

It’s not clear if her loyalties and ideology pose a threat to confidential and anonymous sources CNN’s reporters have relied upon while covering the Trump administration.

MSNBC had also been approached by Flores; she tried to sell them on her inside knowledge of the Special Counsel’s investigation. CNN says she won’t use this knowledge in her role but it’s difficult to see how she can be firewalled off from matters related to the investigation if they affect Republicans in Congress or running in 2020.

Her ambitions may both outstrip her current role before 2020, stepping on her immediate boss’s toes (David Chalian) and they may interfere with CNN’s intentions:

…“She had a detailed idea of what she wanted to do,” someone with knowledge of the discussions told me. “She wanted to do something on-air combined with some sort of quasi-management, behind-the-scenes planning kind of work. I think she looked at Dave Chalian and said, I wanna do that.”…(source)

CNN staff are not happy with this move (though Brian Stelter puts an awfully good face on it).

While Flores’ hiring could be likened to CNN’s hiring of Corey Lewandowski and Jeffrey Lord in terms of balance, the leap to an editorial position combined with strong ideology makes CNN look partisan — lacking neutrality in the public’s perception.

One more critically important factor gives pause about Flores’ new gig: CNN is owned by Warner Media LLC, which in turn is owned by AT&T. Is hiring Flores an attempt to shape policy to benefit ultimate parent AT&T, heading off pressure from the public for Net Neutrality and any changes in regulations affecting telecommunications and internet service providers?

This just doesn’t look good to me, especially after so many good, seasoned news media people without baggage like Flores’ were cut by outlets over the last two weeks.

This is an open thread.

KonMari-ing the Confederacy’s Son

[NB: Check the byline — this is a different kind of ‘trash talk’. /~Rayne]

You may already have heard the buzz about Japanese organizing consultant Marie Kondo and her branded decluttering technique, KonMari. Perhaps you’ve even seen her on Netflix which now features a series called Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.

She set off a furor across the internet among book lovers when she suggested getting rid of all of one’s books except for those few that spark joy — which is her guiding philosophy to thinning everything one possesses. When one considers a particular personal belonging, what feelings does it inspire? If joy, keep it and store it carefully; if not, release it.

This doesn’t work for books. Some of the most horror-inspiring books may be essential favorites whether fiction or non-fiction. And many book lovers whether readers, authors, or editors thrive in an environment of tsundoku, the weight of unread books providing a wealth of promise rather than oppressive dread.

The hullabaloo about her approach to books forced a reconsideration of the KonMari technique. It doesn’t work uniformly for everyone; what sparks joy for one rouses sadness in others.

But people do share universal values; if we focused on happiness and peace arising from observing these values, there might be a way to reconcile the disparity between ditching books and keeping them whether they spark joy or not.

Looking at our universal values — those we share as humans regardless of our gender identity, race and ethnicity, religious heritage, or country of origin — we have to ask ourselves about much more than whether to keep the tatty high school-issued copy of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or well-thumbed Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.

What is it we should jettison if we are truly keeping that which is honest and trustworthy, responsible, respectful, caring, and fair?

Why worry about an excess of books and holey stray socks when our lives are thrown into chaos every day by people who are not living these shared values?

It could be said the repudiation of Governor Ralph Northam is an example of this kind of purging by Democrats in Virginia and beyond. Has Northam changed since the mid-1980s? Sure — we all have and hopefully for the better, but Northam’s failure to be open as a candidate and now as an elected official about the context of his medical school’s yearbook is a lapse of under universal ethics even if we believed his claims.

Now the people of Virginia wait for Northam to come to grips with the sorting he’s been through.

But as a country we’re not done with our reassessment. What are we keeping that holds us back from realizing our best selves as citizens?

A substantive number of readers will surely suggest impeaching and removing Trump and they’d be right. He’s the antithesis of  honesty and trustworthiness, responsibility, respect, caring, and fairness in nearly everything he does. Decluttering processes have already been set in motion — the Special Counsel’s Office plays a role in them even if its mission isn’t removal per se.

Trump isn’t the only human obstruction to realizing our communal universal values, though.

This needs to go. This should have been KonMari’d more than a dozen years ago, pared out of government. Don’t even think about trying to recycle it, either, it’s beyond redemption. The tradition manifest here has no worth because it disrespects the innate value of fellow humans while elevating a small number of people because of that disrespect.

Kentuckians need to clean their house beginning with this Senate seat. McConnell can’t possibly inspire happiness and peace in their hearts when his actions deny so many their human dignity.

Republicans should do likewise, beginning now with removing McConnell from the majority leadership role. They need to ask themselves if doubling down on their pursuit of power, throwing values to the wind to this end, really sparks joy in their hearts and souls. Do their efforts generate genuine authority, lay claim to authentic leadership, when fellow humans must be denigrated in the process?

Failing to be honest with themselves and respectful of the public will eventually set off other kinds of sparks. Just ask Ralph Northam.

 

Treat this as an open thread.

Let Them Eat (Starbucks’ Coffee) Cake

A couple of older billionaire white dudes have been shooting off their mouths. One of them is partially clued in. The other one apparently lives on a different planet where the sky is a groovy coffee-colored plaid.

I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir when I point out these facts:

The links above include scolding by financial experts who say Americans need to do a better job of saving. But…

Don’t get me started on what college tuition and subsequent debt does to Americans’ ability to save.

We all know that health care costs have not improved and remain the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S. even though more Americans have health insurance under ACA.

And rich older white dudes are completely, utterly, hopelessly out of touch about the financial facts of life for nearly half of Americans let alone the next 2-3 deciles.

Like Wilbur Ross — our Commerce Secretary who lied about his assets and clearly knows nothing about Americans’ daily commerce — struggled to comprehend why federal employees might need to use a food bank after missing a paycheck.

Just get a loan, Ross thinks. Sure, sure, banks give signature loans to people without any collateral let alone a source of income all the time. Come on, Wilbur: would you invest in a bank offering those kinds of terms to the average Joe/Josephine off the street?

And then there’s Trump, who thinks we can just ask the grocer to extend some credit for an unspecified period of time. Right — a nationwide grocery chain clearing 1-3% a year in profits can afford to extend credit.

So goddamned clueless he is. I’m only surprised he didn’t tell furloughed federal workers he’d give them a 5% discount to play golf at one of his courses during their free time.

76-year-old billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who thinks he’s still young enough to run for president in 2020, trashed Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax proposal as “probably unconstitutional,” thereby revealing his brain’s atrophy. If taxing higher levels of income wasn’t unconstitutional under Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Carter, then it probably isn’t unconstitutional.

And then Seattle coffee magnate Howard Schultz popped off at Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ proposals to increase marginal tax rates on the uber-wealthy, calling her “a bit misinformed” and her proposal “un-American.”

Except the U.S. had higher tax rates on the wealthy, for most of the 20th century. The country could afford to build more infrastructure; it built a successful public school system and went to the moon. How nice for Schultz that he could grow up and become a young entrepreneur in that economic environment.

(Put a pin in here for future reference, as a reminder that Schultz not only called AOC “un-American” but Sen. Kamala Harris, too. It’s as if he has a problem with women of color…)

Schultz thinks he has become a billionaire all on his own, as if the increasingly fascist political system with its active suppression of younger, marginalized citizens played no role in his wealth accumulation.

As if the last two decades of stagnant wages due to employment monopsony, repressive Federal Reserve policies, and the real estate market haven’t helped line his pockets by assuring low-wage workers get locked in and unable to move to better paying jobs.

Schultz has been able to accumulate massive amounts of wealth on the backs of people who aren’t being paid living wages, out of the wallets of those whose limited resources allows them to buy a coffee but not a house or health care. He’s rolling in a sea of cash because minimum wage workers are living in little more than indentured servitude.

You know what’s really un-American?

An ungrateful and narrow-minded billionaire white dude who doesn’t think living wages and health care for everyone are fair, who thinks that higher taxes after his first $50 million are theft.

A purveyor of luxury beverage products unable to grasp the unselfish commitment it will take to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty for all the people.

At least Bloomberg sees the danger Schultz’s presidential candidacy poses to this country.

But Schultz isn’t in it for the country’s benefit. He’s in the race for himself. It’s clear he’s done the number crunching and determined that it’s cheaper to run for POTUS even if he were to cause Trump to win re-election. (I’ll bet he’s even figured out how to write off his exploratory trips around the country as a business expense.)

Because the campaign expenses are less than the cost to his personal wealth if he were taxed at a higher rate and if he were also forced to pay living wages to his workers.

What a pity Schultz hasn’t calculated how much more overpriced, excessively roasted coffee minimum wage workers can buy if they didn’t have to worry about health care expenses on top of their rent.

 

Treat this as an open thread.

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