Monday, February 17, 2020

Now they tell us

Premature anti-fascists, via The Typescript.

In fact downright pissed off, as I start to think about it, given that the heat was coming primarily from them, and has gone on for the whole three months since 15 November, when Warren finally explained, after tons of pressure to which the Sanders camp was never subjected, that her method for achieving Medicare For All was going to take some time to implement,
beginning with passing a bill at the start of her presidency that would create a new government health plan that would cover children and people with lower incomes for free, while allowing others to join the plan if they choose. It’s a particularly expansive version of a public option.
Only later, in her third year in the White House, does Warren say she would pursue Medicare-for-all legislation that would actually prohibit private health insurance, as would be required for the single-payer program that she says she, like Bernie Sanders, wants.
Which I loved, of course, as evidence that she really did have a plan for that, that she meant to achieve it, not just represent it, like a totem animal, as a branding element, the way the other guys did, with Sanders's preposterous assertion that all it would take to pass the bill would be staging rallies in Kentucky, and the total absence of ideas on how the nation would transition into the new system. Not only did Warren chart a timetable for getting to the single-payer ideal, she had staged it in such a way as to ensure that even if she failed at any given point, the nation would still be better off in terms of healthcare accessibility than it had been at the time of her inauguration.

But not everybody loved it. Like Krystal Ball, writing for The Hill:

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Horse race stuff

Caucus race, by John Tenniel. No allegorical interpretations of who Alice and the Dodo respectively represent, if you don't mind. Via Wikipedia.

Molly Jong-Fast at Washington Post has what looks initially like a hot take on the miseries of the current Democratic presidential nomination contest: that it's all Biden's fault for screwing up his assigned role.
After a fourth-place finish in Iowa and a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, it’s time to take a good, hard look at former vice president Joe Biden, the once-dominant, now-floundering Democratic “front-runner.” Not to get too technical about it, but I would like to postulate that the Democratic front-runner should be, you know, in front....
With all respect—she's a very sharp writer—I think she's misplacing the blame, if blame is due, in not asking who appointed Joe; who failed to give him that good hard look ten months or so ago, when he obtained that front-runner label though he'd been running unsuccessfully for president for OVER THIRTY YEARS and had a history of alienating the very voters he was going to have to depend on the most, from backing agitators against school busing to patronizing Barack Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy" (although this seemed to have greatly improved starting in late 2008).

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Domestic Emoluments

GORGEOUS 3 BD 2 FULL BTH 2 HALF BTH COUNTRY FARM HOUSE W/HEATED AND COOLED 700 SQ FT OFFICE/STUDIO OVER 3 CAR GARAGE, IN-GRD HEATED POOL, 5 STALL BARN ON OVER 7 ACRES IN THE HEART OF BEDMINSTER. $6.,000.month as opposed to almost three times that if Secret Service is writing the check. Via Zillow

Something I'm not hearing, as in this otherwise perfectly good NBC story
On Wednesday night, when President Donald Trump addressed supporters from behind a Trump Hotels lectern in a room at his Trump International Hotel Washington, D.C., one of his company's most faithful customers accompanied him.
The U.S. Secret Service.
The government agency charged with protecting the president has paid his businesses at least $471,000 to fulfill its congressional mandate, according to documents The Washington Post recently obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. That's money from U.S. taxpayers flowing to the Trump Organization, with a venerable 155-year-old law enforcement organization being used like one of Michael Cohen's Delaware shell companies and serving as a conduit for presidential profit. And that $471,000 figure? It's only through April 2018.
—is that it's another violation of the Constitution, just as serious as taking money from the Saudi Arabian government, when he gets money from our own government; a violation of Article II, section 1, clause 7, the Domestic Emoluments Clause,

Friday, February 14, 2020

Brooks Explains Education

Victor Sjöström, The Phantom Carriage (1920).

David Brooks all excited about his new proof that socialism doesn't work, because it doesn't account for the greatness of Scandinavia, contrary to popular opinion, and the unpopular reasons are wrong too ("This Is How Scandinavia Got Great"):
Progressives say it’s because they have generous welfare states. Some libertarians point out that these countries score high on nearly every measure of free market openness. Immigration restrictionists note that until recently they were ethnically homogeneous societies.
But Nordic nations were ethnically homogeneous in 1800, when they were dirt poor. Their economic growth took off just after 1870, way before their welfare states were established. What really launched the Nordic nations was generations of phenomenal educational policy.
See, the Nordic countries adopted the German concept of Bildung, a much larger and more holistic idea than the idea of "education", the "formation" of the whole person, not just training in the 1870s Scandinavian equivalent of STEM, but "the complete moral, emotional, intellectual and civic transformation of the person", which I think is not quite right—it's more the creation of the person: you don't want to take the preschooler and make her into somebody different, but to fully realize the flower latent within the bud. Also, of course, the Germans adopted it too, it's their concept, but they took some pretty alarming detours along the way which would complicate Brooks's argument in a way he'd prefer not to do.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Literary Corner: We Are Funding For New Hampshire

Funding For New Hampshire
by Donald J. Trump
We are funding
for New Hampshire
the New Hampshire Army
National Guard
Readiness Center,
just a few miles from here
in Pembroke
and in Concord.
Concord, I love Concord!
I love Concord, oh, Concord!
You know how famous Concord is?
Concord --
that's the same Concord
that we read about
all the time right?
No, as others have pointed out, if you read about Concord all the time it's probably a different Concord. On the other hand Trump may have been reading about the Concord, NH Army National Guard Readiness Center that afternoon, or more likely as he was speaking, from a sheet of talking points, because it got a grant of $6 million to upgrade their aviation facility in November's NDAA. Some bright spark on the staff who has read about the kinds of things normal politicians do thought Trump should try taking some credit for this exciting local development, maybe just in the hope of making him sound for a minute like a normal politician, but what he got instead was this splendid example of Trump realizing that he's just read something that makes no sense to him, and trying to work his way out of it, aspirationally like Monk building a spectacular edifice on what sounded like a mistake, but in reality more like a multiple car crash.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Big Structural Change in Small Packags


Ezra Klein ("Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and America's politics of epiphany") usefully points out something that may come as a bit of a downer: no Democratic presidential candidate is going to be able to carry through much of their program, and it's perfectly possible they won't be able to carry through any at all. Biden expecting "an epiphany among many of my Republican friends" is every bit as delusional as Sanders with his project of recruiting the masses to do it, the way Woodrow Wilson forced Republican senators to ratify the Versailles Treaty and join the League of Nations:
“You go to Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky, which is a state where a lot of people are struggling, and you say to those people, ‘Okay, this is my proposal,’” Sanders replied. “We’re going to lower the age of Medicare from 65 to 55, and we’re expanding it to cover, as I mentioned, dental care and home health care and eyeglasses and hearing aids.
“What percentage of the people do you think in Kentucky would support that proposal? My guess is 70 percent, 80 percent of the people. And my job then as president is to rally those people and tell their senators to support it. I think we can do that.”

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Narratology: Dinner with Lev and Igor

It's always the dinner. Thomas Couture, Les Romains de la Décadence, 1847, Musée d'Orsay, via Wikipedia.

Don't stop me if you've heard this one, or if you think you've heard it. We've all heard it, in fact, or rather most of us have heard most of its elements and been more or less scandalized, but I believe we haven't really heard it as story: I know I hadn't until this morning, when WNYC's Ilya Marritz showed up on the radio to give some publicity to the latest episode of the Trump Inc. podcast, produced by the radio station and Pro Publica, and he didn't exactly tell the story in the way I mean, and neither does the podcast, I think, but I felt I was hearing it for the first time.

So there's this Trump-related superPAC, America First Action, that's been involved in some pretty dodgy things, like the case of Randy Perkins, the founder of a company called AshBritt, who made a donation of half a million dollars to the group the day after he received a supplemental contract award worth about the same amount ($460,000), for cleaning up wildfire damage, to a contract he had with the Defense Department. Which may have been completely unrelated to the donation (Perkins said, "I actually think this administration cares deeply about children and mental health issues"), but was illegal all the same—federal contractors aren't allowed to contribute to political campaign organizations, and when a watchdog organization found out about it the money had to be returned. Or the way it may have illegally taken donations adding up to almost $2 million from a foreign company (Canadian) laundered through its US subsidiary. Or the way the Trump campaign may have illegally coordinated with America First Action and its dark-money sibling America First Policies, with Trump personally soliciting donations for them.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

For the Record: Debate

Via The Log Cabin Sage, who retails a great story from the 1858 Senate campaign of how Douglas snidely noted that Lincoln had managed a grocery store in the course of his career, and showed himself to be "a very good bartender". Lincoln came back to it in his response: “What Mr. Douglas has said, gentlemen, is true enough. I did keep a grocery, and I did sell cotton, candles, and cigars, and sometimes whiskey; but I remember in those days, Mr. Douglas was one of my best customers. Many a time have I stood on one side of the counter and sold whiskey to Mr. Douglas on the other side; but the difference between us now is this: I have left my side of the counter, but Mr. Douglas still sticks to his as tenaciously as ever.”
Touché, gentlemen.

Candidate Yang made a couple of really annoying historical errors, when he suggested that folks in the ancient times when they used to debate socialism and capitalism never anticipated how economies would be transformed by automation
and claimed the support of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for his silly "universal basic income" program
Other than that, the candidates were on their best behavior, and I was impressed:

Friday, February 7, 2020


JFK reporting on fulfilled campaign promises in 1962. Via NPR.

David Brooks suggests in his concern-troll headline that Democrats are doing it wrong  ("Are Democrats Going to Give This Election Away?"), but the column seems to be all about how Emperor Trump is doing it right: "this was the most politically successful week of Trump's presidency."

One of the odder reasons is this one:
Fourth, Trump has cleverly reframed the election. I can see why Nancy Pelosi ripped up his State of the Union speech. It was the most effective speech of the Trump presidency.
In 2016, Trump ran a dark, fear-driven “American carnage” campaign. His 2016 convention speech was all about crime, violence and menace. The theme of this week’s speech was mostly upbeat “Morning in America.”

As Steve points out, all the memorable parts of the speech were about crime, violence, and menace, from immigrants penetrating inside our borders and terrorists outside and the need for constant vigilance and  retribution, and I'd add that the optimism supplied by that cheery alliteratonist Stephen Miller certainly wasn't very convincing—

Thursday, February 6, 2020

The Third Dimension

White mochi with macha filling, via Uncut Recipes.

So Jordan was wondering over in the comments how David Brooks might have reacted to the Clinton impeachment 20 years ago, and I found something kind of—unsurprising might be the right word, from David Nyhan writing for the Boston Globe in January 1999, who watched a Brooks appearance on PBS looking back at the failure of the Senate trial, and, spoiler, no, he didn't talk about how Gingrich's House ought to have been working on infrastructure bills instead:
"This is a Great Lost Cause," he enthused of the Republican drive to snuff out the Clinton presidency. "We fought for truth, for justice," he said. That notion was novel to me. This whole thing has looked like a down-and-dirty political ambush from the word go, to me and to most Americans. I could never buy the William Bennett Moral Crusade; I always suspected that was a book-tour con.
But Brooks found what he gamely phrased "a kernel of romance" for Republicans in this yearlong dive into the cesspool of semen-stained dresses, cigars in the wrong places, sneaky tapes of a ditzy young intern by a repulsive Republican operative (can anyone defend the taxpayers still paying $90,000 a year to Linda Tripp for her no-show Pentagon job?), and the greasy pawing-over of tapes, transcripts, appointment logs, Secret Service records, and other detritus of the 60,000-page House impeachment probe.
Brooks looked ahead to the Republican National Convention of 2000 and through the mist of the future, saw Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, being summoned to the podium to accept the plaudits of a grateful party, with the crowd roaring for Hyde and his fellow impeachers: "They stood for principles against the polls."
It strikes me that there's more to this than simple hypocrisy, a simple double standard for Republicans vs. Democrats; or maybe I should say it's a motivated double standard.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

For the Record: I Haven't Forgotten You Brooks

Lon Chaney in Herbert Brenon's Laugh Clown Laugh, 1928.

Coverup Is Everywhere

National Archives photoshopped blurring of a protest sign, via Vos Iz Neias.

I didn't even notice whether Governor Whitmer had mentioned the criminality of the White House occupant in her response to the State of the Union address of Individual no. 1, whose writers didn't of course find time to mention it at all. It turns out that she did allude to the Senate trial and Chairman Schiff's hopeful slogan at the very end:
As we witness the impeachment process in Washington, there are some things each of us, no matter our party should demand. The truth matters, facts matter, and no one should be above the law. It’s not what those senators say tomorrow, it’s about what they do that matters. Remember, listen to what people say but watch what they do. It’s time for action.
Meanwhile, the ongoing Trump administration violation of the Presidential Records Act goes way beyond the Stalinoid doctoring by the National Archives of a picture of the Women's March and the president's personal habit of tearing his own papers to pieces and throwing them out—National Archives staffers who tried taping them back together were fired, historian Matthew Connelly tells us in an opinion piece for The Times:

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Right Here in River City

Listening to NPR on location in Des Moines this morning to report the main story of the day, which was that they didn't have the story they were prepared for, the results of the Iowa caucus, through no fault of their own, I should say: as you know by now, blame goes to the Iowa Democratic Party, which—frustrated in its desire to have all the attendees vote by smartphone, which they had thought would be very groovy, but would apparently have been a security nightmare—had decided that precinct captains and secretaries would transmit all the results to headquarters by smartphone, through a specially developed app which apparently worked fine if you took the training but not if you thought you could just download it like Uber and dive in. It seems there were so many of the latter that the hot line set up to handle problems was immediately overwhelmed, and a lot of precinct captains and secretaries gave up trying to get through and went home. Republicans and/or Russians are already pushing conspiracy theories (the Biden and Buttigieg campaigns, and the Nevada Democratic Party, have been clients of the firm that developed the app), but I'd bet on incompetence every time. (Steve M has more to say about that.)

A thing that will stick in my mind was David Greene's interview with the Des Moines waitress who had told him 12 years ago that a Hillary Clinton had brought a party to her restaurant and stiffed her (which, it strikes me now, may or may not have been true) and now says that after voting for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 she voted for Trump in 2016 and plans to do so again, because "I'm not a racist but."

Monday, February 3, 2020

Postcard From Parliament Square

Pouring beer on the flag of the European Union is a thing somebody did. Photo credit to PA/Independent.

Not a postcard from me, but from Tom Peck for The Independent, observing how "on Friday 31 January, between the hours of 9pm and 11pm, Westminster’s Parliament Square played host to a static, knuckle dragging carnival of the irredeemably stupid."
I’ve listened back now to the sound on my dictaphone that records Britain’s moment of liberation and it goes exactly like this: “Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven! Six! Five! Four! Three! Two! One! FREEDOM!!!! YEAAAASSSS!!!! F****** FREEDOM!!!! WE F****** DID IT!!! F****** FREEDOM!!! F****** DO ONE!! F****** DO ONE!!!!”
It seems as worthy a catch phrase of the moment as anything else. F****** do one! Who exactly? Absolutely everyone. It doesn’t matter. Just f****** do one. Put that, as they say, on the side of the bus....
We have become the first country to throw off the yoke of an oppressor whom nobody else considers themselves oppressed by. We have won our freedom from our own imagined nightmares. We have liberated ourselves from the terrors of the monster under the bed that was never there. We are the children that never grew up.
Today, The Independent is informing its readers that
Donald Trump is facing fresh ridicule after tweeting his congratulations to the Kansas City Chiefs after they won Super Bowl LIV by saying they represented “the Great State of Kansas... so very well” when the team is, in fact, based in Missouri.
One of the most disturbing things for me about this Revolt of the Stupid is the way it calls into question everybody's commitment to democracy. The rebels, of course, have no interest in democracy; they're interested in owning the libs, permanently, and would rather not be asked to think about anything else. They gladly surrender their political power to an authority, preferably one as stupid as they are, who's willing to tell them all the lies they can listen to. But we, too, in our disgust that such people as Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are enabled to exercise that sort of democratically obtained power, are we really interested in democracy? Are we really not tempted to wish we could, at least, exclude the stupid from power? Are we really not secretly inclined to long for the rule of Plato's philosopher kings? Not, strictly speaking, undemocratic philosopher kings—I'd like underlings like me to be listened to—but more like a kind of weighting in the distribution of political power in which you get more if you know there are two Kansas Cities and only one has an NFL franchise, or grasp that the European Union isn't responsible for the presence in England of immigrants from the Caribbean and and South Asia.

I hope I'm not thinking that way. I hope I'm thinking the opposite way, that stupid people are in the minority and more effective democracy (bringing in the people who are smart enough to be too cynical to vote) would keep them out of power.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Thanks, Mitch

Image via123RF.

Impressed by this observation from Jonathan Chait:
McConnell’s desired process of muscling through a wildly unpopular vote to suppress all evidence, followed by a vote to acquit, would rob the outcome of much of the legitimacy Republicans crave. It is instead widely and accurately seen as a cover-up...
McConnell may have finally made the miscalculation we've been dreaming of, that will shock voters out of their feeling that nothing seriously wrong has been going on, as I keep saying with reference to the Watergate scandal, when public support for impeaching and removing Nixon shot up from around 48% to 57% in a couple of weeks after the Supreme Court ruled 24 July that Nixon had to hand over the original White House tapes to Congress (he'd given them edited transcripts in April and the polling had hovered just below a majority for the three months).

They didn't get the story of how the CREEP and the Mitchell Justice Department and the Casey CIA and mad Nixon and his lieutenants had worked to create a kind of secret government inside the government to punish Nixon's enemies and reward his friends—very many people, maybe most, continued to suppose the "third-rate burglary" of Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel was the whole of the crime—but they could see there was a coverup. And, as they say, "It's not the crime, it's the coverup," meaning not that the coverup was worse than the crime but that the coverup was the perspicuous index of how bad the crime was, if you couldn't quite follow the latter.

Friday, January 31, 2020

A Senate Trial

To the tune of:

a Senate trial, with no witness—
a steaming pile of shit it is
I thought we would be saving our threatened nation
instead it looks like wasted anticipation

a Senate trial of impeaching
across the aisle they're not reaching
I haven't seen Republicans crack a smile
it's never been their style
this is a Senate trial

a Senate trial without judging
the whole defense is Matt Drudging
the prosecution can't seem to get attention
with all the parties dreaming of their convention

a Senate trial with no sentence—
we don't believe in repentance
defendant is quite happily in denial
or maybe that's his guile
this is a Senate trial

a Senate trial with no ending
the solons' fear is heart-rending
they seem to think the Emperor is bionic
too bad the rules forbid them a gin and tonic

a Senate trial with no moral
I'd better stop or we'll quarrel
I'm turning off the radio for a while
it's filling me with bile
this is a Senate trial

Thursday, January 30, 2020

For the Record: Whistleblower

If the whistleblower violated some article of White House protocol to get the document to the place IG Atkinson agreed it needed, urgently, to go, that's a good thing! If he hadn't done it, Zelenskyy would have gone on CNN on schedule, humiliated himself and disheartened his voters (and the rest of the world) by announcing his imaginary investigations of an imaginary crime (and Trump might have gone on holding the aid, as I suppose Putin asked him to do in the secret 31 July phone call, but you don't have to pay any attention to that). It was a win for the rule of law!

Or is somebody claiming that IG Atkinson was wrong about whether or not the complaint was credible and urgent? I don't hear Trump and his lawyers doing that. I hear Trump and his lawyers making fitful attempts to stop us from thinking about it altogether, kicking up the identity of the whistleblower like sand in our eyes. Which is kind of their only alternative, but please don't let yourself be affected by it.

While I'm up, a weird and distasteful thread on Biden and his press problems, beginning with the great Elizabeth Drew weighing in with her opinion:

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Rudy confesses

On an unrelated quest, I just ran into this letter from last November to Lindsey Graham (it was covered by Fox) in which, it seems to me,  Rudy confesses:

I assure you, despite the false rumors and exaggerations of reality, everything I did was to defend an innocent man, in this case, the President of the United States. Not only from false charges but from a deliberately planned conspiracy to prevent him from being elected, and then the insurance policy to remove him by false charges and illegal methods.
Defending your client from not getting elected isn't what a defense attorney does; it's the work of a political agent. But it's the only thing Giuliani has done (what "false charges" against Trump has he dealt with, as a lawyer, or true ones either? I haven't heard of him addressing Trump's illegal behavior in the Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal payoffs, or the long list of obstruction of justice counts in the Mueller report, have you?).

In the letter, he still seems to be trying to get visas for Ukrainian informants, maybe Shokin, against the "Biden Family" (promoting Joe with that capitalization to full-scale Godfather status)
There are at least three (3) witnesses who have direct (non-hearsay) evidence of Democrat criminal conspiracy with Ukrainians to prevent Donald J. Trump from being President, with the alternative to remove him from office based on contrived charges. This has been most recently established by Mark Zaid, the discredited anonymous informant’s lawyer, who called for a coup ten days after the January 2017 inauguration. These witnesses have oral, documentary, and recorded evidence of the Biden Family’s involvement in bribery, money laundering, Hobbs Act extortion, and other possible crimes. They do not seek anonymity, like the disappearing informant. They desire a visa and it will not be granted by Ambassador Bill Taylor’s embassy in Kiev. The Ambassador, apparently, has been too busy starring on mid-day soap operas, providing us with inadmissible second and third-hand information, including guesses and surmises. Some of which I personally know is false because his information about me is largely untrue.
Last night we were looking at the assertions of Trump lawyers in the Senate trial:
“He was not on a political errand,” Raskin argued. “He was doing what good defense attorneys do. …
Wrong. He's always been on a political errand.

Rudy Rude: The Best Defense Is Pretty Offensive

By Jen Sorensen.

So the Republicans finally did get around to mentioning Rudolph Giuliani's name after all, yesterday, for 15 minutes of their 24 hours (which seem to have reduced themselves by about half, no surprise there), in the person of counselor Jane Raskin, who explained that Rudy was simply a "colorful distraction" introduced into the story by Democrats:
“The House managers would have you believe that Mr. Giuliani is at the center of this controversy,” Raskin said. “They’ve anointed him the proxy villain of the tale, the leader of a rogue operation. Their presentations were filled with ad hominem attacks and name-calling … but I suggest to you he’s front an center in their narrative for one reason alone: to distract from the fact that the evidence does not support their claims.”
Because it wasn't the way the Democrats saw it when he and Lev and Ihor, and the hack journalist John Solomon, and the hack Ukrainian prosecutors Viktor Shokin and Kostiantyn Kulyk and Yuriy Lutsenko, and the very rich Ukrainian crook Dmytro Firtash, worked to concoct their stories of how the real thieves of the Democratic National Committee emails were an imaginary Ukrainian firm called CrowdStrike (overlapping in their alternative universe with the American company of that name in ours); and the US ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was a secret member of the anti-Trump resistance; and Joe Biden's son Hunter had done something unspeakable and indeed undefinable, but very bad.
Raskin asserted that Giuliani’s pursuits were not about the 2020 presidential election, citing the fact that he undertook the effort before Mueller’s report on Russian interference was released and before Biden announced his presidential bid. She said he was driven by a motivation to defend his client against the Mueller probe. 
“He was not on a political errand,” Raskin argued. “He was doing what good defense attorneys do. … He was gathering evidence about Ukrainian election interference to defend his client against the false allegations being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller.” 
Let's just take a look at that, focusing on the timing:

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

For the Record: Dersh

You won't believe what's happened to handsome Martha's Vineyard lawyer Alan Dershowitz!

I was kind of astonished by Dershowitz, by his vigor and concentration, of all things, which make his languid and uncertain teammates look pretty bad, to say nothing of the bleating old Kenneth Starr. When his former students tell you what a good professor he was, I bet they're not kidding. At the same time, you didn't need a lot of legal sophistication to see he was wrong.

I thought it was mildly funny how he started out off the bat emphasizing how he's taken up "doing his own research", as struck me earlier ("I didn't do research back then, I relied on what professors said"), rather than looking at what current scholars are doing, bragging about the "dusty old volumes" he's been consulting:

But his main point seemed to be doubling down on a very well-understood error, the error that says an impeachment has to accuse the defendant of some statutory crime:

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Mustache Sings

I will point out for no good reason except Joanie will like it if she shows up that I knew Shashi Tharoor, now for some years the Congress Party's greatest Twitter exponent, very slightly when he was UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Singapore—he used to play cricket with some friends of mine. This is a picture of John Bolton hating on him and anxious to stop him from becoming UN Secretary General, via DNAIndia.

So fired National Security Advisor Bolton apparently confirms the bribery attempt, not calling it a "drug deal" in his literary effort (man doesn't know a catchy phrase when he sees it, even when he made it up himself); Haberman and Schmidt for NYTimes inform us:
WASHINGTON — President Trump told his national security adviser in August that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens, according to an unpublished manuscript by the former adviser, John R. Bolton.
The president’s statement as described by Mr. Bolton could undercut a key element of his impeachment defense: that the holdup in aid was separate from Mr. Trump’s requests that Ukraine announce investigations into his perceived enemies, including former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son Hunter Biden, who had worked for a Ukrainian energy firm while his father was in office.

"Could undercut" LOL. Could confirm what all the evidence tends to show.

Looks like Bolton dishes on Pompeo (for knowing there was no basis to claims against Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch and passively allowed Trump to do what he wanted without ever backing her up) and Barr (Bolton asked Barr why Trump had included Barr in his "talk to Rudy" advice to Zelenskyy; Barr has denied having heard about that call until a month later). And Mulvaney (for lying about whether he listened to Trump-Giuliani discussions).

The White House evidently suggesting that it knew Mr. Bolton only for a very short time and maybe he was the coffee boy—and inevitably admitting what he said was true but regretting that he was naughty enough to say so and hang on to the documentation:
In recent days, some White House officials have described Mr. Bolton as a disgruntled former employee, and have said he took notes that he should have left behind when he departed the administration.

If it doesn't have a groove, you must not remove

Drawing by W.S. Gilbert, from the 1864 "Bab Ballad" on which his and Arthur Sullivan's first opera was based. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Ladies and gentlemen, we will only take up of couple of hours of your time this morning sketching out the full and completely fact-based argument on behalf of my client that we will be presenting to you as soon as we've finished drafting it sometime Monday afternoon, because we don't plan to make you wait for us to start repeating ourselves the way the Democrats did, with their hysterical and deeply improper attempts to talk you into accepting witness testimony before you'd even been given a chance to hear the witness testimony summarized.

We intend, in contrast, to start the process of repeating ourselves immediately, with a kind of "coming attractions" reel of all the fine points we expect to be making next week, all of which will refer themselves exclusively to the evidentiary record that the Democrats laid out for us this week, and no reference at all to that time Trump asked somebody to "take out" Ambassador Yovanovitch at dinner in April 2018 before Rudolph Giuliani even got involved with the case*. We will not even bore you by acknowledging that Rudolph Giuliani exists, and this is a promise.


Transfigured version of the Monet room, via Quartz.

Jordan Orlando's big piece on the newly renovated and expanded Museum of Modern Art and the "paradoxical alignment of capital and counterculture", "The Once and Future MOMA", has arrived at, or you could always read it on paper if you wanted to wait until Tuesday, but digital access to the magazine is available for fifty bucks a year, so don't deprive yourselves any longer. Life is too short.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Can I Get a Witness?

Thanks for the shout-out, Tengrain!

One last word on Hunter Biden. It's clear that the case is irrelevant to the question of Trump's strong-arming the Ukrainian president and should be dismissed out of hand from the impeachment trial, but there's something else that just occurred to me, starting from two fairly simple questions:
  1. Why do they want to call him, given that if he has done anything illegal he has a constitutional right not to testify?
  2. Why don't they call somebody else who will testify as to what they think he's done?
The answer to the second being, I suddenly realize, though it's obvious, there isn't anybody. They don't have any witnesses to wrongdoing by Hunter Biden.

There were a couple, to be precise, ex-prosecutor Kostiantyn Kulyk, who was removed from his position in late November after failing to show up for an anti-corruption interview, and ex–prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, under criminal investigation in Ukraine since the beginning of October for abuse of power (conspiracy to to "provide cover" for illegal gambling businesses in Ukraine), both of whom played roles in providing President Trump's personal attorney Rudolph Giuliani and hack journalist John Solomon with materials accusing Biden, and Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, of some kind of undefined misconduct, but they're not looking very helpful to the Republican cause, since not only are they apparently criminals, but everything they said about Yovanovitch has collapsed in the face of her sworn testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, and everything Giuliani and Solomon has said has been dismissed in the testimony of the State Department's George Kent, who told the committee
that Solomon’s reporting, “if not entirely made up in full cloth,” was filled with “non-truths and non-sequiturs.
and Lutsenko (also under fire for his collaboration with Floridian rowdies and indicted Giuliani companions Lev Parnas and Ihor Fruman) has announced that the accusations against Hunter Biden were all false as well,

There are no witnesses at all to Hunter Biden's alleged misconduct, and the closest thing there was to a witness has withdrawn his accusation and it really looks like the simplest explanation is that there wasn't any misconduct.

(It's also clear that he was qualified for the position, which didn't require an energy expert, they had enough of those already, but an international lawyer, which he was, with a Yale law degree and plenty of board experience. I won't talk about the obscenity of the pay and the way it tends to go to celebrity names, since that's in no way Biden's fault but the system's, but the man paid off his dead brother's student loans!). Why do Republicans want to call a putative criminal to testify on a crime when there's no evidence that a crime took place?

Because that's the only avenue left for them to suggest there was a crime.

Not by getting him to testify about it, but in the hope of getting him to take the 5th over some detail or other. They can't get anybody to accuse him of a crime, but maybe they can get him to not deny it. That's why they want to call him, and the aim isn't to catch him in some skullduggery, which nobody would have cared about even if he had done it, but to provide a reason for thinking that Trump's not guilty. Because reasons for that are extremely scarce.

So my considered recommendation to the Democrats is that they should agree to subpoenas of Hunter and Joe Biden if and only if Republicans can provide testimony from a respectable source to back up the idea that there's some crime one of them committed. And articles by or citing the discredited John Solomon (fabricating these stories was one of the reasons The Hill fired him) need not apply. I'm pretty sure they can't.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Why is a blastocyst like a slave?

Via Psychology Today New Zealand.

Republicans abolished both of them? No, that can't be right...
Saw this and thought, well, time to re-up my piece from 2015 on that crazy analogy:

I think Marcelo Garcia means, "This only makes sense to those who are actually on drugs." I think Ben Shapiro is mistakenly under the impression that being pregnant is similar to being a white man in the antebellum South, in that um what? Pregnant women can lawfully terminate their pregnancies in all states through the first semester and white men in the antebellum South could force their slaves to work without pay in appalling conditions, buy and sell them separating their families, and treat them with extreme cruelty in many ways, and there is some kind of analogy between these two situations...

For the Record: Miscellany

Twitter is like an intellectual equivalent of the southeastern Australian coast right now, deadly brush fires everywhere you turn demanding your attention so you don't know where to focus.
Trump doubling down on his belief that there were no US casualties in the Iranian raids on bases in Iraq, after the army announced that there were a number of cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

The Details Where the Devil Is

Neoclassical balcony, Athens, via Dreamstime.

I guess so. Trump has outsmarted justice the way Putin outsmarted Obama, by locking the goods up with the understanding that there aren't any cops who are going to stop him.

Spending time watching the Senate proceedings, moved as always by the coolness and commitment and command of the material that our guys show—I missed Zoe Lofgren, but caught performances by most of the others, and they're so good at it, and doing something very ingenious, as they plead for the witnesses and documents to be released to public view one witness or source at a time, using their time to build up a rich narrative of the Ukraine matter as they do it (it's got the feel of one of those postmodern documentary novels like Brad Leithauser's A Few Corrections, 2001, which took the form of corrections to a newspaper obituary).

Not that it matters. Looking at the reporting, I find it's dedicated to the discussion of Mitch McConnell's maneuvers, with the work of the House managers getting attention only in the color commentary, like Hakeem Jeffries introducing a reference to the notorious B.I.G., or a dustup between Nadler and the Trump team's Cipollone

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Literary Corner: Ah but I was so much wronger then

One of the most precious things about this piece (from Dersh's interview yesterday with Anderson Cooper) is the implication that 20 years ago, when he was a famous expert in constitutional law, he "didn't do research" whereas now that he's become a disreputable shyster who must publicly announce that he kept his underwear on during a massage and complain that he gets no dinner invitations on Martha's Vineyard, he does it all the time. But it gets better:

I Didn't Do Research Back Then
by Alan J. Dershowitz
I didn't do research
back then, I relied
on what professors said ... 
because that issue
was not presented
in the Clinton impeachment
Everybody knew
that he was charged
with a crime, the issue
is whether it was
a hard crime
Now the issue is
whether a crime
or criminal-like behavior
is required. I've done
the research now --
I wasn't wrong,
I am just
far more correct
now than I was then
There's some semiotic interest in the way two legitimate arguments whimper in the corner of this poem, like captured slaves being put to unspeakable uses, the arguments that "high crimes and misdemeanors" need not be statutory crimes on the one hand—there wasn't even any Federal statute law at the time the Constitution was written, so the Founders plainly couldn't have meant that—and statutory crimes aren't necessarily impeachable on the other. Both these things are indeed true, and "a lot of people don't know that" as Trump would say, but they don't do the thing he's trying to say they do.

That is, what Dershowitz said in 1998
"It certainly doesn't have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty, you don't need a technical crime," he said on "Larry King Live" at the time.
is certainly true, period, although the use of the term "technical" is pretty annoying—I'm assuming that he means a crime defined by a particular statute, but "well, technically it was a crime" is an expression used to minimize the criminality, as in the case of Trump's blocking of congressionally mandated spending in the Ukraine shakedown (though it's a crime that has never been punished). This is directly relevant to the Clinton impeachment, when Dershowitz was speaking publicly in defense of the president. He put it more intelligently and usefully in an interview with the Washington Post during Clinton's Senate trial in January 1999:
Prof. Dershowitz, this trial has been called both a legal and political proceeding. What do you see it as. And how do you regard yourself, as a legal or political actor?
Prof. Alan M. Dershowitz: None of the above. I think this is a constitutional proceeding that should not be legalistic, nor should it be crassly political. The central point is whether the allegations, if true, constitute treason, bribery or high crimes and misdemeanors.
To answer that question, we don't need testimony about who touched who where, but rather about the intent of the framers, the nature of our constitutional system and the criteria for removal of the president. This should not be a trial in the legal or political sense. It should be a great constitutional debate about the meaning of our system of checks and balances.
Since Clinton's misbehavior (giving false testimony to a grand jury about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky) did not have any relationship to his performance of his official duties, and wasn't even related to the case he was testifying in (it was Kenneth Starr's grand jury, which was supposed to be investigating the Whitewater land deal and had ended up investigating his relationship with Paula Jones instead), it could hardly be considered a "high" crime, and arguably wasn't a crime at all, not even "technically":
I am not a strong personal supporter of President Clinton [LOL, he's still using that]. I am a strong opponent of the misuse of the impeachment and removal power against him. I do not think he committed the technical crime of perjury, but nor do I think that he has shown himself to be an honest person.
In that, I guess, perjury is supposed to be when you tell a lie that's material to the matter you're testifying about, and this wasn't.
Were President Clinton to be removed, I believe this would be the first case in Anglo-American history of impeachment and removal of anyone, ever, for trying to cover up and even lying about a consensual sexual encounter. It would legitimate sexual McCarthyism and make sex a weapon in the political wars. The closest precedent we have is the House Judiciary Committee refusing to impeach President Nixon for committing perjury in his filing of a fraudulent tax return. Nixon's actions were closer to being governmental, since they involved the tax deductibility of government papers, but a bipartisan vote ruled that it was too close to the personal side to warrant impeachment.
Well put! And these are exactly the points he is skipping over in his defense of Trump: what Trump unarguably did in regard to the Zelenskyy government—and as we keep being told, there's no dispute on the facts—may or may not be a violation of this or that criminal statute, but it certainly involved the bending of US foreign policy to gratify Trump's personal urgencies, as Hamilton put it in Federalist 65,
A well-constituted court for the trial of impeachments is an object not more to be desired than difficult to be obtained in a government wholly elective. The subjects of its jurisdiction are those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.
You can certainly argue that it's made up of statutory crimes (criminal bribery, wire fraud, obstruction of justice) anyway, as Schiff persuasively did last month, to say nothing of all kinds of plainly illegal "misdemeanors" like his retaliation against Maria Yovanovitch, for which any CEO in a US business could be fired, or the defiance of Congress in withholding Ukraine funds, recently declared illegal by the GAO, but nobody can argue that it isn't "criminal-like". It's as criminal-like as it gets.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Why I Hate the New York Times: The Endorsement That Wasn't

Bad cork. Via Wine For Real People.

As Steve says,The New York Times's weird "endorsement" of two candidates for the price of one, Warren and Klobuchar, isn't really an endorsement at all. In fact it's a kind of protest against the irritating choice they feel they've been given, between Biden and Sanders: "Waiter, I'm afraid this bottle is corked, could you get us another one?"

With which I'm actually kind of sympathetic, because I've been feeling that way myself from the beginning, that these two superannuated white male cartoon representations of their different ideological stances are just not the best candidates we could end up having to choose between, and I hate the thought that I might have to vote for one of them in the primary just to stop the other one from getting the nomination. I too would like it if Warren and Klobuchar were the front runners, or Warren and Harris for that matter, or Castro and Klobuchar, or Castro and O'Rourke, or Booker and Buttigieg, or whatever, but very much the couple the Times chose as the bottle they'd meant to order in the first place.