Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Thursday, May 30, 2019 9:48 pm

Thought for the day, freedom-of-religion edition

If Americans can claim religious freedom to refuse to bake a cake or even provide medically necessary abortion, they certainly should be able to claim religious freedom to provide an alien dying of thirst at the border a goddamned bottle of water.

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Last night, after the Mueller statement, I asked Sen. Thom Tillis to support impeachment hearings. Here’s what he said.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:58 pm
Tags: ,

I will respond eventually, but for right now, I’m just posting this without alteration or comment.

* * *Dear Mr. Alexander:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. I appreciate hearing from you.

As you know, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as Special Counsel to oversee the Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. On March 22, 2019, Special Counsel Mueller concluded his investigation, and on April 18, 2019, Special Counsel Mueller’s full report was released to Congress and the public. Special Counsel Mueller should be commended for conducting a fair, thorough, and professional investigation.

The report is divided into two volumes. Volume I explores Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Volume II addresses President Trump’s actions involving the FBI investigation into Russian interference. Given the sensitive sources used in this investigation, certain redactions were necessary to protect key intelligence sources in the public release of the report. The redactions included grand jury information, classified information, matters related to ongoing investigations, and information about private individuals. Approximately 10% of the public report contains redactions, the vast majority of which are in Volume I; approximately 2% of Volume II is redacted. Congressional leadership has access to a less redacted version of the report that only excludes grand jury information. This sensitive version of the report redacts approximately 2% overall and redacts 1/10 of 1% of Volume II.

After reading the full report and having had the opportunity to hear directly from Attorney General Barr during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, 2019, I agree with the assessments of Attorney General Barr and Special Counsel Mueller. First, despite active efforts by the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election, there was no collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. And second, no underlying crime was committed, and there is insufficient evidence to indict the President on obstruction of justice.

I hope all Americans are relieved to find that the Special Counsel found there was no collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. The Special Counsel did find that elements of the Russian government attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. Although the attempted interference did not change the outcome of the election, we must work to prevent and punish Russia and all other foreign adversaries that attempt to deceptively fan flames on social media and meddle in our democratic process.

The Special Counsel also declined to recommend a charge of obstruction of justice. While some members of the House of Representatives have expressed a desire to launch endless investigations, and ultimately impeachment, I believe pursuing this path would be both divisive and damaging to our nation.

As a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I serve on the committee with oversight of the DOJ. During his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, 2019, Attorney General Barr gave detailed answers on one of the most rigorous investigations in modern history. Over the course of this 22 month investigation, Special Counsel Mueller: issued 34 indictments (including Russians); issued more than 2,800 subpoenas; executed nearly 500 search warrants; obtained over 230 orders for communication records; made 13 requests of foreign governments for evidence; and, interviewed approximately 500 people. I hope my colleagues will ultimately accept the findings of Special Counsel Mueller and move on to advancing the business of the American people in the spirit of bipartisan cooperation.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me. Please do not hesitate to reach out again about other important issues.

Sincerely,

Thom Tillis
U.S. Senator

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 7:29 pm

Mueller to U.S. House: Saddle the hell up

Robert Mueller all but begs Congress to impeach Donald Trump and implicitly tears a deserving news media a big new orifice in the process.

Outgoing special counsel Robert Mueller made several critical points today in his roughly eight-minute statement at the Department of Justice.

First (and I’m not necessarily going in chronological order here), he emphasized at both the beginning and the end of his statement that the evidence is crystal clear that Russian military intelligence sought to interfere with the 2016 presidential election for the benefit of Donald Trump and that they are continuing to try to interfere with U.S. elections even today.

Second, he emphasized that the Mueller report speaks for itself, which was a polite way of saying that if the people whose jobs it was to tell us what was in the report had done their jobs and read the damned report, we wouldn’t be nearly so confused about the way forward and we wouldn’t have wasted the past two months. Instead, he implicitly pointed out, journalists covered what people (i.e., Attorney General William Barr) SAID about the report, rather than what the report itself said, to the detriment of the American public. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer put it, “Mueller’s statement is an indictment of a press that focused more on what people had to say about the report than what the report said, because the former was easier to cover. No one has learned anything.” (The first three rules of investigative reporting are “Follow the money,” “follow the money,” and “follow the money,” but Rule 4 is, “Always read the documents” and Rule 5 is “Always do the math.”)

Third, he said that he did not seek charges against Trump because Justice Department policy, while authorizing investigations of a sitting president “while memories are fresh and documents are available,” forbade charging a sitting president. (For what it’s worth, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley went on CBS immediately after the statement to say that, constitutionally speaking, Mueller was “dead wrong,” that Trump indeed could have been indicted.) Mueller clearly implied that had Trump been anyone but the sitting president, he would have been indicted.

Fourth, he fleshed out that point by observing that, contrary to what Donald Trump and Barr have said, the report is not an exoneration. Indeed, he said, “As set forth in our report, after that investigation, if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”

Fifth, he emphasized that that obstruction definitely had hampered his campaign: “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.” The implication, though it is only that, might explain why he failed to find enough evidence to indict people on the conspiracy charge. Because while Vol. 1 of the report said Mueller’s team found insufficient evidence to indict Trump on a conspiracy charge, notwithstanding Trump’s lies, you can’t swing a dead cat in it without running across multiple instances of collusion, a concept that has real-world meanings but no legal significance.

Fifth, he re-emphasized that in his view and given Justice Department policy, it was not for Justice to accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing; rather, that responsibility fell to Congress. Combined with the documentation in Vol. 2 of the Mueller report of up to 10 instances of obstruction of justice on Trump’s part, he seemed to be practically begging the House to begin impeachment hearings.

He said a few other noteworthy things, such as that even if he were to appear before Congress to testify, he would not go beyond what’s already in the report. Legally and constitutionally, that’s a dubious claim, particularly if the House opens impeachment hearings. If the House subpoenas him and asks him questions and he refuses to answer, he can be held in contempt and spend up to a year in jail. Moreover, as Esquire’s Charles Pierce observed:

He has no excuse left. He is a private citizen now. And if he only repeats what’s in the report, on television, in front of the country, it will contribute mightily to the political momentum behind the demands that Congress do its damn job or shirk its duty entirely. He still needs to testify. He still needs to take questions. He’s only a citizen like the rest of us now, and he has a duty to do the right thing. We all do.

And Mueller said that our ongoing election-security weaknesses “deserve the attention of every American.” That assertion must be weighed against Republicans’ outright hostility, and particularly that of Mitch McConnell, to taking the slightest action to make elections more secure, such as, oh, I don’t know, even holding a vote on H.R. 1.

But his main points make clear what I and many others, from Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School to Rep. Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, already have been saying: It is past time for the House to begin formal impeachment hearings. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her second-in-command, Steny Hoyer, publicly have been reluctant to acknowledge that the need exists. But House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, whose committee would be the one to hold such hearings, said today:

Although Department of Justice policy prevented the Special Counsel from bringing criminal charges against the President, the Special Counsel has clearly demonstrated that the President is lying about the Special Counsel’s findings, lying about the testimony of key witnesses in the Special Counsel’s report, and is lying in saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no collusion. Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the president, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies, and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so. No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law.

Democrats have talked tough before only to fold, and there’s no guarantee they won’t fold again. But I believe at this point that whether or not Democrats actually pull the trigger on impeachment hearings, they at least have heard and understood that that is what the outgoing special counsel is asking, if not begging, them to do. I won’t reiterate the many reasons why I think it’s important to do so, except to say this: Thanks in large part to our mealy-mouthed news media, Trump has been able to spend the past two months lying with impunity about the findings of the Mueller investigation. Anyone who saw and heard Mueller speak today now knows that Trump has been gaslighting the American public — and that televised impeachment hearings aren’t just a constitutional necessity but also a necessary news and public relations corrective to Trump’s gaslighting. I hope and trust that Nadler and other House committee chairs, currently on Memorial Day recess, will make this happen soon.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019 7:36 pm

NPR: Your so-called liberal media at work

When NPR lets a war criminal like John Yoo defend the Trump administration’s defiance of subpoenas and contempt of Congress, it is neither liberal nor news media.

Today was long and full of aggravations, from morning to evening. And to end it this afternoon, like a rancid cherry atop a shit sundae, we got a 5 p.m. report from NPR on the White House’s claim of executive privilege in withholding the full Mueller report, with underlying evidence, from the U.S. House, which has subpoenaed it.

Now, let’s be very clear here. The U.S. House, as a co-equal branch of government, has an almost absolute right to subpoena any document or person in either of the other two branches for the purpose of conducting oversight. There are a few limited exceptions, but no one has offered any that such constitutional experts as Laurence Tribe of Harvard take seriously.

But NPR calls today’s vote by the House Judiciary Committee to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt “a major escalation of a battle between President Donald Trump and the House Democrats investigating his administration.” That framing almost makes it look as if the House is at fault. At the least, that’s misspelling “a perfectly justified and long overdue attempt by the House to bring this lawless administration to heel” so badly you can’t even hardly recognize it.

Yeah, House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler is quoted as saying, “If allowed to go unchecked, this obstruction means the end of congressional oversight.” But the segment treats this conflict as a normal and unremarkable contest between White House and Congress in which both sides are more or less equally at fault and nothing particularly significant is at stake. In fact, the framers of the Constitution viewed legislative oversight, including impeachment when appropriate, as essential to preventing a runaway executive. Having lately fought a war to rid themselves of one runaway executive, they wanted to make damn good and sure there would never be another.

And that’s the just the intro. Reporter Kelsey Snell’s report is in the worst tradition of mainstream reporting, offering a very careful one-side-says-this, the-other-side-says that take that manages to be almost 100% journalism-free, particularly the failure to note that some of the limitations Justice attempted to place on access to the unredacted report had no basis in law whatever.

“It’s partially political, partially symbolic, but it’s also pretty high-stakes,” Snell said, not even bothering to mention that one and only one side in this dispute is, you know, breaking the law.

That was bad enough. But made me actually pull my car over to the side of Walker Avenue, stop dead, and shriek like a banshee at the radio was that NPR’s next segment devoted a huge 7.5 minutes to the legal stylings of alleged law professor John Yoo and his resurrection of the corpse of the “unitary executive.”

Who is John Yoo and what is the “unitary executive,” you ask? Yoo, now at Berkeley, was deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush. He wrote the so-called “torture memos” justifying torture as an instrument of national policy under Bush. For that alone, he should have been hanged at The Hague, particularly inasmuch as he wrote in 2002, by which time the U.S. already was engaged in torture, meaning he wrote it to try to provide justification in hindsight for a crime against both U.S. and international law.

To put it plainly, Yoo’s support for torture was so unhinged that even some of his most powerful co-workers in the Bush administration thought it was nuts. Secretary of State Colin Powell flatly insisted that Yoo’s position violated the Geneva Conventions, while Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora called Yoo’s position “catastrophically poor legal reasoning.”

As for the “unitary executive theory,” well, to hear Yoo tell it in today’s segment, it is a theory of executive power, running from Lincoln down through FDR and so on until today, that claims that unlike enumerating individual powers, which is what most conservatives profess to claim Article II of the Constitution does for the executive branch, that article actually creates a “pool,” in Yoo’s word, of unspecified executive powers.

In fact, “unitary executive theory” is bullshit. Yoo decided that his boss, Bush, during the so-called Global War on (some) Terror, ought to be able to do anything he wanted, including interpreting treaties like the Geneva Conventions as he pleased, with Congress’s only control being the power of the purse. So he cobbled together this sorry excuse for legal theory and cherry-picked from history to try to make it look as if this legal Frankenstein’s monster had a long and honorable legal tradition.

Those of you keeping score at home also will note that this assertion flies in the face of everything that conservatives have traditionally said about executive power and the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution, but Yoo and the Republicans have never let that hypocrisy stop them except when a Democrat occupied the Oval Office.

Anyway, NPR, whose mission is supposed to be journalism, actually devoted pretty much 11 full minutes of prime afternoon drive time to Trumpian propaganda at the expense of educating and informing its audience, and coming at the end of a day such as today, it was just more than this listener could take.

And as Trump and the Republicans try to dismantle our democracy, this is one of the biggest problems we face: Not only are Trump and the Republicans and Fox News and Breitbart trying to gaslight the American public, a ton of mainstream journalists are doing the same. Yes, they’re trying — I believe we have long since passed the point at which we can as ascribe performances like NPR’s this afternoon just to incompetence. (Also, and not for nothing, competence is an ethical issue.)

So this is just one of the many reasons why we need immediate, televised impeachment hearings: to counteract the fire hose of unmitigated bullshit emanating not only from the criminals in this case but also from their co-conspirators in the so-called liberal media. (I have heard some people say that’s actually what the House is doing right now, they’re just not calling them “impeachment” hearings. To which I respond: You HAVE to call them impeachment hearings to get the news media to broadcast them live and the American public to pay the appropriate amount of attention.) Accordingly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to lead or get the hell out of the way.

Sunday, May 5, 2019 2:35 pm

With all due respect to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, time has run out. We must begin impeachment hearings now.

If House Democrats do not begin immediate, televised impeachment hearings and begin jailing immediately any administration figure who refuses to comply with a duly issued subpoena, we could be mere weeks from one-party GOP rule.

A lot of y’all fail to understand two things: how close we are to effective one-party GOP rule and how electoral politics works.
Look, I supported Nancy Pelosi for speaker for three reasons:
  1. Her superior record, relative to the other candidates, of being able to wrangle the notoriously fractious House Dem caucus, move legislation, and raise money.
  2. The fact that her most viable opponents were WAY too cozy with a Republican Party that long ago demonstrated that it doesn’t give a damn about the Constitution.
  3. The likelihood that, when Trump’s obfuscation over the Mueller report and his and his administration’s inevitable contempt of Congress against the inevitable House subpoenas finally manifested, she would have a logical and effective plan for responding.

I supported her despite serious misgivings about her spine. She unilaterally took impeachment of George W. Bush off the table despite the fact that Bush and his inner circle had ordered torture in violation of both U.S. and international law. My father, an Army infantry officer in the Korean War who won a Bronze Star and who had been a lifelong Republican voter, cast the last ballot of his life in 2004 against Bush specifically because of the torture. As an amateur student of the Holocaust for decades, I thought then that Bush had crossed the one line besides first-strike nuclear war that could never be crossed. And I was horrified to watch how Democrats under Pelosi threw away their opportunity to bring about justice. Still, you vote for one of the candidates you’ve got, and she was head and shoulders above the rest.

Problem is, I turned out to be badly wrong on item No. 3 above. She had and has no plan to deal with a president intent on becoming a dictator and a major party that is all in with him on this effort. Indeed, in this New York Times article, she makes clear in her own words that she is drawing exactly the wrong conclusions given the facts before us:

In recent weeks Ms. Pelosi has told associates that she does not automatically trust the president to respect the results of any election short of an overwhelming defeat. That view, fed by Mr. Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims of Democratic voter fraud, is one of the reasons she says it is imperative to put roadblocks in the way of Mr. Trump’s efforts, with the full support of the Republican party, to become a dictator.
See, that makes sense. Unfortunately, that’s not what she actually said. What the article actually reports her as saying is:
In recent weeks Ms. Pelosi has told associates that she does not automatically trust the president to respect the results of any election short of an overwhelming defeat. That view, fed by Mr. Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claims of Democratic voter fraud, is one of the reasons she says it is imperative not to play into the president’s hands, especially on impeachment.
Opposing a would-be dictator’s efforts to become dictator is “playing into the president’s hands, especially on impeachment”? With all due respect, Madam Speaker — and in my case, that’s a lot of respect — that’s 180 degrees wrong.
Pelosi insists we have plenty of time. And a lot of people, noting that she is an expert in American politics, agree with her. But here’s the thing: We’re not faced with a conventional political opponent. We’re faced with a would-be dictator, and Pelosi is IN NO WAY an expert on dealing with that because America has never had one before. And the people who ARE experts in authoritarianism and dictators — historians, diplomats, war-crimes investigators, some members of the intelligence community, even Holocaust survivors? Almost all of them are waving red flags. A number are saying that if Dems don’t respond forcefully to the GOP’s concerted effort to ignore the subpoenas of a co-equal branch of government, then we will effectively become a one-party GOP government within weeks.

Now, what if they’re wrong? No harm, no foul, and we may yet see the impeachments we want with strong public backing and a clean and fair 2020 election. And I sincerely hope they, and I, are wrong.

But what if they’re right? No, serious question. I want you to stop and think for a minute about what that would mean — and not just for the country as a whole, although a stolen election is just about guaranteed, and not just for comfortable, privileged WASPS, but also for Jews, for poor people, for women (particularly women’s health care), for children, for racial and ethnic and religious minorities, for LGBTQIA people.

The safest bet — which also has the advantage of being the House’s constitutional duty — is for House Dems to: 1) Stop asking and start subpoenaing. Asking just leads to needing to subpoena anyway with this administration, and time is of the essence. 2) Begin jailing for contempt immediately any member of the administration who refuses to testify and/or produce records pursuant to a subpoena. 3) Begin holding televised impeachment hearings immediately. The hearings can begin with the multiple instances of Trump’s obstruction of justice documented in Vol. 2 of the Mueller report and expand from there, or they can begin with other high crimes and misdemeanors already in public view such as Trump’s serial violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, and expand from there. The important thing to remember is that we already have evidence in the public record that Trump has obstructed justice, abused his office, and behaved in legal contempt of Congress. Those were the three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon that led him to resign, and Trump’s violations have been even more egregious.

And why are the televised hearings so important? As with Watergate, given what we already know about this administration, they are likely to reveal the kind of information to the public that will build public support for impeachment. Moreover, they are essential to counteracting the gaslighting of the American public now being carried on by this administration, particularly Attorney General William Barr, and its henchmen at Fox News, Breitbart, and some of the darker media neighborhoods such as 8chan and VDare. Believe it or not, a large number of Americans still aren’t paying very close attention to this, so Dems need to give them a reason to. And even the mainstream media have largely treated this issue as a conventional Democrats-vs.-Republicans partisan political issue rather than the constitutional crisis that it is. The Times article linked above contained information that should have been the lede headline for every mainstream news outlet in the country: House Speaker Doubts President Will Leave Office If Defeated. And yet it was not.

Now some of you have expressed concerns about how robust opposition to, and even attacks on, Trump’s people and policies might affect the 2020 elections. A couple of thoughts on that:

  • In constitutional terms, impeachment’s effect on the 2020 election shouldn’t even be a consideration. A president is carrying out high crimes and misdemeanors in full public view; as the Framers’ contemporaneous writings make clear, impeachment in such circumstances is not just option but duty.
  • But let’s say it is a consideration. A lot of people with elementary math skills but no political understanding have pointed out that the GOP-controlled Senate won’t convict. I cannot say this too many times or strongly enough: So what? Dems must make Republicans run in 2020 on defending this criminal (as well as on such other issues as trying to kill people’s health insurance and supporting environmental despoliation). Dems made Republicans run in 2018 on their desire to destroy insurance protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and Dems generated the biggest blue wave since Watergate. The biggest political risk attached to the 2020 election is not that more Trump supporters will turn out if Dems impeach — Republicans already are going to turn out. No, the biggest political risk is that if Dems do NOT impeach, a big chunk of the Democratic base is likely to stay home in 2020, as it did in 2010 and 2014 when Dem caution also prevailed over the need for action. And without that base, not only will Trump win re-election, the Republicans also will regain the House.
  • For the folks, including Pelosi, who have expressed concern that Trump might not leave office if he doesn’t win in 2020, I’ve got news: That’s Trump’s plan no matter how large or narrow the Dems’ margin of victory. Guaranteed. And it is far from sure that the Secret Service would do its duty at noon on Jan. 20, 2021: arrest him for trespassing and drag him from the White House. I mean, I think they will? But given Trump, assuming the worst generally is the most accurate method of forecasting.

Folks, we’re in very dire straits here; the attempted coup against FDR in the 1930s is the only thing that comes close and this is way worse than that. House Dems need to act now, and not only is there no good reason to wait, there are some chilling reasons why we cannot afford to. Whether we do or not act will determine whether this country is still a democratic republic come sunset on Jan. 20, 2021. So if your rep is a Democrat, call him/her and demand: 1) That House Dems stop asking nicely and start issuing subpoenas from the git-go. 2) That administration officials who refuse to immediately comply with subpoenas be jailed for contempt the FIRST time. (That legal mechanism hasn’t been used for decades, but it’s still on the books.) 3) That the House immediately begin televised impeachment hearings on Trump and AG Barr, who lied to Congress about the contents of the Mueller report and Mueller’s dissatisfaction with Barr’s summary of it. Those hearings MUST include the subject of election security and the Russians’ election-theft efforts in 2016 and 2020, and should hear from former President Obama and some of his officials as well as current administration officials if need be to get the full picture.

The next year and a half are going to be ugly politically no matter what choices Dems make. And the ugliness might extend beyond the halls of Congress and the White House and into the streets. But rest assured that 1) the most vulnerable will suffer the most, and 2) Republicans couldn’t give less of a damn about the most vulnerable.

Citizenship is not a spectator sport. History has pointed down the bench at us, swatted us on the asses and ordered us into the game. We need to play hard and play to win, because the cost of defeat would be too great for any of us to bear.

UPDATE, 5/5: For some excellent historical perspective on the rise of authoritarianism in America, read Teri Kanefield’s piece here. She’s an author and lawyer.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 5:34 pm

In which Attorney General William P. Barr crumples his career and sets it on actual fire

In testimony today before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, the attorney general firmly established himself as the worst AG since John Mitchell and equally deserving of prison time.

Dumpster fire

The 85th attorney general of the United States walked into the ostensibly friendly confines of a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, and when his questioning was over, he had left no bed unshat and no pooch unscrewed. The Republicans might have come to dissemble and distract, but the Democrats came to prosecute and for once showed no mercy.

Not only did he present himself as clearly guilty of multiple counts of perjury, he also made a credible case that he himself should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice as well. It is crystal clear now that he must be impeached and removed from office and prosecuted and sent to prison. And he did his “client,” Donald Trump, no favors either, implicitly implicating Trump in abuse of office under questioning from committee member Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

The only real question remaining about what Barr did is why he did it. Why did he tell lies to Congress about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that any sentient human being who read the report would realize were lies?

Why would he decide the report cleared Trump when he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein hadn’t read the underlying evidence — and why would he admit that to the committee? As committee member Harris, California’s former attorney general and a current candidate for president in 2020, pointed out, no sane prosecutor would make such a decision one way or another without reviewing all the evidence. (Maybe that’s just a Republican thing. The committee chair, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, admitted that he hadn’t fully read the Mueller report. The guy. Who chairs the committee. And who called the hearing. Hadn’t. Read. The report. And as for what else Graham said, let’s just say it’s a darned good thing for him that he was not under oath.)

Why would Barr lie in his April 9 testimony to the House and say that he was unaware of Mueller’s concerns about his characterization of the report when, at that point, Barr had had Mueller’s letter to that effect, which was made public today, in his possession for more than a week?

And why couldn’t Barr answer Harris’s big yes-or-no question:

Gaping kitten illustrates the bomb Kamala Harris dropped during her questioning

Has the president or anyone else at the White House asked you to open a criminal investigation on anyone? Doing so likely would not be a crime, but as Richard Nixon’s case showed, it certainly would be an impeachable offense. That Barr either couldn’t or wouldn’t flatly deny that it had happened was damning of both Trump and Barr.

And under questioning from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Barr insisted that he had never discussed Trump-related matters with anyone at the White House. That was so plainly perjury that he immediately tried to walk it back, saying he didn’t remember any such “substantive” conversations.

Barr also committed at least one huge unforced error: He insisted that there were no underlying crimes documented in the Mueller report and that, based on that, an innocent president had the right to interfere in or kill an investigation of his activities. You following that? An innocent president has the right to kill an investigation — that’s going to prove his innocence.

Not only is that absurd on its face as legal theory, it also presumes facts not in evidence: The Mueller report did indeed surface underlying crimes. Indeed, Trump was named an unindicted co-conspirator in an indictment for one of them along with his former attorney/fixer, Michael Cohen.

The Republican senators were little better, if news reports are to be believed. Hell, Jon Cornyn of Texas really did bring up Hillary’s emails. None showed any interest in getting at the truth; instead, they tried to change the subject to (undocumented) claims of wrongdoing by the intelligence community under President Barack Obama — anything but deal with the dumpster sitting right there before them.

If we learned anything today, it’s the following:

  • Barr is guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice; he has violated the terms of his oath of office to become the personal defender of a corrupt president. He must be impeached, removed from office, and prosecuted, and unlike with the president, indictment could come before impeachment.
  • Trump almost certainly has been abusing his office to criminally investigate political enemies, just as Richard Nixon did. It became an article of impeachment for Nixon; it should for Trump as well.
  • The next president is going to have to be a Herakles to cleanse the Aegean stables of this administration. Or else will have to burn it with fire. That’s how bad things are in this, the 243rd year of our country, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that things will get better anytime soon. Indeed, there is a nontrivial likelihood that they’ll get worse: Barr is scheduled to testify Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee — but his reluctance to be questioned by committee staff means he might well be in contempt of Congress before lunchtime.

UPDATE, 5:52 p.m.: Barr is now refusing to testify Thursday. The Dems really need to just stop asking and start subpoenaing from the git-go, because asking clearly is never going to do them a damn bit of good with this administration. And if anyone tries to jerk them around, they need to hold them in criminal contempt and send them to jail for a year. That’s the only language the mob family in the White House understands.

 

 

Saturday, April 27, 2019 7:33 pm

Hot take on the Panthers’ 2019 draft

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 7:33 pm
Tags: ,

GM Marty Hurney abandoned his usual best-player-available approach to fill specific needs — because if this year’s team doesn’t go deep into the playoffs, he, head coach Ron Rivera, and a number of other coaches will be out on the street.

If you had any doubt that the Panthers will be playing more 3-4 defensive sets in 2019 than they have since 1997, you need only look at their first- and fourth-round picks: LB/DE Brian Burns from Florida State and LB/DE Christian Miller from Alabama. They come from the SEC and the ACC, probably the two fastest conference in the nation. Carolina had to improve its edge rushing after an abysmal 2018 and the retirement of future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers, and they may well have done it here. That’s important because the Panthers’ defense is predicated on both stopping the run and pressuring the quarterback, reducing strain on their secondary, which, historically, has not been the best part of their D. (And more on that in a minute.)

Another big need for the Panthers was an O-line that can keep Cam Newton healthy — the team, which started strong in 2018, finished 1-7 after Newton was injured in the Pittsburgh game. Second-round pick Greg Little, a tackle from Ole Miss, certainly understands the high expectations the franchise has for him, telling fans bluntly, “I’m going to keep Cam safe.” With the re-signing of former Pro Bowl right tackle Daryl Williams, who returns from an injury-truncated 2018 at right tackle, the Panthers’ tackles appear secure, with third-year man Taylor Moton available to step in at either position if Little or Williams goes down.

The third-round pick addressed the team’s desire to 1) improve the quality of depth behind Cam Newton if QB1 does get injured, and 2) begin exploring options for a quarterback of the future with Cam on the cusp of turning 30. They turned to Davidson Day School product Will Grier from West Virginia, who will be competing against Taylor Heinicke and Kyle Allen. (The latter played a great game in 2018 in his only appearance but was injured and didn’t finish.) The team insists that Newton remains QB1 for the foreseeable future, and I see no reason to doubt that.

I confess that the Panthers’ fifth-round pick, RB Jordan Scarlett from Florida, puzzles me: I’m not at all sure that he’d be any improvement on Cameron Artis-Payen, currently RB2 behind Christian McCaffery. The Panthers also have Elijah Hood from North Carolina and Reggie Bonnafon from Louisville on the roster.

The sixth-round pick, OT Dennis Daley from South Carolina, appears to have been a depth pick. And as noted before, if either starting tackle goes down, Taylor Moton probably gets the call.

With their last pick in the seventh round, the Panthers drafted Georgia wideout Terry Godwin. Godwin does not have game-breaking stats, but he averaged 16.8 yards per catch his junior year, and, to prove it was no fluke, he averaged 16.7 yards per catch his senior year — more-than-respectable numbers.

The pick puzzles me only in this sense: I kept hearing analysts say the Panthers needed WRs, especially to replace Devin Funchess. But honestly? I’m not seeing it. DJ Moore, drafted in 2018, lived up to his yards-after-the-catch hype and, if not for injuries, likely would have been mentioned in rookie-of-the-year conversations. Jarius Wright provided not only experience but also a reliable possession receiver. Curtis Samuel blossomed in his second year in the league in 2018, particularly as a deep threat, and figures only to get better this year. Veteran Torrey Smith, another reliable wideout, returns as well. Do the Panthers have a wideout with Funchess’s specific skill set — height, jumping ability, bulk? No; at 6’2″, Andre Levrone is the tallest receiver on the roster. But Funchess was drafted in the hopes that he would be a Cris Carter receiver — “all he does is score touchdowns” — and he never became that. And, frankly, given the talent on the roster now, barring a rash of injuries, I think the Panthers are all set at this position.

Which brings me to a few positions they’re not set at.

Perennial Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil retired, and I had thought the Panthers might try to draft a center of the future. In point of fact, probably the best center available, N.C. State’s Garrett Bradbury, got picked up by the Vikings two slots after the Panthers drafted Brian Burns, and the Panthers simply had more pressing concerns. So Tyler Larson remains the presumptive starter, with Matt Paradis and Parker Collins also on the roster for now. Whether Larson can both lead the run game and protect Cam Newton from blitzes up the middle consistently remains to be seen.

In other news, a gaping hole remains at safety. Eric Reid is set, but who the other safety will be definitely remains to be seen — six other safeties currently occupy roster spots, including players who saw time last year like Cole Luke and Rashaan Gaulden, but it is entirely possible that the Week 1 starter isn’t yet on the roster. (Colin Jones, nominally a safety, is perennially a key special-teams player who likely wouldn’t be called on to start.)

And I had thought the team might try to address linebacker depth in the draft, given the retirement of Pro Bowler Thomas Davis. Not this year, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they snap up an LB or two among the team’s signings of undrafted free agents in the next day or two.

The experts gave the Panthers an “A” for their Day 1 and Day 2 draft (the first three picks). I’m not sure yet what grade they’ll give the team for Day 3 and overall. On paper, at least, it looks as if the team addressed some pressing needs, as it had to.

My concern goes beyond that. As a Panther fan from the beginning, I know that this team’s successes rise and fall with the quality and consistency of its O-line. We added what appear to be quality parts, but a lot of questions remain: Will Daryl Williams return from injury at or close to his former Pro Bowl performance level? Will Greg Little be able to keep his promise to keep Cam Newton safe? Can guard Trai Turner continue to perform at a high level — and who will be the other starting guard? And can Tyler Larson at center shoulder Ryan Kalil’s mantle, leading runs up the middle and protecting Newton from defensive surges over his position?

If the answers to all or most of these questions are positive, the Panthers will be able to hang a lot of points on people. That might not translate to wins, but it’ll mean they’ll be both competitive and fun to watch.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Panthers must, as always, 1) stop the run, and 2) pressure the quarterback. Adding two edge rushers appears likely to help with pressure, but the Panthers’ previous experience with the 3-4 in late 1996 and 1997 was that it couldn’t stop the run. Maybe, with younger talent, that will change. It had better.

And the Panthers’ secondary remains a question mark. CB1 James Bradberry remains a middle-of-the-pack cover corner and, arguably, a liability against the run. Corn Elder and Donte Jackson came on last year, but neither has yet shown the greatness needed to be a real NFL cover corner. And I’ve already talked about my concerns at safety.

In conclusion, the Panthers definitely helped themselves in the draft, but so did their divisional rivals. This team is going to have to work very hard, and be lucky to avoid many injuries, to achieve its short-term goals. And if it does not, it will face a massive rebuilding project in what likely would be the waning years of Cam Newton’s career. The stakes are always high in the NFL, but in the particular case of the Panthers, they might be higher this year than at any other time in the franchise’s history.

 

Thursday, April 11, 2019 7:03 pm

Julian Assange: Let him face the music

Julian Assange might or might not be a journalist, at least some of the time. But what he’s charged with, no journalist should do.

Julian Assange of Wikileaks infamy lost his political asylum, was arrested by London’s Metropolitan Police, and is being held for extradition to the U.S. A lot of journalists were worried that Assange might be charged with publishing classified material, something the most principled journalists very occasionally find necessary to hold governments to account. But at least so far, all he’s charged with is something no ethical journalist would or should consider: conspiring to hack into a classified Department of Defense computer.

This case reminds me of the Cincinnati Enquirer’s expose of Chiquita in 1998. The 18-page package accused the company of everything from pollution and having mistreated foreign workers to turning a blind eye to cocaine smuggling on its ships. The package said it relied on, among other things, more than 2,000 voicemail messages provided to the Enquirer by an authorized Chiquita executive.

Problem was, there was no such executive. The package’s lead reporter, Michael Gallagher pleaded guilty to two felony counts of unlawfully tapping into Chiquita’s voicemail. The paper retracted and apologized for the series, fired Gallagher, and negotiated a $14 million civil settlement with Chiquita. The paper’s editor, Lawrence Beaupre, was removed by Gannett, the paper’s parent company.

Never mind that the reporting almost certainly was accurate and that the vast majority of the package didn’t even rely on the voicemails. Gallagher tainted the whole thing with his actions, as well as tainting co-writer Cameron McWhirter (who was not involved in the voicemail hacking) and the entire paper. He did something no reporter should ever do. It’s not only illegal, it’s also unethical.

That’s basically what Assange is being charged with here. Material he disseminated might well be accurate — and damaging to Democrats — but that doesn’t matter. It’s fruit of a poisoned tree. The charge might or might not be proved in court, but it has nothing to do with any journalism Assange might have committed.

Journalists, and those who believe in good journalism, are right to be concerned about the possibility that the government might criminally punish journalists who publish material the government doesn’t want published, or those who leak it to them. Former intelligence analyst Reality Winner is serving a five-year prison term right now for the “crime” of exposing to the nation the fact that Russians were interfering in the 2016 elections; she never should have been charged in the first place because what she did was a public service. Assange’s alleged crime, on the other hand, had nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with hacking. Let the case play out in court. Journalists, meanwhile, should consider themselves fortunate that Trump’s Justice Department, unbelievably, appears so far to have walked a tightrope with great care.

 

Monday, March 11, 2019 6:47 pm

For once, Nancy Pelosi gets it wrong. WAY wrong.

History shows that not impeaching Donald Trump for his crimes will open the door to even worse Republican behavior in the future. For the sake of the country, we cannot allow that to happen.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that she is not inclined to impeach President Donald J. Trump. Responding to an observation from a Washington Post reporter that calls for Trump’s impeachment are growing, she responded:

I’m not for impeachment. This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.

I don’t lightly contradict one of the most able and storied politicians of my lifetime. But I have spent that lifetime observing, and living with, the consequences of Democratic failure to hold Republicans responsible for their crimes.

Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. At the time, he said it was to appeal to a sense of national unity — kind of the same thing Pelosi is saying here. He even testified to that before Congress. But years later, he confessed to the Post’s Bob Woodward that in fact he had pardoned Nixon simply because he and Nixon had been friends. Woodward didn’t see fit to share that fact with the world until Ford had died, which is one reason I have found it very difficult ever since to take him seriously as a journalist. Americans had a right to know why Ford had done what he had done, because had Nixon gone to prison, it is entirely likely that Reagan never would have been elected president and all the executive-branch crime of his era never would have happened.

Democrats decided not to impeach Reagan even though Reagan had ordered arms to be traded to Iranian militants for hostages and had sold those same militants arms, with the proceeds to be used to fund Nicaraguan conservative insurgents even though Congress had strictly forbidden any such spending. The so-called Iran-contra scandal ended with neither Reagan nor then-vice president George H.W. Bush being impeached or charged. And Bush, at the tail end of his single term as president, pardoned most of the Iran-contra offenders.

Bush’s son, George Walker Bush, ordered torture and warrantless domestic wiretapping used as instruments of government policy despite the fact that they violated the Constitution and both international and U.S. law. But Nancy Pelosi, who became House Speaker for the first time after the 2006 midterms, famously declared impeachment “off the table” then. And after Democrats regained control of the executive branch, President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, never sought to hold Bush or his underlings accountable for the war crimes they had committed (or for the damage they had done to the economy, for that matter).

Had that happened, the GOP would have been far less likely to nominate in 2016 a man with a long history of association with organized crime. There are not many bets you can make about history, but I’m pretty sure that one is solid.

Ronald Reagan was elected when I was 20. I’m now on the cusp of 60. And EVER. SINGLE. REPUBLICAN. PRESIDENTin my adult lifetime has committed criminal acts and escaped, primarily because of Democratic concerns about whether the country could handle holding them accountable.

Well, I’ve got a question for Nancy Pelosi and all Democrats who think as she does:

HOW’S THAT WORKIN’ OUT FOR YA, NANCE? Because it SURE isn’t workin’ out for ordinary Americans.

Consider this: In 1998, the Republican House impeached Bill Clinton, a popular president who had lied about consensual but adulterous oral sex. House Republicans took it in the teeth in that year’s midterms, but still held control of the House. You know what else happened?

  • The GOP continued to hold both the House and the Senate until after the 2006 midterms, regained the House in 2010 and regained the Senate in 2014.
  • The GOP regained the White House (with Supreme Court-engineered theft) in 2000 and with Russian-engineered theft in 2016.

The idea that Democrats would pay a political price for doing the right thing is laughable. The idea that the country couldn’t handle the truth is laughable. The idea that there isn’t a basis for impeaching Donald J. Trump right now, this very second, is laughable.

But let’s say Pelosi wants to act out of an abundance of caution (as opposed to ignoring her constitutional obligation to hold the president accountable). Here’s what she can do:

  • Accept that Donald Trump already has admitted that he fired FBI director James Comey to interfere with an investigation. That’s obstruction of justice.
  • Accept that the Trump family has been benefiting since Trump’s first day in office from people staying at Trump properties that should have been placed in a blind trust but never were — a violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
  • Accept that Trump has refused to hold his nominees and employees accountable under the law or to act on his constitutional, legal and regulatory obligations — a violation of the Constitution’s take-care clause.
  • Accept that Trump has attempted to get NFL players fired for kneeling in protest against police brutality — a felony violation of 18 USC 227.

And that’s only a fraction of what’s already out there in the public record. I suspect that investigations by the House Government Oversight Committee, House Select Permanent Committee on Intelligence and House Ways & Means Committee, to name just three, also will find grounds for impeachment ranging from obstruction of justice to espionage to tax fraud.

Pelosi needs to understand that there already is a compelling case for impeaching Donald Trump right this minute and that that case is going to grow stronger, not weaker, with time.

She needs to understand that for all of her accomplishments, history is going to judge her on her response to this question and this question alone.

And she needs to do the right thing for the country: Impeach Donald Trump. Maybe not now, but soon, and well before the 2020 election. Trump is the Framers’ worst nightmare, and Congress should respond to that fact accordingly.

 

 

 

Saturday, March 9, 2019 4:41 pm

At long last, David Brooks starts to get it

I almost never have anything good to say about the New York Times’s David Brooks, nor should I. His whole career is built on a foundational dishonesty: He believes and says that liberals and conservatives in America are equally to blame for all our problems and that only wise moderates (such as himself, of course) can lead the country forward constructively. And because he’s a rich white guy who writes for The New York Times, people figure, well, he must know what he’s talking about. Because they wouldn’t give that job to a guy who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, would they?

In point of fact they did, and were it not for the relentless pursuit of the blogger Driftglass, many fewer people would know about it.

Frankly, wedded as he appears to his own grift, I’d long since given up hope that Brooks was capable of learning anything, even something so simple and obvious that a lot of his intellectual and moral betters intuited it in middle school. And yet he has: In a column posted March 7, he acknowledges that, five years after Ta-Nehisi Coates’s groundbreaking, Polk Award-winning essay in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” the meaning of the words in Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address appears finally to have permeated his mental block. Lincoln said:

“Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s 250 years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said 3,000 years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Much to my surprise, and very much to his credit, Brooks grapples with these words long and hard enough to arrive at some very solid conclusions:

There are a few thoughts packed into that sentence. First, there is a natural moral order to the universe. There is a way things are supposed to be — more important than economic wealth or even a person’s life.

Second, moral actions are connected to each other. If somebody tears at the moral order by drawing blood through the lash of slavery, then that wrong will have to be paid for by the blood of the sword. History has meaning. It’s not just random events.

Third, sin is anything that assaults the moral order. Slavery doesn’t merely cause pain and suffering to the slave. It is a corruption that infects the whole society. It is a collective debt that will have to be paid.

Fourth, sin travels down society through the centuries. Lincoln was saying that sometimes the costs of repairing sin have to be borne generations after the sin was first committed.

He goes on to acknowledge that while people of many backgrounds have suffered during the history of the English colonies and then the United States, the suffering of African slaves, Native Americans and their descendants has been uniquely awful, with uniquely awful consequences:

Slavery and the continuing pattern of discrimination aren’t only an attempt to steal labor; they are an attempt to cover over a person’s soul, a whole people’s soul.

That injury shows up today as geographic segregation, the gigantic wealth gap, the lack of a financial safety net, but also the lack of the psychological and moral safety net that comes when society has a history of affirming: You belong. You are us. You are equal.

He endorses Coates’s understanding of what we need and why we need it. As Coates wrote:

And so we must imagine a new country. Reparations — by which I mean the full acceptance of our collective biography and its consequences — is the price we must pay to see ourselves squarely. … What I’m talking about is more than recompense for past injustices — more than a handout, a payoff, hush money, or a reluctant bribe. What I’m talking about is a national reckoning that would lead to spiritual renewal.

Brooks concludes:

We’re a nation coming apart at the seams, a nation in which each tribe has its own narrative and the narratives are generally resentment narratives. The African-American experience is somehow at the core of this fragmentation — the original sin that hardens the heart, separates Americans from one another and serves as model and fuel for other injustices.

The need now is to consolidate all the different narratives and make them reconciliation and possibility narratives, in which all feel known. That requires direct action, a concrete gesture of respect that makes possible the beginning of a new chapter in our common life. Reparations are a drastic policy and hard to execute, but the very act of talking about and designing them heals a wound and opens a new story.

Do not presume that I think for one minute that this column lets Brooks off the hook.

We are “a nation coming apart at the seams” precisely because of the kinds of policies and politicians Brooks has promoted, supported, and served as an apologist for — often with staggering levels of contextual and/or intellectual dishonesty — for more than two decades. Brooks acknowledges and repents for none of that here, almost certainly because he has yet to begin the hard work of critical self-examination. (I would suggest he started by reading Driftglass, but that’s just me.) And his column offers no evidence whatever to prove that he ever will.

But, like the blind men and the elephant in the old story, he has, by touch more than sight, begun to grasp some of the contours of a problem, and a moral necessity, that he has up until now never rightly understood. As I said earlier, a lot of people not necessarily any smarter than he began to intuit those things at a much earlier age. But, frankly, that he has begun to do so now is more than that of which I ever had thought him capable, so I owe him credit where due.

Do I think this will change anything in the near term? I do not. The people in position to begin any sort of serious discussion of reparations in the policy sphere oppose reparation and consider The New York Times and its writers enemies of the people.

But Brooks’s unaccountable popularity as a “moderate” means that maybe more Americans will reconsider the idea of reparations who otherwise might not have done so. It’s a small candle amidst a lot of cursed darkness right now, but I’ll take it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019 7:48 pm

The rock-and-roll bone connects to the baseball bone, and they both connect to the physics bone …

What united them was physics.

Sara Romweber, formerly the drummer for Let’s Active, Snatches of Pink and the Dex Romweber Duo, who died Monday of brain cancer, was renowned for being able to draw big, loud sounds from her drum kit despite being pretty unimposing physically.

The reason, according to Snatches bassist Andy McMillan in an appreciation by longtime N&O music critic David Menconi, was wrist speed: “Sara had amazing quickness in her wrists.” Why does that matter? Because wrist speed, more than overall size or arm musculature, is what determines the velocity of the tip of the drumstick and therefore the energy that drumstick imparts. And THAT was where her wall of sound came from.

That tidbit resonated with me because I’d once heard something similar about another person whose performance I had admired: baseball home-run king Henry Aaron. Aaron wasn’t a small man by baseball standards, but nothing in his physical appearance gave any clue as to why he should be so much better at hitting long balls than many other men his size.

What was the difference? His wrist speed, which Ted Williams, inarguably the greatest overall hitter in baseball history, said he admired. (But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself). Aaron’s wrists, at the extreme pivot point in his swing, generated enormous speed at the head of the bat, and that speed imparted the energy needed to hit a baseball over the fence.

That both Aaron, who’s still with us, and Romweber were humble, self-effacing artists who wore their fame lightly is probably coincidental. And I suspect that there are a lot of other areas in which wrist speed contributes to excellent performance, from cooking to, oh, I don’t know, Formula 1 racing. But having a liberal-arts education, I’m just tickled at this wonderful connection between two otherwise deeply disconnected parts of my life, a connection illuminated by a third, also disconnected interest, physics, that dates back to my grade-school infatuation with astronomy.

And while I am sorry that Sara Romweber is gone, I have a ton of good memories of her music, both recorded and live. I am happy that I got to meet her and talk to her and find that she was almost oblivious to her own celebrity, just the kid down the street who plays drums. And I’m glad that we still have Henry Aaron with us — you should read his autobiography, “I Had a Hammer” — for whatever time God allows.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019 6:47 pm

Impeachment: OK, now it’s go time, redux

On Friday I said we can wait no longer to begin holding impeachment hearings for Donald Trump in the Houses of Representatives. Now I’m gonna tell you a little more about how we can do that.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand this. You just need to know that Trump, like every president before him, swore an oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (That oath is found in the Constitution at the end of Section 1 of Article II.)

Now, is there anyone out there who’s prepared to argue, seriously and sincerely, that Dolt 45 has faithfully executed the office? Or that he has worked to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution? Not only has he failed to do so, he has deliberately attempted to do otherwise.

Indeed, hundreds, nay thousands, of contrary examples exist in the public record. The House hearings could go on for years if they attempted to be comprehensive.

The Constitution, in Article II, Section 3, also requires the president to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” I think creating and artificially extending a government shutdown is not taking care that the (spending) laws be faithfully executed. I imagine it wouldn’t take much to convince a House majority of that, either.

That is what the House should do. It doesn’t need to wait for Robert Mueller, and it shouldn’t. Speaker Nancy Pelosi should direct House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler to open those hearings at once, amass evidence of Trump’s malfeasance, and issue articles of impeachment for the full House to consider.

The country can’t wait any longer. Let’s do this.

 

Friday, January 18, 2019 8:02 pm

Impeachment: OK, now it’s go time

Buzzfeed reports that special counsel Robert Mueller has documentary evidence that Donald Trump ordered his attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. If that’s true, Trump must be impeached immediately.

Donald Trump committed his first impeachable offense on his first day in office and has continued it daily since: profiting personally from his D.C. hotel, to which his supporters here and abroad flock, in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. He did it right out in the open, where everyone could see it, no investigation required.

And there are varying degrees of proof in the public record that he has committed other arguably impeachable offenses, too, including but not limited to suborning perjury, money laundering, sedition (if not treason), and so on.

Since May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, as well as such possibly related issues as money laundering.

Trump was able to do what he did because for the first two years of his term, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. They would neither hold Trump accountable nor allow Democrats to do so.

That changed on Nov. 6, when Democrats scored a victory not seen since the immediate aftermath of Watergate. Incoming Democratic House committee chairs vowed that Trump would undergo oversight.

As I say, Trump has been guilty of at least one impeachable offense since Day 1. And I believe he should be impeached, on that charge and others. But up until this morning, I had been (grudgingly) content to await the results of the Mueller investigation and/or any reports from the House investigating committees before Congress started discussing that.

And there’s a reason for that: Impeachment, a remedy included in the Constitution by the Framers, is an inherently political act. Other than treason and bribery, the Constitution doesn’t say what an impeachable offense is, with the practical result that an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives thinks it is. Accordingly, I thought that for any impeachment effort to have much public support, it should be based on the findings of Mueller and/or the House. After all, when Republicans outran public support for their investigation of Bill Clinton in 1998, they paid heavily for it in that year’s midterms.

That changed this morning, when I read the Buzzfeed report that Mueller has documentary evidence that Trump ordered his attorney Michael Cohen to lie under oath to Congress about when negotiations on the proposed Trump Tower Moscow ended. Indeed, Cohen wasn’t even a source for the story. Mueller obtained the documentary evidence first and then went to Cohen for confirmation, which Cohen provided.

Directing another person to commit perjury — “suborning perjury” — is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine. Not only that, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Robert Barr, whose confirmation hearings were held this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, testified in response to questions from both Republican and Democratic senators that for the president to suborn perjury would definitely constitute a crime. (I’m not entirely sure Barr knows what he’s getting into here, and I’m very sure he’s not up to the task and might even be compromised, but that’s a subject for another post.)

Suborning perjury was the first thing mentioned in Richard Nixon’s articles of impeachment. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that if in fact the Buzzfeed report is true, the House needs to be drafting articles of impeachment immediately.

Is the Buzzfeed article true? To be fair, we don’t know. It was sourced to two unnamed federal agents. The reporters said they had seen some of Mueller’s documentary evidence, but they could  not obtain and publish copies. At this writing, no other news outlet has independently confirmed the report that I know of.

On the other hand, Buzzfeed, although a new-media upstart, is a credible and professional news outlet — so credible and professional that it was a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist in international reporting for what the Pulitzer board called its “stunning probe across two continents that proved that operatives with apparent ties to Vladimir Putin have engaged in a targeted killing campaign against his perceived enemies on British and American soil.” And Jason Leopold, the lead reporter on the piece, is well-regarded as a “ninja” in the business for the ways in which he has used the federal Freedom of Information Act to expose government wrongdoing. (Yes, Buzzfeed catches crap for publishing listicles and other eye candy — but that’s how it pays for investigative reporting. For the record, in 25 years in newspaper I didn’t work for a single paper that didn’t pay for the investigative work with sports, comics, and horoscope, and I don’t recall anyone complaining.) So while we don’t know whether the article is accurate, I think its accuracy is far more likely than not. And if it is accurate, that gun is as smoking and hot to the touch as they come.

Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has said that his committee will be investigating the allegation. Ideally, Mueller will share at least enough of his documentation with Schiff to provide a basis for a referral to the Judiciary Committee for impeachment. And once that happens, Judiciary needs to roll out articles of impeachment and the House needs to pull the trigger.

We are in the midst of the longest government shutdown on record, and it is 100% the responsibility of Donald Trump and the Republicans. The House has passed measures to end it. The Republican-controlled Senate even passed a spending bill 100-0 that Trump rejected after conservative propagandists Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh criticized it. Since then, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell has not allowed another Senate vote. Trump and McConnell are holding 800,000 federal employees and an untold number of private contractors hostage over Trump’s plan to build a wall on the country’s southern border — a wall that, at this writing, almost 60% of Americans say they oppose. If the shutdown continues much longer, it may well push the country into a recession.

This presidency is on fire. This country is on fire. Given what we learned today, we cannot wait any longer. The House needs to go ahead and impeach Trump for suborning perjury; the Mueller investigation and House committee investigations should continue their investigations, but we can’t afford to wait for them anymore. Impeach Trump. Now.

UPDATE: Welp, Mueller’s office is denying the Buzzfeed story, The Washington Post is reporting. So stay tuned, kids.

 

 

 

Thursday, January 17, 2019 6:55 pm

It’s all Colbert’s fault

I blame Stephen Colbert.

The comedian was speaking to the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner in April 2006 — to the audience in general, but to President George W. Bush, whose poll numbers by then were low, in particular. Colbert said:

Now, I know there are some polls out there saying that this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in “reality.” And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Even then, people were getting news from comedians as well as traditional print and online news sources — and even then, if you live in reality, you had to admit that the comedians frequently provided a … well, less distorted version of objective reality than the traditional news sources.

Only here’s what I think sometimes happened. I think conservatives heard that line and took it literally. Frankly, not much else explains both the behavior of Donald Trump and the Republican Party leadership and the more or less unbudging support for Trump of roughly 37% of the population (although we learned today, from multiple sources, that that number might, finally, be slipping). They’ve shown an aversion to reality that, frankly, is hard (though not impossible) to explain any other way.

And all kidding aside, that aversion to reality can have and is having dangerous effects on the world, our country, and us personally. Only reality-based solutions to problems are likely to work.

Global warming is a huge threat to civilization, and the experts in that field say we have roughly 10 years left to make the significant changes needed to reduce the threat. Republicans mostly oppose any effort to do anything about it. That’s a step up; not so long ago most refused even to acknowledge that global warming existed.

In terms of economics, Republicans have been peddling fantasy for 40 years. No, tax cuts generally never pay for themselves, and big tax cuts on the highest earners in our country not only haven’t paid for themselves, let alone delivered the economic growth that was promised, they’ve also had the effect of funneling wealth up from the working class and middle class to the already very wealthy. I think it’s fair to say that Republicans know their tax policy is fantasy; they just don’t care.

And their policies in areas from health care to the environment are not fact-based, either, and pose the risk of tens of thousands of additional premature American deaths every year.

So it’s all Colbert’s fault, and he needs to reopen the government.

 

 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 7:17 pm

These two things are not the same

It is hard to believe that there are still people around who think that both major political parties in the United States are the same and that they are equally bad. But I ran into one today.

Truth is, they’re not, and here’s some proof:

One and only one party has relied on appeals to bigotry, with decreasing subtlety, for more than 50 years.
One and only one party supports a fact-free economic and tax policy, one that further enriches the already very rich mainly by hoovering up what remains of the wealth of the middle class and the working class.
One and only one party has made torture an instrument of national policy.
One and only one party wiretapped its own citizens without a warrant in felony violation of the law and then, when the news became public, retroactively changed the law to escape punishment.
One and only one party wants to funnel money to for-profit prisons.
One and only one party denies the existence of anthropogenic global warming.
One and only one party supports energy policies that will make global warming worse, not better, even as scientists say we have roughly 10 years, at best, to do some pretty drastic things just to level it off.
One and only one party is imprisoning children at the border.
One and only one party is pushing to reduce LEGAL immigration by 50%, which would be economic suicide.
One and only one party is working actively to weaken our international economic and military alliances and gutting our State Department.
One and only one party is tolerating more than 30,000 firearm deaths per year, many of them absolutely preventable.
One and only one party is just fine with Saudi Arabia assassinating a U.S. journalist.
One and only one party is acting as an agent, or at least an asset, of a hostile foreign power.
 
I could go on, but I hope you get my point: Both parties are not the same. Republicans are demonstrably worse for the country than Democrats and have been since no later than 1992 and arguably since the early 1960s. Anyone who says the two parties are equally bad is lazy, ignorant or lying. There’s no other option.

Friday, January 4, 2019 1:03 pm

Election 2020: I do not like the whole idea of likability

Ignore anything and everything you read about a presidential candidate’s “likability,” particularly if that candidate is a Democratic woman. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin left office Thursday with an honest-to-God favorability rating of 12%. During gardening season, actual cowshit is more popular.

On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts became the first Democrat to announce that she was forming a 2020 presidential-campaign exploratory committee. And just like that, the political press served notice that it was going to be just as sexist and idiotic as it had been in 2016.

Politico, whose reporting frequently is essential but whose analysis and opinion seems to be at least 50% pro-Republican horseshit, popped up noon Monday with “Warren Battles the Ghost of Hillary,” which suggested that Warren might be just as “unlikable” as Hillary Clinton had been in 2016 and therefore doomed as a candidate.

The anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative was written before the Massachusetts senator even announced she was exploring a presidential run.

She’s too divisive and too liberal, Washington Democrats have complained privately. Her DNA rollout was a disaster — and quite possibly a White House deal-breaker. She’s already falling in the polls, and — perhaps most stinging — shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton.

In the year of the woman, it adds up to one unwelcome mat for the most prominent woman likely to be part of the 2020 field. But it also presents an unmistakable challenge: How does Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground?

Man, there is so much horseshit here that you probably would need dynamite to unpack it.

  • First of all, how is it that there is any “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” at all just hours after her announcement? Answer: People have been lying in wait for her for a while. And who would do that? People who are anti-Elizabeth Warren. Duh. There is no organic “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” at this point, only propaganda.
  • And how is it that there is an “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” that is similar to Hillary Clinton’s? After all, Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for 35 brutal years, whereas five years ago most Americans had no idea who Elizabeth Warren was. Answer? Sexism: The implicit message of this comparison is that no female candidate, or at least no Democratic female candidate, can be trusted.
  • Too divisive? How? How does one quantify “divisive”? Sophisticated polling can sort of, kind of get at that — more on that in a bit — but as of Monday, not very much had been done on Warren, and certainly nowhere near as much as has been done on Clinton.
  • Too liberal? First, there’s always the tiresome and mostly unanswerable question of how one defines “liberal.” And if you can’t define that, how does one quantify how much liberalism is enough vs. too much? And “too much” on what scale? An ideological scale? As opposed to other candidates? Of course, Warren being the first, there were no other candidates when this piece was written.
  • And who are these “Washington Democrats” who call her too divisive and liberal? I may have spent my career with daily newspapers and their admittedly stodgy websites rather than online creations of the Kewl Kids, but we didn’t let political opponents snipe at each other anonymously, for good reason: It isn’t ethical, and even more importantly, it adds nothing to the reader’s understanding. Half-competent journalists should make political opponents call one another out by name, with all agendas out where the public can see them. That enhances reader understanding, which is, or ought to be, the point of it all.
  • Warren’s “DNA rollout” was a forthright response to a libelous criticism from a sitting president of the United States. To call it a “disaster” is pure editorializing: I am in no way an expert on this, but to the extent that Native Americans themselves have criticized her for having had her DNA tested, they appear to be privileging custom over science, arguing that without her name on a tribal roll, a DNA test means nothing. (If I’m missing something on this point, I’m happy to be corrected.) In any event, given Donald Trump’s apparently being an agent of a hostile foreign power, his tax fraud, his serial violations of the Emoluments Clause, his history of serial sexual assault, to be suggesting that a DNA test fatally damages a candidate for president is to display both practical ignorance and moral stillbirth. I am somewhat sympathetic to the argument that her timing, during the Blue Wave, suggests she put self ahead of party, but 1) absent additional information that is hardly the only explanation, and 2) If you’re going to make putting self ahead of party a criterion (and you should), there are far greater offenders. Bernie Sanders and Corey Booker come immediately to mind.
  • “Shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton”? And what are they, pray tell? An electoral college founded in not just slavery but also in cosseting the whiny, bitchy, gimme attitudes of the slave states? A grossly bigoted electorate? Enemies in the Kremlin? Republican vote-suppression efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina? Third-party candidates secretly supported by the Russians? Because those are the “attributes” that sank Clinton. By 65 million to 62 million, American voters favored her.

And that’s just three paragraphs. Holy shit. The piece goes on for many paragraphs more, laden with sexism and editorializing and almost unburdened by fact, all predicated on the notions that likability is real, that it matters, that it can be quantified, and that Elizabeth Warren has less of it than other Democrats and perhaps even less than Trump.

And that’s just one candidate. Multiply this bullshit across the dozen-plus likely 2020 Democratic presidents, candidates, many of them women, and you would be forgiven the urge to burn down every single U.S. news outlet.

Well, here are some facts.

“Likability” is incredibly subjective. It cannot be quantified or measured except in the most relative of terms. It is subject to pollution from bias, from lack of information, from lack of context. The closest we can quantifiably get to it is the favorability/unfavorability ratings of polls. The same recent Quinnipiac University poll that scored Warren’s favorability/unfavorability ratings at 33%/37% scored Donald Trump’s at 39%/52%, and yet somehow Warren’s “unlikability” gets all the attention.

And if you Google likability with respect to politicians, you’ll find that the subject comes up WAY more often in articles about women than in articles about men. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not a good one.

And here’s another fact, even more to the point:

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin left office Thursday with an honest-to-God favorability rating of 12%. During gardening season, actual cowshit is more popular. And yet our news media are convinced that Elizabeth Warren 1) is unlikable and 2) cannot be elected president because of it. That ought to adjust your attitude regarding any “analysis” you read about Democratic candidates for the rest of the 2019-2020 election cycle for offices at any level.

So what to do about it? I covered politics for 25 years, some years better than others, so here are my modest suggestions for consumers of news in general and people wondering which Democratic presidential candidate to support in particular:

  • For now, DO NOTHING. The actual voting doesn’t begin for another 13 months. As of this writing, Warren has formed an exploratory committee and Washington Gov. Jay Insbee has said he intends to. No one else is even close to being a formal candidate. If you were utterly undecided on a candidate a week or a month ago, there is no reason for you to even think about picking a candidate until 1) everyone who is going to run has formally announced and filed their paperwork, and 2) at least some of the Democratic presidential debates, which start in June, have come and gone. You can wait at least six months without sacrificing a thing, and unless you have some kind of personal attachment/connection to a candidate, you probably want to see how the candidates perform in several debates before picking one to support.
  • At least until the number of remaining Democratic presidential candidates is reduced to two, avoid the temptation to criticize a candidate or candidates you do not support. Instead, talk up the candidate you favor. Send him/her money. Find a way to volunteer for his/her campaign, even if it’s only making phone calls.
  • Whether you are talking up your candidate or talking down an opponent, do so with both factual and contextual accuracy. That’s harder than it sounds. You might mean quite well, but there are many, many sources of misinformation on the Web with respect to every declared candidate and plenty of potential ones. The Russians messed with what you saw on social media in 2016 and are likely to do so again in 2020. And conservative “news” outlets frequently take bullshit rumors that originate on conservative message boards and give them a patina of legitimacy, so be particularly careful not to amplify that bullshit. Check and double-check the information you choose to use. Factcheck.org and Politifact.com are excellent sources for vetting information, as is Snopes.com.

(And what do I mean by “contextual accuracy”? Remember that nothing happens in a vacuum. Where numbers are concerned, remember that one number is meaningless without at least one other number as a scale. Where facts about a political candidate are concerned, ask questions like, “What other candidate(s) is this fact true about, and to what extent?” Be wary of claims like “first,” “greatest,” “best” or “worse”: As one of my old editors used to say, there’s always a faster gun. Even mainstream outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post that are generally reliable with regard to factual accuracy frequently commit mistakes and omissions with regard to contextual accuracy. One big example: The Times’s 2016 focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails — yes, she made mistakes, but she did not commit a crime — while ignoring, for another two years, a long string of evidence that Donald Trump was a crook. And when a news outlet purports to examine any candidate’s “likability,” examine their methods for quantifying it and see to what extent they attempt to assess all candidates or likely candidates in the same manner.)

So, to sum up, I don’t like “likability,” and you shouldn’t either. At this point in the race, and pretty much from now until November 2020, news outlets should be focusing primarily on candidates’ policy proposals — what they are, how they will work, what they will cost, how we will pay for it, and what their outcomes are likely to be. And if the news outlets on which you rely try to dabble in it, hammer them hard. It’s just a pity Facebook doesn’t offer a “don’t like” button.

P.S.: One more thing about likability. George W. Bush won in 2000 because a lot of reporters thought he was “the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with.” Screw that. On both literal and metaphoric levels, I am realistic enough to know that I will never have a beer with even a former president of the United States, let alone a sitting one. So I will vote for a competent, empathetic jackass over a charming sociopath for any office, any day. You can ask the people of Iraq and Puerto Rico and Flint what we get when we elect sociopaths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Studying is … hazing? Nah, bro (and sis)

One of the nation’s top public universities says a sorority that requires its members to study at least 25 hours a week is hazing. That university needs to go back to school.
 
Before I started college, back when the Wright Brothers were pups, my parents explained that I should literally look at college academics as a full-time job, one requiring 40 to 50 hours per week: If I was going to be in class, say, 15 hours a week, then I needed to be putting in at least another 25 to 35 hours reading, studying, writing papers, doing labs, etc. THEN I could think about eating and sleeping, and THEN I could think about fun. (As it happened, I ended up adding 40 hours of radio work per week to that whole schedule, with significant impingement on both sleep and fun, but I also graduated with student-loan debt that was merely manageable, so that worked out OK in the end.)
So, I’ll be honest: I’m having a difficult time seeing how a University of Virginia sorority could be suspended by the university for hazing simply for requiring its members — not just pledges — to study 25 hours per week. Yet that’s what happened; the university’s chapter of the Latina sorority Sigma Lambda Upsilon (also known as Senoritas Latinas Unidas) was suspended for just that. A pledge filed a complaint, and after an investigation (or an “investigation”), the university suspended the chapter in March. The sorority filed suit in U.S. District Court in September, alleging its First and 14th Amendment rights had been violated.
In principle, at least, I think the suspension was nuts. That said, I can see how any time/place/manner requirements might be burdensome, depending on what they were. The article didn’t discuss those requirements, so I had a lot of questions. For example:
  • Did the sorority require its members all to do their 25 hours of studying at the same time each week (e.g., 7-midnight Sunday-Thursday nights) rather than allowing each member to slot her 25 hours into her schedule wherever it fit best around classes, labs, and jobs?
  • Were the members required to do their studying at the sorority house or some other defined location, rather than in locations of their choice — their rooms, or the library or lab?
  • How, and how invasively, did the sorority track the study hours of its members?
  • Was the 25-hour requirement waived or adjusted proportionately for members who were part-time students?

Still, just how wild would any time/place/manner requirements have to be to constitute hazing? Hazing has a legal definition, after all. Here’s how Virginia law defines it:

“It shall be unlawful to haze, or otherwise mistreat so as to cause bodily injury, any student at any school, college, or university. …” (emphasis added)

I found the original Charlottesville Daily Progress article about the sorority’s lawsuit, and it says that UVa further defines hazing as:

“any action taken or situation created on Grounds [university property — Lex] that is intended to or does produce mental or physical harassment, humiliation, fatigue, degradation, ridicule, shock or injury.”

Again, absent some very weird time/place/manner requirements, I’m having a hard time seeing how a study requirement could cause the kind of problems described in that definition. Moreover, the sorority correctly argues that many other campus organizations have similar requirements. For student-athletes, the Daily Progress notes, NCAA rules limit team-related activities to 20 hours a week, but that doesn’t include things such as study halls, tutoring and travel.

The sorority argues that it is being discriminated against because its members are Latina. The articles don’t suggest that there is any evidence that that is the case, but the facts as reported certainly seem to suggest that 1) the chapter is being treated differently from other student organizations — for whatever reason — and 2) there’s no legal or administrative basis for the suspension. Hell, I think students could only benefit if more student organizations, particularly Greek social organizations, imposed similar requirements.

One last note about this case: The lawsuit was filed in September, but we’re only now hearing about it. That fact likely speaks to the dramatic cuts in news reporting ranks over the past several years. In most metro areas and in many smaller markets, court reporters used to check civil-court dockets at least weekly for suits involving, at the least, prominent plaintiffs and/or defendants — the city or county or local colleges or hospitals or large employers, say. Clearly, the Daily Progress is no longer able to make those kinds of checks, and God knows it’s not alone in that.

 

 

Sunday, December 30, 2018 6:44 pm

Another disappointing Panthers season. Again.

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 6:44 pm
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I was concerned enough about the Panthers, despite all the new offensive weapons and a new offensive coordinator who seemed to know how to use them, to predict that they’d go 8-8 or 9-7 and miss the playoffs.

Welp, they finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs, and it might have been 6-10 if the Saints, with home field clinched through the playoffs and nothing left to play for, hadn’t sat most of their starters.

What follows are areas of improvement. Except where noted, my suggestions do not take into account whose contracts are up or what effect my suggestions would have on the salary cap, so accompany them with the appropriate amount of salt.

Where to start? With the Panthers, the conversation always starts with Cam Newton. Newton looked good through nine weeks and was headed toward a career high in completion percentage, then took a hard throwing-shoulder hit in Week 10 against Pittsburgh that ended up hampering him badly for the rest of the season. In Week 15 at home against New Orleans on Monday Night Football, he ended up bouncing a pass four yards in front of a crossing receiver who was only about eight yards deep. That ended up being his last game of the season, but everyone in the stadium or watching on TV knew that he should have been pulled well before then. At this point, we don’t know whether he needs shoulder surgery or just rest. But his recovery will determine the Panthers’ offensive fortunes in 2019, and it’s not clear that the team has a Plan B. This year’s draft might be time for the team, who will have a relatively high pick, to find an heir apparent for QB1.

Now, then, the offensive line. It didn’t give up up a lot of sacks this season — slightly less than two per game — but that stat was misleading: Panthers QBs got hit hard and often. Cam Newton took a shot in the Steelers game in Week 10 that hampered him the rest of the season until he was finally benched before Week 16. Taylor Heinicke lasted one game before being knocked out, and then Kyle Allen got knocked out today, with Garrett Gilbert, who spent seven weeks out of the league this year, finishing the fourth quarter. If HE had been knocked out, the Panthers’ emergency quarterback would have been Christian McCaffrey, and ain’t nobody in Panther Nation would’ve been looking forward to exposing the franchise running back to that kind of damage.

Next year, former Pro Bowler Trai Turner returns at right guard and Darryl Williams presumably returns from his injury at right tackle. And when your RB1 goes for more than 1,000 yards rushing plus 800+ yards receiving, it’s hard to argue with the run-blocking. But the whole line needs to get better at pass-blocking, and the team must, repeat, MUST find a left tackle to protect Cam Newton at a level he hasn’t had since 2015.

At tight end, I love Gregg Olsen, and more importantly, so does Cam. He’s a Pro Bowler, so what’s not to love? But Olsen has missed significant playing time for two straight years now with foot problems, he cost $7.95 million against the cap in 2018, and he’s under contract for two more seasons. I’m not saying the team should let him go. But I am saying that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we did: Rookie Ian Thomas has played well as a receiver no matter who was in at QB – he and Cam appeared to be developing a rapport comparable to that of Newton and Olsen – and I didn’t see him miss many blocks. If Olsen can no longer play, or doesn’t appear to be worth the risk given the cost, Thomas could step in.

More stuff, and more encouraging stuff, about the offense later.

On defense, the Panthers historically have prided themselves on a run-stuffing line that gets a lot of pressure on opposing QBs. DT Kawann Short, who signed a big new contract in 2017, cost a whopping $17 million in 2018 but didn’t play up to that level, just getting three sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss. 2016 first-round draft pick Vernon Butler not only isn’t starting at DT, he ended up being a healthy scratch a few times this year. So while he has two more years left on his contract (plus an option year), I wouldn’t be surprised to see him gone. The other current starter at DT, Dontari Poe, has never had more than 4.5 sacks or five tackles for loss in any year (both in 2013). He was signed before the 2018 season to a three-year contract, a move that likely will get some front-office scrutiny this winter.

At defensive end, future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers just completed his 17th season. No one would blame him for wanting to retire. But some folks in Panthers Nation might be quietly hoping for it. He’s still incredibly athletic, but he has lost a step, which is a problem across this defense. He had four sacks, down from 11 in 2017. An honorable retirement, with a celebration of his remarkable career and contributions to the franchise, strikes me as the best option all around.

At the other end, Mario Addison had a decent year with eight sacks. He’s 31 and will be in a contract year in 2019, so he’s likely to be highly motivated to perform well again.

One disappointment: DE Efe Obada, the Nigerian native assigned to the Panthers by the league’s International Player Pathway program. He stuck with a 52-man roster this year for the first time since entering the league in 2015, but after a promising early start, he faded. His is a feel-good story, but as much as the Panthers rotate DEs, he needs to be more productive.

At linebacker, Luke Kuechly remains arguably the best in the league in the middle. Thomas Davis was supposed to make this his last year, although he reportedly was reconsidering after missing the first four games of the season on a PED suspension. TD has been a huge part of this team for a long team, but he has lost a step in pass coverage, and it showed clearly this season. Like Peppers, I think he should enjoy an honorable retirement and allow youth to be served. At the other end, Shaq Thompson has played well in spurts, although as much time as the D spent in nickel coverage, it has been hard to tell.

Speaking of nickel, Captain Munnerlyn has been involved in many big games in Charlotte, but, like Davis, he has lost a step and gave up some big plays this year. He needs to be replaced.

At corner, Donte Jackson shows signs of becoming the cover ace that James Bradberry was supposed to be but hasn’t been. Bradberry, whom a lot of observers were surprised to see go as high as the second round of the 2016 draft, simply hasn’t been dependable: He has five interceptions in three years and had only one in 2018. He’s in a contract year in 2019, but with Jackson showing signs of solidity, I don’t know that cutting Bradberry and drafting his successor might not be a bad idea.

At safety, Eric Reid has said he’d like to return in 2019, and he has made a case with 47 tackles, a sack and a pick in 12 games. But Mike Adams, God bless him, is past his sell-buy date after 15 years in the league, and I think Rashaan Gaulden and some new blood all need to compete with Reid and let the cream rise to the top. (Colin Jones, nominally a safety, is a mainstay on special teams and is near-certain to return in that role.)

Overall, the big news on this Panthers defense in 2018 was that coordinator Eric Washington, who had moved up through the team’s coaching ranks, proved inadequate in his new role. Head coach Ron Rivera, a former DC himself, took over the team’s defensive play calling late in the season and fired two defensive assistants. It remains to be seen whether Rivera will call the signals again in 2019 or whether the team will hire a new coordinator. At all three levels, the defense needs an injection of speed, which will be necessary for the essential task of cutting the number of big plays it gives up.

Special teams had an OK year. Punter Michael Palardi averaged in the middle of the pack in both gross and net punt yardage, a shade over 45 yards per punt with a long of 59 and about 40% of his punts inside the opponents’ 20.

Place kicker Graham Gano injured his knee late in the year, by which time he had made 14 of 16 field-goal attempts with a long of 63, one short of the league record. Assuming the injury is no worse than has been announced to date, he’ll still be the kicker in 2019, although the team might bring one or two others into camp to challenge him and for a look-see.

The return game is an area in which the Panthers could step up. Kenjon Barner didn’t scare anyone, and there are several faster players on this team. WR DJ Moore took a punt in today’s final game, and that might be something to look into doing more of in 2019.

Now, back to the offense: If all the starters are healthy and the Panthers can fix the O-line problems in the offseason, the 2019 Panthers offense should be near the top of the league in offensive production. With a Pro Bowl quarterback in Newton, outstanding receivers in DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel and slot man Jarius Wright (Devin Funchess, whose contract is up, is going to want WR1 money and likely will be leaving the team), a reliable weapon at TE in either Greg Olsen or Ian Thomas, and an all-purpose threat in RB Christian McCaffrey — and an offensive coordinator in Norv Turner who seems to know how to use all these weapons — the Panthers ought to be hanging 30+ points a game on opponents. Much less, assuming a decent O-line, could only be considered a disappointment. As for defense, it needs fixes from coordinator on down, and it must get faster at all three levels.

If all these things happen, the Panthers should be highly competitive. But seldom has the team done everything it has needed to do in the off-season, and that’s one big reason why the franchise has never had consecutive winning seasons. And Marty Hurney’s history as general manager does not inspire confidence. It’s bad enough that this team didn’t win; aggravating the problem by getting the team into another salary-cap hole would ensure mediocrity for years to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, December 21, 2018 5:14 pm

Bill Kristol, Davidson College, and ethics

In public life some sins really are both disqualifying and unforgivable. Bill Kristol is guilty of at least two, and Davidson should have recognized that fact and chosen differently.  

I’m going to be very up-front about Bill Kristol: I do not like him. I never have. And despite his Billy-come-lately effort to vault to the front rank of never-Trumpers, I never will.

So what am I to do with the news that my alma mater, Davidson College, has named him its inaugural visiting Vann Professor of Ethics in Society for 2019? I think the college has made a big mistake.

First, let’s make clear what this ISN’T about. It’s not about censorship or free speech, which is an issue of government regulation, not private regulation. (Davidson is a private school.)

It’s not about exposing students to a broad range of views; Davidson already does that and has for many, many years. You’d have to have gone there to understand how truly laughable we alums find it that conservative critics on occasion have criticized Davidson as liberal.

For me, the mistake here, by Davidson and by the Vann family, who are funding this initiative, is to hold Bill Kristol up as someone from whom the rest of us can learn about applied ethics. Because unless the college were to identify Kristol specifically as a negative example, that certainly isn’t true.

One can disagree with Kristol about plenty, and that’s fine, and it wouldn’t disqualify him from speaking at Davidson or even holding a guest professorship in applied ethics. But I can point to two huge tests of applied ethics that Kristol failed, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives and of world-historical consequences that humanity still will be grappling with long after he and I are dead. Those tests were the use of torture as an instrument of U.S. governmental policy and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

I’ve written a great deal on this blog over the years about the ineffectiveness and evil of torture — not just what it does to the victim but also what it does to the torturer and to the nation that sanctions the use of torture. You can plug “torture” into the search box over there on the right and find it all; it is, as the lawyers say, incorporated by reference.

Not only did Kristol support torture, , he also continued to support it even after all previous arguments for its use during the War on Some Terror had fallen flat. Why would Kristol — why would any human being — continue to support the use of torture even after all the practical arguments on its behalf have been weighed and found wanting? Is there an argument for supporting it other than a practical one? The War on Some Terror is 17 years old, and I have yet to come across such an argument. That Kristol has not repented of his views that I can find suggests he continues to support torture, and for what? For its own sake? That, I suspect, is a question for him and his counselor, but the fact that it exists ought to be disqualifying for a person expected to provide guidance to others in the field of applied ethics.

The other huge test of applied ethics that Kristol failed was the U.S invasion of Iraq in 2003. He and Robert Kagan were among the nation’s leading advocates for that invasion, and the only reason they weren’t the most effective was that George W. Bush, and not they, got to be the one to lie to Congress about the possibility of an Iraqi nuclear-weapons capability. To refresh your memory, most of Congress wasn’t buying what the Bush administration was selling about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction as a justification for invasion. The so-called “16 words” in President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address — the suggestion that Iraq was working on nuclear weapons, though the country in fact had no evidence that that was so — got Congress to authorize the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which, unlike Desert Storm in 1991, was illegal under the United Nations charter and international law.

Tens of thousands of U.S. service members were killed and wounded, along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and the grossly mismanaged occupation of Iraq gave rise to ISIS.

As with torture, Kristol has never repented.

I don’t have a real slam-bang ending here. But in public life some sins really are both disqualifying and unforgivable. Kristol is guilty of at least two, and Davidson should have recognized that fact and chosen a different visiting professor of applied ethics.

 

 

 

Sunday, December 2, 2018 4:44 pm

Bucs 24, Panthers 17

Filed under: Panthers — Lex @ 4:44 pm
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Here’s what we know about this Panthers team after today’s game: This team, as I said after the Pittsbugh game, is objectively awful.

The O-line, which I had serious concerns about when the season started, is an outright  dumpster fire; at least two of Newton’s four interceptions today were caused by protection failures.

The D-line has been so bad at stopping or slowing the run that it has made the league’s best linebacking corps look mediocre.

The secondary continues to give up yardage in big chunks.

Cam was Bad Cam again today, although both my daughter and I independently decided that he might be playing with a lot of shoulder pain. Putting Heinike in for the Hail Mary does nothing to alleviate this suspicion.

This season, which started off so promising, may well end up being just another mediocre Panthers 7-9 season. And there’s a nontrivial chance that the Panthers will lose out to finish 6-10.

I know that defensive coordinator Eric Washington is one of Rivera’s guys and that Rivera is very loyal to his guys, but the fact that Rivera took over the defensive play calling is all you need to know: Washington needs to go, now.

But what else needs to happen?

Norv Turner’s offense has shown encouraging flashes of brilliance. But since the Pittsburgh game, it has largely underperformed. Given the level of talent, the number of weapons in this offense, it should have been scoring close to 30 points per game. It has come close only once, vs. Seattle. On the one hand, I think Turner should have another year to prove his system can score. On the other, this might finally be the year Rivera goes, and I imagine that owner David Tepper would want to let his new head coach pick his own coordinators.

This year is a washout, and this team has a major rebuilding task ahead in the offseason. Marty Hurney has had a good eye for first-round picks, but history suggests that a major rebuilding initiative is simply beyond him — his later-round picks will be busts and he will get the team back into salary-cap trouble. We’ve had some wild turnover in this spot, but it might be time for a clean slate all the way around.

 

Thursday, November 29, 2018 9:34 pm

The president’s fixer pleads in. It’s all downhill from here.

Apropos of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea today:
 
One little-known fact is that federal prosecutors can put pretty much anything they want into an indictment or a sentencing memo. An indictment on drug-trafficking charges, for example, can, if the prosecutor wishes, contain a doctoral thesis’s worth of comprehensive history of post-Prohibition trafficking in all manner of contraband.
 
Why is that relevant? Here’s why: Special Counsel Robert Mueller can put as much information about Donald Trump’s activities into indictments and sentencing memoranda as he likes. He can even include emails or other records that document the claims in those documents.
And so far, that is exactly what he has been doing.
 
And what THAT means is that even if a Trump apparatchik at Justice decides he wants to bury Mueller’s final report, there already will be so much information in the public domain — court records like indictments and sentencing memoranda are almost always public — that any effort to bury Mueller’s final report simply won’t matter. Trump no longer has any leverage with which to prevent Congress and the public from knowing what he has been up to.
 
For Trump, it’s all downhill from here. He will die in prison in a diaper. The only question is whether he will do so here or in Russia. And lemme tell you, I and tens of millions of other Americans will laugh like hyenas when he does.

Sunday, November 25, 2018 8:46 pm

Some thoughts on the next president of the United States

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:46 pm
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Conventional wisdom has it that the next presidential campaign starts the minute a midterm has ended. I would just remind everyone that conventional wisdom hasn’t had a good year. I would also remind everyone that important statewide races remain out there for Democrats at this writing in Georgia (SOS) and Mississippi (U.S. Senate), and that I would prefer that Democrats focus for the moment on those races.

That said, the next president of the United States probably already has started running, although no candidate besides Trump has announced for 2020. So how do we want to deal with this?

A lot of people are handicapping particular candidates right now, as people who follow politics always do at this point in the election cycle. I’m going to try a different approach. I would like us to think for a minute about what the next president’s going to have to do … and once we’ve got that nailed down, then we can talk about who’s out there who 1) might be able to do that and 2) is running, likely running, or at least being talked about seriously as a candidate.

Let’s start with the obvious: The Democratic candidate in 2020 has to win, must oust Donald Trump or defeat any other GOP candidate who might replace him before the general election. Any other result is unthinkable. The nation cannot afford four more years not only of Trump’s “governance,” but also that of Republicans in general. You hear that phrase a lot in political campaigns, but on issues ranging from global warming to Russia and national security to taxes and economics, it’s simply a fact.

Beyond that salient fact, however, the next president is going to have to do what I think is almost impossible: clean up enough of Trump’s messes quickly enough, plus make significant progress on his/her own policy agenda, before the 2022 midterms heat up, to give Democrats a solid chance of prevailing in those elections.

The reason is this: Historically, Democrats don’t show up in the midterms. In the past 40 years, they’ve done it in two consecutive midterms only once, 1982/1986. The particular reasons vary from one midterm to the next, but the common theme when Democrats hold the White House is that the party fails to make enough progress on its agenda to excite the rank and file and get them to the polls. Most recently, Dems didn’t show up in the 2010 midterms because party activists were upset Obama didn’t get them a rainbow single-payer unicorn or whatever, and Republicans took the House. In 2014, Democrats didn’t show up and Republicans took the Senate as well.

So here’s what I think the next Democratic president is going to have to do: 1) make significant progress cleaning up Trump’s mess and 2) make significant progress advancing his/her own policy agenda — and do all that by no later than the spring of 2022. Otherwise, history suggests, Democrats will face major reverses in the 2022 midterms.

So what’s that going to take? Again, I’m not sure it can be done at all. But of this I am positive: It cannot be done at all by a federal government virgin. No Michael Bloomberg. No Tom Steyer. No Michael Avenatti. No Oprah.

No, doing this will require a stone political pro with deep knowledge of how policy gets made in the federal government. It also will require someone with a long list of IOUs from congresscritters in order to get progressive legislation and confirmations moved and moved quickly.

Just off the top of my head, I can think of five U.S. senators who might meet those requirements. All are women. None is Bernie Sanders.

But I’ll save name-naming for another post. In the meantime, who do YOU think fits these criteria? I’ll be interested to hear.

Monday, November 12, 2018 6:43 pm

RIP Stan Lee

Filed under: Salute!,Say a prayer,Uncategorized — Lex @ 6:43 pm
Tags: , ,

A lot of people know a whole lot more than I do about the creator of the Marvel Comics universe. I’ll just leave you with this observation: At a time when doing so was definitely not popular, he dared to respect his young audience enough to speak to them as adults.

I learned one of the most important moral lessons of my life when I was probably in kindergarten. I learned it from a story in a Spider-Man comic book. You probably know that story, too. It devastated me.

“And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

The cracked front door that didn’t bark; or, Why you should never take what a Republican says at face value

You’ve probably head a lot of talk in the past week about how antifa protesters terrorized Tucker Carlson’s wife and kids in their home, even cracking open their oak front door.

Yes, there were protesters*, and one of them sprayed an anarchy symbol on Carlson’s driveway. But the children were not at home at the time, and the cracked front door? Never happened. The cops who were there didn’t see it. Two Washington Post reporters who visited the house didn’t see it either.

(That’s not to say that a lot of mainstream media, such as USA Today, didn’t run stories repeating Carlson’s claim without independent verification. Of course they did, because anytime a Republican shrieks, “Antifa!” the MSM soil their drawers. Meanwhile, actual 18 USC 241 felony vote suppression is going on right out in the open in Georgia and Florida without the news media calling it what it is, but that’s a subject for another post.)

This anecdote illustrates the peril inherent in taking anything a Republican says at face value, particularly a Republican who literally gets paid to lie on television. You — whether you’re a journalist or a civilian — need to stop doing that. You need to critically question any such claim made by any Republican politician or pundit. And you need to punish news outlets who repeat such claims unquestioningly.

Sunday, November 11, 2018 8:37 pm

About those sealed Mueller indictments …

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable!,Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:37 pm
Tags: , ,
I’m seeing a number of people on Twitter claiming that Robert Mueller already has a ton of sealed indictments of Trump, Trump Jr., Fredo, Ivanka, Jared, etc., etc., etc.
 
I’m here to tell you: Anything is possible. But that is almost certainly bullshit.
 
First of all, there is zero direct evidence in the public record that any of that is true. None. And I dare you to prove me wrong. You can’t. (The zero-leak performance of the Mueller probe to date is a model of American law enforcement.)
 
Second, there is zero circumstantial evidence that any of this is true. Again, prove me wrong if you can.
 
Third, there is nontrivial circumstantial evidence that such claims are NOT true. Almost none of the Mueller indictments so far have been sealed. Those that were remained sealed only days before being unsealed. Sealing indictments for long periods of time appears, so far, not to be a technique on which Mueller is relying.
 
Now, as I said before, anything is possible. But the relevant question, given the evidence and Mueller’s modus operandi to date, is: What’s LIKELY?
 
The answer is:
 
1) Some people saying this stuff are trying to make themselves look/sound more in-the-know than they actually are. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the people I see spouting this stuff on Twitter appear to be males in their 20s. They’re bullshitting to try to get laid.
 
2) Other people saying this stuff are trying to get low-information people’s expectations raised unjustifiably high so that when the inevitable disappointment comes, people will question the validity of the whole investigation. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of THESE people have handles and follower counts that strongly suggest they are bots.
 
Understand, I’d freakin’ LOVE it if it were true. But I’ve spent enough time covering grand jury investigations to be very skeptical. And absent additional information, you should be, too.

Thursday, November 8, 2018 1:19 pm

In which Trump moves on Sessions like a bitch

The day after the midterms, Dolt 45 fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. Now, granted, no one is going to miss Sessions; a Twitter wag described the firing as the first time that Trump had taken down a Confederate monument. But Trump had been expressing frustration for a long time that Sessions had recused himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy of the Trump campaign with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. This move offers Trump an opportunity to take more direct control over the probe because Whitaker has not recused himself.

This isn’t quite the equivalent of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, but it’s not good. Sessions had been so close with the Trump 2016 campaign that he had had to recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation, leaving it the hands of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appears to have given Mueller both adequate leeway and adequate funding to do his job correctly. (In fact, given the financial forfeitures of some of those Mueller has convicted, the taxpayers are more than $10 million ahead of the game on this investigation to date, and there’s probably more profit where that came from. That money doesn’t go directly back into the investigation, of course.)

But Trump has made clear that oversight responsibility for the investigation now will rest with Whitaker instead of Rosenstein. It’s worth noting that when a Cabinet secretary leaves office, his/her deputy — Rosenstein, in this case — normally would be appointed acting agency head. That didn’t happen here. And that’s not good at all. Consider:

  • Whitaker in 2017 said he didn’t see anything wrong with Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower:
  • Whitaker was associated with a D.C. nonprofit called Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust whose main goal in life seems to be ginning up bullshit criminal cases against prominent Democrats:
  • Whitaker said in 2017 that the Mueller probe was “going too far”:

A number of Democrats already have called for Whitaker to recuse himself. Worse for Trump, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee, already has said his committee will be looking into Sessions’s firing. One possible result could be a criminal referral to the Justice Department for obstruction of justice.

(Also, the Mueller investigation aside, Whitaker appears to be just the kind of bigoted jackass that progressive and moderate voters indicated on Tuesday they’ve had enough of.)

Now, a lot of people are presuming that Whitaker’s appointment means that Trump intends to fire Mueller. And, legally, Trump could. The question that that would raise would be whether such a firing would constitute obstruction of justice, as Cummings is hinting. I am not a lawyer, and I don’t know that there’s a solid legal consensus on this issue, but I’ve seen social media posts from three or four lawyers unrelated to one another who have said that the firing would be evidence of the “consciousness of guilt.” (Remember, the whole reason there’s an obstruction-of-justice investigation in the first place is that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and said that he had done so because of the FBI’s Russia investigation. The uproar over THAT firing led to the appointment of Mueller as special counsel.)

However, if Trump wants to slow or halt the probe, he has other options.

He can have Whitaker eliminate the wide latitude Mueller currently enjoys under Rosenstein, restricting the probe to certain isolated subjects and people to ensure that Trump and those closest to him face no federal criminal exposure. (Possible state crimes are a whole ‘nother issue, of course, and Trump has no control over those investigations.) Or he could just direct Whitaker to, in effect, defund the investigation. A number of folks on Twitter jokingly suggested a GoFundMe for the Mueller probe if that happens. I’d support that, although that money, like the forfeitures already received, under the law could not go into the probe without having been appropriated by Congress, which the GOP-controlled Senate ain’t gonna do. (UPDATE: The appropriations bill for FY19 having already been signed into law, Mueller’s office is fully funded — at about $10 million — through next Sept. 30.)

But Trump has fewer options than he thinks.

According to the experts at the Lawfare blog, Whitaker might have to recuse himself whether Trump likes it or not:

The relevant Justice Department guideline is Section 45.2 of Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which states that “no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with” either “any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution” or “any person or organization which he knows has a specific and substantial interest that would be directly affected by the outcome of the investigation or prosecution.”

Although the regulations do not indicate that Whitaker’s public statements alone necessarily require recusal, Whitaker has other connections to people whose conduct is at issue in the matter. For instance, the regulations define a political relationship as “a close identification with an elected official, a candidate (whether or not successful) for elective, public office, a political party, or a campaign organization, arising from service as a principal adviser thereto or a principal official thereof.” Rebecca Ballhaus of the Wall Street Journal reports that Whitaker chaired the 2014 Iowa state treasurer campaign of Sam Clovis, who went on to serve in the Trump campaign and administration and who, Ballhaus notes, is now a grand jury witness in the Mueller investigation. The Des Moines Register reported Whitaker’s chairmanship of Clovis’s campaign during the campaign itself. What’s more, in a text message to Ballhaus after Whitaker’s appointment, Clovis wrote that he was “proud of my friend,” referring to Whitaker, raising the question of whether there is a personal relationship as well.

There is an important process point here: Under the same Justice Department regulation mentioned above, Whitaker is obligated to seek guidance from career ethics attorneys regarding whether he should recuse. This is the process Jeff Sessions used in determining that the rules required that he recuse, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also sought guidance regarding his obligations, though Justice officials determined that his recusal was not required. If Whitaker either does not obtain an ethics opinion from career officials or if he departs from that guidance, that would be a serious red flag.

Also, Trump already knows that come Jan. 3, the House Oversight Committee will be looking into Sessions’s firing. And if Mueller gets fired, I would think that any of several House committees would be happy to subpoena him as an expert witness on Trump’s finances. Who knows where that could lead? (UPDATE: I’ve also seen it suggested that if Mueller gets fired, a House committee could hire him as an investigator.)

There even are a few current and incoming Senate Republicans willing to join hands with Senate Democrats long enough to protect the Mueller investigation, as Lawfare points out:

Mitt Romney, now the senator-elect from Utah, stopped short of calling for Whitaker to recuse himself, but said it is “imperative that the important work of the Justice Department continues” and the Mueller probe “proceeds to its conclusion unimpeded.”

The Maine Republican Susan Collins also stated that “it is imperative that the administration not impede the Mueller investigation,” adding that she is concerned that “Rod Rosenstein will no longer be overseeing the probe,” and that “Special Counsel Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference—regardless of who is AG.”

And GOP Senator Lamar Alexander said the Mueller investigation will continue.

I’ll admit I’m not optimistic. For one thing, even if all three stand their ground, the likeliest outcome of Tuesday’s election seems to indicate that Republicans would still hold a Senate majority, perhaps with the help of Vice President Mike Pence. For another, after the Kavanaugh confirmation, we now know what Susan Collins’s word is worth.

And, of course, there’s is the huge factor that Donald Trump consistently, almost predictably, acts against the best advice he gets and his own interests. Journalist Josh Marshall and novelist John Scalzi coined the term “Trump’s razor” for this phenomenon: Every option being otherwise equal, Trump will always make the stupidest possible choice. If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t often have lost had I consistently bet accordingly.

So I think Trump will fire Mueller and dare somebody to do anything about it. That puts Republican officeholders — at all levels — in a serious predicament, for, as Conor Friedersdorf observes in the Atlantic article linked above:

After Wednesday, elected officials in the Republican Party should have no doubt that Donald Trump will force them to choose in coming days, weeks, and months between loyalty to him and loyalty to the rule of law, between the public’s right to the truth and Trump’s efforts to hide it.

They’ve sworn an oath of loyalty to the rule of law. Let’s see how many of them meant it.

 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018 7:14 pm

What’d we learn last night?

I’m going to start with what *I* learned: When my wife’s right, she’s right.

I spent hours in front of the TV with my list of key races and ballot issues and didn’t go to bed until late. When I did, I felt a modicum of relief: The Dems had done what they absolutely needed to do. They had pulled the country at least one step back from the abyss. But a lot of key races I’d targeted went red, and when I went to bed well after midnight, I was feeling a lot more relief than excitement. Kind of “meh,” in other words.

My wife, on the other hand, went to bed around 10, saying, “Let’s just wait and see what’s under the tree tomorrow morning.” At the time, the returns in were largely from Trump country, and I wasn’t feeling so great about things. The Blue Wave, from what I could see, largely hadn’t materialized.

And then I woke up today. And started reading. And, well, the longer the day went on, the more good news started trickling in. And, long story short, had I done what my wife did, I’d have gotten the same good news she did without all that stress.

And there was a lot of good news.

The first thing we learned was that the Democrats had taken the House and, with it, the specific power of subpoena and the general power to hold a largely lawless administration accountable. That HAD to happen if we were not going to proceed farther down the same road Germany traveled in the 1930s. And praise God, it did.

Not only that, we picked up a number of governorships, although the big prizes in Georgia and Florida remain contested for the moment and it looks like, win or lose, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp will have been allowed to at least try to steal his own governor’s race. That can never be allowed to happen again, in Georgia or anywhere else.

We also learned that a lot of small miracles can happen overnight. Lucy McBath, whose valiant effort to oust the despicable Karen Handel in the Georgia Sixth looked DOA at midnight, now appears to have pulled through. Same with Joe Cunningham in the S.C. First against Katie Arrington, whose concession speech has to be seen and heard to be believed: She’s a narcissist to rival Trump, and I don’t say that lightly.

We learned that this election was even more of a referendum on Trump than a lot of people had thought. And I learned this because our six-term Republican sheriff, who faced a Democratic challenger with some nontrivial baggage, lost. Nobody around here, and I mean nobody, saw that coming. He’d been a perfectly good sheriff for a long time — I didn’t like him personally, but with the possible exception of his high-speed-chase policy, which he finally agreed to change after a pursuit-induced wreck in which five people died, I couldn’t really point to anything wrong that he was doing professionally that would make people vote against him. The only thing I could think of to make that many people vote against him was his support for Trump.

That said, we also learned that sometimes all politics really IS local. Trudy Wade, perhaps the second-vilest human being in the N.C. Senate behind GOP leader Phil Berger, had spent the past few years shitting on Greensboro out of spite. Karma’s a bitch.

If you doubt that, ask Kim Davis, the Kentucky Republican who made national news by refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples after the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage a few years ago. One of the men whom she had tried to deny a marriage license ran against her and whipped her like a rented mule.

What else did we learn?

We learned, those of us who didn’t already know, that the Green Party is just a bunch of Republican tools. They may have cost Democrat Kyrsten Sinema the U.S. Senate race in Arizona — the vote totals for the Green candidate well outweighed the difference between Sinema and Republican incumbent Martha McSally. The Green candidate in the New York 19th was taking money from a big GOP donor while attacking the Democratic candidate from the left.

We learned that voters feel very differently about issues versus candidates. In Florida and Missouri, to name just two, voters approved progressive ballot measures by significant margins — but voted for the politicians who oppose those measures. Part of that might just be due to racism, particularly in Florida. But there’s something else there that Democrats need to tease out and address.

Speaking of Florida, after the passage of Prop 4, which restores voting rights to most felons who have served their time, we learned that the Florida electorate could look very different, and much more Democratically inclined, in 2020. Prop 4 restores voting rights to about 1.5 million people. If Dems can get even 15% of those people to register and vote in 2020, they’ll find they have significantly more breathing room than they’re used to.

Speaking of voting, we learned that Americans are tired of vote suppression. A number of states passed initiatives to make it easier to register and vote and/or to prevent partisan gerrymandering. Here in N.C., unfortunately, we passed a state constitutional amendment requiring voter ID, but the measure is pretty much identical to a law the 4th Circuit overturned last year, with SCOTUS declining to hear the GOP appeal. I think the same thing will happen, and I am cautiously optimistic that there might not even be four votes on the high court to hear the same appeal again. The court traditionally has thought of itself as being a lagging indicator of political mood; what happened in this arena last night should signal to the court that, surprise, people want to vote, want their votes to count, and do not want to be messed with while voting, and that it should adjudicate accordingly because these are reasonable requests.

We learned that Republicans are perfectly willing to re-elect congresscritters who are under indictment (Chris Collins and Duncan Hunter) or who have been credibly accused of, at the least, knowing about the sexual assault of young men and refusing to do anything about it (Jim Jordan). Collins and Hunter, at least, are unlikely to serve their full terms.

We learned, AGAIN, that electronic voting systems are unreliable and should be replaced with paper ballots.

We learned that white women voters have some ‘splainin’ to do.

We learned that young adults really CAN turn out for a midterm election.

We learned that gerrymandering remains a huge problem in North Carolina: “In Congress, Republicans won 50.3% of the overall vote but 77% of the seats (10-3). That’s the power of gerrymandering.” But in 2020, districts will have been redrawn so that Democrats will have at least a fair shot at real representation in that year’s U.S. House races.

We learned that after three and a half years, the national media largely still have not learned how to do their jobs without providing an echo chamber for Trumpian propaganda and bigotry. Funny how completely the refugee caravan, which had loomed so large on the media agenda these past few weeks, disappeared without a trace in news coverage this morning.

Here’s one huge national lesson, particularly for Democrats: Put the best people you can at the top of the ticket, and then contest every single downballot race. Every. Single. One.

Beto O’Rourke narrowly lost his battle to take the odious Ted Cruz’s U.S. Senate seat in Texas. But O’Rourke built a campaign so organic and powerful that although he didn’t quite win his own race, he’s probably responsible for winning dozens of others. Not only did the particularly stupid tool Rep. Pete Sessions get ousted, but so, also, did every Republican judge in Dallas and Houston. (One of them actually pitched a temper tantrum in court this morning.) O’Rourke’s campaign likely also is responsible for the fact that Democrats won 31 of 32 contested Court of Appeals races, taking 17 seats from GOP incumbents. That changes the legal/justice landscape of Texas overnight. And Texas was just one state; it’s now looking as if Stacey Abrams’s campaign for Georgia governor helped the aforementioned Lucy McBath across the finish line in the Georgia Sixth as well.

And we learned, finally, that we as a people can say, “Yes, Trump is crazy, but look at all this AMAZING stuff we can do if we don’t let ourselves be defined by his craziness and if we show up on Election Day.”

So, no, we didn’t accomplish everything we were hoping for this time last night. But we got a glimpse of what we can accomplish, if we all show up and all keep working. So everyone take a deep breath, and then let’s get to work on 2020 and the ongoing struggle to create a more perfect Union.

 

 

 

 

 

Monday, November 5, 2018 7:27 pm

The 2018 elections

I have no special insight and this is probably worth what it cost you, but here’s my prediction for tomorrow:

Dems pick up 32 in the House, lose 1 in the Senate, and take most or all of the tightly contested governor’s races, in addition to ousting a number of bad actors in sub-gubernatorial and legislative races. Beto O’Rourke will not win, and this shouldn’t be a surprise; Cruz’s Senate seat was ALWAYS going to be a tough target for any Democrat in that state.

Now here’s my prediction for Wednesday:

The GOP files suit in every close race they lose for federal office, so we might not know the outcomes of some for weeks. Mueller might drop a grenade or two, but no bombs right away. And Trump likely will start firing a lot of people and moving a few more to his 2020 campaign staff.

And that’s a best-case scenario. I think we’re also likely to turn up evidence of Russian interference and vote manipulation, although not necessarily immediately, and that nothing ultimately will be done about it. And even if the Republicans have a good night, I expect politically motivated violence on their part to increase.

And if the Dems don’t retake the House by a respectable majority, we’re all in a world of hurt.

Thursday, September 27, 2018 8:04 am

Why things are so effed up

I keep hearing that there are Republicans out there whom we should take seriously because they believe in “good government.” I call bullshit. Here’s a very simple test. Name me one current, or even recent past, Republican holder of federal office who 1) deals in facts, 2) believes policy should comport with science and research, 3) believes in the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment, and 4) consistently acts and votes in accordance with these points.

That’s a goddamned low bar. That’s barely above “needs drool wiped from mouth.” And yet I cannot come up with a single name. Not Lisa Murkowski. Not Susan Collins. Not John Kasich, when he held federal office. Not Jeff Flake or Ben Sasse. I’m even gonna disinter and dust off John McCain long enough to say not him, either.

Here in North Carolina, the same is true of Republican state officeholders.

Now, are you still wondering why things are so effed up? Because there’s your answer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018 7:58 pm

“What do we owe her now?”

Filed under: Evil,Say a prayer — Lex @ 7:58 pm
Tags: , , ,

After I read this story, a deeply reported and insightful examination of a 2006 rape case that happened to a classmate of the writer, Washington Post columnist Elizabeth Bruenig, when they were in high school in Texas, I was warned by some online acquaintances not to share it (even though they admit the story is excellent) because the reporter, Elizabeth Bruenig, supposedly is extremely anti-abortion, believes misogyny is caused by demon possession, and thinks the patriarchy doesn’t exist.

That gave me pause because I generally try not to amplify the voices of people with whom I disagree on social issues. I follow Bruenig on Twitter, but I seldom see her posts and didn’t recall anything like that. So I spent a few minutes Googling this. I didn’t find conclusive information one way or the other except that Bruenig, a convert to Catholicism, opposes abortion. (In my short search I found no indication of whether she thinks abortion should be illegal).

But here’s the thing. Whether or not she holds those views is irrelevant, because if she holds these views, she very clearly kept them out of the story. Isn’t that exactly what we expect reporters to do?

She didn’t keep all her views out; she is, after all, a columnist. She obviously feels the need for expiation:

There were personal reasons, too, for my investigation. I wanted to understand why it had to be as bad as it was — why she wasn’t just doubted but hated, not simply mocked but exiled — and why it had always lingered on my conscience like an article of unfinished business, something I had meant to do but hadn’t. I wanted to look directly at the dark things that are revealed when episodes of brutality unfold and all pretense of civilization temporarily fades, and I wanted to understand them completely.

Otherwise, I thought, they could at any time pull me under. And I could watch mutely while something like this happened again.

Bruenig began work on this story three years ago. In addition to being a strong and damning piece of journalism, it also includes some insights drawn from this 2006 rape case that are frighteningly relevant in 2018. Consider:

Montaigne and Wordsworth lived near enough to the bloody indifference of nature to spare a thought for its victims. But the veneer of civility painted over modern life has paradoxically revealed a certain contempt for victims and the condition of victimhood. And perhaps, lurking in all the complaints about our putative culture of victimhood, there is something uglier than generalized contempt: a disdain for the weak.

That is absolutely true. And in recent years, driven largely though not exclusively by Republican politicians and out-of-control financiers, the “veneer of civility” has been chipping and flaking; since the ascent of Trump, it has begun falling away in chunks. Contempt for victims and disdain for the weak have become more socially acceptable; they are the stock-in-trade of many would-be iconoclasts. They think they are fighting political correctness, neither knowing nor caring that what they think of as political correctness, most people think of as just good manners.

This has always been the case for victims of sexual assault, and the way Senate Republicans are handling the credible allegation of Christine Ford against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh shows just how incredibly little progress we have made in preventing sexual assault and caring for its victims, even in 2018.

This isn’t just evil, it also is distinctly un-American. This country has always been at its best when, whether in good circumstances like moon landings or bad circumstances like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, we realized we were all in this together. But more and more people aren’t just ignorant of the less fortunate, they are actively trying to harm them even more than they already have been harmed. That goes against every ancient teaching, sacred and secular, that above all we must give a damn about one another. I haven’t the first idea how to reverse it, but it needs to be called out, and that is only one service among many that Bruenig has provided with this article.

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