Bob Schwartz

Category: Government

Democracy dies in darkness, as the Washington Post reminds us. It can also be mortally wounded by un-Americans like Scott Walker and the Wisconsin Republicans

New York Times – September 17, 1933 – Reichstag Fire Trial

New York Times:

Wisconsin’s Scott Walker Signs Bills Stripping Powers From Incoming Governor

FOX CROSSING, Wis. — Scott Walker, the outgoing Republican governor of Wisconsin, on Friday signed into law measures that diminish the power of his Democratic successor and expand the authority of Republican lawmakers who teamed up with him over the last eight years to move the state firmly to the right.

Mr. Walker approved the measures over the vehement objections of the incoming governor and despite fierce protest in the State Capitol as Republican lawmakers rushed the bills through in a hastily-called session last week. Tony Evers, the Democrat who beat Mr. Walker in the November election, has suggested that he may file suit over the changes and said that Mr. Walker had chosen “to ignore and override the will of the people of Wisconsin.”

Mr. Walker’s move will solidify some of the policies that made him a hero to many conservatives nationally and, for a brief time, a leading presidential candidate. But participating in what many Democrats consider a legally dubious power grab also cemented another widely held view: that Mr. Walker is a bruising partisan willing to break precedent and ignore protests for political gain.

If you don’t understand what is wrong with this and how wrong it is, go back to your basic lessons in the U.S. Constitution, American civics and American history. World history too. This is just the sort of tactic used by current dictators—Putin and Xi among them—and past dictators such as Hitler to gain or maintain power.

Power, which in America and every other actual, rather than nominal, democracy rests in the people. Yes, the people.

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A 7-year-old girl dies in U.S. custody. The White House disclaims responsibility. The White House needs lessons in logic. And compassion.

When I was hungry you gave me to eat
When I was thirsty you gave me to drink
Whatever you do to the least, you do it to Me

Washington Post:

Trump administration not to blame for ‘tragic’ death of 7-year-old girl in Border Patrol custody, White House says

A White House spokesman on Friday called the death of a 7-year-old girl in Border Patrol custody a “tragic situation” but said the Trump administration is not to blame and called on Congress to “disincentivize” migrants from making long treks to the southern U.S. border.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said Thursday that the girl from Guatemala died of dehydration and shock after she was taken into custody last week for crossing from Mexico into the United States illegally with her father and a large group of migrants along a remote span of New Mexico desert.

Asked by a reporter if the administration is “taking any responsibility for the girl’s death,” White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said: “Does the administration take responsibility for a parent taking a child on a trek through Mexico to get to this country? No.”

According to CBP records, the girl and her father were detained about 10 p.m. Dec. 6 south of Lordsburg, N.M., as part of a group of 163 people who approached U.S. agents to turn themselves in.

More than eight hours later, the child began having seizures, CBP records show. Emergency responders, who arrived soon after, measured her body temperature at 105.7 degrees. According to a statement from CBP, she “reportedly had not eaten or consumed water for several days.”

She died less than 24 hours after being transported by helicopter to a hospital in El Paso.

Here is the missing logic:

It is stipulated that the girl died in part from dehydration, also possibly from malnutrition.
It is stipulated by the U.S. CBP that she had not eaten or consumed water for several days.
The CPB had her in custody for eight hours before she showed symptoms.
During the eight hours she was in custody, she could have been given water and food, but apparently wasn’t.
Therefore, CPB could have done something to help prevent the death but didn’t, which indicates some responsibility.

As for the missing compassion, last night the White House held its grand Christmas Party. Maybe somehow, sometime, during the season, they will learn something. Miracles do happen.

Trump Predicts Revolt If He Is Removed. Are His Words Illegal?

King Louis XV: “Après nous, le deluge.”

Barely noted yesterday, or mostly ignored because we discount just about everything that Trump says, is this from his interview with Reuters, talking about the possibility of impeachment:

“I’m not concerned, no. I think that the people would revolt if that happened.”

A President of the United States just suggested—implicitly endorsed—the possibility of revolution in the event of his ouster. Had this happened at any other time in the past two centuries, bells would be going off as if the Republic was on fire.

In the first place, it is arguably illegal:

18 U.S. Code § 2385 – Advocating Overthrow of Government

Whoever knowingly or willfully advocates, abets, advises, or teaches the duty, necessity, desirability, or propriety of overthrowing or destroying the government of the United States or the government of any State, Territory, District or Possession thereof, or the government of any political subdivision therein, by force or violence, or by the assassination of any officer of any such government…

Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than twenty years, or both, and shall be ineligible for employment by the United States or any department or agency thereof, for the five years next following his conviction.

Does his interview constitute advocating or advising the desirability of overthrowing government? As a matter of crime, it might be a stretch. As a matter of civic responsibility from America’s highest public office, it is farther over the line than almost anything else Trump has said—and that is saying something.

Second—and this is the real bell ringer—he is in some sense right. The form of revolt is uncertain, but it would likely be more than angry and vicious posts on social media. Even his vacating the office through resignation or by electoral defeat in 2020 might have a similar effect.

In America’s darkest historic hour before the Civil War, in an overheated political climate, some of the greatest statesmen in our history tried to keep the lid on a boiling pot. They failed.

We are nowhere near that. But among the roster of politicians, we don’t seem to have as many genuine statesmen as we had back then—or as we had just a few decades ago. And we’ve never had a president predicting—encouraging—revolt as the consequence of his absence.

Bob Woodward and Seth Meyers have criticized CNN for suing the White House over the pulling of Jim Acosta’s press credentials. With all due respect to Woodward, you’re wrong.

Noted legal scholar Seth Meyers

The White House pulled the press credentials of CNN journalist Jim Acosta because Trump doesn’t like his questions, his attitude or him. The First Amendment does not allow this. CNN has sued.

Bob Woodward, an extraordinary and legendary journalist who has made his indelible mark on American history, has criticized CNN for feeding Trump’s appetite for lawsuits. So has Seth Meyers, an amusing entertainer legendary for nothing.

Lawyers are not that special. But lawyers are a bit more sensitive than some others to how unopposed government assaults on constitutional rights tend to gather momentum, sliding down a slippery slope. Waiting only makes things worse.

So to Bob Woodward, who deserves infinite respect for all he has done and continues to do, in this case you are wrong. And to Seth Meyers, who is well rewarded for working within the protection of the First Amendment, please remember that the First Amendment needs protection too. It is the First Amendment that allows those who are funny and sometimes ill-informed to express themselves without government interference.

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

Possibly the most famous and prophetic quote from the American Constitutional Convention is attributed to Benjamin Franklin. America was not just a new nation; it was a new kind of nation, so naturally people wondered just what kind of a nation it was to be:

As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention, on September 18, 1787, a certain Mrs. Powel shouted out to him: “Well, doctor, what have we got?,” and Franklin responded: “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

America has voted, there will be a Democratic-led House, and it appears that the Republic, which has been under serious internal siege for the past two years, is a little closer to again being kept.

It is just one step toward having an effective check on a leader and a ruling party intent on subverting virtually all of the principles that Franklin and friends embodied in the new nation. But a step in the right direction it is.

Franklin and friends are cautiously relieved. They, more than any, know how hard this is. So they are smiling a little. And so are many Americans.

The Hopeful But Limited Relief of Having the New Kavanaugh Investigation

It is good news that there will be a new FBI investigation in the Brett Kavanaugh matter. Any movement towards a return to free, open and lawful democracy is welcome.

But before we pop champagne and release balloons, a reality check. Here are some ways the investigation could have little effect on the outcome—in fact, will be designed to have little effect, besides providing cover for vulnerable and/or spineless Republicans.

1. It is a limited investigation. We don’t know the scope, which is being directed by Trump. It could be as narrow as the single incident alleged by Christine Blasey Ford, the incident that was the subject of Thursday’s hearing. This could mean simply talking to her, to Brett Kavanaugh, and to the few people who were there—only one of whom, Mark Judge, is an eyewitness.

Judge has already said that as an effect of his chronic alcoholic blackouts, going back to high school, he has no memory, one way or the other, of the incident. There is no reason he won’t say the same thing to the FBI.

The investigation could be broader. It could include other allegations that have been made. It could include everything that Ford and Kavanaugh testified to during the hearing. It could thus involve Kavanaugh’s claims about his benign behavior, claims that have been refuted by a number of people who knew him in high school and college. It could include all this, but almost certainly will not.

2. Trump controls the report of the investigation. Trump ordered the investigation. His order presumably included a specific scope of investigation for the FBI to follow. Just as importantly, the report of the investigation will go directly to Trump, who can decide how much of the investigation report can be shared and who it can be shared with.

The worst case, which would not be surprising, is that no copies of the report will be distributed. Instead, senators will be allowed to review the report in the White House. They may be allowed to take notes.

All of this—any presidential redaction and any restricted distribution—are part of the desire by some for this investigation to be “confidential”…

3. The investigation is, in some unspecified way, supposed to be “confidential”. Judge has said he wants whatever he says to be confidential. Kavanaugh has indicated he expects it to be confidential. It is unclear what this means functionally. But it is easy to see the case that would be made:

The only reason we are doing this investigation is to further inform the senators responsible for deciding on confirmation. Others, whether other members of Congress or citizens in general, may be curious, but they have no compelling reason to see the detailed report, given that it contains sensitive information.

If that reasoning sounds extreme, that is, extremely suspect, it is. But if you need a basis for it, just look at the “investigation” that went into Kavanaugh in the first place, and look at the history of the Trump administration. No twisted attempt at hiding the truth is too absurd.

“That’s Pride F***in’ Wit Ya”: Rod Rosenstein Could Never Figure Out Whether to Follow Self-Interest, Duty or Conscience

All public servants in the Trump era—from Senators and cabinet members on down—have three possible paths to follow:

Follow your self-interest
Follow your duty, to job and to country
Follow your conscience

Many of the highest level people in the government have taken the easy path of least resistance and most gain, and have chosen self-interest, even as they try to disguise it as duty or conscience. But a number of people, many of whom finally left the government—voluntarily or not—have had to wrestle with these choices.

Whatever is happening to Rod Rosenstein, a good public servant, he never seemed to be able to figure out exactly how to be a good public servant in such strange times. He knew he owed a duty to his office and to his country, which meant a duty to his president, but that came in conflict with his conscience.

I have previously cited the movie Pulp Fiction on the question of expedience, and I repeat it here.

At this point in the movie bad boss Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames) is convincing aging boxer Butch Coolidge (Bruce Willis) to take a dive:

I think you’re gonna find ­ when all this shit is over and done ­ I think you’re gonna find yourself one smilin’ motherfucker. Thing is Butch, right now you got ability. But painful as it may be, ability don’t last. Now that’s a hard motherfuckin’ fact of life, but it’s a fact of life your ass is gonna hafta git realistic about. This business is filled to the brim with unrealistic motherfuckers who thought their ass aged like wine. Besides, even if you went all the way, what would you be? Feather-weight champion of the world. Who gives a shit? I doubt you can even get a credit card based on that.

Now the night of the fight, you may fell a slight sting, that’s pride fuckin’ wit ya. Fuck pride! Pride only hurts, it never helps. Fight through that shit. ‘Cause a year from now, when you’re kickin’ it in the Caribbean you’re gonna say, “Marsellus Wallace was right.”

Note: For those who haven’t seen Pulp Fiction (why not?), in the end Marsellus Wallace gets his, in the spirit of Quentin Tarantino’s sense of rough and uncertain justice.

Ray of Light: Trump’s Pardoning May Be Like a Slot Machine

The likelihood of any individual being pardoned by Trump will be affected by Trump’s craziness, unreliability and lack of loyalty. It will be like a slot machine. And that may be a good thing for justice and the rule of law.

Even though I have long accepted that Trump would try to pardon almost everyone who is charged or convicted in the course of the investigation, Paul Manafort’s plea agreement to cooperate raises an encouraging insight:

If you were one of the dozens of people who are getting caught in this net, facing possible years in prison, and Trump told you to your face—not just through an intermediary, not just through hints on Twitter—that you could expect a pardon, would you believe him and depend on him to keep his word?

Of course you wouldn’t believe him and depend on him to keep his word. Which means, just like Manafort, you have to hedge your bets. It is possible that if you agree to cooperate, Trump might still pardon you. On the other hand, if you agree to cooperate, Trump might go crazy and refuse to pardon you. And in the worst case, you might stonewall and take your punishment, but because of some crazy voices in Trump’s head, he might still refuse to pardon you. Who knows? With Trump it’s a roll of the dice, a spin of the slots. As a defendant, are you willing to bet ten or twenty years of your life on a Looney Tunes character? I bet not.

 

The Difficult Realities of Impeaching Trump

Yesterday was an encouraging day for those who hope to see the uncovering and dismantling of the corrupt and un-American Trump enterprise. Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted; Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen pled guilty and directly implicated Trump in his criminality. Even the likelihood that Manafort and others who haven’t turned on Trump will be pardoned doesn’t take away from the day’s significance.

This has raised hopes that Trump will be impeached if the Democrats are successful in the midterm elections. Which means—not wanting to burst the rare bright balloon of yesterday’s news—it is time for a reality check.

Let us say that the Democrats win a majority in both houses of Congress.

The impeachment process begins in the House, with hearings and a simple majority passing articles of impeachment. In a Democratic House, that should be no problem.

The trial for removal of a president then takes place in the Senate. If the Democrats do win a majority in the Senate, it will be a small majority at best. Let us say that they have a 53-47 majority. Conviction for impeachment requires a two-thirds majority, which is 67 votes. So 14 Republicans would have to vote to remove the president.

You may think that what we will have learned by then about Trump’s corrupt presidential conduct and fitness for office will finally move Republican Senators to agree to his removal. (As a matter of fact, if you privately asked Republican Senators today whether they would rather have Mike Pence in the White House immediately, the answer would be a unanimous yes.) But not a single thing we have seen indicates that any sitting Republican Senator—that is, those who are not leaving office—is willing to stand up to Trump. Why would we think that we can find 14 or so Republican Senators with the courage to remove him from office, no matter how egregious the evidence?

Okay, enough reality. I would like to be totally wrong about this. Let’s enjoy this moment of hope for American restoration.

Trump Turns to a Depression-era Solution to Help the Farmers He Is Hurting

Library of Congress, Farm Foreclosure Sale in Iowa, ca. 1930-1940

Washington Post:

White House readies plan for $12 billion in emergency aid to farmers caught in Trump’s escalating trade war

The U.S. Agriculture Department on Tuesday plans to announce a $12 billion package of emergency aid for farmers caught in the midst of President Trump’s escalating trade war, two people briefed on the plan said, the latest sign that growing tensions between the United States and other countries will not end soon….

The money would be extended just as voters in some of the most heavily impacted states are preparing to cast votes in the midterm elections. There are several key Senate races in farm dependent states like Missouri, North Dakota, and Indiana this November, and the outcome of those races could determine who controls the chamber next year.

The White House has searched for months for a way to provide emergency assistance to farmers without backing down on Trump’s trade agenda, and the new program will extend roughly $12 billion through three mechanisms run by the Department of Agriculture.

The funds will come through direct assistance, a food purchase and distribution program, and a trade promotion program. It will rely in part on a Depression-era program called the Commodity Credit Corporation, a division of the Agriculture Department created in 1933 to offer a financial backstop for farmers.

So the damage Trump is doing to farmers with his unnecessary and universally condemned trade war is potentially so great that he is turning to a solution from the Depression. Whether you call that telling, ironic or simply surreal, it is just one more milestone on a road to American parts strange and unknown—or more likely a road to nowhere.