Article VI

The Article VI page will primarily be used to post quick thoughts, rather than the somewhat long-winded articles that make up the rest of the website. It won’t be a “Daily” type of BLOG, however; it will be more of a “Whenever I Can Get To It” type of BLOG. Sorry, but I do have other things to do.

The Twitter feed for this BLOG page is “Article Six” (@Article6Blog).

David Bleidistel, Editor 

 

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July 17, 2017: President Trump STILL Doesn’t “Get It”

This morning, as is his norm, President Trump took to Twitter. This time he argued (again) that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the meeting his eldest son took with someone he thought was a “Russian Government Lawyer” who was supposedly bringing “very high level and sensitive information” which was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”. Specifically, he tweeted, “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!”:

No. “Most politicians” (if not every last one of them) would NOT have taken that meeting, because they would have known better. This was not just “politics”.

Yes, most politicians (if not every last one of them) would love to find dirt on their opponent. That indeed is just “politics”. BUT NOT FROM A FOREIGN GOVERNMENT – AND SURE AS HELL NOT FROM RUSSIA!!! This is the part that President Trump can’t seem to get through his thick skull – and neither can Junior. They both keep saying (and tweeting) this crap, as if aiding a foreign government’s attack on our nation is no different than looking for damaging information on their opponent here in the United States.

It’s not only different, it’s a felony. The 63% of the American people who believe the meeting was inappropriate have figured this out – Why can’t the Trumps understand that?

p.s.  Hilariously, one of President Trump’s personal attorneys, Jay Sekulow, appeared on the Sunday talk shows yesterday and blamed the Secret Service for the meeting! I’m not kidding. He told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week, “Well, I wonder why the Secret Service, if this was nefarious, why the Secret Service allowed these people in. The president had Secret Service protection at that point, and that raised a question with me.” A spokesman for the Secret Service, Mason Brayman, corrected Sekulow in a response to Reuters, “Donald Trump, Jr. was not a protectee of the USSS in June, 2016. Thus we would not have screened anyone he was meeting with at that time.”

In other words, Sekulow is an idiot.

 

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July 14, 2017: This Just Gets Better and Better.

We were already reeling from the story about Donald Trump, Jr.’s (again, I’ll just call him “Junior” for simplicity) meeting with the Russian lawyer – especially the constantly changing explanations coming from Junior and the Administration:

  • First there was no meeting at all. No meetings. With anyone. Period.
  • Then, well, okay, there was a meeting – just this one – but it was about adoptions of Russian orphans. The Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya (who apparently brought an “interpreter”, which sounded reasonable enough), Junior, Top Trump Advisor Jared Kushner, and then-Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort were the only ones in attendance.
  • Then there was the statement of explanation from the Trump Administration, which we now know was drafted aboard Air Force One during the President’s return flight from the G20 Summit following a discussion among staff regarding how much information they should reveal. President Trump himself signed off on it, which, given that this explanation was a clear attempt to hide quite a lot of detail, means he personally participated in an effort to cover up the true nature and purpose of the meeting. President Trump has also said (on June 12th, again on board Air Force One, this time on the way to France) that he had only found out about the meeting “two or three days ago”. Now, however, we are learning that his attorneys knew about the meeting and its real purpose weeks ago, when they found Junior’s emails while looking into Jared Kushner’s activities (more on that below).
  • Then during the meeting there was an offer of dirt on Hillary Clinton, but it was “vague, ambiguous, and didn’t make any sense”. It amounted to nothing “meaningful”. The meeting had been a “waste of time”.
  • Then the dirt on Hillary was “official documents and information” – “high level and sensitive” stuff coming directly from the Russian Government through a “Russian Government Attorney who was flying over from Moscow”, and was part of “Russia and its government’s efforts to support Mr. Trump”, and was actually the key reason Junior took the meeting in the first place, but the Russian lady didn’t have anything like that with her. So, you know, no worries.

But that was not all. Of course other shoes would drop.

Now we find out that the innocuous-sounding “interpreter” was none other than Rinat Akhmetshin, a dual-citizen Russian-American lobbyist who is registered to work for Ms. Veselnitskaya’s organization, which is trying to get the Magnitsky Act repealed. Even worse, he is a former Russian Counter-Intelligence official who apparently has maintained his ties to the GRU and Russian Intelligence. Oh great.

How stupid are these people?

Well, perhaps the answer to that question can be discerned from the fact that Ms. Veselnitskaya attended a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on June 14, 2016 – just five days after her meeting with Junior et al – where she managed to get a prized front-row seat, just behind former American Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul:

russia-hearing-5

Video from the hearing shows that, while she mostly paid attention to her smartphone, she occasionally took notes – which raises the question of whether Ms. Veselnitskaya can understand and/or speak English. Does she even need an interpreter? If not, what was Mr. Akhmetshin’s real purpose in attending the meeting? Did Junior get “played”?

But wait – there’s more!

CNN has now reported that Rob Goldstone, who set up the meeting and had accompanied Ms. Veselnitskaya to Trump Tower, also actually attended the meeting. This is not a big deal – Junior had even said that his “acquaintance” (Goldstone) had apologized to him (Junior) on the way out of the meeting because it had been such a “waste of time”, which strongly implied Goldstone had also been in the room, even if that had not been stated explicitly.

What is a VERY big deal, however, is another detail from the CNN story: according to a source described as being familiar with the circumstances, “there were other people in the room as well, but [the source] could not provide the names”.

Whaaat???

Who the hell were these “other people in the room”? Why didn’t we hear this when Junior went on Hannity’s show in order to be “transparent”? Why haven’t we heard this from ANYBODY? They need to stop trying to hide this stuff. It’s time they came clean – the names of everyone in the room must be released immediately. Junior, Kushner, Manafort, and anyone else who with relevant information must be required to testify in public session as soon as possible. There’s one problem, however: given all of the lies that Junior and the others have told to try to hide this meeting, its purpose, and those in attendance from all of us, why would we believe anything they tell us about it now?

Meanwhile, it is now being reported that another attendee at the meeting, Trump Son-in-Law and Top White House Advisor Jared Kushner, has “revised” his application for a security clearance at least three times, adding no fewer than 100 names of foreigners he had dealings with (he had originally listed none!). Given that this is a key factor in whether a security clearance is granted in the first place, and that Kushner obviously lied on his answer to this question in a very big way, his security clearance should be revoked immediately pending further review.

Along with all the outrage and general discontent that has exploded with these revelations, it has become increasingly apparent that there are a number of concepts that President Trump, his family, members of his Administration, and his associates seem to be having significant trouble with. To this end, I would like to offer my assistance.

First and foremost among them on this particular story (about Junior’s meeting), is that both Junior and President Trump have made it clear that they don’t see anything wrong with Junior trying to get damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russians. Junior actually went on Sean Hannity’s show and expressed his disappointment that he didn’t get anything of value to use against Hillary – the meeting was a “waste of time”. He even tweeted sarcastically “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent”, adding “went nowhere but had to listen” (umm…no he didn’t). President Trump said that “many people would have taken that meeting”, emphasizing that it was “pretty standard”.

No – there was nothing remotely “standard” about this meeting. The problem is not that they sought opposition research against their opponent – that would indeed be “standard practice”. The problem is that this was going to come from the Russian Government. Actually, ANY foreign government would be problematic (and illegal!), but especially the Russians. Here’s a simple way they can remember this:

 

Seek out opposition research within the USA? – Yes!

From foreigners? – No!

From the Russians? – Hell No!

 

Another concept they are having trouble with is the Truth. When are these people going to realize that “the truth” is an actual thing? When they make statements which they claim to be “the truth”, those statements need to actually be “true”. What they don’t seem to realize is that the media will not take their statements at face value, but will instead investigate to find the truth. In order to help Trumpworld with this (since they are clearly struggling with this concept), I offer Merriam-Webster’s definition of “truth”:

 

Definition of truth

  1. 1a (1) :  the body of real things, events, and facts :  actuality (2) :  the state of being the case :  fact (3) often capitalized :  a transcendent fundamental or spiritual realityb :  a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true truths of thermodynamicsc :  the body of true statements and propositions
  2. 2a :  the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or realityb chiefly Britishtrue 2c :  fidelity to an original or to a standard
  3. 3a :  sincerity in action, character, and utterance b archaicfidelity, constancy
  4. 4 capitalized, Christian Sciencegod

in truth

  1. :  in accordance with fact :  actually

 

Again, I offer this definition to aid in their struggle with this obviously-challenging concept.

Another concept they seem to be having trouble with is the notion of a vigorous free press. While most regard this as a necessary ingredient in any functioning democracy and absolutely essential for liberty, the Trump Administration, the Trump family, and others around them seem to regard the press as somewhere between “something to be manipulated” and “a real pain in the ass” – although President Trump took it even further when he called the American media “the enemy of the American people”. Apparently their opinion of the media’s savvy is so low that they believe that they can make a story go away just by repeatedly feeding reporters falsehoods.

Perhaps I can help them with this one too. In that spirit, I offer the following letter:

 

Dear Trumpworld,

Here’s what you don’t seem to understand:  When it comes to the media, the more they are lied to, the more doggedly they will pursue a story. They will thoroughly examine your statements to test their veracity (a word you probably haven’t come across before, because it has to do with being “honest”), and report their findings to the public. President Trump, you are reportedly furious that you can’t manipulate the media to make this Russia story go away. Perhaps you should try putting out the whole truth all at once – and by this I mean “truth” as defined above, not your Administration’s apparent working definition, which seems to involve things like covering up the actual truth and using “alternative facts”. Go ahead and try it – it can’t go any worse than what you’re doing now!

Sincerely,

Dave

 

Of course, Trumpworld will not heed my advice. They will instead continue on their current disastrous course, leading to a constant drip, drip, drip of scandal that will guarantee they are never able to get their agenda off the ground. Not that I’m particularly anxious for them to get their agenda off the ground, but I’m trying to be helpful here.

So I ask again – how stupid are these people? Hopefully not as stupid as all this has made them look.

 

 

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July 11, 2017: Junior’s Act of Treason.

I have never seen anything like this. This is, as one pundit put it, a “Game-Over Moment”. We are in completely uncharted territory here.

In an email dated June 3, 2016 (a time when Donald Trump had clinched the Republican nomination, but before the RNC Convention), Robert Goldstone, a music publicist, wrote to Donald Trump, Jr. (I’ll just call him “Junior” for simplicity’s sake) saying that the father of Russian singer-songwriter Emin Agalarov “just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.” Goldstone wrote, “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with [Emin’s] father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump…”

Junior’s response was, “Thanks Rob I appreciate that…if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

After further emails (read the whole email chain, along with a note of “explanation” from Junior, here), a meeting was held with a Russian lawyer named Natalia Veselnitskaya on June 9, 2016, in Trump Tower. Ms. Veselnitskaya had been described to Junior (in an email dated June 7th) as “The Russian Government Attorney who is flying over from Moscow”, so Junior had every reason to believe he would be meeting with a representative of the Russian government. As it turns out, Ms. Veselnitskaya denies having any ties to the Russian government, but the important thing is that Junior believed that she had such ties.  In attendance along with Junior were his brother-in-law (and top advisor to Donald Trump, Sr.) Jared Kushner and then-Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort.

Let’s break this down. Goldstone informed Junior that the documents involved were “official documents and information” and that the information was “very high level and sensitive”. Even more significantly, Goldstone wrote that the documents and information were “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump”.

And there it is – right there in black and white. Russia was working to support Donald Trump’s candidacy and to harm the Hillary Clinton campaign – and Junior knew it as of June of 2016. There is no gray area here. He knew that a hostile foreign power was attempting to interfere in an American Presidential election, and his response was “I love it”.

There is a word for this: “Treason”.

Under Article III, Section 3 of the Constitution of the United States, “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court”. Knowing in advance of the meeting that Russia was attacking our democracy by interfering in a Presidential election, Junior chose to try to work with the Russian government’s attack against our nation rather than report the Russian attack on our election. In other words, he chose to “adhere” to our enemy, and by essentially offering to disseminate the information the Russians had, to “provide them aid and comfort”. For what it’s worth, Ms. Veselnitskaya told NBC’s Today show that Junior may have been “longing” for the information on Clinton, adding “They wanted it so badly”.

So how bad is this for Junior? He has already publicly confessed to taking the meeting that ultimately resulted from the email exchange, and that he took the meeting because of the offer of some incriminating information about Hillary Clinton. Presumably he would admit the same if this eventually goes to trial, thereby providing the “confession in open court”, but if he chose not to testify there would be enough other witnesses (any two from Kushner, Manafort, and/or Ms. Veselnitskaya) who could provide “testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act”.

This is not a “nothing burger” (Fox and Friends’ term); this is a very big (yuge!) deal. Junior is in serious trouble.

The Trump Administration’s defense on this matter has been that the Russian lawyer, Ms. Veselnitskaya, had nothing useful (she told the Today show that she never had any “damaging or sensitive information” about Clinton, and had no intention of possessing such information; instead she wanted to discuss the Magnitsky Act (an American law that allows the US government to deny visas and freeze assets of Russian individuals who have committed human rights violations) and Vladimir Putin’s retaliatory ban on Americans adopting Russian children. The White House has also pointed out that there was no follow-up. The problem with this defense strategy is that both of these points are absolutely irrelevant. Just the fact that Junior took the meeting constituted an act of Treason, regardless of the meeting’s results or any follow-up.

Here’s an analogy to help explain: Imagine for a moment that I were to take a gun and try to shoot someone, but I miss, and the bullet ends up somewhere in the dirt, harmless. I then put the gun away and never try to hurt that person again. No harm was done, and there was no follow-up. Did I still commit a crime? Of course! It’s no different with Junior taking this meeting. He tried to aid the Russian government’s attack on our country by obtaining and eventually disseminating whatever information was there to be had, but it amounted to nothing. His attempt is what matters, not the end result.

Then there is the argument that has come forth from the White House that taking such meetings is standard practice in American Presidential campaigns. This is simply not true; campaign operatives from both parties have jumped on this argument, challenging the basic idea of getting opposition research from a foreign government as being anything close to normal. In fact, several have noted that Junior might be culpable under the Logan Act (a 1799 law that prohibits private citizens from interfering in American diplomacy) and laws regarding conspiracy to defraud the United States, among other crimes.

Another thing the White House has emphasized, without prompting, is that then-Candidate Trump (Senior) did not know about the meeting and did not attend. To paraphrase Shakespeare, I think they protest too much. No one has claimed the senior Trump knew about the meeting, much less that he attended, so they are responding to a non-existent allegation. That being said, it does seem strange that his eldest son, his son-in-law and top advisor, and his then-Campaign Chairman would all attend a meeting inside his own Trump Tower in an effort to get incriminating information about his opponent, but without the senior Trump’s knowledge. A healthy dose of skepticism would seem to be in order.

Junior apparently doesn’t see a problem with helping a hostile foreign power interfere in our election, sarcastically writing, “Obviously I’m the first person on a campaign to ever take a meeting to hear info about an opponent”, but then added “Went nowhere but had to listen.”

No. Junior did not have to listen. Instead, he should have known that to do so would be to collude with the Russians in an act of espionage against the United States. As Richard Painter, the ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush Administration, pointed out, “He must have known that the only way Russia would get such information was by spying.” Republican campaign strategist Stuart Stevens wrote on Twitter, “When Gore campaign was sent Bush debate brief book, they called FBI. If foreign interests offer you info on former SOS [Clinton], you call the FBI.” Terry Sullivan, who managed Marco Rubio’s 2016 campaign, tweeted, “lots of random people asked to meet to share “secret oppo” I was just never dumb enough to meet w/ them…”

As a patriotic American, Junior should have reported the initial offer, and the fact that Russia was interfering in the election, to the FBI. That would have been the appropriate course of action for any American citizen who had this knowledge. Instead, he chose to join the Russian government’s attack on our country. He should be held fully accountable for his treasonous act.

 

 

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June 7, 2017: It’s Déjà Vu All Over Again.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that President Trump, back in March, asked the Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, to intervene with then-FBI Director James Comey in order to get him to back off certain areas of the Russia investigation. The significance of this report – if true – cannot be overstated.

We’ve seen this before. Some will be too young to remember, but what is being reported now – again, assuming it turns out to be true – is precisely what happened back in the summer of 1974, and back then it was the straw that broke the camel’s back of Richard Nixon’s presidency.

There are many rather lengthy books – in fact, whole libraries of them – written about the Watergate scandal, but we need not go into the intricate details of everything that happened as part of that scandal in order to understand current events. The Watergate scandal is generally regarded as the most significant and devastating Presidential scandal in American history. For those of you to whom the word “Watergate” means nothing more than something in a history book, a (relatively) brief summary will suffice.

So what exactly was Watergate? Here it is in a nutshell, but keep in mind this is nowhere near an exhaustive explanation*:

In the early morning hours of June 17, 1972, five men were arrested inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee, located in the Watergate Office building on the banks of the Potomac in Washington D.C. They were all wearing tailored business suits and latex gloves, and were carrying thousands of dollars in sophisticated electronic equipment (cameras, bugging devices, and so forth). Adding to the suspicion, between them they were carrying over $2500 in crisp, new, $100 bills with sequential serial numbers. Over the ensuing months, federal investigators found connections between the burglars and the Committee to Re-Elect the President (which was commonly known as “CREEP”), and eventually with the Nixon Administration itself. Prosecutors convicted the burglars and their “handlers” (E. Howard Hunt and Gordon Liddy, who both worked for CREEP), and then worked their way up to others in both the Administration and CREEP. The media – most notably Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein – doggedly pursued the truth. There were many key moments – revelations of campaign “dirty tricks” and the “enemies list”, the “Saturday Night Massacre”, John Dean’s testimony before the Senate Select Committee, and so forth, but none so dramatic as White House staffer Alexander Butterfield’s  revelation on national television that President Nixon had recorded everything that was said in the Oval Office. Obtaining these “Watergate tapes” – which Nixon initially refused to release – became the focus of the investigations being carried out by a special prosecutor and Congress, ultimately leading to the Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling in United States v. Nixon, ordering the President to turn over the tapes.

In late July of 1974, based on the evidence found on the tapes that had been released up to that point, the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve, and submit to the full House for consideration, three articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon; one for obstruction of justice, one for abuse of power, and one for contempt of Congress, specifically failing to comply with congressional subpoenas (two additional articles – one related to Nixon’s income taxes and the other to the secret bombing of Cambodia – were voted down). While the votes were largely driven by Democrats, they were bipartisan in the sense that each of the three articles received at least some Republican votes: 6 Republicans voted for Article 1 (obstruction of justice), 7 voted for Article 2 (abuse of power), and 2 voted for Article 3 (contempt of Congress).

Finally, on August 5th, 1974 – after the House Judiciary Committee had approved the articles of impeachment – a previously unknown tape was released, containing a conversation that took place on June 23rd, 1972, just 6 days after the arrest of the Watergate burglars. This was a conversation between President Nixon and his White House Chief of Staff, Bob Haldeman, who were discussing the progress of the FBI investigation into the Watergate break-in. The FBI had learned about four checks totaling $89,000 that had been deposited into the bank account of Bernard Baker, one of the Watergate burglars. The funds had then been withdrawn from Barker’s account and sent to a lawyer in Mexico City, who then sent the money back to CREEP. It was a classic money laundering operation, part of an effort to build up an illegal “slush fund” of cash that would be available to the campaign but, unlike the above-board funds raised by the campaign, would not be reported to the Federal Election Commission. CREEP and the Nixon Administration were desperate to keep the FBI from discovering the link – at that point still not discovered – between the Watergate burglars and CREEP. On the tape, President Nixon can be heard agreeing to Haldeman’s suggestion to have Vernon Walters, the Deputy Director of the CIA, contact Pat Gray, the acting Director of the FBI, and tell Gray to back off the part of the investigation that was following this money trail, the given reason being that the FBI investigators were getting close to blowing the cover of a CIA national security operation (this was a lie – no such operation existed).

When this tape was released, all hell broke loose. Here, finally, was the long-sought “smoking gun” – direct evidence of President Nixon’s personal involvement in the cover up of the Watergate break-in and the related issues. Whatever remaining support Nixon had in Congress immediately evaporated – including that of every single Republican on the Judiciary Committee who had voted against the articles of impeachment. On August 7th, the Republican leaders in Congress, House Minority Leader John Rhodes and Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott, along with Senator Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican Presidential nominee, went to the White House to meet with the President. They informed Nixon that they did not have the votes to prevent his impeachment by the House or his conviction by the Senate, and that there was absolutely no doubt he would be forcibly removed from office. To his credit, President Nixon chose to spare the country the trauma of an impeachment trial and announced his resignation the following day.

Watergate didn’t just bring down a President (Nixon became the first – and so far the only – President to resign from office); more than 40 other officials of the Nixon Administration and/or CREEP were convicted of felonies. These included the White House Chief of Staff (H.R. “Bob” Haldeman), several key Advisors (John Ehrlichman, Charles Colson, Dwight Chapin and others), the White House Counsel (John Dean), two Attorneys General (John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst), and many other key officials.

Watergate shook the nation like no other scandal before or since. To this day, scandals often have the suffix “-gate” attached to the scandal’s name (think “Trooper-gate”, “Bridge-gate” and so forth). It was the scandal against which every other scandal is measured.

Now we are witnessing a new scandal, this one relating to Russia’s attempt to interfere in the 2016 United States Presidential election and the Trump Campaign’s possible collusion with those efforts. It is early yet, but the investigations into this one are moving significantly faster than the Watergate investigations of the 1970’s. Several Congressional committees, including the House and Senate Intelligence committees and the Senate Judiciary committee, are already holding hearings, a Special Counsel has already been appointed to lead the Justice Department’s investigation, and subpoenas have already been issued.

It remains to be seen where all of this leads, but the similarities are eerie. For example, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, later admitting he fired Comey to relieve pressure from the Russia investigation – a move widely seen as comparable to President Nixon ordering his Attorney General to fire the Watergate Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox (the Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, and his deputy, William Ruckleshaus, both resigned in protest rather than carry out Nixon’s order, and Cox was ultimately fired by the third-highest official in the Justice Department, Solicitor General Robert Bork; this all happened on a Saturday night, October 20th, 1973, and these events were quickly given the nickname “the Saturday Night Massacre”). In both cases the President fired the guy who was leading the criminal investigation into his actions; in both cases the public outcry caught the President by surprise, and in both cases the investigation continued despite the President’s action (Comey has been replaced by Special Counsel Robert Mueller; Cox was replaced by a new Special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski).

But the similarities don’t end there, and this is the part related to yesterday’s allegations in the Washington Post.

The “smoking gun” tape revealed President Nixon authorizing a plan that would have the CIA intervene in an FBI investigation by telling the FBI Director to back off a specific area of the investigation (the part following the money trail described above) for improper reasons. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that, back in March, President Trump asked his Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, to intervene in an FBI investigation by telling the FBI Director, James Comey, to back off a specific area of the investigation (the part related to former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn) for improper reasons. If these reports are in fact true – the report is unverified as of now – then President Trump has committed the same exact deed that caused President Nixon’s remaining support in Congress to evaporate, leading directly to his resignation.

Damn.

So, if this report is ultimately proven true, the question becomes, how will Congressional Republicans react this time around? Will they take President Trump’s actions as seriously as their predecessors took President Nixon’s actions 43 years ago, or will they blow this off in the name of extreme partisanship?

Only time will tell, but this is getting very interesting.

* If you are interested in an exhaustive explanation, I recommend Nightmare: The Underside of the Nixon Years, by J. Anthony Lukas.

 

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June 6, 2017: Let’s Get Those Nominees Confirmed Already! Oh, Wait…

When will President Trump start taking his task of filling out his administration seriously? He talks – well, tweets – a good game about wanting his nominees confirmed quickly, but the reality is that the biggest factor holding up the filling of the vast majority of the still-vacant administration positions is…Trump himself.

This is easy to explain simply by looking at a few numbers. Throughout the government there are over 1200 positions that require Senate confirmation. Of these, 559 are considered “key” positions and are being tracked by the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post. According to their tracking, President Trump has submitted nominations for 64 of those 559 positions (just to be clear, this is far off the pace of previous administrations; by comparison, President Obama had submitted 219 nominations at the same point in his administration, with 130 of them having been confirmed. Even George W. Bush, whose transition period was the shortest in American history due to the election result not being finalized until mid-December, had nominated 177 individuals by this same point, with 60 of them having been confirmed). Of Trump’s 64 nominations, the Senate has confirmed 39. There are another 15 individuals who the President has publicly announced will be nominated for various positions, but the administration has yet to formally submit their nominations, meaning the Senate cannot begin the confirmation process.

Most significantly, more than four months into his administration and almost 7 months since his election, President Trump has yet to nominate anyone for the remaining 441 positions. Obviously, the Senate cannot take up the nomination of someone whose nomination does not yet exist.

But wait – there’s more! Three months ago President Trump got rid of ALL of our nation’s United States Attorneys, firing the half that refused to quit when he ordered them to. Guess how many nominations he has made to replace these key federal prosecutors of “terrorism offenses, serious financial fraud, public corruption, crimes related to gang activity, drug trafficking and all other federal crimes”?

Yep – none at all. Zero. Wasn’t Trump the “Law and Order” candidate? How in the hell can the government prosecute offenders without any prosecutors? (I know, I know – there are “Acting” US Attorneys in all of the jurisdictions who are taking care of things, but the point remains that these positions need to be filled.)

President Trump, of course, will take no personal responsibility for any of this. Just this past Monday he tweeted, “Dems are taking forever to approve my people, including Ambassadors. They are nothing but OBSTRUCTIONISTS! Want approvals.” Of course he blames the “Dems” – why shouldn’t he, when the Democrats are such a convenient bad guy and his base doesn’t care about details or the truth? Hilariously, the President specifically brings up “Ambassadors” in his tweet, but out of all the Ambassadorships around the world, only 9 of these postings have any nominee at all, and of these, 5 have been confirmed (including two career postings nominated by the State Department)*. According to the Partnerships for Public Service, Trump actually has more Ambassadors at this point than either Barack Obama or George W. Bush did.

Three additional nominations to Ambassadorships have been publicly announced, but have not been formally submitted to the Senate. One of these is Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson, owner of the New York Jets, whom President Trump has announced he intends to nominate as Ambassador to England. In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in London over the weekend, the President expressed his frustration that his nominee as Ambassador to England has yet to be confirmed, but as of today the administration hasn’t even formally submitted Johnson’s nomination to the Senate – so who’s causing the delay? Trump announced Johnson as his intended nominee way back on January 19th. Why hasn’t the nomination been formally submitted to the Senate? This is absurd. If President Trump wants his Ambassadors confirmed, perhaps instead of blaming the “Dems” he should try actually submitting his nominations!

He is running into a serious recruitment problem, however. It seems very few people with anything remotely resembling “qualifications” want to work for this President. Weird, huh?  What with the general chaos that has encompassed this administration, Trump’s penchant for blaming those around him for his own mistakes, the way he constantly undercuts public statements from staff, and his general propensity for throwing others under the bus to save his own skin, you would think qualified people would be breaking down the door, but apparently many of them would rather not tie their fortunes to what sure looks like a sinking ship. Even law firms – which normally would consider the opportunity to represent the President of the United States to be an honor that would bring prestige to their firm – have declined to represent Donald Trump for the ongoing investigations into Russia, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and so forth, citing “reputational damage to the firm” as the reason. Some of them went so far as to note that as a client, Trump “won’t pay and won’t listen” (Trump has been sued in the past over failure to pay his legal bills). This is unprecedented, and actually presents a significant problem in that, should any of these investigations become genuinely serious, the President will need to have the highest quality defense attorney(s) available. If the best attorneys aren’t willing to represent him, will those who do represent him be able to provide an adequate defense?

Making matters even worse, some who had initially agreed to serve in the Trump administration had to pull their names because they either 1) couldn’t figure out how to divest from their investments; 2) they faced some controversy or relevant conflict of interest; or 3) upon reflection they were unwilling to pledge their personal loyalty to Donald Trump – which is apparently an absolute requirement to serve in this administration.

The bottom line here is that President Trump is wildly flailing about, looking for someone to blame for his foundering administration, and this time he decided the problem was that his nominees – the few he has put forward, anyway – aren’t being confirmed quickly enough. For this he blames the Senate Democrats.

He’s looking in the wrong place. If President Trump really wants to blame the person at fault for the delays in getting his nominees confirmed, he needs to take a good, hard look in a mirror.

 

* Nikki Haley (UN Ambassador), Terry Branstad (China), David Friedman (Israel), Todd Philip Haskell (Republic of the Congo), and Tulinabo Mushingi (Republic of Senegal and Guinea-Bissau). Those last two are “career postings”.

 

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May 31, 2017: This Has Really REALLY Got to Stop!

Back on June 15th, 2012, I wrote a BLOG post entitled “This Has GOT to Stop!”, and since this post is a continuation of that one, in the interest of keeping things simple, I will start this post by reprinting the entire previous post here for purposes of clarity and continuity:

 

This has got to stop. Advocating for the death of an American President – by any means – is not OK. It’s not even close to acceptable. It crosses so far over the line, you can’t even see the line from there.

 

But it still keeps happening.

 

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The latest incident occurs at the beginning of the final episode of the first season of the popular HBO series Game of Thrones, when one of the characters, Sansa Stark (played by actress Sophie Turner), is forced to look at a number of severed heads on spikes, including that of her character’s father (I’ve personally never seen the show – I don’t get HBO – but it sounds just delightful). One of the heads – believe it or not – is a fake head made in the likeness of former President George W. Bush. That’s right – President Bush’s severed head is shown on a spike.

 

No, I’m not making this up.

 

This probably would have gone unnoticed, since the face is partially obscured by a shaggy wig and is turned away from the camera (it’s the one on the left in the above photo), except that the show’s creators actually went to the trouble of pointing it out on the Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season DVD set.

 

How stupid are these people?

 

In the audio commentary included in the DVD set, producer David Benioff and writer D. B. Weiss say, “The last head on the left is George Bush. George Bush’s head appears in a couple of beheading scenes. It’s not a choice, it’s not a political statement, it’s just we had to use what heads we had around,”

 

Not a political statement?? Are they kidding? How in the hell is putting George W. Bush’s head on a spike – and then pointing it out to make sure that everyone knows you did it – NOT a political statement?

 

Once the inevitable, reasonable, and completely justified outrage began, the Game of Thrones creators found themselves at the center of a firestorm and started backtracking quickly.

 

Benioff and Weiss quickly issued a statement Wednesday saying “We use a lot of prosthetic body parts on the show: heads, arms, etc. We can’t afford to have these all made from scratch, especially in scenes where we need a lot of them, so we rent them in bulk. After the scene was already shot, someone pointed out that one of the heads looked like George W. Bush. In the DVD commentary, we mentioned this, though we should not have. We meant no disrespect to the former President and apologize if anything we said or did suggested otherwise.”

 

Sorry, but that’s not good enough. We’re supposed to believe they just happened to have President Bush’s head lying around, and decided to put it on a spike as a cost-saving measure? C’mon – they went to the trouble of pointing it out, apparently in case anyone missed it. This was no accident.

 

HBO issued a statement of its own, saying, “We were deeply dismayed to see this and find it unacceptable, disrespectful and in very bad taste. We made this clear to the executive producers of the series who apologized immediately for this inadvertent careless mistake. We are sorry this happened and will have it removed from any future DVD production.”

 

Sorry, but that’s not good enough either. This was no “inadvertent careless mistake”. Making death threats against the President of the United States – including former Presidents – is a Class D Felony. According to the Secret Service, President Bush received an average of about 3,000 death threats a year when he was in office, and President Obama has received about four times that many – an average of about 12,000 death threats a year – since taking office. This is a serious crime, and it should be treated as such.

 

This is by no means the first time this sort of threat has been made against a President, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. For example, in 2009 a marketing campaign selling t-shirts, bumper stickers and other such items promoting the phrase “Pray for Obama: Psalms 109:8” circulated around the internet.

 

pray_for_obama_psalm_109_8_tshirt

 

Anyone who looked it up would find that Psalms 109:8 reads, “Let his days be few; and let another take his office.” This was hardly a prayer for the President’s continued well-being. When confronted on this, some of those who had propagated or displayed this slogan defended themselves by claiming that the slogan was just a joke, intended to be taken “tongue-in-cheek”, and that they actually meant “Let his days in office be few…”; in other words, they argued that this was a call for President Obama’s removal as President, not his assassination. I have as good a sense of humor as the next guy (and, quite frankly, a better one than most), but I don’t see the humor here at all, and I doubt the Secret Service would find it funny, either. As for the bit about it referring to his “removal” from office, when Psalms 109:8 is read in context, this argument falls completely apart. The very next verse (Psalms 109:9) reads, “Let his children be fatherless, and his wife a widow.” There is absolutely no ambiguity as to what these words mean. Furthermore, Psalm 109, taken in its entirety, is a call for the “unjust kings” of ancient Israel to be killed – if not by God himself, then by “righteous men”. It was hard to miss the real intention of this marketing campaign. This was clearly not a prayer for President Obama’s impeachment – it was a prayer for President Obama’s death, and that’s inexcusable.

 

As another example, in 2006 a motion picture called Death of a President was released, presented as a mock documentary about a 2008 investigation into a presidential assassination that took place in 2007. Yup, 2007. Could there be any question which President was to be assassinated in the film? While there is nothing inherently wrong with examining the various ramifications of the assassination of an American President, the creators of this film chose not to depict the assassination of some fictional future President, but rather the forthcoming but fictional assassination of President George W. Bush, the current President at the time of the film’s release – a decision that cost them a ton of money for the cost of the CGI special effects needed to put President Bush’s face on the actor portraying the President.

 

Bush-Death-of-a-President-3

 

This was not only inexcusable, it was stupid. Due primarily to the controversy that erupted over the film’s depiction of the future assassination of the sitting President of the United States, the response to the film was overwhelmingly and appropriately negative, and Death of a President was an absolute flop at the box office (it cost about $2 million to make, and grossed less than $900,000 worldwide). The response was also bipartisan – the statement made by then-Senator Hillary Clinton was both appropriate and typical: “I think it’s despicable. I think it’s absolutely outrageous. That anyone would even attempt to profit on such a horrible scenario makes me sick.”

 

I completely agree.

 

In fact, I would argue that Hillary Clinton’s statement about Death of a President could be applied to any of the threats I have discussed here. Depicting President Bush’s assassination was unacceptable. So was calling for President Obama’s death by marketing the phrase “Pray for Obama: Psalms 109:8”.

 

And so is putting President Bush’s severed head on a spike – in fact, I consider this to be a grotesque escalation of this despicable trend.

 

I don’t care how popular Game of Thrones is. HBO should recall the Season 1 DVD set, refuse to release any further DVDs of any future episodes, and take the show off the air completely –NOW.

 

Well, it has now happened again. Once again, someone – this time comedian Kathy Griffin – thought it would be “funny” to depict the murder of the President of the United States. Even worse, her “joke” involved displaying President Trump’s bloody, severed head in a photograph by famed celebrity photographer Tyler Shields (who is known for his provocative images). In that 2012 BLOG post I referred to President Bush’s severed head being displayed on a pike as being “a grotesque escalation of this despicable trend”, but this one is far worse. As bad as the Game of Thrones depiction was, it was partially obscured by a wig and turned away from the camera, it was not covered in blood, and no one would have even noticed it at all had the producer and writer not gone out of their way to point it out in the audio commentary on the DVD box set. This one is just gruesome and obnoxious:

 

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President Trump responded (on Twitter, of course) by saying, “Kathy Griffin should be ashamed of herself. My children, especially my 11 year old son, Barron, are having a hard time with this. Sick!”, and for once I agree with a Trump tweet – especially the part about his son Barron. No 11-year-old should have to see their father depicted like that. Others have chimed in as well. As just one example, Chelsea Clinton called the photo “vile and wrong”, and noted that “It is never funny to joke about killing a president.” She is absolutely correct.

 

Ms. Griffin has apologized and acknowledged that she “went too far” with this photo shoot. CNN has terminated her contract to appear on the network’s annual New Year’s Eve broadcast, which she has been a part of for years. She has already lost at least one endorsement deal (with “Squatty Potty”, which makes footstools for toilets) and at least one upcoming concert appearance has been cancelled by the venue (a casino in New Mexico) over the photo. More significantly, she has also attracted the attention of the Secret Service, which sent out a tweet reading, “threats made against @SecretService protectees receive the highest priority of all of our investigations.” Apparently, Ms. Griffin can expect to be contacted about this.

 

None of that is enough.

 

My opinion on this issue has never wavered. I don’t care whether the President is a Democrat or a Republican, or whether I agree with the President on any particular issue(s). IT IS NEVER OK TO ADVOCATE – EVEN AS A JOKE – KILLING THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.

 

This is not a “free speech” issue. Threatening to kill the President of the United States – and let’s be clear; that is precisely what this photo does – is not now, nor has it ever been, protected speech.  Given the recent history of these types of threats (as discussed in the 2012 post reprinted above), the message clearly needs to be sent out loud and clear again, so that everyone understands once and for all, that this is absolutely unacceptable and in fact constitutes a serious crime.

 

This is no joke. Kathy Griffin and photographer Tyler Shields should go to jail.

 

 

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May 10, 2017: The Firing of Archibald Cox James Comey

Yesterday, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who has been leading an expanding investigation into whether Russia interfered with the 2016 American election (the consensus among US intelligence agencies is that they did so to favor Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton), and whether anyone involved in the Trump Campaign or Trump Transition colluded with Russia in that effort. The President didn’t call Mr. Comey to tell him he was fired – in fact Comey found out he was fired when a graphic came up on a TV screen in the room where Comey was set to speak to would-be FBI recruits in Los Angeles (initially, Comey thought it was a prank by staff at the Los Angeles office) – instead he sent his long-time personal bodyguard, carrying a termination letter in a manila folder, to the Department of Justice in Washington.

 

Nice. Clearly, President Trump is a class act all the way.

 

Trump said in his letter to Comey that he was firing him on recommendations he received from Jeff Sessions, the Attorney General, and Rod Rosenstein, the newly-confirmed Deputy Attorney General. There are two problems with this. First, Rosenstein’s letter did not actually recommend to the President that Comey be fired – although this was certainly implied – instead it was highly critical of Comey and lamented the loss of public trust in the FBI and called for a return to FBI “traditions” (and noted that Comey would likely be unable to carry out such a return), but most significantly, his letter was addressed to Attorney General Sessions, not President Trump, so the President had not received any recommendation intended for him from Rosenstein at all. Second, and much more serious, Sessions has supposedly recused himself from having anything to do with either the Clinton E-Mail investigation (Comey’s handling of that investigation was specifically cited by Rosenstein and the White House) or the Russia/Trump investigation (many suspect this was the REAL reason Comey was fired). Whichever investigation led to the firing, Sessions had recused himself from any involvement in both and certainly should not have been involved in any way in recommending the firing of the individual leading either investigation.

 

While the FBI Director absolutely serves at the pleasure of the President (meaning that the President has the authority to fire him at any time and for any reason), the Director serves a 10-year term so that he can be independent of the whims of the White House (or anyone else), and there are likely to be political consequences for this firing. In the 108-year history of the FBI (alright, it wasn’t actually called that until 1935 – prior to that year it was simply called the “Bureau of Investigation”), only one FBI Director has ever been fired by the President. President Bill Clinton fired FBI Director William Sessions (no relation to Jeff Sessions, the current Attorney General) because of alleged misuse of federal funds (such as using federal money for improvements at his personal home and repeatedly using an FBI plane to visit his family) and other ethical concerns – a very different situation than yesterday’s firing of James Comey. The allegations had been raised during the George H. W. Bush Administration, and the outgoing Attorney General, William Barr, had issued a 161-page report detailing Director Sessions’ alleged actions. This occurred just as the Bush Administration was ending and the Clinton Administration was beginning, and President Clinton ultimately fired Sessions on the recommendation of Attorney General Janet Reno.

 

Perhaps a better analogy (but by no means a perfectly-aligned one) for President Trump’s firing of James Comey is Richard Nixon’s firing of Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox on October 20, 1973 – a date that has lived on in history as the “Saturday Night Massacre”; both the Attorney General (Elliot Richardson) and the Deputy Attorney General (William Ruckleshaus) resigned rather than carry out Nixon’s order to fire Cox, a task that ultimately fell to none other than Robert Bork, who was the Solicitor General at the time (Bork famously failed to be confirmed to a seat on the Supreme Court by the Senate during the Reagan Administration). While President Nixon argued he had the authority to fire any employee of the Executive Branch, including Cox, it was the political consequences of his firing that mattered. Nixon learned the hard way that firing the guy who is investigating you, or those close to you, just doesn’t play well.  Make no mistake about this – President Trump just fired the guy who was investigating whether those close to him colluded with the Russian interference in the 2016 election (including at least campaign advisor Roger Stone, foreign policy advisor Carter Page, former Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, but not – at least as of yet – President Trump himself, as Trump rather bizarrely noted in his letter to Comey). Firing the guy who is investigating you (or your Administration, or your Transition, or your campaign…) just doesn’t look good – in fact, the timing makes the optics of this absolutely godawful – and the White House should have known that. Apparently, however, they were “blindsided” by the outraged reaction to the news.

 

Some additional notes:

  • Roger Stone, a major target of the FBI’s Russia/Trump investigation, had for several weeks been advising Trump to fire Comey.
  • Comey had just asked Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for additional money to expand the Russia/Trump investigation.
  • Grand Jury subpoenas had just been sent out relating to Russia/Trump investigation.
  • James Comey was scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee in open session on Thursday (tomorrow). That testimony will now be provided by Andrew McCabe, a career-FBI Official and the new Acting Director of the FBI. While that hearing will ostensibly be intended to provide an annual assessment of global threats, many believe that President Trump did not want to risk Comey testifying in public again, especially considering that hearings can have a tendency to go off-subject, and Comey has in the past testified (among other things) that there is in fact a Russia/Trump investigation.
  • President Trump had reportedly been considering firing Comey for at least a week, and allegedly assigned Attorney General Sessions to find a good excuse for the firing. Rosenstein’s and Sessions’ letters are both dated May 9, 2017 – the same day Trump fired Comey. Normally a bureaucracy like the Department of Justice moves more slowly than that – it’s practically a law of physics – meaning that the letters being written on the same day that the firing actually happened likely indicate that the letters are in fact in response to the President’s demand for an excuse to fire Comey.
  • Sean Spicer hid in the bushes literally – to avoid reporters who wanted to ask about the firing until he was assured they would not film his answers to their questions.

 

We have not heard the end of this one yet – not by a long shot. Even some Republicans in both Houses of Congress are now calling for a Special Prosecutor to take over the Russia/Trump investigation. Just how closely this firing aligns with the firing of Archibald Cox will become evident in the fullness of time. Like Trump’s firing of Comey, Nixon’s firing of Cox was met with immediate scorn and derision. It was also met with the first serious consideration in Congress of the idea of a Presidential impeachment resulting from the Watergate scandal, but its lasting impact became clear over time as it proved to actually be the turning point in Watergate that led more or less directly to the impeachment proceedings (the House Judiciary Committee passed three Articles of Impeachment in late July of 1974, but President Nixon resigned before the full House could vote on them). We won’t really know what impact the firing of James Comey will have until we have lived through that impact. Will Congress take any action? Only time will tell. Some are calling on the Senate to refuse confirmation of a new FBI Director until a Special Prosecutor is named for the Russia/Trump investigation. Others are calling for a full shut-down of the Senate until the Special Prosecutor is named. Whether any such effort is ultimately successful will depend on us – the American people – and how we react to this very serious situation. If we don’t care, neither will the media, Congress, or anyone else. If we are outraged, the media and Congress will be as well.

 

The time has come to act. Call your Senator and Representative today – and every day – until something is done!

 

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May 4, 2017: What’s the Rush?

Today House Republicans voted to approve the American Health Care Act (AHCA, or “Trumpcare”) and send it to the Senate, where its fate is far from certain. While I have all sorts of concerns with the bill and what it will do, what I really don’t understand about this is, why now? Seriously – what’s the rush? There is no longer a “First 100-days” deadline (that milestone came and went without a single major legislative accomplishment the President or the GOP could point to), there’s no imminent national crisis (no, Obamacare is not in a “death spiral”, no matter what the GOP tries to claim, although it does need some adjusting), and there is nothing about the remaining GOP agenda that requires this bill to be finished now – the vote could easily have waited for the usual debate, hearings, and so forth. Many House Republicans even admitted publicly that they hadn’t even had time to read the bill before thy cast their votes. Nevertheless, the House Republican leadership decided to go forward with this vote today anyway.

Why do I think they’re rushing this? Well, first of all, there has not yet been a single hearing on the current version of the AHCA (called “AHCA 3.0” to differentiate it from earlier versions). So much for Republican promises of “transparency”. In contrast, the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or “Obamacare”) went through no fewer than 79 public hearings over the course of almost a year before being passed. Second, the first version of the AHCA – which was pulled before a vote because the GOP leadership couldn’t even get their own members to support it – was “scored” by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), whose sole purpose is to look at the actual impact of a bill without engaging in partisanship. The CBO reported that, while the bill would lower the deficit somewhat (an average of less than 34 billion a year over ten years), it would also cause 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance coverage over the next ten years – 14 million of them in the first year alone. This turned out to be the death knell for that version of the bill, causing many House Republicans to have serious reservations about casting such an unpopular vote. Now they are voting on this new “3.0” version without waiting for the CBO score. However, as a spokesman for the American Medical Association noted, none of the changes in this new “3.0” version of the AHCA do anything to fix the issues brought up by the score on the first version. The truth is that this new version may be even worse, as changes have been made to the pre-existing condition requirement to ameliorate the concerns of the House Freedom Caucus, a group made up of the most extreme right-wing Republicans, many of whom don’t believe the federal government should be involved in health care at all.

So…no hearings, no CBO score, and virtually no debate. Again, why the rush? There are several possible reasons:

Many believe that the House Republicans just want to give President Trump a legislative victory – ANY victory – after having failed so dismally during the first 100 days of President Trump’s Administration to pass any significant legislation of any kind whatsoever, despite total control of both the Legislative and Executive branches of the federal government. Yes, the House finally managed to pass a spending bill this week (but not until after the 100-day milestone) that will avoid a government shutdown, but that bill includes funding for far more of the Democratic agenda than the Republican agenda; the Democrats were able to keep funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Planned Parenthood, and even the Obamacare subsidies, all of which President Trump had said he would eliminate “on day one”; the Environmental Protection Agency, for which President Trump had threatened to slash funding by 30%, will still receive 99% of current funding levels, and most social programs will continue untouched. On the Republican side, they did manage to get a modest increase in defense spending (which the Democrats did not oppose) and in border security (which the Democrats were more than willing to give them in exchange for getting their priorities funded), but were not able to get any funding at all for Trump’s border wall – “not one plug nickel”, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer put it. Basically, the Democrats got everything they wanted – in fact this spending bill could just as easily been passed by a Democratic Congress under President Hillary Clinton had the election gone that way.

It’s a good thing President Trump is such a savvy negotiator, eh?

Others think that the House GOP is specifically trying to get this done before the CBO score is released because they are well aware of how bad that score will be. The horrible CBO score on the first version of the AHCA is largely credited with being the reason that bill died, and the GOP House leadership had no intention of going through that again. Also, Congress is going on an 11-day recess after today, and the last time they did that they got hammered over the AHCA at town halls and other meetings with their constituents, and the GOP leadership wanted to hold the vote before their membership faced their constituents and perhaps had their minds changed. The leadership had finally managed to cobble together a weak coalition to support their bill, and wanted to hold the vote quickly, before that coalition collapsed.

Still others are convinced that, because there is no chance of the Senate passing AHCA 3.0 in its current form – or of the House passing whatever bill the Senate eventually comes up with – this time around is no different than the 50-plus times the House Republicans voted to repeal Obamacare while President Obama was still in office, a time when they knew full well their vote was little more than a meaningless hunk of red meat they were throwing to their base because ultimately nothing would change (if the repeal somehow managed to get through the Senate, President Obama would have simply vetoed it) and they would not be held accountable for any potentially adverse results of their vote.

Their cowardice is just pathetic.

So, assuming for a moment that the AHCA will actually become law (which it won’t), who would this bill hurt?

First, it would hurt people with pre-existing conditions, who are arguably the ones who need help getting health care insurance the most. While Obamacare requires insurers to provide coverage without charging extra due to the existence of a pre-existing condition and forbids denying coverage on that basis, the AHCA gives states the ability to “opt out” of that requirement, meaning that in many states those with pre-existing conditions will simply not be able to afford coverage, if they can get it at all. Yes, the bill does include a nation-wide total of $8 billion that would be provided to the states to help these patients obtain coverage, but this is woefully inadequate relative to the need (a simple calculation will show that this averages out to about $18 million for each Congressional District, each of which consists of about 700,000 people, meaning this works out to around $26 per person. While this is not how the money would actually be allocated, it does show how inadequate the total is). While the Republicans are trying – rather desperately – to claim the AHCA provides coverage to people with pre-existing conditions (a claim based entirely on that $8 billion), they are lying through their teeth, and that word is getting out. This bill won’t even come close. The bottom line is that if you have a pre-existing condition, the House Republicans are royally screwing you over with this bill.

Second, it would hurt the poor and the disabled, who rely heavily on Medicaid funds provided to states (in my home state of California, this program is called “Medi-Cal”). AHCA 3.0 allows states to change how these funds are distributed based on their own state’s priorities, meaning that many who rely on Medicaid may no longer be able to get what they need in many states. Of great concern to me, as both a special education teacher and the brother of a person with special needs, this includes special education students, who use Medicaid funds provided through their school districts for health care equipment and services provided to them at school. This includes everything from assistive technology devices (such as electronic communication devices similar to the one used by Stephen Hawking) to catheters to 1-on-1 health care aides that make it possible for medically-fragile students to attend school at all. This bill would be catastrophic for these especially-vulnerable students. That’s just heartless.

Third, it would hurt tens of millions of Americans who get their health care through the Obamacare exchanges. These people are most in danger of losing their coverage, and make up the bulk of those 24 million who are at risk of basically being left out in the cold.

For these and many other reasons, the AHCA is opposed by a wide range of organizations, including the AARP, the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, and the American Cancer Society, along with almost every organization representing doctors, nurses, and hospitals. In other words, it is opposed by pretty much every group with any level of expertise in the health care field*.

Of course, that didn’t stop the House Republicans. They had the votes they needed, and they went for it.

Now, who would this bill help? That one’s easy: the very, very rich. Here’s a big shock – the House Republicans have passed a bill that gives yet another massive tax cut to the wealthiest Americans.

Oh great.

At least we now know – beyond any shadow of a doubt – what the Republican priorities are (tax breaks for their rich donors, while screwing everybody else), so here’s a message they would be wise to heed:

We outnumber your rich donors. November 6, 2018 is coming, and we will not forget!

 

* including, but not limited to, the following (in addition to those already listed in the above post): the American Lung Association, the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association, the March of Dimes, the National MS Society, WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, America’s Essential Hospitals, the American Health Care Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Rural Health Association, the American Thoracic Society, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the National Organization for Rare Disorders, the National Coalition for Women, the National Disability Rights Center, the American Federation for Suicide Prevention, the Association of Addiction Professionals, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the National Physicians Alliance, the Asian and Pacific Islander American Health Forum, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the Catholic Health Association of the United States, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, the HIV Medicine Association, and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Again, this is a partial list. These links will take you to these organizations’ statements against the AHCA legislation.

 

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April 5, 2017: Keeping “We the People” in the Dark

More details regarding just how opaque Donald Trump, his Administration, and the Trump Organization are acting in relation to the President’s financial arrangements have come out over the past few days – beyond not releasing his tax returns, beyond not putting his assets into a true Blind Trust, beyond the already deplorable lack of transparency that has surrounded the President’s finances.

 

The latest revelation came this week from a website called “Pro Publica” (propublica.org), which published an allegation that under the President’s “trust agreement” – the document that formally put the President’s assets into the “trust” that is now being run by two of his sons, Eric and Donald Jr. – President Trump can withdraw money from any of his 400 or so businesses whenever he wants to.

 

Ummm…so what? This is not exactly a surprise.

 

Then things got interesting. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer dismissed the allegation out of hand, noting that the story came from a “left-wing blog”, his clear implication being that the story should automatically be considered to be false simply because of who wrote it. Spicer’s knee-jerk denial, while fairly typical of both him and the Trump administration overall, was ill-advised, because it turns out the story is absolutely correct. The Trump Organization’s attorney, Alan Garten, has now confirmed that President Trump “can withdraw profits and underlying assets from his trust at any time”.

 

To which I would still have to sayso what?

 

Other than the messaging problem (to be honest, Spicer’s reaction was just stupid; there is no controversy here – why create a controversy where none existed?), I’m not exactly sure why this would be a scandal in any way, shape, or form. Even if the President had put his assets into a true Blind Trust as he should have done, he would have been able to withdraw funds whenever he needed to (he would just have to follow some basic legal procedures to withdraw the funds from the Blind Trust). As the saying goes, there’s no “there” there. Although Spicer’s denial has given the story “legs”, to whatever small extent it has them, this is really not a big deal.

 

According to Pro Publica’s reporting, there was no mention of the President’s ability to withdraw money from his “trust” in an early summary of the “trust agreement”, but it was included in a later summary. While this may seem suspicious on the surface, it’s really not. The explanation for the change, according to Mr. Garten (the Trump Organization attorney), is that the Trump Organization writes different summaries for different audiences to highlight different aspects of the agreement that are relevant to those audiences.

 

Again, so what? I don’t see any problem with this at all – the explanation makes perfect sense. In other words, there is STILL no “there” there.

 

Where I do have a major problem, however, is the new revelation that the actual “trust agreement” itself – the full, complete text – will NEVER be made available to the public (again, this is according to Mr. Garten). Only the aforementioned summaries will be made public. In other words, President Trump is only going to let us know what he wants us to know – not what “We the People” have every right and need to know – about his finances.

 

And that’s a very big deal.

 

In fact, this is completely unacceptable. Not only will he not release his tax returns, as every President since Richard Nixon has done (meaning we have no idea where any conflicts of interest might exist), not only will he not place his assets into a true Blind Trust, as every President since Lyndon Johnson has done (the only sure way to avoid any conflicts of interest), now “We the People” are learning that we won’t even be told the details of the woefully inadequate financial arrangements he HAS bothered to make – we will only be told what President Trump deigns to tell us. This demonstrates a phenomenal lack of respect for “We the People” and an extremely disturbing lack of respect for the Constitution of the United States. “We the People” have no way of knowing if the decisions the President makes are in the interest of our country or in the interest of his personal finances – and frankly, he hasn’t given us much reason to trust anything he tells us. Had he acted in a more trustworthy manner up to now, we might be able to give him the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, his actions – many of which present clear evidence that he is doing almost everything he possibly can to use his office to significantly increase his fortune – have made that impossible.

 

More ominously, “We the People” have no idea if he is receiving any “emoluments” from any foreign governments or their representatives*. The few bits we do know about – from the work done by some intrepid and persistent investigative journalists – have not been encouraging on this front. This is important – actually critical – because Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution of the United States expressly forbids ANY federal official, from the lowliest bureaucrat up to and including the President, from receiving “ANY present, emolument, office, or title, of ANY kind whatever, from ANY king, prince, or foreign state” (my emphasis). The Founding Fathers went out of their way to include this provision in the Constitution to avoid any foreign government from being able to affect the policies of the United States by funneling money directly into the pockets of federal officials, and clearly made certain to word it in such a way as to preclude ANY exceptions. President Trump has sworn an oath to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic”, and if, as is widely assumed (with good reason), he is in direct and constant violation of the Emoluments Clause (or any other part of the Constitution, for that matter), he has failed to live up to this oath of office – which has always been regarded as an impeachable offense**.

 

President Trump needs a do-over on his finances. He needs to put his all of his assets into a true Blind Trust – NOW. He needs to release his tax returns – NOW. And he needs to come clean to the American people about who he owes money, who his business relationships are with, and where he has investments – NOW. He needs to reveal whether he has received ANY emoluments of ANY kind from ANY foreign state or their representatives since taking office – NOW. Unless and until he does all of this, every action, statement, executive order, and bill signing he undertakes will be under a serious cloud of suspicion regarding his motives.

 

Why would he want that?

 

Despite President Trump’s clear desire to stop the media from asking questions about his finances, and despite all of the pathetic attempts by his various apologists to downplay and even dismiss as irrelevant the Emoluments Clause violations (usually attempting to justify these violations of the Constitution in terms of “convenience” or “insignificance”), this issue is not going to go away. He is leaving himself open to impeachment, which, while certainly not likely to happen yet (primarily because the House of Representatives, which is granted the sole power of impeachment by the Constitution, is controlled by the GOP), could come into play if and when the House Republicans reach a point where they have no choice but to take action against President Trump. In the meantime, he is providing them with the perfect excuse to do so.

 

And that’s just stupid.

 

*  “Emoluments”, according to Merriam-Webster, are “the returns arising from office or employment usually in the form of compensation or perquisites”. This would include any payments or other “perks” from investments, contracts, business transactions, partnerships, and services he has provided in return (such as hotel rooms at Trump resorts), among other income sources.

**  The Articles of Impeachment against Presidents Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton ALL included the failure to live up to their oath of office prominently in their allegations:

  • In President Johnson’s case, there were no fewer than 11 Articles if Impeachment reported to the full House of Representatives. All of them included the following: “…Andrew Johnson, President of the United States, unmindful of the high duties of his office, of his oath of office, and in violation of the Constitution of the United States…” (my emphasis)
  • In President Nixon’s case, three Articles of Impeachment were passed by the House Judiciary Committee (President Nixon resigned before the full House of Representatives could vote on the Articles). All three began as follows: “In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has…” (my emphasis)
  • In President Clinton’s case, two Articles of Impeachment were reported to the full House of Representatives. Both began with the same wording – verbatim – as the Articles against President Nixon, merely substituting the name “William Jefferson Clinton” for “Richard M. Nixon“.

 

 

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February 28, 2017: President Trump Suggests Jews Might Be Threatening Themselves

As an American, I have been disheartened and angered by the rash of bomb threats that have been made against Jewish Community Centers around the country – literally dozens of threats have been phoned in to JCC’s around the country each week since mid-January – as well as other acts of anti-Semitism, such as the hundreds of headstones that were knocked over in at least two Jewish cemeteries (in St. Louis and Philadelphia) during the last week. As a member of a Jewish Temple (which also recently received a threatening phone call resulting in a lock-down of Hebrew school classes while my children were attending) and as someone whose wife works at a Jewish Community Center that has twice received a bomb threat in the past few weeks – and whose children regularly attend programs at that same JCC – I have been aware of these weekly rounds of threats from the very beginning (even before the news media picked up the story), and would have to be excused for believing that this is hitting far too close to home.

Enough is enough. This isn’t funny, it isn’t trivial, and it isn’t remotely acceptable in our society. These threats are serious crimes, and must be treated accordingly. Anyone who would make such a threat does not represent America, American ideals, or the American way of life. They are, in my view, the scum of the earth. These threats really do have to stop, and it is incumbent on law enforcement agencies at all levels of government – local, state, and federal – to stop them as soon as possible.

President Trump has been asked repeatedly about these reprehensible acts, and had at last seemed to “get it” – he was finally saying the right things, denouncing the threats and attacks, saying they had to stop, and so forth (the first few times he was asked, before the media had really picked up on the story, he had instead bragged about the size of his election victory in response to questions about the wave of apparent anti-Semitism). The new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, had also begun to address these threats and vandalism in an appropriate matter.

And then President Trump went off the rails (again).

In a meeting today with state Attorneys General, the President – who, to his credit, called the threats “reprehensible” before going off the rails – actually suggested that the threats could be some type of a “false flag” operation – suggesting that Jewish people themselves might be calling in the threats in order to make others look bad.

Which “others” does this make look bad? Anti-Semites don’t need any help looking bad – their words and deeds take care of that all on their own. I am finding myself more and more angry about this, and now a good portion of that anger is directed towards President Trump for expounding this latest “theory”. These crimes are so odious, so abhorrent, and so hateful that our American society must rise up as one against them (and not because they have been aimed at my religion; I would be writing the same words if another group had been singled out like this). President Trump, in broaching this false flag notion, has trivialized these crimes, almost dismissing them as just more “fake news”.

For the first time in my life, I have come to the realization that, if me and/or my family becomes the victim of a hate crime against our religion, my President – and, for that matter, many of my fellow Americans – apparently won’t have my back.

It’s not a good feeling.

There have been incidents where good has triumphed over the evil that these crimes represent; where love has trumped hate. When a Muslim Mosque in Tampa was heavily damaged in an arson fire, Jews helped raise money to repair it. When the Jewish cemeteries were vandalized, Muslims raised money to help repair the damage (both of these efforts exceeded their fundraising goals). It is this type of love, compassion, empathy, understanding, and embracing of each other as fellow humans and fellow Americans that gives me hope.

This false flag theory is beyond offensive, it is beyond insane, and it is beyond reason. President Trump needs to retract his comments. Now. I find it incredible that, instead of protecting American citizens who happen to be Jewish by galvanizing his whole administration against these threats and vandalism, and then finding and prosecuting to the full extent of the law the perpetrators of these hateful acts, President Trump is now minimizing the significance of these crimes, pretending they are false flags. To make things even worse, the same exact theory was posted on a white supremacist website known as the “Daily Stormer” [http://www.dailystormer.com/jewish-centers-receive-dozens-of-new-bomb-threats-who-could-be-responsible/] just hours before President Trump publicly embraced the idea [Author’s note – I am providing the link to the Daily Stormer article as a means of citing the source for this information. PLEASE DO NOT interpret my inclusion of that link as any sort of endorsement or indication of agreement with the Daily Stormer website or the racists and anti-Semites who write it]. The way I see it, one of only two scenarios are possible here: either the President and the white supremacists arrived at the same conclusion at almost the same exact time, and did so completely independently of each other (I find this highly unlikely), or President Trump is getting his ideas directly from white supremacists.

I’m not sure which possibility is worse.

 

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February 20, 2017: One Month Down, Forty-Seven More To Go…

Donald Trump has been President of the United States for exactly one month today. How is he doing so far? How does his first month compare with, say, Barack Obama’s first month? The answers to both questions are simple and depressing – he is not doing well, and his first month has been pathetic compared to Obama’s.

President Obama, by the end of his first month, had worked with the then-Democratic Congress to pass the largest stimulus package in American history. They had passed the Lilly Leadbetter law, making it easier for women who are not receiving equal pay for equal work to sue their employers for gender discrimination. They had passed an expanded S-CHIP Act, providing health insurance for millions of uninsured children. In other words, they had worked together to pass significant legislation that would directly affect (for the better) the lives of millions of Americans. This would continue for the duration of the 111th Congress (during President Obama’s first two years), which would go down in history as the most active Congress since the New Deal.

How is President Trump doing in comparison?

Let’s start with what he and Congress have worked together to pass. Well, President Trump and the Republican Congress (just as it was with President Obama, President Trump is working with a Congress controlled by his own political party – at least for the first two years) have managed to pass and sign into law exactly two pieces of legislation: one rolls back an Obama-era regulation requiring oil companies to disclose money paid to foreign governments, and the other one overturns another Obama-era regulation forbidding coal mining companies from polluting rivers, streams, and other local bodies of water. Funny – I don’t recall either one of those being big issues on the campaign trail (except for the blanket “We’re going to reduce regulations” bit). Congress has passed one additional bill and sent it to the White House, but President Trump has not yet signed it. This bill would remove the restrictions that prevent people with mental illness from purchasing guns.

Seriously? That’s what became the priority?

President Trump has primarily been exercising his power through executive orders, something Congressional Republicans used to claim was an unconstitutional overreach by the Executive Branch (at least they thought so when a Democrat was President). Other than the “Travel Ban” (which, according to the Trump Administration, was not a “ban”, despite the fact that President Trump himself repeatedly used that word to describe it), his various executive orders didn’t actually accomplish anything – they were merely statements of President Trump’s positions, with some legalese thrown in – and the Travel Ban is now on hold in the courts. Take for example his order to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We were never in the TPP, because the Senate never ratified the treaty, and it was widely considered dead on arrival in the Senate anyway. How about his order to expedite the building of his border wall? We all know he wants to build a wall, and this order basically just re-stated that fact. However, without money authorized by Congress – not something that can be accomplished by an executive order – the wall will not be built (and no, Mexico is not going to pay for the wall). He signed an order indicating that he wants to eliminate the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare”, but again, that is something only Congress can do. The one thing he did actually accomplish through executive order was to authorize the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, which are being built in areas that could impact the local water supply and are considered sacred burial grounds by the local Native American tribes.

Great.

Other orders were just as insignificant. He signed an executive order indicating that he would like to expand the military. That’s fine, but his order didn’t accomplish that – again, only Congress can allocate money for such an expansion – it merely restated a campaign promise. He signed an order requiring two regulations to be eliminated every time a new regulation is put in place. This does nothing specific – on its own it doesn’t overturn a single regulation – and it has already been challenged in court as a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers. One writer gave the example of the automobile industry, which now would have to see regulations on two issues (headlights and seat belts, for example) eliminated in order for a regulation on brakes to be put in place. It’s ludicrous and arbitrary, and I doubt it holds up in court.

In other words, despite the flurry of activity, what has happened so far amounts to, as my Grandfather used to say, “a whole lot o’ nuthin’”.

So what exactly has been done? Most politicos would describe what we have seen as “utter chaos”, but President Trump calls it an Administration that is “running like a fine-tuned machine”. I’m not exactly sure what machine would run like this when it was “fine-tuned”, but this just made the President look like he has disengaged from reality.

Among the “accomplishments” that have been achieved so far, the Trump administration is already – just one month in – facing an impeachment-level scandal in the Administration’s apparent ties to Russia. National Security Advisor Michael Flynn was forced out over his misleading of Administration officials (especially Vice President Mike Pence, but also including White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Press Secretary Sean Spicer; all three made public statements based on what Flynn had told them) regarding whether he discussed sanctions against Russia during a phone call with the Russian Ambassador. When it came out that, not only had Flynn discussed the sanctions (which had been put in place by President Obama less than 24 hours before Flynn’s call), he had actually told the Russian Ambassador that Russia should not retaliate because things would be better under President Trump – and Russia in fact announced there would be no retaliation, all hell broke loose. This blatant undermining of American foreign policy, as articulated by the Commander in Chief at that time, could conceivably reach the level of treason. It turns out that Flynn had – on behalf of the Trump campaign – been in contact with Russian agents during the campaign, as had other campaign officials. US Intelligence services record all phone calls to and from known Russian officials (including Russia’s Ambassador to the United States) – something Flynn, as a former Commander of the Defense Intelligence Agency, certainly should have known – and those recordings are apparently quite damning. Meanwhile, President Trump has gone on the attack against the media (the “enemy of the American people”), US Intelligence Agencies (which he has compared to the Nazis), Arnold Schwarzenegger (the President actually asked the audience to pray for Arnold’s ratings on “Celebrity Apprentice” at the National Prayer Breakfast, to the horror of those present), the Democratic Congressional leadership (I suppose that was to be expected), and even Nordstrom’s (for dropping Ivanka Trump’s clothing line), but has yet to utter one syllable – or put out a single tweet – that is critical of Russia and/or Vladimir Putin. Investigations are underway at the FBI and in the Senate Intelligence and Armed Services Committees. This one is not going away.

Other “accomplishments” include three completely different and mutually incompatible explanations for how and why Michael Flynn was forced to resign (one each from Kellanne Conway, Sean Spicer, and President Trump himself); he has fired an Acting Attorney General, Sally Yates, because she actually acted like an Attorney General, standing up to him and refusing to defend the travel ban, which she considered unconstitutional (she had been with the Justice Department for more than a quarter century, and had risen to Deputy Attorney General under President Obama, but the only reason she was still there as the Acting Attorney General was because the Trump Transition Team had asked her to stay); he has dealt with an international crisis (a North Korean missile launch) at a table at his Mar-a-Lago resort, going over classified reports within clear viewing distance of resort members (some of whom were illuminating the scene with their cell phone flashlights) and the Japanese Prime Minister; he has lied about the crowd size at his inauguration, the size of his electoral college victory (nowhere near as large as either of Obama’s elections, and not the highest Republican’s since Reagan), the state of the economy, the notion that millions of undocumented people voted illegally, and myriad other things; he has stated that the leaks coming from within the federal government are real and must be investigated, but that news reports about those leaks are “fake news”; he has given our allies – including those in NATO – reason to fear that the United States will not honor our commitments; he has managed to formally nominate people to 34 positions that require Senate confirmation – but there are 539 positions that require such confirmation, meaning he is way behind the pace of nominations from past Presidents; and while he has gotten the Senate to confirm some of those nominees to their respective positions, some of them just barely sqeaked by at historically low levels of Senate support (Scott Pruitt at EPA got 54 votes, Jeff Sessions – a Senator himself, which usually means he would be treated deferentially – got just 53, Tom Price at HHS got just 52 votes, Mike Mulvaney at OMB got only 51, and Mike Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote to push Betsy DeVos over the finish line for Education Secretary, a historical first).

No report of President Trump’s first month in office would be complete without bringing up the conflict of interest issue. President Trump has violated the Constitution of the United States – a document he has sworn to “preserve, protect, and defend” – specifically, the Emoluments Clause found in Article I, Section 9, each and every day of his tenure because he retained his ownership stake in the Trump Organization, which is constantly receiving money from foreign governments and funneling a good portion of that money directly into the President’s pockets, and has even suggested he could return to the helm of the company when he leaves office. His new luxury hotel in Washington D.C. has become the preferred place to stay for foreign dignitaries, and there may another problem regarding the hotel – the lease that Mr. Trump signed for the property (the hotel is located in the old Post Office building, which is owned by the federal government) forbids the lease from benefiting any federal official, which of course would include President Trump. So far, at least, he hasn’t had to give up the hotel. First Lady Melania Trump actually argued in a lawsuit (through her attorneys) that the news story over which she was suing had cost her the ability to “cash in” on her time as First Lady by developing a clothing, accessories and perfume line (I’m not kidding – that’s really the argument made in the court filings). President Trump blasted Nordstrom’s on Twitter when it dropped his daughter’s clothing and accessories line (Nordstrom’s stock price skyrocketed as a result); and, after a full decade of trying to get his name trademarked in China, he promised to continue the “one-China” policy and decided not to label China a “currency manipulator” as he had promised he would during the campaign, and lo and behold, China allowed him to trademark his name.

Such a coincidence!

All in all, this has certainly been a memorable first month, but that’s not a good thing. On the one hand, the chaotic, incompetent, and just plain stupid frenzy of activity surrounding the President has been painful to witness.

On the other hand, you just can’t buy this kind of entertainment.

 

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February 17, 2017: Trump’s Alternate Reality

Yesterday, at his first stand-alone press conference since the inauguration (and a very combative, contentious, and stormy one at that), President Trump actually insisted that his Administration is running like “a fine-tuned machine.”

Who exactly does he think he’s kidding?

There is absolutely no one who believes this – with the possible exception of President Trump himself and some of his most ardent and delusional supporters. We have all seen, as an ongoing daily melodrama, how chaotic the first few weeks of this Administration have been.

Let’s start with just this past week, which saw the forced resignation (after just 24 days in office) of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn over his extremely controversial and potentially criminal contact with Russian officials, along with at least three different explanations from the Administration (one each from Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, and President Trump himself – each of them contradicting the others) as to how and why the resignation took place; the heavily-corroborated, multiply-sourced reports that Trump campaign officials were in frequent contact with Russian operatives since at least August;  the withdrawal of a cabinet nominee (Andrew Puzder, the nominee for Labor Secretary), because of so many scandals that even the GOP holding the Senate majority couldn’t ensure his confirmation;  the refusal of a widely-respected Vice Admiral (Robert Harward) to join the Administration as the new National Security Advisor, apparently because President Trump wouldn’t let him choose his own staff (although Harward publicly cited “financial and family commitments”); and the appearance of Russian naval vessels unprecedentedly close to  American shores at the same time that Russia launched a cruise missile in violation of anti-nuclear treaties between our two nations. To top it all off, the Administration sent out a spokesman (Senior Policy Advisor Stephen Miller) who actually insisted on the air that President Trump’s authority “shall not be questioned” – apparently meaning not by Congress, the Courts, the Media, or anybody else – a position that has been relentlessly mocked ever since.

And that’s just the last week! Among too many other things to list all of them here, the previous weeks saw the courts – several of them – throw out President Trump’s travel ban; the Vice President having to cast a tie-breaking vote in a Senate controlled by his own party in order to ensure the confirmation of a cabinet nominee – a historical first; and multiple statements from various Administration officials that were repeatedly and easily shown to be utterly false, creating numerous embarrassments for the Administration.

So let’s be real here. The Trump Administration is not running like “a Fine-Tuned Machine”, no matter what President Trump tries to claim. President Trump saying something is true does not make it so, but apparently he believes it does.

And that’s delusional.

 

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February 14, 2017: The Resignation of Michael Flynn, and the Questions that Remain

With the resignation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, just 24 days into his job, the Trump Administration is hoping that the issues surrounding that resignation will now just go away.

Not a chance.

From various news reports we know a basic timeline of what happened. According to multiple sources within the American Intelligence Community, General Flynn spoke with the Russian Ambassador to the United States, Sergei Kislyak, on December 29th – the same day that then-President Obama imposed sanctions on Russia and expelled several Russian diplomats in retaliation for Russia’s attempts to interfere with the November 8th election. According to transcripts of the conversation (here’s a shock: our intelligence services regularly monitor, record, and transcribe phone conversations of Russian diplomats), General Flynn brought up the issue of the sanctions, advised the Ambassador that Russia should not retaliate, and that if they did not, the new Trump Administration would be friendlier to Russia. In other words, don’t worry about these sanctions – when we get into office, we’ll fix it. On December 30th, Russia announced that there would be no retaliation for President Obama’s actions (this was such a weird response from the Russians, it actually triggered the investigation that cost Flynn his job). When the fact that the call had taken place leaked out publicly, President Trump and officials from his administration began being asked if Flynn had discussed the sanctions with the Russian Ambassador. Some of those officials decided to go to the source and asked Flynn directly. Flynn denied it, so those officials – including (at least) White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Press Secretary Sean Spicer, and most significantly, Vice President Mike Pence – put their own credibility on the line and made public statements that Flynn had not discussed the sanctions during the phone call.

Towards the end of January, the Justice Department informed the White House, through White House Counsel Donald McGahn, that Flynn may be subject to blackmail by the Russians because he had not been truthful with the Administration officials about that conversation, and the Russians – who of course knew full well that Flynn had indeed discussed the sanctions – could threaten to expose his lies. According to Sean Spicer (at this morning’s press briefing), McGahn immediately informed the President.

This raises one of the key questions about this whole kerfuffle. If President Trump knew WEEKS AGO that Flynn had lied to Vice President Pence and the others, and had acted to undermine the actions of the sitting President on an issue of national security, then why is Flynn just now leaving? If, as Sean Spicer insisted this morning, Flynn was asked to resign due to a lack of trust, why now? What is different between the end of January, when President Trump clearly knew Flynn had misled several Administration officials, and now?

Meanwhile, more has come to the surface. It turns out that Flynn has been in regular contact with the Russians since some time before the election! Given that our Intelligence Services have determined – beyond any doubt, no matter what President Trump says to try to downplay it – that Russia attempted to interfere with the election (to Mr. Trump’s benefit), it seems reasonable to ask what Flynn talked with the Russians about. Given that transcripts apparently exist of those calls as well, it might behoove the Trump Administration to just tell the truth – we’ll eventually find out anyway.

When it comes to this Administration telling the truth, however, they haven’t exactly excelled at that – especially not in this case. Their answers to various questions about this whole chain of events have been all over the map. As just a couple of examples:

Around 4:00 in the afternoon on Monday, February 13th, Senior White House Advisor Kellyanne Conway said on national television that President Trump still had “full confidence” in Flynn (by 11:00 that evening, Flynn had resigned), and was still insisting this morning that Flynn really did have President Trump’s full confidence right up until 11:00 the previous evening, when “obviously the situation had become unsustainable”. However, at the White House Press briefing this morning, Press Secretary Sean Spicer affirmed that President Trump had known for weeks that Flynn had lied to the various officials (including Spicer himself), and that the President’s trust in Flynn had been eroding throughout that time.

Which is it?

Conway said that Flynn had decided on his own to resign so as not to be a “distraction”, but at the press briefing this morning Spicer insisted that it had been the President’s decision to ask Flynn for his resignation.

Again, which is it?

Not that we’ll ever get a satisfactory answer…so, moving on…

The Trump Administration simply does not seem to grasp the seriousness of all this. Spicer emphasized this morning that Flynn was not asked to resign due to any legal issues his contacts with the Russian Ambassador may have introduced (in fact, Spicer blatantly claimed that there were no legal issues involved); instead , “The issue pure and simple came down to a matter of trust.” However, there are clear legal issues surrounding the whole affair, including whether Flynn, speaking on behalf of the Trump Campaign before the election, was colluding with the Russians as they tried to interfere on Trump’s behalf with the November 8th election (which would involve all sorts of legal violations), whether Flynn’s call of December 29th undermined the national interests of the United States by undermining the impact of the sanctions being imposed by the then-President as punishment for interference in the November election (this would be tantamount to Treason), and whether Flynn acted on his own initiative when he told the Russian Ambassador not to retaliate for the sanctions because the incoming administration would fix it, or, more likely, if Flynn, who has spent most of his adult life in the military and could certainly be assumed to have internalized the notion of a chain of command, was following orders from his superiors (Donald Trump?). If President Trump was knowingly undermining the actions of his predecessor before taking office, Congress may have something to say about that. We’ll just have to wait and see.

The Trump Administration doesn ‘t see anything serious in all this – instead, from President Trump on down, the Administration is crying foul over the leaks that led to this story getting out. According to their way of thinking, what Michael Flynn did was no problem at all – the only problem is that we found out about it.

This philosophy will not serve the Administration well over time.

The bottom line here is that this is a mess, and it is not going away anytime soon. What’s more, this scandal may have “legs”, as new investigations flesh out the missing details. So many questions remain: Who else is involved? Was Flynn following orders on December 29th? If so, whose orders (hard to believe it would be anyone besides Donald Trump)? What are the ties between various Administration officials – including President Trump – and Russia, and how deep do they go? Most importantly, regarding Flynn’s calls with Russian officials during the campaign and the call on December 29th, I will ask one of the most classic questions in American politics:

What did the President know, and when did he know it?

It will be the answer to this question, more than anything else, that will determine how this scandal affects the Trump Administration in the long run.

 

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February 9, 2017:  The Travel Ban is (thankfully) Dead. Not that President Trump Will Let it Go…

Today a three-judge panel (two Democratic appointees and one Republican appointee) from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld last week’s order from a federal district judge in Seattle granting an emergency stay against the implementation of President Trump’s travel ban regarding seven Muslim-Majority countries. The panel agreed with the lower-court ruling that the states had standing to challenge the travel ban, that the Trump Administration had failed to show that they were likely to prevail when the ban was considered on its merits, and that there was no evidence of any harm in keeping the stay in place. Given that this was a unanimous decision among judges appointed by both Democrats and Republicans, this is a severe blow to President Trump.

It is also the final death knell for the travel ban. The way I see it, the ban is dead. Period. No chance of resuscitation whatsoever. But President Trump will persist.

It seems to me that President Trump now has three possible paths he can follow in response to this. He could:

  1. Let it go and not appeal the 9th Circuit’s decision.
  2. Ask for a hearing before the full 9th Circuit Court.
  3. Appeal the 9th Circuit Panel’s decision directly to the United States Supreme Court.

Let’s examine each of these options. First, the “Let it Go” strategy. Is there anybody out there who actually thinks there is any real chance of this happening? In my view, this is the least likely of the three to actually happen, simply because it would be so out of character for President Trump. But it may just be the best option he has remaining, because at least this way there is no nation-wide precedent set; the precedent would only apply within the 9th Circuit’s territory.

The second possibility is for the Trump Administration to ask for a hearing before the full 9th Circuit. This would actually just offer an intermediate step on the road to the direct-appeal-to-the-Supreme-Court option, because whichever side lost with the full court would then appeal the decision to the Supreme Court anyway. The main reason this scenario is not all that likely (although still more likely than no appeal at all) is that the 9th Circuit has a well-deserved reputation as a very liberal court, and the Trump people may decide that the probability of another adverse ruling – perhaps even a unanimous one, which would be devastating to their cause – is just too high.  This leaves the only remaining – and therefore most likely – option being a direct appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Now here’s where things get tricky. In order to overturn a Circuit Court ruling like the one handed down today, a majority of the Supreme Court must agree; a tie vote won’t do it. Right now the court consists of eight Justices – four (Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Alito, Kennedy, and Thomas) generally regarded as being on the conservative side, and the other four (Associate Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor) generally regarded as being on the liberal side. Five votes are needed to set a national precedent, whichever way the ruling goes.

Without too much strain on my imagination, I could see this ending in a 4-4 tie, which would have the effect of upholding the 9th Circuit’s ruling but would not set a national precedent. I could also see Justice Anthony Kennedy – widely viewed as the Court’s swing vote – siding with the liberals for a 5-3 ruling against the President’s ban, which would set a national precedent. I could even see Chief Justice Roberts joining with Justice Kennedy and the liberals for a 6-2 ruling against the travel ban. If I really strain myself, I could even see a unanimous ruling against the Trump Administration. The one thing I absolutely cannot see happening is any of the four liberal Justices siding with the conservatives and ruling in favor of President Trump’s ban. There is just no way any of those four would vote that way.

Basically, this would mean that the absolute best result President Trump could realistically hope for from the Supreme Court is a 4-4 tie, which would have the exact same effect as if he didn’t appeal the 9th Circuit’s ruling at all. The only thing he is adding by filing an appeal is a fairly significant risk of an adverse ruling.

This is why President Trump’s best option may just be to let it go – and that’s something no one believes he will do.

 

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December 1, 2016:  Trump Tweets, and the People Cringe

Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!

So said – well, tweeted – President-Elect Donald Trump early (3:55am) Tuesday morning. This is remarkable for several reasons:

First of all, the President-Elect seems to be using Twitter to send up “trial balloons” or to “think out loud”, making it extremely difficult to figure out how serious he may be about the expressed position on whatever issue he has addressed in the tweet. This is a real problem. He genuinely doesn’t seem to understand that as President (and as President-Elect), his words matter. They really do. Members of Congress, Governors, World Leaders, and ordinary citizens all over the country and around the world are paying attention and making decisions how to respond to virtually every single thing an American President (or President-Elect) says or does, 24/7/365. Unfortunately, as with many of his previous tweets, this one clearly shows his utter lack of knowledge about our government, our Constitution, and how America works.

If he had bothered to do a simple Google search, he would have known that the United States Supreme Court has already ruled – twice – that burning the American flag is a form of political expression (or “symbolic speech”, as they called it in their 1989 opinion in Texas v. Johnson) and is therefore protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution. In other words, President-Elect Trump is proposing severe punishment for Americans who are actually exercising their Constitutional rights.

If he had bothered to look into the idea at all before issuing his “policy proposal” (if that’s in fact what this tweet represented), President-Elect Trump would have known that in America we do not imprison people for expressing political opinions we disagree with. This is a fundamental attribute of our nation that separates us from much of the world, and it is more than a little frightening that he doesn’t seem to understand this. America has a long history of freedom of political expression, and we would not be the country that we have become over the last 200+ years without that essential freedom. Don’t get me wrong – I am no fan of burning the American flag, and I am in strong disagreement with the political opinions that might be expressed by such an act. However, if that political opinion can be punished, so can mine – and so can yours. If expressing a political opinion can be punished by the very government that opinion is criticizing, then Freedom of Speech becomes meaningless – regardless of how repugnant the form of that expression might be. Like the expression of any opinion I might disagree with, I might not like the opinion being expressed, but I would stand up and fight for the person’s right to express it.

If he had bothered to ask a lawyer first, President-Elect Trump would have known that the federal government cannot revoke citizenship. In Trop v Dulles (1958), the Supreme Court ruled that “citizenship is not subject to the general powers of the National Government, and therefore cannot be divested in the exercise of those powers…the deprivation of citizenship is not a weapon that the Government may use to express its displeasure at a citizen’s conduct, however reprehensible that conduct may be. As long as a person does not voluntarily renounce or abandon his citizenship…his fundamental right of citizenship is secure.” While the case being decided involved the question of wartime desertion by a member of the military, the Court made it clear that this concept applied more broadly. Read through the Constitution yourself – the 14th Amendment establishes how a person becomes a citizen (being “born or naturalized in the United States”), but there is absolutely no provision anywhere in the Constitution for any way the government could take that citizenship away. The court has ruled that a citizen can “voluntarily renounce or abandon” their citizenship, but it cannot be forcibly taken away absent such an overt act. The bottom line here is that the federal government simply does not have the authority to revoke a person’s citizenship. In fact, that power rests entirely with the individual in question, who must “voluntarily relinquish” their citizenship through some overt act, such as renouncing their citizenship, declaring their allegiance to another country, or attempting to levy war against the United States.

If he had bothered to make even the slightest attempt to research the issue, President-Elect Trump would have learned that the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Mr. Trump has referred to as a “brilliant Supreme Court Justice, one of the best of all time”, joined with the majority both times the Court ruled bans against flag burning to be unconstitutional – Texas v. Johnson (1989) and United States v. Eichman (1990) – and repeatedly defended the Court’s position over the years, including shortly before his death. The President-Elect has even said that he would use Justice Scalia as a model in determining the type of judge he would want to nominate for the Supreme Court. I find it fascinating that Mr. Trump reveres Antonin Scalia as a Justice, but proposes policy positions that Justice Scalia clearly disagreed with – and cast votes against while on the Bench.

The fundamental problem here goes far beyond this single issue or any individual tweet; it is that President-Elect Trump’s early morning tweet storms – of which this is just the latest example – only serve to demonstrate his complete lack of understanding of the job he is about to take on, as well as his total lack of impulse control.

And if that doesn’t concern you, it should.

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November 9, 2016:  I was Wrong – But I Wasn’t Alone.

I was wrong. I admit it. I wasn’t just a little bit wrong. I was stunningly, horribly, totally and completely wrong.

But I wasn’t alone. Every prognosticator, every pollster (with a few notable exceptions), every commentator that didn’t work for the Trump campaign, and every other bit of what I considered to be reliable evidence that I could find out there indicated that Hillary Clinton would win this election. Many believed she would win by a wide margin. Going into Election Day, Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com gave Clinton a 71% chance of winning, and he was the low-ball estimate of her chances (others had her chances in the 80’s and 90’s). Even Fox News predicted a Clinton victory. It was a done deal.

We were all wrong.

Donald Trump, his campaign staff, and his surrogates have been saying for months that there were “shy Trump voters” out there, a “Silent Majority” (as Richard Nixon called them) who would come out and vote for Trump but were being missed by the pollsters. They were scoffed at and ridiculed for this (by many, including your truly), but they were clearly correct.

But I make no excuses. I was wrong – period.

Now we need to move forward together as a country. Donald Trump struck just the right note in his victory speech, was very gracious to Hillary Clinton, and sure sounded like he wants to bring the nation together after one of the most divisive election seasons in our history. I hope he can, and he will have my support in that. I will continue to be vigilant, however, and speak out when I disagree with something he has said or done. This is our obligation as citizens of this great country – to be engaged in the progress of moving this great country forward, and do what we must to keep the country heading in the right direction.

I have used this metaphor before, but it fits here, so I’ll use it again. Imagine if you will that you were to see a loved one walking down a path, and you realized that continuing on that path would lead them over a cliff. Are you not obligated to call out, loud enough for your loved one to hear, and convince them to change their direction?  Of course you are – but is it not the same for our country?  If you see our country heading in a dangerous direction, are you not obligated to call out, loud enough for the leaders of our country to hear, and convince them to change that direction?  To do so is an act of love and concern and – yes – it is an act of patriotism. This is the obligation of every American, regardless of who is President, and that has not changed.

There will be time in the coming four years for disagreement and acrimony, and I have no doubt that I will be on both the sending and the receiving end of that. But now is not that time. Now is the time for our nation to pull together. We are all Americans first – before party, before ideology. As President Obama said today, we are all on the same team, and this was just an intramural scrimmage.

I believe strongly in American resilience. Despite what I know many Democrats and others who did not support Mr. Trump are feeling this morning, we will survive this. We will unite as a country, and we will move forward – together.

And on that point, I am not wrong.

 

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November 1, 2016: One Week To Go – Where Do We Stand?

This raucous election is finally, mercifully, thankfully almost over. We just have to survive the continuing onslaught of nastiness – the relentless TV and radio ads, the deluge of misleading mailers, the sleazy allegations in campaign speeches, the astonishingly inept news coverage, and the blathering of the partisan pundits – for one more week. Many of you have wondered if we will survive until then. I, however, have enough faith in America to believe we will make it to next Tuesday with our nation intact, despite all of the doomsday naysayers who may have led you to believe otherwise.

So…where does the Presidential race stand?

At the moment it appears that Hillary Clinton will be able to hang on to win over Donald Trump. Depending on who is doing the calculations, her chances of victory range from about 73% (fivethirtyeight.com) to 88% (New York Times). In terms of electoral votes, take a look at the following chart (you can use the links in the “Source” column for more details):

Source

Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump Toss-Ups
270toWin

258

157

123

Real Clear Politics

259

164

115

New York Times

272

163

103

ABC News

278

180

80

Fox News

287

174

77

Five Thirty Eight

304.2

232.7

1.1 (McMullen)

Los Angeles Times

308 174

56

 

As you can see, every source listed here gives Hillary Clinton a decided advantage in the Electoral College – even Fox News is predicting that she will win the election with 287 electoral votes!

The bottom line here is that Hillary is the clear favorite to win the election, no matter what Donald Trump himself says, or whatever Kellyanne Conway, Corey Lewandowski, Katrina Pierson, or any of the other die-hard Trump supporters who refuse to face reality may try to claim. No matter how many Trump fans chant “Lock Her Up!” at his rallies, there doesn’t seem to be anything that Trump could do that would prevent a Clinton victory at this point. The only real questions are the size of her margin and how her victory will affect down-ballot races.

So take heart, America: our long national nightmare will end just one week from today.

 

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October 17, 2016: It’s All Over But the Fighting (But There May Be a Lot of That)

As we go into the final few weeks of this raucous campaign season, we are more certain of the outcome than we have been in most years past. As of today, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump nationally in the Real Clear Politics (RCP) polling average by 7.1 points in a two-way race – the largest margin she has enjoyed since August 9th, a time when the Democratic convention had just ended and Trump was going after a Gold-Star family for the heinous act of criticizing him. As her lead in national polls has increased, so have her numbers in various swing states (which, after all, is how we actually elect Presidents). The various prediction models currently show her chances of winning the election to be approaching 90%. The questions being asked now are not about who will win, but rather how large Clinton’s margin will be, and how will that affect the down-ballot races. There is even serious discussion that the Republican majority in the House of Representatives could be in danger – a possibility that was not taken seriously until this week. Many Republicans are bracing for impact.

A second major factor in Clinton’s favor is that the Clinton campaign has a tremendous ground-game and get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort, while Trump’s are virtually non-existent. Apparently the Trump campaign was hoping that the Republican National Committee (RNC) and the various state Party organizations would step up and provide these, but they have even shot themselves in the foot on that – recently the Trump campaign cut ties with the Republican State Party Chairman in Ohio. Ohio! No Republican has ever won the Presidency – ever – without winning Ohio. Trump is currently leading in Ohio, but by just 0.7 points according to RCP, ground easily made up by the difference in the two campaigns’ GOTV capabilities.

Third, the Clinton campaign has a massive advantage in fundraising. According to Bloomberg, the Clinton campaign has raised a total of $753 million, and still has $161.5 million on hand. The Trump campaign, by contrast, has raised a total of $372.8 million, and has $92.5 million on hand. The lopsided fundraising numbers remain true when SuperPACs are added in: Clinton SuperPACs have raised $150.4 million, and still have over $65 million on hand; Trump SuperPACs have raised just $50.4 million, and have $19.1 million on hand. The combined totals for current cash on hand between the campaigns and their SuperPACs are $226.7 million for Clinton and $111.7 million for Trump. Clinton is so far ahead in the money race at this point that she is holding about twice as many fundraisers as campaign events over the last several weeks, and many of these fundraisers are for down-ballot candidates for House and Senate seats (a smart move – this will help ensure their loyalty to her when it comes to voting on legislation), as well as for the national and state Party organizations. She has plenty of money for ad buys in the key swing states, and is even buying ad time – two million dollars’ worth – in Arizona, a state that has only voted for a Democrat once in the last 16 Presidential elections, and that was in 1996 – a year when Ross Perot probably took enough votes away from Bob Dole, the GOP candidate, to hand the state to Bill Clinton.

Fourth, Clinton has a significant advantage in surrogates. She has at least six surrogates – President Obama, Michelle Obama, Vice President Biden, former President Bill Clinton, Senator Bernie Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren – in addition to her running mate, Tim Kaine, who can each fill an arena all on their own; Clinton doesn’t even need to be there. This means that there could conceivably be as many as eight simultaneous Clinton rallies going on in different battleground states on any given day . Trump has precisely nobody – other than his running mate, Mike Pence – who can do this. Rudy Giuliani? Not a chance. Newt Gingrich? Please. Chris Christie? He isn’t even appearing on TV or at rallies with Trump anymore (thanks in large part to damaging revelations at the “Bridge-gate” trial). Trump and Pence just don’t have anyone else who can fill this role for them, so one of them has to personally lead every rally. There can only be two Trump rallies at a time, compared to as many as eight for Clinton.

Finally, Clinton has the advantage in the debates. She has, by all accounts except Trump’s own (along with some unscientific, “opt-in”, vote-as-many-times-as-you-want online polls, which are garbage), won both of the first two debates handily, and will likely prevail again in this week’s final meeting (no one really cares about the Vice Presidential debate, but my take was that it was a bit of a draw – Mike Pence winning on style points but Tim Kaine winning on content). I have no doubt that during the final debate on Wednesday, Trump will throw everything he can think of at Clinton, but she has shown that she can handle that without breaking a sweat. She has taken several days off of the campaign trail to prepare (as has been her practice – and it has shown in her strong debate performances so far), while Trump has continued to engage in minimal preparation (which has also shown in his debate performances – unfortunately for him), choosing instead to hold more rallies, where he criticizes Clinton’s time away from campaigning and attempts to re-awaken the notion that Clinton’s time away from the campaign trail is due to some non-existent, mysterious health problem rather than for debate prep (this hasn’t worked yet, and won’t now). Basically, Trump is done.

Trump’s response to his worsening fortunes over the past few weeks has been to launch a scorched-earth, take-no-prisoners campaign in which he has questioned the validity of the electoral process itself and has attacked anybody and everybody who fails to express utter adoration for him – even his own Party’s leadership. This will not endear him to the GOP, and I fully expect the Republican Party to attempt to put this whole election season behind them as some sort of bizarre aberration, and to virtually ex-communicate Trump. Many in the GOP have expressed fears of severe long-term damage to the Party – as long-time GOP campaign consultant Kevin Madden noted, “We [the Republican Party] just have to get through the next few weeks and then assess the damage. It’s going to be pretty severe.” – and they may well be right. Several recent polls show Trump at about 38% nationally (Huffpost Polster currently has Trump at 38.3%). This is absolutely abysmal, and places Trump within striking distance of the worst showings by major-party candidates since the 1920’s: George H. W. Bush in 1992 (he received just 37.4% of the national popular vote), George McGovern in 1972 (37.5%), Barry Goldwater in 1964 (38.5%), Alf Landon in 1936 (36.5%), and Herbert Hoover in 1932 (39.6%). Every other major-party candidate since 1924 has received at least 40% of the national popular vote – even Walter Mondale broke the 40% mark (he won 40.6%) in 1984, despite suffering the worst Electoral College defeat since 1820 (Ronald Reagan won 525 out of 538 electoral votes that year). There is a very real possibility of Trump finishing with the lowest percentage of the popular vote since 1924, when Democratic candidate John Davis received just 28.8% of the vote (there was also a strong 3rd-Party candidate that year, Robert LaFollette, who received more than 16% of the vote). This cannot bode well for the GOP in down-ballot races, or for the foreseeable future.

So…yes. It’s over. Trump has lost. What really worries me now is the potential for violence at polling places on Election Day – violence that has been brought about by Trump’s own words.

At his rallies, Trump has frequently instigated violence among his supporters – telling them that they should “knock the crap” out of protesters, and that he [Trump] would pay their legal fees if they got into legal trouble for doing so. His supporters have obeyed with enthusiasm, sucker-punching protesters as they are being led out of rallies and so forth. Now Trump is encouraging his supporters to keep an eye on polling places in “certain areas” (clearly a reference to urban minority neighborhoods), and many supporters have signed up as “election observers” for this purpose. While enlisting supporters as election observers is normal for any Presidential campaign, the tone this year is so different that I shudder to think how aggressive Trump’s observers will be, and how the voters they are accosting will react. I believe the potential for violence and/or voter intimidation is very real, and would serve as an ugly finale to this incredibly ugly campaign. Hopefully, this won’t happen, but we’ll have to wait and see.

It would be nice if Trump would do something – anything – to discourage his supporters from engaging in this sort of violence. I won’t hold my breath.

 

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October 13, 2016: New York Times v. Sullivan Trump

So Donald Trump wants to sue the New York Times over a news story. Perhaps he should talk to an actual lawyer first.

During the second Presidential debate on Sunday, moderator Anderson Cooper was pressing Trump on whether or not he had actually done the things he described to Billy Bush on that now-infamous video. Trump kept trying to talk around the question, but Cooper persisted and Trump finally said, “No I didn’t”. As soon as he said that, I knew he was in trouble.

Why? Because all it would take to make him look like a liar would be for one woman to come out publicly and contradict him. I also didn’t think there would be only one.

Well, I was right – and it didn’t take long for it to happen. Yesterday, the New York Times published an article in which two women allege unwanted sexual touching by Trump. Given that the debate was on Sunday evening (ending around 10:30 PM EDT), and the Times had to go to press late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning, it took just two days for the first reporting of women making this type of allegation to make it into the press. I say “first” because there are bound to be more women who come forward. In fact, I suspect the floodgates are about to open.

Trump’s response has been his usual predictable bluster – he says he will sue the New York Times over the article. The only thing he would prove by filing that lawsuit is that he is an idiot.

Perhaps a little background is in order. Back in 1960, the New York Times ran an advertisement in support of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., soliciting funds for his legal defense in a perjury indictment in Alabama. The advertisement claimed that police in Montgomery, Alabama had arrested Dr. King seven times, but at that point in time he had only been arrested in Montgomery four times. The Public Safety Commissioner of Montgomery, L. B. Sullivan, sued for libel (he believed the advertisement reflected badly on him because his duties included overseeing the police), and he won $500,000 from an Alabama Court. The case was appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court which, in 1964, overturned the Alabama court’s ruling by a unanimous 9-0 decision. The Supreme Court ruled that plaintiffs in libel cases who are “public figures” (which would certainly apply to Trump) must show that the defendant (in this case, the New York Times) showed “actual malice” – that they either knew the information was false or acted with “reckless disregard” for the truth or falsity of the statement(s) in question. The resulting decision, New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), became a landmark decision on the issue of freedom of the press.

Now Trump wants to sue the Times over this article. Good luck. The Times has reported that these two women are making these allegations, which is true, so they would be protected under the New York Times v. Sullivan decision, which every court in the land must abide by. Whether these two women are telling the truth or not – I have no idea one way or the other – would simply not be relevant to the case (as opposed to being relevant to the election).

The bottom line here is that Trump’s threat of a lawsuit against the New York Times is no threat at all, and the Times knows it (for its part, the Times is sticking by its story). Donald Trump is not going to sue the New York Times. It won’t happen. What will probably happen is that more and more women will come forward with similar allegations. Meanwhile, Trump will continue to bluster and thrash about for someone to blame for his rapidly deteriorating poll numbers, when all he needs to do is look in the mirror.

This should make for an interesting 27 days…

 

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October 10, 2016: A Debate to Remember

Last night, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton faced each other for a second time on the debate stage, this time in a “Town Hall” format. They put on quite a show – this one won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Things got going a bit early. Donald Trump, whose campaign has been in free-fall since the release of a video showing Trump making some really vile sexual statements about women and, according to most analysts, confessing to being a serial sexual abuser (see previous post for more details), decided to take things even further into the gutter and, about 90 minutes before the debate was set to begin, staged a surprise press conference with three women who have accused Bill Clinton of sexual misconduct in the past. He then brought all three to the debate and tried to have them seated in the family box (where they would be in close proximity to Bill Clinton). Officials from the non-partisan Commission on Presidential Debates prevented that from happening – the women had to settle for sitting with rest of the viewing audience.

And all that was before the debate even started.

The opening of the debate made it obvious how this one was going to go – Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump refused to shake hands when they first were introduced on the stage (I’m not sure, but I believe this is unprecedented). Things went downhill from there. Things got off to a rocky start for Trump with the questions he had to know were coming – questions about that tape. Stunningly, he gave the same rationalization for his language heard on the tape as he did Friday night – that this was just locker room talk. Given that using that excuse on Friday had resulted in three dozen Republican office-holders un-endorsing him, it’s hard to see why he would have thought this would work any better this time around. It didn’t. He mentioned the three women that he had brought to the debate (actually, a fourth woman had joined them; she had allegedly been raped at the age of 12 and Hillary – a Public Defender at the time – was assigned to defend her alleged attacker). That didn’t work either. All in all, the first 20 minutes or so of the debate were just catastrophic for Trump.

Although Trump was clearly better prepared (at least in terms of answering policy questions, although he still needed to do better – more on that later) than he was for the first debate, his behavior didn’t improve much. He interrupted Clinton less often than last time, but while Hillary was talking, Trump wandered around the stage, often coming up behind Clinton as she spoke directly to an undecided voter who had asked a question, even seeming to loom over her at times (Trump is 6’ 3”; Clinton is 5’ 6”). Several “Body Language Experts” (who knew that was even a job?) said today in no uncertain terms that Trump was exhibiting “predator behavior” and was trying to intimidate Hillary. Perhaps – or perhaps not. Maybe he just had an itch and couldn’t stay still. Who knows? All I know is that it looked bad.

There were two moments that are each worthy of separate discussions, but I will discuss them briefly here. One was when Trump was asked what he would do about Syria and the humanitarian crisis currently taking place in the city of Aleppo, especially considering Mike Pence’s answer at the Vice Presidential debate, which basically said that we have to be ready to bomb Assad’s military targets and confront the Russians. Trump simply replied that he and Pence had not spoken, and that he did not agree with Pence on this issue. This is, like so much else in this race, totally unprecedented. Such an open disagreement between running mates on a major issue like this is absolutely unheard of. Trump then continued his answer, and it wasn’t good. Basically, Trump’s position is that we should ally ourselves with Russia, Syria, and Iran, because they are all fighting ISIS. He then switched over to talking about Mosul, Iraq, and criticized how the Obama Administration has handled that situation (Remember, this was a question specifically about the humanitarian crisis in Aleppo). It was just weird. Why would Trump throw Mike Pence under the bus like this? I’m not entirely sure, but I think Trump was reminding Pence who was at the top of the ticket, and who was second banana. It was an “alpha dog” move, plain and simple. It may also have been retaliation for what Trump considered Pence’s not-supportive-enough response to that tape. Others have suggested that Trump resented that Pence got good reviews for his debate performance at the Vice Presidential debate, but Trump’s performance at the first Presidential debate was universally panned. We’ll probably never know why Trump did this, but he blew it on this question, both with the disagreement with his running mate and on just not answering the question that he had been asked.

The second strange moment came when Trump basically threatened to imprison his opponent. What are we, some 3rd-world junta? Something like that might be normal behavior among dictators, but we live in a democracy where political figures don’t get jailed when they lose. This simply does not happen here. Trump, however, doubled down on imprisoning Hillary at a rally this morning. Nice.

Trump did get a few good lines in, and his followers were probably thrilled to hear him going after Hillary on her deleted emails. That’s the only thing they had to cheer about, though.

For her part, Hillary was a bit off her game (especially when compared to her masterful performance at the first debate), but still turned in a credible performance. If Trump intended the surprise appearance of the women he brought to rattle Hillary, it didn’t work. She remained calm, and gave good answers to most of the questions. She remained by her stool, quietly drinking water and taking notes, when Trump was speaking. Given that she came into this debate ahead nationally by about 5%, that’s all she had to do. By that standard, she succeeded.

We won’t know what impact this debate will have on the overall race for several days (I wouldn’t put too much credence in any poll that came out before Friday), but what I saw was a clear Clinton win – and that’s really bad news for Trump. We still have about a month to go before Election Day, and I expect things to get even uglier than they are already. Trump seems intent on dragging this whole election into the gutter; Hillary says “When they go low, we go high” (quoting Michelle Obama).

Time will tell.

 

 

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October 9, 2016:  Sex, Lies, and Videotape

Every time I think this campaign cannot possibly get any crazier, I am proven wrong. Not just a little bit wrong, but enormously, incredibly wrong. I would like to say that this one beats them all, but I can’t – there will undoubtedly be more to come, and whatever it is will very likely be even worse.

Donald Trump’s campaign is now in utter chaos over a videotape that was released late Friday afternoon. The video is from an un-aired portion of an appearance by Trump on “Access Hollywood”, in which Trump is talking with Billy Bush then of “Access Hollywood” (and now of “The Today Show”, from which he was “indefinitely suspended” this morning because of this video). Among other things, Trump tells Bush (yes, he’s related to those Bushes – he’s Poppy Bush’s nephew and cousin to George W. and Jeb) that he had … well, here’s the transcript:

Trump: I moved on her [former “Access Hollywood” Anchor Nancy O’Dell, and now of “Entertainment Tonight”], actually. You know, she was down on Palm Beach. I moved on her, and I failed. I’ll admit it.

Unknown: Whoa.

Trump: I did try and fuck her. She was married.

Unknown: That’s huge news.

Trump: No, no, Nancy. No, this was [unintelligible] — and I moved on her very heavily. In fact, I took her out furniture shopping. She wanted to get some furniture. I said, “I’ll show you where they have some nice furniture.” I took her out furniture — I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything. She’s totally changed her look.

[At this point in the video they see actress Arianne Zucker of “Days of Our Lives” – Trump was there to appear in a cameo on the show – leading to the following exchange]

Billy Bush: Sheesh, your girl’s hot as shit. In the purple.

Trump: Whoa! Whoa!

Bush: Yes! The Donald has scored. Whoa, my man!

[Crosstalk]

Trump: Look at you, you are a pussy.

[Crosstalk]

Trump: All right, you and I will walk out.

[Silence]

Trump: Maybe it’s a different one.

Bush: It better not be the publicist. No, it’s, it’s her, it’s —

Trump: Yeah, that’s her. With the gold. I better use some Tic Tacs just in case I start kissing her. You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.

Bush: Whatever you want.

Trump: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.

Bush: Uh, yeah, those legs, all I can see is the legs.

Trump: Oh, it looks good.

Bush: Come on shorty.

Trump: Ooh, nice legs, huh?

Bush: Oof, get out of the way, honey. Oh, that’s good legs. Go ahead.

Needless to say, this has caused a firestorm. Along with the fact that this was just months after Trump married his third and current wife, Melania, there are the descriptions Trump uses of his behavior. For example, “I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait.” That’s just disgusting behavior. His excuse is even worse: “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything”. But then came the worst part – “Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.” What Trump is describing here amounts to sexual assault; California’s Penal Code, Section 243.4 (e) (1), reads, “Any person who touches an intimate part of another person, if the touching is against the will of the person touched, and is for the specific purpose of sexual arousal, sexual gratification, or sexual abuse, is guilty of misdemeanor sexual battery…” and, in Section 243.4 (e) (2), “As used in this subdivision, “touches” means physical contact with another person, whether accomplished directly, through the clothing of the person committing the offense, or through the clothing of the victim.” In other words, grabbing a woman “by the pussy” would clearly meet the definition. Trump seems to think that, just because he is famous, the women want him to do this, and that his actions are not “against the will of the person touched”.

What a guy.

The level of disrespect for women that is indicated by these remarks is far beyond anything that could be considered to be even remotely acceptable in a Presidential candidate. Trump’s initial response (which of course came out on Twitter) read, ““This was locker room banter, a private conversation that took place many years ago. Bill Clinton has said far worse to me on the golf course – not even close. I apologize if anyone was offended.”

If anyone was offended? Wow. This statement made it very clear that Trump didn’t see anything wrong with what he had said, and besides, it was a long time ago. Everybody does it, right? The reference to Bill Clinton was universally seen as a “shot across the bow” of the Clinton campaign, making it clear that he would not hesitate to bring up Bill Clinton’s various sexual escapades and other scandals if he (Trump) had to face consequences for what this tape showed.

I have to ask – is this the kind of person we want as President? Is this the kind of person we want as a role model for our children? Is this what American has come to?

This non-apology was a serious miscalculation on Trump’s part. Trump, who was holed up in Trump Tower with Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie, Reince Priebus, Kelly Ann Conway and members of his family as this all unfolded, apparently was worried about what the Clinton campaign would do with this tape, but it appears that he never saw his own party’s reaction coming. On Saturday, some prominent Republican Senate candidates began the mass exodus away from Trump – Kelly Ayotte, John McCain, Pat Toomey, and others “un-endorsed him” and made it clear that his comments were so offensive that they could no longer support Trump, or even vote for him.

Realizing that his Friday night tweet wouldn’t cut it, Trump released an apology on video (on Facebook and, of course, Twitter), in a clear attempt to stanch the bleeding. It didn’t work. Even Melania Trump issued a statement, noting that her husband’s comments heard on the tape were “unacceptable and offensive”, but asking Americans to “accept his apology, as I have…” That didn’t work either. By late Sunday, more than three dozen Republicans had left the Trump fold, and about two dozen of these actually called on Trump to withdraw from the race.

The highest-ranking elected Republican in America, House Speaker Paul Ryan, issued a statement saying he would no longer defend, support, or campaign for Donald Trump; he will instead focus his energy on maintaining the Republican majority in the House of Representatives (something that has been widely regarded as not being in any real danger – until now). While Ryan did not “un-endorse” Trump, he made it clear that he was only leaving his endorsement in place because he felt an obligation as the highest-ranking Republican official in the country to do so.

Not exactly a vote of confidence in Trump.

It is important to understand just how unprecedented this is; we are one month away from Election Day, and the Presidential candidate and his party are at war. This has simply never happened before. Ever. To top it all off, this has happened in the context of the build-up to the second Presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, which takes place tonight. Great timing, huh?

You can’t buy entertainment like this. You just can’t.

 

 

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October 5, 2016:  Who Won the Vice Presidential Debate?

So…did you watch the Vice Presidential debate? If not, you are in good company – neither did about roughly 90% of Americans; the estimates are that about 37 million people watched, which sounds like a lot, but it’s only about 10% of the population of the country (and about half the number that watched Clinton and Trump’s debate last week), and some of those 37 million were watching from overseas. Also, according to several polls, less than 50% of Americans could even identify who the running mates were, much less knew anything about them. While both Trump and Clinton have been in the public eye for decades, Pence and Kaine have been in public life but not in the public eye (except to political junkies like me).

Having said that, who won? Well, much like the first Presidential debate, we won’t really know for several days. Unlike the first Presidential debate, the most likely scenario is that we won’t know for sure even then, because odds are that this debate will have approximately zero impact on the polls*.

This was the only chance these two will have to face off against each other during this campaign, and they came into this debate facing very different tasks. Kaine had to avoid doing anything that would stop Clinton’s momentum that has resulted from her trouncing of Trump at their first debate on September 26th. Pence had to do something to stanch the bleeding, and – if possible – even make up some of that lost ground. By this metric, Kaine was successful, and Pence probably was not (time will tell).

There is one more thing that I feel compelled to address, although I shouldn’t have to because this is so ridiculous. On social media (especially Twitter), the right wing went into a freak-out over Tim Kaine’s lapel pin. Mike Pence was wearing an American Flag lapel pin, but Kaine’s pin shows a single blue star on a white field, surrounded by a red border (see photo below). Many on the right raised the question, most of them just noting that it was not an American Flag and asking what it was. On the other hand, the North Carolina Republican Party – on their official Twitter feed! – actually accused Kaine of wearing a pin depicting the flag of Honduras (the pin looks nothing like the flag of Honduras – again, see photo below –  but just curiously, what was their thinking on why he would wear such a thing?). Here’s the truth: Kaine was wearing the pin of a “Blue Star” family – one with a family member actively serving in the military. While the average guy on the street might not know that, the North Carolina Republicans certainly should have. They should hang their collective heads in shame. For what it’s worth, Pence could have worn the same pin – he and Kaine both have sons on active duty in the Marines.

Tim Kaine’s Lapel Pin looks like this:

Democratic vice presidential nominee Senator Tim Kaine speaks on the third night at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Segar TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

The Flag of Honduras looks like this:

honduras-flag

Now, on to my impressions of the debate itself:

Mike Pence (he was the one with the perfect grey hair, for those of you who weren’t sure) spent most of the night fending off attacks about things Donald Trump has said and/or done – or, more accurately, NOT fending off those attacks, but rather trying to change the subject or claiming that Trump had not actually said and/or done whatever it was that Trump really had said and/or done.

Tim Kaine (he was the one with the constantly-raised eyebrows) spent most of the night attacking Donald Trump – perhaps a bit too aggressively – and occasionally defending Hillary Clinton from attacks about her various scandals.

I would say that Pence was easier on my ears (as opposed to my brain, which can’t seem to stop fact-checking), remained calm and even-keeled, and did as well as could be expected given what he was stuck having to defend. Kaine was constantly interrupting Pence (but not nearly as much as Trump interrupted Clinton last week), and his voice became grating after a while. Pence probably “won” on style points, but Kaine clearly “won” on content.

The bottom line? It won’t matter. Neither Pence nor Kaine’s performance was so good – or bad – that this debate would move the needle in either direction. They did accomplish one thing however – they are both now far better known to Americans than they were going into the debate, and in my view, both re-assured America that they are ready, willing, able, and qualified to step into the Oval Office on a moment’s notice should the need arise – and this is really what being Vice President is supposed to be all about. In that sense, the debate accomplished what it needed to.

Next up:  The Second Presidential debate, scheduled for this coming Sunday…

 

* By this I mean real, actual, scientific polls, not those “click here to vote now”, opt-in, vote-as-many-times-as-you-want, totally-unscientific polls you find online – those are absolutely meaningless (although that didn’t stop Trump from bragging about winning them last week; given how the real polls rated that debate, it is clear that these fake polls are garbage). The real, actual, scientific poll results won’t be available until the weekend at the earliest.

 

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September 27, 2016:  Who Won the First Debate?

I am going to try to be objective here.  Wish me luck…

First, my take on what actually happened:

Last night’s debate was like no other debate I have ever seen. Usually there is some semblance of decorum on the part of both candidates. Not so this time. Donald Trump began the debate relatively restrained, but this didn’t last. As the debate wore on, Trump just “lost it”. Hillary Clinton looked more and more plausible as a President, while Trump became less and less so. By the end of the debate, Trump’s answers were barely comprehensible; he rambled on and on and became increasingly incoherent, almost alarmingly so for someone who has come this close to becoming the President of the United States – especially on his answers to questions relating to nuclear weapons.

Trump’s meltdown – it’s difficult to call it anything else – began when Clinton brought up the fact that Trump had started out in business with a $14 million loan from his father. I don’t think this was an accident; I think this was a deliberate move on Clinton’s part to “get under Donald’s skin” by calling his business acumen into question, and it worked better than the Clinton camp could have ever realistically hoped. Trump’s unbelievably imprudent response – that he had received “a small loan” from his father – cannot be expected to endear him to the working or middle class (a $14 million loan is “small”?), which undermines a major raison d’être  of his campaign.

It only got worse.

When Hillary went after Trump for refusing to release his tax returns, Trump fell back on his standard response – that he is under a “routine audit” and cannot release his returns until the audit is complete. Unfortunately for Trump, both Clinton and moderator Lester Holt called him out on this, correctly noting that there is no IRS rule, regulation, or law of any kind that would prevent Trump from releasing his tax returns during an audit (neither one mentioned another angle; that Richard Nixon, who started the tradition of Presidential candidates releasing their tax returns back in 1973, did so while under audit). This line of attack, which Hillary has used regularly to little meaningful effect throughout the campaign, became a devastating one this time around – and Trump has no one to blame but himself. When Hillary began speculating as to why Trump doesn’t want the American people to see his tax returns – suggesting that perhaps he isn’t as rich as he says he is, he does not give to charity the way he claims, or that he doesn’t actually pay any taxes – she struck gold. When Clinton noted that Trump had to turn over some earlier tax returns to a state authority when applying for a casino license, and that those returns showed he paid no federal taxes at all, Trump interrupted (again), saying “That makes me smart”, then adding, “They would be squandered anyway, believe me”.

I can’t even begin to describe how badly I believe this will play with voters.

With these two comments, Trump actually confirmed, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that he pays no federal income taxes and – perhaps even worse – thinks that this is smart (and maybe it is in business, but not in politics; what does this say about what he thinks of all of us “taxpaying citizens” – that we’re stupid?). At this moment Trump is not just a businessman, he is a candidate for President of the United States – and not paying taxes is, at least in the minds of many Americans, absolutely disqualifying. I pay my taxes, just as I’m sure you pay yours. Most Americans would be right to ask, “Why shouldn’t Trump?”

There was more:

Trump, who frequently derides Clinton for not having the “stamina” to be President (and did so again last night), tired out after the first 20 minutes or so, somewhat like a boxer who tires out after the first few rounds (one pundit on CNN noted that by the end Trump was doing so badly that, if this had been a boxing match, the referee would have stopped the fight).

In addition to acknowledging that he does not pay any federal income tax, Trump, the “champion of the working class” candidate, did not dispute that he has regularly stiffed contractors and workers who had performed work on his properties. Trump’s response – that maybe their work wasn’t up to par – also won’t play well.

When Hillary brought up his statements disrespecting women over the years – and specifically a woman named Alicia Machado, who in 1996 had won the “Miss Universe” pageant (which Trump owned) – Trump utterly failed to defend himself, only asking “Where did you find this?” numerous times. In what was clearly a well-planned line of attack, Machado was all over the news (and Hillary Clinton’s website) this morning telling her story. The allegations against Trump in this case – that among other things he called her “Miss Piggy” and “Miss Housekeeping” (Machado, as you may have surmised, is Latina – she was representing Venezuela at the pageant), threatened to take away her crown because she had gained some weight, and that he then refused to pay her – are especially damaging because they highlight not one, but two major narratives about Trump: that he is a misogynist and that he is a racist. For a man to treat a woman the way Trump allegedly treated Machado is absolutely misogynistic and chauvinistic. For the owner of several hotels to call a Latina “Miss Housekeeping” is overtly racist. There is simply no denying this. Then, to the stunned disbelief of almost everyone, Trump doubled down on this story this morning, calling in to “Fox and Friends” and bringing up Alicia Machado on his own. He complained that “She was the worst we ever had. She was a winner, and she gained a massive amount of weight, and we had a real problem. We had a real problem with her.” Hmmm. Maybe someone should point out to Trump that he’s not winning on this one, and that he probably won’t make it better by basically calling this woman a fat bitch. Many women around the country have experienced this sort of chauvinism, and will empathize with Machado. Trump could have just left it alone, but as usual he couldn’t help himself and – according to the general consensus – made it immeasurably worse with his comments this morning.

Trump was obviously not well-prepared, apparently having decided at some point that he could just “wing it”.  He ultimately interrupted Clinton more than 50 times in just over 90 minutes, leading to commentary that Hillary now represented all women who have had to put up with bullying by a “know-it-all” man who doesn’t really know anything. He is already doing extremely poorly with women voters, and this won’t help.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton started off a bit tentative, but gained strength and confidence as the debate went on. She made very few mistakes, and clearly was well-prepared. She was criticized by some for what were obviously rehearsed answers, while others criticized her for either smiling too much or for not smiling enough (Does anybody think Trump smiled too much? Not enough? Why would this matter for Clinton but not Trump? I’m just wondering…)

What Clinton did extremely well was get under Trump’s skin. Again, I believe this was a deliberate strategy, and it clearly worked. Trump was so distracted by her tactics that he repeatedly failed to bring up the obvious. For example, during the exchange regarding whether or not Trump had initially supported the war in Iraq, Trump never even brought up that Clinton had actually voted to authorize that war as a Senator. When her emails came up, he let the matter drop. He never mentioned Benghazi, the Clinton Foundation, or Hillary’s speaking fees for Goldman Sachs and others.  Trump was predictable in his reactions to her baiting him, which only served to emphasize her earlier criticism (from the DNC convention and elsewhere) describing Trump as “a man who can be baited by a tweet”. It was an effective strategy, and an obvious one, but Trump fell for it over and over again. What is really frightening is that Trump could actually win this election, and if that happens leaders of other countries could follow the same strategy, with similar results.

Having said all of that – I just had to get that off my chest – none of this means that Hillary Clinton “won” the debate. While I certainly think that she turned in the better performance, this is not really the measure of who actually “won” when it comes to candidate debates. The only goal any candidate should have going into any debate is to improve their standing in the election. In other words, their poll numbers should improve afterwards.

So…who won? The only honest answer is that we don’t know yet. Both candidates are, of course, claiming that they won, but we won’t know for certain for about a week, when the first good-quality polling conducted entirely after the debate is expected to become available. It may turn out that both candidates’ numbers rise, or that one’s rises and the other’s falls. We just don’t know, and anyone who says otherwise is kidding themselves.

But here’s my guess: next week, perhaps as early as Monday, we will see Hillary Clinton begin to pull away from Trump in the polls. Trump’s numbers may even go up a bit, but hers will go up by a larger amount – both nationally and in key swing states.

I suppose I haven’t been particularly objective on this. Oh well…

UPDATE (10/5/16): We now know with absolute certainty who won the first Presidential debate: Hillary Clinton. She won in virtually every (scientific) poll, by margins ranging from 20 to 40 points. It wasn’t even close. As a result, she has more than tripled her lead nationwide (from less than 1% to about 4% in the RCP average), and has seen corresponding gains in the swing states. According to Five Thirty Eight, her chances of winning the election have grown from 54% going into the debate to more than 75% now.

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September 21, 2016:  What Happened to Hillary’s “Daunting Lead”?

This is one of those times where the phrase “I spoke too soon” certainly applies. In my last post, I argued that Hillary Clinton had built up a “daunting lead”. I was not wrong – her lead at the time was daunting – but that lead has evaporated to the point that Democrats are getting seriously worried.

As just one example, Real Clear Politics (RCP) had her with 272 electoral votes in her “solid”, “likely” and “leans” columns. She is now down to 200. Trump, meanwhile, has gone from 154 electoral votes to 164 (Missouri is now “leans Trump”). The real growth has been in the Toss-Up column, which has grown from 112 electoral votes to 174. This is just one sign of how the race has tightened considerably since the end of August.

To be clear, Clinton is still winning, but not by much. RCP still has her leading by at least 3 points (in the RCP Average) in enough states to win the election with 272 electoral votes. She has a 57% chance of winning, according to FiveThirtyEight (this is down from over 77%), and the national polling trends have tightened; Hillary still leads, but by just 2.7 points according to Huffpost Pollster. This just goes to show how volatile this race has become, and I don’t think we have seen the end of that volatility.

In fact, I suspect that Hillary Clinton is about to see her numbers rise somewhat in the next week as polls come into play that reflect the horrible week Trump has had. Trump was humiliated during his disastrous visit to Flint, Michigan, when he was interrupted and chastised by the Pastor of the church where he was speaking and was booed throughout the visit (this received massive airplay). His “press conference” – I put that in quotes because he took no questions from any reporters – on Friday, where he stated that President Obama was born in the United States, was even more of a disaster. He started out by trying to get the media to cover his live infomercial about his new hotel (many news outlets angrily deleted that portion of their coverage afterwards). Then, despite the fact that Trump has been at the forefront of the “birther” movement for years, he tried to suggest that he had actually dropped that issue five years ago (unfortunately for Trump, he’s on record – on video, audio, and archived Twitter posts – talking about this issue constantly during that period), and that Hillary Clinton had started the birther claims back in 2008 (this is a complete fabrication, and Trump has been openly called a “liar” over this one). Shortly after he left the stage, the backdrop collapsed – perhaps a metaphor for what is happening to his campaign (hey – a guy can dream!).

Now it has come out that Trump used $258,000 in money from the Trump Foundation to pay his personal legal bills. Please understand – this is not his money. This is money donated to the Trump Foundation with the intention that it would support charitable causes supported by the Foundation. It is NOT Trump’s personal account to do with as he pleases. The investigations are already underway on this, meaning this issue could hound him for the rest of the campaign and beyond. At the very least, this will counteract his attacks on the Clinton Foundation.

I still believe Hillary will win in November, but I would have to concede that I didn’t expect the race to tighten to this extent. I expect that the polls will fluctuate between now and November 8th, varying as events occur that have an impact on the race. The debates are coming up (the first one is just 5 days away), so hold on to your hats – this could turn into an even wilder ride than it’s already been!

 

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August 30, 2016:  Hillary Builds a Daunting Lead

As we head into Labor Day Weekend – once considered the “kick-off” of the general election campaign – it can be informative to see where the race for President currently stands, which I will get to in a moment. First, I want to bring your attention to the Discourse and Diatribe home page, which will feature a “Presidential Race Quick Check” beginning today and continuing all the way through Election Day, November 8th. This “Presidential Race Quick Check” will include information on where the Electoral College stands (this will be taken from Real Clear Politics), each candidate’s odds of winning the election (from Five Thirty-Eight), and the national polling trend (from Huffpost Pollster). The “Presidential Race Quick Check” will be updated regularly so that readers can get an instant picture of where the race stands at any given time.

Now – on to where the race stands at the moment. In nationwide polling, Hillary Clinton is leading Donald Trump by an average of 5.8 points according to Huffpost Pollster, while Real Clear Politics (RCP) puts her lead at 4.3%, meaning that she is probably actually leading by somewhere around 5 points. Whichever site’s estimate you want to go with, this is not a huge lead; in fact she led by significantly higher margins in the first week-and-a-half of August. Although Trump had been inching slightly closer to Clinton in national polling since the beginning of August according to both RCP and Huffpost, her lead has been remarkably constant for the last two weeks. It is also important to remember that Presidents are not elected by a nationwide popular vote. Following the trends in these numbers, however, can give us a sense of where the race is heading. Right now I would have to interpret the data to read that Clinton has a strong lead which seems to be holding for the moment. Trump needs to turn things around, and there will be opportunities for him to do so – the debates, campaign ads, an apparently impending release of yet more documents and emails by Wikileaks, and any number of other possibilities (an external event, a major gaffe, etc.) which could conceivably benefit Trump. However, given how the campaign has gone so far, it is even more conceivable that Trump will somehow fail to take advantage if and when one of these possibilities presents itself. As one commentator noted, “Trump never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.

In terms of each candidate’s odds of winning the election, Five Thirty-Eight has developed a model that calculates this using polls, economic trends, President Obama’s approval rating, and the odds listed on betting sites, and several other factors, to arrive at a chance of victory for each candidate, expressed as a percentage. At the moment, Hillary Clinton has a little better than a 3-in-4 chance of winning (actually 77.3%), while Donald Trump has slightly less than a 1-in-4 chance (22.7%). Given all of the factors that go into calculating these odds (including bettors who have money riding on the outcome), this is probably fairly accurate. But this is not how we elect Presidents either.

Presidents are elected by winning a clear majority of the electoral votes available, and these votes are awarded on a state-by-state basis. With the exception of the rare possibility of state splitting it’s vote (Nebraska did this in 2008*; this was the first time any state had split its vote in more than 100 years), states award all of their electoral votes to the candidate who wins the highest number of popular votes in that state. The way to determine where the race actually stands is therefore to look at all 50 states and which candidate is most likely to win each of them. Real Clear Politics ranks each state as either “Solid”, “Likely”, or “Leans” for one of the candidates, or as a “Toss-Up”. Currently, Hillary Clinton has 6 states and the District of Columbia, worth a combined 90 electoral votes, in her “Solid Clinton” column, 5 states worth 78 electoral votes in her “Likely Clinton” column, and 11 states worth 104 electoral votes in her “Leans Clinton” column (this includes 3 of Maine’s 4 votes*), for a total of 272 electoral votes. Donald Trump has 11 states worth 63 electoral votes in his “Solid Trump” column (this includes 4 of Nebraska’s 5 votes), 5 states worth 26 electoral votes in his “Likely Trump” column, and 4 states – plus that other electoral vote from Nebraska – in his “Leans Trump” column, worth 65 electoral votes, for a combined total of 154 electoral votes. The remaining 8 states – plus one electoral vote from Maine’s 2nd District – are the “Toss-Ups”, and are worth a combined 112 electoral votes.

You might have noticed something truly significant in these numbers. 270 electoral votes are required to win the election, and Hillary Clinton already has a combined total of 272 electoral votes in her “Solid Clinton”, “Likely Clinton”, and “Leans Clinton” columns. In other words, Clinton can win the election without winning ANY of the current Toss-Ups, because she already has enough electoral votes. The closest margin in any of these states appears to be in Pennsylvania, where she is leading by a full 8 points (there is not yet enough polling in New Mexico or Oregon for RCP to generate an average). What this means is that in order to win the election, Donald Trump needs to take back states where Clinton is currently ahead by at least 8 points.  To make matters even worse for Trump, Clinton is also currently ahead in 6 of the 8 Toss-Up states, including Georgia! This will be no small feat, and spells real trouble for the Trump campaign. [UPDATE (8/31/16):  RCP dropped Wisconsin from “Leans Clinton” to “Toss-Up” today, lowering Clinton’s electoral vote number to 262 from 272. She maintains a lead of 5.3 points in the RCP Average for Wisconsin, and is still likely to prevail there. UPDATE (9/6/16):  RCP has now dropped Pennsylvania and Virginia from “Leans Clinton” to “Toss-Up”, lowering Clinton’s Electoral College number to 229 from 262. She currently leads in Pennsylvania by a margin of 6.5 points, and in Virginia by 5 points, and is still likely to prevail in both.]

So where does the race stand as we head into Labor Day weekend? The numbers are irrefutable: while Hillary Clinton is leading by a strong margin in national polling, and clearly has the better odds of winning, she is way ahead of Donald Trump where it really counts – in the Electoral College. It’s her race to lose at this point, but the Democrats have demonstrated an amazing ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in the past. I wouldn’t bet the farm just yet.

 

* Maine and Nebraska are the only two states that do not automatically award all of their electoral votes to the winner in their state; instead, both of these states award 2 electoral votes to the overall state-wide winner, and their remaining electoral votes to the winner of each Congressional District in that state.

 

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August 10, 2016: A Bridge Too Far?

This time, Donald Trump has gone too far. Out of all the profoundly offensive, inexcusable, inappropriate, and stunningly ignorant things Trump has said and done since he entered the Presidential race 14 months ago, this one topped them all.

At a rally in North Carolina this past Tuesday, Trump was contrasting himself with Hillary Clinton on a number of issues, but when he got to gun control, he went a bit overboard. He started out claiming that she [Clinton] wants to “abolish” the Second Amendment – which is not true; yes, she supports some reasonable gun control measures, but claiming she wants to “abolish” the Second Amendment is at best an overstatement of her position and at worst an outright lie – and then he said this:

“If she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is, I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day.”

Wow. This really is an incredible statement, and is worthy of close examination.

Taken in the worst light, this is nothing short of a call to arms to commit an act of violence against the President of the United States, since he is talking about Clinton already being in a position to appoint judges – in other words, she would already have won the election and would be serving as President when these “Second Amendment people” were to act.

Another possible interpretation is the one put forward by the Trump Campaign and by Trump himself – that he was actually referring to the electoral muscle of the NRA, and that the action he was suggesting was the NRA flexing that electoral strength and either preventing Clinton from winning the election in the first place or, if she is already serving as President (as his statement strongly implied), then convincing the Senate not to approve her nominees to the bench.

Trump has even said, when trying to defend his comments, that he would never encourage anyone to violence. On this one I have to call “Bullshit”. This is just laughable. This is the same guy who told supporters at a campaign rally to “knock the crap” out of anyone they saw getting ready to throw a tomato. This is the same guy who offered to pay the legal fees for supporters who physically attacked demonstrators at his rallies. He has repeatedly encouraged his supporters to violence.

And what exactly did he mean by adding “But I’ll tell you what, that will be a horrible day”? This statement could support either of the above interpretations. If you believe the “worst light” interpretation is what Trump actually meant, then he is clearly referring to the trauma for the country that would result from a Presidential assassination. If you believe Trump’s interpretation, then this statement is clearly a reference to how terrible it would be for Hillary Clinton to be in a position to appoint judges in the first place.

So what did Trump actually mean? I don’t know – and I’m not sure Trump does either.

Here’s what I think actually happened – Trump was reading through his hand-written notes (he had made a point of telling the crowd that he had written down these thoughts), comparing and contrasting himself to Clinton, until he got to the part about the Second Amendment. At that point, this thought occurred to him. He probably thought it was funny. As has been the case throughout the campaign, he was simply unable to stop himself, and said the “joke” out loud. I think that he was absolutely referring to someone shooting her, but I also believe – just as fervently – that in his mind he was kidding; he didn’t really mean it, but as usual he didn’t think it through, apply any sort of filter, or find a way to stop himself from the sort of verbal puking that has become the hallmark of his campaign. Incredibly ill-considered? Yes. Inappropriate? Of course. Unseemly? Absolutely. A stupid thing to say? Duh!

But it really was just  meant as a joke!

Then the shit hit the fan, all hell broke loose in the media, and Trump and his campaign found themselves backpedaling and having to “clarify” what Trump meant. This is not a situation any campaign ever wants to find themselves in at any point in a campaign, but this has been the Trump campaign’s daily reality for 14 months now, and probably will be all the way to the November election.

And it’s an entirely self-inflicted wound. Trump’s argument that the media coverage of his statement has been “disgusting” notwithstanding, the entire situation is the fault of just one man –  Donald Trump.  All he had to do was stay on script, and he couldn’t do it.

Here’s the thing – it doesn’t matter what Trump actually meant! It really doesn’t. The mere fact that these words came out of his mouth are just the latest indication that this man cannot become President of the United States. As one hears almost daily these days, he simply lacks the temperament for the job. In a world where diplomacy often involves one side in the negotiations going through every turn of phrase that has come from the other side for hidden meanings and innuendoes, Trump says any damn fool thing that comes into his head. The results of this kind of thing coming out of the mouth of an actual sitting President could be catastrophic, yet he has done it throughout the campaign, and will continue to do so. Anyone who thinks Trump can be controlled – by himself or anybody else – is kidding themselves. As former Republican Governor Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, who served as Governor when Trump was building his casinos in Atlantic City, has pointed out, this is who Trump is – he’s not going to change.

By the way, this is not just coming from Democrats; this “joke” has not gone over well with Republicans or Independents either. Even the Secret Service has taken notice and has been in contact with the Trump campaign more than once about this statement. They have now had to increase the level of security around Hillary Clinton, in case some whack job who heard what Trump said and took it as a personal call to arms now actually tries to take a shot at her – and that is costing you and I money. If you aren’t upset with Trump over the statement itself (and with the effect it is having on Trump’s chances in November), then perhaps you could get angry over the waste of taxpayer dollars that are now having to be spent to increase that level of security around Clinton, all because Trump couldn’t stop himself from telling the “joke”.

I find it fascinating that six United States Senators, several members of the House of Representatives, both living Republican Presidents, all but one of the living Republican Presidential nominees (the exception is 1996 nominee Bob Dole), and many Republican Governors past and present have all renounced Trump (although some, like Senator John McCain, still say they will vote for him). Recently no fewer than 50 Republican national security officials – many among the biggest names in Republican national security circles – released a letter saying that none of them will support Trump. Usually it’s the Democrats who are unorganized and trying desperately to be unified behind a candidate (in fact, there are still some holdouts who support Bernie Sanders, but they are few in number and getting fewer by the day – as of this writing at least 85% of Sanders’ supporters will vote for Clinton); this year it’s the Republicans’ turn, and it’s not going well for them.

Sooo…

All you Republicans out there:  How long will you keep making excuses for this guy? After all of the hate-mongering, the misogyny, the racism, the xenophobia, the mocking of the disabled, the picking of fights with Party leaders like Paul Ryan and John McCain, the calling into question of whether we would come to the aid of a NATO ally that had been attacked, the fight with a “Gold Star” family, the kindergarten playground-level nicknames, the stunning array of verbal “gaffs”, that incredible fear-mongering convention, and now this, at what point will you say “enough!” and withdraw your support? Has Trump reached that “bridge too far” yet?

You wouldn’t exactly be alone…

 

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Why?    WHY??   WHY???

April 28, 2016

Yesterday Ted Cruz stunned everybody – and I do mean everybody – by announcing at a rally in Indianapolis that if he were the Republican nominee, he would select Carly Fiorina as his running mate. The big question on everybody’s mind is “Why”?

So far as I’ve heard, no one has come up with a very good answer to that question – actually, these questions (plural). Why Fiorina? Why now? Why in Indianapolis? Why make an announcement of a VP selection immediately after being mathematically eliminated from clinching the nomination (as Cruz was on Tuesday)?

During her campaign, Fiorina turned in some of the best debate performances of any of the candidates – her tough yet graceful smack down of Trump after he insulted her looks was easily the highlight of her campaign – but when voters actually began casting ballots she sank quickly and withdrew from the race in February. She endorsed Cruz in March. Since endorsing Cruz, Fiorina has been traveling the country as a Cruz surrogate, giving speeches and holding rallies in his support. Clearly, Fiorina’s loyalty to Cruz is above reproach. But what – other than that loyalty and the fact that she is a woman – would she bring to the ticket?

Many would argue that, assuming she is otherwise qualified to be President (which she is, given her business experience), being a woman is more than enough – and there is certainly some truth to that, especially since the GOP ticket will be facing Hillary Clinton in November, and the GOP needs all the help it can get with women voters. However, despite being the only woman – out of 17 original candidates – in the race for the Republican nomination, she did extremely poorly when it came to getting actual votes, so how much she would help the ticket is questionable at best. It’s not like she has a history of electoral success; her only political experience prior to this campaign season was a Senate run in California against Barbara Boxer in 2010 – a Republican “wave” year – and she lost.

There were also some faux pas of her own while she was a candidate – all of which will be brought up again. One example was the time she corralled a group of pre-school children who were on a field trip to a botanical garden – where Fiorina happened to be giving a speech – and she turned the group of 4-year-olds into “props” for her anti-abortion speech. As you might well imagine, the children’s parents – many of whom were pro-choice and who had merely signed permission slips for their kids to go look at some flowers – didn’t know anything about this until they saw it on TV, and were understandably outraged. Fiorina withdrew from the race shortly afterward.

The one thing that Fiorina will undoubtedly bring to the ticket, for better or for worse, is her record. Mostly this would fall under the “for worse” category. Yes, Fiorina is a pioneer in the business world, having been the first female CEO of a Fortune Top-20 Company (Hewlett-Packard), but her tenure there was – and this is being very generous – rather controversial. While the merger with Compaq was completed on her watch, the merger did not go particularly well (at least initially), and resulted in what her critics will most certainly bring up repeatedly – 30,000 layoffs and a massive company shift toward outsourcing. Finally, Fiorina – unlike those 30,000 people who were laid off – received a lavish severance package worth a reported $20 million when she was fired by HP. This did not – and will not – play well with middle-class voters.

Meanwhile, Trump has already labeled Cruz’s announcement as just another “act of desperation”. This tactic seemed to work when applied to the “collusion” (Trump’s term) between Cruz and John Kasich – Trump called that an effort by two political insiders to subvert the will of the voters (actually, it’s kind of hard to argue with that; that’s precisely what it was), and Trump’s numbers in Indiana have gone up since then. It remains to be seen how this announcement will affect the race, but if Trump wins Indiana this announcement will look just like the “act of desperation” Trump claims it to be. A Trump win in Indiana, especially in the face of the “collusion” and this “act of desperation”, could very easily turn into a steamroller that flattens everyone in its path as the primary season wraps up, allowing Trump to clinch the nomination.

Here’s what I think: the announcement of the selection of Fiorina was done how, where, and when it was done for a very specific reason – the Indiana primary this Tuesday, May 3rd. Ted Cruz is desperate to stop Trump, and Indiana, a “Winner-Take-All” state with 57 delegates (the largest trove of delegates remaining other than California) is being called the “last stand” in the effort to deny Trump the nomination. Trump is leading in polls in the state, but only by single digits and with support percentages only in the high 30’s to low 40’s range, meaning he is potentially vulnerable there. He also has a major problem with women voters (can’t think why). Cruz is probably looking to “shake up” the race in a way that will help him make up ground on Trump in Indiana, and making major inroads among women voters was likely a very appealing possibility as a means of doing that. This is why the announcement was made now, so unusually early in the campaign, and why it was made in Indianapolis. If it works, then things could get very interesting, because it will be difficult – not impossible, but very difficult – for Trump to clinch the nomination before the convention.

Speaking of the convention, another factor that has been hinted at by some in the media is that Fiorina might have a tough time being approved as the Vice Presidential nominee by the full convention. She is not particularly popular with the GOP “establishment”, and given how this race has gone so far, I don’t think it is unreasonable to wonder whether the convention would “rubber stamp” the Presidential candidate’s choice this time around (conventions have ratified the Presidential candidates’ choices ever since Franklin Roosevelt insisted on Henry Wallace in 1940, threatening to withdraw his own name from the race if the convention did not go along). Cruz’s recent efforts to pack the convention with his supporters could mitigate this somewhat, but the delegates to the convention want their ticket to win in November, and Fiorina wouldn’t exactly inspire confidence among the delegates.

So why Fiorina? Good question – we’ll just have to wait and see how this all plays out. The first real test of this strategy will come on Tuesday in the Indiana primary.

Happy watching!

 

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Super Tuesday IV:  The Aftermath

April 27, 2016

Super Tuesday IV is in the books.  The voting is done in five more states – Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island – and the results make it clear that it’s all over but the shouting for the Democrats, but it’s absolutely NOT over on the Republican side.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton won in four of the five states, but with proportional delegate allotments in all states, this only represented a net gain of 58 delegates over Bernie Sanders (204-146).  For example, Sanders won in Rhode Island, but only won 13 delegates, while Clinton received 11 – a difference of just two delegates.  Clinton won in Connecticut, and received 27 delegates compared to 25 for Sanders (thereby making up for the “loss” in Rhode Island).  In Delaware Clinton received 12 delegates, while Sanders won 9. The bigger margins came in Maryland, where Clinton received 59 delegates to 32 for Sanders, and Pennsylvania, where she won 95 delegates and Sanders won 67.

The bottom line here is that Clinton is now just 231 delegates shy of clinching the nomination with 1,016 delegates in 14   contests still remaining on the calendar – meaning she needs to win about 23% of the remaining delegates.  Conversely, Sanders would need to win about 78% of the remaining delegates (these numbers do not reflect the remaining unpledged “Superdelegates”).  Sanders has vowed to continue all the way to the last primary, but the reality is that Hillary will clearly be the nominee.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump had the “yuge” night that he was hoping for – but was it enough?  Trump won all of the available pledged delegates in all four “Winner-Take-All” states:  Connecticut (28), Delaware (16), Maryland (38), and Pennsylvania (17; there are also  54 more Pennsylvania delegates which are “unbound”), and 10 of 18 in the proportionally-allocated state of Rhode Island.  His current total of 954 is just 283 delegates short of clinching the nomination with 502 delegates remaining to be won in 10 states, meaning he needs to win 56% of the remaining delegates to win the nomination before the convention, which remains somewhat do-able because of the “Winner-Take-All” and “Winner-Take-Most” contests in 6 of the remaining 10 states.   Ted Cruz was officially mathematically eliminated from clinching the nomination last night, and John Kasich has been mathematically eliminated for months, meaning that the only hope either Cruz or Kasich have is a contested convention with multiple ballots.  To this end, Cruz and Kasich announced a deal (or an act of “collusion”, according to Trump), in which they agreed that Kasich won’t compete in Indiana and Cruz won’t compete in either New Mexico or Oregon.  While this won’t make much difference in New Mexico in Oregon, since both allocate their delegates proportionally, it could make all the difference in Indiana, which allocates its 57 delegates on a “Winner-Take-All” basis.  If Cruz wins in Indiana on May 3rd, things will become much more difficult for Trump; he would suddenly need to win 64% of the delegates available in the 9 states left to vote after Indiana (compared to 51% if he – Trump – were to win Indiana).  A win in Indiana would also give Cruz some momentum, which could help him make up ground in other states, including California – making it all but impossible for Trump to clinch. The problem for Cruz is that the most recent polls coming out of Indiana – from WTHR/Howey Politics, FOX News, and CBS News/YouGov – all show Trump leading there by a margin of 5-8 points.  However, his support in these polls ranges from 37-41%, indicating that he could be vulnerable there.

However the remaining primaries play out, Trump will be the only candidate with any chance of clinching the nomination, and whether he clinches or not he will be the candidate with the most delegates and the most popular votes – both by wide margins – going into the convention in Cleveland in July.  Frankly, it’s hard to see how the party denies Trump the nomination under such circumstances.  Assuming that Trump can be denied on the first ballot – a distinct possibility, depending on how the “unbound” delegates vote – then Ted Cruz could very easily emerge as the nominee due to his phenomenal “ground game” and his campaign’s efforts at the local, regional, and state levels of the delegate selection process (see the previous post for details on this).  If this were to happen, however, Cruz’s nomination will come at a heavy price; the support of Trump’s supporters.  With millions more votes than Cruz, Trump will have an easy time arguing that he was “robbed” by a “rigged” system, and his supporters will agree.  With a divided party and a flawed candidate like Cruz (not that Trump wouldn’t also be “flawed”), I don’t see any way the GOP wins in November.

This could all come down to “unbound” delegates, which, unlike the Democratic “superdelegates”,   is something that hasn’t received much attention in the media.  I expect that to change as we get closer to the end of the primary season.

 

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AFTER NEW YORK

April 21, 2016

Well, New York has voted, and as expected, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won their respective primaries. The only real surprise was the size of Trump’s victory, especially in the delegate count, which put him back on a do-able path to the magic number or 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the Republican Presidential nomination.

First, the Democrats:

There are precisely 1400 delegates still available to be won in19 contests (in 16  states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia) between now and June 14th.  A total of 2,382 delegates are needed to clinch the nomination. As of this writing (April 21st), Hillary Clinton has amassed 1,930 delegates – 1,428 delegates won through primaries, caucuses, and conventions, and 502 superdelegates; Bernie Sanders has accumulated 1,189 delegates – 1,151 delegates won and 38 superdelegates.

If she retains her current roster of 502 committed superdelegates, Hillary Clinton only needs 452 more delegates – less than a third of those still available to be won in the remaining primaries (these numbers do not include any remaining uncommitted superdelegates) – to clinch. Bernie Sanders, however, needs 1193 more delegates – or about 85% of those remaining – to clinch. Clearly Sanders is not likely to accomplish this, especially since the Democrats use a proportional delegate allocation in all of the states. Another factor is that Sanders has performed best in states holding caucuses, but all remaining contests are primaries, with the exceptions of the territories of Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which will hold caucuses but only have a total of  14 delegates between them. Bernie’s stated strategy is to try to woo superdelegates away from Hillary Clinton, but this is problematic at best. The superdelegates are mostly members of the Party Leadership and elected officials, almost all of whom are loyal to the Democratic “establishment”.  Hillary Clinton is very much the “establishment” candidate, while Bernie Sanders is running an “insurgent” campaign against the “establishment”. It’s possible he may be able to pick off a few superdelegates here and there, but there is no way he will be able to get enough of them to abandon Hillary to win the nomination himself – unless he catches up with Hillary in delegates won through the primaries, caucuses, and conventions, at which point he could argue that he, and not Hillary, is the choice of Democratic voters. Given that Clinton is ahead of Sanders by 277 delegates won (1,428 to 1,151), Sanders is not likely to be successful in this. He would need to win 839 of the remaining 1400 available delegates (about 60%) to surpass Clinton in delegates won, and that’s not going to happen; Clinton has sizable leads in most of the upcoming states (such as Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and California). Without surpassing Clinton’s total of delegates won through primaries, caucuses, and conventions, Sanders won’t be able to convince many of the superdelegates to switch their votes.

The bottom line here is that the race for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination is over, and Hillary Clinton has won. Although things have gotten a bit “testy” between Clinton and Sanders lately, this is a very recent development – these two have been amazingly polite and respectful to each other (especially compared to the Republicans) for most of this campaign, and they voted the same way about 95% of the time over the years they served together in the Senate.  I don’t foresee any particular problems in uniting the party for the general election in the Fall.

And now on to the Republicans:

There are 15 states left to vote in the race for the 2016 Republican Presidential nomination, representing a total of 674 delegates.  1,237 delegates are needed to clinch the nomination.  As of this writing (April 21st), Donald Trump has 845 delegates (plus a commitment from 1 “unbound” delegate), Ted Cruz has 559 (plus commitments from 16 “unbound” delegates), and John Kasich has 148.

This all sounds relatively simple, but the Republican rules make things a little more complicated.  For starters, two candidates withdrew from the race with some delegates bound to them – Marco Rubio had 171 delegates when he left the race, and Ben Carson had 8.  The current disposition of these delegates is hard to pin down under GOP convention rules, but for purposes of this discussion it is enough to know that, while  the vast majority of these will be most likely bound to Rubio and Carson on the first ballot at the convention, they will be free to vote for whomever they please on later ballots.  There are also another 75 delegates which, according to Real Clear Politics, have yet to be allocated in a few of the states and territories that have already voted: 2 from New York, 18 from North Dakota, 7 from American Samoa, 1 from North Carolina, 8 from Guam, 4 from Wyoming, 9 from the U.S. Virgin Islands, 3 from Colorado, 3 from Virginia, 3 from Oklahoma, 2 from Nevada, 3 from New Hampshire, 7 from Iowa, and 5 others.  To make things even more complicated, some delegates are “unbound” – specifically from North Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and the territories of Guam and American Samoa.  Of these, Ted Cruz has received commitments from 16 delegates, and Donald Trump has 1, as noted above.  The math gets a bit “fuzzy” with the GOP race because of unbound delegates, the disposition of delegates originally won by Rubio and Carson, convention rules (and possible changes to those rules), and other factors.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s stick with the three remaining candidates’ current delegate counts listed above, (including those “unbound” delegates who have committed to Trump and Cruz), and the 674 delegates left in the 15 remaining states.

In order to reach the magic 1,237 delegates needed to clinch the nomination, Donald Trump needs 391 of the remaining 674 delegates, or about 58%.  Given that he has won less than half of the delegates so far, many have questioned whether he can win 58% of those remaining.  However, it is actually mathematically quite do-able for Trump because 9 of the remaining 15 states – representing 497 of the remaining 674 delegates – allocate their delegates on a “Winner-Take-Most” basis (click here for details on this delegate allotment), and of these 9 states, Trump is currently leading in at least 5 of them:  Pennsylvania (71 delegates, but 54 of them are unbound) by almost 20 points, Maryland (38 delegates) by almost 15 points, Delaware (16 delegates) by 37 points, New Jersey (51 delegates) by 28 points, and California (172 delegates) by 15 points.  If these leads hold, these 5 states could give Trump as many as 294 delegates of the 391 he needs, leaving him potentially just 97 delegates short of clinching the nomination (none of the other four “Winner-Take-Most” states – Indiana, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Montana – have adequate polling data available to know who is leading, so we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in those states).  There are several ways which, in combination, could yield Trump those 97 more delegates:

  • he could win in other “Winner-Take-Most” states – Indiana (57 delegates), South Dakota (29 delegates), Nebraska (36 delegates), and/or Montana (27 delegates), and/or
  • he could win delegates in the 5 remaining states which allocate their delegates proportionally (Connecticut, Rhode Island, Oregon, Washington State, and New Mexico), and/or
  • he could “win” delegates from West Virginia, where delegates are elected directly, and/or
  • he could  woo remaining unbound delegates.

Factoring in the commitments from those 16 “unbound” delegates, Ted Cruz would still need 662 of the 674 remaining delegates, or more than 98% – which will not happen – and John Kasich was mathematically “eliminated” months ago, meaning he cannot reach the magic 1,237 even if he won every remaining delegate.  Clearly the only reason they have remained in the race is that both Cruz and Kasich are counting on Trump not being able to reach the magic 1,237 delegates either, which would force an “open” convention – something that has not happened since 1976.  That year, President Gerald Ford had not clinched the nomination before the convention, but by convincing enough of the “unbound” delegates (there were more of them back then), he was able to win the nomination over Ronald Reagan on the first ballot anyway.  What both Cruz and Kasich are hoping for goes beyond this – they need a truly contested convention with multiple ballots.  If this were to happen, Trump’s nomination hopes would be in serious trouble.  This is because Cruz has demonstrated a brilliant understanding of the process and rules, and has developed an incredible “ground game”.  What Cruz understands – and Trump did not understand until recently (and he was definitely not happy about it) – is that primaries and caucuses only determine the number of delegates bound to each candidate; they do not determine who those delegates are (except in states where delegates are elected directly, such as West Virginia).  In some states (specifically Wyoming, Colorado, and North Dakota) it’s even more extreme:  the caucuses that were held were essentially meaningless, not binding any delegates to any candidate.  In most states, delegates are selected separately from the primary or caucus, and Cruz recognized from the start that delegates are human, each with their own preferences among the candidates, and the vast majority will be free to vote for whomever they wish starting with the second ballot (a few states require some of their delegates to remain bound to a candidate for the first and second ballot, but all delegates will be free on the third ballot and beyond).  To this end, the Cruz campaign has been working hard in the local, regional, and state delegate selection processes in each state in order to ensure that as many of the people as possible who are selected as delegates are Cruz supporters, meaning that once they are freed from being bound to Trump (or whoever else), they would vote for Cruz on subsequent ballots.  Trump apparently did not realize this, and had a bit of a conniption fit when Cruz successfully “won” most of the delegates from Wyoming (23 out of 25), and all of the delegates from Colorado (34) and North Dakota (10) at the state conventions, none of which reflected the results of the caucuses held in those states.  Trump’s whining about the rules of the game, however, will not win him the nomination – these are the rules that were in place when Trump entered the race, and his not understanding the rules is not the Party’s problem.  In fact, by criticizing these rules (he has claimed that the system is “rigged”), he is demanding that the rules be changed in the middle of the game – to his benefit, of course – just because he doesn’t like how the game is going.  This is hardly “Presidential” behavior, and he has been heavily (and properly) criticized for it.

The bottom line here is that, while this race is certainly not over yet, the most likely scenario appears to be that Trump wins the nomination prior to the convention.  If he somehow fails to do so, then the most likely result would be the most contentious political convention in recent memory and Ted Cruz emerging as the Republican nominee.

If this were to happen, how would that play out?  I see four possibilities:

  • Cruz could select Trump as his running mate, thereby attempting to unite the party and give the GOP a fighting chance against Hillary Clinton in November.  Conversely, if Trump wins the nomination, he could select Cruz as his running mate for the same reason.  Given the vitriol we have witnessed and the very public bitterness of the feud between them, however, I don’t think there is a snowball’s chance in hell of this happening, whichever one comes out on top.
  • Trump could fall in line behind Cruz as the nominee and call on his supporters to do the same (or, if Trump wins, Cruz could fall in line behind him), again attempting to unify the party for the general election.  I don’t find this likely either – such a magnanimous act would be completely outside of Trump’s personality, and Cruz has been too severe in his criticism of Trump to turn around and try to convince Americans that Trump should be President.  Besides, Trump has said repeatedly that he needs to be “treated fairly” by the party, and there is no way he would feel he had been “treated fairly” if he is denied the nomination after going into the convention with more delegates and more popular votes than any other candidate (he currently leads Cruz – his closest rival – by 286 delegates and more than 2.3 million votes).  Also, as noted above, he and Cruz absolutely despise each other.
  • Trump could run in the general election as an Independent candidate.  This is a distinct possibility – it would absolutely fit with Trump’s personality, and he recently backed away from his pledge to support the Republican nominee if he doesn’t win – and would unquestionably guarantee that Hillary Clinton wins in November.  The electoral math is already difficult enough for the GOP; it becomes impossible if both Cruz and Trump are on the ballot, thereby splitting the GOP vote.  The only possible result of this scenario would be an electoral landslide for Hillary Clinton, since splitting the GOP vote would mean that the Republicans have no chance at all in any of the battleground states (giving Clinton a starting point equal to President Obama’s 332 electoral votes from 2012), and also meaning that historically Republican states like Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Arizona, Montana, and the Dakotas could possibly fall to the Democrats (since Trump and Cruz splitting the Republican vote would mean they could both drop below Clinton’s percentage of the vote, giving her a plurality in these states).  Clinton’s percentage of the nationwide popular vote probably wouldn’t change much, because the overall vote totals wouldn’t change significantly, but she wouldn’t need that percentage to change to win the election – don’t forget that her husband won the Presidency in 1992 with 370 electoral votes (including wins in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and West Virginia), but just 43% of the nationwide popular vote because a 3rd party candidate (Ross Perot) pulled votes away from the Republican candidate.
  • Trump could “take his ball and go home”, thereby fracturing the GOP even without mounting a 3rd party campaign.  This is also a distinct possibility – like a 3rd party campaign, it would absolutely fit with Trump’s personality – and would also virtually guarantee that Hillary Clinton wins in November, because Ted Cruz cannot win without a united GOP.  If a significant percentage of Trump’s share of the GOP voters stay home on Election Day, Cruz loses by the same (or at least similar) electoral landslide as if Trump runs a 3rd party campaign.  Hillary Clinton’s percentage of the popular vote would increase, possibly significantly, depending on how many of Trump’s supporters don’t turn out to vote.  Meanwhile, Trump could spend the rest of his life telling anyone who would listen that everything would have been so much better if he had not been cheated out of the nomination, since – at least in his delusional mind – he would absolutely have beaten Hillary Clinton, no doubt by a “yuge” margin.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show for the next seven weeks and beyond – you can’t buy this kind of entertainment!

 

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MERRICK GARLAND – LAMB TO THE SLAUGHTER?

March 17, 2016

Yesterday President Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland, the Chief Judge of the United States  Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.  Given the Senate Republicans’ stated refusal to even consider any nomination from President Obama (regardless of the qualifications of the nominee), it is likely that Mr. Garland will be little more than a “lamb to the slaughter”.

Nevertheless, President Obama has made a brilliant choice.  Here’s why:

  • Garland was confirmed by the Senate  for his   seat on  the United States  Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit  in March of 1997 with 76 votes, including a majority of Republican Senators.  Among the Republicans who voted for his confirmation were  current Republican  Senators  John McCain of Arizona,  Orrin Hatch of Utah,  Susan Collins of Maine, and  James Inhofe of Oklahoma.  This would make it difficult to argue that Garland would have trouble being confirmed if given a vote.
  • Garland’s being a member of the  United States  Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is also significant in that this is the same Court  which produced Justice Scalia himself, along with three other current Supreme Court Justices and many past Justices, making it difficult to argue that Garland doesn’t have the appropriate experience.
  • As Chief Judge of the United States  Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit,  a position he has held since 2013, Garland is already running “the second highest court in the land” (as the DC Circuit Court is often called), making him the highest-ranking federal judge in the country outside of the Supreme Court Justices themselves.
  • Garland is extremely well thought-of on both sides of the aisle, and is known for his moderate views, which will make it difficult for Republicans to claim that President Obama is trying to put a wildcat liberal on the Supreme Court  (not that this would stop some Republicans from trying to make this claim, but don’t be fooled:  Garland is no liberal).
  • Garland has more years on the federal bench than any Supreme Court nominee in American history (19 years, almost to the day), which, together with his service as Chief Judge of “the second highest court in the land”,  will make it difficult to challenge his qualifications.
  • Garland is 63 years old,  15 years  older than Judge Sri Srinivasan (also of the DC Court), widely viewed (by myself and many others) as another potential nominee,  and just 16 years younger than Justice Scalia was at the time of his death.  This is important because this will make it difficult to argue President Obama is trying to influence the Court for decades; Garland would only have served on the Supreme Court for about half of Justice Scalia’s tenure on the Court when he reaches the age of 79 (Scalia’s age upon his death) .

What all of this boils down to  is that President Obama has carried out his Constitutional duty to nominate someone to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, and he has done so in an entirely reasonable  manner.   The  Senate Republicans – and especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – will now look extremely unreasonable  when they refuse to take up the nomination.  Nominating Judge Garland  was probably President Obama’s best possible move, and the ball is now firmly in the Republican’s court, if you’ll pardon the pun.

How unreasonable will the Senate Republicans look when someone as qualified, as moderate, and as confirmable as Judge Garland becomes the only Supreme Court nominee in American history to not receive an up-or-down  vote on his confirmation before the end of a Congressional term?

How foolish will the Senate Republicans look if Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency (which looks more probable by the day) and the Democrats win back the Senate Majority (also  a distinct possiblity)?  A President Hillary Clinton, working with a Democratic majority in the Senate, is not likely to nominate someone as moderate as Judge Garland.

 

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March 16, 2016:  LOOKING AT THE CURRENT STATE OF THE PRESIDENTIAL RACES

So “Super Tuesday II” is in the books.   On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton notched victories in 4 of the 5 states voting yesterday (Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, and Illinois; Bernie Sanders barely squeaked by in Missouri), and now has a dominating lead in delegates (1599 to 844). She needs to win just 39% of the remaining delegates to reach the 2382 needed to clinch the nomination. Sanders, on the other hand, needs to win 77% of the remaining delegates – virtually impossible in a race where all states allocate delegates on a proportional basis.  [UPDATE (3/17/2016):  Numbers have continued to come in, and it now appears that Hillary swept the board on Tuesday, winning all five states – including Missouri by about 1500 votes (0.2%).]

Stick a fork in it. This race is done.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump has taken a prohibitively large lead. Ted Cruz had a very disappointing night (he gained just 27 delegates out of 367 at stake in 5 states and 1 territory), and Marco Rubio did so poorly (he won just 6 delegates and lost his home state of Florida by almost 19 points) that he dropped out of the race. John Kasich won his home state handily, and will stay in the race – at least for now.

So where does this leave us?

1237 delegates are needed to clinch the nomination, and there are 946 delegates available in the 21 states and territories left to vote. With 646 delegates won, Donald Trump will need to win 63% of the remaining delegates – which will be very difficult but is do-able if he wins enough of the “Winner-Take-All” states. Ted Cruz, with 397 delegates won, would need to win 89% of the remaining delegates – which is highly unlikely under any scenario. John Kasich, with just 142 delegates won, cannot reach the 1237 threshold even if he wins every remaining delegate.

So what does this say about the state of the race? Given these numbers, the most likely scenario at this point is that no one reaches the 1237 delegates necessary to clinch a majority vote on the first ballot at the convention. Since the delegates won during the primary season are bound to their candidate for the first ballot, no one will win the nomination on that first ballot. When this happens, all delegates become free to vote for whomever they wish on all subsequent ballots, and the wheeling and dealing will begin in earnest. Additional candidates can be nominated on the convention floor, and literally anyone could emerge as the Republican nominee. Some names that have been mentioned as possible “compromise candidates” are Mitt Romney, Nikki Haley, and Paul Ryan. It is a completely unpredictable situation.

This could get very interesting indeed.

So let me ask this: if Donald Trump goes into the GOP convention with more delegates and more popular votes than any other candidate (which now seems inevitable), but without having reached the 1237 threshold (which now seems to be the most likely outcome), and is then denied the nomination, how does that play out? Trump has agreed to support the Republican nominee, as long as he feels he has been “treated fairly” by the GOP, but under this scenario it is hard to imagine him believing he was “treated fairly”. If this happens, I see three possible scenarios.

First, Trump could launch an Independent bid for the Presidency, splitting the GOP vote and handing the Presidency to Hillary Clinton (I believe this to be the most likely. Second, Trump would not run as an Independent, but his supporters would be completely turned off by the whole thing and would likely stay home on Election Day in November – again handing the election to Clinton. The third possibility is that Trump would support the nominee and tell his supporters to do the same, but that doesn’t seem likely (given how angry he would be, it just doesn’t fit with his personality). When combined with the electoral math working against the Republicans to begin with, things are definitely looking good for Hillary Clinton becoming the 45th President of the United States.

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Christie Endorses Trump

February 26, 2016

So Chris Christie endorsed Donald Trump this afternoon. Apparently this came as a bit of a shock, and people are asking why Christie would do such a thing. The answer (I think) can be expressed in two words – “Vice President”.

Christie is in his last term as New Jersey’s Governor, and he clearly did not succeed as a Presidential candidate in his own right. He’s probably not interested in Bob Menendez’s Senate seat (for many reasons, but mostly because a freshman Senator who only has one vote out of a hundred doesn’t have much power), so his best hope is to hitch his wagon to Trump’s. If they win, he’s almost a shoe-in for the nomination next time (2024, assuming Trump runs for re-election in 2020). If they lose, Christie would still have a leg up on the field in 2020. It’s a win-win for him.

 

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STILL MORE ON THE SUPREME COURT VACANCY

February 25, 2016

The Senate Republicans, led by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have now “doubled down” on their refusal to consider any nominee that President Obama may decide to put forward to fill the Supreme Court vacancy left by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. This week they announced (and were joined by most Republican Senators – Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine, to their individual credit, are notable exceptions) that they will not even offer the courtesy of MEETING with the President’s nominee, something usually done as a matter of course.

The GOP’s LIES to the American people on this matter MUST be exposed. I find myself cringing when I see and hear Senators like Lamar Alexander of Tennessee (a former Presidential candidate in 1996 and 2000), Chuck Grassley of Iowa (Chairman of the Judiciary Committee), and John Cornyn of Texas (the Senate Majority Whip, the #2 Republican in the Senate) exposing their hypocrisy:

 

“There’s no excuse for not considering and voting upon a well­ qualified judicial nominee in the United States of America today… Just because it’s a presidential election year is no excuse for us to take a vacation. And we’re here. We’re ready to go to work.”
– Senator Lamar Alexander, 2008

“It is reasonable to give the American people a voice by allowing the next president to fill this lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court.”
– Senator Lamar Alexander, 2016

 

“The reality is that the Senate has never stopped confirming judicial nominees during the last few months of a president’s term.”
– Senator Chuck Grassley, 2008

“The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year.”
– Senator Chuck Grassley, 2016

 

“Now is the perfect time for a new politics of judicial confirmation to arise where Republicans and Democrats work together to confirm qualified men and women to the federal bench. Now is the perfect time because, of course, we’re in a presidential election year and no one yet knows who the next president will be. What a unique opportunity to establish that regardless of the next president’s party, the nominees will be treated fairly and on the basis of their qualifications, and not on the basis of ancient political squabbles.”
– Senator John Cornyn, 2008

“I don’t see the point of going through the motions   [of meeting with the nominee]”
– Senator John Cornyn, 2016

 

Other GOP Senators have echoed these comments. Please understand that when the Republicans say things like “The fact of the matter is that it’s been standard practice over the last nearly 80 years that Supreme Court nominees are not nominated and confirmed during a presidential election year” (Chuck Grassley), that this is a LIE, as  Grassley himself  pointed out in 2008!  What the GOP is doing here is totally, completely, and utterly unprecedented – AND THEY KNOW IT!

Given these comments, especially about this being “standard practice over the last nearly 80 years”, some of the information from my last post bears repeating.

There were seven occasions in the 20th century when a vacancy occurred on the Supreme Court during a Presidential   election year. In 6 of the seven, the sitting President nominated – and the Senate confirmed – a new Justice during the election year. In the 7th circumstance (in 1956), Congress had adjourned (rendering Senate Confirmation impossible), so President Eisenhower used a “recess appointment” to put William Brennan on the Court; Brennan was then formally nominated and confirmed the following year.

The other six vacancies that were filled were as follows:

  • Anthony Kennedy – 1988 – nominated by Ronald Reagan (his third try to fill the same vacancy)
  • Frank Murphy – 1940 – nominated by Franklin Roosevelt
  • Benjamin Cardozo – 1932 – nominated by Herbert Hoover
  • John Hessin Clarke – 1916 – nominated by Woodrow Wilson
  • Louis Brandeis – 1916 – nominated by Woodrow Wilson
  • Mahlon Pitney – 1912 – nominated by William Howard Taft

I REPEAT:    THERE HAS NEVER – IN OVER 220 YEARS – BEEN A VACANCY ON THE SUPREME COURT THAT “WAITED” FOR THE NEXT PRESIDENT TO FILL THE SEAT, REGARDLESS OF WHEN THE VACANCY OCCURRED.

EVER!!!!

President Obama has made it clear he will put forward a nominee – as he is Constitutionally bound to do. The Senate should also fulfill its Constitutional role.

 

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MORE ON THE SUPREME COURT VACANCY

February 17, 2016

As noted in yesterday’s post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice.”

But the American people DID have their voice! When President Obama was re-elected in 2012, they chose him to be President – and to carry out all of the powers and duties of that office – for the next four full years. That’s four years – not a little over three years. This includes the power to nominate people to the Supreme Court in order to fill any vacancy that occurred during that full four-year term.

McConnell and the other Republicans have repeatedly pointed to the 2014 mid-terms to make the point that, while the people chose President Obama in 2012, they chose the Senate in 2014.  This is only partially true – only a third of the Senate was up for re-election that year.   McConnell’s position is just complete BS.   For those of you who think I’m only saying this for partisan reasons, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer – the Vice Chairman of the Democratic Caucus at the time, and soon to take Harry Ried’s place as the Democratic leader in the Senate – was just as wrong when he suggested the same thing about future nominations from George W. Bush back in 2007, and so was Joe Biden in 1992, when he said much the same thing about future nominations from the first President Bush (Senator McConnell has gone so far as to suggest he is only following the “Biden Rule”, for which I have to give him credit:   well played, sir – but still wrong!).  While it is worth noting that both Shumer and Biden were talking about hypothetical vacancies  created by a Justice retiring voluntarily simply because they believed the next President would be from the opposing party, and who might retire   specifically so that a President of their own party would choose their successor, they were both just as wrong then as the Republicans are now.  Even the Founding Fathers made it clear that McConnell’s position flies in the face of the Founders’ intent.

If you need further evidence, the following is a list of EVERY Supreme Court vacancy that has occured and/or been filled during a Presidential election year  at any time in American history.  These  Supreme Court Justices were all nominated and/or confirmed during the final year of a President’s term:

  • Anthony Kennedy – 1988 – nominated by Ronald Reagan (his third try to fill the same vacancy)
  • William Brennan – 1956 – nominated by Eisenhower (Eisenhower originally used a “recess appointment” to put Brennan on the Court, since the Senate was not in session; Brennan  was later confirmed as an Associate Justice in his own right)
  • Frank Murphy – 1940 – nominated by Franklin Roosevelt
  • Benjamin Cardozo – 1932 – nominated by Herbert Hoover
  • John Hessin Clarke – 1916 – nominated by Woodrow Wilson
  • Louis Brandeis – 1916 – nominated by Woodrow Wilson
  • Mahlon Pitney – 1912 – nominated by William Howard Taft
  • Howell Edmunds Jackson – 1893 – nominated by Benjamin Harrison, AFTER the 1892 election of Grover Cleveland (to a non-consecutive second term); Harrison was a true “lame duck” who had lost his re-election bid
  • Melville Fuller – 1888 – nominated by Grover Cleveland
  • William Burnham Woods – 1880 – nominated by Rutherford B. Hayes, AFTER the election of James Garfield; Hayes was a true “lame duck” who had not run for re-election
  • Philip Pendleton Barbour – 1836 – nominated by Andrew Jackson
  • Roger Taney – 1836 – nominated by Andrew Jackson
  • William Johnson – 1804 – nominated by Thomas Jefferson
  • John Marshall – 1800 – nominated by John Adams, AFTER the election of Thomas Jefferson; Adams was a true “lame duck” who had lost his re-election bid
  • Oliver Ellsworth – 1796 – nominated by George Washington
  • Samuel Chase – 1796 – nominated by George Washington

So don’t buy into the GOP’s claim that waiting for the next President to nominate someone when a vacancy occurs during an election year is somehow a “tradition”. This is a LIE. In fact, there has NEVER been a case where a vacancy “waited” to be filled until the next President took office. The closest we have EVER come to this was in 1968, when President Johnson nominated Associate Justice Abe Fortas to replace Chief Justice Earl Warren, who had announced his retirement in June of that year. Fortas’s nomination was successfully filibustered, and Fortas asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration as Chief Justice (he continued serving on the Court as an Associate Justice until he resigned in disgrace in 1970 following revelations of financial improprieties). The Chief Justice’s seat was ultimately filled by the next President, Richard Nixon, who nominated Warren Burger, but my point stands – President Johnson tried to fill the vacancy, rather than “waiting for the next President”.

The history is clear:  Senator McConnell disgraces his office, the Senate, and the GOP by taking this course. He should back down and agree that President Obama is still just that – President of the United States – and that the Senate has a duty to address any President’s nomination for the Supreme Court in a timely manner.

 

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REGARDING THE SUPREME COURT VACANCY

February 16, 2016

Well, perhaps the “epic battle” to replace Justice Antonin Scalia has not yet begun, but battle lines are definitely being drawn. Just about an hour after Justice Scalia’s death had been confirmed – at a time when many prominent political figures (such as Bernie Sanders and Senator Chuck Schumer) were sending condolences to Scalia’s family – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) issued a statement saying, “The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president.” Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee (which would hold confirmation hearings before the full Senate could vote on any nominee), fell in line behind the Majority Leader, stating that, “This president, above all others, has made no bones about his goal to use the courts to circumvent Congress and push through his own agenda. It only makes sense that we defer to the American people who will elect a new president to select the next Supreme Court Justice.”

It is important to understand something here. Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution, which dictates what happens when there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court, reads in part “he [the President] shall nominate…by and with the advice and consent of the Senate…judges of the Supreme Court…”

There is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. The President is Barack Obama, who received 65,899,660 votes for his re-election in 2012 (more than any other candidate in history besides himself; he received more than 69 million votes in 2008), becoming one of only seven American Presidents (and the first since Ronald Reagan) to win a majority of the American popular vote twice – at least since 1824, when the popular vote was first recorded. As they say, elections have consequences. Ask yourself this question: would the Republicans be taking this position if Mitt Romney had won the election? Somehow I doubt it. President Obama was re-elected to a term of four years, which does not expire until noon on January 20th, 2017 – not to a term of 3 years and 17 days (the point at which Justice Scalia died) – so he is in fact still the President. Under the Constitution, President Obama has the undeniable authority – I would even say the duty – to nominate a replacement for Justice Scalia.

But does the Senate have to take up the nomination? This is an open question. Traditionally, the Senate does take up the nomination promptly – since 1975, Supreme Court nominees have waited an average of just 67 days from the time of their nomination for a confirmation vote. The Senate voted to confirm Anthony Kennedy to the Supreme Court on February 3, 1988 – just about the same point in President Ronald Reagan’s second term as President Obama is now. In fact, no Senate Majority Leader has ever issued a statement saying that the Senate would automatically refuse to even consider any nominee the President chose to put forward.

But the question is not what traditionally happens, or what precedents have been set in the past. The question is whether the Senate is required to take up the nomination. The answer is clear – there is nothing in the Constitution, or in the Senate rules, that places any sort of time frame on when the Senate has to consider a given nomination; in fact there is nothing that requires the Senate to take up a given nomination at all.

So President Obama has the power to nominate someone, but the Senate does not have to fulfill its “advice and consent” role within any given time frame.

So now what?

This is where politics will come in. The Democrats seem to be coalescing around a two-pronged argument: the unprecedented nature of McConnell’s position and the notion that the Senate cannot abdicate its Constitutional duties for partisan political reasons, while the Republicans have quickly pointed to Senator Chuck Schumer’s July 2007 statement that the Senate should not accept any nominations for the Supreme Court from then-President George W. Bush (who had about a year and a half left of his term) “except in extraordinary circumstances”, adding, “The Supreme Court is dangerously out of balance. We cannot afford to see Justice Stevens replaced by another Roberts, or Justice Ginsburg by another Alito.”

How this plays out will depend in large part on who President Obama decides to nominate. If he decides to throw down a gauntlet and nominate someone who would have little chance in the Senate in the best of times (perhaps due to an all-too-liberal record), the Republicans will simply refuse to take up the nomination and will probably not suffer for it. On the other hand, if President Obama were to nominate someone with a more moderate record, someone who has some Republican bonafides (say, perhaps, they have clerked for a conservative Supreme Court Justice), someone who has sailed through a Senate confirmation in the recent past, someone who has the support of past Republican judges and, for the coup de grace, someone who fits a demographic that has never been represented on the Supreme Court before, things could get very awkward for the Republicans.

I think I have found just the person President Obama should nominate.

His name is Sri Srinivasan, and he is 48 years old. He graduated from Stanford University (with a bachelor’s degree in 1989, followed by simultaneous Juris Doctorate and MBA degrees in 1995), and then clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He was nominated to a seat on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia (the same launching ground which produced Justice Scalia, along with three current Justices and many past Justices) by President Obama in 2013, and was confirmed by the Senate by a unanimous 97-0 vote just under three years ago (among those who voted in his favor were Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz). He has served on the Court of Appeals longer than either Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Clarence Thomas, and has produced a fairly moderate record.

He also has the support of Deanell Reece Tacha, appointed by President Reagan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit where she served as a circuit judge from 1986-2011 and as Chief Judge from January 2001 through 2007, and currently the Dean of Pepperdine Law School. Tacha says of Srinivasan: “I know very little about the politics of the nomination, but I know that Sri would be a truly outstanding nominee in all respects. He is exceptionally well qualified; an outstanding jurist with a powerful intellect and deep respect for the law. I hope he will be given serious consideration.”

Oh – and Srinivasan was born in India. His family emigrated here in the late 1960’s (when Sri was just a toddler), and settled in Lawrence Kansas. He would be the first Indian-American to serve on the Supreme Court.

Given that Srinivasan was unanimously confirmed by the Senate less than three years ago, clerked for Ronald Reagan’s first Supreme Court appointee (Justice O’Connor), has a moderate record, has the support of someone like Deanell Reece Tacha, and is Indian-American to boot, it would be politically difficult for the Republicans to take up such an ardent opposition to him. If the Democrats were to play this one right (a dubious possibility at best), they could use Republican intransigence against such a reasonable nominee as a sledge hammer in both the race for the White House and in the race for the Senate.

Which brings me to another point. Currently the Senate is made up of 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats (including Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats). This year’s race for the Senate is going to be tight; the Democrats need a net gain of just 5 seats (4 if they win the White House, because the Vice President presides over the Senate and casts a vote in case of a tie) to take back the Senate majority. What if the Democrats win the White House (a strong possibility, given the electoral math), AND take back the Senate majority (also a strong possibility, given that 24 Republican seats are up for election this year, compared to just 10 Democratic seats)? I think the Republicans are taking a serious gamble here, because if they insist on waiting, and the Democrats take the White House and the Senate majority, they may end up stuck with a much more liberal nominee than whoever President Obama decides to nominate.

Just sayin…

 

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February 13, 2016:  THE DEATH OF ANTONIN SCALIA

The unexpected death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (announced today) will bring about seismic shifts in American jurisprudence – and an epic battle over his replacement – but all that can wait. Justice Scalia served this country on the high Court for 30 years (and on the Court of Appeals before that…), and should be remembered as a dedicated American who fought for how he believed the Constitution should be interpreted. He never backed down from a fight (especially with his colleagues), and was considered “feisty” and “irascible”, but whether you revered or reviled him, now is a time to respect his memory and to be grateful for his service to our country.

 

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© 2016 by David Bleidistel.  All rights reserved.