Where To Focus: Day 115

We’re beyond the first 100 days. Time to remember that there are 1460 days between presidential elections (or between inaugurations) in the U.S. We have to endure 13 more stretches the length of this first one. Are we ready for that?

At my Quaker Meeting recently, I rose to speak about the difficulty I was feeling in staying alert and active in the midst of this Trump presidency. I said that most days I find myself reading, reading, reading the news, alert to every fresh nuance and turn in the drama. In the midst of that I notice two further things.

One is that taking in the news is making me feel passive. Whatever is happening now, I realize, will be subsumed by something else in a few hours. The pace of change in the stories is so rapid, the turns so unexpected, and the number of awful issues being addressed that I’m allowing myself to become a spectator. I have a hard time knowing when to act and what to do. (And no, I don’t find the urgings from the Democratic Party or from MoveOn, etc., to sign this or that petition and then “pitch in” a few bucks at all helpful.)

Even worse, I find myself amused and entertained by the spectacle. Who needs any other form of amusement in life when the Trump White House (or Ryan or McConnell) will hourly deliver up some fresh horrible idiocy for me to stare at in wonderment? Trump throwing Rosenstein under a bus!  Spicer in the bushes! It’s like watching gladiator fights each day. How can I watch such spectacles? But then again, how can I turn away? Pass the popcorn; I’m ashamed.

Back in late February (just 40 days in) I urged Strategy: Follow the Russia Connection. As I take a deep breath this morning, that still seems like the right focus. More particularly.

First, Keep the Focus on the Russia Connection. We need a full understanding of what the Russians did in the 2016 election and who in the United States may have assisted or encouraged them. That means we need the various investigations (FBI, House, Senate) to continue. Writing in The Atlantic, David Frum makes a persuasive case that A Special Prosecutor Is Not the Answer, even though twenty state Attorney Generals have called for this. Read it for yourself, but Frum argues that a special prosecutor would take the story off the front page for months or even likely years, and would focus solely on criminal behavior. Criminal behavior would be important if there was any, but the bad-acting may instead be just politically unacceptable behavior. We need to know the truth.

So beyond FBI, House and Senate we need the continuing excellent work of investigative journalists. Much of what we already know has come from fact-reporting journalists. I’m also drawn to Adam Jentleson’s urging about how Democratic Senators can keep the pressure on.

Second, insist on release of the tax returns. Likely Trump’s tax returns will tell us more than anything else. We need to continue to insist on their release, and insist that they be subpoenaed if not voluntarily released. The recently released Morgan Lewis Bockius letter on Trump’s taxes is only the most recent evasion. According to ABC News, “Jack Blum, a Washington tax lawyer who is an expert on white-collar financial crime and international tax evasion, called the [Morgan Lewis Bockius] letter ‘meaningless.’” We should see every President’s tax returns. Trump’s behavior has only shown us why we need to see the returns, in full, for ourselves.

Third, stay attentive to health care. Then Comey firing has taken the public focus away from the disastrously bad wealthcare bill passed by the House Republicans on May 4. Call your Senator, call your Senator, call your Senator.

Fourth (if we can keep four things in mind) is the assault on environmental protection. We need to talk to Congress about that, too.

I look back at my February 28 list of where we should be focusing and see that it holds up pretty well: 75 days later, keep the focus on Russia, the taxes, healthcare and the environment.

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No on Gorsuch: The Reasons Matter

This week’s biggest focus is the vote on whether Neil Gorsuch should become a member of the Supreme Court filling the vacancy left by the death of Antonin Scalia.  Trump has nominated Gorsuch to fill the seat, and now it needs confirmation in the Senate.

One important backdrop to this vote is the Republican majority’s decision in the last Congress not to consider President Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland to fill that seat, arguing, without precedent, that a vacant seat should not be filled in the last year of a President’s term — that such a vacancy should await the election of a new president.

A second important backdrop is the question of Senate rules.  Already more than 41 Senators have announced they will vote against confirming Neil Gorsuch, and that they will also support a filibuster to prevent such a vote.  Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate Majority Leader, has said he will ‘invoke the nuclear option’ if the opponents filibuster: he will ask the Republican majority in the Senate to change the Senate rules to eliminate the possibility of a filibuster.  With a filibuster, it would take 60 votes to shut off debate ending the filibuster.  Without the filibuster provision, 51 votes (or 50 + Vice President Pence) would suffice.  Likely the opponents will persist nonetheless with the filibuster despite McConnell’s threat to change the Senate rules.

These backdrop considerations are important, perhaps determinative.  It can be argued that a Senator should vote against Gorsuch simply because of how McConnell and the Republicans treated Merrick Garland’s normination.

But important, too are the substantive reasons to vote no on Gorsuch.  The Constitutional process of having a president nominate a justice and then having the Senate vote to confirm encourages a public airing of the reasons to vote yes or no.  Gorsuch has been through a confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  What he said in those hearings and what he has done in his years as an attorney and then a judge are now matters of public record.  As members of the Senate announce how they will vote, many are taking the occasion to explain why they will vote as they will.

I believe there are substantive reasons to vote no on Gorsuch, reasons that go beyond the partisan and cynical denial of the seat to Merrick Garland.

I am delighted to hear that Maine Senator Angus King will vote no on Gorsuch and will also vote to filibuster the nomination.  His reasons are thoughtful and considered.  Among the reasons: that Gorsuch’s answers in the confirmation hearing were evasive “and at worst simply not forthcoming;” that he would “favor a return to pre-1935 jurisprudence whereby the the federal government (including Congress) was severely constrained in its ability to address urgent national priorities;” that he values corporate interests (as persons!) over ordinary citizens (workers, women); that he is a “judicial activist;” and that his confirmation has been supported by more than $10 million of advertisements from persons who cloak their identity.  (Likely contributors include the Koch brothers and the National Rifle Association.)  Said King, again referring to Gorsuch’s evasive answers:

while the hearing may have left many of us uncertain as to Judge Gorsuch’s philosophy and likely conduct on the Court, the sponsors of this campaign are not uncertain at all. They are not spending this huge sum on speculation; they know what they are getting, and that, in itself, raises serious concerns, particularly given the judge’s reluctance to discuss the Citizens United decision.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Emily Bazelon and Eric Posner laid out a more extended critique of Gorsuch’s views of what King is calling “a return to pre-1935 jurisprudence.  Again, reasons worth reading.

These are weighty and sufficient considerations justifying a no vote.

Not mentioned in King’s catalog is one further reason lifted up by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California: Gorsuch’s work on behalf of justifying torture while he worked for the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.  Here is the relevant part of the statement from Sen. Feinstein, worth reading in full.

When I asked Judge Gorsuch about his work at the Department of Justice involving the Bush administration’s defense of the use of torture—despite providing relevant documents—Judge Gorsuch said only that, quote, his “memory is what it is, and it isn’t great on this,” and that the position he took on torture, quote, “was the position that the clients were telling [him],” end quote, to take.

Not only did he not answer my question, he raised an additional concern.

I strongly believe that when you work for the government, either as a lawyer or a policymaker, it’s important to comment on the legality of the issue you advise or write. To say “I did what they wanted” is not enough, particularly if the legality is contradicted by both law and treaty.

I also believe it’s important to remember the context. At this point, our country was involved in detaining people indefinitely without charge or trial—leaving them with no rights, no meaningful opportunity to challenge their confinement.

The government had also decided the executive could order the use of certain enhanced-interrogation techniques that included waterboarding, stress positions and sleep deprivation, as well as a host of other techniques which would, and did, result in death and serious debilitation of detainees.

It was April 2004 when the public first learned about the prisoner abuse chronicled in the Abu Ghraib photos. Then in June of 2004, information was leaked to the media that the Department of Justice had issued legal opinions that stated enhanced-interrogation techniques were within the law, unless they inflicted the kind of pain associated with organ failure or death.

Judge Gorsuch reached out to the White House political director in November 2004—approximately six months after these revelations—to say how he wanted to “help the cause” and be a “full-time member of the team.”

Then in March 2005, he reached out to the chairman of the Republican National Committee, who vouched for Gorsuch as a “true loyalist” and “a good, strong conservative.”

Judge Gorsuch ultimately joined the Bush administration in June of ‘05.

Through our examination of his documents, we learned that during his tenure at the Department of Justice, he was involved in efforts to strip detainees of their ability to have habeas cases heard by federal courts, defend and protect the Bush administration’s position on torture and issue an expansive signing statement on the Detainee Treatment Act. These statements were used to highlight parts of the law the administration intended not to follow.

Importantly, we learned that Judge Gorsuch advocated for the Bush administration to issue a broad signing statement. He said it could be used to, and I quote, “help inoculate against the potential of having the administration criticized sometime in the future for not making sufficient changes in interrogation policy in light of the McCain portion of the amendment; this statement clearly, and in a formal way that would be hard to dispute later, puts down a marker to the effect that the view that McCain is best read as essentially codifying existing interrogation techniques.”

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Judge Gorsuch’s email shows a knowledge of the Bush administration’s position on torture. It also demonstrated he supported efforts to codify existing interrogation policies such as waterboarding and other extreme techniques.

In our written questions, I asked again about his views on enhanced-interrogation techniques. I know something about them. The Intelligence Committee, while I was chairman, has in classified status, over 7,000 pages, with 32,000 footnotes, that document all of this.

I tried to understand his opinions on right and wrong and whether he was at all disturbed by what our government was doing.

Unfortunately, once again, the answers I got were non-responsive.

For example, I asked Judge Gorsuch what he meant when he suggested that a signing statement could “inoculate” the administration if they were later criticized for not making, quote, “sufficient changes to the interrogation policy” based on the McCain amendment.

Judge Gorsuch responded once again that he was, quote, “a lawyer advising a client,” end quote, and that his client—the government—was arguing that the McCain amendment simply codified existing policies. Judge Gorsuch’s defense is that he was only doing what his client wanted him to do.

That’s a Nuremberg-like defense of bad behavior.

We should expect members of the Supreme Court to show that they have a moral as well as a legal compass; that they are prepared to stand up for what is right and to refuse to cooperate with torture or other cruelty.  If Gorsuch would “do what his client wanted him to do” on a matter of such importance, how could we trust him as a Supreme Court Justice?  And who might he consider as his “client?”

 

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The Russia Connection: Stay Focused

As we come to the end of Trump’s first 100 days in office, it is more than ever important to stay focused on what we know and don’t know about the Russia connection.  The last few days have brought important revelations.

Yes, there’s also been a terrible Executive Order on climate change; yes, there’s also been a terrible move away from customer privacy on the internet.  Those stories are worth following, too, and worth phone calls to our Senators and Representatives.

But the Russia connection is a story about dishonesty and disloyalty — even the possibility of treason, because the story raises the possibility of Trump in his connections with Russia working more to enrich and protect those interests than working to uphold his Constitutional oath.

The president and his companies have been linked to at least 10 wealthy former Soviet businessmen with alleged ties to criminal organizations or money laundering.

That’s from reporting in yesterday’s USA Today by Oren Dorell, Trump’s business network reached alleged Russian mobsters.  Dorell itemizes the many connections.

In The Atlantic, David Graham, tells the story of Paul Manafort’s Mysterious Millions.  The thread through the story is the question of whether Manafort’s many recent Russia-related dealings involve him in money-laundering schemes.

Senate Committee to Question Jared Kushner Over Meetings With Russians.  A letter to the Times later that day from Kevin Kane of the Bronx remarked, “Those meetings would be suspicious even if those two men were in fact diplomats representing their respective governments. They are not diplomats, and it will be interesting to learn why they were meeting and just whose interests they represent.”

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RyanFail: No Victory for Democrats

Now the fight begins in earnest.

The collapse of the House Republicans w(h)ealthcare bill on Friday was a debacle for Paul Ryan, the Republican leadership, and Trump.  Trump and others may try to blame the Democratic Party for the ‘failure’, but there is not truth in that.  Ryan et al went into this effort on February 16 with no expectation that they would ever have a single Democratic vote.  The Republican leadership made no effort whatsoever to involve House Democrats in any of their discussions.  Thus, the failure was entirely engineered by the Republican leadership.

But by the very same token, the failure is no victory for Democrats.  It wasn’t pushback from Democrats, it wasn’t the prospect of ‘no’ votes from House Democrats, it wasn’t even particularly the resounding ‘no’ from an energized Democratic base that led Ryan to pull the proposal.  It was mostly division and discord among House Republicans that led to the abrupt withdrawal of the legislation.

We need to remember this in days and weeks ahead.  The fight over affordable, accessible healthcare for all Americans is not over.  The current system needs to be improved, and we can expect fresh efforts to undermine what we do have.

Remember that on his very first day in office, Trump promulgated an Executive Order entitled Executive Order Minimizing the Economic Burden of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act Pending Repeal.

Pending repeal:  Trump has staked out that ground.

From the ACA’s signing through the end of President Obama’s second term, Congressional Republicans did everything they could to undermine the bill (defunding risk corridors, blocking Medicaid expansion, etc.). Now with Trump in the White House, the Republican leadership has yet more tools at its disposal to severely damage the protections of the Affordable Care Act.

With RyanFail, now the fight begins in earnest.

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Three Ring Circus: House, Senate & Trump/Putin

This week in Washington DC is proving a three ring circus.  Hard to know where to focus your attention, and perhaps that’s some of the point.  Those opposed to the Trump/House Republican domination of our government need to stay focused on all rings.three ring circus

Ring 1: Health Care in the House

In no way is the Republican bill in the House of Representatives truly a health care bill.  It serve only the continuing need of the Republican Party to say they repealed the Affordable Care Act.  (Don’t call it Obamacare: it’s our health care that’s under threat, yours and mine and our neighbors’.)

This proposed legislation (a) reduces the percentage of Americans with health care, (b) makes it less affordable for most Americans, and (c) does nothing to reduce medical or pharmaceutical costs.  The bill only makes health care worse.  It is a Wealthcare bill: as it shreds coverage and affordability, it enriches the wealthy with further tax cuts.  Urge your Representatives to vote no.

Ring 2: Treason Investigation of the Trump Campaign

In the middle, the two elephants trunk to tail: Trump to Putin.  After FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, there are only larger and more profound reasons to suspect collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents in the 2016 election campaign.  Comey confirmed there was an ongoing investigation.  We already know of contacts between Russian agents and Michael Flynn (briefly National Security Advisor), Paul Manafort (Campaign Director) and Jeff Sessions (confirmed Attorney General, now recused from the investigation).  Devin Nunes, Republican Chair of the House Intelligence Committee has shown himself unfit to lead a proper investigation.  As Adam Schiff (ranking minority member of the House committee) put it, “There is more than circumstantial evidence now.” We need to press for appointment of a bipartisan Select Committee, and insist we get to the bottom of this swamp.

Ring 3: Supreme Court Confirmation Hearings in the Senate.

We’re toward the end of hearings to consider Neil Gorsuch as “President Trump’s nominee for Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court seat,” as E. J. Dionne properly described it.  Garland should have been confirmed by the Senate.

Tell your Senator to vote no on Gorsuch at least until the treason charges have been fully heard. And if the Trump campaign has been shown to have colluded with Russian agents, Gorsuch should be withdrawn as a nominee. We won’t know whether we have a legitimate U.S. President until we reach the end of a proper investigation.  No nominee of an illegitimate president should be confirmed, especially not a Supreme Court Justice.

Talk to your members of Congress about all three.

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Secrets or Lies? Two Presidents on Trial

This morning I’m watching the House Intelligence Committee hearings with FBI Director James Comey as the lead witness.  (Also testifying is Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the Director of the National Security Agency.)  Republican and Democratic members of the committee are asking about intelligence information and investigations bearing on the 2016 Presidential elections, especially possible involvements of Russian agents.

Comey is being very careful not to disclose any specific information about ongoing investigations, but Comey has disclosed that there is indeed an ongoing investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election.  There is a striking contrast in the questions that the majority and minority members of the committee are asking.

Republicans are asking about leaks of intelligence information, leaks whose content suggest collusion or coordination between members of the Trump campaign apparatus and Russian agents.  These members of Congress want to expose that leaks of classified intelligence information are improper and serious.

Democrats are asking whether Comey has any knowledge of any wiretapping of Trump or his campaign by U.S. intelligence agents.  Comey has specifically denied any such knowledge, thus exposing those Trump claims as lies, reckless lies.  Similarly he has denied any knowledge of cooperation of British intelligence agents in any wiretapping of the Trump campaign, again exposing this as a lie, one that slanders a trusted ally.

The testimony is vindicating Obama from Trump’s charges, and affirming Trump’s lies. It also is calling attention to leaks by U.S. officials of classified intelligence secrets.

The question for any citizen is whether you are more concerned about leaks of secret intelligence information, or whether you are more concerned about slanderous lies by the President of the United States.

Me, I’m more concerned about the lies by a sitting American President.

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I Want Leadership From the Democratic Party

ADDENDUM below 17.3.12

I’m not getting it, and neither are you.

Today I get the survey below from the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee).  The e-mail is ostensibly from Nancy Pelosi.

DCCC Survey 17.3.10

They forgot to ask “Have you stopped beating your wife?”

They don’t want me to do any thinking whatsoever.  And there’s no indication of what I should do other than contribute money via the certain-to-follow “chip in” screen that will follow if I submit responses.  What do they do with that money? And what do they do with all of all these polls and petitions they are forever sending?  (Am I seriously to believe that Mitch McConnell or Paul Ryan care about those petitions?)

I respond: “This is a stupid survey.  Treat me like a serious person or don’t bother at all.  I want leadership, not condescension from the Democratic Party.”  But I have no confidence whatsoever they are listening.

We have serious work to do.  We have a crazy President and a Congress dominated by leaders who have no regard at all for the welfare of the vast majority of citizens.  I want a Democratic Party that channels the ready-to-mobilize energies and talents of those citizens.

Dear DCCC:  What should I read? Who should I call? What should I tell them?  What are the most effective things I can do today?  And you might occasionally ask me what I think in a way that anticipates I might have something to say.

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ADDENDUM.  a day later, having failed to complete the survey, having told them why, I receive the further e-mail, below.  The link takes me to the exact same survey.  “Personalized?”  “(just for you!)” A seven-pack of BVD briefs would be more personalized.  Wow.  I don’t think they are getting it:

DCCC Survey 17.3.10 response

 

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