Going All In

Tom Sullivan of Hullabaloo shares a theory:

Not even overwhelming public outcry is likely to move Senate Republicans to waver in support of their Leader, nor from helping cover up his crimes. Last night in a Facebook post, historian Rick Perlstein … offered a theory for why:

Germans who left behind evidence during World War II that they knew … committing war crimes was wrong … were more likely to … commit war crimes. This was because (1) they had passed a point of no return, and (2) the motivation became even more frenzied devotion to “winning” as the state defined it, because they realized that if Germany lost, they would be punished–because, again, they knew they were breaking the law.

…. now that all these Republican “moderates” are on the record advancing what Jerold Nadler correctly call a coverup with their votes again evidence and witnesses, it becomes all the more important for T—-ism to prevail so they never have to face the music for their sins–and they may work with ever greater frenzy to make sure T—-ism never loses. To liberals who think to themselves, “The House managers’ presentation is so airtight and inarguable, surely one of these Republicans will break”: well, the very air-tightness might have the opposite effect. They may commit themselves ever more strongly to the ratchet toward dictatorship. Because if T—- loses, they can now imagine themselves in the figurative dock.

A key difference between Perlstein’s example and ours is Germans had seen punishment after World War I, that is, in recent collective memory. They had reason to fear accountability as a real prospect. Republicans over the last half century, on the other hand, saw Gerald Ford pardon Nixon, Reagan dodge impeachment, and George H.W. Bush pardon six of Reagan’s Iran-Contra co-conspirators.

They saw the administration of George W. Bush lie the country into war and commit war crimes with impunity courtesy, in part, of Barack Obama’s wanting to “look forward,” not back. They witnessed the financial industry bring the world economy to its knees and go unchastened, only to get richer and more powerful courtesy, again, of Barack Obama’s wanting to “look forward,” not back.

Yet, even if they fear no punishment, Republicans may have reached their own “point of no return.”

Meanwhile, … the rich just get richer, nonwhite people get more numerous, and T—-’s base gets more anxious [that] its accustomed social and political dominance will be lost to the multicultural ….

Meanwhile, Sen. Elizabeth Warren has pledged if elected to “investigate corruption during the T—- administration and to hold government officials accountable for illegal activity.” That ought to have at least sent shivers up some spines. Because Warren appears to mean it. First she has to get to the White House.

In justifying his Iran-Contra pardons, Bush argued that the prosecutions amounted to “the criminalization of policy differences.” Expect to hear that phrase again soon. William Barr sits atop Trump’s Department of Justice just as he did under Bush 41. As things sit now, Republicans and the donor class have little reason to fear punishment.

The rest of us had best get busy giving them reason to.

Unquote.

Obvious Crime and Possible Punishment

I still think the Democrats should have impeached the Toddler for obstruction of justice as soon as Robert Mueller delivered his report. Mueller said the president would have been indicted for obstructing the Russia investigation, except that he’s president.

Better late than never though. The two articles of impeachment now before the Senate are supported by so much evidence, it’s only Republican fealty to their Dear Leader that will keep him in the White House. That he abused his power for personal gain, and that he committed a crime in doing so, is obvious, despite his interference with the House’s investigation. That the president has obstructed Congress by not turning over a single subpoenaed document and by ordering everyone and his sister not to testify is as plain as the orange cast of his face.

Impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff opened today’s proceedings, speaking for two hours and twenty minutes. He was brilliant:

Jennifer Rubin wonders if some Republican senators were exposed to the evidence for the first time:

Given how firmly some Republican senators are ensconced in the right-wing news bubble, and how determined they are to avoid hearing facts that undercut their partisan views, it is possible many of them are hearing the facts on which impeachment is based for the first time. [Schiff] took them through in meticulous detail the scheme President T—– devised to pressure Ukraine to help him smear former vice president Joe Biden.

Schiff was confronting not only the public but also the Republicans with an indisputable factual account for which T—–’s lawyers have no answer. So how are they to acquit?

… Nope, the claim there is no evidence of a corrupt quid pro quo is unsustainable; in fact, there is overwhelming and uncontradicted evidence. Nope, you do not want to adopt the crackpot theory that abuse of power is not impeachable. Schiff is leaving them no legitimate basis on which to acquit. He mocked [White House Chief of Staff] Mulvaney’s comment that we should just “get over it,” challenging the senators to tell their constituents that none of this mattered.

And that is what the trial is about. It’s about making clear to the entire country that Trump did exactly what he is accused of, but that his own party, suffering from political cowardice and intellectual corruption, do not have the nerve to stop him.

Rubin’s colleague at The Washington Post, Paul Waldman, reminds us how we got here:

President T—– is on trial in the Senate, but so is the entire Republican Party. And 1,300 miles away in Guantanamo there’s another trial taking place, one that implicates the [Grand Old Party] just as much.

In these two trials we can see the complete moral wreckage of their party, and how they’ve carried the country down with them.

What does the trial of a group of alleged terrorists have to do with impeachment? When seen from the perspective not of one president but of what Republicans ask all of us to accept and how they frame their own moral culpability, they are waypoints on the same devolutionary road.

To understand how, we’ll have to briefly revisit one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history, the torture program initiated by the George W. Bush administration as part of its “War on Terror.” After the September 11 attacks, the administration began scooping up suspected members of al-Qaeda all over the world and interrogating them to stop future attacks. Worried that they weren’t getting enough information, they decided that the prisoners should be tortured. The problem was that no one knew how to go about it.

So the CIA hired two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, to design a torture program. Neither had ever interrogated a prisoner in their lives, but they somehow convinced the government to pay them $81 million to devise a series of techniques they essentially cribbed from a 1950s-era military program meant to teach service members how to survive the kinds of torture American POWs had endured at the hands of China and North Korea during the Korean War.

From the beginning, the Bush administration attempted to minimize what it was doing, portraying it as the gentle application of pressure to encourage prisoners to be more forthcoming. They devised the euphemism “enhanced interrogation” as though it were some kind of sophisticated program….

The truth of what went on was utterly horrific….

The use of torture was a clear violation of both U.S. law and international treaties to which the country is a signatory. So the Bush administration’s lawyers drew up legal opinions with new and bizarre ideas to justify their actions; one such document claimed that if the torture wasn’t so unbearable that the victim went into organ failure, then it wasn’t technically torture….

Mitchell and Jessen are now defending the program in pretrial proceedings in the case against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other al-Qaeda defendants. If you’re wondering why Mohammad is on trial almost 17 years after he was captured, it’s in large part because convicting him in court — where rules still apply — has been complicated by the fact that he was tortured for so long. But as Mitchell said on the stand Tuesday, “We were trying to save American lives.”

So what does this have to do with the Trump impeachment? In the early 2000s, a Republican administration and nearly the entirety of the Republican Party discarded what we assumed was an almost-universal moral position, that torture is wrong. But when they did so, they felt it necessary to clothe their ethical abdication in a combination of euphemism, bogus legal justifications, and fear-mongering.

Consider where we are today. The Republican Party is in a loosely analogous situation: The president of the United States did something awful, and they are attempting to defend it. But this time around, they can barely muster the energy to dress up what he did in a covering of moral argument.

Their defenses of Trump’s behavior are halfhearted at best. Instead, they’re finding the safest harbor in arguing that sure, Trump did what he was accused of, and if you don’t like it, you can shove it….

But here’s a key difference: You can’t argue that Trump’s actions, like Bush’s, were in some way a misguided attempt to save U.S. lives or even serve U.S. interests. The point of Republicans’ final moral descent is to protect Trump himself. And that of course is why he’s being impeached: Not just because he coerced a foreign leader, but because he did so to serve his own personal interests.

Republicans now believe that if T—– can get away with this, then he should get away with this. There are no more principles, not even ones they feel they need to pretend to believe in. There is only [Dear Leader]; he alone is what they serve.

The story of the Republican embrace of torture reminds us that T—– didn’t create the moral vacuum that lies within the [Republican Party]. He exploited it to get elected and counts on it to survive, but it was there before. And their pathetic sycophancy toward him shows that there are absolutely no actions they will not defend, even those done for the worst possible reasons.

As bad as this is, we can choose a different president, a much better president, less than ten months from now. Charles Pierce of Esquire called attention to news very few people noticed on Tuesday [Pierce always adds an asterisk to “administration” and “president”, when referring to T—– and his crowd, for obvious reasons]:

The biggest news about this corrupt administration* was not made in the Senate chamber on Tuesday. It was made out on the campaign trail by Senator Professor [Elizabeth] Warren. From CNBC:

“If we are to move forward to restore public confidence in government and deter future wrongdoing, we cannot simply sweep this corruption under the rug in a new administration,” Warren wrote in [her] plan. The progressive Democrat cited a report by a nonpartisan good government group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which found “unprecedented” corruption in the Trump administration, as well as other reports of self-dealing among administration officials and the president’s family members.

“That’s why I will direct the Justice Department to establish a task force to investigate violations by Trump administration officials of federal bribery laws, insider trading laws, and other anti-corruption and public integrity laws, and give that task force independent authority to pursue any substantiated criminal and civil violations,” she said.

Make no mistake. If we ever are going to repair the damage done by this administration*, it is going to have to include a thorough fumigation of every corner of the national executive. The first big mistake made by President Barack Obama was his determination to look forward, and not back. Too many of the criminals working for the last worst president in history skated. Too many Wall Street vandals got away clean. That cannot be allowed to happen again. The corruption of this administration* is unprecedented. It demands this kind of unprecedented response.

…. we might as well look to the future, because the present is too dismal to contemplate.

The House Begins To Present Its Case

This afternoon, members of the House of Representatives submitted a Trial Memorandum “in re [the] impeachment of President D—– J. T—–“. It summarizes the case for the prosecution in the president’s Senate trial. (The president’s lawyers are supposed to submit their response before noon on Monday.)

In theory, all 100 senators will read the prosecution’s memorandum before the trial starts next week. You can read it, even if they don’t (all 111 pages).

There is an eight-page introduction. Here’s how it begins:

President D—– J. T—– used his official powers to pressure a foreign government to interfere in a United States election for his personal political gain, and then attempted to cover up his scheme by obstructing Congress’s investigation into his misconduct. The Constitution provides a remedy when the President commits such serious abuses of his office: impeachment and removal. The Senate must use that remedy now to safeguard the 2020 U.S. election, protect our constitutional form of government, and eliminate the threat that the President poses to America’s national security.

The House adopted two Articles of Impeachment against President T—–: the first for abuse of power, and the second for obstruction of Congress. The evidence overwhelmingly establishes that he is guilty of both. The only remaining question is whether the members of the Senate will accept and carry out the responsibility placed on them by the Framers of our Constitution and their constitutional Oaths.

There follows a section describing the president’s abuse of power (the first article of impeachment), when he illegally delayed military aid to Ukraine in order to get the Ukrainian government to publicize (not necessarily to carry out) a criminal investigation into Joe Biden, one of the Democrats’ leading candidates for president, and Biden’s son:

President T—–’s solicitation of foreign interference in our elections to secure his own political success is precisely why the Framers of our Constitution provided Congress with the power to impeach a corrupt President and remove him from office. One of the Founding generation’s principal fears was that foreign governments would seek to manipulate American elections…. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams warned of “foreign Interference, Intrigue, Influence” and predicted that, “as often as Elections happen, the danger of foreign Influence recurs.”

The Framers therefore would have considered a President’s attempt to corrupt America’s democratic processes by demanding political favors from foreign powers to be a singularly pernicious act. They designed impeachment as the remedy for such misconduct because a President who manipulates U.S. elections to his advantage can avoid being held accountable by the voters through those same elections. And they would have viewed a President’s efforts to encourage foreign election interference as all the more dangerous where, as here, those efforts are part of an ongoing pattern of misconduct for which the President is unrepentant.

Then there is a section concerning the president’s obstruction of Congress (the second article of impeachment), his interference in the House’s investigation of the president’s apparent abuse of power:

President T—– obstructed Congress by undertaking an unprecedented campaign to prevent House Committees from investigating his misconduct. The Constitution entrusts the House with the “sole Power of Impeachment.” The Framers thus ensured what common sense requires—that the House, and not the President, determines the existence, scope, and procedures of an impeachment investigation into the President’s conduct. The House cannot conduct such an investigation effectively if it cannot obtain information from the President or the Executive Branch about the Presidential misconduct it is investigating.

Under our constitutional system of divided powers, a President cannot be permitted to hide his offenses from view by refusing to comply with a Congressional impeachment inquiry and ordering Executive Branch agencies to do the same. That conclusion is particularly important given the Department of Justice’s position that the President cannot be indicted. If the President could both avoid accountability under the criminal laws and preclude an effective impeachment investigation, he would truly be above the law.

But that is what President T—– has attempted to do, and why President T—–’s conduct is the Framers’ worst nightmare. He directed his Administration to defy every subpoena issued in the House’s impeachment investigation. At his direction, the White House, Department of State, Department of Defense, Department of Energy, and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) refused to produce a single document in response to those subpoenas. Several witnesses also followed President T—–’s orders, defying requests for voluntary appearances and lawful subpoenas, and refusing to testify. And President T—–’s interference in the House’s impeachment inquiry was not an isolated incident—it was consistent with his past efforts to obstruct the Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The Introduction ends with a brief summary:

…. The impeachment power is an essential check on the authority of the President, and Congress must exercise this power when the President places his personal and political interests above those of the Nation. President T—– has done exactly that. His misconduct challenges the fundamental principle that Americans should decide American elections, and that a divided system of government, in which no single branch operates without the check and balance of the others, preserves the liberty we all hold dear.

The country is watching to see how the Senate responds. History will judge each Senator’s willingness to rise above partisan differences, view the facts honestly, and defend the Constitution. The outcome of these proceedings will determine whether generations to come will enjoy a safe and secure democracy in which the President is not a king, and in which no one, particularly the President, is above the law.

The House memorandum then goes into greater detail concerning the rationale for impeaching and removing the president. It concludes with 61 pages of “material facts”, i.e. the evidence for his removal.

If D—– J. T—– were simply a mob boss or a corrupt businessman (him? are you kidding?) on trial for bribery or obstruction of justice, and members of the Senate were serving on the jury, each one of them would convict the defendant, D—– J. T—–, without a second thought. That especially holds for the Republicans, who still fancy themselves Congress’s strongest proponents of “law and order”. The prosecution’s case is overwhelming. And the verdict in this trial doesn’t even have to be unanimous! Sixty-seven out of 100 senators can throw the bum out.

But here it’s as if most of the jurors are the defendant’s underlings, fearful of his power and willing to protect him no matter what. The men who wrote the Constitution imagined a corrupt president, but they couldn’t have imagined most of the Senate being corrupt too. They assumed most senators, if not all, would take their oaths to uphold the Constitution quite seriously.

Soon we’ll know if Jefferson and Adams, Hamilton, Franklin and Washington, got the future very, very wrong.

Current Events

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark contrasts the killings of Saudi Arabia’s Osama bin Laden and Iran’s Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani:

[Unlike bin Laden] Soleimani was no stateless outlaw. He was a decorated public figure in a nation of more than 80 million people. He was the most renowned of the Iranian generals, hugely popular within Iran — and in Iraq, where supporters of an Iranian-backed militia stormed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad early this week. If the killing of Soleimani was a response to that attack, it was clearly disproportionate…

… nothing in the 40 years of American struggle with Iran has indicated that it will back down from a military challenge. When [the president] stepped away from the Iran nuclear agreement in 2018 and opted instead to crush Iran with economic sanctions …, the administration should have anticipated a long, difficult struggle….

The conflict enters a new phase now: Reciprocal, escalating military actions are a good bet…

Campaigning in Iowa, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was asked if she would have ordered the attack on Soleimani:

No… Much of this started back when [the president] decided to pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal. Even though the Iranians had been certified as adhering to the terms of the deal. Even though our allies all stayed in the deal and wanted us to stay in the deal. [The president] off on his own, started escalating, escalating, escalating, until now, he has taken us to the edge of war. It is dangerous for the United States and it is dangerous for the world.

Asked about the administration’s claim there was an imminent threat, Warren said “the administration has no credibility in truth telling, either at home or around the world”.

As we wait for Iranian retaliation, Republican politicians and their propaganda machine are offering vague and inconsistent justifications for the president’s decision. Anyone who expresses doubts about the attack is already being accused of “siding with terrorists” or “not supporting the troops”. One crank with a Fox News program says we need to honor our “obligations” to “this leader” who is doing so much for us.

Shortly after it happened, Rukmini Callimachi, a correspondent for The New York Times, reported on the genesis of the attack:

I’ve had a chance to check in with sources, including two US officials who had intelligence briefings after the strike on Suleimani…. According to them, the evidence suggesting there was to be an imminent attack on American targets is “razor thin”.

In fact the evidence … came as three discrete facts: (a) A pattern of travel showing Suleimani was in Syria, Lebanon & Iraq to meet with Shia proxies. (As one source said, that’s just “business as usual” for Suleimani).

More intriguing was (b) information indicating Suleimani sought the Supreme Leader’s approval for an operation. He was told to come to Tehran for consultation and further guidance, suggesting the operation was a big deal – but again this could be anything.

And finally, c) Iran’s increasingly bellicose position towards American interests in Iraq, including the attack that killed a U.S. contractor and the recent protest outside the American embassy.

But, as one source put it, (a) + (b) + (c) is hardly evidence of an imminent attack on American interests that could kill hundreds, as the White House has since claimed. The official describes the reading of the intelligence as an illogical leap.

One official described the planning for the strike as chaotic…. Killing Suleimani was the “far out option”….

Since the strike, Iran has convened its national security chiefs. Chatter intercepted by American intelligence indicates they’re considering a range of options. Cyber-attacks, attacks on oil facilities and American personnel and diplomatic outposts have all been cited so far. But among the “menu options” … were: (1) kidnapping and execution of American citizens. (This might explain why the State Department has ordered the evacuation of all US citizens in Iraq, not just government and embassy employees).

Another is attacks on American diplomatic and military outposts not just in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, but as far afield as UAE and Bahrain. The official I spoke to was particularly concerned for American troops stationed in Iraq, some of whom are co-located with Shia militias.

… Let me just say the obvious: No one’s trying to downplay Suleimani’s crimes. The question is why now? His whereabouts have been known before. His resume of killing-by-proxy is not a secret. Hard to decouple his killing from the impeachment saga.

It sure is.

The Times published an article partly based on Callimachi’s reporting:

When [the president] chose the option of killing General Suleimani, top military officials, flabbergasted, were immediately alarmed about the prospect of Iranian retaliatory strikes on American troops in the region.

Why anyone with working neurons would present an option to the Toddler that they considered too extreme, assuming he wouldn’t choose it, is a terrific question.

A great way to understand the president’s “thinking” in this instance is to review his Twitter account. From Nancy LeTourneau of The Washington Monthly:

One of the themes that has emerged in [this era of politics] is that “there is a tweet for everything.” It refers to the fact that whenever the president says or does something, there is a tweet from his past demonstrating his hypocrisy. For example, even as the current occupant of the Oval Office has spent twice as much time on a golf course as Obama, [he] regularly complained that his predecessor played too much golf, tweeting about it 27 times from 2011 to 2016.

There is no great mystery about why there is a tweet for everything. Anyone as sociopathic as [him] engages in projection when attacking their opponents. That is because they are incapable of empathy or being able to see another person’s point of view. Absent any other point of reference, they simply project their own reactions onto others. [He] is obviously obsessed with playing golf, so regardless of the facts, he projected that obsession onto Obama.

The assassination of Qassem Soleimani and escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran led to another moment of “there is a tweet for everything” on Thursday night.

Before the Electoral College screwed us, he repeatedly claimed Obama would start a war in the Middle East in order to insure his re-election:

“@BarackObama will attack Iran in the not too distant future because it will help him win the election,” [he] tweeted on Nov. 14, 2011.

Days later, he said, “Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak and he’s ineffective. So the only way he figures that he’s going to get reelected – and as sure as you’re sitting there – is to start a war with Iran,” according to a video posted this week by a Washington Post video editor.

“In order to get elected, @BarackObama will start a war with Iran,” he followed up on Nov. 29, 2011.

Nearly a year later, on Oct. 22, 2012, [he]repeated the same claim, writing, “Don’t let Obama play the Iran card in order to start a war in order to get elected – be careful Republicans!”

In October 2012, [he] also suggested that Obama would “launch a strike in Libya or Iran” because his “poll numbers are in tailspin.”

The president’s poll numbers haven’t gone down (they’ve been consistently negative since 2017), but he is facing re-election and, as the Times correspondent said, there is the impeachment saga. The evidence for his impeachment and removal from office continues to grow. Newly-released emails from the Office of Management and Budget to the Pentagon confirm that the president personally delayed military aid to Ukraine. A judge is allowing one of the president’s shady Ukrainian pals to give the contents of his cellphone to House Democrats. Last week, one of the president’s aides was ordered to obey a House subpoena. And there is a report from a small investigative news site that those mysterious Deutsche Bank loans were underwritten by VTB Bank. VTB is owned by the Russian government (if true, that would certainly explain a lot!).

It should also be noted that Secretary of State Pompeo and Vice President Pence have been pressuring their boss to assassinate Soleiman. Why? Because they think it might lead to something truly wonderful: the end of the world.

Again, from Nancy LeTourneau of The Washington Monthly:

[In July, Pompeo gave a speech] to a group known as Christians United for Israel (CUFI) that was the brainchild of [Texas televangelist] John Hagee… Vice President Mike Pence addressed the same group in 2017.

One of the things Hagee is known for is the elaborate charts he has created to predict the rapture and events leading up to the end times….

What we are witnessing is a secretary of state who is conducting U.S. foreign policy in alignment with Christian Zionism, with the support of the vice president. While neoconservatives like John Bolton have their own twisted logic for wanting regime change in Iran, it is the belief that events in the Middle East align with Biblical prophecy about the end times that motivates Christian Zionists like Pompeo, Pence, and Hagee.

…. Rising tensions in the Middle East are a feature, not a bug, for these folks. That’s because all of this was prophesied thousands of years ago as a prelude to the rapture. In other words, they welcome the escalation.

Enough said.

Senator Warren Speaks

Selections from her Rolling Stone interview:

Did you grow up listening to country?
Yeah — Hank Williams. I thought everybody listened to Hank Williams. That was the kind of music we were around. That, and rock & roll. Remember, I have three older brothers.

I’ve heard two of them are Republicans.
Uh-huh.

Do you argue about politics?
Well, we have very different views about particular political issues when it comes up. And this has been true for a long, long, long time. When I talk with my brothers, it’s much more about what’s right in the country than what’s wrong in the country. We talk a lot about worry — that young people today have fewer opportunities to succeed than young people had years ago. It’s not true for everyone, but the notion that I could go to a college that cost $50 dollars a semester — that opportunity’s just not out there. That my brothers could go to the military without a college degree, and that was a pathway to a solid middle-class life.

You were a Republican for much of your adult life. Does that give you an advantage to understand conservative voters, to be able to tailor your message—
I would describe it not so much as tailoring as finding the part in the heart where we ultimately, as Americans, agree with each other. Much of the conversation that I now have publicly about corruption — how the rich guys are sucking up all the wealth and leaving everyone else behind — is a long-running conversation I’ve been having with my brothers for decades. They get it. My Democrat brother and my two Republican brothers understand that the rules for billionaires and corporate executives are not the same as the rules for their kids. And they don’t like it. And neither do I.

Your family had financial trouble when you were a kid. Obviously, it’s shaped your political philosophy, but I’m curious how it impacted your personal relationship with money.
I’ve always been afraid there won’t be enough money. Always. I’ve always saved. I’ve always watched the prices of everything. And I’ve always worried about the rest of my family, worried about making sure everyone is OK.

Your dad was the breadwinner before he had a heart attack, and your mom had to go to work to provide for your family. You often describe your mom as encouraging you to get married rather than pursue your education, almost setting you up to end up in the same position she was in.
I think she would have described it as “Be very careful about the man you marry.” That was the pathway to success, not “Go create a path for your own financial independence.” Now, it took a lot of courage for my mother at 50 to take on her first full-time job. But it was never something she was happy about. She didn’t say, “What a great and fulfilling opportunity that was!” She saw it as work born of necessity, because she had to take care of her family and she wanted me to be safe. And to her dying days she still believed that the best way for a woman to be safe was to be married to a man who earned good money.

One of the things that I’m struck by is that, in just the past five years, you went from advocating for incremental changes — I’m thinking of the Buffett Rule, which would have lowered student-loan interest rates, versus the wealth tax, which would wipe out student debt altogether. Did you make a conscious decision to get bolder, or was it a function of the political climate?
I’m actually going to argue with you on the premise of the question. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is big structural change. For a decade, a handful of consumer advocates and researchers had seen what was happening with deceptive mortgages, cheating credit-card companies, and really horrible payday loans. And every one of them had a little piece of the solution. “Let’s change this rule on mortgages. Let’s put in a new protection on credit cards. Let’s do something different about regulating payday loans.” My idea was to build an agency that would fundamentally change the relationship between the government, credit issuers, and tens of millions of customers. The government would act very much like the Consumer Safety Commission and say, in the same way that you can’t sell a toaster that has a one-in-five chance of burning down your house, no one gets to sell a mortgage that has a one-in-five chance of costing a family their home.

Is it hard for you to see what’s happened to the CFPB under [this president]?
No. I mean, look, do I dislike his current director? Yes. Because she [Kathy Kraninger] has made clear she is on the side of the lenders, not the consumers. Mick Mulvaney did everything he could to try to hobble the consumer agency. But here’s the great thing about how that agency worked: When it’s got a good strong director, it’s nimble, and can move forward fast, and that’s exactly what it did in the first five years of its existence. And when it’s got someone who is trying to sabotage its work, it holds steady. It hasn’t gone backwards. The rules haven’t gotten easier. The agency still does its supervisional work, which is way out of the headlines. So I think, if anything, what Mulvaney has shown is you can try really hard to break that agency, but it hasn’t happened.

The slate of plans you’ve proposed would be financed by a wealth tax — an idea that wasn’t in the mainstream before you proposed it. What was the moment that made you decide to target accumulated wealth, and what gave you the confidence Americans were ready for this idea?
The truly wealthy in this country aren’t making their money through working and producing the kind of income that ordinarily gets taxed. Instead, they’ve built great fortunes that now have their own money managers and PR firms to protect those fortunes and make those fortunes grow, and, boy, are they growing — they are growing faster than incomes all around this country.

But what was the moment for you, specifically, when you decided to take this on, when you decided this could catch on in America?
I had a conversation with some tax specialists who showed me how much more money there was tied up in great fortunes than in annual incomes. In other words, they showed how much more money a two-cent wealth tax would raise, even though it’s only on the top one-tenth of one percent.

A wealth tax is a tax on accumulated fortunes, not on [the income of] people that are going out and working every day. It’s time for us to look at those fortunes and think about the kind of country we want to be. Do we think it’s more important to keep [the people who own] those fortunes from paying two cents on the dollar or to have the money to invest in an entire generation?

How would you implement your agenda if the Supreme Court blocks the wealth tax? When you were developing the plan, was that a possibility you discussed?
I went at this the other way: I talked to a lot of the country’s top constitutional scholars, and they were confident that the wealth tax fits within Supreme Court precedents and that, if someone raised an objection, [the tax] could be drafted in a way to meet any challenge.

You’ve described yourself as a capitalist at heart — you believe in markets. But you’ve got a plan that would end the market in health insurance, and to a certain extent, student loans. Was your faith in capitalism shaken by the outcomes those markets produced?
I have always understood that some markets just don’t work. We invest in public education because a market for first grade will not get our children educated. We invest in roads and bridges because a market for infrastructure won’t open up the opportunities we need to make this economy grow. So I believe in markets, but there are two important limits. One is, there are some areas that are not market-driven, and health care is one of them. Second, markets without rules are theft. So even in places where markets can work, the government has a role to play in making sure that the rules create a level playing field and that those rules are consistently enforced.

President Obama said recently that Democrats’ plans need to be “rooted in reality.” Do you think that’s a fundamental misreading of this political moment?
I think of the fight I’m waging as very much rooted in reality — the reality that someone crushed by student-loan debt can’t buy a home, or start a small business, or make much traction of any kind in building some financial security. People with young children, or who are considering having babies, are caught right now in a reality that child care is wildly expensive, and often not even available at any price. A plan for universal child care is rooted in their reality.

One of your earliest forays into politics was battling Joe Biden in the Nineties over bankruptcy reform. There was a big difference back then in your two worldviews. Do you have those same differences today?
Our differences are a matter of public record, and I haven’t changed any of my views. The fundamental problem I see in Washington today is the influence of money. The giant corporations who can spread it around, the billionaires who can buy influence, the lobbyists who are there every day to advance the views of those who pay them well to attend every meeting. It’s why my campaign starts around this question of how power is distributed. Our government works great for those with lots of money and not so much for anyone else. And that’s been a problem for a long, long time.

Did you get the sense that he ever grasped your criticism of the bankruptcy bill?
I don’t want to go back and relitigate 15 years ago.

I’m curious whether you think more Americans are in debt today because of that bill that Biden championed.
Let me say it the other way: A lot fewer people can get the help they need today because of the change in the laws. That’s what the research I did with my co-authors [showed]. There’s been so much work on this, too, about families caught in financial hell who can’t get any help because the bankruptcy laws were tightened to the point of suffocation back in 2005.

A year out from the election, head-to-head polling shows Biden beating [the president] in some battleground states, and you losing to him. More than 40 percent of those who said they would support Biden but not you also said women who run for president “aren’t very likable.” What do you even do with that information?
I think about the last three years, and the role that women have played in politics. Plain old electoral politics. Look, I went to [his] swearing in. I thought it was important. I know others decided not to. I come from a witnessing tradition: I wanted to see it with my own eyes. I wore my Planned Parenthood scarf wrapped around my neck to keep me warm, and watched as he was sworn in. I remember flying back to Massachusetts that night and thinking, “They could take away health care from tens of millions of people by next Friday.” The Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the White House. What have we got left? What are we going to do? And, chewing on that as I went to bed that night, got up early the next morning, and then went to the Women’s March and saw exactly what we could do. We could come together, and we could raise our voices, and we could make change. I spoke at the Women’s March on Boston Common and I realized: This is how we’re gonna do it.

It’s women who have been in the fight for a long time, but it’s also women who are coming into the fight for the first time. And friends of women: men who were completely taken aback by what had happened in 2016. Do you remember the coverage on this? You have to really kind of go back and remind yourself. [After] the Women’s March, everyone says, “Well, yeah, but will they still be here in a month?” And the answer was: Yeah! Now there are more women who are in this, and more people who are turning it into action, not just a protest. You’re seeing all over the internet: You don’t like what’s happening? Get out there and run for office! If you don’t wanna run, find someone who does wanna run and go help ’em. Go volunteer! Go knock on doors. Be a campaign manager. And that’s what happened. And then we had the wins in Virginia in 2017, and rolled into 2018. Women have changed the political landscape. In Nevada, to see a women-majority state Legislature. And women responsible for the election of other women and of good, strong, progressive men. Sure enough, one of the first things that happens in the Nevada Legislature is gun-violence legislation passes. Real change. The wave of 2018 is about a changing democratic landscape. 2019 has given us the first stirrings of that. So the battle now becomes: Is America a democracy that is going to be run by the billionaires and the people who suck up to the billionaires, or are we going to be a democracy built on a grassroots movement, on people who engage and say my personal life is at stake here?

But is there anything you can do to address that underlying dynamic?
I do it every day. I go out and meet people every single day, and shake hands, and talk to people about the things that touch their lives. [I’ve met] more than one couple in the selfie line, where she says, “I dragged him here,” and then he says, “But I’m all in now.” I’ll take that.

There is a perception that you made a tactical error on Medicare for All — that this wasn’t your signature issue, but you were under pressure to provide details on how you would pay for it. Do you think you made a mistake?
I’ve spent most of my adult life working on the question of why people go broke. Health care, housing, child care, and sending a kid off to school have created huge pressures on middle-class families. Combine that with largely flat incomes, and it’s pretty easy to see how tens of millions of people across this country are deep in debt and living just one financial bump away from collapse. It’s important to me to talk about all of those issues, and that’s what I’ve done. Not just since I’ve started running for president, but throughout my career. One of the exciting parts of running for president is I get to talk about not just what’s broken, but what we could do to fix it.

What do you think is the single biggest challenge facing the country right now?
That our government works better and better and better for a smaller and smaller group at the top and is leaving everyone else behind. That is shrinking opportunity for tens of millions of people and ultimately undermines our democracy and our entire future.

If you could implement only one of your plans, which one would it be?
It’d be anti-corruption, because then everything else would change.

Is there a specific piece—
All of them, because that’s the thing with corruption: Money doesn’t make itself felt in Washington in just one way. It’s in hundreds of ways, and thousands of ways. It’s the obvious — around lobbying and the revolving door with Wall Street and with the defense industry — but it is also in very subtle ways. The United States Supreme Court has no rules of ethics, so justices can take freebie vacations with groups that will repeatedly appear in front of those same justices to argue cases. That is thinly disguised influence-peddling. Think of it like water that’s flowing everywhere. It’s not like you can say, “Oh, there’s one, and if you stop it here you’ll stop the whole thing.”

What do you think it’s going to take to break down the cynicism and loyalty that Republican elected officials, and also Republican voters, have for [the president]?
I think that it’s going to happen in pieces. It will start right now in the run-up to the 2020 election. It’s important to reframe the conversation away from [him]. [He] wants everything to be about him. The 2020 election is partly about [the president], but only partly. It’s about things that have been broken in this country for decades. [He] is just the latest and most aggressive symptom. It’s about talking about what’s broken and showing the people we can fix it. It’s about optimism that the vote counts. That we can make something happen.

And then the second part is to start delivering on that promise. And when we do, that’s when the world really starts to change. When I get to sign the bill that cancels student-loan debt for 43 million Americans, the whole world takes a click in a different direction. Millions of young people, Democrats and Republicans, who have only seen the government as on the other side — as a debt collector — suddenly it’s a government that’s on their side. I think the student-loan debt forgiveness will be a pivotal moment in reframing the tension in this country away from the tired old left-right, and toward the fundamental question of who this democracy works for.

I’ve read that you get dressed in four minutes. Are there other things you do to cut down on decision fatigue?
I wear my hair the same way all the time. I buy the same kind of shoes, I buy the same pants, and the same tops, a narrow range of sweaters, and a narrow range of jackets.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Ask yourself what’s the worst that could happen, and if nobody will get physically injured, then give it a try.

What’s one piece of financial advice that you think everyone should know?
Debt is really dangerous — far more dangerous than you think.

Is there anything you wish more people understood about you?
That everything I do — good, bad, and indifferent — comes from the fact that I care. All of it.

Last question: You named your golden retriever after George Bailey, Jimmy Stewart’s character in It’s a Wonderful Life. So I have to ask: Bailey’s Building and Loan, good bank or bad bank?
Good bank. I haven’t watched the movie in years—

I think there are those who would argue it’s a subprime mortgage lender
Actually, I disagree with that. He wasn’t trying to extract value out of those folks. He just used a different method for determining who was creditworthy. In fact, I’m surprised that you asked that question. He didn’t try to do accelerated mortgages that were going to cost people their homes or suck thousands of dollars of value out of every transaction. They were trying to help people build some wealth! It’s why we named our dog Bailey. And Bailey is a very good boy.

R1335_FEA_WARREN_Cchild

The Passing Parade

The year is almost over and so is the decade that’s strangely ending with a “19” instead of a nice, round “20”. There is lots of news and commentary out there. An extremely truncated summary:

It didn’t make a splash, because this is 2019, not 1971, but The Washington Post reported:

A confidential trove of government documents obtained by The Washington Post reveals that senior U.S. officials failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable…

“We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, told government interviewers in 2015. He added: “What are we trying to do here? We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking … Who will say this was in vain?”

The Afghanistan Papers won’t get as much publicity as the Pentagon Papers. They should have called them the “Afghan Papers”, more concise language now being the custom.

The Post also explained the history of the “It was Ukraine, not Russia” myth that has taken up permanent residence in what’s left of the Toddler’s brain and is so popular among right-wing politicians and propagandists everywhere. In a few words, the Russian government created the myth in order to cast blame on somebody else:

The president’s intense resistance to the assessment of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia systematically interfered in the 2016 campaign — and the blame he cast instead on a rival country — led many of his advisers to think that Putin himself helped spur the idea of Ukraine’s culpability, said the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity [of course]. . .One former senior White House official said [the president] even stated so explicitly at one point, saying he knew Ukraine was the real culprit because “Putin told me.”

The Popular Information political newsletter summarized new analysis of the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors:

An extraordinary analysis by top legal experts, published by Just Security, clearly explains how the impeachment inquiry [implied] that [the pres] committed at least three (and probably more) federal crimes. All of these crimes involved him abusing his presidential powers, making them particularly relevant to impeachment….

  • Federal campaign finance law
  • Bribery
  • Honest services fraud

[This last one] occurs “when a public official breaches his duty to act in the best interests of his constituents by performing an official act in exchange for personal gain”, such as “withholding funding that had been allocated by Congress —  money intended to advance U.S. national security by helping Ukraine combat Russian aggression — to advance his personal political interests”.

Cool.

By the way, Congressional Democrats and Rep. Justin Amash (an independent who was kicked out of the Republican Party when he exercised his conscience) finally got around to impeaching the monster. Paul Krugman reacted:

What we saw Wednesday was a parade of sycophants comparing their leader to Jesus Christ while spouting discredited conspiracy theories straight from the Kremlin. And as they were doing so, the object of their adoration was giving an endless, rambling, third-world-dictator-style speech, full of lies, that veered between grandiosity and self-pity…

Republicans, in other words, are beyond redemption; they’ve become just another authoritarian party devoted to the leader principle. And like similar parties in other countries, the G.O.P. is trying to rig future elections through gerrymandering and voter suppression, creating a permanent lock on power

But if Trump’s supporters look just like their counterparts in failed democracies abroad, his opponents don’t.

One of the depressing aspects of the rise of authoritarian parties like Hungary’s Fidesz and Poland’s Law and Justice has been the fecklessness of their opposition — disunited, disorganized, unable to make an effective challenge even to unpopular autocrats as they consolidated their power.

Trumpism, however, faced determined, united, effective opposition from the beginning, which has been reflected both in mass marches and in Democratic electoral victories. In 2017 there were only 15 Democratic governors, compared with 35 Republicans; today the score is 24 to 26. And last year, of course, Democrats won a landslide victory in House elections, which is what made the impeachment hearing and vote possible.

Many of the new Democratic members of Congress are in Republican-leaning districts, and some observers expected a significant number to defect on Wednesday. Instead, the party held together almost completely. True, so did its opponents; but while Republicans sounded, well, deranged in their defense of Trump, Democrats came across as sober and serious, determined to do their constitutional duty even if it involved political risks.

Now, none of this necessarily means that democracy will survive….

What we learned Wednesday, however, was that those who define America by its ideals, not the dominance of a particular ethnic group, won’t give up easily. The bad news is that our bad people are as bad as everyone else’s. The good news is that our good people seem unusually determined to do the right thing.

Finally, speaking of good people, the widely-read evangelical magazine Christianity Today called for the Toddler’s removal from office. The editorial got so much attention, their website crashed:

His Twitter feed alone—with its habitual string of mischaracterizations, lies, and slanders—is a near perfect example of a human being who is morally lost and confused…. .Whether [he] should be removed from office by the Senate or by popular vote next election — that is a matter of prudential judgment. That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments….

To the many evangelicals who continue to support [him] in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of [the president] influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off [his] immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come?

You have to wonder how many of the president’s supporters understand that, if the Senate did its duty in the new year, our convicted president would be replaced by super-Christian Mike Pence, not the dreaded mainline Protestant who failed to carry Wisconsin.

In conclusion, it seems to me that we face two major issues:  climate change and bringing majority rule to America.

Majority rule would mean dealing with the courts, the Electoral College, a skewed Senate, gerrymandering, election security, campaign finance reform and voter suppression. It’s quite an agenda. But, as Senator Warren [subject of the latest Rolling Stone interview] keeps saying, we need big, structural change in our political system if we’re going to make progress on issues like climate change, inequality and much more.

Oh, and you might check out “The Historical Case for Abolishing Billionaires” in The Guardian. It begins by quoting another well-known proponent of regulated capitalism, Adam Smith.