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.

Tribalism On Parade

People often say left-wingers and right-wingers aren’t that different. Whichever side we’re on, we all belong to a political tribe. We’re all live in our own bubbles. None of us really think for ourselves. We simply go along with the rest of our tribe.

It’s not true. Left-wingers are open to more sources of information and less likely to automatically follow their side’s leaders. Compared to the Democratic Party, the Republican Party is a cult.

Here’s an example. In 2013, a poll showed that 38% of Democrats supported bombing Syria because of the government’s use of chemical weapons. So did 22% of Republicans.

Last year, when asked the same question, the same poll showed 37% of Democrats still supported bombing Syria. But, remarkably, 86% of Republicans did!

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You might say, well, 64% of Republicans must have changed their minds over the course of four years because the situation in Syria changed. Maybe Democrats were too stupid or ignorant to recognize how different Syria 2017 was from Syria 2013. 

You could say that, but, from the Republican perspective, the real difference between 2013 and 2017 was which tribe occupied the White House and which position was being pushed by Fox News.

If There Was Any Doubt

Polls indicate that Americans are evenly split regarding DT’s cruise missile attack on the Syrian airfield last week. A Washington Post poll found 51% in favor, which corresponds to results from Gallup (50%) and YouGov (51%). CBS found 57% in favor, but their poll didn’t mention the unpopular DT by name. We can conclude that the Washington Post poll was reasonably accurate.

Here’s the interesting thing:

In 2013, when Barack Obama was president, a Washington Post-ABC News poll found that only 22 percent of Republicans supported the U.S. launching missile strikes against Syria in response to Bashar al-Assad using chemical weapons against civilians.

[The] new Post-ABC poll finds that 86 percent of Republicans support [DT’s] decision to launch strikes on Syria for the same reason. Only 11 percent are opposed.

Republican support for attacking Syria went from 22% to 86% when a Republican replaced a Democrat in the White House!

You might say that’s how people are. The Democrats probably switched sides just like the Republicans.

You would be wrong:

For context, 37 percent of Democrats back Trump’s missile strikes. In 2013, 38 percent of Democrats supported Obama’s plan.

In other words, changing Presidents didn’t matter to the Democrats at all (a 1% difference is well within the margin of error).

Do you get the feeling that our Republican friends belong to a tribe in which group loyalty is a paramount virtue? And that other values play a secondary role? For that matter, that facts aren’t as important to them as group loyalty?

Some of the explanation for their astounding fickleness is, no doubt, that the right-wing propaganda they swallowed in 2013 was anti-missile attack, while the right-wing propaganda only four years later was pro-missile-attack. But being this easy to manipulate is just as bad as putting tribal loyalty above everything else. It’s all part of the same sad and dangerous phenomenon. Millions of right-wing Americans care more about group loyalty than reality or morality. If there was any doubt.

Obama Reminds Us This Isn’t a Reality Show

President Obama spoke at a Clinton campaign rally in Philadelphia on Sept. 13. Anyone who might stay home in November or vote for someone else should watch the video. Actually, anyone who enjoys a great speech by a perceptive, honorable man should watch it.

Here he speaks about Clinton and our democracy, starting at 33:45 in the video:

“And, yes, she’s got her share of critics. And she’s been caricatured by the right and sometimes by the left. And she’s been accused of everything you can imagine, and has been subjected to more scrutiny and what I believe is more unfair criticism than anybody out here. And she doesn’t complain about it. And you know what, that’s what happens when you’re under the microscope for 40 years. But what sets Hillary apart is that through it all, she just keeps on going, and she doesn’t stop caring, and she doesn’t stop trying, and she never stops fighting for us — even if we haven’t always appreciated it.”

“And look, I understand we’re a young country, we are a restless country. We always like the new, shiny thing. I benefited from that when I was a candidate. And we take for granted sometimes what is steady and true. And Hillary Clinton is steady, and she is true. And the young people who are here, who — all you’ve been seeing is just the nonsense that’s been on TV. You maybe don’t remember all the work that she has had to do, and all the things she has had to overcome, and all the good that has happened because of her efforts.”

“But you need to remember. You need to understand this. If you’re serious about our democracy, then you’ve got to be with her. She’s in the arena, and you can’t leave her in there by herself. You’ve got to get in there with her. You can’t stay home because, you know, she’s been around for a long time. Well, you know what, this is not reality TV. Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

The full video:

Wow! Could This Be the Beginning of a Movement?

Shepard Smith works for Fox News but sometimes doesn’t sound like it.

It was still quite a surprise to see what he said about Pope Francis and President Obama today:

I don’t know — I think we are in a weird place in the world when the following things are considered political. Five things, I’m going to tick them off. These are the five things that were on his and our president’s agenda. Caring for the marginalized and the poor — that’s now political. Advancing economic opportunity for all. Political? Serving as good stewards of the environment. Protecting religious minorities and promoting religious freedom globally. Welcoming [and] integrating immigrants and refugees globally. And that’s political? I mean, I don’t know what we expect to hear from an organization’s leader like the Pope of the Catholic Church, other than protect those who need help, bring in refuges who have no place because of war and violence and terrorism. These seem like universal truths that we should be good to others who have less than we do, that we should give shelter to those who don’t have it. I think these were the teachings in the Bible of Jesus. They’re the words of the pope, they’re the feelings of the president. And people who find themselves on the other side of that message should consult a mirror, it seems like. Because I think that’s what we’re supposed to do as a people, whatever your religion. I mean, it seems to me and I think to probably, as Bill O’Reilly would put it, most clear-thinking Americans — that that’s how we’re supposed to roll.

Yes, that’s how we’re supposed to roll! 

The remarkable video in which Mr. Smith states the obvious (at around 0:36) is available here.

In Foreign Policy, Smarter Works Better Than Tougher

The world will be a better place when normal relations are established between the United States and Cuba. But right-wing politicians disagree. They think we should treat Cuba even worse than we do now. If we tighten the screws on Cuba, the Cuban people will eventually rise up or their government will see the error of its ways.

Likewise, it will be a step forward when the United States and Iran establish better relations. Right-wing politicians disagree. They think we should treat Iran worse than we do now. We shouldn’t negotiate with Iran. We should tighten the screws even further and threaten military action. The Iranian people will rise up or their government will see the light.

The Atlantic has an interesting little article called “Why the Iran Deal Makes Obama’s Critics So Angry” that helps explain the Republican obsession with “toughness” in foreign policy:

When critics focus incessantly on the gap between the present [Iran nuclear] deal and a perfect one, what they’re really doing is blaming Obama for the fact that the United States is not omnipotent. This isn’t surprising given that American omnipotence is the guiding assumption behind contemporary Republican foreign policy. Ask any GOP presidential candidate except Rand Paul what they propose doing about any global hotspot and their answer is the same: be tougher. America must take a harder line against Iran’s nuclear program, against ISIS, against Bashar al-Assad, against Russian intervention in Ukraine and against Chinese ambitions in the South China Sea….

.[Behind Obama’s] drive for an Iranian nuclear deal is the effort to make American foreign policy “solvent” again by bringing America’s ends into alignment with its means. That means recognizing that the United States cannot bludgeon Iran into total submission, either economically or militarily. The U.S. tried that in Iraq.

It is precisely this recognition that makes the Iran deal so infuriating to Obama’s critics. It codifies the limits of American power. And recognizing the limits of American power also means recognizing the limits of American exceptionalism. It means recognizing that no matter how deeply Americans believe in their country’s unique virtue, the United States is subject to the same restraints that have governed great powers in the past. For the Republican right, that’s a deeply unwelcome realization. For many other Americans, it’s a relief. It’s a sign that, finally, the Bush era in American foreign policy is over.

A Few Reasons We’re Getting Screwed

It’s one thing to get screwed. It’s another thing to know why. From recent reading:

Instead of raising wages, hiring more workers or investing in research and new equipment, corporations are increasingly accumulating cash and buying their own stock. This raises the corporation’s stock price, enriching the people in charge (who receive much of their compensation in the form of stock and stock options) and shareholders (who tend to be the wealthiest among us), but does little to improve the lives of most Americans. Some statistics from The Atlantic‘s “Stock Buybacks Are Killing the American Economy”:

Over the past decade, the companies that make up the S&P 500 have spent an astounding 54 percent of profits on stock buybacks. Last year alone, U.S. corporations spent about $700 billion, or roughly 4 percent of GDP, to prop up their share prices by repurchasing their own stock.

Instead of doing something productive.

The Atlantic article is by Nick Hanauer, a very successful capitalist who acknowledges that inequality is a problem that needs to be addressed. A poorly-named article from Salon called “Let’s All Screw the 1 Percent” cites an article Hanauer wrote last year about overtime pay.

We all know that wages have stagnated for many workers or even declined when adjusted for inflation. In order to have the same buying power it had in 1968, the federal minimum wage would have to be raised from $7.25 to almost $11.00 (see this attempt at myth-busting from the Department of Labor). What isn’t as well-understood and what Hanauer pointed out is that millions of workers would and should be receiving overtime pay, even though they aren’t paid by the hour (declaring workers to be “exempt” and giving them a salary is, of course, a great way to force people to work long hours without extra compensation). From the Salon article by Paul Rosenberg:

…there’s a wage level below which everyone qualifies for mandatory time-and-a-half overtime, even if they’re on a salary, and that level has only been raised once since 1975, with the result that only 11 percent of salaried Americans are covered today, compared to over 65 percent of them in 1975. If you make less than $23,660 a year as a salaried worker, you qualify for mandatory overtime—if not, you’re out of luck.  … Just adjusting the wage level for inflation since 1975—an act of restoration, not revolution—would be as significant an income increase for millions of middle-class Americans as a $10.10 or even $15 minimum wage is for low-wage workers.  It would cover an additional 6.1 million salaried workers (by one account) up to $970 per week, about $50,440 annually—the vast majority of those it was originally designed to protect, but who have slowly lost their protections since the 1970s. Hanauer proposes a slightly greater increase, intended to cover roughly all the workforce that was covered in 1975. That would raise the threshold to $69,000 annually, and would cover an added 10.4 million workers.

What was also surprising to me is that the President can raise the $23,660 threshold without the approval of Congress. Last year, in fact, President Obama promised to do just that. This website for Human Resources specialists predicts that the threshold for overtime pay will be increased in 2016, but only to around $45,000 (they also predict that the rules for declaring an employee to be “exempt” will be tightened, making more workers eligible for overtime pay).

In a related article at the Alternet site, a postal worker explains why the people delivering your mail during the week or a package from Amazon on Sunday may not look as official as they used to (jeans and a sweatshirt seem to have replaced those blue uniforms in my neighborhood). Paul Barbot says that he is a City Carrier Assistant:

City Carrier Assistants are a brand new classification of employee within the postal ranks; we are the low-wage, non-career, complement workforce at the USPS. Before [a 2013] reclassification, we were called Transitional Employees and made a respectable $23.52 hourly rate, only several dollars per hour less than what the average career employee made. But with the USPS management’s financial woes … a low-wage workforce was needed to help entice big business into choosing the postal service to partner up with. City Carrier Assistants now perform the same work they did when they were called [“Transitional Employees”], but now they get to do that work for 31 percent less pay ($16.68 per hour)….Newly hired CCAs will make even less —starting at $15 per hour.

Barbot argues that this lower-wage workforce helped the Postal Service and Amazon reach a “Negotiated Service Agreement” regarding special treatment for Amazon packages. 

And finally, The Guardian reports (no surprise) that:

Poor Americans are less likely to vote and more likely to distrust government, study shows… Political engagement, it appears, is a privilege for those who aren’t struggling to make ends meet…

while the right-wing Koch brothers, who aren’t struggling at all (not even with their consciences), plan to spend almost $900 million in 2016 in support of reactionary candidates, almost twice what they spent in 2012.