Some Decisions Should Be Easy

Some smart people make them difficult.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, announced a decision yesterday:

The Mueller report lays out facts showing that a hostile foreign government attacked our 2016 election to help Donald Trump and Donald Trump welcomed that help. Once elected, Donald Trump obstructed the investigation into that attack. 

Mueller put the next step in the hands of Congress: “Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” The correct process for exercising that authority is impeachment.

To ignore a President’s repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country, and it would suggest that both the current and future Presidents would be free to abuse their power in similar ways.

The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty. That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.

She explained her decision to Rachel Maddow last night. The senator begins speaking at 1:25 of this short video. If you watch it, you’ll see that Sen. Warren is a very smart person who made an easy decision (it’s more evidence that she should be our next president).

Rachel Maddow: “What made you decide to take this step today?”

Elizabeth Warren: “Well, I read the report.”

There are other smart people reading the Mueller report (or being told what’s in it) who believe the issue is much more complicated. They’ve seen polls that say the American people aren’t enthusiastic about impeachment. They’re concerned that impeaching the president would “tear the country apart”. They assume that Republican senators would never vote to remove this president, no matter what he’s done. They’re worried that Democrats would suffer in the next election. They think the election would end up being all about impeachment, not the issues voters really care about. They think most voters are too cynical to care about the president’s behavior. For some reason, they think that publicizing the president’s misdeeds in televised hearings would discourage Democratic voters and energize Republican ones.

It’s unfortunate that some of the smart people having trouble with this decision are Democrats in Congress.

From Jamil Smith, writing for Rolling Stone:

Despite a few outliers, such as freshmen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib [and now Elizabeth Warren], most Democrats in Congress have not recognized that the responsibility of impeachment is now at their doorstep, so I fully expect the Democratic Party as a whole will pull its punches.

The pathetic part is that it isn’t because it isn’t “worthwhile.” Impeaching a man who did nothing to stop a foreign attack on American elections on his behalf, then went on to a presidency where he obstructed justice while locking up migrant kids and letting Puerto Rico drown? Yeah, that’s worthwhile. No, they’ll hold off from impeachment… The common perception appears to be that an attempt at impeachment — with Republicans holding a slight but firm majority in the Senate — would be doomed to failure and the entire enterprise would hurt the chances of swing-state Democrats seeking re-election. But it is foolish to assume that every impeachment effort would go the way of Newt Gingrich in the Nineties, when a harebrained effort to fire President Bill Clinton backfired on the Republicans at the ballot box [and ignoring how impeaching a corrupt Republican president, Richard Nixon, helped the Democrats in the 1970s]….

Should Democrats take impeachment off the table, they would let [him] get away with it. It is that elementary. There is no guarantee that he will not repeat the very same encouragement of those Russian efforts, all the while playing dumb so as to avoid legal culpability.

If Democrats were smarter, they would understand that initiating the impeachment of [this president] might actually galvanize their base because it would demonstrate that leadership was willing to take the obvious, the logical and the constitutional step once presented with such an abundance of evidence. They would grasp that the visual of their party standing up to a president wedded equally to corruption and to his assortment of bigotries would be appealing to an electorate where black voters are increasingly driving the conversation. Democrats would seize upon the Mueller Report as a flashpoint for organization and recruitment, rather than take the task of prosecution that the Constitution assigned to Congress, hand it off to voters and call that “democracy.” It is up to us as citizens to choose our elected officials, not to do their jobs for them.

How about this instead? Since there is plenty of evidence that the president abused his office, the House of Representative should begin impeachment proceedings. If the evidence is there (hardly an open question at this point), let the House send the matter to the Senate for final determination. If they choose to, let each Republican in the Senate argue that the president’s behavior hasn’t been all that bad. But let’s see how all the senators vote when they have to go on the record, after hearing all the evidence and arguments.

Whatever Congress ends up doing, the presidential candidates will proceed with their campaigns, emphasizing the issues they want to emphasize. Then, in the next election, let the voters decide whether they prefer Democrats or Republicans. If our system of government still works, the Democrats will take the presidency, the House and the Senate in the 2020 election.

It’s really that simple.

Fourteen Felonies?

Michael Cohen, the president’s former “fixer”, testified before the House Oversight Committee on Wednesday. He described the president as a racist, a conman and a cheat — no news there. He also said the president is a criminal — ditto.

But Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, performed a public service by attempting to list “the incredible number of felonies that Cohen directly implicated Trump in”. We don’t know for sure if the president committed all these crimes. On the other hand, Cohen was merely answering questions, not telling us everything he knows about the president’s illegalities. Nonetheless, it’s an impressive collection of felonious behavior:

1. Conspiracy to defraud the United States (collusion) – Cohen’s allegation that Trump and Stone spoke about the impending Wikileaks release of [Democratic National Committee] emails before they were released with [Roger Stone] asserting to Trump that he had communicated with [Julian Assange of Wikileaks].

2. False statements – In response to a written question from Mueller, Trump reportedly denied ever having spoken to Stone about Wikileaks. Cohen said this is false.

3. False statements – In response to a written question from Mueller, Trump reportedly denied knowing about Don Jr’s Trump Tower meeting with Russians. Cohen said this is false.

4. Campaign finance violations – Cohen provided a check that shows that Trump reimbursed him for the $130,000 he paid to Stormy Daniels to conceal their affair.

5. Conspiracy to defraud the United States (election fraud) – Cohen alleged that Trump directed him and Allen Weisselberg of the Trump Organization to conceal his affair with Stormy Daniels with the intention of fraudulently influencing an election.

6. False statements on a loan application – Cohen brought Trump’s partial financial records for 2011-2013 that Cohen alleged showed that Trump falsely inflated the value of his assets to obtain a loan in order to purchase the Buffalo Bills.

7. Insurance fraud – Cohen alleged that Trump would make false insurance claims.

8. Tax fraud – Cohen alleged that Trump would knowingly provide inaccurate lower values of his properties in order to fraudulently obtain tax benefits.

9. Witness tampering – Cohen said that Trump’s threatening tweets were an attempt to intimidate him, saying Trump could do “a lot” to hurt him and his family.

10. Suborning perjury – Cohen says that in a meeting in the White House, Trump indicated that he wanted Cohen to provide a false message saying “No Russia. No collusion.”

11. Suborning perjury – Cohen says that Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow edited his Congressional testimony to falsely shorten the duration of the negotiations on the Trump Moscow project.

12. Obstruction of a Congressional proceeding – The witness tampering and the suborning perjury constitutes obstruction of a Congressional proceeding.

13. Perjury – Cohen says that Trump’s 2013 sworn testimony that he wouldn’t recognize Felix Sater was clearly false, explaining that Sater had an office on the same floor as Trump in Trump Tower.

14. Illegal use of charity assets for personal benefit – Cohen alleged that Trump directed him to get a straw bidder to buy a portrait of Trump at an auction and that Trump then directed the Trump Foundation to reimburse the fake bidder with its assets.

Cohen testified in closed sessions on Tuesday and Thursday. Might he have described a few more felonies? Let’s put it this way. If our legal system works as it should, the Donald will spend his twilight years living in confined quarters at the government’s expense.

Investigations On Parade!

Heather Parton, also known as Digby, founder of the Hullabaloo blog, has compiled a list of planned Congressional investigations. They have a common thread. The list is organized by House committee.

Oversight:
Michael Cohen payments
Trump International Hotel lease
Census citizenship question
Prescription drug prices
Security clearances
Russian sanctions

Intelligence:
Russian collusion
Border wall
Russian sanctions

Judiciary:
Protecting Special Counsel Mueller
Family separation

Way and Means:
Trump tax returns

Natural Resources:
Puerto Rico reimbursements

Energy and Commerce:
Family separation
Environmental Protection Agency and climate change

Homeland Security:
Border security

Foreign Affairs:
Russian sanctions

Transportation:
Trump International Hotel lease
Russian sanctions

Voting matters.

Start the Impeachment Process Now, Part 2

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, now famous for recently proclaiming “let’s impeach the motherfucker”, and political activist John Bonifaz present the case for the House of Representatives to immediately begin the impeachment process:

[The president] is a direct and serious threat to our country. On an almost daily basis, he attacks our Constitution, our democracy, the rule of law and the people who are in this country. His conduct has created a constitutional crisis that we must confront now. 

The Framers of the Constitution designed a remedy to address such a constitutional crisis: impeachment. Through the impeachment clause, they sought to ensure that we would have the power, through our elected representatives in Congress, to protect the country by removing a lawless president from the Oval Office.

We already have overwhelming evidence that the president has committed impeachable offenses, including, just to name a few: obstructing justice; violating the emoluments clause; abusing the pardon power; directing or seeking to direct law enforcement to prosecute political adversaries for improper purposes; advocating illegal violence and undermining equal protection of the laws; ordering the cruel and unconstitutional imprisonment of children and their families at the southern border; and conspiring to illegally influence the 2016 election through a series of hush money payments.

Whether the president was directly involved in a conspiracy with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 election remains the subject of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. But we do not need to wait on the outcome of that criminal investigation before moving forward now with an inquiry in the U.S. House of Representatives on whether the president has committed impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors” against the state: abuse of power and abuse of the public trust.

Those who say we must wait for Special Counsel Mueller to complete his criminal investigation before Congress can start any impeachment proceedings ignore this crucial distinction. There is no requirement whatsoever that a president be charged with or be convicted of a crime before Congress can impeach him. They also ignore the fact that many of the impeachable offenses committed by this president are beyond the scope of the special counsel’s investigation.

We are also now hearing the dangerous claim that initiating impeachment proceedings against this president is politically unwise and that, instead, the focus should now shift to holding the president accountable via the 2020 election. Such a claim places partisan gamesmanship over our country and our most vulnerable at this perilous moment in our nation’s history. Members of Congress have a sworn duty to preserve our Constitution.  Leaving a lawless president in office for political points would be abandoning that duty.

This is not just about [the president]. This is about all of us. What should we be as a nation? Who should we be as a people? In the face of this constitutional crisis, we must rise. We must rise to defend our Constitution, to defend our democracy, and to defend that bedrock principle that no one is above the law, not even the President of the United States. Each passing day brings more pain for the people most directly hurt by this president, and these are days we simply cannot get back. The time for impeachment proceedings is now.

Begin to Impeach the Motherfucker

Leading Democrats in Congress say they should wait for the Mueller investigation’s findings before talking about impeachment, even though they don’t know what the Mueller findings will be or when the investigation will end. Meanwhile, we have a president who is unfit to serve another day.

David Leonhardt of the NY Times makes the case for impeaching him now:

The presidential oath of office contains 35 words and one core promise: to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Since virtually the moment [the president] took that oath two years ago, he has been violating it.

He has repeatedly put his own interests above those of the country. He has used the presidency to promote his businesses. He has accepted financial gifts from foreign countries. He has lied to the American people about his relationship with a hostile foreign government. He has tolerated cabinet officials who use their position to enrich themselves.

To shield himself from accountability for all of this — and for his unscrupulous presidential campaign — he has set out to undermine the American system of checks and balances. He has called for the prosecution of his political enemies and the protection of his allies. He has attempted to obstruct justice. He has tried to shake the public’s confidence in one democratic institution after another, including the press, federal law enforcement and the federal judiciary.

The unrelenting chaos that Trump creates can sometimes obscure the big picture. But the big picture is simple: The United States has never had a president as demonstrably unfit for the office as Trump. And it’s becoming clear that 2019 is likely to be dominated by a single question: What are we going to do about it?

The easy answer is to wait — to allow the various investigations of Trump to run their course and ask voters to deliver a verdict in 2020. That answer has one great advantage. It would avoid the national trauma of overturning an election result. Ultimately, however, waiting is too dangerous. The cost of removing a president from office is smaller than the cost of allowing this president to remain.

He has already shown, repeatedly, that he will hurt the country in order to help himself. He will damage American interests around the world and damage vital parts of our constitutional system at home. The risks that he will cause much more harm are growing.

Some of the biggest moderating influences have recently left the administration. The defense secretary who defended our alliances with NATO and South Korea is gone. So is the attorney general who refused to let Trump subvert a federal investigation into himself. The administration is increasingly filled with lackeys and enablers. Trump has become freer to turn his whims into policy — like, say, shutting down the government on the advice of Fox News hosts or pulling troops from Syria on the advice of a Turkish autocrat.

The biggest risk may be that an external emergency — a war, a terrorist attack, a financial crisis, an immense natural disaster — will arise. By then, it will be too late to pretend that he is anything other than manifestly unfit to lead.

For the country’s sake, there is only one acceptable outcome, just as there was after Americans realized in 1974 that a criminal was occupying the Oval Office. The president must go.

Mr. Leonhardt then discusses reasons to impeach him. He has used the presidency to enrich himself, even making decisions favoring his business’s foreign customers. He has obstructed justice. He has subverted our democracy, just one example being his violation of campaign finance laws by directing the payment of hush money in at least two cases. 

Practically speaking, the next step is for the House of Representatives to form a committee charged with drawing up articles of impeachment. Holding hearings and confirming the president’s high crimes and misdemeanors would take some time. The time to start is now. 

So perhaps newly-elected Rep. Rashida Tlaib should have said “Let’s begin the process of impeaching the motherfucker” instead of what she actually said in that bar Thursday night. That would have been more precise. And I think we can all agree that calling him a “motherfucker” was too kind.

Avoiding Individual-1 for the Most Part

I’ve mostly blogged about politics since the beginning of the crisis (you know, the crisis known as “Individual-1”). Other topics haven’t seemed worth writing about.

But, even though Individual-1 is still happening, I haven’t posted anything lately. That’s because, two months ago, I took a break from American politics. At the end of June, I stopped reading the digital front pages of The Washington Post, The New York Times and the U.S. edition of The Guardian. I also stopped looking at New York Magazine‘s “Daily Intelligencer” and Twitter. I was sick of my mind being polluted by the latest Individual-1 “news”. 

Instead, I began looking at international or “world” news. (Even in the U.S., we’re part of the world, right?) I’m told my mood improved, which shouldn’t have been a surprise, even though some American news made it through. For instance, The Guardian puts selected American stories on their international page. And any other contact, direct or indirect, with the rest of humanity meant that I might be exposed to the latest turmoil and trouble.

Helped along by last week’s positive legal developments, I started looking at U.S. news again. I didn’t immerse myself in it as much as before, but this wasn’t a great idea. Even limited exposure has been depressing. This means I probably won’t be writing much until the November election — an event on which hope for America’s redemption rests.

Before going, however, I’ll mention a few articles I’ve come across that are worth reading.

First, philosophy professor Bryan Van Norden explains why people have a right to speak, but not necessarily to be heard. He argues that some people aren’t entitled to an audience:

Access to the general public, granted by institutions like television networks, newspapers, magazines, and university lectures, is a finite resource. Justice requires that, like any finite good, institutional access should be apportioned based on merit and on what benefits the community as a whole. There is a clear line between censoring someone and refusing to provide them with institutional resources for disseminating their ideas. 

In other words, outlawing speech is a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean all opinions are equal or deserve equal time in the “marketplace of ideas”. Otherwise, (quoting the philosopher Herbert Marcuse) “the stupid opinion is treated with the same respect as the intelligent one, the misinformed may talk as long as the informed, and propaganda rides along with education, truth with falsehood”. And it becomes far easier to produce a political crisis like Individual-1.

On a related topic, a former Prime Minister of Australia writes about “the cancer eating the heart of Australian democracy”. The cancer he’s referring to is Rupert Murdoch, whose media empire “operates as a political party, acting in pursuit of clearly defined commercial interests, in addition to his far-right ideological world view”. Murdoch and his outlets like Fox News are one big reason why politics is so screwed up in the U.S. (Individual-1), the United Kingdom (Brexit) and Australia (five prime ministers in five years). Contrast that with politics in two other English-speaking nations, Canada and New Zealand. Their politics is a much more rational affair. Is it a coincidence that Murdoch doesn’t propagandize in either of those countries?

This week, James Fallows pointed out that it would only take one or two Republican senators to “serve as a check on [Individual-1’s] excesses”. As of now, the Republicans have a mere one-vote margin in the Senate. They will be ahead 51 to 49 after the late Senator McCain is replaced. As Fallows says:

Every [Republican] swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution, not simply their own careerist comfort. And not a one of them, yet, has been willing to risk comfort, career, or fund-raising to defend the constitutional check-and-balance prerogatives of their legislative branch.

On a related topic, Brian Beutler explains why there is a natural alliance between Individual-1 and Vladimir Putin (who, of course, is no longer a Communist):

For the white nationalists in [the Republican] coalition [including the president himself], Putin seeks a global alliance of white nationalist parties, and is meddling in elections world wide to help those parties gain political power. But … even more garden variety conservatives see their interests and Putin’s coming into alignment. Putin is deeply hostile to LGBT people, and frames his hostility in religious terms. The Russian economy is built on a broken foundation of fossil fuel extraction. American conservatives aren’t killing journalists and … opposition leaders, but they are hostile to journalism and democracy, and increasingly comfortable with both propaganda and exercising power through minority rule…. Russia’s political identity is shaped by its aggrievement over the crumbling of its once-vast empire. The American right is similarly revanchist—not over lost territory, but lost demographic dominance and privilege.

For now, the GOP’s congressional leaders remain nominally committed to the western alliance, and to treating Russia as an adversary. But they will not check [the president] as he advances the opposite view. Elite conservative opinion is already shifting on the Russia question, and should Trump ever convince a majority of Republican voters that he’s right about Russia, the congressional leadership will follow suit. Putin seems to grasp that, too. What we’re seeing, across several different plot lines, is that in many ways Moscow understood Republicans better than Republicans understand themselves. 

But let’s conclude with some good news. In an interview with The Atlantic, Senator Elizabeth Warren discusses “two aggressive proposals for overhauling American business”, i.e. making capitalism work the way it’s supposed to:

One [of her proposals] is the Accountable Capitalism Act, which would require the largest corporations to allow workers to choose 40 percent of their board seats. [This] is meant to provide an antidote to short-term thinking in the biggest businesses—and to short-circuit the ease with which CEOs make decisions that enrich themselves at the expense of workers and the underlying health of their firm. A similar system exists in Germany, and it goes by the name “codetermination.”

A second set of proposals is what Warren calls the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act. Warren has called for a frontal assault on lobbying, including a lifetime prohibition that would prevent federal officeholders (including the president, members of Congress, and Cabinet secretaries) from ever becoming paid influence peddlers. Her argument is that lobbying undermines the functioning of markets, by permitting corporations to exert outsize control over the regulatory state and use government to squash competitors.

It’s also good news that there are only sixty-nine days until the midterm election. On November 6th, we can quicken the demise of the Republican Party. We should make the most of the opportunity.

Mussolini and Hitler Were Both Elected

In the Italian election of 1924, Benito Mussolini’s National List, a coalition of fascists and nationalists, won 65% of the vote. Mussolini immediately became Prime Minister. He then gradually took total control of the government. In 1926, after a 15-year old boy tried to assassinate him, Mussolini banned all non-fascist political parties. Mussolini’s National List was dissolved, since it was no longer needed. It had no competition. Italy wouldn’t hold another multi-party election until 1946.

In the German presidential election of 1932, Adolph Hitler lost to the incumbent, Paul von Hindenburg. In a parliamentary election a few months later, Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers’ Party won the most seats. With the Nazis and other far-right parties having a majority in parliament, von Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Germany’s Chancellor. Before Hitler, the Chancellor was a relatively weak position. Hitler immediately began accumulating power. The Reichstag fire in February 1933 contributed to Hitler receiving the authority to make laws on his own, without involving parliament. In 1934, Hindenburg died and Hitler assumed total control of the government.

In the American presidential election of 2016, Donald Trump received fewer votes than his opponent but became president anyway. Since then, he has attacked the press, the Department of Justice and the FBI. He has threatened to end an investigation into his campaign’s relationship with Russia. He has expressed his admiration for foreign dictators and continues to claim that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. He has not done anything to investigate or inhibit Russian interference in the next election. He has ignored the law by continuing to profit from his personal business. His latest offense was to take thousands of children from their parents and lock them up with no plan to reunite them. The Republican-controlled Congress, supposedly an equal branch of the government, has done nothing at all to stop him.

We take comfort in the fact that the president is incompetent. He doesn’t seem to have the skills necessary to obliterate a democracy and the rule of law like Mussolini and Hitler did. But what if there is a terrorist attack before November? Or an assassination attempt? Would the president declare a national emergency and delay the election? Would the Republican Congress do anything, considering that they’ve done nothing to stop him so far? Would Fox News finally draw the line?

I’ve avoided the news for the past four days. Maybe things have taken a major turn for the better. If so, nobody has told me. Assuming things have continued on their downward slide, we may have a long way to go before we hit bottom.