Saturday, November 23, 2019

November 23, 2019
Republicans are thrashing about, attempting to obscure the obvious, that Trump has committed an impeachable offense.  Among other ploys, they have seized on a statement by Ambassador Sondland to prove that Trump did not propose a corrupt bargain with Ukraine.  Here is Sondland’s testimony: In a September 9 telephone call, Trump said, “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelenskiy — President Zelenskiy to do the right thing,[87] ” 
Is “quid pro quo” part of Donald Trump’s usual discourse?  That alone should make one suspicious that the statement was not to be taken as the truth.  Add the fact that the conversation took place after the phone conversation in which Trump asked Zelinsky to give him political dirt (July 25), after the whistleblower’s initial complaint about the call was made known to the White House,[88] and after the whistleblower’s formal complaint was filed (August 12).  The Trump statement was an attempt at coverup by a man who knew he was in trouble.
As to Trump’s statement that he wanted nothing from Zelinsky, recall that, on June 12, he had said this “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent' -- oh, I think I'd want to hear it."
In various ways, some factual, some not, Trump’s defenders have argued that there can’t be an offense because Trump wasn’t successful in his attempt at extortion.  A variant of that, and perhaps the ultimate fallback position was adopted by a columnist at The Washington Post, Marc Thiessen.  As with other Trump defenders, consistency is not a consideration.
He complained in 2013  that the Obama administration was “conducting foreign policy by faux pas,” that its actions regarding Syria were “driven not by deliberate strategy but by slips of the tongue. . . There is no plan, no coherence to anything this administration is doing on Syria."[89]   Incompetence was something to be avoided, condemned.  That was then; now presidential incompetence is a good thing, for it provides a defense is against impeachment.
Thiessen quoted another Trump apologist, Lindsey Graham: “What I can tell you about the Trump policy towards the Ukraine is that it was incoherent.  . . . They seem to be incapable of forming a quid pro quo.”  Thiessen added: “Graham may be right. Wednesday’s [November 13] impeachment hearing certainly provided no new evidence that Trump had a coherent strategy to use U.S. security assistance, and the prospect of a presidential meeting, to get Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.”[90]  Apparently a scheme is not improper unless artfully designed and adroitly carried out.
The testimony thus far, according to Thiessen, presumes “that the president knew what he wanted. It’s not clear he did. His handling of Ukraine seemed less the execution of an intelligible plan than a chaotic mishmash of constantly changing urges and demands.”   Does that relieve him of responsibility?  According to the Thiessen theory, yes: “[I]t looks as though the entire Ukraine debacle may be the result less of intent than incompetence. And unfortunately for Democrats, incompetence is not an impeachable offense.”  We might reasonably ask whether one incompetent to carry out so elementary a scheme as conditioning aid on a favor might be incompetent to be president.
Not only is incompetence not a defense to impeachment, it is a ground for it.  That should be obvious: a president who cannot discharge his duties is a danger to the country. Consider the condition of the executive departments, where ignorance, bias, self-dealing, conflict of interest and denial of scientific fact are rampant.  The President has a duty to prevent such corruption.  He has the power of appointment and removal, and bears a corresponding obligation to see that his subordinates discharge their duties.  That is not a radical notion.
James Madison said this in a debate in the first Congress about executive power: “I think it is absolutely necessary that the President should have the power of removing [subordinates] from office; it will make him responsible for their conduct, and subject him to impeachment himself, if he . . . neglect to superintend their conduct, so as to check their excesses.”[91]
It is understandable that House Democrats have focused on the Ukraine conversations because they present a clear dereliction of duty.  However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Trump’s time in office has been a workshop in impeachable dereliction.  Obstruction, both of the Russian-interference  investigations and the present hearings, is another instance.  As it is unlikely that Trump will be removed from office by the Senate, it is important, for 2020, to make a broader case for unfitness to the voting public. 


87. interpretation/2019/11/21/0300795e-0c23-11ea-8054-289aef6e38a3_story.html


89. presidency/ 2013/09/16/e01838ca-1ed3-11e3-94a2-6c66b668ea55_story.html

90. 2019/11/13/5c473b40-066c-11ea-ac12-3325d49eacaa_story.html?wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1

91. Impeachment: Selected Materials, Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, 1973, p.11

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

November 12, 2019
The new gun-control law in Washington has, predictably, generated opposition.  Some of that has come from the usual suspects.  The NRA and The Second Amendment Foundation have sued, claiming that it violates various constitutional provisions.
A small meeting of opponents of the law brought together two other factions which, in their different ways, demonstrate the growing tendency of the right wing of American culture and politics to separate itself into a hostile, potentially dangerous camp. The Seattle Times described the meeting: “So intense is the distress over new firearms regulations in the state, and [Attorney General] Ferguson’s support of them, that a group of 35 or so came together to discuss what many saw as a constructive next step: Go to court to file citizen complaints against Ferguson or maybe even attempt a citizen’s arrest of him.”[81] 
The first group consisted of members of the local branch of the  Three Percenters, an organization marked by paranoia about government oppression.  The name of the organization refers to its “rough  estimate  that only 3%  of the colonists were  actively fighting  in  the field” against the British during the Revolution.  The Three Percenters see themselves as descendants of that small patriotic band.
The web site of Washington chapter states: “We are God fearing Patriots that support our constitution, and promise to defend our country, our community, and our families from all enemies foreign and domestic.  We follow the tenants [sic] set forth by the founder of the Three Percent movement, Mike Vanderboegh.”[82]  Their By Laws recite that “Our goal is to utilize the fail safes put in place by our founders to reign [sic] in an overreaching government and push back against tyranny.”  Diction obviously is not the organization’s long suit.  First on its list of oaths is “I will  NOT obey orders to disarm the American people.”[83]  Rational gun control is, apparently, disarming.
The site links to that of  “The Sipsey Street Irregulars,” which contains a long “Catechism” for Three Percenters written by Vanderboegh.  It includes this:  
The Three Percent today are gun owners who will not disarm, will not compromise and will no longer back up at the passage of the next gun control act. . . . We intend to maintain our God-given natural rights to liberty and property, and that means most especially the right to keep and bear arms. Thus, we are committed to the restoration of the Founders' Republic, and are willing to fight, die and, if forced by any would-be oppressor, to kill in the defense of ourselves and the Constitution that we all took an oath to uphold against enemies foreign and domestic.[84]
One of those at the meeting said, of Ferguson, “I want to see him go to prison for treason. But I wanted the backing of the sheriff, because I don’t want to get shot by the state police.”  Anyone on the other side is guilty of treason; an armed confrontation is coming: these are the elements of a dangerous and increasingly common mind set. 
Will his sheriff protect him?  That’s a possibility.  Sheriffs present at the meeting and in the background form the second group.    At the meeting, the Sheriff of Thurston County claimed he has the power to swear in a militia.  He said he would not do so at present, but merely claiming that probably non-existent power hints at violent separatism.
Following a reference to the Sheriff’s statement, a Times editorial on the meeting described a comment by Gary Edwards, a Thurston County Commissioner: “Edwards, a former sheriff, went further, warning of dire consequences if President Donald Trump cannot thoroughly pack the courts.  ‘If we’re not lucky, we might have a revolution,’ Edwards said.”[85]   The relevance of the court-packing reference wasn’t explained in the editorial but, whether or not connected to gun control, Edwards’ comment is more divisive rhetoric.
Thirteen of Washington’s thirty-nine County Sheriffs have declared that they will not enforce the new gun-control law, or parts of it.[86]     One declared: “My job as a sheriff is to throw bad guys in jail, but it’s also to protect the constitutional rights of citizens of our county. I follow the rule of law when I believe it’s constitutional.” I wonder whether he would tolerate that selective attitude in the public. That position demonstrates the irrational extremes to which gun-rights thinking drives people.  Law enforcement officers, confronted not only by the usual level of crime, but by a flood of guns and the separatist fantasies of people like Three Percenters, ought to be the last to oppose controlling that flood.
 Trump, on September 29, launched a tweet, in part quoting a statement by an evangelical supporter, which feeds those fantasies and encourages thoughts of violence: “If the Democrats are successful in removing the President from office (which they will never be), it will cause a Civil War like fracture in this Nation from which our Country will never heal.”     They’ll never get me, but if they do, rise up.
81. leads-group-to-talk-of- citizens-arrest-of-bob-ferguson/


85. talk-from-elected- officials/

86. least- 12-county- sheriffs-say-they-wont-enforce-it/

Wednesday, November 6, 2019


November 6, 2019

Liberals, and the Democratic Party to the extent that it is controlled by liberals, have a strong tendency to court political self-destruction by carrying good ideas too far.  They forget that, whether they like it or not, many Americans are either less liberal than they, or are annoyed by what seems to be liberal arrogance, or both.  Unable to learn, resentfully unaware that criticism might be valid, they play into the hands of the reactionaries by plunging ahead.  I’m afraid that the Democratic primary race may be another example of this unfortunate tendency.  One of my concerns is the Medicare plan put forth by Elizabeth Warren.

Donald Trump is the worst President in American history, but because he has a loyal following, and because of the peculiarities —to put it generously — of the electoral system, with the aid of vote suppression (and, dare we say, foreign help), he might limp into another term.  I must say that I still find that unlikely, but polls show that it could happen.  In any case, it would be foolish for Democrats to ignore the possibility. Any program or attitude which drives away voters who are not committed Democrats, whether we describe them as independent, moderate, centrist, or whatever, would be ill-advised.
Senator Warren is one of the most admirable figures in contemporary politics, and her generous instincts and intentions cannot be doubted.  However, her advocacy of Medicare for all and her tax plan to fund it seem to me to fall into the familiar self-destructive category.  A recent poll showed Senator Warren trailing Trump in Michigan, Florida and North Carolina, only even with him in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.  (Biden does better).[78]  Her plan may contribute to that showing.

Senator Warren’s tax plan seems a work in progress and descriptions of it by her campaign have varied, but its main outlines are troublesome.  The summary set forth here [79] shows that the plan is questionable as policy and as to its fiscal assumptions.  (It does contain independently valid proposals such as repealing the Trump tax cuts and taxing foreign earnings).  As I noted earlier,[80] the proposed wealth tax, which has grown to help fund Medicare, would be difficult to enforce.  Chances of getting the plan through Congress aren’t high, so advocating it may be pointlessly divisive.

The structure is complicated enough that, even if technically sound, it would be confusing and disruptive in application. It is a radical shift; incremental changes often are more successful and less frightening. Most importantly for 2020, it plays into the Republican cry of Socialist regimentation! by abandoning private insurance and increasing government control. 



79. it-add-up/

80. See my note of February 17, 2019.
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