If Only There Were a Vaccine for Stupid

I clearly remember that in in my rural Missouri elementary school in the 1950s, once or twice a year the school nurse would line us up in alphabetical order and give us vaccines. That’s where most of us got vaccinated in those days, in shool. The school nurse had all of our vaccine records in a card file, and when we got to the front of the line and bared her arm, she’d check her card file to see what we needed, and dose us accordingingly.

I assume it was some kind of state program, and I don’t know when it ended. But I don’t recall there was anything controversial about this at the time, nor did anyone have a problem with Big Gubmint Vaccines or combining several vaccines at once. By the 1950s the vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough (pertussis) already were combined in one shot. Nobody complained. Diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough had not yet passed from living memory and were still feared. Immunization was greatly appreciated. The CDC:

Before pertussis vaccines became widely available in the 1940s, about 200,000 children got sick with it each year in the United States and about 9,000 died as a result of the infection. Now we see about 10,000 to 40,000 cases reported each year and unfortunately up to 20 deaths.

Also the CDC:

Diphtheria once was a major cause of illness and death among children. The United States recorded 206,000 cases of diphtheria in 1921, resulting in 15,520 deaths. Starting in the 1920s, diphtheria rates dropped quickly due to the widespread use of vaccines. Between 2004 and 2017, state health departments reported 2 cases of diphtheria in the United States. …

… The case-fatality rate for diphtheria has changed very little during the last 50 years. The overall case-fatality rate for diphtheria is 5%–10%, with higher death rates (up to 20%) among persons younger than 5 and older than 40 years of age. Before there was treatment for diphtheria, the disease was fatal in up to half of cases.

Today, though, Missouri is among the worst states for vaccination rates. Probably the only reason there haven’t been news stories about epidemics here is that so much of the state is rural. In densely populated New York, authorities have closed schools.

Part of the standard schtick of anti-vaxxers is to downplay the seriousness of the diseases vaccines can prevent. It’s true that measles used to be a common disease from which most people recovered. I got it when I was ten or eleven; brilliantly, I managed to get into a poison ivy patch the day before I got sick. The results were epic. Deaths from measles are nearly unheard of in the U.S. these days. But a small percentage of people who get measles will develop encephalitis as a result, sometimes many years later, and that’s a whole ‘nother thing. Do see the website of the British Encephalitis Society for data.

Anti-vax propaganda is all over the web, enabling the ignorance. See “A Look at Anti-Vaxxers’ Monstriously Bad Measles Math.”

A new statistic is circulating in the anti-vaccination corner of the Internet. Two numbers, side by side: zero, the number of deaths caused by measles in the past decade, and 108, the number of deaths caused by measles vaccines in the past decade. The writing’s on the wall: Vaccines kill, measles doesn’t.

The first number, which comes from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is correct. Due to advances in modern medicine, the mortality rate for measles in the United States is exceptionally low—on average, around 0.3 percent from 1987 to 2000, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Not so for other countries, especially in the developing world: In 2000, measles was responsible for 22 percent of deaths of children under 5 in Ethiopia. So although measles remains a lethal disease elsewhere in the world, it is true that it hasn’t killed any Americans in the past decade.

But then there’s the second number: more than a hundred deaths as a direct result of having received a measles vaccine since 2004. This is the one that should strike you as off. And that’s because that figure comes not from the CDC but from the National Vaccine Information Center, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded in 1982 for parents whose children suffered brain injury or death—they said—as a result of having received vaccines The group campaigns against mandatory vaccination laws, including those that require children to get the measles vaccines to attend public school, for example.

The anti-vaxxers arrive at death from vaxxing by investigating raw numbers of people who were vaccinated and subsequently died of any cause. Someone vaccinated on Monday and hit by a train on Tuesday becomes fodder for anti-vaxx propaganda.

In layman’s terms, either 108 or 69 people (depending on whom you ask) died sometime after having been vaccinated against measles since 2004, but not necessarily because they were vaccinated against measles. In some cases, their deaths were totally unrelated, or the patient had some undiagnosed congenital illness that meant he or she should never have been vaccinated in the first place. This data is all publicly available in the CDC’s VAERS database.

Unfortunately, it’s too easy to set up an authoritative-looking website with photos of doctors on it and make all kinds of wild claims, and the anti-vaxxers will eat it up. And, of course, they don’t believe any information coming from the World Health Organization or the Center for Disease Control because government or black helicopters or whatever. We’re now at a place where the young adult children of anti-vaxx parents are boldly getting themselves vaccinated against their parents’ wishes. People with autoimmune diseases or getting cancer treatments or too young to be vaccinated are at the mercy of these selfish jerks.

Enough with this nonsense. Make vaccines mandatory unless one has a verified medical condition that makes them risky.

When Numbers Lie

This week I’ve seen several headlines proclaiming that Donald Trump will win re-election in a landslide. Why? If you read the articles, they boil down to because the economy doesn’t completely suck.  “In the first quarter of 2019, the US economy grew by 3.2%, the zippiest pace of first-quarter growth since 2015,” it says here. Well, let’s go dance in the streets!

Of course, if you’ve been around awhile you should have noticed that quarterly GDP growth bounces around a bit, and one quarter does not a great expansion make. Still, it has to be said that recent quarters haven’t been bad.

Further, the S&P 500 topped a record yesterday. But investment pros are telling people to enjoy the bullish market while it lasts.

Scott Minerd, the global chief investment officer for Guggenheim Investments, left a Milken Institute audience gasping with a prediction of 10 years of shaky returns.

“For US equities over the next decade we should be expecting maybe a 1% to 2% return” based on current stock market valuations, Minerd said. “This long period of outperformance is eventually going to run into a period of underperformance.”

Even so, it’s understandable that Trump supporters see the economy as a great argument for re-electing Trump. But hold on — a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that most people don’t trust the economy is working for them. “The survey finds broad dissatisfaction with the country’s economic and political systems. Overall, 60 percent of all voters say the country’s economic system mainly benefits those in power, while 72 percent say the same for the nation’s political structures.”

Eric Lutz:

By all appearances, Trump’s campaign hasn’t accounted for this type of shortcoming. “The economy is still really, really good, and I’ve told [Trump] many, many times that, you know, people vote their pocketbooks,” chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told the Atlantic earlier this month. “What does Clinton say? ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ I still think that’s the case.” Politicos are similarly bullish. “The economy is just so damn strong right now and by all historic precedent the incumbent should run away with it,” Donald Luskin, chief investment officer of TrendMacrolytics, told Politico in March. “I just don’t see how the blue wall could resist all that.” Look past unemployment, market strength, and gas prices, though, and the picture gets more complicated. Market booms, which tend to benefit the wealthy, aren’t always felt on Main Street, and obscured in low unemployment numbers are concerns about the kinds of jobs available, including a growing reliance on a gig economy.

The truth is that most people don’t care about the bleeping GDP or even the bleeping stock market. They go up, their lives don’t get any better. Like Trump’s fabled tax cuts, somehow the benefits are invisible for working people.

Paul Waldman wrote today,

What’s important about this is that even when the economy is doing well by many measures, it hasn’t dissuaded Americans from the belief that there is something seriously wrong.

I have no doubt that Trump understands this. When he ran for president, he told people that the system was “rigged,” and they believed him because they could see it all around them. If you live in a place that used to have manufacturing jobs with good wages, good benefits and job security, all negotiated by a union, but now the only place you can find work is at Walmart or a fulfillment center, it doesn’t seem like all our problems have been solved. Having a job is better than not having one, but having a job that barely makes it possible to get by is still going to leave you dissatisfied.

What Trump faces is that while he hinted at the right problem in 2016, the solution he came up with was standard Republican economics — tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, deregulation for corporations — with some trade wars tossed in. And at the same time trying to slash the safety net.

Which means that what Democrats should be talking about is not this month’s job creation numbers but the things that are more fundamental. What kind of opportunities do you have? Are you treated with respect and dignity on the job? Can you afford college for your kids? Is your health care secure and affordable? Do we have a tax system that isn’t skewed toward those at the top, and that funds the things we need? Is this really the best we can do?

This is right, and this is an argument that some Democrats are making.  But that doesn’t mean the Dems don’t have their own evonomic vulnerabilities.

That same discontent was around in 2016; Pew Research’s “direction of the country” poll shows about the same satisfied/dissatisfied numbers in the spring of 2016 as today. In 2016, Donald Trump persuaded a big chunk of the electorate that he felt what they were feeling and would do something about it. The Democratic nominee, um, didn’t do that. See William Greider, “What Killed the Democratic Party?” for a 2016 autopsy.

“The mainstream Democratic story line of victims without victimizers lacks both plausibility and passion. The idea that the Democrats can somehow convince Wall Street to work on behalf of Main Street through mild chiding, rather than acting as Main Street’s champion against the wealthy, no longer resonates. We live in a time of unrest and justified cynicism toward those in power; Democrats will not win if they continue to bring a wonk knife to a populist gun fight.”

The authors are clearly seeking a straightforward repudiation of the governing strategy on economic issues by the last two Democratic presidents. Neither Bill Clinton nor Barack Obama attempted to challenge corporate and financial interests, and neither did nearly enough to address the lost jobs and wages that led to deteriorating affluence and fed popular cynicism and distrust. Obama, for example, gratuitously appointedGeneral Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt to the White House Jobs Council—an odd choice, given that Immelt’s company was a notorious pioneer in offshoring American jobs to foreign nations. Immelt subsequently admitted that he was motivated by GE’s bottom line: American wages were too high, he explained, so he intended to lower them. He succeeded.

In this context, blue-collar workers were not mistaken when they blamed the Democrats. During the campaign, Hillary Clinton was virtually silent on the party’s complicity. The Democratic nominee couldn’t very well quarrel with the party’s embrace of Republican dogma on free trade and financial deregulation, since it would have meant quarreling with her husband. On the central domestic issue of our time, she had nothing convincing to say. Clinton belatedly announced her opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal championed by President Obama, but at that point it was already dead. The party platform paid the usual respect to liberal economic causes, but who could believe her? Clinton lacked authenticity.

Back in May 2016 I wrote a post noting that Clinton was in trouble, although at the time I was still confident she would win.

This is so obviously a “change” election. To run a candidate who represents the past, who promises to be pragmatic and not attempt anything radical, is an obvious misstep. Loyal Democrats will vote for her, but independents have already shown they’d prefer somebody else. And while Clinton currently looks weak against Trump, if the GOP had gotten its act together and nominated a more “establishment” Republican, I doubt she’d have any chance at all.

Then I went on to note that Dem party elites had decided that voters really didn’t care about economic unfairness. Why should they? The stock market and GDP were, well, okay. They’d been better, but they didn’t suck. The numbers told us that we had recovered from the financial crisis of 2008. What’s the problem?

So it was that Trump managed to win the Electoral College, mostly because a whole lot of usually Democratic precincts in the Rust Belt went for him instead of Clinton.

I keep saying this, and I still think it’s true: The central message of the Democratic Party needs to be “under new management.” Or they won’t be able to capitalize on Trump’s economic vulnerability.

In politics the messenger is part of the message, which is why I think Joe Biden or any other long-time “establishment” Dem will be the wrong nominee in 2020, because he or she will have no credibility. Biden’s record as protector of credit card companies is a huge liability, for example.

These days Dems as a group have little credibility as the champions of the common man, and that’s their own fault. Do see Frank Rich, “In 2008, America Stopped Believing in the American Dream.” Under Obama, maybe the numbers recovered from the financial meltdown, but people did not. “Perhaps the sole upside to the 2008 crash was that it discredited the Establishment of both parties by exposing its decades-long collusion with a kleptocratic economic order,” Rich wrote. But I don’t think the Dem establishment understands this, even now. They’re still too busy being angry at Bernie Sanders because Hillary Clinton lost the general election.

The key, here, is to stop relating to numbers and start relating to people. Because the numbers and the people are not telling the same story. And it’s people who vote.

The Faux Concerns of the Right

This is rich. Paul Krugman:

“If you live in the Midwest, where else do you want to live besides Chicago? You don’t want to live in Cincinnati or Cleveland or, you know, these armpits of America.” So declared Stephen Moore, the man Donald Trump wants to install on the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, during a 2014 event held at a think tank called, yes, the Heartland Institute.

The crowd laughed.

I have written before about the phenomenon of well-known conservates — usually people from monied families who have Ivy League degrees and plum jobs in media and politics — who snear at liberals for being elites. See, for example,”Elitism for Elites” (April 2008), “Elitism for Dummies” (June 2008), and “Those Sneaky Elitists” (February 2012). If such people aren’t elites themselves, I’m Princess Charlotte.

Every now and then, though, the mask slips, as it did in the Heartland Institude. Krugman says such anecdotes illustrate something he’s noticed for awhile — “The thinly veiled contempt conservative elites feel for the middle-American voters they depend on.”

This is not the story you usually hear. On the contrary, we’re inundated with claims that liberals feel disdain for the heartland. Even liberals themselves often buy into these claims, berate themselves for having been condescending and pledge to do better.

But what’s the source of that narrative? Look at where the belief that liberals don’t respect the heartland comes from, and it turns out that it has little to do with things Democrats actually say, let alone their policies. It is, instead, a story line pushed relentlessly by Fox News and other propaganda organizations, relying on out-of-context quotes and sheer fabrication.

That said, I’ve also argued in the past that coastal urban liberals tend to reduce people in flyover country into cartoon stereotypes — see “Dear Sister and Brother Progressives” (November 2016). But it’s also the case, as Krugman explains, that only Democrats are proposing anything that would actually improve the quality of life of small town and rural folks. Republicans do just the opposite. See Krugman for details.

The Democrats have been complicit in this, however. For bleeping decades they failed to put forward comprehensive policy ideas and programs to challenge the Republican deregulate-cut taxes-trickle down nonsense. Instead, they’d offer cautious little tweaks. And what economic proposals they did have were never heard about in most of the country. I’ve been griping about this for years, too.

Clear and Present Danger

Trump is obstructing justice in plain site. He assumes Congress can’t do anything to stop him. He may be right. Congress can issue subpoenas until it turns purple; if the Attorney General is not inclined to enforce them, they won’t be enforced. And we know William Barr is Trump’s personal attorney, so there will be no help from the Department of Justice.

It’s being said that the only way the executive branch can be forced to comply with the legislative branch is through a formal impeachment procedure. But Josh Marshall says he’s not sure that’s true.

Most of the claims Trump has made seem frivolous on their face. If courts are operating even broadly within existing precedent or the logic of the constitution Trump will lose. The issue is delays working through the courts. Possibly greater standing in an impeachment context won’t make the system operate faster. It’s also quite possible that judges — and even more Supreme Court Justices — won’t operate within precedent or the logic of the constitution. But that’s just another reason why operating on the basis of people’s wishful thinking about how judges should act is a fool’s errand.

And this illustrates the degree to which the entire structure of the U.S. government has depended on the willingness even of the most powerful officials to act within precedent. If the President and Attorney General together simply refuse to comply with law, what mechanism is there to force them to comply? I don’t believe the nation has confronted this question before.

https://www.peoplesworld.org/article/is-trump-tearing-up-the-u-s-constitution/

Of course, Senate Republicans also have the power to put an end to this farce, but unlike with Nixon, they aren’t going to. That’s partly because the GOP isn’t really a political party any more. It’s just a front for something else.

Back in 2015 I wrote a post called “The Conservative Industrial Complex” about “the integrated right-wing infrastructure that has been driving U.S. foreign and domestic policy for at least 40 years.”

If you spend much time at Sourcewatch, you begin to see how the whole infrastructure, from media outlets, Heritage Foundation and other “think tanks,” and the mostly astroturf advocacy organizations are all being funded by a relatively small group. Oh, and don’t forget ALEC. Time and time again, you run into the same few names.  The Koch boys are prominent, of course, but other names that come up frequently include the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the Scaife Foundations and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation.

In short, dozens of allegedly independent right-wing organizations are all being bankrolled by a relatively small group of foundations. And as Charles Pierce keeps pointing out, it’s these people who are driving the Right’s agenda, not the Republican Party.

It has been an article of faith in this shebeen almost since we opened it in 2011 that there is no actual Republican party in any real sense any more. Ever since the Supreme Court legalized influence-peddling in its Citizens United and McCutcheon decisions, there only has been a loosely held group of independent franchises who are doing business for themselves under the Republican Party brand. This is why the suits belonging to obvious anagram Reince Preibus are so very empty.

Put another way, the Republican Party has lost control of this monster and really isn’t in charge of anything any more. The GOP exists only as a facade, or as part of the nominal political infrastructure that must be used in elections.

More recently there has been some public squabbling between the Koch Boys and Trump, but last year Paul Waldman predicted the Kochs would stand by Trump anyway.

You can bet they love the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda, but more than anything else, they love the tax cuts Republicans passed last year. While Koch Industries is a private company — so we don’t know very much about its particulars — one analysisestimated that Charles and David Koch, whose combined wealth is $120 billion, will gain between $1 billion and $1.4 billion every year from the tax cut. The Koch network says it spent $20 million promoting the bill, which turned out to be a pretty spectacular investment.

The Kochs and the other obscenely wealthy people who bankroll the Right are true kleptocrats. As long as Trump is making them richer, he’s their guy. And this is the reality that must be confronted.

We Can’t Wait for an Election to Deal With Trump

Following up yesterday’s post — Evan McMullin wrote at MSNBC:

What the report revealed, page after page, was President Donald Trump and his campaign’s efforts to profit from the most “sweeping and systematic” — to use the words of the report — information warfare attack ever waged against the United States of America.

Trump and his team were uniquely positioned to sound the alarm and halt the Russian attack, but instead they welcomed it. And then they tried to obstruct efforts to investigate it. As such, Trump bears distinct responsibility for our failure to defend against Russia’s hostility and take the steps necessary to deter future threats.

More damning, IMO, is that Trump has done precisely nothing to prevent similar interference in the 2020 election, which is bound to happen. There have been noises coming from people in his administration that there are things that need to be done, but Trump takes no interest in the issue and provides no leadership.

Cybersecurity experts praised Thursday’s briefing as an important step to bringing high-level focus to the fight against interference. But they said that to deter Russia, Moscow needs to believe that the United States will impose costs beyond the sanctions and other punishments it has doled out, and that requires Mr. Trump to make clear he will act against interference.

“If you are going to stop what is going on, that could require a presidential-level decision,” Mr. Sussmann said.

And what has Trump done? After dragging his feet on implementing sanctions on Russia ordered by Congress, earlier this year he prematurely lifted sanctions he had grudgingly put into place. So the U.S. remains vulnerable.

And, of course, there’s the obstruction of justice; the campaign finance violations, including violations in the inaguration funds; violations of the emoluments clause; and the possibility that Trump is compromised by foreign business ties, including to the Russian mob. Mueller didn’t even try to chase that down, it seems. It’s true that none of these allegations have been proven in court, but Trump is resisting any attempt to get to the truth.

I agree with Josh Marshall that we’ve gone beyond corruption as usual.

The White House isn’t doing the standard tussling with Congress about oversight: some stonewalling, some negotiation, taking some questions of privilege to court. It’s more accurately characterized as massive resistance. The Congress has a constitutionally mandated responsibility to oversee the executive branch. They are flatly refusing to comply with ordinary document production and testimonial requests across the board. It’s not a difference of degree but of kind.

And as far as I can tell, it’s unprecedented. Has any other president sued a House committee chair to block a subpoena? I don’t know. Nixon withheld White House tapes; Haldeman withheld grand jury testimony. That’s as close as I can get. Today the White House ordered a former official to ignore a subpoena. House Democrats are engaged in hearings and investigations, but will that be enough?

The big error I see so far is that these joustings are being treated as legitimate legal processes which must be allowed to work their way through conventional processes and the courts. That’s not right and it gives the President free rein to try to run out the clock on any sort of oversight. Democrats need to find a language for the political debate that makes clear these are not tedious legal processes which will run their course. They are active cover-ups and law breaking, ones that confirm the President’s bad acting status and add to his and his top advisors legal vulnerability.

That’s getting there. Trump is still obstructing justice, still covering up what appear to be crimes. This has to be plainly said, even if Nancy Pelosi has put a gag on the I word. And maybe the best way to do that is to take the gag off the I word.

See Aaron Blake, Pelosi’s Impeachment Dam Has Been Breached.

Democats and the “I” Word

Impeach Trump? It may be the Dems would be damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

The pro-impeachment argument: The jerk deserves it. Hell, the Democrats’ have a duty to impeach Trump.

The constitutional scholar Philip Bobbitt of Columbia University is considered one of the leading academic experts on the question of impeachment, including what the authors of the Constitution thought on the subject. Bobbitt says that when considering impeachment the primary question isn’t whether the president committed a crime. “The initial inquiry is whether the acts of the president have struck at the processes underlying government itself,” Bobbitt says. Greg Sargent continues,

Bobbitt’s book engages deeply on what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It concludes that “careful, patient inquiry” must denote a pattern of “wanton constitutional dereliction” and establish acts of misconduct that badly undermine the very “legitimacy” of the government and “seriously threaten the order of political society.”

Oh, let me count the ways … and here’s a big one —

Trump did not merely seek to derail an investigation into his campaign’s conspiracy with that Russian sabotage — that is, into his own conduct.

Rather, Trump also sought to derail a full accounting of the Russian attack on our political system, separate and apart from whether his own campaign conspired with it. He did this because acknowledging the sabotage would detract from the greatness of his victory, which also led him to fail to marshal a serious response to the next round of interference.

“The exposure of the country to very damaging political intelligence techniques, for the venal reason of not diminishing the status of your victory — would that be a high crime and misdemeanor?” Bobbitt asked. “It certainly would.”

Susan Hennessey and Quinta Jurecic at Lawfare agree.

Here is, as William Barr might call it, “the bottom line”: The Mueller report describes, in excruciating detail and with relatively few redactions, a candidate and a campaign aware of the existence of a plot by a hostile foreign government to criminally interfere in the U.S. election for the purpose of supporting that candidate’s side. It describes a candidate and a campaign who welcomed the efforts and delighted in the assistance. It describes a candidate and a campaign who brazenly and serially lied to the American people about the existence of the foreign conspiracy and their contacts with it. And yet, it does not find evidence to support a charge of criminal conspiracy, which requires not just a shared purpose but a meeting of the minds.

Here is the other bottom line: The Mueller report describes a president who, on numerous occasions, engaged in conduct calculated to hinder a federal investigation. It finds ample evidence that at least a portion of that conduct met all of the statutory elements of criminal obstruction of justice. In some of the instances in which all of the statutory elements of obstruction are met, the report finds no persuasive constitutional or factual defenses. And yet, it declines to render a judgment on whether the president has committed a crime.

Now, the House must decide what to do with these facts.

The House must act. Allowing Trump to slide on this offense is not acceptable.  And, certainly, a large part of the Democratic voter base is clamoring for impeachment. And there is the damned if they don’t part; failing to act on what Trump has done could seriously damage the party’s credibility, not to mention the nation.

But then there’s the damned if they do part. We all know that, at the present time, if the House votes to impeach the Senate will not vote to remove Trump from office. If it were even a remote possibility I’d say go ahead, but right now, it isn’t. Republicans in the Senate will protect Trump no matter what. They are in too deep to back away.

There are no more statements about how “troubled” they are by his behavior, no more attempts to distance themselves from his repugnant character, no more effort to prove that they retain something resembling integrity. They will defend anything, because that is what Trump demands.

And when the Senate leaves Trump in office, it might seem that Trump has been exonerated. I’m not sure everyone screaming for impeachment understands that. An impeachment also is likely to fire up his base and get them to the polls in 2020, no matter how much his incompetence has screwed up their lives.

For months Nancy Pelosi has been pushing back against use of the I word. She has more or less re-stated this position since the release of the Meuller report. But she wrote in a letter to House colleagues, “While our views range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth.”

Pelosi’s position might be re-stated, Hold the hearings; send the subpoenas. Just don’t use the ‘I” word. Not until something is discovered that will force Senate Republicans to throw Trump under the bus will we use the “I” word. 

There’s a real question whether anything the House might discover would move Republicans to do the right thing, of course.

But  here’s another wrinkle. Trump’s own lawyers have taken a step that might backfire big time. Today Trump filed suit in federal court against his own accounting firm, Mazars USA, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in the District of Columbia, seeks a court order to squash a subpoena issued last week by the committee to Mazars USA. Trump’s lawyers also are asking a federal judge to temporarily block the subpoena until the court has had a chance to review their request.

The move amounts to Trump — the leader of the executive branch of government — asking the judicial branch to stop the legislative branch from investigating his past.

Elie Mystal writes at Above the Law that it’s possible this suit will force Democrats’ hands.

 This lawsuit (you can read it here on Axios) is meant to block subpoenas from House Oversight of Mazars USA, Trump’s longtime accountant. Trump org’s argument is that the subpoenas exceed Congressional power because they’re being issued without concrete legislation in mind.

The theory that Congress can only issue subpoenas to investigate issues they are directly intending to legislate on is untested. The convention is that Congress has broad subpoena power and reading it narrowly would obviate much of the work of committees like the House Oversight Committee. Moreover, in the instant case, House Oversight has a good argument that it is indeed intending to offer legislation that would prohibit Trump’s particular attempts to hide his business dealings from the American public while serving as President.

But… if Trump org. wins the day and these subpoenas are viewed to exceed Congressional authority, then the easiest and most direct fix to the problem would be to open impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. If the House is limited from investigating fraud committed by the President of the United States in the normal course of business, it cannot be limited from investigating fraud committed by the President as part of the impeachment process.

I don’t see Elijah Cummings backing down.

The Violence in Sri Lanka

As I understand it, no one is taking responsibility for the church bombings in Sri Lanka that killed more than 200 people. Suspicions are pointing to a radical Islamic group called National Thowheeth Jama’ath, but I don’t know what evidence there is. Here I just want to toss out some general background.

Religious identity in Sri Lanka often is more about ethnicity than devotion. The majority ethnic group, the Sinhalese, is primarily Buddhist. Buddhism is believed to have reached Sri Lanka in the 3rd century BCE, and the island has played a large role in Buddhist history.

The most recent data says Sinhalese Buddhists are about 70 percent of the population, which is down a bit from older data. However, this identity as Buddhist does not necessarily translate into practice of Buddhism, except very superficially. It’s just that if you are a proper Sinhalese, you are supposed to be Buddhist.

The Tamils (about 11 percent of the population) are mostly Hindu. There are small populations of Moors and Malays who are Muslim.

About 7 percent of Sri Lankans, primarily Sinhalese and Tamils, are Christian, mostly Catholic. Christianity reached Sri Lanka beginning in 1508, when the first Portuguese merchants reached the island. The Sinhalese still tell stories about Portugues mercentaries slaughtering Buddhist monks and tossing babies to crocodiles if their parents didn’t agree to be baptised. Of course I don’t know if any of that is true, but it does speak to lingering hard feelings.

Eventually the Portuguese were expelled by the Dutch, and then after the Napoleonic wars the British took over and established the British Crown Colony of Ceylon. The British government encouraged Christian missionaries to open schools in Sri Lanka as a means of “civilizing” the simple brown natives, who of course had a rich culture already before the Europeans showed up and started smashing it. So throughout the 19th century Sri Lanka was permeated with Christian academies and missions.

Beginning in the late 19th century a Buddhist revival movement gained momentum, and that movement morphed into a national independence movement. In the course of this bit of history Buddhism became wired into national identity much more strongly than it had been previously. This is not unlike the way right-wingers in the U.S. identify as “Christian” even when appear to lack an iota of devotion and possibly haven’t said a prayer in years. Of course, there are devout Buddhists in Sri Lanka also.

You might remember that there was a long and terrible civil war between Tamils and Sinhalese beginning in 1983. Atrocities were perpetrated by both sides and more or less came to a bloody end in 2009.

It’s been relatively peaceful in Sri Lanka since then, although a few years ago there were some tense incidents between Buddhist monks and Christians and some incidents in which Sinhalese Buddhist mobs vandalized Christian churches.

More recently, a Buddhist nationalist extremist group called Bodu Bala Sena (BBS; “Buddhist power force”) has perpetrated violence, sometimes deadly violence, against Muslims, BBS wants to eliminate “foreign” influence in Sri Lanka.

I confess that when I heard of Christian church bombings in Sri Lanka, the first thing I thought was that it could be Buddhist extremists. But suicide bombings aren’t their style, so I’m inclined to think it could be Muslim extremists this time. But I have no idea why they would have targeted Christians and not Buddhists.

A church in Negombo, Sri Lanka, hit by a bomb blast on April 21

Back in Business

So yesterday morning I found that some time in the night Mahablog had gone ofline. It went offline because the company with which my domain name is registered parked the domain name. Don’t ask why.

So I spent all day yesterday phoning and emailing the domain name company, my web host company, my techie friend who helped me with the recent upgrades, and then another company that manages DNS because the domain name people insisted I change nameservers and my web host doesn’t do nameservers. So I had to open an account with a DNS management company to get nameservers.

After a great deal of thrashing around, late yesterday I believed I finally got everything configured to everyone’s satisfaction. But this morning, even though diagnostic tools were saying everything was fine, I was still offline. So, more emailing  to the web host company. After I sent a screen capture of my site information at the DNS management site to web host support, a techie answered and told me what I had wrong.  The DNS management company itself was unresponsive and no help at all. But the holdup was that I had incorrectly entered CNAME data. Once that was fixed, everything came back online.

So — more than a day and a half of thrashing around to get the site back online because the domain registration company parked the domain, not because of anything I did. And if I had known what I was doing, it probably would have taken me about fifteen minutes to straighten it all out. I hate technology sometimes.

This Shitstorm Is Just Getting Started

Lots of smart people are going through the Mueller Report as I keyboard. It may be a couple of days before we have a comprehensive picture, but much that is floating to the surface to far is pretty damn disturbing and makes AG Bill Barr out to be a damn liar.

The shameful “press conference” this morning amounted to a defense attorney’s summation. Barr was spinning to sway the jury to find his client not guilty. I listened to some of it this morning and wondered if someone in the White House — Steven Miller maybe — had a hand in writing it; it was obviously composed for Trump’s approval. In the remarks as delivered ( as opposed to the transcript as written for delivery) Barr seemed to repeat “no collusion, no collusion, no collusion” umpteen times. Odd, considering that “collusion” is not a legal term but is a word that Trump has latched on to and keeps repeating.

Barr’s bizarre statements will be all that Trump’s supporters need to hear to believe the controversy is over. But the report itself is much murkier. According to the report, there were a lot of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials. The campaign also was in touch with Wikileaks about their document dumps. Further, Trump and his campaign knew that Russia was taking steps to help the campaign. Why was this not conspiracy?

From what I can tell so far, the primary reason no criminal conspiracy (in some opinions) was committed is that Trump and his people had nothing to do with the hacking of the DNC and other servers. Coordinating with Wikileaks was not criminal, because Wikileaks committed no crime by publishing materials hacked by somebody else. In other words, Wikileaks acted as a buffer. There was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but technically this collusion fell short of a crime. Seems lame.

Still, we keep running into things like this:

See also What Attorney General Barr buried, misrepresented or ignored in clearing Trump.

As far as obstruction is concerned — yeah, Trump is guilty as sin, even if he’s never indicted. Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent:

On Thursday morning, Barr tried to explain why he declined to bring obstruction-of-justice charges against Trump, even though special counsel Robert S. Mueller III did not exonerate him of it. Barr appealed to us to consider how victimized Trump felt, when considering the extensive efforts to derail the investigation detailed in the report, noting Trump “was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.”

So Trump sincerely believed he was justified in obstructing justice because of his feelings, and that makes it okay?

But the only reason Trump wasn’t more effective at obstructing justice is that many of his underlings wouldn’t carry out his orders. This is from the Mueller report:

Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations. The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels. These actions ranged from efforts to remove the Special Counsel and to reverse the effect of the Attorney General’s recusal; to the attempted use of official power to limit the scope of the investigation; to direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony. […]

The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.

The reason I’m saying this shitstorm is just getting started is that the fight is going to shift into new and tricker territory. Democrats are going to continue to pursue Trump’s wrongdoing, while Trump supporters will insist the Dems are beating a dead horse and that the issues investigated by Mueller have been resolved. My sense of things is that this isn’t over by a long shot, and it’s all going to get even messier.

War Powers Question

Let’s review. This is from the Constitution (section 8):

The Congress shall have power …

To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;

To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;

To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;

To provide and maintain a navy;

To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;

And this is from section 2:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States

And that’s all it says about presidents and war powers. This is a bit of commentary from the Cornell Law School website:

The purely military aspects of the Commander-in-Chiefship were those that were originally stressed. Hamilton said the office “would amount to nothing more than the supreme command and direction of the Military and naval forces, as first general and admiral of the confederacy.” Story wrote in his Commentaries: “The propriety of admitting the president to be commander in chief, so far as to give orders, and have a general superintendency, was admitted. But it was urged, that it would be dangerous to let him command in person, without any restraint, as he might make a bad use of it. The consent of both houses of Congress ought, therefore, to be required, before he should take the actual command. The answer then given was, that though the president might, there was no necessity that he should, take the command in person; and there was no probability that he would do so, except in extraordinary emergencies, and when he was possessed of superior military talents.”

Of course, over the years the respective war powers of Congress and the President have been fudged and fudged and fudged some more.

The War Powers Act of 1973 says,

The constitutional powers of the President as Commander-in-Chief to introduce United States Armed Forces into hostilities, or into situations where imminent involvement in hostilities is clearly indicated by the circumstances, are exercised only pursuant to (1) a declaration of war, (2) specific statutory authorization, or (3) a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.

Dahlia Lithwick provides background on the War Powers Act here.

Now, here’s my question. Last month Congress passed a directive calling for Trump to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. It directs the “president” to remove U.S. armed forces from hostilities in or affecting Yemen within 30 days unless further engagement is authorized by Congress. The directive failed to pass with a veto-proof majority, and Trump vetoed it yesterday.

Trump saw the resolution as a personal assault on his authority, adding that the resolution would hurt military efforts abroad.

“This resolution is an unnecessary, dangerous attempt to weaken my constitutional authorities, endangering the lives of American citizens and brave service members, both today and in the future,” Trump said in a memo to the Senate signaling his veto.

Except he doesn’t have any constitutional authorities where war is concerned. And it seems to me that Trump cannot lawfully continue whatever he’s doing in Yemen now that Congress has told him to stop.

The US helps the Saudi-led coalition, which also includes the United Arab Emirates and several other Gulf Arab and African countries, by providing them with intelligence, selling them arms and ammunition, and, until late last year, fueling warplanes.

Granted, one could argue that the U.S. is not technically waging war in Yemen, but it is aiding other countries to wage war. However, about a year ago the New York Times reported that

about a dozen Army commandos have been on Saudi Arabia’s border with Yemen since late last year, according to an exclusive report by The Times. The commandos are helping to locate and destroy missiles and launch sites used by indigenous Houthi rebels in Yemen to attack Saudi cities.

This involvement puts the lie to Pentagon statements that American military aid to the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen is limited to aircraft refueling, logistics and intelligence, and is not related to combat. …

… In at least 14 countries, American troops are fighting extremist groups that are professed enemies of the United States or are connected, sometimes quite tenuously, to such militants. The Houthis pose no such threat to the United States. But they are backed by Iran, so the commandos’ deployment increases the risk that the United States could come into direct conflict with that country, a target of increasing ire from the administration, the Saudis and Israelis.

And what more do we not know?

Support for the Saudi-led forces began under the Obama Administration, and I believe that support was a huge mistake. But Trump deployed the commandos, apparently without consulting Congress, since it took a congressional investigation to find out about it. Both the Obama and Trump administrations appear to have assumed authority from the 1973 War Powers Act; there was no other authorization from Congress that I have been able to find.

Even assuming the U.S. is only giving the Saudis et al. arms and intelligence: In January 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress for permission to give military aid to Britain by introducing the Lend-Lease Act. The lend-lease program gave FDR the power to lend arms to Britain with the understanding that eventually the U.S. would be paid back. The program could be extended to any country whose defense was vital to the security of the United States. Congress passed the bill by a large majority. But now, presidents are just making these decisions by themselves.

But getting back to Trump’s veto — it seems to me that even if there wasn’t a veto-proof vote, something like this shouldn’t be something he can veto. War powers belong to Congress. Congress gave the President a directive. Why isn’t he simply compelled to obey it? But no one seems to be saying that the veto can be challenged in court.

So that’s how the system works. It stinks, but as Uncle Walter used to say, that’s the way it is.