The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

When the Government Watchdog Needs Watching

Lately I’ve been collecting stupid headlines. Here’s one.

Baffles? There’s nothing baffling about any of this. Obviously somebody didn’t want something to be preserved.

Now we’re learning that the current Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security started to collect phones earlier this year and try to recover the deleted texts, or at least try to understand what happened to them, and then just a few days later shut the investigation down. This was in the Washington Post yesterday:

In early February, after learning that the Secret Service’s text messages had been erased as part of a migration to new devices, staff at Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari’s office planned to contact all DHS agencies offering to have data specialists help retrieve messages from their phones, according to two government whistleblowers who provided reports to Congress.

But later that month, Cuffari’s office decided it would not collect or review any agency phones, according to three people briefed on the decision.

Now CNN is reporting that Cuffari had known about the missing text messages since May 2021. Democrats in Congress are calling for Cuffari to recuse himself from further involvement in the investigation into the missing text messages.

Joseph V. Cuffari was nominated to be the DHS Inspector General by Donald Trump and was confirmed by the Senate on January 2019. The previous inspector general was an acting IG, never confirmed, named John V. Kelley, who served from 2017 to 2019. Kelly announced his resignation in June 2019 “following revelations that he directed his staff to whitewash audits of the agency’s performance after federal disasters,” it says here.

Prior to being the acting DHS IG, Kelly was part of the Emergency Management auditing staff.

Kelly’s announcement follows The Post’s report last week that an internal review found that Kelly overrode auditors who had found problems with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to various disasters.

When teams of auditors flew to local communities to assess how well FEMA was helping residents recover, Kelly — then in charge of the emergency management auditing staff — directed them to ignore most problems, according to the internal review and interviews. Instead, he told them to produce what the staff dubbed “feel-good reports.”

These records went back to 2011, I understand.

The guy who served in the DHS IG position in the latter part of the Obama Administration, John Roth, quickly ran afoul of the Trump Admiistration over the Muslim travel ban fiasco. Roth wrote a report saying that the Trump Administration’s Muslim travel ban was a chaotic mess that violated two court orders. The report was blocked from release by somebody, apparently acting for Trump. Roth notified some Senators about the report. Roth also decided to resign in 2017. Eventually in 2018 the DHS released a heavily redacted version of Roth’s report. This statement from Rep. Bennie Thompson points some fingers at the actiing IG, John Kelly. I still haven’t found out if the full and unredacted report was ever released.

But let’s assume there hasn’t been an honest IG in that position since Roth resigned in 2017.

Regarding other stupid headlines I’ve collected recently, this one is my favorite:

Schumer-Manchin Deal Is Good News, Maybe

The other big news today is that Schumer and Manchin reached a deal on a climate and drug pricing reconciliation bill. The bill is brillinatly titled “The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” to address Manchin’s reasons for nixing similar bills in the past, not that there was a rational reason to assume lowering drug prices and transitioning away from fossil fuels was going to fuel inflation. Negotiating with Manchin must be a bit like herding cats.

Anyway, this would be a good bill to pass. As I understand it, it provides $369 billion to transition away from fossil fuels, allows Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, and extends critical Affordable Care Act subsidies for three years. It also includes a 15 percent minimum corporate tax on companies of $1 billion or larger.

Of course, nobody trusts Manchin until this thing is passed, and I don’t believe anyone has heard from the Senate’s other free radical, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Rabbit Hole), yet. “While Sinema may not want to personally kill this heaven-sent deal herself, it would be surprising if she doesn’t take at least a pound of flesh in concessions to show her corporate friends she is still a major player,” Ed Kilgore writes.

This proposal also has to pass in the House, of course, where Josh Gottheimer (D-the 1 Percent) and his merry band of blue dog “centrists” are always ready to kill any part of the Democratic Party agenda, just because they can.

One interesting part of the story is that apparently the Dems put one over on Mitch McConnell. Per Josh Marshall:

While Senator Schumer and the White House were trying to revive some skinny version of the BBB and climate legislation with Joe Manchin Senator McConnell tried to scuttle those talks with a threat. He would pull GOP support from the China competition/CHIPs bill if the Democrats did not drop those negotiations. As it happened, Manchin scuttled the deal so the threat became moot. Then the CHIPs bill passed the Senate yesterday and then within like an hour – voila – the Manchin deal was back and somehow finalized. Senate Republicans were clearly pissed but the bill had already passed the Senate.

The “chips” bill has passed the House and can be signed by President Biden. It is intended to boost domestic production of semiconductor chips so that the U.S. is less reliant on other countries to keep our computers going. I take it that some House Republicans who had planned to vote for it changed their minds when the Schumer-Manchin deal was announced, but it passed anyway.

Susan Collins (R-Ozone Layer) said that the surprise announcement of the Schumer-Manchin deal could doom bipartisan efforts on a bill to protect same sex marriage. That makes no sense whatsoever to me, either. It’s like everyone in the Senate is a 12-year-old.

In other legislative news, a bill “aimed at protecting veterans exposed to toxic materials during their service was shut down yesterday in the Senate, in a 55 to 42 vote that failed to meet the 60-vote threshold necessary to advance the legislation.” Here is a list of the Republicans who voted against it. Chuck Schumer’s was the only Democratic vote against it, and I understand he cast that vote as part of a procedural maneuver that might allow reviving it at some other time.

No, We’re Not in a Recession yet

The headlines this morning told us that GDP shrunk and we must be in a recession. But some disagree. I think perhaps it can’t be a very bad recession if the experts can’t agree we’re in one.

On the “we’re in a recession” side: Everybody on Fox News, I’m sure.

On the other side: Paul Krugman

There’s a pretty good chance the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which produces the numbers on gross domestic product and other macroeconomic data, will declare on Thursday, preliminarily, that real G.D.P. shrank in the second quarter of 2022. Since it has already announced that real G.D.P. shrank in the first quarter, there will be a lot of breathless commentary to the effect that we’re officially in a recession.

But we won’t be. That’s not how recessions are defined; more important, it’s not how they should be defined. It’s possible that the people who actually decide whether we’re in a recession — more about them in a minute — will eventually declare that a recession began in the United States in the first half of this year, although that’s unlikely given other economic data. But they won’t base their decision solely on whether we’ve had two successive quarters of falling real G.D.P.

Then there’s a bunch of nerdy economic stuff, and then he says the more accurate measure of the beginning of a recession is a rising unemployment rate.

The Sahm Rule, developed by Claudia Sahm, a former Fed economist currently at the Jain Family Institute, tries to identify the start of recessions by looking for significant increases in the unemployment rate.

According to the Sahm Rule, we are not in a recession. A guy named Kevin Dugan at New York Magazine says something similar

The question of whether the U.S. is currently in a recession has taken on greater urgency since the first quarter saw a decline in gross domestic product and the following three months were a period of rising inflation. Powell seemed to not take that much stock in the negative GDP print and noted that those numbers change all the time. And Claudia Sahm — who, as an economist at the Fed, came up with a widely followed recession indicator that looks at rising unemployment — wrote that the negative growth has a lot to do with retailers’ imports and the weird effects on the supply chain from the pandemic rather than anything to do with the health of the economy.

Here’s Claudia Sahm herself.

Unemployment rates are going down, not up. Therefore, there is no recession. Whether it’s a good idea for the Fed to continue to crank up interest rates to slow inflation is another question. Back to Krugman:

The U.S. economy is not currently in a recession. No, two quarters of negative growth aren’t, whatever you may have heard, the “official” or “technical” definition of a recession; that determination is made by a committee that has always relied on several indicators, especially job growth. And as Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, noted yesterday, the labor market still looks strong.

That said, the U.S. economy is definitely slowing, basically because the Fed is deliberately engineering a slowdown to bring inflation down. And it’s possible that this slowdown will eventually be severe and broad-based enough to get the R-label. In fact, on this question I think I’m a bit more pessimistic than the consensus; I think the odds are at least 50-50 that history will say that we experienced a mild recession in late 2022 or early 2023, one that caused a modest rise in the unemployment rate. But what’s in a name?

The real question is whether a moderate slowdown, whether or not it gets called a recession, will be sufficient to control inflation. And the news on that front has been fairly encouraging lately.

Overall inflation is at a 16-month low, he says, although it is too soon to declare victory. I suspect food prices are going to remain high because of the hot, dry summer here in farm country. Crops are burning up in some places, and with the war in Ukraine wheat is going to be way scarce globally. There’s nothing the Federal Reserve can do about that.

The Walls Are Closing in on Trump

Yesterday’s news that the Justice Department is really, truly investigating Trump for his role in January 6 was excellent news. The reactions to it today seem remarkably subdued. Maybe people are afraid to anticipate Trump might finally get justice.

It was especially gratifying to hear Merrick Garland say that Trump can’t get out of being prosecuted by declaring another presidential run. There have been a number of news stories lately saying that Trump might declare his 2024 candidacy way early, like any minute now. The early announcement might divert attention away from the January 6 committee and might protect him from criminal indictments, either from the DOJ or Fulton County, Georgia. And let us not forget he’s still being investigated for business fraud, for mishandling of classified materials, and for his SPAC (Special Purpose Acquisition Company).

I don’t think an early announcement would have the effects Trump might wish for. And a number of articles have pointed out that as soon as he declares he is a candidate for president he loses a lot of control of his $130 million Save America PAC. For that reason alone I suspect he won’t do it. He’s keeping most potential rivals on the back foot just by dropping hints.

Added to yesterday’s New York Times report about Trump campaign emails on the fake elector scheme — in which one lawyer noted it probably would be better to say “alternative” electors rather than “fake” electors — it was possibly not a good day for Trump. Raw Story reports that Trump threw a temper tantrum on Truth Social early this morning.

See also Dennis Aftergut and Norman L. Eisen at Slate, Yes, Donald Trump Is at Significant Risk of Federal Prosecution.







This Is What Theocracy Looks Like

Remember back when the draft of the Dobbs decision was leaked? And some people got more worked up about the leak than about the horrendous decision? Well, we still don’t know who the leaker was, but we know now that the leak killed Chief Justice Roberts’s efforts to save Roe in some form.

Joan Biskupic reported for CNN,

John Roberts privately lobbied fellow conservatives to save the constitutional right to abortion down to the bitter end, but May’s unprecedented leak of a draft opinion reversing Roe v. Wade made the effort all but impossible, multiple sources familiar with negotiations told CNN.

It appears unlikely that Roberts’ best prospect — Justice Brett Kavanaugh — was ever close to switching his earlier vote, despite Roberts’ attempts that continued through the final weeks of the session.

Once the draft became public, the pressure on conservatives to deliver the end to Roe was just too great to overcome Roberts’s pleas for moderation. Which does make one suspect that the leaker was someone who wanted Roe to be overturned.

At the New York Times, Linda Greenhouse writes that Religious Doctrine, Not the Constitution, Drove the Dobbs Decision.

Does anyone really think it was motivated by disapproval of the court’s reliance in Roe v. Wade on substantive due process, an interpretation of the 14th Amendment that accords meaning to the word “liberty” in the due process clause? Is there anyone who believes that if only the Constitution had included the word “abortion,” the anti-abortion movement would have failed to gain political traction? (Although the Dobbs majority treated the absence of the A-word in the Constitution as nearly fatal to Roe all by itself, it is worth observing that the Constitution’s 7,600 words, including its 27 amendments, contain neither the word “fetus” nor “unborn.”)

No one really buys the argument that what was “egregiously wrong” with Roe v. Wade, to quote the Dobbs majority, was the court’s failure to check the right analytic boxes. It was not constitutional analysis but religious doctrine that drove the opposition to Roe. And it was the court’s unacknowledged embrace of religious doctrine that has turned American women into desperate refugees fleeing their home states in pursuit of reproductive health care that less than a month ago was theirs by right.

Alito’s reasoning is especially, um, stupid considering that abortion was legal in colonial America. It was mentioned in the medical records of the time. It was not sociall acceptable, and so abortions were performed in secret, But laws banning abortion didn’t appear in the U.S. until the 1820s and weren’t widespread until the 1860s. No, the constitution, written by a bunch of men, didn’t mention it. Abortion was a woman’s issue, and women are missing from the Constitution. Greenhouse continues,

Indeed, the fetus is the indisputable star of the Dobbs opinion. That is not necessarily obvious at first reading: The opinion’s 79 pages are larded with lengthy and, according to knowledgeable historians, highly partial and substantially irrelevant accounts of the history of abortion’s criminalization. In all those pages, there is surprisingly little actual law. And women, as I have observed before, are all but missing. It is in paragraphs scattered throughout the opinion that the fetus shines.

Basically, Greenhouse argues, Alito took his religious belief and enshrined it in enough cherry-picked citations from history to make it look respectable. This is about his religious views, not the law.

A former leader of a religious right activist group recently admitted on a podcast that the language that Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito used in his damning majority opinion overturning Roe v. Wade mirrored rhetoric the Christian group has been pushing on Supreme Court justices for decades.

Rev. Rob Schenck recently appeared on an episode of the State of Belief podcast to discuss his efforts as a former member of the group Faith and Action to, essentially, sway justices’ views on social issues through prayer sessions. The interview is from earlier this month, but Politico surfaced it here. It’s worth a listen if you want to get a better understanding of how these unofficial evangelical lobbying-via-prayer efforts work, but it reinforces a theme we covered earlier this summer when an official at the evangelical organization, Liberty Counsel, was caught on a hot mic bragging about secretly praying with Supreme Court justices.

So, yes, this is just about Christian nationalism. A whole lot of what this SCOTUS is about is Christian nationalism.

And here’s the result: Because of Texas abortion law, her wanted pregnancy became a medical nightmare. This is a case that sounds very similar to that of Savita Halappanavar, whose unnecessary death from sepsis eventually led to legalizing abortion in Ireland. In the Texas case, the pregnant woman, Elizabether Weller, very much wanted the baby, but her water broke at only 18 weeks gestation, and this left her vulnerable to infection. Because of Texas law, she had to wait and suffer until she was in great danger before doctors could step in. Unlike Savita Halappanavar, Elizabeth Weller lived. But it was close.

And life of the mother exceptions are beng struck from many state abortion laws.

Anti-abortion-rights groups, like Wisconsin Right to Life, have described the “life of the mother” exception as unnecessary and wrong. The Idaho GOP just approved a platform with no lifesaving exception. Republican candidates like Matthew DePerno, the Republican running to be Michigan’s attorney general, oppose all exceptions to abortion bans, and that includes to save a mother’s life. Conservative states are rushing to eliminate or narrow existing exceptions to their laws. Powerful groups like Students for Life, Feminists for Life, and the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG) argue that “abortion is never medically necessary” and that doctors should always be punished for intentionally taking a fetal life.

This is zealotry on steroids. Any human detail that gets in the way of their belief must be denied. I’m afraid a lot of women are going to die before abortion rights can be restored.

GOP Still Can’t Face the Truth About Trump

Last night Chris Hayes mused a bit on the earnest Trump staffers who testified to the J6 Committee about the moment they acknowledged Trump was not behaving well.

The two staffers who testified Thursday, for example, both decided to resign on January 6. And I’m glad they did, and I am grateful they chose to testify, but damn. What took them so long? And even now I’m not sure they’ve fully faced the truth about the pile of avarice and ignorance that Trump really is, and how much damage he did to the nation.

It may be significant that today, the editorial boards of both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Post — both Murdoch media — are calling Trump’s failure to act on January 6 shameful. The WSJ editorial board cannot resist throwing some shade at the committee hearings, of course, but they slammed Trump hard, at long last. “His only focus was to find any means — damn the consequences — to block the peaceful transfer of power,” the Post writes. “There is no other explanation, just as there is no defense, for his refusal to stop the violence.”

Well, yeah. But will that stop the Post from endorsing Trump’s presumed 2024 bid to go back to the White House? Or, if not Trump, some other authoritarian pile of bigotry?

At the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg writes about the myth of the good Trump official. She writes that the parade of Republican witnesses to the committee, all of whom had stood by Trump when he did other underhanded, damaging things, were all fulsomely praised by co-chair Liz Cheney for their integrity and courage. And, of course, that integrity and courage showed up a tad late to the party.

It is a sign of the committee Democrats’ love of country that they have allowed the hearings to proceed this way. They are crafting a story about Jan. 6 as a battle between Republican heroism and Republican villainy. It seems intended to create a permission structure for Trump supporters to move on without having to disavow everything they loved about his presidency, or to admit that Jan. 6 was the logical culmination of his sadistic politics.

If you believe, as I do, that Trump’s sociopathy makes him a unique threat to this country’s future, it makes sense to try to lure Republicans away from him rather than damn them for their complicity. There is a difference, however, between a smart narrative and an accurate one. In truth, you can’t cleave Trump and his most shameless antidemocratic enablers off from the rest of the Republican Party, because the party has been remade in his image. Plenty of ex-Trump officials have come off well in the hearings, including the former deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger, the former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and, in video testimony, the former White House counsel Pat Cipollone. That shouldn’t erase the ignominy of having served Trump in the first place.

Consider Rusty Bowers, the Arizona speaker of the state house whose testimony in the fourth hearing underscored the Trump campaign’s lack of evidence for its election fraud claims. Even after his clear and forthright testimony that was devastating to Trump, he declared he would still vote for Trump in 2024. Say what? Since then, he has had some second thoughts. I don’t see how any rational person could know what Bowers knows and still even fleetingly entertain the idea of voting for Trump again. I have little forgiveness for anyone who voted for him the first time, never mind twice.

And it’s not just Trump. Now that Trump has paved the road to fascism, there are plenty of other politicians eager to take that road. Ron DeSantis, for example, is currently more popular among the base than Trump himself. He’s Trump without the baggage, they are saying. At Vox, Zack Beauchamp writes that DeSantis isn’t patterning himself after Trump but after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Even worse. And at New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait wrote that Ron DeSantis Would Kill Democracy Slowly and Methodically.

So, yeah, just “moving on” from Trump isn’t good enough. Republicans need to step back from the brink of right-wing authoritarianism, period. And they are no where close to doing that.

Jonathan Swan at Axios has been writing about a Schedule F executive order that was launched 13 days before the 2020 election. Basically, this was a plan to fire key career  career civil service employees whose work impacts policies and replace them with Trump loyalists. Do read this; it’s terrifying. See also “Trump’s Revenge,” also by Swan. This plan would have gone into full effect in Trump’s second term, which he mercifully never got. But another authoritarian right-wing administration could revive it.

At this point, it’s possible the powers with the money, like the Murdochs, might have decided Trump is done and they are ready to move on to another tool. Hence, the editorials in the Wall Street Journal and New York Post.

In other news — there are reports this afternoon that the missing Secret Service texts have been found.

Today’s knee slapper — from this Kansas City Star editorial about Josh Hawley and what a waste he is, I learned that he has a new book coming out next year from Regnery Press. The title? Manhood: The Masculine Virtues America Needs.


Successful Fundraiser Ended

My recent fundraiser has surpassed the goal, and I thank everyone who contributed. The Go Fund Me link will stay active for a while. At the moment PayPal has suspended my account for “unusual activity,” and I have no idea why, but I trust it will be active again some day. I’d transfered donatons (as of yesterday) out of it already, anyway.


Bannon Guilty! Trump Roasted!

First off — Bannon found guilty on both counts! Really fast! The jury took about long enough to eat lunch and vote. He could get up to a year on each count!

I’m still digesting the J6 finale. But here’s one of the lighter moments:

It’s probably too soon to say that Hawley’s political career is over, but whoever runs against him in 2024 can just run that YouTube video as their television ads. Here you can watch the run with different soundtracks. We can say Josh was Hawl-ing ass. See also Philip Bump, WaPo, Hawley’s effort to reap political rewards from Jan. 6 scampers off.

It’s especially amusing to recall how last year Hawley was making speeches about the virtues of manliness that liberals allegedly oppose. These virtues include courage, as I recall.

But on to the main point, which is Trump.

After the committee documented (once again) that Trump took absolutely no steps to stop the violence until he finally told the mob to “go home” in a video released at 4:17 p.m. — and he only did that because everyone else in the White House pressured him to do it — Trump is still not taking responsibility. All along he has blamed Nancy Pelosi for turning down some alleged offer of 20,000 troops to protect the Capitol. I understand he repeated that claim on Truth Social after last night’s hearing. But there is no evidence this offer was ever made, and in any case the Speaker of the House has no authority whatsoever over troop movements. Pelosi can neither green light sending troops to the Capitol nor turn them away. That’s the Commander in Chief’s job, and he wasn’t doing it.

Last night’s hearing emphasized that Trump really wanted to march to the Capitol with the mob. Really, truly. After the encounter with the driver of his car he got back to the White House and sulked in his overcoat for a bit. What did he imagine he would do? Did he envision leading the mob into the House chamber to stop the counting? That really would have been a coup attempt, plain and simple.

Liz Cheney and the crew made the point that no responsible human being would support Trump for another term in the White House. That’s going to be lost on many of them, of course.