Too Much Restraint

I apologize for not posting more. I have been plagued by a bad tooth, and today I have to face up to root canal. I will be more communicative once that’s over with, I’m sure.

But only two articles of impeachment? What the bleep? Get this

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) emphasized what he characterized as “extreme restraint” in pursuing Trump’s impeachment in a statement issued after the two articles were unveiled.

Is “extreme restraint” supposed to be a good thing?

Stuff to Read About Lies

Greg Sargent points out that Rudy Giuliani has openly confessed to the whole Ukraine scandal conspiracy.

Rudolph W. Giuliani just confessed to the crime in broad daylight — or, more precisely, in broad cyber-daylight. Yet he did so defiantly, with a middle finger unfurled in our faces, without the slightest concern that it would harm him or his “client,” as he describes President Trump.

How is this possible? Because of the power of disinformation, which has the capacity to convert the most flagrantly corrupt misconduct into virtue.

We don’t talk enough about how central disinformation is to the Ukraine scandal. The extortion of Ukraine was at bottom an effort to enlist a foreign power’s help in waging disinformation warfare in the 2020 election, to Trump’s benefit. Disinformation was central to the 2016 Russian attack on our political system, which Trump eagerly embraced. Now disinformation is being employed to escape accountability for all of it.

Dahlia Lithwick, in a you-absolutely-must-read-this column, says something along the same lines.

The truth does not really have a place in this administration. Attorney General Bill Barr’s pretend investigation into his conviction that federal agencies were illegally “spying” (his words) on the Trump campaign will be a bust. Never mind, they will refocus the umbrage on some attenuated fact about the Steele dossier. The evidence that Donald Trump has, on several occasions, conditioned foreign aid on domestic political favors is now so unequivocal that Republicans have advanced three dozen alternate defenses for it, without even attempting to coordinate a theory beyond the Russian propaganda line upon which they now seem to have settled. Any attempts to pierce the logic of that illogic is pointless, which is why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has no option other than to keep seeking and speaking truth into the factual void. Doug Collins somehow kept up his refrain on Wednesday that nobody in the room could agree on the most elementary facts, even as every single fact witness (including those selected by the GOP) and every single legal expert (including one selected by the GOP) agrees substantially on all of the material facts surrounding the Ukraine transaction.

I sincerely urge you to read both columns. I’m not going to try to summarize them further; just read them.

Other stuff to read:

Eric Levitz, Jobs, Jobs Everywhere, But Most of Them Kind of Suck

Charles Pierce, This Highly Organized Right-Wing Militia Is an Ominous Portent. Also at Esquire, Jack Holmes writes The President’s Fans Think He’d ‘Operate More Effectively’ Without Congress or the Courts.

WaPo, Phone logs in impeachment report renew concern about security of Trump communications. Follow that up with comments from Scott Lemieux and Max Boot.

Next?

So Nancy Pelosi has asked committee chairs to begin drawing up articles of impeachment. It’s widely reported that the House Dems want to have the articles voted on before Christmas, although I don’t see Pelosi giving any deadlines.

It’s my understanding that this doesn’t mean the House has stopped investigating, just that the impeachment vote isn’t going to wait for more evidence that might trickle in.

Are the Dems rushing? Maybe, but Josh Marshall argues that the Dems are better off moving quickly rather than dragging things out. Among other points:

… not allowing the President’s obstruction or the court’s lethargy to dictate the pace of events has allowed Democrats to maintain the initiative pretty much throughout. That is critical. It’s kept the White House off-balance and reacting to the Democrats. Just as it does in combat or sports maintaining the initiative is usually more than half of winning an engagement. I make you react to me and while you’re still reacting I pile still more on top of you. I have little doubt that this dramatically assisted House investigators in securing the testimony they did. It also signals and demonstrates strength, which is both politically advantageous and tends to force positive outcomes.

The evidence they have already provides an overwhelming case for removing Trump from office. Of course, there’s little to no chance that will happen. But I think the trial itself could have an impact on public opinion and the 2020 elections, so how the trial procedes in the Senate is important.

Alison Durkee writes at Vanity Fair that Mitch McConnell is fully prepared to shut Democrats out of the trial.

McConnell told reporters Tuesday that he’s preparing a “back-up plan” for figuring out the Senate rules, in case he’s not able to strike a bipartisan deal with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on how to structure the proceedings. And that plan, apparently, is to try and cut Democrats out entirely. “The first thing Sen. Schumer and I will do is see if there’s a possibility of agreement on a procedure,” McConnell said. “That failing, I would probably come back to my own members and say: ‘OK, can 51 of us agree how we’re going to handle this?’” The Majority Leader added that he wasn’t sure if he’d prefer a bipartisan deal or working solely with Republicans, telling reporters, “it would depend on what we would agree to.” Should both the bipartisan and partisan negotiations fail to figure out the trial procedure, the task would fall to Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who will be presiding over the trial. Roberts would submit motions to the Senate about the procedure, which could then be passed with 51 votes.

The Constitution is vague about how impeachments should be tried. This is Article I, Section 3, paragraph 6:

The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

As I wrote in an earlier post, in the two previous impeachment trials the Chief Justice ran the trial the way any judge would run any trial. The judge determines what evidence and witnesses are admissible, among other things. Judges don’t normally have to submit motions to the jury about procedure, I don’t think. If McConnell breaks with precedent and tries to limit the Chief Justice’s role and authority, what would C.J. John Roberts do? Would he go along? Maybe, but I don’t think that’s a certainty. It’s also the case that if McConnell rewrites the old rules to shut out the Democrats, there might be three Republicans who would say no. Assuming all the Dems vote no, three Republicans is all it would take to stop a rule change.

And if John Roberts is allowed genuinely to precide over the trial, he might compell evidence and witnesses we haven’t heard from yet. Or, he might just go along with whatever McConnell wants to do. Lots of ifs here.

If precedent is followed, the House will select managers to present the case to the Senate. In the past, these managers would assume the role of the prosecuting attorneys at the trial. Would McConnell shut them out, too?

Martin Longman writes,

One thing I’d like to say right now at the outset is that I’d like the House managers who will prosecute the case in the Senate to ask Chief Justice John Roberts to demand the presence of John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani and Mike Pompeo. These witnesses, and a few others at the State Department and Office of Management and Budget, are key to understanding the full parameters of the Ukraine scandal, and there is no reason that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, who presides as the judge of a Senate impeachment trial, cannot unilaterally enforce congressional subpoenas on the spot. He can also rule on any executive privilege claims on the spot.

McConnell no doubt knows this also and may try to limit the Chief Justice’s role to just keeping order in the court. To me, this pre-trial jockeying may be the most significant part of the whole process.

Finally, where is public opinion going? The Real Clear Politics polling average has “impeach and remove” at 48 percent and “no impeachment and removal” at 46.2 percent, so it’s close. Five Thirty Eight breaks it down a bit more, showing that a whopping majority of Democrats but hardly any Republicans favor removal; independents are 50-50.  And so it goes.

The Judiciary Committee Is Not Messing Around

What to write about — the way le grand bébé orange just humiliated himself at the NATO meeting in London (see also), or the impeachment hearings? As juicy as the NATO episode was, let’s go with the hearings.

The Juiciary Committee chose to begin by clarifying what an impeachable offense is. Three law professors and constitutional scholars — Noah Feldman of Harvard, Pamela S. Karlan of Stanford, and Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina — strongly argued that Trump’s actions were impeachable. “If what we are talking about is not impeachable, nothing is impeachable,” Gerhardt said.

Professor Karlan offered this analogy:

Imagine living in a part of Louisiana or Texas that’s prone to devastating hurricanes and flooding. What would you think if you lived there and your governor asked for a meeting with the president to discuss getting disaster aid that Congress has provided for? What would you think if that president said, “I would like you to do us a favor? I’ll meet with you, and send the disaster relief, once you brand my opponent a criminal.”

Wouldn’t you know in your gut that such a president has abused his office? That he’d betrayed the national interest, and that he was trying to corrupt the electoral process? I believe the evidentiary record shows wrongful acts on those scale here.

A high point was this exchange between Ranking Member Doug Collins and Professor Karlan:

Republicans called Jonathan Turley, who seems determined to take over the Alan Dershowitz niche of famous contrarian for hire. His arguement boiled down to the claim that the Democrats were rushing into impeachment with slipshod evidence, but even he conceded that “a quid pro quo to force the investigation of a political rival in exchange for military aid can be impeachable, if proven.”

So what evidence does Turley want? The evidence being kept hidden by Trump and his cronies, of course.

Calling “the abbreviated period of this investigation” both problematic and puzzling, Mr. Turley said Congress had assembled “a facially incomplete and inadequate record in order to impeach a president.” The evidence has gaps because of “unsubpoenaed witnesses with material evidence,” he argued, and it is wrong to move forward without hearing from them.

To get this evidence, Turley thinks the House must go to the courts to argue for compliance. However long that takes. Even Fox News’s Judge Napalitano said that was bogus.

Napolitano said that the House has power of impeachment which supersedes the president’s executive privilege. … “It doesn’t need to go to a court for approval, it doesn’t need to go to court to get its subpoenas enforced.” Napolitano continued. “When the president receives a subpoena—or in this case, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo receive a subpoena—and they throw it in a drawer, they don’t comply or challenge because the president told them to, that is the act of obstruction.”

CNN National Security and Legal Analyst Susan Hennessey called Turley’s claims “nonsense” and worse.

Charles Pierce pointed out that Turley was singing a different tune when the subject of impeachment was Bill Clinton.

Impeach a president* for shaking down an ally for personal political advantage?

Everybody calm down before something gets broken.

Impeach a president for lying about an affair?

If not, anarchy!

See also:

While the other witnesses laid out the case that Trump abused his power by trying to strong-arm Ukraine into caving to his personal demands while withholding vital military aid and a White House meeting, Turley argued there was no evidence that Trump broke a specific federal statute and that impeaching him would set a dangerous precedent.

But 20 years ago, Turley made the opposite case. At the time, he was one of several GOP legal analysts pushing for President Bill Clinton to be impeached and removed from office.

“If you decide that certain acts do not rise to impeachable offenses, you will expand the space for executive conduct,” Turley testified in 1998 during Clinton’s impeachment hearings. He added that Clinton’s actions didn’t need to break any laws in order to be considered impeachable conduct.

This is the only hearing scheduled for the Judiciary Committee this week.

The Death Gap

There’s always a lot happening these days. Kamala Harris has dropped out of the nomination race. Phone records obtained by the House Intelligence Committee show that Devin Nunes was an active player in the Ukraine scandal.

Nunes in particular has sought to undermine the investigation by alleging that Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the Intelligence Committee chairman, had coordinated or otherwise communicated with an intelligence community whistleblower who initially raised concerns about Trump’s apparent efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating his political foes. But the phone records contained in the committee’s report show that Nunes himself had engaged in his own behind-the-scenes communications with the very people at issue in the whistleblower complaint. Nunes never revealed those communications during the weeks of committee testimony. The congressman has discussed the possibility of suing news outlets, including The Daily Beast, for reporting on his private handling of matters related to Trump’s actions in Ukraine.

So busted.

But now I want to follow up on the last post. Along with all those social disruptions that plague “red” voters, add reduced life expectancy. Paul Krugman writes,

Back in the Bush years I used to encounter people who insisted that the United States had the world’s longest life expectancy. They hadn’t looked at the data, they just assumed that America was No. 1 on everything. Even then it wasn’t true: U.S. life expectancy has been below that of other advanced countries for a long time.

The death gap has, however, widened considerably in recent years as a result of increased mortality among working-age Americans. This rise in mortality has, in turn, been largely a result of rising “deaths of despair”: drug overdoses, suicides and alcohol. And the rise in these deaths has led to declining overall life expectancy for the past few years.

What I haven’t seen emphasized is the divergence in life expectancy within the United States and its close correlation with political orientation.  …

… A 2018 article in The Journal of the American Medical Association looked at changes in health and life expectancy in U.S. states between 1990 and 2016. The divergence among states is striking. And as I said, it’s closely correlated with political orientation.

I looked at states that voted for Donald Trump versus states that voted for Clinton in 2016, and calculated average life expectancy weighted by their 2016 population. In 1990, today’s red and blue states had almost the same life expectancy. Since then, however, life expectancy in Clinton states has risen more or less in line with other advanced countries, compared with almost no gain in Trump country. At this point, blue-state residents can expect to live more than four years longer than their red-state counterparts.

Four years is a pretty big gap. A significant gap, I would say. And that’s a gap that didn’t exist twenty years ago. Back to Krugman:

One thing that’s clear, however, is that the facts are utterly inconsistent with the conservative diagnosis of what ails America.

Conservative figures like William Barr, the attorney general, look at rising mortality in America and attribute it to the collapse of traditional values — a collapse they attribute, in turn, to the evil machinations of “militant secularists.” The secularist assault on traditional values, Barr claims, lies behind “soaring suicide rates,” rising violence and “a deadly drug epidemic.”

But European nations, which are far more secularist than we are, haven’t seen a comparable rise in deaths of despair and an American-style decline in life expectancy. And even within America these evils are concentrated in states that voted for Trump, and have largely bypassed the more secular blue states.

This is symptomatic of something massively wrong, and it isn’t just racism. This population has been racist going back to the dawn of white people, whenever that was. This is someething else.

Republican Moral Values

Sorry I’ve been absent for a while. This is the first day I’ve had since Wednesday that wasn’t completely scheduled. And last Wednesday Thomas Edsall wrote a column I’ve been itching to comment on, and now I can finally do it.

Edsall writes,

When Attorney General William Barr warned in a speech at Notre Dame on Oct. 11 that secular liberalism had unleashed “licentiousness — the unbridled pursuit of personal appetites at the expense of the common good,” there was a glaring incongruity.

How could Barr possibly fail to recognize that there is no better example of a man in unbridled pursuit of his own appetites than his boss?

Barr’s hypocrisy aside, his commentary — “the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has brought with it immense suffering, wreckage and misery. And yet, the forces of secularism, ignoring these tragic results, press on with even greater militancy” — is part of a renewed drive by social conservatives to demonize liberal elites.

Now, we’ve all been hearing this crap for years, right? I remember Pat Buchanan’s “culture war” speech at the 1992 Republican National Convention, which I watched because I was too tired to get up off the sofa and change the channel. Buchanan said then,

 The agenda that Clinton & Clinton would impose on America – abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units – that’s change, all right. But it is not the kind of change America needs. It is not the kind of change America wants. And it is not the kind of change we can abide in a nation that we still call God’s country.

My friends, this election is about more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe, and what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America.

I don’t know where Barr stands on women in combat, but otherwise Barr 2019 and Buchanan 1992 are pretty much on the same page. As near as I can tell from his web site, Buchanan is a Trump supporter now, which is no big surprise.

Edsall goes on to note that the rightie think tank crowd has been cranking out lots of books lately with standard rightie think tank book titles like Straight to Hell: How Liberals are Evil and Destroying America and Want to Eat Your Babies. (That’s not much of an exaggeration.)

Anyway, I take it that these people blame the decline of the influence of organizeed religion (“secularism” in shorthand), the sexual revolution (remember when that was a thing?), feminism, birth control and legal abortion on an “explosion” in the rates of divorce and single parent households, which usually means just mother, no father. And, of course, children who grow up without fathers are doomed to be criminals and layabouts. And speaking of layabouts, how about that welfare state that discourages people from working?

Edsall:

In a 2015 study, Pew, a liberal think tank, reported that the percentage of children under 18 living with two parents in their first marriage fell from 73 percent in 1960 to 46 percent in 2014.

And then there is the fact that it is the well-educated, often secular liberal elites so detested by social conservatives who are reviving the traditional two-parent family, with declining divorce rates and a commitment to combine forces to invest in their children.

Wait, what? Liberal elites are reviving the two-parent family? Yes, indeed. The terrible irony that the Barrs and Buchanans fail to note is that the satanic trends of high divorce rates and out-of-wedlock births that they blame on liberalism has seen the biggest “explosion” in the very demographic group least likely to support liberalism: The white working class. Get this:

December 2015 Pew study found that the probability of a first marriage lasting at least 20 years was 78 percent for a college-educated woman, 49 percent for a woman with some college but no degree and 40 percent for a woman with a high school degree or less.

But note this:

In the 1980s, at the height of the divorce revolution, there was virtually no difference in the divorce rates of women and men by level of education.

Note also that the overall divorce rate has fallen considerably since Pat Buchanan made the culture war speech. This shows us 1990 to 2017.

This article argues that part of the change is the result of millennials marrying later, and making better choices, than we geeezers did back in the day. And this survey from Pew shows that these same millennials score higher on social liberalism and lower on God-believing than the geezers, also. But, as noted above, the less educated you are, the more likely it is you will divorce.

You might remember that back in 2004 the Gee Dubya Bush Administration made a big splash with its “healthy marriage” initiative, in which a ton of money was allocated for “training to help couples develop interpersonal skills that sustain ‘healthy marriages.”’ This desire to prop up marriage followed shortly after the supreme court of Massachusetts ruled that gay couples had a right to marry, so there’s that. But part of the righrtie argument for promoting marriage is that it would reduce poverty; those single, unmarried people tended to be poorer than those who married and stayed married. Married couples are more affluent and financially stable, so, obviously, if poor people got married they also would be more affluent and financially stable.

Of course, as is often the case, the righties mixed up cause and effect. Affluent and financially stable people are much more likely to marry and stay married than those who are not. Poverty is enormously stressful, which makes it hard for the very poor to sustain a relationship. It wasn’t a lack of marriage causing poverty but too much poverty discouraging marriage.

You will not, then, be surprised to learn that the healthy marriage initiative was a dismal failure. Stephanie Mencimer wrote for Mother Jones in 2012,

With congressional Republicans beating the drum about profligate and wasteful government spending, they may want to take a hard look at a federal program pushed by a host of top GOPers during the Bush-era and reauthorized in late 2010, as the Republican deficit craze took hold. Originally championed by Republican lawmakers including Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and current Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a federal initiative to promote marriage as a cure for poverty dumped hundreds of millions of dollars into programs that either had no impact or a negative effect on the relationships of the couples who took part, according to recent research by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

One part of the program offered marriage education classes to unmarried couples with children.

Three years later, researchers reported that the program had produced precisely zero impact on the quality of the couples’ relationships, rates of domestic violence, or the involvement of fathers with their children. In fact, couples in the eight pilot programs around the country actually broke up more frequently than those in a control group who didn’t get the relationship program. The program also prompted a drop in the involvement of fathers and the percentage who provided financial support.

To be fair, it wasn’t all that bleak.

In a few bright spots, married couples who participated in a government-funded relationship class reported being somewhat happier and having slightly warmer relationships with their partners. But the cost of this slight bump in happiness in the Supporting Healthy Marriage program was a whopping $7,000 to $11,500 per couple. Imagine how much happier the couples would have been if they’d just been handed with cash. Indeed, feeling flush might have helped them stay married. After all, the only social program ever to show documented success in impacting the marriage rates of poor people came in 1994, when the state of Minnesota accidentally reduced the divorce rate among poor black women by allowing them to keep some of their welfare benefits when they went to work rather than cutting them off. During the three-year experiment and for a few years afterward, the divorce rate for black women in the state fell 70 percent. The positive effects on kids also continued for several years.

Wait, what? You mean that you can actually help poor families by just giving them money? What would Paul Ryan say?

Thomas Edsall contacted a number of scholars who study social disruptions like exploding divorce rates and what causes them. On the whole, they said the effects of liberal ideology and “secularism” on such disruptions can’t be proved or disproved. What they can measure, however, is the impact of changing social and economic conditions on working class men. One academic said,

My read of the evidence is that the declining economic position of less educated men (both in a relative and absolute sense) has probably been a key driver of the breakdown of the two-parent family among less educated populations for many decades.

Another wrote,

… sharp declines in the availability of middle class jobs for non-college workers (esp. men) — for example, when China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001 and U.S. manufacturing employment fell by 20 percent in seven years — causes exactly these maladies on which these commentators are focused: a drop in labor force participation, a decline in marriage rates, a rise in the fraction of children born out of wedlock, an increase in mother-headed households, a rise in child poverty, and a spike in ‘deaths of despair’ among young adults, particularly men, stemming from drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, and other arguably self-inflicted causes.

There is copious data that an when wages rise and new jobs open up, the rates of out of wedlock births drop considerably. But now that not marrying has become the norm in much of the white working class, the out of wedlock problem may not go away so quickly. Edsall:

In Appalachia four decades ago, “a 10 percent increase in earnings associated with the coal boom led to a 25.5 percent reduction in the nonmarital birthrate.” In contrast, in the sections of the country where fracking boosted the economy, “a 10 percent increase in earnings associated with fracking production led to a 12.4 percent increase in nonmarital births.”

You see the picture. It’s also the case that the researchers pooh-poohed the idea that social safety net programs increased social disruption. Looking worldwide, we can see that countries with the most generous social welfare programs have the least disruptions.

And, again, it’s the white working class — Trump’s people– who are being hit the hardest by the disruptions. Another academic:

Uniquely among major socioeconomic groups, the white working class decreased in absolute numbers and population share in recent decades. At the same time, the five measures of well-being we tracked all deteriorated for the white working class relative to the overall population. The shares of all income earned and wealth owned by the white working class fell even faster than their population share.

Edsall:

Put another way, the white working class — the segment of the population with the weakest ties to, if not outright animosity toward, liberalism, feminism and other liberation movements — has, in recent years, experienced the strongest trends toward social decay.

Or look at it this way: The white working class constituency that would seem to be most immune to the appeal of the cultural left — the very constituency that has moved more decisively than any other to the right — is now succumbing to the centrifugal, even anarchic, forces denounced by Barr and other social conservatives, while more liberal constituencies are moving in the opposite, more socially coherent, rule-following, direction.

I would also like to point out that in the endless argument about whether Trump support in the white working class is caused by racism or economic anxiety, I once again say, both.

But now the culture warriors have mounted what might — I hope — be their last offensive. And they have focused their hopes on a walking cesspool of corruption and ignorance called Donald J. Trump. Trump is to virtue what a black hole is to matter. He is utterly lacking in any redeeming qualities. And the culture warriors like Barr are reduced to lying, scheming, and probably commiting impeachable acts themselves to protect Trump’s position. And they see themselves as pure and noble knights trying to save civilization of the threat of liberalism.

The capacity of humans to self-bullshit knows no limits.

The Further Adventures of Rudy

This just in — Giuliani was in talks to be paid by Ukraine’s top prosecutor as they together sought damaging information on Democrats.

President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudolph W. Giuliani, negotiated earlier this year to represent Ukraine’s top prosecutor for at least $200,000 during the same months that Giuliani was working with the prosecutor to dig up dirt on vice president Joe Biden, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The people said that Giuliani began negotiations with Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Yuri Lutsenko, about a possible agreement in February. In the agreement, Giuliani’s company would receive payment to represent Lutsenko as the Ukrainian sought to recover assets he believed had been stolen from the government in Kyiv, those familiar with the discussions said.

The talks occurred as Giuliani met with Lutsenko in New York in January and then in Warsaw in February while he was also gathering information from Lutsenko on two topics Giuliani believed could prove useful to Trump: the involvement of Biden, and his son, Hunter, in Ukraine and allegations that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 election.

The deal was drawn up but never finalized. Paul Waldman asks,

Why would Giuliani be simultaneously pursuing what former national security official Fiona Hill called a “domestic political errand” on Trump’s behalf — pressuring Ukraine to announce an investigation that would smear Joe Biden — while simultaneously looking to cash in himself?

The answer is, why wouldn’t he? It’s the Trump way. Josh Marshall:

If that’s not enough Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, who were later hooked up for more than a million in legal fees from Dmitry Firtash, were also going to get put on retainer for hundreds of thousands.

If the names Joe DiGenova and Victoria Toensing look familiar — the married couple and law firm partners were active in the investigations into Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky, and they also were active in the right-wing smearing of Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame back in the day. More recently they were all over right-wing media pushing nutty stories about the alleged Benghazi scandal. They are long-time Republican dirty tricks operators, in other words. See Toensing and DiGenova Were Deeply Involved in Giuliani’s Extortion Racket by Nancy LeTourneau at Washington Monthly.

Back to Josh Marshall:

It’s one more piece of a larger story which has already become fairly clear: Giuliani running private diplomacy for the President’s financial and political interests and charging virtually everyone whose path he crossed fees for access to the President and the power Giuliani seemed to have over US policy. The work for the prosecutor’s office would have been nominally for reclaiming looted assets for Ukraine. But given Giuliani’s MO this is likely more properly seen as cover for either protection money or payment for access or at best using access to achieve these ends by access to Trump. Giuliani tried to get one Turkish client out of legal trouble by trying to arrange a diplomatic exchange. So extra-legal assistance made possible by his access to Trump.

Zoom out and you have a broad access scheme in which Giuliani uses his status as the President’s personal lawyer (for which he apparently charges nothing) to charge fees to a international cast of oligarchs, mobsters and crooked politicians for access to the President. All the while US foreign policy becomes a mix of the President’s personal interests and the angles of whoever happens to be paying Giuliani the most at that moment.

Yeah, who is paying Giuliani at the moment? Is it possible Trump expected him to self-finance all this traveling overseas on Trump’s behalf? The oligarchs on the edges of this case have been paying Rudy and DiGenova/Toensing pretty handsomely. For example,

In the case of Mr. [Dmitry] Firtash, an energy tycoon with deep ties to the Kremlin who is facing extradition to the United States on bribery and racketeering charges, one of Mr. Giuliani’s associates has described offering the oligarch help with his Justice Department problems — if Mr. Firtash hired two lawyers who were close to President Trump and were already working with Mr. Giuliani on his dirt-digging mission. Mr. Firtash said the offer was made in late June when he met with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, both Soviet-born businessmen involved in Mr. Giuliani’s Ukraine pursuit.

Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, confirmed that account and added that his client had met with Mr. Firtash at Mr. Giuliani’s direction and encouraged the oligarch to help in the hunt for compromising information “as part of any potential resolution to his extradition matter.”

Mr. Firtash’s relationship to the Trump-allied lawyers — Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova — has led to intense speculation that he is, at least indirectly, helping to finance Mr. Giuliani’s campaign. But until now he has stayed silent, and many of the details of how and why he came to hire the lawyers have remained murky.

In the interview, Mr. Firtash said he had no information about the Bidens and had not financed the search for it. “Without my will and desire,” he said, “I was sucked into this internal U.S. fight.” But to help his legal case, he said, he had paid his new lawyers $1.2 million to date, with a portion set aside as something of a referral fee for Mr. Parnas.

If you watch Rachel Maddow even once in a while, the name “Firtash” ought to be familiar. She brings up the name a lot in her soliloquies. See Robert Mackey/The Intercept, Is a Ukrainian Oligarch Helping Trump Smear Biden to Evade U.S. Corruption Charges? and Dan Friedman/Mother Jones, How an Indicted Oligarch Became a Key Player in Trump’s Ukraine Scandal.

So, while the basic Trump-Ukraine scandal may be relatively simple by itself, it is a piece of a much bigger and more complex pattern of corruption and self-dealing surrounding Trump.

But back to Rudy. Let us remember there is all kinds of credible testiomony that Trump directed his aides and others to go through Rudy Giuliani in dealing with Ukraine. Giuliani came up a lot in the infamous July 25 phone call “transcript” that Trump wants everyone to read, such as this bit, spoken by Trump:

Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York City, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney Geneeral. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great.

This was after a section in which President Zelensky reassured Trump that an aide had already spoken to Rudy Guiliani and that he and his staff were looking forward to meeting him. So we’re well past the point at which Trump can credibly claim he wasn’t directing Rudy to do something concerning Ukraine. And in the context of the transcript it’s obvious part of that something was an investigation of the Bidens.

But of course, that’s what Trump did.

President Donald Trump has now denied that he directed his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani to go to Ukraine and seek out investigations on his behalf, contradicting his own words to the Ukrainian President in the White House-released transcript of the July 25 call.

Trump also contradicted sworn testimony from members of his administration and claims from his own White House acting chief of staff.

Ahead of a Tuesday night rally in Florida, Trump was asked by conservative radio host Bill O’Reilly if the President directed Giuliani’s involvement in Ukraine.

“No,” the President said, before launching into a tangent of flattering Giuliani’s credentials, calling him “a great corruption fighter” and “the greatest mayor” of New York City.

We also now have reports that Trump was briefed on the whistleblower complaint in late August, before he ordered the release of the militayr aide. For a recap of the story thus far, I turn to Charles Pierce:

Now we have the whole thing. The president* used military aid money already appropriated by Congress to shakedown the government of Ukraine, an ally, in order to get Ukraine to help him ratfck one of his prospective opponents in the 2020 presidential election. As last week’s testimony confirmed, everyone in this massive loop knew this at the time. Then someone, and we still don’t know who, took a complaint to the intelligence community’s inspector general. This was at the end of July. And, by August, they had briefed the president*, who, having been caught borscht-handed, released the aid in early September. Every episode in that chronicle is an impeachable offense, and the entire timeline is one very big one.

Remember what Rep. Adam Schiff said last week, when the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee tried to argue that nothing untoward had happened because the president* eventually released the aid?

“My Republican colleagues, all they seem to be upset about with this is not that the president sought an investigation of his political rival, not that he withheld a White House meeting and $400 million in aid we all passed in a bipartisan basis to pressure Ukraine to do those investigations. Their objection is that he got caught. Their objection is that someone blew the whistle, and they would like this whistleblower identified, and the president wants this whistleblower punished. That’s their objection. Not that the president engaged in this conduct, but that he got caught.”

Now, even that most threadbare irrelevancy is denied to all but the most fervent members of the cult. The president* released the aid because his lawyers told him he’d been caught. On this matter, at least, the case is airtight, and there is no daylight to be found. The president*, among others, is stone busted. That may matter. It may not. But anyone arguing for the defense on the Ukraine matter is bound to look like even more of an idiot than they already do, and those people look like the succulent, ripe fruit of the Stupid Tree already. That’s something, anyway.

Not that any of this will stop Republicans from covering Trump’s ass.

About Mike Bloomberg

I am annoyed with Mike Bloomberg for thinking he is Chosen to save us from Donald Trump, or worse (in his mind) Bernie Sanders or Liz Warren. Not that I think his candidacy is going to go anywhere. He’s currently at 1 percent in the latest Emerson College poll, and I understand his plan is to skip the four early primaries and aim for a big delegate haul on Super Tuesday (March 3).

The Super Tuesday states next year are  Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, and Democrats abroad. So it’s not mostly southern states this time, but … seriously, Mike Boomberg?

He’s spending $30 million to run television ads this week. I’m seeing his ads on the St. Louis stations; the Missouri and Illinois primaries are later in March. It’s not a bad ad:

Much of this ad is about his tenure as mayor of New York City, from 2001 to 2013. The part about providing affordable housing in New York City jumped out at me, as I have personal experience with not finding affordable housing in New York City. So I checked this out and found that the “affordable” housing he pushed for wasn’t all that affordable.

Bloomberg claims to have built or preserved 165,000 affordable housing units while in office – the largest programme “in the city’s long history”, his website says.

“We’ve been astoundedly impressed by the commitment and energy that’s gone into the affordable housing production,” said Benjamin Dulchin, executive director at the New York-based Association for Neighborhood and Housing Development (ANHD). “But also disturbed by the problems with it. Much of the housing that was built isn’t actually affordable to the local community.”

According to ANHD, (pdf) only a third of those 165,000 units were affordable to a family earning less than half the median income in the neighbourhood where the housing was built.

See also:

Bloomberg’s administration poured money into redeveloping Manhattan’s far west side, backing a $2.4bn extension of a subway line to carry passengers to projects such as Hudson Yards and Manhattan West, which will take years to complete but will eventually see once-neglected areas turned into developments for businesses and luxury apartments.

The change has been striking, and many areas have undoubtedly been cleaned up and made more desirable. But that has not always been good news for people living in the city.

The reality of New York in 2013 is that 31% of its residents are classified as “severely burdened” by rent – that is, they spend more than 50% of their income simply on having somewhere to live.

The number of people with a severe rent burden has increased under Bloomberg’s reign, with NYU’s Furman Center reporting that, as the median gross rent in the city increased 10% between 2005 and 2011, the median household income fell.

This also:

At the beginning of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s second term, homelessness in his city was at an all-time high: Nearly 40,000 New Yorkers were without homes, which was astronomical considering the city’s homeless population had never reached 30,000 before Bloomberg took office. In response, he laid out an ambitious five-year plan to reduce homelessness by two-thirds.

Eight years later, 48,694 people were homeless, according to the New York City Department of Homeless Services.

And the moral is, if you are a poor person and Mike Bloomberg offers to help you, run like hell. This Gotham Gazette article provides a good analysis of what Bloomberg got wrong. In brief, he’s a free-market guy who thought that tossing a few incentives at the real estate industry would fix everything.

And the moral to that is that the free market is the problem, and fixing the problem is going to take a major systemic ovehaul.

Bloomberg is also associated with the infamous “stop and frisk” policy. Elie Mystal (executive editor of Above the Law and a contributing writer for The Nation) calls Bloomberg the “poster child for the unconstitutional harassment of black and brown bodies.” That he went to a black church in Harlem and apologized shortly before beginning his campaign is not going to fool anybody, I don’t think. Mystal also said that for Bloomberg to ask for votes from racial minorities “is like the scorpion asking to be king of the frogs.” I would like to think that institutional Democrats are finally getting a clue that they can’t take the black and brown vote for granted any more. A Bloomberg nomination would set back the whole party.

Also, too:

Even though campaign cash may not be an issue, his centrist policy positions on key issues like criminal justice and financial regulation, allegations of sexist remarks and a #MeToo blind spot, and his status as a self-funding billionaire could narrow his path to the nomination. And being a 77-year-old wealthy white man won’t help differentiate himself from a group of fellow white septuagenarians leading the 2020 pack.

“For too long the people at the top of the Democratic Party have been wealthier, whiter, more male, and more conservative than the base of the Democratic Party which looks a lot more like [Rep.] Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez,” Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, told Insider earlier this year.

Mike has his authoritarian streak, exhibited with his eviction of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators. I was not a big fan of the Occupiers, as I found them to be mostly pretentious, but this was utterly unnecessary:

Early Tuesday morning, New York police raided and evicted the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zucotti Park in southern Manhattan. The behavior of the NYPD and the mayor’s office, in ordering this brazen action while blocking the press and the public from reporting on the eviction, is a disgraceful display of unnecessary force on a protest that for the most part has behaved lawfully and respectfully throughout its two-month existence.

The last time the police planned to clear the park, they had announced the eviction ahead of time and gave people and press time to flood in. This time, the NYPD, clearly intent on avoiding as much scrutiny as possible, made no such “mistake.” According to reporter accounts on news Web sites and on Twitter, at around 1:00 a.m., police moved swiftly to isolate Zucotti from the outside world. The NYPD closed subway stops and streets around the park, and set up barricades to prevent people from joining the protest. Once inside the park, the police tore up the tents, and apparently ruined the belongings of the protesters who had turned the park into a makeshift city over the last two months. (Among other ruined items were 5000 books from the park’s library, the protesters’ Twitter feed points out.) Those who resisted were met with batons and pepper spray, reports Mother Jones’s Josh Harkinson; among others, New York City Council member Ydanis Rodriguez was arrested and bleeding from the head, according to another council member. Protesters were to be allowed back into the park, but the NYPD insisted they’d have to make do without tents, tarps or any other equipment essential to the occupation.

Bloomberg’s brazenness has only increased during the morning. At 6:30 a.m., Judge Lucy Billings issued an injunction “requiring the protesters to be readmitted to Zuccotti Park with their tents,” but Bloomberg has ignored the court order and kept the park closed. Protesters have marched to Zucotti Park, but are being barred from entrance despite displaying that court order to the police on site. At this time, the mayor’s office has not explained why it is ignoring the court order.

Conor Friedersdorf, Here’s What Should Disqualify Michael Bloomberg:

Under Bloomberg, arrests rose steeply in New York City for marijuana possession. The city regulated trans fats, and barred the philanthropic donation of fresh bagels and other foodstuffs to the needy in homeless shelters because the salt, fat, and fiber content could not be assessed by city bureaucrats.

When anti-war protesters wanted to assemble against the impending invasion of Iraq in 2003, New York City, “citing only vague security concerns, refused to grant a permit to march, allowing only a stationary rally and cramming attendees into a narrow penned area,” CityLab recounts. “Hundreds of thousands of protesters were unable to get within earshot.”

I attended that protest; it was worse than this article describes. The crush of bodies in the penned cite was such that it was nearly impossible to move. My son and I decided to leave early, and it took us about an hour to get to a cafe about a half block away.  That much crowding is dangerous. People get trampled to death if anything frightening happens.

And “for at least a year before the 2004 Republican National Convention,” The New York Times later reported, “teams of undercover New York City police officers traveled to cities across the country, Canada and Europe to conduct covert observations of people who planned to protest at the convention, according to police records and interviews.”

Bloomberg favors the use of forcible seizure of private property by the government not only to build vital public infrastructure, but also to facilitate private development deals.

And do on. So, while Bloomberg initiated some redevelopment of the city and is a staunch supporter of gun control, I really, really hope he’s not the nominee. But I am not too worried he will be. Mike is not known for his charm, and he doesn’t have a folksy bone in his body. He’s also very short, which I noticed when he ran into me, literally, at some political gathering I attended back in the aughts. And he sure as hell isn’t going to get the racial minority or progressive vote.

See also The incredible wastefulness of Mike Bloomberg.

FILE PHOTO: Former Mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg speaks in the Manhattan borough of New York, New York, U.S., May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo – RC2BBD9AQ9A4

Giuliani, Pompeo, Nunes, et alia: Busted

Guiliani already was pretty much busted, but now he’s even more busted, with Pompeo. From Vox:

A tranche of State Department documents obtained by the advocacy group American Oversight suggest Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani discussed US-Ukraine policy as early as March 2019, further tying Pompeo to the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

The documents — obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request — lay out Giuliani’s efforts to establish direct contact with Pompeo. They alsoseem to support the public testimony of US Ambassador to the EU Gordon Sondland, who told lawmakers Wednesday “everyone was in the loop” when it came to Trump’s campaign to pressure Ukraine into investigating the Biden family.

The nearly 100 pages of new documents could point to the beginning of that involvement for Pompeo, who has worked to distance himself from the pressure campaign.

Pompeo is seriously thinking about resigning as SecState to run for a Senate seat. Or maybe to spend more time with his family.

These March conversations seem to have paved the way to a key role for Giuliani in official US-Ukraine policy. Sondland’s testimony suggested that over time, Pompeo began to direct his officials with concerns about US-Ukraine relations to speak not with him, but with Trump’s personal lawyer.

“Even as late as September 24, Secretary Pompeo was directing [former US special representative to Ukraine] Kurt Volker to speak with Rudy Giuliani,” Sondland told lawmakers Wednesday. “In a WhatsApp message, Kurt Volker told me in part: ‘Spoke w Rudy per guidance from S.’” (S is shorthand among State Department officials for the secretary of state.)

All of this suggests Pompeo was made aware of Giuliani’s agenda in Ukraine from the lawyer himself, and that he knew and understood how key Giuliani was to the president’s desires for the investigations. Sondland’s testimony already made it difficult for the secretary of state to claim he didn’t know about the pressure campaign or the efforts to oust Yovanovitch. The documents obtained by American Oversight make this even more difficult for Pompeo to do.

And what more can we say about Devin Nunes, who is as deeply implicated in this scandal as anybody else? I want the House intelligence committee to demand that HE testify. Adam Schiff should nail his ass.

From CNN:

A lawyer for an indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani told CNN that his client is willing to tell Congress about meetings the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee had in Vienna last year with a former Ukrainian prosecutor to discuss digging up dirt on Joe Biden.

The attorney, Joseph A. Bondy, represents Lev Parnas, the recently indicted Soviet-born American who worked with Giuliani to push claims of Democratic corruption in Ukraine. Bondy said that Parnas was told directly by the former Ukrainian official that he met last year in Vienna with Rep. Devin Nunes.

“Mr. Parnas learned from former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Victor Shokin that Nunes had met with Shokin in Vienna last December,” said Bondy.

Shokin was ousted from his position in 2016 after pressure from Western leaders, including then-vice president Biden, over concerns that Shokin was not pursuing corruption cases.

Do we want to review some of Nunes’s other, um, projects? Most recently we learned of a Nunes staffer named  Kashyap Patel who went to work in the White House and passed himself off as Trump’s Ukraine expert. I wrote on Halloween

It turns out that an entirely different person had been briefing Trump on Ukraine, and Trump was under the impression that person was his “top Ukrainian expert.” Lt. Col Vindman had not been allowed to brief the “president” on anything, even though he was the real expert on Ukraine and the other guy is not known to have any expertise on Ukraine at all. The other guy, Kashyap Patel, was a longtime staffer of Rep. Devin Nunes who joined the White House staff in February; in what capacity no one seems to know.

Apparently this guy Patel has been feeding Trump wackjob conspiracy theories rather than actual intelligence on Ukraine. Worse, nobody in the White House had the guts to go in and explain to Trump that Patel doesn’t know Ukraine from ukuleles and that his real Ukraine adviser was Lt. Col. Vindman.

I want to know more about how that came about.

Nunes has been at the forefront of covering Trump’s butt regarding the Trump-Russia investigation from the beginning, when Nunes was on the Trump transition team.

As head of the House Intelligence Committee (until this year), Nunes was in a position to put the brakes on investigations, and he did his best. And this happened in 2017:

At least three senior White House officials, including the top lawyer for the National Security Council, were involved in the handling of intelligence files that were shared with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and showed that Trump campaign officials were swept up in U.S. surveillance of foreign nationals, according to U.S. officials.

The White House role in the matter contradicts assertions by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and adds to mounting concerns that the Trump administration is collaborating with the leader of the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

And you might remember the Nunes Memo. Here is the Mahablog Nunes Memo archives, if you need a refresher. In short, Nunes has been part of this scheme since the Trump transition in 2016.

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif, ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee questions former special counsel Robert Mueller as he testifies before the House Intelligence Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)