July 19, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v96)

Remember all those times president Trump told us we needed to come together?  

Here's one example, from his victory speech back in November:
Now it's time for America to bind the wounds of division - have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one unified people.
I've heard similar from friends, acquaintances, and total strangers on social media posts, typically including sentences referencing one or more of these sentiments:
We need to come together behind the president... Whether he was our guy or not, we need to get behind him and support him... We need to put aside our differences for the good of the country... He wants to unify everyone... Stop being so divisive... Everyone will be fine, no one has anything to fear... We need to unify...
Personally, I haven't seen a lot from the president or any of his supporters that shows he's really trying to bring us together. Do you wonder, is it my dislike for him that prevents me from seeing it, or is it really that he's not showing it?

I mean, take a look at proclamations he made just for the month of June.

There was the announcement of National Homeownership Month:
...I am committed to helping hard-working Americans become homeowners. As part of my administration's plan to strengthen the middle class and the American housing marker, I am working with Congress on a pro-growth agenda of reducing rules and regulations, cutting taxes, and eliminating unnecessary government spending. These policies will unshackle our economy and create and sustain high-paying jobs so that more Americans have the resources and freedom they deserve to fulfill their American Dream.

And there was the announcement of National Ocean Month:
...Thirty-four years ago, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed the creation of the US Exclusive Economic Zone, making clear America's sovereign right to explore, exploit, conserve and manage ocean resources extending 200 nautical miles from our shores. This is the world's largest Exclusive Economic Zone, spanning more than 3.r million square nautical miles, an area larger than the combined landmass of all 50 states. We must recognize the importance of our offshore areas to our security and economic independence, all the while protecting the marine environment for present and future generations.
 And there was National African-American Music Appreciation Month:
...The contributions of (Chuck) Berry, (Dizzie) Gillespie, (Ella) Fitzgerald, and other African-American musicians shine as examples of how music can bring us together. These musicians also remind us of our humanity and our power to overcome. They expressed the soul of blues, gospel and rock and roll, which has so often captured the hardships of racism and injustices suffered by African Americans, as well as daily joys and celebrations. Their work highlights the power music has to channel the human experience, and they remain a testament to the resilience of all freedom-loving people. We are grateful for their contributions to the canon of great American art. 
There was National Caribbean-American Heritage Month:
...Throughout our history, Caribbean Americans have helped create and maintain the strength and independence of our Nation. Alexander Hamilton, who came from poverty in Nevis, was a key contributor to our Constitution and the first Secretary of the Treasury, helping to establish our modern financial system and to create the United States Coast Guard.  Every day, Caribbean Americans help make America more prosperous and secure. Our Nation is particularly grateful to the many Caribbean Americans who have served and are currently serving in our Armed Forces. Today, more than four million Caribbean Americans live in the United State and contribute to a vibrant culture that enriches our Nation.
Finally, there was Great Outdoors Month:
...Whether your great outdoors means a community park, a state reservoir, a national forest, or a backyard campout, we must cherish our outdoor spaces and work to preserve them for generations. This is why, as president, I am working to bring leaders throughout the country together to improve management of our vitally important public lands, especially through public-private partnerships to help clear the backlog of deferred maintenance. 
Presumably, the proclamations he made were worthy, even for a president who seems dead-set on tapping "public-private partnerships" to get every last drop of oil, fume of natural gas, and ounce of minerals out of our public lands, both onshore and off.

But I wonder, how is he bringing everyone together, when he told us how he'd be "better for the gays" and then ignores Pride Month?

And I wonder, how is he bringing us together, and honoring the heritage of African Americans "more and more" by refusing to speak to the NAACP again this year?

July 18, 2017

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch

The Senate Republicans lost their health care battle once Monday night when two senators became four. in opposition to the 'repeal and replace' plan. And they lost their health care battle again earlier today when, looking at a 'repeal only' bill, three defected.

President Trump couldn't bring them around, in part because he couldn't bring himself to talk about it with people who were on the fence and looking to be convinced,  and because he was more interested in talking about his trip to France and the parade he got to see, and, for all we know, the hot first lady of our oldest ally. VP Pence couldn't bring them around either, n part because the governors he met with didn't believe what he was selling, and because he slammed one of their own, John Kasich, a many whom many wish was the Republican nominee..

Mitch McConnell couldn't bring his own party to heel, either because the bill was not conservative enough for the conservatives, or not moderate enough for the moderates, or not Republican enough or the rest of the folks were were just happy to not have to be the vote that screwed things up.  Heck, even having disabled protesters didn't do enough to rally the gang.

So, who is to blame?  Let's ask the president!

So there you have it: Congressional rules. Democrats. Republicans. Governors. Mike Pence...

Maybe now that we've got the blame all allocated, we can get everyone sitting at the table to see if they can make some changes in the bill that will improve it.

July 16, 2017

Sunday School 7/16/2017

Today, let's spend some time learning about Mitch McConnell's plan to sort of repeal and kind of replace the Affordable Care Act.

It's important to note that the vote we expected this week on the A Better Care plan (easy as ABC, 123 do-re-mi baby) has been
deferred because of a health care issue involving that "loser for being captured" Senator John McCain.  The octogenarian Republican from Arizona had a blood clot removed from above his left eye, and will be recuperating at home rather than travelling to DC this week.

Because we know of two senators who are definite 'no' votes on McConnell's bill, there will be no vote at all unless the other 50 yes votes or noncommittal senators are not present and accounted for, and unless VP Mike Pence is available to break the tie as everyone expects, at least right now, will happen.

One of those two no votes is Kentucky's Rand Paul, who visited with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. Wallace wasted no time with this interview.
CW: Senator, let's start with the bottom line. Whenever it comes up, whenever Senator McCain is in good health and comes back, does ...McConnell have the votes to pass this revised bill?
RP: You know, I don't think right now he does. And the -- the real problem we have is, you know, we won four elections on repealing ObamaCare, but this bill keeps most of the ObamaCare taxes, keeps most of the regulations, keeps most of the subsidies and creates something that Republicans have never been before, and that's a giant insurance bailout superfund. That's not a Republican idea to give private money to a private industry that already makes $15B in profit.  
CW: So if this bill does not pass, what happens?
RP: Well, you know, what I've suggested to the president... and I've told him, I think we can still -- if -- you know, if this comes to an impasse, I think the president comes - jumps into the fray and says, look, guys, you promised to repeal it, let's just repeal what we can agree to and then we can continue to try and fix, replace, or whatever has to happen afterwards. 
But one thing we should to is try to repeal as many of the taxes, as many of the regulations, and as many of the mandates as we possibly can. I still think the entire 52 of us could get together on a more narrow, clean repeal, and I think it still can be done. 
Wallace wondered if Senator Paul experience a 'change of heart.'
... back in January you said that you had told the president, and he agreed with you, that you needed to repeal and replace at the same time?
Paul believes that his ideas to replace can actually be part of the repeal, so there was no change of heart.
...my definition of replace is lot different than some of the big government Republicans. My ideal always was to replace it with freedom, legalize choice, legalize inexpensive insurance, allow people to join associations to buy their insurance. I'm still for all of those... most of the ideas I've had on letting people join groups to buy their insurance you know, letting the plumber and his wife join a large group like the chamber of commerce, those ideas are actually welcomed by virtually every Republican. That passed in the House...unanimously.
In response to other questions, Paul notes:

  • the 'fundamental flaw" - mandates  - leads to adverse selection, also called a 'death spiral', and the Republican plan will continue it and subsidize it. 
  • Medicaid reform - at least some of it, anyway - is good. He makes the case that slowing the growth of Medicaid, which he says McConnell's plan does, is not the same thing as cutting Medicaid, which is what Wallace said it does. He supports the proposed limited block grants vs. unlimited Medicaid funding, which is what he sees with Obamacare.
  • there's an inherent issue with making a 10-year plan, because things will get done in the early years of the deal, but by the time the hard stuff come up, it could be a completely different Congress, and things don't always get done they way they were intended.
  • they could do two bills simultaneously - a repeal bill, and a spending bill, which Democrats and moderate Republicans could both support, getting them to 60 votes on the spending bill (the repeal bill would still be considered a budget bill needing only 51 votes).
In the end, Medicaid reform is not enough for him to support the bill.
But the bottom line is, I'm not willing to trade Medicaid reform for an insurance company bailout, an insurance company entitlement. They call it a temporary stabilization fund of nearly $200B. It's never going away because they do not fix the death spiral of ObamaCare. The death spiral of ObamaCare will remain with the Republican plan. And that's (why) I just can't support it as it's written.
The panel doesn't seem to like the bill all that much either -- I think the best that anyone said was that it was a first step in the journey to repeal, not the final step.

One last note - in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll released today, respondents prefer Obamacare over McConnellCare by a 2-to-1 margin.

See you around campus.

July 13, 2017

A Political Solution for a Political Problem

In yesterday's Wondering on Wednesday post, I mentioned that a California legislator had submitted an article of impeachment against president Trump.  And, I quoted (in a second-hand way) Gerald Ford, who said that "an impeachable offense is whatever the majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history."

I'm not alone in thinking that there be some consistent definition of what's impeachable, or that there might be something in our voluminous criminal code that would make this less a 'flavor of the day' kind of thing, right?

Well, not so fast. This morning, one of my news feeds directed me to an article by Andrew McCarthy, who's a senior fellow at the National Review Institute - meaning, he's a conservative, not a liberal. The article on The National Review's website directs me to "Look to the Constitution, not the statute books."

McCarthy notes that there are two sides to this argument. Well, three actually.
The tepid-on-Trump camp is aghast at revelations of the extent and nature of the Trump clan’s ties to a murderous anti-American regime — and, speaking only for myself, humbled by analysts who were more troubled by the circumstantial evidence in the absence of smoking guns.
Trump fans, to the contrary, are doing the full Clinton: doubling down on the absurd insistence that Trump-Russia is a big ol’ “nothingburger.” “Look at the U.S. penal code,” they scoff, defying outraged Americans to identify a single criminal-law violation that has been established. There is no crime, they maintain, in colluding with the Russian government to collect and broadcast damaging information about an opposition American candidate.
On the Left, meanwhile, are the legal beagles. They are busily squirreling through the law books and straining their creative brains to come up with an offense — some novel prosecution theory under which the Trump-Russia facts can be pigeonholed into a campaign-law violation, a computer-fraud crime, or maybe even misprision of a felony (i.e., a failure to report one).
One side is mulishly determined not to see outrageous misconduct. The other side is inadvertently trivializing it.
The thing is, he tells us, it's not about criminal conduct - that's not what our founding fathers were concerned about.
Nothing caused the Framers greater anxiety than the new office they were creating, the presidency of the United States. They were rightly convinced of the need in a dangerous world for an energetic executive able to act swiftly and decisively in times of crisis. But... they were equally worried that the enormous powers attendant to the office could be abused, that they could fall into the hands of an unfit incumbent, or that they could come under the influence of foreign powers. 
(Which, of course, is why we're spending so much time talking about and thinking about and stewing about the many ethically-challenged and questionable actions of Trump's inner circle.)

As McCarthy explains things, how we handle impeachment - including that it could in fact be subject to the flavor of the day in the House - makes sense.
The standard for impeachment, the commission of "high crimes and misdemeanors," is not concerned with criminal offenses found in the penal statute books and suitable for courtroom prosecution. It relates instead to the president's high fiduciary duty to the American people and allegiance to our system of government.
And, this position is supported by none other than Broadway's favorite Founding rapper, Alexander Hamilton. In Federalist 65, McCarthy tells us Hamilton says that impeachable offenses 
...proceed from the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.
That's why ethics matter, and telling the truth matters, and messing around with a foreign country matters. Fitness for office matters. 

Impeachment was designed to be hard, and it was designed as a political solution to a political problem, not a criminal solution to a criminal - or political - problem. 

I want to mention that McCarthy's article is interesting not only for its look at how impeachment was designed to work, but for how it actually works, in practice. He references some less than flattering stuff about not only Trump and the gang, but also Obama and the gang. 

It's a good read, for a variety of reasons. 

July 12, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v95)

We'll get right to it tonight.

I wonder if there's anyone out there who actually believes that Donny Trump didn't tell his daddy in advance about the meeting with the Russians who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton, and didn't tell him after the meeting that there was nothing to be gained?

I wonder if there's a legitimate reason, other than "well, better her than her father," for Ivanka to sit in on the G20 meeting in her father's place?  "Angela M" approves, I read, just meant that delegations can choose who gets to sit in the meetings, not necessarily that she approved of Ivanka being there.

And on a related note, I wonder if anyone thinks Chelsea Clinton could have given a better response than she did to Trump's tweet. Here's that exchange.

I saw that Bernie Sanders is not ruling out a run in 2020. Anyone else wondering if that's the silliest thing they've heard today? And I wonder, if he does in fact run, will he pretend to be a Democrat again or will he have the courage to run as who he is?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has let us know that law-making is more important that vacationing, and he plans on keeping the Senate in DC instead of starting the August recess on time. In making his announcement, he blamed the Democrats - no wonder there, right? After all, when you can't get your own party in line to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, with no Dems invited to participate, you need something else to blame for inaction. So, hit the opposition for being oppositional on Trump nominations...  Makes sense.

And finally, Brad Sherman, a Democrat from California (natch) has submitted an article of impeachment against the president, for obstruction and for 'impulsive incompetence' or something. And it seems that incompetence may be considered an impeachable offence, according to Charles L Black, a Yale Law School professor.
The political nature of impeachment is consistent with the constitutional framers' decision to entrust the impeachment process to the legislature rather than the courts. As Gerald Ford famously noted in reference to efforts to impeach Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in 1970, "an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history."
I wonder, how long before we have any outcome from any investigation, and whether any of those outcomes will include any obstruction?  We can argue the incompetence issue until we're blue in the face, but I don't anticipate there being any serious movement towards impeachment, even on the part of the Dems, unless and until there's some 'there' there.

Anyone think differently on that?

July 11, 2017

Oops They Did it Again

As Ronald Reagan, the all-time most favoritest Republican ever in the world of Republicans was known to say a time or to, "there you go again."  And there they go again, those pesky Republicans.

One would be forgiven for having thought that the Rs would have learned something when the mother of Ambassador Chris Stevens hammered them for using the name of her son for their own purposes. Here's an excerpt from my post last year after the conventions.

"My feelings on this were to some degree validated, if that's the right word, when I saw that Ambassador Chris Stevens' mother had some advice for the Republicans, published in the NY Times. 
As Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens's mother, I am writing to object to any mention of his name and death in Benghazi, Libya, by Donald Trump's campaign and the Republican Party.  I know for certain that Chris would not have wanted his name or memory used in that connection. I hope that there will be a permanent stop to this opportunistic and cynical use by the campaign. "
And yet we find ourselves not even a full year later, and the Republicans are again exploiting the death of someone's child for their own purposes.
I don't know who coined 'Kate's Law.' It certainly wasn't us.
Those words, we're told, come from Jim Steinle, whose daughter Kate was killed by a felon-seven-times-over, five-time-deportee while Kate and her father were out walking on the San Francisco waterfront back in July 2015. The man accused of her killing had been released from jail, without notification to federal authorities, by Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, who had an 'absolutist' interpretation of San Francisco's sanctuary city law.

Then-candidate Donald Trump frequently mentioned Kate on the campaign trail, as part of his harsh stance on sanctuary cities, and in support of his 'they're sending us criminals' rhetoric leading up to the plan to build a wall on our southern border.

The Steinles have every right to be angry, or bitter, or determined, or anything else they want to be, as they pursue whatever recourse is available to them.  Similarly, politicians have every right to try and come up with legislation that helps advance a cause - their own, or one that has the support of the family that suffered the loss.

That last part is critical - pushing an agenda by attaching a name to it, or enacting legislation with a name attached to it, is sensitive under the best of circumstances - but in both of these situations, the 'naming' should only be done with the support of the victim's family.  The Brady Bill comes to mind as an example of where family support and political agenda came together well.

In the case of Chris Stevens, clearly his family does not support the blatant politicization of his name and the exploitation of his death, to advance an agenda that he would not have wanted.

Related legislation passed by the House at the same time as Kate's law was passed included Grant's law, named in honor of Grant Ronnebeck, a store clerk killed by a person released by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) even though he had previously been charged with a felony. His family supports the legislation and it being named to honor their son. Sarah's Law was named for Sarah Root, an Iowa woman, just graduated from college, who was killed by an illegal immigrant drunk driver who was subsequently released on bond and who is now on the ICE ten most wanted list. The Root family actively lobbied for legislation named for their daughter.

In the Steinle's case though, while they support the law Republicans have named after their daughter, they don't support her name being attached to the legislation.
Her family members do not want her name to be in the center of a political controversy. They want room to grieve, and to reflect on and honor her life in their own ways. 
Not only that, but they don't hold the same view of sanctuary cities that Trump and other Republicans hold.
They recognize the value of allowing otherwise law-abiding immigrants to report crimes or go to a hospital without fear of deportation.
It would seem the Republicans learned nothing from Chris Stevens' mother. Perhaps they will now learn something from the Steinles - especially since they got the legislation they wanted.
Jim Steinle made plain that he has no interest in doing further interviews, or otherwise seeing his daughter's name raised by either side in such a charged and often vitriolic debate.
"You just hope it ends someday. I don't know when."
Perhaps now would be a good time?

July 9, 2017

Sunday School 7/9/2017

Given the options for this visiting classrooms this morning, I decided to stop in and see what was going on at Face the Nation on CBS, since one of the guests was UN Ambassador Nikki Haley.

In a discussion with Haley yesterday, host John Dickerson asked her whether Donald Trump accepted Vladimir Putin's "assurances that he didn't meddle" in our election. Here's Haley's response:
I think we need to be realistic about what happened. You had two men walk into the room. You had two men who knew the exact same thing, which is Russia did meddle in the elections. I think President Trump wanted to make sure that President Putin was aware that he was acknowledging it, that he knew it. I think President Putin did what we all expected him to do, which was deny it. And I think that is what it is. President Trump still knows that they meddled. President Putin knows that they meddled, but he is never going to admit to it. And that's all that happened. 
When asked whether there would be consequences, since we know that they know that we know that they meddled, Haley said
I think you're going to have to ask the president. I think that's one of the things is-- first is confronting them, letting them know that we know this happened. Letting them know it can't happen again...  And so I think we'll see what happens there. You know, keep in mind -- yesterday's meeting was all about talk, but at the end of the day, this is all going to be about actions. We now have to see where we go from there. 
Dickerson continued to press on that point. 
That's right. And on that question of action, the president is criticizing-- criticized his predecessor, President Obama, saying he "choked" when he found out the Russians were interfering in the elections. So is it your expectation that President Trump will take stronger action against the Russians for interfering than President Obama took?
Haley didn't have a definitive answer on what will happen next, instead advising to look ahead to what the various investigations may uncover, or what Congress might do.
I think that they're going to wait and see how all of the investigation plays out. There's not anybody that thinks that Russia didn't meddle in the elections. And I think we all are very clear on that. And I think we're going to see what Congress does and I think the president will continue to work on this going forward, but yes, I don't think this is over. I think what this was, was one leader telling another leader, "Look we know you did it. Don't do it again."
... I think that President Trump was letting him know, "Look, we know you did it. This is being talked about." I think that President Putin had to deny it, even though he knows that we know and I think we see where it goes from here.  You know-- when you put President Trump in the room with any leader we can kind of cut through all the diplomatic tape and I think that's exactly what happened.
After a bit more conversation on Russia, they moved on to North Korea, and what Haley meant by her comment that the nation was  "quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution." 
You know, I mean, how many tests does it take and how many more-- times do we have to tell them no-- no escalation? The fact that they launched a ICBM test is hugely dangerous not just for us, but for so many of our friends in the world and we've got to put a stop to it. And so what we wanted to tell North Korea is, look, we have told you we are not looking for regime change, we are not looking for war. But don't give us a reason to get involved in any of this, and so we're going to go ahead and push for a strong resolution against North Korea.
She was not afraid to put pressure on China. 
We're going to push hard not just on North Korea, we're going to push hard on other countries who are not abiding by the resolutions and not abiding by the sanctions against North Korea.  And we're going to push hard against China because 90 percent of the trade that happens with North Korea is from China and so while they have been helpful, they need to do more.
Dickerson raised comments that Haley had made earlier which seemed to point at China (shown below), and then asked if China would suffer from a trade perspective if they didn't push harder.
"There are countries that are allowing - even encouraging - trade with North Korea. Such countries would also like to continue their trade arrangements with the United States. That's not going to happen."
Haley responded strongly about ammunition - different types of ammunition, and made it clear pretty much all of them were on the table.  
I'm saying that ammunition comes with multiple options and it's not always military. Ammunition also comes with sanctions. Ammunition also comes with trade. We do a lot of trade with a lot of countries. If there is a country that we don't think is looking out for our security and looking out for our confidence in that, then yes. That is one of the ammunition options we have on the table.
Dickerson's final question, or statement really, posed that our efforts were really a threat to China.
You - you mentioned countries in general though. But, China is obviously as you mentioned 90 percent of the trade with North Korea. So this is really a direct threat to China about their trade with the United States.
Haley referenced the UN resolution that is being worked on, after the initial draft was shot down by the Russians, who apparently objected to calling North Korea's most recent missile test an ICBM, preferring to call it a 'medium range' missile. Work continues on a resolution that can unanimously pass the UN Security Council. 
This is encouraging and motivating China to say, look, we appreciate what you've done. This is a whole new level. This is an ICBM test. We need you to not only do more but we need the pressure on North Korea and China has the ability to do it. They know that. We know that and we need to see some more action going accordingly. And I think the resolution is going to be a really big test on that.
In the end, I think she handled herself fairly well -- and never once talked about fake news, alternative facts, or any of the other nonsense that we hear from the rest of the folks in the administration. That, I believe, is to her credit. 

See you around campus.

July 8, 2017

Poll Watch: Even Fox News...

It's been about a month since I've reviewed any of the public opinion polls, and the first one I searched for was the Fox News poll from late June.

I'm so glad I started there - because, at least for tonight, I need look no further.

Fox News, the most trusted news as far as the Trump Administration and the Trump family and Trump supporters, uses both land lines and cell phones for their polls, and primarily relies on responses from registered voters.

The poll included some of the standard questions, including how Trump is doing as president (a -6, the difference between the 44% approves and the 50% disapproves). On four key issues, he had a mixed bag: +3 on terrorism, +5 on the economy, -9 on foreign policy and -15 on health care.

The poll also sought approval ratings for key political figures, including the president. Here's how they fared:

  • Mike Pence: +5
  • Donald Trump: -4
  • Hillary Clinton: -17
  • James Comey: -1
  • Paul Ryan: -8
  • Nancy Pelosi: -17
  • Robert Mueller: +11
  • Chuck Schumer: -9
  • Mitch McConnell: -16
Other interesting details?
  • More respondents would vote for the Democrat (+6) than the Republican in their district if the election were held now (even though Dems are 0 for 5 in special elections to replace Republicans who left Congress to join the administration). Furthermore, 50% say that Trump is not a factor in their decision to vote for the Democrat. 
  • Incompetent' wins the day (+8) over 'competent' when assessing the Trump administration.
McConnell's attempt to fix healthcare has few fans (-27) -- and 'Obamacare' has a higher approval rating (+6) than any of the elected officials noted above.  By a  pretty good margin (+12), people think the Dems would do better on healthcare than the Republicans. 

And there's more bad news on healthcare; here's what voters think should happen with the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have been voting incessantly to repeal and replace:
  • repeal: 28%
  • repeal parts of it: 33%
  • expand it: 25%
  • leave it alone: 12%
My guess is that people, like politicians, want to keep the good stuff, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and dependents until age 26, and the subsidies for premiums, but not the bad stuff, like having to pay for the subsidies and the dependents and the pre-existing conditions.

When it comes to confidence in Congress getting anything important done this year, it's not looking good for the Trump agenda.
  • passing tax reform legislation: -37
  • repealing and replacing the ACA: -42
  • funding major infrastructure projects: -38
  • funding the border wall: -71
And about the importance of continuing all of those investigations we keep hearing about? The Trump stuff seems more interesting than the Clinton stuff:
  • Russian hacking/interference in the '16 election: +12
  • Trump firing Comey/possible interference in the '16 election: +9
  • Alleged coordination between the Trump campaign & Russia: +6
  • Clinton's email server: -10
  • the Clinton 'investigation' vs the Clinton 'matter': -9
  • Benghazi: -7
Given the fervent rhetoric surrounding the topics above, and pretty much any topic these days, I thought I'd close with one last result:
By an overwhelming margin -- a +61 -- respondents feel the "level of political debate in the country today" is "overheated and dangerous."
It will be interesting to see if the network formerly known as Fair and Balanced (now calling themselves "Most Watched, Most Trusted") will change how they talk about things, given the responses to their own poll.

25-27 Jun 17 47% 41 8

July 6, 2017

Ethics Defections

It's hard to imagine that it was just over four months ago that I talked about the real problem with the Trump administration. It was not Russia, I said.
The Trump administration, in its infancy, is a swamp.
It's the kind of swamp where everything that is officially called out as being unethical is either an accident or, more commonly, completely ignored. This is particularly true if the notification comes from the Office of Government Ethics. (More on that in a minute)

It's that, and more.
The Trump administration is a swamp of people who think that running America is the same as running a big old family business. One where obfuscation and diversion and dismissal and deflection are the norm. One where, knowingly or ignorantly, rules are skirted, or it's pretended that there are no rules. Where the moral compass is provided by the man in the mirror, or by the same man in the corner office, or by other members of the family, or handpicked associates, without external scrutiny.
Chant with me: #DraintheSwamp #DraintheSwamp.

Hui Chen was, until late June, the Compliance Counsel in the Department of Justice's Criminal Fraud Division. I'm familiar with Chen and her work from my day job, where I have the opportunity to research best practices in the world of ethics and compliance.

Her arrival at the DOJ back in 2015 was incredibly well received by experts, consultants and thought leaders in the ethics and compliance world. After all, Chen had come from the practitioner side of the house, having worked at both Pfizer and Microsoft. Real world experience is what she brought to the table, in how she helped evaluate companies, their E+C programs, and issues of noncompliance.

Until she quit, several days ago, and several months before her contract was up. In a Linked In post, Chen provided some insight on why she left. Here's an excerpt:
First, trying to hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to was creating a cognitive dissonance that I could not overcome. To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very  much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic. Even as I engaged in those questioning and evaluations, on my mind were the numerous lawsuits pending against the President of the United States... Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company, yet I worked under an administration that engaged in exactly those conduct(s). I wanted no more part of it.
Now, some have questioned whether Chen's politics - she's participated in protests wearing 'Resist' clothing and holding a sign exhorting people to support the Constitution (the nerve!) - were the real reason why she left. And, she did indicate future plans include helping elect ethical candidates for public office.

But all of that notwithstanding, in the final analysis, I believe she walked the walk and talked the talk.

It's hard for me to imagine that Donald Trump would still be employed at any company I've worked for - not the family owned business, not the industry leader, and not my current employer. Not because of his politics, but because his behavior, his words, and his actions are inconsistent with anything any of these companies would consider ethical. So are the behaviors, words and actions of many he chose to bring into the government.

As the folks at Radical Compliance pointed out,
In the corporate world, if a CEO under investigation for misconduct violations fired the in-house counsel investigating him, the board would have his scalp. We would all be attending our compliance industry conferences, lecturing ourselves about best practices, and saying that the compliance officer at that organization should take the brave step and resign.
At the top of the post, I mentioned the Office of Government Ethics. We've heard more about, and from, that group since Trump won the election I think, than ever before.

Earlier today, the OGE's director, Walter Shaub Jr, tendered his resignation, effective on July 19th. In an interview, Shaub noted
There isn't much more I could accomplish at the Office of Government Ethics, given the current situation. OGE's recent experiences have made it clear that the ethics programs needs to be strengthened. 
Indeed, they do.

How long before others follow Chen and Shaub out of government service and into arenas where differences can be made?

July 5, 2017

Wondering on Wednesday (v94)

Happy July 5th, the day we put away our patriotic swimwear, outerwear, paradewear and, for all I know, underwear, for another year. (And to answer your question, no, I'm not wondering whether anyone I know is wearing any of those handmade items.)

Did you hear about those rascally folks at NPR, who tweeted the entire Declaration of Independence on Independence Day? And even better, did you hear about the reactions?  Oh yeah, people thought they were calling for revolution! They were drunk! No wonder they're being defunded! They were spreading propaganda! They're anti-Trump!

No, they're geniuses, plain and simple.

My favorite reaction:

I wonder how all of the people who complained are feeling today? Proud to be an American? Ready to #MAGA? Or, maybe, spending some time on Twitter reading our founding document?

We now know that North Korea can likely reach Alaska with their new ICBM, which they launched on Monday. And we know that we previously said that we would have a military response if they were to do so.  UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said so back in April:
If you see some sort of intercontinental ballistic missile, then obviously we're going to do that.
Haley's comments were more measured this time around.
(North Korea's) actions are quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution. The United States is prepared to use the full range of our capabilities to defend ourselves and our allies. One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must.
We're going to be proposing more sanctions, Haley said - on top of the last round of sanctions, which was on top of the round of sanctions before that...  We've lost patience with China, since they're not making any real headway with Kim, and now they've issued a joint statement with the Russians basically telling us to heel.  All of this makes me wonder, have we drawn a red line in the Korean peninsula, and if yes, has it been crossed with this latest missile test? Or are we just putting words out there, like the previous administration did (to wide criticism) about Syria?

And finally tonight, let's turn to California for a clear picture of what the Democrats are up against: each other, it seems.  Out there on the west coast, they've been talking about the Disclose Act for a while now.  From the article linked above
Who pays for all those political ads that bombard voters every election?
An effort to make the answer clearer is squeezing California Democrats between two liberal constituencies. On one side, they're facing pressure from progressive activists who decry the influence of dark money and want more disclosure. On the other, they're being lobbied by labor unions, which help fund their campaigns and are fighting a bill to bring more transparency.
It seems like a no brainer - get the money out, bring light to the darkness, let people know who is putting the positions in front of the voters, right?  And when the Republican party is the party of "corporations are people too" and massive Super PACs and DeVos money and all that evil Koch Brothers money, it would seem easy for Dems to align on the other side of this issue and collectively support transparency, right?  Wrong.

I wonder, if they can't unite around something as easy as this, in California  no less, how will Dems pull it together nationally?

July 4, 2017

OrangeVerse XI: To Infinity + Beyond (part 2)

Picking up where we left off on our new space program Executive Order.

Our vice president cares
very deeply about space policy and
for good reason - space
exploration is not only 
essential to our character
as a nation
but our economy
and our great
nation's security.
  Without Space?
Our travels beyond the Earth
propel scientific discoveries that
improve our lives
in countless ways here
right here at home
powering vast new industry 
spurring incredible new technology
providing the space security 
we need to protect
the American people.
And security is going to be a very big factor
with respect to space
and space exploration. At some point
in the future we're going
to look back and say
how did we do it 
without space?
Private People
The council will 
also draw the expertise
of other White House offices
as well as insights from
and business leaders...
Many business leaders
that want to
be a part of this.
I think the privatization of certain
aspects is going to play
a very crucial role,
don't you think?
And the Vice President, 
and a few others
are going to pick some
private people
to be on the board.
I will say 
that's not easy
because everybody wants
to be on this board.
People you wouldn't have believed
loved what we're doing
so much they want to

The human soul
for discovery...
Our journey into space
will not only make us 
and more prosperous
but will unite us
behind grand ambitions
and bring us
all closer together.
Wouldn't that
be nice?
Can you believe
that space
is going to do that?

America will 
think big
once again.
Important Words;
Think Big.
We haven't been thinking
so big for along time
but we're 
thinking big again
as a country.
We will inspire millions 
of children to carry
on this proud tradition
of American space leadership 
- and they're excited...
we are now going to sign
an executive order...
And people are very 
excited... and 
I can tell you
I'm very excited
about it. 

Buzz Aldrin
(Infinity -  and beyond!)
This is infinity here.
It could be infinity
We don't
really know.
But it could be.
It has to be something
but it could be

July 2, 2017

OrangeVerse X: To Infinity + Beyond (part 1)

On Friday, the president signed another Executive Order, his 39th if my count is correct.

We are reminded that he was not going to do all that many of these, but it does get him in front of the cameras, and there's nowhere else he'd rather be. It gets Mike Pence in front of cameras, too -- since he's the Introducer-in-Chief, and, not for nothing, it gives the @TrumpDraws Twitter account something to do. Let's look in on the festivities.

Open Wide
The future of
American space leadership
we're going to lead
again. It's been 
a long time. 
It's over
25 years
and we're opening up
and we are going to be
leading again like
we've never led before. 
Frontierus Interruptus
We are a nation
of pioneers and the next
great American frontier is space.
And we never completed
-- we started but we never completed. 
We stopped.
But now we start again.
And we have
tremendous spirit and
we're going to have tremendous spirit
from the private sector--
maybe in particular
from the private sector.

Oh Look, There's Wilbur
We're also joined
by our great Secretary of Commerce
Wilbur Ross.
who spent the morning
trade deals with South Korea.
And I think
we're going to make a 
good deal
I think so.
That's what the
word is. 
And good for both 
National Space Council
Today we're taking
a crucial step
to secure America's future
in space
by reviving the
National Space Council
after it was - has been
almost 25 years
if you can believe it.
The Pence Promise
Vice President Pence promised
that our administration -
because Mike is very into space
would revive the National Space Council... 
we're keeping that promise. 

Feel very strongly
about it. I've felt
strongly about it for 
a long time.
I used to say
before doing what I did -
I used to say
what happened?

Why aren't we moving

July 1, 2017

About that Congressional Housing Allowance

Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz was the Chair of the House Oversight Committee, until he quit in the middle of his term.

Chaffetz, you'll recall, was the one who promised to investigate the daylights out of Hillary Clinton if she became president.
It's a target-rich environment. Even before we get to Day One, we've got two years' worth of material already lined up. She has four years of history at the State Department, and it ain't good.
Clinton having lost, and Chaffetz having to now investigate a GOP-controlled White House, it's not really all that much of a surprise that he's leaving. It is a little surprising that, in an interview with The Hill shortly before he quit, Chaffetz noted that he might have left office even if Clinton, had been elected.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
I vowed that I would get in, serve and get out, and at some point you have to say, 'Let's get off this crazy train and get a better balance in your life.' It's hard to say, but I think I'd still probably come to the same conclusion.
On his way out, he talked about  gridlock in DC, and his future plans, which seem consistent with the standard path taken by other political graduates - seeking board seats, writing a book, and of course, not confirming the rumors that he's going to become a contributor on cable news; he's going to Fox, of course.

He also noted that he sleeps in his office, as do many of his colleagues, because it's expensive to live in DC.
Washington DC is one of the most expensive places in the world, and I flat out cannot afford a mortgage in Utah, kids in college, and a second place here in DC. I think a $2500 housing allowance (note:per month, or $30K annually) would be appropriate and a real help to have at least a decent quality of life in Washington if you're going to expect people to spend hundreds of nights a year here... There are dozens upon dozens of members living in their offices, and I don't know how healthy that is in the long term.
The article goes on to note
While Chaffetz said $174,000 a year is a "handsome" congressional salary, he explained that subsidizing lawmakers' housing costs in the pricey DC metro area could actually save taxpayer dollars. If he had a proper home in Washington rather than a cot in his office, Chaffetz said, he wouldn't need to fly home every weekend on the taxpayer's dime, and his wife, Julie, could visit more often. 
Chaffetz has a point; we can't really expect our elected officials to do a good job if they have to sleep in their offices, or in someone's basement. I doubt I'd be effective under those circumstances. And, of course, who can complain about wasting taxpayer money?

But - rather than giving them more money, with no guarantee that they're stop living in their offices or stop flying home every weekend, what if we took the $16,000,000 bucks the housing allowance would cost annually (535 x $30K), and instead invest that in available properties in DC?

You know, actually build housing in neighborhoods that are currently in need of help, or rehab existing housing units, and have the congressmen live there?  We don't need anything extravagant - nice two-bedroom apartments, maybe 1200 - 1400 square feet or so, where they can bring their families once a month. A combination of housing types -- single family, duplexes and triplexes, even right-sized 8 or 10 family units could be put up.

There are plenty of available properties -- here's a list of some 160 of them from December 2016 put out by the Property Acquisition and Disposition Division (PADD) of the DC Housing and Community Development agency.

You'll notice that properties are available all over the city; many of them appear to be clustered together, so there could be concentrated bursts of neighborhood development and improvement, and the congressmen could really establish a sense of community pride with the other residents.

To do it right, we'd want the properties added to the tax rolls, so that DC gets a much-needed economic boost. I'm sure Congress can figure out a way to make that work, since they pretty much control what happens in DC.

DC residents would have jobs; infrastructure would be improved; neighborhoods would be reborn; more people would feel comfortable living in the neighborhoods; schools would improve; food deserts would disappear; medical facilities could be built; neighborhood police stations could be built, improving relations between the good guys and the people they serve; politicians get to know and understand the people they serve.and the real life challenges they face...

The list of benefits is almost endless, and they play right into the desires of both parties. And imagine if we could encourage bipartisan neighborhoods?  Wouldn't that be something?

Conservative politicians always suggest that throwing more money at something is not the right approach to take, and that handouts are bad. For example, according to this article on Salon, Chaffetz himself has a history of being conservative when it comes to housing money - for the poor, anyway.
In 2011, Chaffetz touted legislation to kill the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, a pool of money by mortgage financiers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to provide housing relief for low-income Americans. 
With Fannie and Freddie under federal government conservatorship and losing billions of dollars a quarter there is no need to have an additional requirement on them to send a portion of their revenue to special interest groups at the expense of American taxpayers, reads a 2011 press release from Chaffetz's office.
So, let's take a page out of his book, and do something constructive with our money, instead of just handing it over to Congress, that most special of special interest groups.

Maybe this is something that Chaffetz can champion once he gets some of those board seats he's after?