Monday, May 15, 2017

Cruising the Web

I hope all the mothers out there had a wonderful Mother's Day and were appreciated by your children.

For a short time, I thought my Mother's Day present would be a resounding San Antonio victory over the Warriors. Alas, the basketball gods were not that kind. Instead, the Warriors came back and won and Kawhi Leonard is injured again. Sigh.

Trump's behavior in this whole Comey story is just mind-boggling and so self-destructive. The firing was justifiable; Trump just couldn't come up with an explanation that passed the smell test so that increased all the media chatter. And such chatter just drives Trump batty so he responds by making it worse. In what universe did it seem a good idea to tweet out a semi-threat to Comey that he had been taped? Then we have both Trump and Sean Spicer refusing to comment as to whether or not there are such secret recordings. That just seems to imply that the answer is yes, there are secret tapes. And now we learn from former employees that Trump had taped conversations in his business dealings. As Jim Geraghty writes, this is another "amazing act of self-sabotage." That is not only because of the Nixonian parallels that the media and Democrats are delighting in, but because of how the news that the President might be taping private conversations will taint his conversations with everyone else.
The entire concept of a president’s executive privilege rests on the idea that the president needs the best, most honest, most unvarnished advice and information possible – even if that advice would be controversial or unpopular. The thinking is that if an advisor, member of Congress, foreign leader or other official knew that their communications with the president could be made public someday, they would self-censor themselves and give less than the full truth. As NPR notes, in its ruling on the Nixon tapes, the Supreme Court noted “the valid need for protection of communications between high government officials and those who advise and assist them in the performance of their manifold duties.”

Starting today, anyone who talks to Trump has to wonder if that conversation is being recorded, and whether Trump might someday leak that recording if he gets sufficiently angry at that person. Best to not say anything to the president that you’re not comfortable seeing attached to your name in print.
That one tweet had to be one of the stupidest things that Trump has done so far as president. In a campaign and presidency full of shaking-my-head moments, this was the one that really had my head bobbing around.

When covering the history of German unification, I sometimes tell my students that Bismarck was playing three-dimensional chess while Napoleon III was playing checkers. Right now Trump is the toddler who upsets the checkers board because he can't stand getting behind.

As Ross Douthat writes, no one should be surprised that Trump has acted this way. This is the Trump we've seen all along. His supporters love to explain away his behavior by claiming he's successfully trolling the entire media and all the liberals. No, this is who the man is.
The reaction to the sacking of James Comey is the latest illustration. Far too many observers, left and right, persist in being surprised at Trump when nothing about his conduct is surprising, persist in looking for rationality where none is to be found, and persist in believing that some institutional force — party elders or convention delegates, the deep state or an impeachment process — is likely to push him off the stage.
Trump's own words as he's been interviewed and talked about how he would have fired Comey anyway regardless of what the Rosenstein memo said and then his tweets demonstrated that the Trump of the campaign is the real Trump.
It was, instead, a window into an essentially sub-rational and self-sabotaging mind (as were the tweets that swiftly followed), whose obsessions make it impossible for Trump not to act on impulse, whose grievances constantly override the public interest and political self-interest both.

But it was not a new window: This same self-destructiveness was evident at every turn in the campaign. So the only mystery is why otherwise-rational Republicans persist in hoping for anything save chaos from a man who celebrated clinching the nomination by accusing his rival’s father of having had a hand in killing J.F.K.
However, just because Trump continues to sabotage himself in amazingly stupid ways doesn't mean he has committed criminal acts.
Similarly mysterious, meanwhile, is the assumption among liberals that Trump’s behavior must be motivated by some dark but ultimately rational calculus — that if the president fired Comey in part out of annoyance at the Russia investigation, there must be some great conspiracy he’s desperate to cover up, which if brought to light would make impeachment a near-inevitability.

Of course there might be such a conspiracy, which is why the F.B.I. investigation must proceed — and even if it only exposes shady business ties it’s entirely worth pursuing. But given what we know about Trump’s personality, what’s in the public record, and what’s been leaked by forces with reasons to despise him, Occam’s razor still suggests that shadiness is all we’ll find, and that Trump is lashing out childishly not out of guilt but because that’s simply what he does — whether the target is Ted Cruz’s family or Judge Curiel, the Khan family or now Comey....

This week reminded us why Donald Trump should not be the president of the United States. But if you wish to remove him, think on 2020. The rest, for now, is noise.

$20 off top Kindle models and more savings on Kindle Bundles

Try Amazon Music Unlimited 30-Day Free Trial

Try Audible and Get Two Free Audio Books

Try Amazon Prime - 30 Day Free Trial

Noah Feldman argues
that the Comey firing is not anywhere near a "constitutional crisis." He has a pretty good definition of what needs to happen for our government to be in a constitutional crisis.
My definition has two elements. First, for a constitutional crisis to exist, a country must face “a situation in which its constitutional principles offer no clear, definitive answer to a pressing problem of governance.”

Second, powerful political actors “have to signal that they are ready to press one course of action to its limits. Meanwhile, other comparably powerful actors have to be prepared to push the other way.”
The Comey firing just doesn't qualify under that definition.
My definition has two elements. First, for a constitutional crisis to exist, a country must face “a situation in which its constitutional principles offer no clear, definitive answer to a pressing problem of governance.”

Second, powerful political actors “have to signal that they are ready to press one course of action to its limits. Meanwhile, other comparably powerful actors have to be prepared to push the other way.”
Feldman goes into the history of Lincoln suspending habeas corpus and why that could be considered a constitutional crisis.
Critics then and since have argued that Lincoln was acting as a dictator. Some think both that he was a dictator and that he was justified anyway.

This is exactly the script we don’t want Trump to follow. The notion of a constitutional crisis implies a conflict between Trump and other parts of the government in which Trump would have the option of seeking decisive action that he would unquestionably claim to be justified even if it was unconstitutional.

So let’s save “constitutional crisis” for when it’s accurate and we have no choice but to use it. And then let’s hope the system is strong enough to resist unconstitutional efforts to resolve it.

As Fred Barnes writes, there just isn't evidence at this point to necessitate a special prosecutor.
The story had excited Democrats, giving them another reason to call for a special prosecutor. Without compelling evidence of wrongdoing, however, the work of the prosecutor—or "independent counsel"—would consist of a prolonged fishing expedition. Democrats would love that. It would keep the issue of Trump's ties to Russia alive for months or years.

At the Justice Department, it would be up to Rosenstein to appoint a special prosecutor, and Democrats are pressuring him to do just that. They shouldn't get their hopes up. Congress could name one too, but Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has ruled that out.

In effect, Comey had become a special prosecutor without the title. He took over the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails and later announced she had been "careless" in handling classified information but wasn't guilty of a crime.

With Attorney General Jeff Sessions having recused himself from involvement in the Trump-Russia issue and no deputy AG on board till April 26, Comey was on his own. He angered Trump by refusing to declare publicly that the president isn't a target of the investigation, a petty offense at worst but a big deal to the president.

Once Rosenstein was confirmed, Comey was in trouble. The new deputy provided the case for getting rid of him. The case was legitimate—he'd overstepped his authority in deciding Clinton's fate—but it wasn't the real reason for Trump's decision. The president wanted Comey out, period.

Trump had the authority to order the firing. It wasn't an abuse of power. It wasn't a coup. Presidents are allowed to discharge people who work for them.

It was politically problematic, though. The timing was bad. Trump's prospects of getting his health care and tax reform agendas enacted this year may suffer. But there was no good time to fire Comey. Whenever Trump did so, it would cause a firestorm.

The controversy has been likened to Watergate, the 1970s scandal that forced President Nixon to resign. Indeed, they are alike in superficial ways—with one big difference. There was plenty of evidence implicating President Nixon.

Not so in Trump's case. Yet the investigations will continue for months, and we don't know what they will yield. It won't take mountains of evidence to push him out of office.
The Democrats have assumed guilt and are working from there. Trump has helped them out with his own behavior. But political idiocy is not evidence of a crime. There might be evidence of collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign, but so far we haven't seen it. With all the leaking going on in the federal government today , you'd think that we would have heard if there was such evidence. I don't assume that Trump is innocent, but we have to see more than innuendo.

Andrew McCarthy wonders
what the crime is that a special prosecutor would be investigating.
So what is the crime? What is the federal criminal offense that could be proved in a court of law under governing law and evidentiary rules?

“Collusion” – the word so tirelessly invoked – is not a crime. It is used pejoratively, but it is just a word to describe concerted activity. Concerted activity can be (and usually is) completely legal. Lots of unsavory activity in which people jointly participate is legal, even if we frown on it. In order to be illegal, concerted activity must rise to the level of conspiracy.

A conspiracy is an agreement to commit a crime. Not to do something indecorous or slimey [sic]; it must be something that is actually against the law, something that violates a penal statute. In the crim-law biz, the crime that conspirators agree to try to accomplish is known as “the object of the conspiracy.” If the object is not against the law, there is no conspiracy – no matter how much “collusion” there is.

So, in the ballyhooed “Russia investigation,” what is the object of the purported conspiracy? Notice that although Senator Schumer casually asserts that “a serious offense” has been committed, he does not tell us what that offense is.

That’s because there isn’t one.

Sorry to be the downer at the pep rally, but it is simply not a federal crime for a foreign country to intrude on an American election by spreading information or misleading propaganda that favors one candidate or damages another. To draw an analogy, it is shameful for the American media systematically to scald Republicans while carrying the Democrats’ water; but there is nothing illegal about it.

Historically, countries have sought to influence American elections. That’s not spoken of much these days because the “international community” tends to favor Democrats, and Democrats are happy to have the help. In the Soviet days, it was Democrats in collusion with Russia to undermine Ronald Reagan – and no one in the media seemed perturbed by it.

Meddling in other countries’ elections (usually, while sniffing about how unseemly it would be to meddle in other countries’ elections) is what major countries do. It is certainly what the United States did during the prior administration: President Obama meddled in Israeli elections, the Brexit referendum, the Italian referendum, etc. He is apparently a compulsive meddler: He kicked off his post-presidential career by stumping for Emmanuel Macron in the French election.
What we know about Russia's interference with the election was the hacking. That is not in doubt. But that doesn't mean that the Trump campaign was involved in that.
So what illegal actions arose out of Russia’s shenanigans? The only apparent one was hacking. There is no basis to believe the Trump campaign had any involvement in that. In fact, the FBI, CIA and NSA say the Russians targeted both major political parties in their “cyber operations.” Based on what the government has told us, then, there is some basis to suspect that Trump was a potential hacking target, but none to suspect that anyone in his campaign was a hacking conspirator.
McCarthy goes on to discuss the problems that a prosecutor would have in bringing a case on the Russian hacking. As he points out, intelligence analysts don't operate in a "beyond a reasonable doubt

I just doubt that Trump would have colluded with the Russians and then been so obvious about his admiration for Putin and his enjoyment of WikiLeaks publishing the DNC emails. Would he have hired people like Flynn if he had indeed colluded with Putin and wanted to hide it? Is he that dumb that he could work with a foreign government to steal an election and then go out and act like in public as he did? Perhaps, but I find it more likely that he just surrounded himself with some shady characters and that Putin decided to muck around in the election to undermine Hillary when she inevitably won the election.

25% Off in Office and School Supplies

Deals in Office Products

Deals in Home and Kitchen

THe WSJ explains
why the Democrats' reasoning on why Trump should not have been able to fire Comey is so pernicious. First, they dismiss the argument that Jeff Sessions should have to recuse himself from counseling the President on a replacement.
Mr. Sessions has recused himself from the Russia probe, but the FBI director reports to the Attorney General on hundreds of other matters beyond that one investigation. The AG has not recused himself from those matters. Mr. Warner seems to be saying that Mr. Sessions’s narrow recusal disqualifies him from supervising the FBI director at all.

Yet Mr. Comey’s usurpation of the power of the AG and Deputy AG last year in the Hillary Clinton email probe is one reason Mr. Comey deserved to be fired. The FBI is part of the Justice Department, not an independent actor who reports on his own to Congress and the public. Mr. Warner is essentially saying that the executive branch must disable the normal rules of constitutional accountability at the Justice Department because of the Russia probe.
Then they move on to the idea the Democrats are pushing that firing Comey was somehow obstruction of justice, an impeachable offense.
But this is an absurd standard. Presidents often disagree with decisions their deputies make, and sometimes they fire them for it. Are we supposed to believe that if a President opposes something an FBI director is doing, then a President can’t fire him?

Mr. Tribe is establishing a standard by which an FBI director—or even an Attorney General—could never be fired. All a director would have to do is begin a single investigation that might affect the President, and then he would be liberated from supervision. This would de facto strip the President of his constitutional authority to supervise the executive branch.

As for obstruction of justice, this is defined under federal law as a specific act that interferes with a pending judicial proceeding. A President offering an opinion, however ill-advised, on a counterintelligence investigation is not obstruction. Neither are stupid tweets.

Genuine acts of obstruction include destroying evidence, intimidating witnesses, lying to the FBI or blocking investigators from doing their jobs. None of that has been alleged here, and Acting FBI director Andrew McCabe has said his agents are moving full-speed ahead with ample resources to do the job.

Michael Brendan Doughtery has a good explanation for why Trump acts the way he has acted as president.
Trump has this idea that the Executive Branch is an extension of the Trump campaign, the Trump brand, or even the Trump family. If the FBI director is someone whom Donald Trump technically employs, and Donald Trump can fire him, then it follows that he ought to be on Team Trump. Instead of being loyal to the country or the law, Trump imagines that everyone on the federal payroll ought to bend the knee. James Comey made the mistake of continuing to appear in headlines or stories that angered Trump, so he had to go. Sad!

I admit that my theory doesn’t offer the psychological kick that the others do. The problem isn’t that Donald Trump is an illegitimate president, empowered by a foreign potentate. It’s that our legitimate president is Donald Trump, star of the Donald Trump show, which has taken quite a dramatic turn as it enters its final run. He wants all the other stars to be committed to the plotline: Donald Trump is our hero. And he wants good ratings, which means he has to keep the drama going.

In a strange way the Comey incident confirms that for Donald Trump almost nothing can be merely political; it’s all personal. Someone with even the most rudimentary political instincts would have counseled Trump against canning Comey while the FBI’s investigation of his campaign and associates was still ongoing, for appearances’ sake. And indeed, those with political instincts did. Steve Bannon, the supposedly vengeful Machiavelli behind the Trump throne, is said to have cautioned the boss that this was an unwise move.

But as predicted, Trump makes everything about his personal relationships and how they play on TV. When foreign leaders pay him a visit, he does not offer the usual canned, anodyne public statements about their meetings, with their talk of “mutual interests” and “cooperation.” Instead, he casts himself and foreign leaders in an ongoing series of buddy-cop movies and romances. “President Xi, we have a, like, a really great relationship,” Trump said to the AP. “Great relationship with Merkel, one of the best,” he told Time. “She loves Ivanka.” There are dramatic reconciliations, too. Weeks after blowing up at Australia’s prime minister, Trump met him and smiled to kick off the next act: “It got a little bit testy. But that’s okay,” he said. Luckily for our nation’s place in the world, Trump treats other leaders like movie-star peers. (He has great “chemistry” with Xi.)

Employees, meanwhile, are afforded no such deference.

The WSJ explains how Democrats are getting set to abuse the Senate tradition of "blue slips" by which individual Senators can issue a negative blue slip for judicial nominees. A senator returning a blue slip doesn't necessarily mean that the nomination is blocked.
Blue slips have been around since 1917, but they weren’t designed as a pocket Senate veto to subvert the President’s nominating power. Nor have they traditionally been used that way. Blue slips have been used as a privilege when a home state Senator has a strong personal grievance against a nominee or wants to flag concerns that might be discussed during debate on the floor.

According to a 2003 Congressional Research Service report, if a Senator submits a negative blue slip, the Judiciary Committee Chairman may stop action on the nominee, continue while giving consideration to the negative review or proceed without notice. “Since the late 1970s,” the report notes, “the committee has generally used the latter two actions when dealing with a negative blue slip.”

Democrats are hoping that Republicans will go along with elevating the blue slip into a quasi-filibuster on grounds that the GOP could eventually do the same. But 65% of federal appellate-court vacancies are in states with at least one Democratic Senator. If a single Senator can block the nomination of a highly qualified candidate, Mr. Trump will never fill the current vacancies.

Blue slips are an artifact of a political time when the Senate operated with more bipartisan decorum. Today’s Senators respond mainly to interest groups and social-media agitators. Blue slips aren’t a Senate or committee rule, and if Democrats abuse the tradition they should be dispensed with.
When I explain blue slips to my students, they're dumbfounded that a single senator could block a nomination. They're amazed that such a rule would exist. Why should the majority party defer to such a rule?

Echo and Alexa Devices

Amazon Fire TV

Hot New Releases in All Categories

Scott Adams's Dilbert cartoon today just about summarizes what goes into lodging accusation of climate-change denialism (h/t John Hinderaker)