Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cruising the Week

Glenn Reynolds write
s, and I agree, that Jeff Sessions shouldn't be fired for the reason that he's ticked Trump off - recusing himself from the Russia investigation - but for his efforts to expand civil forfeiture.
Under “civil forfeiture,” law enforcement can take property from people under the legal fiction that the property itself is guilty of a crime. (“Legal fiction” sounds better than “lie,” but in this case the two terms are near synonyms.) It was originally sold as a tool for going after the assets of drug kingpins, but nowadays it seems to be used against a lot of ordinary Americans who just have things that law enforcement wants. It’s also a way for law enforcement agencies to maintain off-budget slush funds, thus escaping scrutiny....

The problem is pretty widespread: In 2015, The Washington Post reported that law enforcement took more stuff from people than burglars did.

And it’s not only a species of theft; it’s a species of corruption. Starting in 1984, law enforcement agencies were allowed to retain the assets they seized instead of paying them into the general treasury. Not surprisingly, this has led to abuses in which law enforcement targets individuals based on how much money it can get and how easily it can get it, not on their status as criminals. What’s more, by retaining these assets, law enforcement agencies have money to do things that the legislatures haven’t chosen to fund. That undermines democracy.

As deputy Ron Hain of Kane County, Ill., put it, according to The Post: “All of our hometowns are sitting on a tax-liberating gold mine.”

In one case, law enforcement seized a student’s luggage and money because the bags smelled like marijuana. In another, officers seized a man’s life savings because the series of deposits from his convenience store looked to them like he was laundering money.

Of course, it’s especially easy to be suspicious of people when those suspicions let you transfer their bank accounts into yours.
It is mind-blowing to me that it is considered constitutional to seize the property of someone who has not been convicted of a crime, sometimes not even charged with a crime.

Well, if Trump did fire Sessions, this would be a disaster.
President Trump is so unhappy with Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he has raised the possibility of bringing back Rudolph Giuliani to head the Justice Department, according to West Wing confidants.

In internal conversations, Trump has recently pondered the idea of nominating Giuliani, a stalwart of his campaign.
Giuliani would have trouble getting confirmed. Since leaving politics, he's built up a consulting business that would raise as many eyebrows as the Clinton Foundation. Those connections to foreign governments hurt him when his name was mentioned for the Secretary of State job.
He built a lucrative consulting and speechmaking career after leaving City Hall. His firm, Giuliani Partners, has had contracts with the government of Qatar and the Canadian company that is building the Keystone XL oil pipeline, and Mr. Giuliani has given paid speeches to a shadowy Iranian opposition group that until 2012 was on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations....

His other clients have included a long list of prominent American corporations, including Bear Stearns, Uber and CB Richard Ellis, the real estate giant. Under contract with Purdue Pharma, the maker of the often-abused painkiller OxyContin, Mr. Giuliani used his clout with the Justice Department to press the federal authorities to offer a less onerous punishment to the company after allegations that security problems at its warehouses might have contributed to black market sales.

But it is the lesser-known names that may draw the most scrutiny.

TriGlobal Strategic Ventures, a company that aims to “assist Western clients in furthering their business interests in the emerging economies of the former Soviet Union,” according to its website, is among the more obscure clients.

Records show Mr. Giuliani has had ties dating to at least 2004 to TriGlobal, a company that has provided image consulting to Russian oligarchs and clients with deep Kremlin ties. They have included Transneft, Russia’s state-owned oil pipeline giant, which is the target of Western sanctions imposed after President Vladimir V. Putin annexed Crimea and began meddling in Ukraine.
Given that Sessions had to recuse himself after acknowledging that he'd had rather innocuous meetings while a senator with Russian officials, is there any chance that Giuliani would get approved without a promise to recuse himself from the Russian investigation? Trump is leaving in a dreamworld if he honestly thinks that Giuliani could replace Sessions. Trump might like having a friend in the Justice Department but wasn't that who Jeff Sessions was supposed to be?

Apparently, Giuliani is more realistic than Trump and is already trying to squelch these rumors.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani on Monday swatted away a report that he is a contender to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and said Sessions made the right decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation.

Giuliani said there is no truth to a report by Axios that said Trump has recently raised the possibility of tapping Giuliani to replace Sessions, whom the President referred to as "beleaguered" on Monday, days after publicly rebuking Sessions for recusing himself from the federal investigation into Russian election meddling in the 2016 campaign.
Well, Trump certainly won't pick Rudy now given that Sessions' recusal is the whole reason why Trump is ticked at Sessions.

Given how difficult it would be to get anyone else approved to be Attorney General, Trump needs to just bite the bullet and make up with Sessions and stop attacking him in public. But when has Trump ever done what everyone else can see is just common sense?

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As Andrew McCarthy points out
, a whole lot of the challenges that Donald Trump is facing from Robert Mueller are his own darn fault, much of it stemming from Trump's own behavior involved in firing Comey.
Meantime, Trump quickly realized how weak he looked for making Rosenstein the fall guy. In a schizo-second, Macho Trump returned. The president promptly contradicted his original story about merely following the Justice Department’s recommendation, now claiming that the decision was his and his alone, and that the Justice Department’s memos had nothing to do with it.

Then, in a lapse of judgment that stands out even by Trump standards, the president decided to host Russian diplomats at the White House the day after firing Comey, and to berate the former director for the consumption of these agents of a hostile regime. In addition to describing the former director as “crazy, a real nut job,” Trump told Putin’s men that by getting rid of Comey, he had “taken off” the “great pressure” he faced “because of Russia.” Thus did the president, with both hands, feed the Democrats’ narrative that Comey had been removed in order to obstruct the FBI’s probe of Trump-campaign collusion in Putin’s election-meddling.

Trump’s breathtakingly erratic performance gave Democrats and the media goo-gobs of ammunition to portray Rosenstein as a co-conspirator in a corruptly motivated, dishonestly executed sacking of the FBI director. There was no way Rosenstein was going to sit passively in the eye of that storm. And there was no way he was going to look to Trump, the man who put him there, for help and guidance. Rosenstein took it on himself to appoint Robert Mueller as special counsel.
Then Rosenstein gave Mueller "broad and wide-ranging authority to follow the facts wherever they go." Perhaps Rosenstein was putting it all on Mueller to do what he felt he needed to for the investigation because he resented Trump making him the fall guy for firing Comey or perhaps Rosenstein just felt that this is what needed to be done instead of following Justice Department regulations to limit the special counsel's job.
President Trump accomplished only one thing by railing at Attorney General Sessions: He added to the growing disinclination of quality people to work in his administration. No one with self-respect wants to work in a place where the boss not only won’t back you up when the going gets tough, but will turn on you with a vengeance — especially when there’s a need to divert attention from his own shortcomings.

Whether we’re talking about the shoddy behavior that intensified calls for a special counsel or about the selection of the officials who made the key decisions that have armed the special counsel with limitless jurisdiction, the president has only himself to blame.

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Donald Trump keeps tweeting to drum up outrage that the deputies that Robert Mueller is hiring should be suspect because of their donations to Democrats. Well, what does that say about the newest White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci? Just like Donald Trump, Scaramucci has a history of donating to Democrats.

And while Scaramucci has vowed to end leaks from the White House. Well, if "it takes one to know one" holds, he should be successful.
He threw his weight behind the Trump campaign only after his first two preferred candidates, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and former Florida governor Jeb Bush, dropped out. Between his stints raising money for those campaigns, he was in talks with a third, that of Florida Sen. Marco Rubio.
Former senior aides on all three of those campaigns say Scaramucci gave the impression of a hanger-on trying to methodically get in the good graces of whichever candidate he saw as most likely to prevail. Only when Trump had the nomination all but secured did Scaramucci sign on with his campaign.
“He was trying to pick the winner,” according to a former senior Rubio aide, who said Scaramucci approached that campaign after Walker withdrew from the race in September 2015. Despite intense competition to pick up the support of key fundraisers, the former Rubio aide said, Scaramucci was seen as too self-serving and untrustworthy, and the Rubio campaign declined his support.

Talk of his shifting loyalties was already circulating among Republicans on various sides of the primary due to rumors emanating from the disbanded Walker campaign that Scaramucci had leaked information to the press and otherwise caused headaches for the campaign.
“He was suspected of leaking and stirring up drama with the donors,” a former senior Walker campaign aide recalled.

The news about John McCain's brain cancer has been quite depressing and I certainly wish him all the best in his treatment for this dread disease. I noticed that, immediately after the news broke, all sorts of people from all sides of the political spectrum were posting messages on Twitter and often said something along the lines that McCain is such a fighter that the brain tumor is in for a battle. It's as if surviving torture in a North Vietnamese POW camp lessen the mortality of a terrible disease. I thought that was all very nice for people to write, but really was meaningless when it comes to cancer, particularly the especially aggressive and deadly sort that McCain has. It might be comforting to think that personal heroism gives someone a better chance in fighting cancer, but it really isn't so. And I wondered what this attitude says to those victims who succumb to cancer and their families. Is the implication that, if their loved one had been more courageous, cancer would not have won? Philip Klein, who had a family member who survived a Stalin-era gulag lose his life to the same sort of brain tumor that McCain has, explains why people should stop saying that "John McCain will beat cancer because he's a fighter."
Many cancer patients and patient advocates have written against the "warrior" rhetoric associated with the disease. Employing such rhetoric can make those dealing with cancer feel they are failing and letting people down during especially hard times. It can make terminally ill patients feel that they are weak, or giving up, by deciding to choose palliative care options without undergoing another series of painful treatments that could only marginally prolong their lives. And it also contains the unintended but pernicious implication that those who don't live as long simply didn't fight hard enough....

Jenn McRobbie, an author who had dealt with breast cancer, was quoted in Prevention as saying, "We're called 'fighters,' 'warriors,' and we're told to 'win the battle.' This imagery may help some people feel more in control of their experience, but it can also make you feel like you're doing it all wrong if you're having a bad day."

Due to people's natural discomfort with anything involving mortality, people who haven't experienced cancer up close tend to gloss over the details. Such details include the fact that, even in the best of cases, cancer remission is not a cure in the way most people conceive of it; cancer cells almost always remain in the body. Beyond this, not all cancers lend themselves to the best case scenario. Because people hear about those who receive treatment and go on living for many years, they may not be aware of the vast variety among different types of cancers and the similarly large variation in relative survival rates.

Glioblastoma, with which McCain has been diagnosed, is sadly among the most aggressive, vicious, and unrelenting forms of cancer. The median survival time from diagnosis is 15 months, according to the American Brain Tumor Association, and just 30 percent of patients survive more than two years. Available treatments are limited, compared to many other types of cancer.
I wish that all it took was courage and fortitude to defeat such a terrible and deadly disease. Unfortunately, it is not so. I hope that John McCain is the exception and I wish him and his family all the best.

The CBO estimate of the cost of the federal student loan forgiveness plan
has been adjust way upwards. What a surprise.
When Congress created a program in 2007 to forgive student loans of people who work in public service for 10 years, the expectation was that the program would be small. But after the Obama administration made the program more generous in 2012, I warned that the program’s ill-defined terms would forgive far more debt than originally anticipated. And last week the Congressional Budget Office confirmed those fears when it estimated that the program will cost $24 billion over the next 10 years, double what the CBO estimated just two years ago.
How surprising - lawmakers didn't think that the program would increase substantially.
Despite the broad eligibility terms, Washington policymakers did not foresee the program growing to its current size. After all, 10 years is a long time to work in a qualifying job, so many experts thought people wouldn’t sign up. They also thought borrowers were averse to making loan payments linked to their incomes, as hardly anyone enrolled in an earlier version of the government’s income-based repayment plan. Nor did policymakers explicitly connect PSLF with the program that lets graduate students borrow unlimited federal funds; that was a separate policy enacted the year before PSLF.

Early warnings that PSLF could grow out of control were easily dismissed as speculation.
Yes, because it is much preferable to base public policy on unicorns and rainbows projections. Politico enters in some figures into the "repayment estimator" that the Department of aEducalion provides and this is what they found.
Let that sink in for a moment. Payments are the same if the student borrows $50,000 or $100,000. Taxpayers foot the bill for the difference. One has to wonder whether PSLF would have been enacted if the department launched its repayment estimator before the lawmakers voted to create it.
What? Have members of Congress actually vote based on data demonstrating the perverse incentives of the proposed policy? That would never happen.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg expresses the exact same image that I have been thinking about contemporary politics.
Justice Ginsburg said she was optimistic about the nation “over the long haul” and she cited the pendulum swing of U.S. politics, which she said was as much a symbol of America as the bald eagle.

When the pendulum swings too far in one direction, “you can look forward to it moving back,” she said.
That thought gives me hope, but I fear that recent presidencies for the past quarter century have established unfortunate trends that will never swing back. We won't see a diminishment of executive powers. That movement just seems to ratchet in one direction. We will continue to see presidencies judged by image rather than substance. And the media will continue to color our views of politics to an unfortunate degree.

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