Sunday, April 15, 2018

Last Call For Courting Disaster

The Trump regime has long insisted that it has unlimited power over firing Robert Mueller and can choose to do so at any time for any reason, and made that statement again last week.

The White House “has been advised” that President Donald Trump has the authority to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Tuesday.

Trump fumed to reporters about Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign on Monday after the FBI raided the office and other properties of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. The president described the raid as a crime, called the probe “a disgrace” and “an attack on our country” and entertained a question about whether he would fire the special counsel, but didn’t directly answer it.

“We’ll see what happens,” he said.

Sanders, asked repeatedly about the remarks on Tuesday, referred many questions to Trump’s lawyers and the Department of Justice. But asked whether Trump can fire Mueller, she insisted that he could.

We’ve been advised that the president certainly has the power to make that decision,” she said, an answer that suggests the White House has explored the matter.

Even with some Republicans saying that he shouldn't fire Robert Mueller, no Republican has ever said that Trump lacks the authority to do so, nor do they see the need to make it clear through legislation that he can't.

Senate Republican leaders sharply warned President Donald Trump not to fire Robert Mueller III on Tuesday - but they once again stopped short of embracing legislation to protect the special counsel.

Their reluctance to take more forceful action came as Democratic leaders voiced new urgency to shield Mueller a day after Trump said he had been encouraged by some to dismiss the special counsel. At least one rank-and-file Republican endorsed moving forward soon with a bill to protect him.

But Senate GOP leaders were not budging from their position against taking preventive action, underscoring the downside they have long seen in being too confrontational against the leader of their party. Even at moments of great uncertainty about what Trump will do next, congressional Republican leaders have opted not to further agitate him.

"I haven't seen clear indication yet that we needed to pass something to keep him from being removed, because I don't think that's going to happen," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell did not elaborate on why he believed that.

And should Trump fire Mueller's current boss, Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, well, they've laid out a succession plan for that, too.

Rosenstein, the No. 2 official at the department, is supervising the Mueller probe because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from all matters related to the 2016 presidential campaign
So if Rosenstein is fired or recuses himself (as a witness to key events), someone else at the Justice Department will have to manage the investigation. 
This is where the department's succession plan and the President's executive order for vacancies come into play. 
The following list of individuals -- which is a mashup of officials because certain Trump nominees have not yet been Senate-confirmed -- would be next in line to step in Rosenstein's shoes:

  1. Solicitor General Noel Francisco
  2. The assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Engel
  3. The assistant attorney general for national security, John Demers
  4. The US attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, Robert Higdon
  5. The US attorney for the Northern District of Texas, Erin Nealy Cox  
Under this hypothetical, Francisco would be the first in line to supervise Mueller. But Rosenstein's acting principal associate deputy, Ed O'Callaghan, would become acting deputy attorney general for all other regular duties.

Now, I always thought it was odd that the Solicitor General, the government's lawyer before the Supreme Court, would be the number three person at the DoJ, followed by four lawyers all appointed by Trump. And yes, Francisco was appointed by Trump too, he was on Dubya's recount legal team back in 2000.

"So what does all this mean, Zandar?" you ask.

It means that alarm bells should be ringing all over Washington DC.

It means Donald Trump is going to try to fire Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller, and soon. 

Because Noel Francisco is auditioning for Rosenstein's job by arguing before the Supreme Court that Trump can fire Mueller.

The Supreme Court is set to hear a seemingly minor case later this month on the status of administrative judges at the Securities and Exchange Commission, an issue that normally might only draw the interest of those accused of stock fraud.

But the dispute turns on the president's power to hire and fire officials throughout the government. And it comes just as the White House is saying President Trump believes he has the power to fire special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Trump's Solicitor Gen. Noel Francisco intervened in the SEC case to urge the high court to clarify the president's constitutional power to fire all "officers of the United States" who "exercise significant authority" under the law.

"The Constitution gives the president what the framers saw as the traditional means of ensuring accountability: the power to oversee executive officers through removal," he wrote in Lucia vs. SEC. "The president is accordingly authorized under our constitutional system to remove all principal officers, as well as all 'inferior officers' he has appointed."

Yes, this is what you think it is.  Trump wants a call on firing Mueller from the Supreme Court.

In addition to representing the administration before the Supreme Court, Francisco, a former law clerk for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, could be in line to oversee the Mueller inquiry if Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein is fired. Atty. Gen Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the investigation.

Peter Shane, a law professor at the Ohio State University, called Francisco's argument a "radical proposition," and one that goes beyond what is at issue in the case. The justices said they would focus only on how the SEC in-house judges are appointed. But Francisco is asking them to go further and rule on the "removal" issue.

"The solicitor general is obviously trying to goad the court into a broad statement about the removability of all officers of the United States," Shane said. "Were the court to make any such statement, it would surely be cited by Trump as backing any move by him to fire Mueller directly."

It's possible that this is just a contingency plan.  Trump's lawyers continue to insist he has the power to fire Mueller anyway.  But should the courts make such a call in this case, Trump would have the cover he needs.

Now I think the Supreme Court won't address this issue yet and could even ask the Trump regime to refer the issue to Congress if they want increased authority.  Such a statement could imply that Trump doesn't have the power to fire Mueller however, and I think SCOTUS may punt completely and keep the narrow focus.

But the fact Francisco is even asking the courts for this is a dead giveaway that Trump wants to make this move ASAP.

Be ready.

America Gets That Poll-Asked Look, Con't

A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds Trump's approval rating inching back up to 40% from 36% in January, but the real news is Trump's base is coming back to him.

Overall, Trump has gained ground in approval among several demographic groups that were important in his 2016 campaign. For one, 59 percent of Americans living in rural areas now approve of his job performance, up 17 points from January and a smaller seven points from last November. Among white rural Americans specifically, his approval is even higher: 65 percent approve, up from 50 percent in January.

Trump garners above-water approval among whites, 53 percent of whom approve of the president, up seven points from January. He does even better among whites without college degrees (60 percent, up seven points) and white men without college degrees (70 percent, up six points). Almost three-quarters of conservatives approve of the president in the latest poll, 74 percent, up nine points from January.

Trump continues to face overwhelming disapproval from an array of other groups, including 79 percent of racial and ethnic minorities, 67 percent of adults under age 30, and 64 percent of women. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats and over 8 in 10 liberals also disapprove of Trump.

If you're wondering why the last six weeks has been nothing but Trump attacks on his enemies' list, it's because Trump is circling his wagons and rallying the base, and these numbers are out before the latest strikes in Syria.  When it comes to rural white voters, and especially white men without college degrees, Trump is now fully their man.  Portraying attacks on Trump as attacks on them is a deliberate strategy.

It's working.   I expect this number to only grow as we head into midterms.

I don't know if it will be enough to save other Republicans in November, especially since Trump's attacks are landing on congressional Republicans and there's a lot of collateral damage on the GOP in general.  But if Trump gets those white voters to turn out, the blue wave will crash on the rocks and do no damage.

This tells me Trump is re-motivating the base, even with taking his trade war with China into effect on rural voters.  They believe he's going to win and make the jobs come back.  They're willing to suffer for him for a variety of reasons.

This also tells me that red state voter suppression of black and Hispanic voters will be even more important in 2018 and 2020.

The most important poll in 2018 though happens on Election Day.  Get out there.

Sunday Long Read: The Birth Of Racism

Over the last twenty years, America's infant mortality rate has increased dramatically, and the change has come almost exclusively at the expense of black mothers and black babies.  This is true for pregnant black women regardless of education and income level, and in the era of Trump, this is will absolutely explode into a national crisis of epic proportions.

From 1915 through the 1990s, amid vast improvements in hygiene, nutrition, living conditions and health care, the number of babies of all races who died in the first year of life dropped by over 90 percent — a decrease unparalleled by reductions in other causes of death. But that national decline in infant mortality has since slowed. In 1960, the United States was ranked 12th among developed countries in infant mortality. Since then, with its rate largely driven by the deaths of black babies, the United States has fallen behind and now ranks 32nd out of the 35 wealthiest nations. Low birth weight is a key factor in infant death, and a new report released in March by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin suggests that the number of low-birth-weight babies born in the United States — also driven by the data for black babies — has inched up for the first time in a decade.

Black infants in America are now more than twice as likely to die as white infants — 11.3 per 1,000 black babies, compared with 4.9 per 1,000 white babies, according to the most recent government data — a racial disparity that is actually wider than in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery, when most black women were considered chattel. In one year, that racial gap adds up to more than 4,000 lost black babies. Education and income offer little protection. In fact, a black woman with an advanced degree is more likely to lose her baby than a white woman with less than an eighth-grade education.

This tragedy of black infant mortality is intimately intertwined with another tragedy: a crisis of death and near death in black mothers themselves. The United States is one of only 13 countries in the world where the rate of maternal mortality — the death of a woman related to pregnancy or childbirth up to a year after the end of pregnancy — is now worse than it was 25 years ago. Each year, an estimated 700 to 900 maternal deaths occur in the United States. In addition, the C.D.C. reports more than 50,000 potentially preventable near-deaths, like Landrum’s, per year — a number that rose nearly 200 percent from 1993 to 2014, the last year for which statistics are available. Black women are three to four times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than their white counterparts, according to the C.D.C. — a disproportionate rate that is higher than that of Mexico, where nearly half the population lives in poverty — and as with infants, the high numbers for black women drive the national numbers.

Monica Simpson is the executive director of SisterSong, the country’s largest organization dedicated to reproductive justice for women of color, and a member of the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, an advocacy group. In 2014, she testified in Geneva before the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, saying that the United States, by failing to address the crisis in black maternal mortality, was violating an international human rights treaty. After her testimony, the committee called on the United States to “eliminate racial disparities in the field of sexual and reproductive health and standardize the data-collection system on maternal and infant deaths in all states to effectively identify and address the causes of disparities in maternal- and infant-mortality rates.” No such measures have been forthcoming. Only about half the states and a few cities maintain maternal-mortality review boards to analyze individual cases of pregnancy-related deaths. There has not been an official federal count of deaths related to pregnancy in more than 10 years. An effort to standardize the national count has been financed in part by contributions from Merck for Mothers, a program of the pharmaceutical company, to the CDC Foundation.

The crisis of maternal death and near-death also persists for black women across class lines. This year, the tennis star Serena Williams shared in Vogue the story of the birth of her first child and in further detail in a Facebook post. The day after delivering her daughter, Alexis Olympia, via C-section in September, Williams experienced a pulmonary embolism, the sudden blockage of an artery in the lung by a blood clot. Though she had a history of this disorder and was gasping for breath, she says medical personnel initially ignored her concerns. Though Williams should have been able to count on the most attentive health care in the world, her medical team seems to have been unprepared to monitor her for complications after her cesarean, including blood clots, one of the most common side effects of C-sections. Even after she received treatment, her problems continued; coughing, triggered by the embolism, caused her C-section wound to rupture. When she returned to surgery, physicians discovered a large hematoma, or collection of blood, in her abdomen, which required more surgery. Williams, 36, spent the first six weeks of her baby’s life bedridden.

The reasons for the black-white divide in both infant and maternal mortality have been debated by researchers and doctors for more than two decades. But recently there has been growing acceptance of what has largely been, for the medical establishment, a shocking idea: For black women in America, an inescapable atmosphere of societal and systemic racism can create a kind of toxic physiological stress, resulting in conditions — including hypertension and pre-eclampsia — that lead directly to higher rates of infant and maternal death. And that societal racism is further expressed in a pervasive, longstanding racial bias in health care — including the dismissal of legitimate concerns and symptoms — that can help explain poor birth outcomes even in the case of black women with the most advantages.

“Actual institutional and structural racism has a big bearing on our patients’ lives, and it’s our responsibility to talk about that more than just saying that it’s a problem,” says Dr. Sanithia L. Williams, an African-American OB-GYN in the Bay Area and a fellow with the nonprofit organization Physicians for Reproductive Health. “That has been the missing piece, I think, for a long time in medicine.”

Racism can and does kill at birth in America.

That is the cold, hard truth.

We live in a country where making sure black mothers gave birth was more important in the era of slavery than it is today, because back then black women were an economic investment.  In 2018, black people are routinely killed because we are seen as without worth.  The stress of that is lethal.  In an era where simply being black gets you arrested for the crime of being at a Starbucks and waiting for a friend, the stress kills.

And I'm so tired of this.  We all are.

It's killing us.,  Everything about this country it seems is designed to kill us.  It is specifically designed to kill black women.  It is monstrous.

It is all we can do just to survive.

The Bonfire Of The Manatee

Adam Davidson at the New Yorker has covered the collapse of systems before, both in Iraq and in the 2007 financial crisis, and posits that this week was the turning point, like the bankruptcy of Bear Stearns and Dubya's 2003 "Mission Impossible" declaration on the USS Abraham Lincoln, that indicates events are now leading into the end of the Trump regime.

I thought of those earlier experiences this week as I began to feel a familiar clarity about what will unfold next in the Trump Presidency. There are lots of details and surprises to come, but the endgame of this Presidency seems as clear now as those of Iraq and the financial crisis did months before they unfolded. Last week, federal investigators raided the offices of Michael Cohen, the man who has been closer than anybody to Trump’s most problematic business and personal relationships. This week, we learned that Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months—his e-mails have been read, presumably his phones have been tapped, and his meetings have been monitored. Trump has long declared a red line: Robert Mueller must not investigate his businesses, and must only look at any possible collusion with Russia. That red line is now crossed and, for Trump, in the most troubling of ways. Even if he were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and then had Mueller and his investigation put on ice, and even if—as is disturbingly possible—Congress did nothing, the Cohen prosecution would continue. Even if Trump pardons Cohen, the information the Feds have on him can become the basis for charges against others in the Trump Organization.

This is the week we know, with increasing certainty, that we are entering the last phase of the Trump Presidency. This doesn’t feel like a prophecy; it feels like a simple statement of the apparent truth. I know dozens of reporters and other investigators who have studied Donald Trump and his business and political ties. Some have been skeptical of the idea that President Trump himself knowingly colluded with Russian officials. It seems not at all Trumpian to participate in a complex plan with a long-term, uncertain payoff. Collusion is an imprecise word, but it does seem close to certain that his son Donald, Jr., and several people who worked for him colluded with people close to the Kremlin; it is up to prosecutors and then the courts to figure out if this was illegal or merely deceitful. We may have a hard time finding out what President Trump himself knew and approved.

However, I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality. In Azerbaijan, he did business with a likely money launderer for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. In the Republic of Georgia, he partnered with a group that was being investigated for a possible role in the largest known bank-fraud and money-laundering case in history. In Indonesia, his development partner is “knee-deep in dirty politics”; there are criminal investigations of his deals in Brazil; the F.B.I. is reportedly looking into his daughter Ivanka’s role in the Trump hotel in Vancouver, for which she worked with a Malaysian family that has admitted to financial fraud. Back home, Donald, Jr., and Ivanka were investigated for financial crimes associated with the Trump hotel in SoHo—an investigation that was halted suspiciously. His Taj Mahal casino received what was then the largest fine in history for money-laundering violations.

Listing all the financial misconduct can be overwhelming and tedious. I have limited myself to some of the deals over the past decade, thus ignoring Trump’s long history of links to New York Mafia figures and other financial irregularities. It has become commonplace to say that enough was known about Trump’s shady business before he was elected; his followers voted for him precisely because they liked that he was someone willing to do whatever it takes to succeed, and they also believe that all rich businesspeople have to do shady things from time to time. In this way of thinking, any new information about his corrupt past has no political salience. Those who hate Trump already think he’s a crook; those who love him don’t care.

I believe this assessment is wrong. Sure, many people have a vague sense of Trump’s shadiness, but once the full details are better known and digested, a fundamentally different narrative about Trump will become commonplace. Remember: we knew a lot about problems in Iraq in May, 2003. Americans saw TV footage of looting and heard reports of U.S. forces struggling to gain control of the entire country. We had plenty of reporting, throughout 2007, about various minor financial problems. Somehow, though, these specific details failed to impress upon most Americans the over-all picture. It took a long time for the nation to accept that these were not minor aberrations but, rather, signs of fundamental crisis. Sadly, things had to get much worse before Americans came to see that our occupation of Iraq was disastrous and, a few years later, that our financial system was in tatters.

I have to agree.  This week, in particular the Cohen raid, was the moment that when we look back on the Trump era, will be the moment where we can point to this all ending very badly for Trump and for America.  The rest of this play hasn't been written yet, but you can see the foreshadowing and the smell the coming storm.  If the November 2016 election was act one and the Mueller investigation starting in May 2017 was act two, the Cohen raid signals the third act of our uniquely American dark comedy.

I don't know where all this will end up.  As with Iraq and the Great Recession, the coda will take years, if not decades, to perform on the world stage.  I don't know what will come after, whether it's a Pence presidency, a neutered Trump under a Democratic Congress, or an America plunged into something much worse, but the Trump era as it is now is on its way out.

It's up to us to shape that coda.
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