Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Last Call For Uncle Ben's House Of Pain

Meanwhile, the Trump regime continues to reverse every Obama-era policy it can find, and in the end few people in the cabinet will have done more damage to black people in America than HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

In a press release on Monday, the Department of Housing and Urban Development made its firmest commitment yet to tear down the Obama-era framework for enforcing the Fair Housing Act.

In a public notice dated Thursday, Aug. 9, HUD outlined its reasons for quashing the 2015 “affirmatively furthering fair housing” rule (AFFH), which had been the strongest effort in decades to crack down on segregation and discriminatory practices in and by American cities and suburbs. HUD Secretary Ben Carson cited the Obama administration’s “unworkable requirements” in a statement, saying the rule “actually impeded the development and rehabilitation of affordable housing.” Under AFFH, Carson said, cities and other HUD grantees had “inadequate autonomy” according to his understanding of federalism.

Neither criticism, fair housing experts say, is accurate. The AFFH rule told cities to set fair housing goals, but not how to meet them. It was flexible on doctrinaire questions like: Should assistance go to people or places?

Neither did the rule seem likely to dampen the supply of affordable housing. “It’s important and worthwhile and corresponded to the importance of what it’s designed to do,” says Andrea Ponsor, the COO of Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, which advocates for the preservation and production of affordable rental housing. “We were very supportive of the rule and we don’t feel like it had its opportunity to work yet.”

It's the usual conservative bromide: protections against discrimination are always bad for business.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on Monday, Carson framed the change as a way to bolster housing production across the board. “I want to encourage the development of mixed-income multifamily dwellings all over the place,” he told the paper. While it’s true that the affordability crisis is in part rooted in housing starts per capita hitting a 60-year low, the Fair Housing Act is intended to attack segregation, not scarcity.

That comment does not mesh with Carson’s established philosophy. In his only published commentary on housing policy before his appointment to HUD, he called the 2015 AFFH rule “social engineering” that would “fundamentally change the nature of some communities from primarily single-family to largely apartment-based areas.” Fair housing advocates would have found that a dreamy, if outlandish scenario. Recipients of Community Development Block Grants have been required for decades to “affirmatively further fair housing,” but have rarely if ever been punished by HUD for not doing so.

A quick glance at the notice reveals that while the secretary contradicts himself, the outlines of a policy—to the extent they can be read that way—hew closely to conservative orthodoxy on housing, which is to reject federal efforts to demolish the walls that wealthy white suburbs have built. HUD’s new approach does not appear likely to increase production or decrease segregation. Instead, it poses a series of questions that appear almost painfully rudimentary on the heels of the Obama administration’s six-year effort to draft the AFFH rule (and 50 years of rampant local disregard for the FHA), such as:

• “Instead of a data-centric approach, should jurisdictions be permitted to rely upon their own experiences?”

• “How much deference should jurisdictions be provided in establishing objectives to address obstacles to identified fair housing goals, and associated metrics and milestones for measuring progress?”

One of HUD’s new goals is to “provide for greater local control,” a phrase understood to conjure the strict, racially-motivated land use laws that were developed by American suburbs to keep out minority populations.

So protecting affordable housing from discrimination is destroying affordable housing, the same way protecting lenders from discrimination by banks and mortgage shops "caused the 2008 Great Depression".  The "Community Reinvestment Act wrecked the economy because banks were forced to give loans to poor black and Latino people who couldn't afford them" is the worst zombie lie of the last decade.

Now Carson is resurrecting it to do the same thing to housing.  It's sickening.  But this is who the Trump regime is.

The Blue Wave Rises, Con't

With 83 days until the 2018 Midterm elections, it's time to check in with the Cook Political Report after primaries this week in Connecticut, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Vermont, and it's not just shaping up to be a Blue Wave in the House, it's a Blue Tsunami.

For Republicans, the 2018 House playing field is a lot like a game of Whack-a-Mole: everywhere they turn, new problems keep popping up in surprising places. In January, we rated 20 GOP-held seats as Toss Ups or worse, including three leaning towards Democrats. With today's changes, we now rate 37 GOP-held seats as Toss Ups or worse, including ten leaning towards Democrats.

Republicans are relieved that state Sen. Troy Balderson appears to have eked out a win in Ohio's 12th CD special election last week. But a new round of polls shows several more GOP incumbents, including Reps. Mimi Walters (CA-45) and Tom MacArthur (NJ-03) highly vulnerable. Their seats, along with Rep. Robert Pittenger's open NC-09, move from Lean Republican to the Toss Up column.

On the bright side for Republicans, a handful of their battle-tested incumbents appear to be defying the "blue wave" in Democratic-leaning seats. Recent campaign polling shows Reps. David Valadao (CA-21), Carlos Curbelo (FL-26), John Katko (NY-24) and Will Hurd (TX-23) with impressive initial leads in districts Hillary Clinton carried. This week, Curbelo moves from Toss Up to Lean Republican.

Here's the latest Cook chart:

Even if the Dems lose in PA-14, just by taking the ten GOP seats that now lean Dem and splitting the toss-ups 50/50 you get 22 seats, just shy of retaking the House.

Democrats will do a lot better than splitting the toss-ups.  Should the dam break as I expect it to with Dems getting 75% of the toss-ups, 50% of the lean GOP seats, and a quarter of the likely seats, that's somewhere around 45 seats, well more than enough to retake the House.

And should it be a 2010 bloodbath, that could turn into 60+ seats very quickly.  If the primary turnout last night was any indication, the Republicans are in dire straits.

While measuring primary turnout isn’t a perfect way to gauge how the general election will play out — primary voters, after all, don’t necessarily equal general-election voters — it’s unmistakable that more Democratic voters participated last night. (And while Scott Walker, for example, faced little opposition in his GOP primary in Wisconsin, there was a competitive Republican contest for Senate.) Here’s a look at the turnout in last night’s gubernatorial primaries: 
  • Minnesota: Dem 580,962; GOP 319,276
  • Wisconsin: Dem 537,840; GOP 456,007
  • Connecticut: Dem 211,499; GOP 142,890
  • Vermont: Dem 57,102; GOP 35,840

But that scenario only happens when we vote.

Russian To Judgment, Con't

Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman predicts Trump will pardon Paul Manafort, and he's nearly assured to be correct in that assumption as Manafort's defense in his tax evasion trial has rested without calling a single witness.

Going on the stand himself was probably never under consideration, since cross-examination would have been a nightmare. It’s unclear whether Manafort had any fact witnesses who could refute the evidence that was offered in the prosecution’s case. And there may not be anyone around who would testify to Manafort’s sterling character, both because few people want to be associated with him today and because he has long been known as a particularly immoral schemer, almost a walking caricature of the mercenary lobbyist willing to do anything for a buck. It’s unclear whether, even if they had wanted to, his defense could find someone to stand up and say Manafort is a great guy who would never do the things he is accused of.

From the beginning, there has been a question hanging over Manafort’s case: Why won’t he flip? After all, other Trump aides have when faced with possible jail time, and Manafort is facing more than anyone. There’s a real possibility he’ll never see another day as a free man. One popular explanation is that he’s afraid that if he tells everything he knows, some people in Russia would become displeased enough to kill him. The oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whom Manafort supposedly owes $19 million, allegedly has links to a Russian organized crime group.

So Manafort may have decided that it’s better to take his chances with a jury than to find a strange substance smeared on his door handle one day. It’s also possible Manafort really has nothing to offer special counsel Robert S. Mueller III about Trump, that his activities, criminal though they might have been, never actually involved the president. That would mean he has no one to flip on.

So where does Trump fit in to all this if Manafort doesn't have incriminating evidence to give to Mueller?  Simple: Trump still has to pardon him.

But let’s imagine for a moment that he knows something incriminating about the president — or even that the president isn’t sure what Manafort knows, but suspects that he might know something. (This, by the way, is Adam Davidson’s extremely plausible theory of Russian kompromat: Trump acts the way he does toward Vladimir Putin not because he knows Putin has damaging information on him, but because he just isn’t sure what Putin might have.) Would Trump actually go so far as to pardon Manafort, given the firestorm of criticism he’d get?

There are some lines even Trump is unwilling to cross. For instance, while he complains loudly about Attorney General Jeff Sessions not being able to protect him by shutting down the Mueller investigation, so far he hasn’t actually fired Sessions and replaced him with someone more pliable, presumably at least in part because his aides have convinced him that doing so would be a political disaster.

At the same time, Trump has spent the past 15 months since Mueller was appointed trying to discredit the investigation, in a campaign designed less to persuade the broader public than to convince his base that it is a witch hunt from start to finish and therefore everything it produces, no matter how factual and supported by evidence, should be ignored and discounted. He has obviously calculated, and rightly so, that if he can keep that base firmly behind him, Republicans in the House will never vote to impeach him, and even if Democrats took control of the chamber and did so, Republicans in the Senate would never vote to convict.

You can already see the argument he’ll make: The whole thing is a witch hunt, the charges are bogus, the jury was a bunch of Angry Democrats, and I’m intervening in the interests of justice. Trump also seems to genuinely believe that the investigation is unfair, and pardoning Manafort would be a great way for him to both assert control and stick it to Mueller.

And this right here is why I believe Waldman is correct.  Trump will have to pardon Manafort in order to keep his base behind him.  The political kayfabe means Trump has to save Manafort from the evil witch hunt.  If he doesn't, he risks losing his base.  The second that happens, he's done.  And if he doesn't pardon Manafort now, he certainly will soon.

It’s important to remember that no matter what the jury in this case decides, it’s only the first of two trials Manafort faces. The next one, in a federal court in Washington, will deal more directly with Manafort’s relationships in the former Soviet Union. That’s when Trump may start feeling the heat and feeling oppressed, and look for a way to let everyone know who’s really in charge. And that’s the day Manafort, sitting in his jail cell, is fervently hoping for.

Manafort may end up serving some time, or remain free on appeal, as he faces his second trial, and that's scheduled to begin just about a month from now.  That's the one where Donald Trump could take real damage, and there's always the risk that Manafort, if convicted, will suddenly have every reason to tell Mueller everything he knows about Trump and Russia.  Trump may not have a political choice but to pardon Manafort on both federal cases.

Martin Longman makes the argument that a pardon won't help Trump.

Waldman thinks Trump will ultimately pardon Manafort, but only after the second trial which will cover his dealings with Ukrainians and Russians. The problem with this prediction is that Manafort needs charges hanging over him in order to invoke his right against self-incrimination. If he’s pardoned for most of what he could conceivably be charged with, he could be compelled to tell the special counsel what he knows or face fresh charges of contempt and obstruction of justice. Is he really going to count on Mueller to give up or Trump to counter every new charge with a fresh pardon?

Maybe things really will get this weird and broken, but I think the reason Manafort hasn’t already been preemptively pardoned is that it would not solve Trump’s problems and probably would exacerbate them. Even for congressional Republicans, there’s a limit to how nakedly Trump can obstruct the investigation and get away with it. He has not fired Jeff Sessions or Rod Rosenstein, for example, and he’d run into similar problems if he started pardoning Manafort for refusing to cooperate with investigators when he faces no prospect of self-incrimination.

Add to this that Manafort can still face state charges, particularly in New York State, and I don’t see the pardon card as much of an option for Trump. If he’s desperate enough, maybe he uses it and maybe Manafort can avoid spending his life in prison. But it would not solve Trump’s problems or make all Manafort’s problems go away.

That's true, but again, this theory relies on the GOP having an upper limit to Trump's mendacity.  Pardoning Manafort will cause problems, but Republicans will eventually shrug and get behind him, because otherwise the base will eviscerate them in November.  If I were Trump, I would definitely make this move before the midterms and dare the GOP not to do anything in his defense.

They've defended every action Trump has taken so far, and for the same reason, the GOP base is a cargo cult.

Anyway, we'll see.  I don't expect the jury will take long either way.


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