Trying to get a Grasp on the 2020 Candidates

Cannot do it. Too many of them of various levels of notoriety. I fear we have entered some kind of Bermuda Triangle of candidates, from which we will never emerge.

The debates will be held next week, which means we all have to be able to get this straight in our heads so we can know which people said what and, assuming there’re gaffes, at whom to be outraged.

Meanwhile, Trump ran a rerun of a 2016 rally to “re-launch” his campaign and thought nobody would notice, there’s crazy tension between the USA and Iran, and several glacial regions are racing to see which will melt the fastest. . .

OK. 2020 Candidates. Focus. Oh, God. There’s about a billion of them just with last names starting with the letter B. Bennet, Biden, de Blasio, Booker, Bullock, Buttigieg. And that’s not counting the ones who are known by B-names, like Bernie Sanders and Beto O’Rourke.

I’m going to write a full sentence about my perceived zeigeist of each of the candidates, in alphabetical order. People with more knowledge of these candidates are free to differ with my perceptions, which are based on entirely limited research and passerby hearsay. (Those with an × did not qualify for the first debates. Otherwise it’s 1 for first-night, 2 for second night. Also, I’ve helpfully omitted Mike Gravel entirely.)

  • 2 Bennet, Michael; Got in a little late to the race, this Colorado senator is moderate, and seems to prioritize foundational reforms like campaign finance.
  • 2 Biden, Joe; After missing the boat in 2016, this former vice president is the fast food joint of the race: a known quantity, not great food, but dependable for what he is.
  • 1 de Blasio, Bill; Also a latecomer, this New York City mayor is repeating the grand tradition of that city’s mayors to consider (Michael Bloomberg) and possibly run (Rudy Guiliani) for president in a way that nobody really expects to go anywhere.
  • 1 Booker, Cory; New Jersey senator seeks to run a calm, building tide of a campaign that seems to focus on social justice.
  • × Bullock, Steve; Governor of Montana who is running on the basis of his ability to win in a part of the country that’s been supportive of Trump.
  • 2 Buttigieg, Pete; This mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is an up-and-comer who has attracted attention for being a sophisticated mayor of a mid-sized city.
  • 1 Castro, Julián; This former HUD secretary is running on meat-and-potatoes, chicken-in-every-pot kind of general good-governance.
  • 1 Delaney, John; This former representative from Maryland announced back in 2017 with a focus on cooperation and bipartisanship.
  • 1 Gabbard, Tulsi; This representative from Hawaii seems focused on an isolationist foreign policy.
  • 2 Gillibrand, Kirsten; This New York senator campaigns on helping to reinforce the safety net.
  • 2 Harris, Kamala; This California senator is running on her bona fides as a former prosecutor.
  • 2 Hickenlooper, John; This former Colorado governor seems to be running as a kind of generic progressive with a track record.
  • 1 Inslee, Jay; Governor of Washington who has squared his hole as the climate guy.
  • 1 Klobuchar, Amy; This Minnesota senator emphasizes her ability to win with rural voters and progressives alike.
  • × Messam, Wayne; This mayor of Miramar, Florida, apparently wants to cancel student loan debt.
  • × Moulton, Seth; This representative from Massachusetts is running as a kind of new-core Democrat.
  • 1 O’Rourke, Beto; This former representative from Texas is best known for his 2018 senate race, but hopes to use his popularity from that race to give him a leg up in this broad field.
  • × Quimby, Joseph; This Springfield mayor is fictitious and is not running for president.
  • 1 Ryan, Tim; This representative from Ohio is running on a new manufacturing and new industry message.
  • 2 Sanders, Bernie; This Vermont senator ran a major challenge in the thin 2016 field and hopes that momentum can be renewed in a far denser field.
  • 2 Swalwell, Eric; This representative from California seems to center his campaign around particular policy proposals for a handful of issues including gun safety, college education, and neurological and chronic diseases.
  • 1 Warren, Elizabeth; This Massachusetts senator probably should have run in 2016, but now the professor is at the lectern and she has lesson plans for everything.
  • 2 Williamson, Marianne; This self-help book author wants to pay direct reparations to the descendants of slaves.
  • 2 Yang, Andrew; This entrepreneur wants to give everyone a monthly check that’s larger than Ms. Williamson’s reparations checks would be.

In any case, there’s way too many candidates, so hopefully the upcoming debates will help put the ranking in a more stark contrast and let us begin to speak of a more limited field with confidence that field is solidifying.

On the other hand, trying to pin down even a single sentence for each candidate gave me something to grasp for most. But still a lot to keep in the old noggin at one time.

Could have gone for tag-lines instead. Like Booker seems kind of an anti-Chris-Christie, because Christie went out of his way to be pretty ascerbic where Booker goes out of his way to be fairly calming.


Democracy and Faith

Not the pulpit and pew kind of faith. The ideas-have-utility kind. That the basic promise of science and reason and democracy are strong enough that you don’t have to pack the court to make it work. That you don’t have to rig elections, gerrymander, or shoe-horn racist questions into the census to get your way. That kind of faith. Faith that your positions are meaningful, and generally right, and if they turn out to be wrong, you’ll change them rather than changing the subject.

Faith that we don’t have to be 100% on the first draft of a law. That we can use statistical process control to make our systems work better than trying to thread the needle. We are not Luke Skywalker, and we don’t need to be.

Faith that the people want change. And that change is easier when it’s a step at a time. That we don’t start walking. We crawl first. We can be guided by the wisdom of evolution, of experimentation.

This is a starting-point problem, in many ways. That there is a false premise that’s been introduced to our collective system. The false premise is that we should ever be acting like someone like Trump acts—not his biting insults, not his bravado, but his mere conviction is his greatest flaw. His idea, and the idea of anyone, who says they hold some special key, some Rosetta Stone. Be it the wall, or tariffs, or whatever it may be.

And that is exactly what makes Trump so sad to a majority of the nation. He rejects our system. He acts as though he has joined a dictator’s club, believes in winning at all costs, believes in none of the things most of us spent at least twelve grades learning about. The American system, imperfect, seeks out perfection. The Trump system, fatally flawed, seeks nothing beyond the next win, the extra scoop of ice cream, the adoring headline. And then lashes out when it doesn’t get it.

We should all reject that, whether it’s in the guise of a golf resort and luxury brand heckler extraordinaire or whether it’s those who say that the GND is the only and holiest of grails rather than a sketch of some things that might work. Or those who say Medicare for All, rather than let’s figure out this healthcare thing, and if it is Medicare for All, great, but if not, great. The important thing is the result and not who had the idea or that it conformed to some chant or slogan or fever dream.

Faith in democracy means pain. It meant pain when they wrote the Declaration of Independence, signing their names and risking their lives. It meant pain for generations who endured slavery waiting for the country to wake up and have a war to put an end to it. More pain struggling to gain the vote. The pain of forever knowing we hesitated in answering the call, turning away refugees and interning citizens, while Hitler took power and took land and took lives. Our nation is founded upon pain, but of faith that that pain will not be for naught. We may be stupid and slow, but we will arrive.

That’s not to say no action is necessary. Just the opposite. But it does underline the type of action. Reform does not mean retaliation. It means girding the system against wrongdoing no matter who would enact it. If the courts do become rotted by neglect of the Senate, rather than packing them, enact reforms on the nomination and confirmation process, enact changes to court procedure, and impeach any judges (and only those) who are not well-behaved.

Similar reforms in other areas, always following the lodestar of a better system and not naive interests of the moment. The destination in our common sight is not “Democrats win” or “Republicans win,” but remains “America wins, and in doing so, earth and humanity win besides.”

Summary of the Mueller Report Introduction, Volume II

Note: this is written in the voice of the SCO/America, but it is a summary based on their summary.

Introduction to Volume II: The President’s Actions

OK. Remember Volume I was all about the stuff that Russia pulled on the USA during the 2016 election and thereabouts. Some before, some after, but centered around that election, in which the president got elected at the same time the Russians were helping him get elected.

Here in Volume II, it’s all about once how things went down around the investigation because the president and his campaign were being investigated for possibly helping the Russians to help him.

[Now, since the report has come out, the Attorney General and the Deputy (since-resigned) decided that they should make a determination on whether the president obstructed, which our report doesn’t do. But they haven’t released hundreds of pages of analysis or reasoning, which seems damned odd. Where’s their analysis? Anyway…]

A prosecutor usually looks at the evidence available, looks at the law, and decides one way or the other if e thinks e should bring charges. But there’s this Office of Legal Counsel piece of paper that says, ‘Thou shalt not charge the president while e’s president.’ Total bummer, right? I mean, what if e shoots someone on some street in NY? Also, we thought about it and said, ‘If we charge him, it would be really divisive and such. We can’t be the ones to make it all divisive, that’s Congress’ job if they want it.’ But, we wanted to get everything down on paper while everything was still fresh, and investigating is completely what we do, so we did.

But we were investigating, and then we were like, ‘Hmm.’ It occurred to us that if we can’t charge the president, it wouldn’t be right to say, ‘You took the cookies, but we can’t charge you yet.’ I mean, even if we could prove it, we can’t charge on it. So really we just have to get the evidence down, and then it’s up to Congress, or maybe up to the next Attorney General after the president isn’t president. But it’s not up to us! So there!

But by the way, even though we can’t charge him and don’t make an analysis under the usual rules, if we were sure the president was innocent we would say that. We do NOT say that the president is innocent. We can’t say that, based on the very thorough evidence in this volume. But we can’t charge him, or accuse him. It might be a good idea for Congress to read this and possibly think about it (not as hard as they should really think about what to do about all the crap that Russia pulled, as documented in Volume I, but still very hard).

Volume II Summary

Trump lied about his Russian connections

Trump’s response to the fact that Russia messed with America in 2016 was to act like they didn’t. He also lied about not having any business or connections to Russia, despite the fact he had just been trying to build a tower in Moscow (which is in Russia).

Trump was weird as fuck about Flynn and firing Comey

Michael Flynn lied to the FBI, to Pence, and to other officials about talking to the Russian Ambassador about America’s sanctions meant to punish Russia for their efforts to sabotage the 2016 elections in favor of Donald Trump. Right after Trump was told that Flynn lied, he goes to FBI Director Comey and tells him he needs loyalty. And then on Valentine’s Day, one day after firing Flynn, he tells an advisor that firing Flynn would end the investigation.

Also on Valentine’s Day, he tells James Comey that he hopes Comey will let Flynn go. Not to the Lonely Heart’s Club dance, but to let him go scot-free despite lying loudly and proudly. He tried to get a deputy national security advisor to write down that Trump never told Flynn to talk to the Russian ambassador—the deputy declined, because she didn’t know if it was the truth.

Trump didn’t want the investigation to be very independent

Around that time, Attorney General Sessions was mulling over whether he should recuse himself, and Trump told While House Counsel McGahn to tell Sessions not to recuse (which isn’t how recusal decisions work). Trump was pissed when Sessions recused, and he told advisors that he should have an AG that would protect him (which isn’t how attorneys general work). He talked to Sessions that weekend and told him to unrecuse.

After Comey told Congress that the FBI was investigating Russia’s 2016 attacks, Trump called on the intelligence community, asking them to shout from the rooftops that Trump was innocent of any wrongdoing in the 2016 attacks (not how the intelligence community works). He called Comey and asked him to shout from rooftops the same way (not how the director of the FBI works).

Trump fired Comey because Comey wouldn’t be a lackey

In May, after Comey refused to tell Congress that Trump wasn’t under investigation, Trump fired Comey. He made them include in the termination letter that Comey said he wasn’t under investigation. The White House lied and said Comey was fired for other reasons, and they had had Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein write a memo to justify it, but Trump had decided to fire him before that. Trump told the Russians that firing Comey had taken pressure off him.

The appointment of Special Counsel and Trump trying to fire him

That’s when we came in. In order to insulate the investigation from interference or potential conflicts, the special counsel is a step-removed investigatory office. Trump, upon hearing that we were investigating, told advisors it was the end of his presidency. He demanded that Attorney General Sessions resign, but when Sessions submitted a letter of resignation, Trump did not accept it. He claimed our office had conflicts of interest, but his own advisors told him such claims were wrong and that the office had been cleared by the Department of Justice.

Upon hearing reports that our office was charged with investigating obstruction, Trump told McGahn to call Rod Rosenstein and have the Special Counsel removed. McGahn refused, prepared to resign if it came to it.

Trump tried to curtail the independent investigation

Trump met with his former campaign manager, Lewandowski, later in June and dictated a message to be delivered to Attorney General Sessions. That message would have ordered Sessions to publicly shout from the rooftops that our investigation was very unfair, that Trump hadn’t done anything wrong, and that Sessions would meet with us and restrict our investigation to future elections only. How or where Sessions would procure said time machine was not included in said memo. But, for the record, none of that would be kosher for any attorney general to do under orders from any president.

A month later, Trump asked Lewandowski about the status of the message, and he was told it would be delivered soon. The message was then passed-on to a senior White House official, but that official also did not want to deliver the message, so it was never delivered.

Trump tried to have people hide evidence

Once the media started asking about the Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, and agents of the Russian government, Trump ordered aides not to disclose e-mails that set up the meeting and personally edited a press statement by Trump Jr. to obfuscate the context and purpose of the meeting. When asked by the press, Trump’s personal attorney lied about Trump’s role in editing the statement (not how attorneys are supposed to work).

Trump tried to have Sessions take over the independent investigation

Trump called Sessions at home during early summer of 2017 to again press him to take charge of the investigation. In October, he asked Sessions to investigate Hillary Clinton. Again, neither are lawful things for any president to ask nor would it be cool for attorneys general to act on such orders. In December, Trump told Sessions that if he took over the investigation, he would be a hero. Sessions held firm on his recusal.

Trump tried to have evidence falsified about his attempt to fire the Special Counsel

Upon press reports in early 2018 that Trump had ordered McGahn to fire the special counsel, Trump told his officials to forge a record, that is, to fabricate a document that would serve as an official lie. He also pressured McGahn to publicly lie. He questioned McGahn as to why he had been forthcoming with the investigation on these facts. This shit is fucked up.

Trump acted cagey as fuck about the various cases (Flynn, Manafort, and redacted but you know it’s Roger Stone)

Upon Michael Flynn’s withdrawal from cooperation with the president’s lawyers, said lawyers left voicemail for Flynn seeming to request cooperation and a heads up if Flynn became aware of incriminating evidence against Trump. During Paul Manafort’s trial, the president sang his praises, and upon his conviction, stated a belief that testifying against coconspirators should be outlawed. No, no, no, no, no.

Trump did not react well to Cohen cooperating

That pattern of anti-lawful rhetoric continued with Michael Cohen, to whom the president was nasty when he found out that Cohen had become a cooperating witness. Cohen had lied to the United States Congress about the timeline regarding the Trump Tower Moscow project, and Moscow is in Russia. According to Cohen, during preparation to lie before Congress, Trump’s personal attorney told him to stay on message and not contradict Trump about the project. He also discussed pardons with Trump’s personal attorney. Once Cohen began cooperating, Trump called him a rat. Can this be real?

While the office is prevented from indicting, and for that and other reasons cannot conclude whether the above offenses constitute crimes, we can say a few things about all of it.

For one thing, a few of the actions Trump took are normally okay, but he did them in ways or under circumstances that call them into serious question. Also, we didn’t find the president was involved in any underlying crimes specific to the Russian election interference (but we didn’t rule it out, either). Also, we are carefully making no comment about underlying crimes not related to that specific set of events. Finally, a lot of the stuff Trump did that we can’t outright call obstruction, but it’s very potentially obstruction (if we had an obstruction detector, it would be beeping and we’d have to pretend that the beeping wasn’t annoying us), happened in plain view. It doesn’t really change anything, but it’s weird that he was basically wearing a T-shirt that said “crime in progress” on it.

There was a pattern here. Phase I was Trump trying to pretend he wasn’t under investigation, up until he fired Comey and we got here, at which point (phase II) it was more run-of-the-mill obstruction-but-for-it-being-the-president.

It’s 73 weeks until the 2020 election. Will the House start an impeachment inquiry? I think of that question like a chart, where the horizontal is time and the vertical is probability of impeachment.

From early in the administration, it was already pegged to say, 20% chance, which is way higher than the average president, especially as the House was controlled by Republicans. With the 2018 elections, it jumped to maybe 40%, just because the party in control changed. With the closure of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference, it jumped to right around 60%, maybe a little higher.

But with each further attempt to forestall Congress’ investigations, it inches a little higher. (There’s a similar chart for Senate removal if he were impeached; it’s around 10% and hasn’t moved significantly either way.)

In text form, the chart of likelihood of impeachment:

100 |                                    
 90 |                                    
 80 |                                    
 70 |                                    
 60 |                              ,---^`
 50 |                             /      
 40 |                     ,------'       
 30 |                    /               
 20 |-------------------'                
 10 |                                    
 00 |                                    

Too Many News

It’s obvious why everyone’s gone so existential of late, from Hope Hicks to Attorney General Barr. With Brexit entering its 50th season and Israel having to repeat elections, it feels like deja vu all over again. Is this real? How can this be real?

And nobody won the spelling bee and Game of Thrones is gone and Calvin ate all that cereal just to get the stupid beanie that broke! Ugh!

Not to mention New Hampshire banning the death penalty while a myriad of conservative states pass new and decayed attempts to ban abortion. The existence of so many problems does (or does it not?) amount to an existential problem.

That we can’t even deal with climate change, is mine, I think. That day by month by year by decade, the politicians admit it exists (the sane ones, anyway), but we don’t actually do anything much. The news media runs stories, here and there, but it’s too much of a creeper to sustain its rightful place in the news cycle, so it gets washed over.

I mean, the White House tried to make a whole Navy vessel, the USS John S. McCain, perform the old Monty Python skit, “How Not to be Seen.” And Mueller finally quit while saying, ‘Look the Russians screwed with us, maybe do something about that.’ But the Republicans only heard, ‘Trump maybe or didn’t obstruct but I can’t tell you so you figure it out.’ Which is important in its own right, but the headline of that story is really still about the damned Kremlin.

But the president wants everything to be about him, so of course he keeps bringing up impeachment. And yeah, we know that you were promised the full presidential experience, Donnie, but there’s a lot going on right now so maybe just chill out? Dude has no chill. Turns around and says, ‘Pass my trade deal with Mexico,’ right before he turns around again and says, ‘Also, tariffs on Mexico until they solve the Reimann hypothesis.’

Meanwhile, more carbon goes up in the air, more infrared light gets hugged back to the earth by it, the earth traps a little more heat, the ice melts a little more, the ocean gets a little more acidic, the storms get a little stronger, the future coast gets a little bit smaller.

Just too many news.

The Two Sides of the Assange Indictment

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been re-indicted with violations of the Espionage Act. Journalists reacted to this, predictably, with worry that it will portend more charges against journalists for publishing classified information that it’s in the public’s interest to know. The intelligence community and state department types reacted, again predictably, pointing out that WikiLeaks was willfully negligent in publishing, failing to protect sources and methods at all.

The answer lies in the middle, of course. Assange is utterly condemnable. WikiLeaks beside him. Both for their poor showing of integrity, and for their assistances of foreign governments to the detriment of reason and democracy. Meanwhile, the long-standing traditions of the First Amendment are not so easily abandoned. Bad actors, acting in bad faith, to do bad things, are still afforded the protection of that hallowed law.

While there should be obvious civil liabilities for publishers that do real harm to individuals, the bar for criminality must remain set at active participation in the illicit gathering of classified or otherwise private materials. While the indictment of Assange indicates the prosecutors believe there are instances of that, and they should be able to seek to convict on those counts, the acts of mere publication, however unwise, should be protected.

The fact of a despicable individual not having a book to be thrown at them does not grant them even a modicum of redemption. However much one may hold bloodlust for the deserts menu to be trotted out, however vengeful the public attitude, and however blueballed it may find itself, the facts of a person’s character remain unchanged. A scoundrel is not more so for wearing an orange jumpsuit, and many innocents have worn them or the stripes.

The integrity of Julian Assange depends upon him alone. The integrity of the First Amendment, infinitely more important and more valuable than Assange, depends on the collective effort to see it used as wisely as possible, but to see it defended against the overreach of prosecutors under any and all circumstances.

The governments of the world, employing confidential and covert sources and methods, would do well to properly compartmentalize that information so that no organization or individual could meaningfully corrupt their capabilities. The technical capabilities to mask documents and databases, to keep informants and operatives safe, must be taken as seriously as possible (including against the corrupt interests of a lunatical president and a pliant attorney general).

As damaging as the WikiLeaks releases have been (alongside other acts of espionage against the nation), they could have been far less so if the government and military did more to protect identities.