Saturday, November 5, 2016

SCOTUS Bans AZ Ballot Harvesting; Media Wonders Why Black Turnout Is Down

The drumbeat from the media in the last few days is that the African American vote for Clinton is down this year from the level of support that Obama had and that this is causing great concern in the Clinton campaign. I have no idea whether it is causing any concern but I did see Robbie Mook, Clinton's campaign manager, stating that African American early voting numbesr are actually up by 22%. I also remember the times in the primary this year when the African American vote was Hillary's bulwark against the challenge of Bernie Sanders. It's hard to believe that these voters are any less motivated now than they were then. It would be no surprise if African Americans were slightly enthused by Clinton. After all, Obama is the first African American President. But I doubt that any slight dip in enthusiasm will translate into much fewer votes. So I'm not sure where these media reports are coming from.

What is distressing about these media reports is the fact that they manage to discuss this issue without hardly ever even mentioning the massive voter suppression efforts that Republicans have initiated in this campaign. Even at this late date, courts are ruling on GOP voting restrictions in Arizona, Wisconsin, Ohio, North Carolina and even Kansas. Today, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling and allowed the ban on "ballot harvesting" in Arizona to go into effect, disenfranchising more minority and disabled voters. (Who was the swing "liberal" justice who broker the 4-4 split which would have let the lower court ruling stand?) Take a look at the map of just seven states where over 850 polling places have been closed since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Surely voter suppression is an important point to be made when talking about supposedly depressed African American turnout. Too bad the media can't be bothered to do it.

Natural Weekends - Sunset

This weekend's theme is sunset for the obvious reason, at least for those of you who read my blog rather than just look at the pictures, that we are facing the potential sunset of our democratic institutions, if not democracy itself. These photos were taken down at the harbor just before the full moon began to rise from the sea last month.

Friday, November 4, 2016

One Graphic Shows Disastrous Effect Of Shelby Decision And Massive Voting Suppression

TPM has a wonderful graphic showing the disastrous effects of the Supreme Court's ill-considered decision to essentially gut the Voting Rights Act. It shows that over 800 polling places in just seven states have actually been closed since the Shelby decision.

Added to this incredible disenfranchisement is traditional gerrymandering, the shortening of early voting periods, the illegal purging of voter rolls, the institution of voter ID laws that specifically target minorities, and now the potential harassment of voters at the polls, all designed by the Republican party and legislatures to maintain their grip on power. I wonder if Justice Kennedy can still sleep well at night when he sees the disastrous effects and massive disenfranchisement that his decision has rendered.

Generic Drug Price Fixers Do Not Fear Criminal Charges But Effective Oversight

Bloomberg has a great example of how little fear the business community currently has for the criminal justice system. According to the article, there is an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department that is looking into price fixing in the generic drug industry. Over a dozen companies and two dozen drugs are involved in the investigation. Once again, it looks like the collusion has occurred as the industry has consolidated and the individual players feel less of a need to actually compete directly with each other - just another example of the need for stricter antitrust enforcement. But the striking thing is the comment in the New York Times from a Wells Fargo analyst about this investigation. "We are less concerned about the financial impact of fines, although they could be significant, but rather how items like this can bring calls for controls and oversight." Yes, there is no need to worry that business will be seriously damaged by its criminal activity. What business really needs to fear is that there might be effective oversight that impedes that criminal activity. Such is the state of American business and ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system to deal effectively with white collar crime.

Polling Shows Incredible Increase In Early Voting By Latinos

For those who are freaking out about the media's heated narrative about the tightening polls, please take a deep breath, relax, and look at these numbers that show the remarkable increase in early voting by Hispanics in this election. A polling group focused on Latino voters reports that early voting by that group in Florida is up over 100%. It is up 60% in North Carolina and 25% in Colorado and Nevada. Now, this does not necessarily mean that Latino voting will have increased by these percentages at the end of the election but it certainly indicates that it is highly probable the increase will be substantial. If these number are correct, it is hard to see a path to victory for Donald Trump.

Steady Job Growth And Earnings Increase Raise Probability Of Rate Hike

The October unemployment report came out this morning and the headline numbers were a gain of 160,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.9 percent. In addition, the adjustments for August and September added an addition 44,000 jobs. Average hourly earning also rose by a healthy 10 cents which follows an 8 cent rise in September. The rising hourly earnings will gave some ammunition to those at the Fed who are interested in raising interest rates. On the other hand, the actual jobs numbers are hardly spectacular and the unemployment has held steady. My guess is that a December rate hike is probable unless there is some disastrous new data between now and the next meeting. And, let's be clear, one of those potential disasters is a Trump presidency.

Defendants In Bridgegate Trial Found Guilty On All Counts

The two defendants in the Chris Christie Bridgegate scandal have both been found guilty on all charges. Bill Baroni and Bridget Ann Kelly were convicted on all seven counts of conspiracy, fraud and related charges, the most serious of which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years. Both the prosecution and defense virtually stipulated and evidence was produced that Christie knew about the lane closures while they were occurring if not before. Christie has long denied he knew anything about the closures until weeks after they occurred but that position was increasingly untenable in light of the evidence produced at the trial and looks even more untenable with these convictions.

The Words That Must Not Be Spoken - An American Coup

I have heard and read a lot of media in the last couple of days concerning the cabal within the FBI that is intent on destroying Hillary Clinton's candidacy and the analysis always seems to be missing one word. Yesterday's news brought us three new stories about the heart of this conspiracy which seems to originate in the FBI's New York field office. Spencer Ackerman at the Guardian reports that some NY FBI agents consider Clinton "the anti-Christ". Ackerman quoted one unnamed agent as saying that "the FBI is Trumpland" and the reason the agency is leaking so badly is "they're pro-Trump."

This was followed by a story from Wayne Barrett at the Daily Beast that describes the nexus between former FBI Assistant Director Jim Kallstrom, Rudy Giuliani, and a network of current and former agents. Both Kallstrom and Giuliani have known Trump since the 1980s in New York and Giuliani is one of Trump's most important surrogates while Kallstrom has been a long-time Fox News contributor since his retirement. Please read the whole of Barrett's article to get a flavor of how the FBI has long covered for Republican malfeasance while doggedly pursuing Democrats. And read his other article that describes how Giuliani has been bought and paid for by Trump ever since the late 1980s when Trump bootstrapped Giuliani's first mayoral campaign and got the FBI to cover-up Trump's deep mob connections.

On Fox, Brett Baier reported that his sources say that Clinton will likely be indicted in a "pay-to-play" scheme at the Clinton Foundation; that new emails with possible classified information have been found among the Abedin emails; and that Hillary's email had almost assuredly been hacked at least five foreign intelligence services, which directly contradicts the conclusions made public by Comey. Baier had to walk much of these accusations back when it became apparent that his sources were two unnamed sources that were not even law-enforcement sources but just sources "familiar with the investigations". In fact, it's quite possible his sources were actually Giuliani and Kallstrom.

Kallstrom and Giuliani have been saying for months that agents both inside and outside the FBI have been talking them and are furious with Comey's decision not to prosecute Clinton over the email issue. Of course, any comments from a current agent is a violation of department rules if not a violation of the law. When pressed, both initially deny they ever sourced current FBI agents and, when confronted with their actual statements, deny that talked to any current agents. But, in an interview on Fox just two days before the Comey letter, Giuliani said, "there are going to be a couple of surprises in the next few days...I'm talking about some pretty big surprises...we've got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn this around." He seems pretty prescient and, in the video, quite smug and confident that he knows what will happen.

We have seen other leaks coming from FBI or FBI-related sources that have clearly helped the Trump campaign. Initial stories that showed evidence of a possible direct connection between a Russian bank associated with Putin and the Trump campaign were immediately knocked down by an NY Times' story that cited law enforcement sources. The Times subsequently had to walk back the definitive nature of their rebuttal. In addition, Comey refused to sign on to the finding by other security agencies that Russia has been behind the hacking of Democratic emails because of his concern about influencing the election.

So let's be clear about what is going on here. There is a group within the FBI that has essentially blackmailed the FBI Director into releasing his ill-considered letter in violation of DOJ rules and protocols. Plenty of sources have reported that a large part of Comey's  reasoning for writing the letter was that he was convinced that the information about the Abedin emails would leak, most probably from within his own Bureau. After Comey's letter, this cabal quite rightly felt that a wall had been breached (which it clearly had) and they began to leak like crazy to the point where we have unsubstantiated reports of possible classified material on some new Abedin emails, a wide-spread investigation into pay-to-play at the Clinton Foundation (that is purely based on a propaganda book against Clinton) that will likely result in an indictment, the dismissal of any Russian ties to the Trump campaign, and the refusal to confirm Russian hacking to influence the election. All of this clearly is intended to damage Hillary Clinton and support Donald Trump. And now we have indications that this cabal within the FBI is actually coordinating its actions with the Trump campaign.

All the media seems to treat all these revelations of the inappropriate and possibly illegal activities of the FBI with kid gloves. Rachel Maddow spent her show last night showing how the FBI relied on a Breitbart-inspired hit job on the Clinton Foundation (that was coordinated with the NY Times in a shocking breach of judgement) to launch its investigation of the Foundation which has apparently turned up nothing despite the FBI's best efforts that apparently continued long after the DOJ had basically laughed the agents out of the room and told them they had nothing. Maddow described the actions of these rogue agents as an attempt to influence or interject the FBI into the election. And that is the same kind of phrasing that most of the media uses - "interject", "influence", a "politicization" of the FBI, or other such euphemisms. Today's New York Times is a perfect example. It has one big story in the election section on the choices Comey has with regard to the Abedin emails that barely discusses the inappropriateness of Comey's actions. The best they can do is mention that he has few defenders and that some in the FBI worry about the agency's "reputation for impartiality".  In the New York section, they have a much smaller article on Giuliani's FBI connections that largely quotes from his interview on Fox & Friends, his claim of contacts with acting agents outraged at Clinton, and the lack of substantiation of any of his accusations. In neither article is their any detailed analysis of the potential effects of the FBI's rogue actions.

None of the media is willing to call this insurrection within the FBI for exactly what it is - an attempted coup. But that is exactly what it is. As Wayne Barrett has pointed out, the FBI has never had a Director who was a Democrat and has continually covered up for the GOP and pursued Democrats. Whether Comey is part of this cabal is not known but he has certainly succumbed to their pressure. And just like every political entity when a coup begins, there is a moment to choose sides before the outcome is known. And it is clear that the Republican party has decided to throw its lot in with the coup-plotters, primarily because they have been attempting to subvert government for decades. They have already allowed their nominee to refuse to accept the results of the election and deny the legitimacy of the new president if it was not Trump. The party has also already called for Clinton's impeachment should she win, having actually impeached her husband when he was President. It stands silent when its nominee declares that Clinton's election will result in our greatest constitutional crisis. It is refusing to consider any Democratic nominee to the Supreme Court. It has threatened the full faith and credit of the United States. It engages in massive voter suppression of its political opponents. It has ignored court orders to eliminate unconstitutional voting restrictions. So it is no surprise that the party would throw its hat in with this budding coup. Yes, this is not a military coup yet, despite many supporters of Trump threatening violence if the election does not go their way. But it is a coup nonetheless that is being supported by the Republican party. The most powerful investigative agency in the country has become an arm of a political campaign and party. And we need to recognize it for what it really is.

I am amazed when the media talks about how the FBI can repair its relationship with Clinton and the general attitude is that they will find a way to work it out. Ackerman's piece describes the thoughts of a long-time FBI agent on a reconciliation saying that, "if Clinton is elected, she and Comey would probably find a way to work together out of a sense of pragmatism. He recalled both his own occasional clashes with federal prosecutors and Bill Clinton’s uneasy relationship with his choice for FBI director." As we all remember, Freeh went after Clinton relentlessly while he was FBI Director and his actions ended up with Bill Clinton's impeachment so that is not a particular precedent that the country can afford to repeat.

There is only one member of the media who has confronted the dangers of this kind of coup head on and that was Republican strategist Steve Schmidt in his emotional reaction to Trump's attempt to delegitimize the results of the election. And his comments came before Comey's letter and the revelation of the apparent coordination between coup-plotters in the FBI and the Trump campaign. My sense is the media is prepared to let bygones be bygones once the election is over. But that is just more appeasement that will lead to an even greater attack on our democratic institutions and, as Steve Schmidt fears, the overthrow of our democratic processes and the rise of fascism in the United States. And, when that happens, establishment Republicans, who have long played ball with these forces in order to maintain their grip on power against the demographic wave that is soon to swamp them, may find out that they have become the next target.

Update: Steve Schmidt finally did comment on James Comey today and you can see his full comments starting at the 5:00 mark in the video included with the story. The money quote, "In an era where trust has completely collapsed in very nearly every institution of the United States, really with the exception of the U.S. military and a couple others, let’s now take the FBI and add it to the list of politicized discredited institutions. There has never been a director in the modern age who has done more damage to the reputation of this institution putting it into the center of a political campaign like James Comey did. And he did it because of ego."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Astrophotography Adventure - M15 And M31

Do you need a break from all this election chaos and angst - I sure do. So here are a couple of my latest astrophotography efforts. They are pretty poor - I really need to figure out the proper high ISO levels that I need to use in order to get better images of deep sky objects. The first three images are of the globular cluster M15 and the next two are a really poor attempt at capturing M31, the Andromeda galaxy. These were done with the Starblast 4.5 with 25mm eyepiece and by stacking a handful of 15-25 second exposures. Tracking was on for both but was not aligned properly for the M31 shots. I you want to see professional images of these two objects, you can see M15 here and M31 here.

Current Flaws In Obamacare Actually Can Be Fixed With Public Option

Jared Bernstein has an interesting post that explores the fact that the rising premiums and shrinking number of insurers is not really a failure of Obamacare but the failure of the belief that "the market" is actually capable of providing quality health care to all Americans. Because of the realities of politics, Obamacare could only get passed by including the powerful health insurers in the solution. As Bernstein says, the theory "when the law was being crafted was, for both policy and political reasons—the latter being buy-in from private insurers, whose powerful lobby couldn’t be ignored—that the exchanges would be populated by private insurers competing for customers in the (relatively small!) non-group market." Of course there was plenty of reason to be skeptical that this plan would work in the long run. Bernstein continues, "They had an incentive, for example, to set their initial prices too low to get customers, which would mean actuarial losses and a big jump in premiums." This fear is exactly what is coming to pass right now.

There were a couple of policies in the original Obamacare plan that were supposed to deal with the situation we are seeing. The first of those is the risk corridor which created tiered system of compensation for insurance companies who lost money on the exchanges. Correspondingly, insurers who made excessive money on the exchanges would essentially be forced to refund some of those profits back. The idea was to provide some stability for the insurers in the initial 3 years of Obamacare. Republicans have attacked this provision as a "bailout" for insurance companies and in 2015 passed a rider to an appropriations bill that required the corridors to be revenue neutral. Because of that, insurers lost out on some reimbursements and have sued the government in ongoing litigation. The other pillar in Obamacare that was designed to deal with the issue of rising premiums and shrinking choices was the public option. Sadly, we all know that option never survived into the final bill. So the two policies that would have helped deal with the problems we are seeing now have been essentially gutted by Republicans.

The problem, then, is not necessarily a structural flaw in Obamacare. It merely reflects the reality that the free market is incapable of providing health care for all. There is a reason why every major industrialized country has some form of national health insurance. The answer to our current problems, as Bernstein says, "this is less a failure in the structure of the program than growing pains as insurers learn to price their products based on the health of those coming into the exchanges. If there’s a structural flaw in Obamacare, it’s that it doesn’t include the public option." I think we can all agree on that.

GOP Caught Red-Handed Engaging In Prohibited Poll Watching

It certainly looks like the Republican National Committee (RNC) has been caught red-handed engaging in poll-watching that has been prohibited by a 34 year old court order. That prohibition is set to expire in 2017 but Democrats are seeking to extend it another eight years based a new evidence that the RNC is currently violating the order. The reason for the original order was the illegal suppression of voters in the state of New Jersey by none other than Roger Stone who just happens to be a close adviser to the Donald Trump campaign these days.

Democrats have produced affidavits from individuals who have encountered at least four individuals involved in poll-watching in Nevada who admitted that they were working for the RNC but were told to lie about that fact.

Meanwhile, a federal judge has ordered the RNC to produce any plans or agreements it has with the Trump campaign to monitor the polls in the upcoming election. Trump, Pence, and KellyAnn Conway have all made public statements that the Trump campaign is coordinating with the RNC to monitor the polls to insure ballot integrity.

Just another example of the institutional Republican party that continues to defy the courts and subvert our democracy.

High Court Rules Only Parliament Can Invoke Article 50

Are you ready for Brexit redux? The High Court has ruled that only Parliament has the power to invoke Article 50, not Prime Minister Theresa May. In rejecting the government's argument, the chief justice said, "the most fundamental rule of the UK constitution is that parliament is sovereign...The court does not accept the argument put forward by the government. There is nothing in the 1972 European Communities Act to support it. In the judgment of the court the argument is contrary both to the language used by parliament in the 1972 act, and to the fundamental principles of the sovereignty of parliament and the absence of any entitlement on the part of the crown to change domestic law by the exercise of its prerogative powers." The government has announced that it will appeal this decision to the Supreme Court and a hearing is already scheduled for the beginning of December.

All the pressure now falls back on Parliament and that pressure will be intense. Already MPs are indicating that the government must lay out its negotiating positions before the potential vote. That, of course, will destroy what little leverage May has in negotiating with the EU as her positions will then be public. MPs on both sides of the aisle who had originally opposed Brexit have to decide whether they will stand against it again or respect the will of the people. And it may even raise the possibility of an early election. The decision also causes a rift among the pro-Brexit crowd, some of whom will look at this as an end run around their vote while others always wanted to ensure the primacy of Parliament. Of course, the Supreme Court could reverse the decision and we would be right back to where we are now. For some, that might even be a relief.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Senator Johnson Wants To Impeach Hillary

Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has pretty much already decided Hillary should be impeached if she wins. Johnson, referencing two laws covering the handling of government material, said, "I would say yes, high crime or misdemeanor, I believe she is in violation of both laws...She purposefully circumvented it. This was willful concealment and destruction."

I had originally thought that this was a last-gasp play for the base by Johnson in his re-election bid against former Senator Russ Feingold. Earlier polls had shown Feingold with a pretty healthy lead and my thought was Johnson was desperate to move his base. But today's poll for Marquette Law School, the gold standard of polling in Wisconsin, shows Feingold with just a slim one point lead. The same poll showed Hillary up by 6 points. There are a couple of different views on what might be going on here. One interpretation is that Hillary is receiving a large number of crossover votes from Republicans who can just not pull the lever for Trump. A poll in Florida out last night showed that 28% of early voting Republicans had actually voted for Clinton. Taking this view means that Feingold is not so much underperforming as opposed to Clinton overperforming and the Senate race was always going to be tight. If you dismiss the idea of a large crossover vote, then Feingold is severely underperforming and possibly in trouble. Another possibility is that FBI Director Comey's politically charged intrusion into the election has brought a lot of discouraged GOP voters back into the fold as they feel the need to have a check on Clinton. We'll have to wait until election day to find out which of these theories is true.

In any case, the comments from Johnson just confirm that the GOP has no strategy or policies left other than to just obstruct any progress Democrats can make. In fact, they have moved to dismantling the norms and standards of our democracy in order to maintain their power. At some point, GOP leaders are going to have to face the fact, just like the Democrats did in the 1990s, that they are going to have to risk alienating a portion of their core supporters by becoming more moderate and showing the ability to govern in order to become relevant in a national election again. So far, it appears that none of today's GOP leaders is capable of making that move. So it may take another couple of election cycles before the demographic wave turns the GOP into a permanent minority party in Congress as well. It may only be at that point that the GOP can begin to revitalize itself.

An Historic World Series Game 7 Tonight And A Prediction

The seventh game of the World Series will be tonight, pitting the Cleveland Indians against the Chicago Cubs. The Indians pitching stud, Corey Kluber, will be trying to win his third game as a starter in the Series, a feat that has not been accomplished since Mickey Lolich led the Detroit Tigers to victory in 1968. The Cubs, on the other hand, have seen their bats, which have been dormant all post-season, finally come alive in the last couple of games. It should make for a great matchup. The fans of both these ill-fated franchises have been suffering without a World Series title since, well, forever. For the Indians, it has been over half a century and more than a full one for the Cubs. If the Cubs do win the game tonight, General Manager Theo Epstein should be immediately inducted into the Hall of Fame. He led the Boston Red Sox to their first title in 86 years in 2004 and he will have broken the Cubs streak of 108 years without a World Series win. On the other side, Indians manager Terry Francona was the manager under Epstein in that 2004 Red Sox win and an Indians victory tonight would break their streak of 68 years without a title, whereupon he too should be immediately inducted into the Hall of Fame. (That will not happen - everything in baseball takes forever.)

Prediction: In their cruelty, the baseball gods have made sure that the long-suffering fans of both these franchises have had to wait until the very last possible game of the season to find out whether their pain will end or extend. So why would gods make it any easier for them now. The game goes into extra innings with the Cubs winning 4-3.

The Conservative Punditry No Longer Believes In Democracy

The Republican rejection of the standards of our democracy now extends into the supposedly thoughtful conservative punditry. In response to the latest Senator to jump on the bandwagon that no Democratic nominee to the Supreme Court should ever be confirmed,  Jamelle Bouie tweeted "An explicit statement that Democratic presidents are inherently illegitimate". Ross Douthat, the conservative former op-ed columnist for that liberal bastion (not), the New York Times, tweeted back, "I think it's more a statement that current liberal judicial theory is inherently illegitimate." Please just let that sink in for a moment. Thankfully, Douthat still apparently believes that not every Democratic president is, de facto, illegitimate. But liberal judicial theory is, by definition, illegitimate. We all should know that the end of an independent judiciary is the first step on the path to dictatorship and the end of democracy.

(hat tip to Kevin Drum for this one)

New Poll Shows Huge Crossover Votes For Clinton In Florida

Survey by polling firm Targetsmart of voters in Florida who have already voted shows that 28% of registered Republican voters have actually voted for Hillary Clinton. The same poll projects an 8 point lead for Clinton among the total pool of likely voters. The poll shows that Latinos will make up their largest share of the Florida vote than they ever have. The indications are that the crossover vote is not carrying over into down-ballot races. Without Florida, Trump really has no path to an electoral college victory. If this is the size of the crossover vote in Florida, you can imagine that there might be similar numbers in other states.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Another GOP Senator Vows To Neuter Supreme Court

Most of the press has leapt on Richard Burr's comments about seeing a gun magazine with Hillary Clinton's image on the cover and being surprised there was no target on it. Said Burr, "Nothing made me feel better than, I walked into a gun shop, I think yesterday in Oxford. There was a copy of a rifle magazine on the counter. It's got a picture of Hillary Clinton on the front of it. I was a little bit shocked at that - it didn't have a bulls eye on it." Needless to say, the private gathering he was addressing roared with laughter at that. Burr was forced to make his obligatory and insincere apology today.

At this same private event, Burr also added that he believed that the new FBI investigation would show that either Clinton or her top aides had been lying under oath and said he believed Clinton would pardon herself if she were indicted after her election. Of course, there is no evidence for either.

But the real kicker was yet to come. Burr said that the chances that Merrick Garland will be confirmed in the lame-duck session were nil. Burr said, "Well, my answer to you would be it isn't going to happen -- period." He then vowed to deny Hillary the right to fill any vacancy on the Supreme Court, saying, "And if Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court." I always hate to say I told you so...but I told you so way back in May. Once Republicans were able to get away with not giving Garland a hearing, there was never any good reason to ever give a Democratic nominee a hearing.

The Republican party has become committed to subverting our democracy in every way possible because their white nationalist base can no longer win elections on their own. Their sole focus is making sure that they obstruct anything a Democratic president wishes to get done even if that also means rejecting any compromise that would advance their own policies, restricting the right to vote,  neutering the effectiveness of the judicial system, and possibly even rejecting the results of the election.

It sickens me as I watch Chuck Todd on MTP Daily with his two guests, one of whom was George Mitchell, talk about a "bipartisan cabinet" as a solution to this assault on our democracy. Todd even went on to say that progressives would never agree to the cuts that the GOP would want. That is probably true today. But it was the Republicans who vetoed the Grand Bargain that offered to make cuts in entitlements in return for a hike in taxes. There is no middle ground for the GOP and the idea that you can work with them in a bipartisan fashion is a pipe-dream. This unfounded belief that simply bringing the GOP into the cabinet and all will be well is fantasy. Any Republican who would dare join would immediately be excommunicated - just ask David Frum. The Republican party as it presently constituted can not be appeased, it cannot be negotiated with, it can only be defeated totally and once and for all at the ballot box. And that must be done and it must be done soon before the damage that the GOP does becomes irreparable.

Clinton Ad Buys In Blue States Are Not A Sign Of Trouble

I see that MSNBC is pointing to new ad buys by the Clinton campaign in Michigan, Colorado, Virginia, and New Mexico as some kind of indication that the campaign is suddenly worried about these states and therefore the election. These are all solidly blue states that most polls show Clinton has a pretty solid lead. Trump's only path to winning the election is to win every toss-up state plus one more solidly blue state and he is currently engaged in a desperate effort to expand the map into at least one blue state, campaigning in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. The Clinton campaign has plenty of cash on-hand and it is only smart to spend some of that money making sure that hey don't get caught by surprise somewhere and that their "blue wall" remains solid. So don't believe the hype surrounding these ad buys.

FBI Releases Bill Clinton Docs And Raises More Questions

More crazy stuff coming from the FBI. Apparently, the agency yesterday released a document dump about Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich. Once again, the timing of a release like this puts the FBI's motivations into question. According to Pete Williams at NBC, the document release was part of a normal procedure associated with a Freedom of Information request. But, because of Comey's injection of the FBI into the campaign, the FBI's rationale for almost every move it makes from here on out will be examined and its impartiality questioned.

Zucker Shows Us Why CNN Has Gone So Far Downhill

I think we can all see pretty clearly how CNN became the new Fox News lite based on the latest comments from the network's president Jeff Zucker after firing Donna Brazile. Zucker called Brazile "disgusting" and "unethical" after a WikiLeaks email showed that she had passes on a probable question for two CNN debates last March. Brazile is a long-time Democratic operative who went on temporary leave from CNN when she assumed the position of chair at the DNC when Debbie Wasserman Schultz was forced to resign. The two questions that Brazile passed along involved the death penalty and, at a town hall in Flint, Michigan, a question on how Hillary would help the people of Flint with the issue of water quality due to lead poisoining. Zucker is adamant that the leak of these question did not come from CNN employees so there is no indication that Brazile took advantage of something she learned from CNN employees to help the Clinton campaign. Zucker said that the appearance that campaigns could benefit from knowing questions in advance hurt the network, saying, "I have no tolerance for her behavior or that kind of behavior."

Meanwhile, Corey Lewandowski, another one of Trump's former campaign managers, still works for CNN despite continuing to be paid a severance package of some kind, being held to some kind of non-disclosure agreement by Trump, and, at times, traveling with the Trump campaign. That is OK for Zucker but passing along the probability of a question on the death penalty which was clearly going to be an issue in the Democratic primary and a question on lead poisoning at a town hall in Flint, where the whole purpose of having the debate in Flint was because of the lead poisoning of their water supply, is "disgusting" and beyond the pale. Heck, I could have predicted that each of those questions would be coming up, especially the one for the town hall in Flint.

Brazile has always been a Democratic operative and the whole point of having her as a CNN commentator is to provide a Democratic view. To expect that her partisan political activities would end just because she spends some time on CNN is pretty naive. Does anyone really thing that Lewandoswki isn't communicating with the Trump campaign? So I'm not sure what Zucker expects. If he was looking for impartial reporting, perhaps he shouldn't hire life-long political hacks to be part of his network. But that probably wouldn't sell.

Maps Show The Success Of Obamacare

As today is the first day of Obamacare re-enrollment, the NY Times has created a nice visual that clearly illustrates how successful the program has been:

As the maps clearly show, there is one particular area of our country where insurance rates have not fallen dramatically and, not unsurprisingly, they correspond to the states that refused Medicaid expansion. Obamacare has resulted a 7% decline in the numbered of uninsured adults. This has probably saved thousands of families from bankruptcy and millions of dollars for the country in reduced emergency health care costs.

Today, Donald Trump vowed, if he is elected, that he would call a special session of Congress to repeal and replace Obamacare. Of course, that really means just repeal Obamacare as there is no Republican plan to replace it at all. Do I really need to comment?

It's All About Russia In Another Crazy Day In Election 2016

Another crazy day in an election that has seen almost every norm associated with our democracy basically torn asunder. CNBC reported and other media outlets have confirmed that FBI Director Comey refused to allow the FBI to sign on to the statement made by two other US intelligence agencies confirming that the Russians were responsible for the hacking of Democratic officials' emails in an attempt to influence the US elections. At least part of the reason that Comey provided for not signing on to the statement was the he did not want to be seen as influencing election. Needless to say, the Clinton campaign immediately complained of a "blatant double standard" in withholding this information while making public the existence of a potential new batch of emails that might or might not be relevant to Hillary's email issue with his vague and ill-advised letter.

Comey has only himself to blame for the abuse he is taking. He had to know that this is what would happen when he sent that letter. Yes, he may have satisfied his vaunted personal integrity by following up on his original error in agreeing to provide details and updates of his investigation to Congress. But all that did was call his integrity into question for every other investigation related to Trump and Clinton that he has not discussed.  With the FBI and DOJ leaking constantly now, you have to wonder how long Comey can stay in his current job. It looks like he has lost complete control of the agency.

Meanwhile, as expected, more damaging information about Trump emerged. First, there was a report on a physical connection between a Trump server in Trump tower and a Russian bank associated with Vladimir Putin, as all Russian banks are. Analysis of the traffic between the two serves shows spikes in activity that matched critical points during the election campaign. When the Trump campaign and the Russian bank were queried about this connection, it abruptly shut down. The NY Times then reported that the FBI had looked into this connection in connection with their probe into financial connections between the Trump campaign and Russia and dismissed it.

Mother Jones then reported that a senior intelligence source had passed on information to the FBI that the Russians had been cultivating Trump for years and had perhaps been able to blackmail him because of activities that occurred when Trump visited Moscow in association with the Miss Universe. Finally, NBC News reported that the FBI has opened a preliminary investigation into former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort's foreign business connections, especially Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs.

Is that enough for one day? It's pretty clear that the idea that this crazy campaign would end without just a little more insanity is just wishful thinking. None of this will probably effect the election in any meaningful way but the news about Comey's concern for influencing the election gives the Clinton campaign another opportunity to make Comey the story rather than the emails.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Comey Has Poisoned The Well For The Forseeable Future

One last thought (hopefully) on Comey for today and that is that he has totally tainted himself and the Bureau for the indefinite future, especially if Hillary is elected. It is pretty clear from press reports that the only possible conclusion about the relevance of the emails that could be made public by election day is that these emails had all been reviewed in the prior investigation or did not involve Clinton herself. If that turns out to be the case, Comey will be rightly vilified by Democrats and the Clinton campaign for his letter. The only other option is that they found some emails that potentially had classified information on them but that it will take weeks to determine whether they were classified when the message was sent, which puts any resolution well beyond election day. Again, releasing this result to Congress, and therefore to the public, will again be detrimental to the Clinton campaign when no determination has been made that there was really any classified material there. In addition, even if there was some classified material, that would still probably not materially change the decision that was made back in July. So, my best guess is that we will not hear anything from Comey before election day.

Secondly, the FBI is now exactly in the position it should never be in. Reports are that the DOJ has pulled in FBI resources from all over the country in an attempt to figure out what exactly is in these emails. This is precisely what all those DOJ rules, directives, and protocols are designed to prevent - the FBI desperately rushing to reach a conclusion before this artificial deadline of an election. It is transparently partisan to throw the full weight of the FBI's investigative resources into an investigation just to reach a conclusion before an election. The idea is that justice is blind and does not respond to elections. Yes, we all know that slogan is patently untrue, but it is at least what the FBI and the DOJ should be striving for.

Finally, if Hillary Clinton is elected, as still seems probable, Comey's position as FBI Director is almost untenable. He will be viewed as a blatant partisan and there will be continual tension between the Clinton DOJ and the FBI and that tension will continually be exploited by Republicans. If Obama or even Hillary ends up firing him or even if he voluntarily resigns, you know that Republicans will play hardball with the appointment of any new Director, virtually forcing him to continue to investigate her emails and the Clinton Foundation and keep them updated. The FBI can not and should not function in that kind of environment.

This is the disaster that Comey's reckless violation of DOJ protocols has created. And, having let the genie out of the bottle, there is no way for Comey to undo the damage he has already done. And that damage will extend far into the future.

Update: And now the backlash from Republicans about how the FBI is throwing all their resources into evaluating the emails so they can exonerate her before election day. Just another example of how horrendous Comey's judgement was.

Economy Grew At Nearly 3% In Third Quarter

The advance estimate for GDP growth in the third quarter came in at 2.9% according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis. This was above the consensus of 2.5%. The main drivers of growth came from the expected increase in inventories and greater exports. Personal consumer expenditures (PCE) actually fell during the quarter, growing at an annualized rate of 2.1% as opposed to 4.5% in the prior quarter.  For those hawks who are pushing for an interest rate hike, this solid economic growth will likely bolster their point of view while doves will point to the slowing PCE growth as a reason to stand pat.

Lara Merling provides further evidence that would support the position of those who feel a rate hike is still unnecessary because we are still a ways away from full employment. She looks at the employment-to-population ratio (EPOP) across our individual states and postulates that, if we were near full employment, the states with low unemployment rates would not see large increases in their EPOP while, correspondingly, states with high unemployment rates should see larger EPOPs because full employment has not been reached. In fact, there seems to be no correlation between EPOPs and state unemployment levels. As she concludes, "While this comparison is far from conclusive, it does not easily fit with a story with the labor market approaching full employment."

Countering GOP Defenses Of Comey's Letter

I would just like to push back on a couple of Republican talking points that we have heard this morning from Republicans who are trying to defend Comey, especially in regard to a possible Hatch Act violation. One line of attack is that the President is out there campaigning for Hillary and that is not a Hatch Act violation and therefore neither is Comey's letter. The insufferable Trey Gowdy has taken this line. But the Hatch Act does not cover elected officials involved in campaigning. The Act does cover non-elected officials within the government, which is exactly what Comey is.

The second line that is being used is that Comey's actions are not unprecedented and they point to the indictment of Casper Weinberger four days before the 1992 election. Evidence included in that indictment included a document that clearly suggested candidate George H. W. Bush knew far more about the details of the Iran-Contra affair than he had publicly claimed. I've heard a number of apologists for Comey point to this as a parallel incident. But the differences between the two incidents are enormous. First, Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh actually produced an indictment of Casper Weinberger, meaning that the prosecutor felt that there was enough evidence that would result in a conviction. Second, the evidence that damaged Bush was there for every voter to see and each voter could make their own decision about its importance. Comey's letter provided no details that any voter could evaluate - it merely fanned the flames of rumor and innuendo.

It is important the Democrats and especially the media push back against both of these spurious points.

Two Stories Today Show Just How Sleazy Trump Really Is

There are two more stories today that illustrate just how sleazy Donald Trump is. The first is from the indefatigable David Farenthold that tells the story of how Donald Trump simply showed up at a charity event and pretended that he was a major donor. The charity, Association to Benefit Children, had a grand opening of a nursery school designed to serve children with AIDS. Trump had never given a dime to the charity but he showed up at the opening and took a seat reserved for one of the charity's prime benefactors. As the late Frank Gifford, a real donor, asked, "Why is he here?". It was apparently merely to get the photo-op that would make it look like he supported the charity. Meanwhile, the charity had to spend months placating the major donor whose seat Trump filled at the event. This is just a more egregious example of Trump taking credit for charitable giving he never really made.

Over at Newsweek, Kurt Eichenwald describes the perpetual pattern of delay and evasion during his multiple lawsuits. The pattern includes the withholding and destruction of documents and emails that courts had ordered to be produced during those suits. The takeaway from the Eichenwald article is as follows, "Over the course of decades, Donald Trump’s companies have systematically destroyed or hidden thousands of emails, digital records and paper documents demanded in official proceedings, often in defiance of court orders. These tactics—exposed by a Newsweek review of thousands of pages of court filings, judicial orders and affidavits from an array of court cases—have enraged judges, prosecutors, opposing lawyers and the many ordinary citizens entangled in litigation with Trump. In each instance, Trump and entities he controlled also erected numerous hurdles that made lawsuits drag on for years, forcing courtroom opponents to spend huge sums of money in legal fees as they struggled—sometimes in vain—to obtain records...Trump’s use of deception and untruthful affidavits, as well as the hiding or improper destruction of documents, dates back to at least 1973." Eichenwald documents specific instances where Trump employees provided untruthful affidavits, deleted emails and shredded documents while under a court-ordered discovery process, and how Trump entities always managed to have a poor or nonexistent email retention system that meant important documents could not be found. Please read the whole article for some of the shocking details about how Trump would impede and delay these lawsuits while at the same time destroying emails and documents that might be relevant.

Is There A Rogue Element Within The FBI Determined To Destroy Hillary

It is becoming more and more apparent that there may be a cabal within the FBI that is determined to sabotage Hillary Clinton's election. It has already been reported that the FBI investigators looking into Hillary Clinton's emails have known of the existence of this new batch of emails for the last month but apparently made no effort to obtain a search warrant to review them. From the reporting, it is also seems likely that this group of investigators sat on this information until ten days before the election, leaked their existence to Jason Chaffetz, and then briefed the FBI Director about them, forcing him to choose between writing his ill-advised letter or have the story leak. By waiting until right before the election, there would be no time to evaluate the relevance of these emails and it would allow the story to be spun in the most negative light possible, which is exactly what has happened.

Additionally, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that the FBI has been looking into the Clinton Foundation for most of the past year, trying to find evidence of financial crimes or influence peddling. The article shows that there are conflicting views within the FBI and the DOJ about the path of that inquiry. Initial investigative results were apparently summarily dismissed by DOJ anti-corruption lawyers. Some believe that is because those results were very weak, based mostly on information already in the public domain, and did not warrant expanded investigation. Others felt the DOJ was trying to hinder the investigation. Apparently, in early August, a DOJ official expressed concern that the FBI investigation of the Clinton Foundation was continuing despite the earlier decision from the DOJ lawyers. Again, some viewed this as the DOJ trying to hinder the investigation while others believed it was an attempt by the DOJ to make sure the policy of not making any investigative moves that could be seen as influencing the election was followed. Then, in September, the FBI team looking into the Clinton Foundation asked to review the emails from Clinton's server in order to continue to pursue their investigation. That request was denied because the data in question had been obtained on a limited use basis and grants of partial immunity solely for the purpose of determining whether classified information was mishandled. Again, this struck some in the FBI as just another attempt to hinder their investigation while others saw it has another attempt to expand the Foundation investigation without having any real evidence to do so. Your view of the nature and character of Hillary Clinton will probably determine which side of this dispute you think is correct. Were there people who donated to the Clinton Foundation in the hopes of influencing the Secretary of State? Most probably, yes. But that is not a crime. The crime would be if Clinton actually acted on anything based on those donations. And, after a year-long investigation by the FBI and the media, there is virtually no evidence of this occurring. Now some in the FBI may believe that more aggressive techniques will develop that evidence but that looks increasingly like more of a fishing expedition than an investigation driven by evidence.

I have often wondered why the New York Times spent so much ink writing about the "clouds of suspicion" that supposedly was hanging over the Clinton Foundation but never produced any evidence of wrongdoing. It now certainly seems possible that those stories were prompted by selective leaks from within the FBI. The stories provided a two-fer for the agents working on the Foundation probe - they damaged Clinton and created external pressure to allow the probe to expand. It also seems amazing that the FBI has continued to spend this much time investigating the Clinton Foundation when no evidence of any wrongdoing has been uncovered. The question then has to be asked whether they have spent a similar amount looking at the Trump Foundation where there has been clear evidence of influence peddling and fraud as well as the possible coordination between Russian and the Trump campaign as Harry Reid alleges.

I admit that some of this sounds more like another crazy conspiracy theory. But some of the responsible press reports (some of which I’ve linked to) are out there that seem to back up these ideas and they do explain many of the actions of the people involved.

It is no wonder that career officials within the FBI and the DOJ are furious with Comey. His intemperate actions regarding this new batch of emails has tainted the impartiality of the Bureau, perhaps permanently damaging the institution, although it has to be said the FBI did survive J. Edgar Hoover. But, as we see with Harry Reid's letter accusing Comey of withholding information about the nexus between Russia and the Trump campaign, every possible investigation the FBI is involved in will now be perceived through a political lens. The Bureau will not be able to function effectively under that type of scrutiny. For all these reasons, Comey should have just kept his mouth shut until he knew he had actually had some new information. And if that came after the election was over and he was accused of withholding the information, that is the price the FBI Director has to pay. But Comey was more interested in protecting his own personal integrity. Unfortunately, that meant squandering the reputation of the FBI.

Reid Accuses Comey Of Violating Hatch Act

I am really going to miss Harry Reid when he is gone. He has been unleashed ever since he decided to not run for re-election and has been telling it like it is ever since. Yesterday, Reid fired off a letter to FBI Director Comey stating that his office has determined that Comey has violated the Hatch Act. Reid's letter goes beyond just stating that Comey's ill-advised letter about this new batch of Hillary emails was his only sin but also states that Comey is suppressing damaging information about the coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. The letter states, "In my communications with you and other top officials in the national security community, it has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers, and the Russian government - a foreign interest openly hostile to the United States, which Trump praises at every opportunity. The public has a right to know this information. I wrote to you months ago calling for this information to be released to the public. There is no danger to American interests from releasing it. And yet, you continue to resist calls to inform the public of this critical information. In contrast, as soon as you come into possession of the slightest innuendo related to Secretary Clinton, you rushed to publicize it in the most negative light possible."

Now, the reality is that Comey should be silent on the Trump-Russian ties unless there is a decision to make an indictment, just as he shouldn't be commenting on Clinton's emails unless a similar decision is made. But once those rules are broken, you end up in a situation just like this where there is pressure to comment on every investigation and not to do so looks like partisanship. This is why the DOJ protocols and norms are there and why they are so important. Comey's deliberate violations of those protocols makes his situation untenable and it seems clear he will have to resign sometime soon. Until then, Harry Reid will be like a pit bull nipping at his heels every step of the way. Go Harry, Go!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Chaffetz, Comey's Motivation And The Hatch Act

As the rumors and innuendos continue to swirl about what the FBI actually knows about these potentially new emails, the latest line of attack on the Clinton campaign from not only the Trump campaign but also from the press is that Clinton should have Huma Abedin make a statement about the emails in question. On Meet the Press, Chuck Todd asked why Abedin just doesn't give her OK to release the emails and followed with a question about whether the Clinton campaign still has trust in Abedin. This just shows you how far off the rails we have gone because of Comey's ill-advised letter. How is Abedin supposed to say anything relevant since the FBI has even refused to officially confirm that it is her emails the FBI is looking at. As Clinton campaign manager Robbie Mook pointed out, the FBI/Justice Department has not even reached to Abedin to request that permission. So, once again, the Clinton campaign is being forced to respond to a hypothetical as though were established fact.

Meanwhile, George W. Bush's chief ethics lawyer, Richard Painter, has filed an ethics complaint against Comey for violating the Hatch Act. This will mean that Comey will have to answer that famous question from Howard Baker during the Watergate hearings - "What did you know and when did you know it?" Initially, a number of career prosecutors defended Comey by saying that he never would have written a letter like this unless he had some new, concrete evidence. However, subsequent leaks from the FBI and Justice Department seem to indicate that Comey has no idea what is in this new batch of emails. If that truly is the case, combined with his direct violation of DOJ protocols and the recommendations of superiors, he is definitely skirting quite close, if not over, the line of a Hatch Act violation. As Painter points out, "But an official doesn’t need to have a specific intent — or desire — to influence an election to be in violation of the Hatch Act or government ethics rules. The rules are violated if it is obvious that the official’s actions could influence the election, there is no other good reason for taking those actions, and the official is acting under pressure from persons who obviously do want to influence the election."

I personally do not believe that Comey is a political hack. In fact, I think he is almost the opposite - he has an outsized sense of personal integrity. That is what allowed him to oppose the Bush "enhanced interrogation" program.  For me, it is no coincidence that Jason Chaffetz, head of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, all of a sudden changed his tune late last week, saying he would now vote for Trump and promising to continue to investigate Clinton after her election. I believe that Chaffetz had already received word from someone inside the FBI about the existence of these emails and his statements were his warning shot to Comey. Comey realized that the existence of these emails would leak since Chaffetz probably already knew about them and decided to write the letter to protect his own integrity. He did not want to be accused of withholding evidence and protecting Hillary, so he wrote the letter to inoculate himself from those criticisms despite not knowing if there was anything new to be found. The fact that the letter would have an effect on the election and violated DOJ protocols matters less to him than his own sense of integrity. As many other prosecutors have noted, that kind of potential hit to your integrity is the price you have to pay for doing your job. You develop the evidence and make a recommendation to prosecutors and if you develop the evidence in a time frame that makes you look bad, well, that just comes with the territory. But, if what I've described above is true, then it would certainly be a Hatch Act violation as Painter has described.

On Meet the Press, Mike Pence, in his usual most insincere manner, complained about the double standard of justice that applies to the Clintons. And he is absolutely correct - but the double standard holds Clinton to a much higher standard. We don't hear Comey talking about the investigation into alleged Russian hacking; we don't hear about the details of investigations into the Trump Foundation. But we did have the FBI Director characterize the evidence against Hillary Clinton even though there was no indictment recommended. And now we have a letter that impugns Hillary, provides no new evidence, and potentially has a decisive effect on the presidential and down-ballot elections. The irony of the "double standard" comment might almost be humorous if the potential effects weren't so devastating.

Natural Weekends - And More Hawks