Friday, January 24, 2020

Donald Trump's character was put on trial in the Senate

Rep. Adama Schiff in a memorable and moving impromptu closing argument in Day4 of the Senate impeachment trial made two arguments:  we cannot wait until Nov. 20 to remove him because is dangerous and makes choices that can be harmful to the country and because he puts his interests first over those of the  American people.  We cannot trust him to do what is right. He will do what is good for Donald Trump.

Even if the GOP Senate votes to acquit in January, the character factors will linger until November.  The Senate trial will only add to a feeling of disgust with Trump the person, which will play a larger role than the economy and public policy issues in promoting the defeat of him  On that theme,  other character flaws can be hung: lying, racism, and egomania.   A closing couple of sentences of Schiff's should be played over and over in campaign advertising., edited for the campaign " YOU KNOW YOU CAN'T TRUST THIS PRESIDENT TO DO WHAT'S RIGHT FOR THIS COUNTRY. YOU CAN TRUST HE WILL DO WHAT'S RIGHT FOR DONALD TRUMP......RIGHT MATTERS. AND THE TRUTH MATTERS. OTHERWISE, WE ARE LOST."

Monday, January 20, 2020

Trump's corruption policy: let's be as corrupt as the rest of the world

A version was published in the Winter Park Times, January 23, 2020

Trump's corruption policy is not to fight corruption in foreign countries, but to make America as corrupt as the rest of the world. Now, we have a president who wants to permit US companies to bribe foreign officials in order to get business contracts abroad. US is already no angel at home. Foreigners often point to the US campaign finance system that makes corruption legal through lax campaign contribution rules and expensive election campaigns.

This is in the midst of an impeachment process where corruption in Ukraine is viewed as a bad thing. and the president has been charged with  a form of bribery of the Ukrainian president  (called "pressuring" in the articles of impeachment described in the abuse of power section). Trump is accused of withholding needed  military aid and a visit to the White House in order to give incentives for  the Ukrainian president  to find dirt on the presidents' likely 2020 opponent and to announce the undertaking of the investigation publicly.
At the top of the anti-corruption measures was a 1977 law forbidding  US citizens to bribe foreign government officials in order to get contracts and business. Bribery is viewed as a criminal act, whether in our country or abroad. Since 2017, President Trump has been advocating overturning the Corrupt Practices Act. This year Larry Kudlow, Director of the president's National Economic Council, said the President is looking into the possibility of overturning the 1977 anti-bribery law by using administrative measures. Trump called the anti-bribery statute unfair since it puts US corporations at a disadvantage in vying for contracts abroad when they are competing against bidders who have no such constraints or scruples. From a businessman's perspective, it is much easier to do business with corrupt governments because a bribe will get you around inconvenient zoning and financing restrictions if you know which official who is open to certain under-the-table offers and who are close to the ruler or power structure.

At the same time, campaign donations are being raised for certain GOP Senators acting as jurors in the President's impeachment trial who pledge to vote to acquit in advance of the trial itself. According to an investigative report of Senators benefitting by these special fundraising efforts are those who are facing tough  re-election campaigns in purple states who may feel inclined to waffle on acquitting the president in the trial. The Hill that obtained the fundraising appeal letter.  Among those who are targeted for campaign funds raised by Donald Trump and the GOP in this special effort is our own Colorado senator Cory Gardner.  There is nothing illegal about this, nor this does not mean Gardner is corrupt, but it is an example of the difficulties that Senators have in bucking Trump if they wanted to vote to acquit and it reveals  the power of campaign contributions as a party discipline weapon. The amount of money needed to campaign successfully is enormous given the cost of advertising and the length of the campaign season. Reforms are needed in both of those cost generating factors. The recent Citizen's United decision by the US Supreme Court that overturned the federal law forbidding campaign contributions by corporations to candidates has only made that form of legalized corruption of the legislative process worse as money more easily can flow to campaign coffers.

The question on the table is what kind of a country do we want to be? The uncorrupt standard for the rest of the world or do we want to be a country that is as corrupt as the actors we so piously condemn?  Not only must we not let the Trump administration legalize bribery abroad, but we should start cleaning house in reforming campaign finance laws at home.

Sen. Cory Gardner is no profile in courage, Blog posting 10/2019

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Should social media and advertising on the internet be regulated?

That is a thorny question.  If certain content is forbidden, who is the censor? The government? The owners of the media? The first amendment and freedom of the press are core values and enablers of our democracy.  My belief is not the most libertarian.  We need to have sources revealed because in social media and internet advertising, the writers and the funders can easily be concealed. If the owners of the media are unwilling to do it, the government may have to require them to do so, particularly if foreign interference in the elections is viewed as a threat to our national security and the integrity of the election process.
From a recent exchange on Facebook with a very thoughtful libertarian who does not believe it is the
government responsibility to regulate the content of social media:.
Me:I do believe in a free marketplace of ideas, but like anything I buy in a marketplace, I would like to see its manufacture of origin and its real ingredients, not just the label or the hype. As you see, I am not a libertarian, but I do believe in the right to express oneself short of shouting fire in a theater and fomenting a violent revolution, and I do believe in the right of the consumers of that information to be aware of national origin and contents.
Libertarian: I agree. But you’re holding the theater owner responsible and not the person screaming fire. There are already constitutional laws limiting free speech. Those should be applied to the people who break those laws. And for the record, news agencies do not reveal sources. Many go to court to avoid having to reveal sources. This isn’t about Facebook. This is about the people who post on Facebook.
Me: That is indeed a thorny problem.  How do you sort the foreign influencers from John Doe just expressing opinions? Start with fake news stories planted and originating from foreign servers and with attention to paid advertising. That is squarely in the purview of the owner of the social media. It should be in their interest to be a trusted source, but advertising dollars are more in their interest.   
It is a matter of national interest:  What has changed in current times, is that foreign actors have unprecedented ability to change the minds of Americans and Americans have no way of knowing it. In the cold war and prior hot wars, enemies had difficulty using their propaganda methods to change our domestic minds. Radio and broadcast TV and printed papers were the media. Now, with the internet, they have unmitigated access, and they can do it in disguise or with no attribution. They know what rings our chimes. They play on fears and hatred, targeting groups who already disposed that way.  Such gut appeals are strong motivators to help the candidate they think will act in ways that benefit their foreign policy. The unthinking, unquestioning bobbleheads of the vulnerable low information voter is their fondest target. This is what happened in 2016 and is happening again in 2020. The Mueller Report volume one contains 150 pages of how they did it. Thanks to the fast growth of the internet and social media, we have not had the experience and time to prepare for that kind of an onslaught. We are babes in the woods in the modern era of the internet and the wild frontier of social media.
What has also changed is our level of cybersecurity sophistication. The point you raise is that "it isn't about Facebook, it is about the people who post on Facebook is a good point." I would differentiate it. : That is indeed a thorny problem. How do you sort the foreign influencers from John Doe just expressing opinions? Start with fake news stories planted and originating from foreign servers and with attention to paid advertising. That is squarely in the purview of the owner of the social media. It should be in their interest to be a trusted source, but advertising dollars are more in their interest. lt appears. Cybersecurity methods are far more capable than John Doe's and they should be tapped to determine sources of news stories and advertising. Both the private sector and government have the tools. Use them. It is in the interest of Facebook to do it if they object to the government stepping in and doing it for them.  I would have preferred Zuckerberg to take responsibility. He didn't.  We now are left with the government to do it if they believe it is in national security interests.  If determining what is fake news is the problem, then all news that does not identify its origin would keep the government and the private sector for having to make that judgment call.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Some arguments and rebuttals we can expect in the Senate impeachment trial

Here are some of the arguments you can expect the lawyers to debate in the Senate trial. The GOP's argument has been no laws had been broken so the president did not commit high crimes per impeachment criteria. The President did indeed break laws to execute his scheme.  The government General Accountability Office just reported that Trump had broken the impoundment law by failing to provide a reason or following the required procedure in freezing the aid to Ukraine. Another is that Federal Election Laws that forbid soliciting something of value from a foreign government in a political campaign. Trump broke that one by asking Ukraine to find dirt on a political opponent to help him in the 2020 election. That "favor" was asked of the President of Ukraine in the infamous July "perfect" phone call. Nothing in the Constitution requires the president of being found guilty of a crime before he could be impeached. If there was such a Constitutional requirement of the commitment of a crime prior to impeachment, there would never be an impeachment because no president can be indicted for a federal crime while in office due to court decisions and Department of Justice rules.

What we can expect is for the GOP to claim Trump's impeachment is baseless because Trump's attempt to play a dirty campaign scheme failed so there was no harm done.  An attempted crime is considered a crime by itself even if it is stopped in the act.  Timelines are damning evidence.

Expect the GOP to say that the President's actions were committed to helping American foreign policy objectives of ending corruption in Ukraine so therefore he did not abuse his power to help himself win re-election.  The problem the GOP faces is that every witness and document revealed in the House inquiry only proves that Trump's single-minded goal was to get dirt on the Bidens by his constant failure to cite the need to end Ukraine's corruption in general. Even two participants in executing the scheme agree Ambassador Gordon Sondland concluded that Trump did not give a "s..t" about Ukraine; he was only interested in the Bidens. Lev Parnas, Guiliani's fixer and on the ground executor of the scheme, in an interview on TV testified likewise. If he is considered a flawed witness, Parnas mostly corroborated other sworn testimony and backed up his statements with documented text messages and notes. That is also a good reason he needs to be called to give sworn testimony in the trial.   Both men also attested the President's private attorney, Rudy Guiliani, was not a rogue actor but that the president himself directed their activities. John Bolton, a party to the scheme, may also provide corroborating testimony.

The GOP leaders want to dramatize witnesses if witnesses are ever permitted are ones that put Joe Biden in a bad light, though Joe Biden is not the object of the impeachment and was not a witness or participant in the events of withholding aid and pressure on the Ukrainian president. Biden's actions may be relevant in a campaign, but he is not relevant to the issue now before the Senate. An inconvenient timeline...Ukraine corrupt prosecutor was not investigating Burisma, the company Hunter Biden was part of,.  for corruption when Joe Biden was urging the prosecutor to be removed.

The Government Accountability Office is a legislative branch government agency that provides auditing, evaluation, and investigative services for the United States Congress. It is the supreme audit institution of the federal government of the United States. Wikipedia

____________________________________________________________________ _____________
Update: January 15 and 17, 2020
Lev Parnas' document dump within the week is written evidence that additionally verifies Trump's intent in the actions was not on behalf of national policy but for his own political benefit. Trump is directly tied by those Parnas documents to directing the operation through Rudy Guiliani.  Parnas and the testimony of John Bolton, Trump's national security advisor at the time, could provide further damning evidence of Trump's corrupt intent. Both indicated they would testify if subpoenaed in the Senate trial and present new evidence not available to the House inquiry.

We had made fun of Lev and Igor. No one is laughing now. Lev, born Russian, appeared both literate and accent free fluent in English and he was Guiliani's gopher. in Ukraine itself... He asked who was he himself, a nobody, and he said he would never have had access to the Ukrainian president and his brass if they did not believe he was representing Trump and was under his direction via Guiliani. His interview by Rachel Madow was most corroborating public utterance of what others had said during testimony, but he was the executor of the scheme itself on the ground there and the closest to the action. Like Fiona Hill, like Gordon Sondland, like so many others testifying at the impeachment inquiry, Trump was not interested in carrying out the US policy to reform Ukrainian corruption in general, but he was only interested in getting dirt on the Bidens. This is key since the GOP's main line of defense will be Trump was carrying out stated US foreign policy to end Ukraine's corruption. Amb. Sondland himself told those in earshot," Trump did not care "s..t" about Ukraine. It was about the Bidens." Finding dirt about the Bidens to help him in 2020 was the purpose of the scheme. The GOP will claim Lev is an untrustworthy witness because he is under indictment for campaign violations in 2016. However, whatever Lev said he had reams of text message printouts and damning notes he wrote on a hotel notepad to back his words up. His interview with Maddow was not under oath and I'll put money on it that Mitch McConnell will do all he can to keep him from being a witness under oath at the Senate trial.

The Parnas documents also expose another deal in the works.  The Ukraine prosecutor, Yuriy Lutsenko,  fingered by the US Ambassador Maria Jovanovitch as corrupt, said he had dirt on the Bidens he would provide if Jovanovich was removed. She was removed quickly in fear she was in danger. and Parnas revealed the threat that she was being followed.   That explains how Jovanovitch got reassigned so abruptly without explanation..For Guiliani to get the dirt, the deal was to get Jovanovitch out of her post first. Both the Ukrainian government and the US Secretary of State announced they would open an investigation to check into the implied threat of Yovanovitch being followed and for what purpose.
__________________________________________________________________________________ Ambassador Gordon Sondland’s Wednesday, Nov. 20,  House testimony was full of revelations. One of them is that President Donald Trump never seemed to ask Ukraine for an actual investigation of Vice President Joe Biden or his son, Hunter.
All he wanted, according to Sondland, was a public announcement of an investigation. He wanted a show.
There is a great discussion of the meaning of high crimes in Wikipedia and the various interpretations.
I have copied it for my own quick reference with thanks and acknowledgment to Wikipedia
"High," in the legal and common parlance of the 17th and 18th centuries of "high crimes," is activity by or against those who have special duties acquired by taking an oath of office that are not shared with common persons.[5] A high crime is one that can be done only by someone in a unique position of authority, which is political in character, who does things to circumvent justice. The phrase "high crimes and misdemeanors," used together, was a common phrase when the U.S. Constitution was written and did not require any stringent or difficult criteria for determining guilt but meant the opposite. The phrase was historically used to cover a very broad range of crimes.
The Judiciary Committee's 1974 report "The Historical Origins of Impeachment" stated: "'High Crimes and Misdemeanors' has traditionally been considered a 'term of art', like such other constitutional phrases as 'levying war' and 'due process.' The Supreme Court has held that such phrases must be construed, not according to modern usage, but according to what the framers meant when they adopted them. Chief Justice John Marshall wrote of another such phrase:
It is a technical term. It is used in a very old statute of that country whose language is our language, and whose laws form the substratum of our laws. It is scarcely conceivable that the term was not employed by the framers of our constitution in the sense which had been affixed to it by those from whom we borrowed it.[6][7]
Since 1386, the English parliament had used the term “high crimes and misdemeanors” to describe one of the grounds to impeach officials of the crown. Officials accused of “high crimes and misdemeanors” were accused of offenses as varied as misappropriating government funds, appointing unfit subordinates, not prosecuting cases, promoting themselves ahead of more deserving candidates, threatening a grand jury, disobeying an order from Parliament, arresting a man to keep him from running for Parliament, helping “suppress petitions to the King to call a Parliament,” etc.[8] Some of these charges were crimes. Others were not.[citation needed] They can be thought of as serious cases of power abuse or dereliction of duty, without a requirement for these cases to be explicitly against the law.
Benjamin Franklin asserted that the power of impeachment and removal was necessary for those times when the Executive "rendered himself obnoxious," and the Constitution should provide for the "regular punishment of the Executive when his conduct should deserve it, and for his honorable acquittal when he should be unjustly accused." James Madison said that "impeachment... was indispensable" to defend the community against "the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief Magistrate." With a single executive, Madison argued, unlike a legislature whose collective nature provided security, "loss of capacity or corruption was more within the compass of probable events, and either of them might be fatal to the Republic."[9]
The process of impeaching someone in the House of Representatives and the Senate is difficult, made so to be the balance against efforts to easily remove people from office for minor reasons that could easily be determined by the standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors". It was George Mason who offered up the term "high crimes and misdemeanors" as one of the criteria to remove public officials who abuse their office. Their original intentions can be gleaned by the phrases and words that were proposed before, such as "high misdemeanor," "maladministration," or "other crime." Edmund Randolph said impeachment should be reserved for those who "misbehave." Charles Cotesworth Pinckney said, It should be reserved "for those who behave amiss, or betray their public trust." As can be seen from all these references to "high crimes and misdemeanors," the definition or its rationale does not relate to specific offences. This gives a lot of freedom of interpretation to the House of Representatives and the Senate. The constitutional law by nature is not concerned with being specific. The courts through precedence and the legislature through lawmaking make constitutional provisions specific. In this case the legislature (the House of Representatives and the Senate) acts as a court and can create a precedent.
In Federalist No. 65Alexander Hamilton said, "those offences which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself."[10]
The first impeachment conviction by the United States Senate was in 1804 of John Pickering, a judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire, for chronic intoxication. Federal judges have been impeached and removed from office for tax evasion, conspiracy to solicit a bribe, and making false statements to a grand jury.[11]
Andrew Johnson was impeached on February 24, 1868, in the United U.S. House of Representatives on eleven articles of impeachment detailing his "high crimes and misdemeanors",[12] in accordance with Article Two of the United States Constitution. (The Senate fell one vote short of conviction.) The House's primary charge against Johnson was with violation of the Tenure of Office Act, passed by Congress the previous year. Specifically, he had removed Edwin M. Stanton, the Secretary of War from office and replaced him with John Schofield, but it was unclear if Johnson had violated the act as Stanton was nominated by President Abraham Lincoln and not by Johnson.
During the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1999, White House Counsel Charles Ruff described a "narrow" interpretation of "high crimes and misdemeanors" as requiring "a standard that the framers intentionally set at this extraordinarily high level to ensure that only the most serious offenses and in particular those that subverted our system of government would justify overturning a popular election". Writing in 1999, Mark R. Slusar commented that the narrow interpretation seemed to be most common among legal scholars and senators.[13]