Pathetic Performance

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Is That Too Much to Ask?

Before we come to any conclusions about Mueller’s report, can we at least see it first? Congress and the American people deserve to see Mueller’s report, not just Trump’s hand-picked AG’s interpretation of it.

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The Hypocrisy of Election Interference

By Arlen Grossman

It is nothing less than major-league hypocrisy when Americans criticize the Russians for interfering with our elections. To be sure, such intervention in our democratic functions is despicable and deserves condemnation and strong retribution. Russian influence likely helped elect the so-called president we have now.

The hypocrisy is that nobody has a longer history of election interference than the United States of America. Ever since the CIA was created in 1947, this country has sought to change the results of elections in foreign countries. One reputable study of instances of American intervention in elections beyond our borders lists at least 80–and that’s only up to the year 2000.

It’s wrong, no matter who does it.

Published in Monterey Herald, April 3, 2019

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Too Many Gullible Americans

by Arlen Grossman

I worry about this country. A lot. And I believe with good reason. 

A USA Today/Suffolk poll released yesterday indicated that half of America shares Donald Trump’s view that Robert Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt.” To be sure, the poll question was flawed: “President Trump has called the Special Counsel’s investigation a ‘witch hunt’ and said he’s been subjected to more investigations than previous presidents because of politics. Do you agree?” (two questions in one),

Still, it is clear a large number of Americans have been swayed by Trump’s obsession with attacking Mueller’s probe and calling it a “witch hunt.” By constantly complaining about Mueller’s investigation, Trump has convinced millions of Americans that the investigation is biased against him. In another era, nearly all Americans would support Mueller (one of the most trusted, squeeky-clean, respected people in Washington), but in a divided America, Trump has apparently, with his withering attacks, seeded plenty of doubt about Mueller and the Russian probe.

This, combined with his consistent 40-45% approval rating as president, is scary. If many Americans can’t figure out that Trump is basically out of his mind and very dangerous, what does this tell us about the intelligence and gullibility of a large segment of our population? It tells me that he has pulled the wool over the eyes and brains of a great number of Americans.

In a previous post, How the Media Serve Trump, I explained how the corporate media serves Trump by constantly covering everything he rants about, and rarely presenting an opposition rebuttal. This bodes badly for the future of this country and indicates how susceptible Americans are to a persuasive potential dictator. 

Democracy is not as safe as Americans think it is.

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Can We Fix a Broken System?

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The Oppression of the Supermajority

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By Tim Wu/ New York Times/ March 5, 2019

We are told that America is divided and polarized as never before. Yet when it comes to many important areas of policy, that simply isn’t true.

About 75 percent of Americans favor higher taxes for the ultrawealthy. The idea of a federal law that would guarantee paid maternity leaveattracts 67 percent support. Eighty-three percent favor strong net neutrality rules for broadband, and more than 60 percent want stronger privacy laws. Seventy-one percent think we should be able to buy drugs imported from Canada, and 92 percent want Medicare to negotiate for lower drug prices. The list goes on.

The defining political fact of our time is not polarization. It’s the inability of even large bipartisan majorities to get what they want on issues like these. Call it the oppression of the supermajority. Ignoring what most of the country wants — as much as demagogy and political divisiveness — is what is making the public so angry.

Some might counter that the thwarting of the popular will is not necessarily worrisome. For Congress to enact a proposal just because it is supported by a large majority, the argument goes, would amount to populism. The public, according to this way of thinking, is generally too ill informed to have its economic policy preferences taken seriously.

It is true that policymaking requires expertise. But I don’t think members of the public are demonstrating ignorance when they claim that drug prices are too high, taxes could be fairer, privacy laws are too weak and monopolies are too coddled.

Others remind us that the United States is a democratic republic, not a direct democracy, and that the Constitution was designed to modulate the extremes of majority rule. Majorities sometimes want things — like bans on books, or crackdowns on minorities — that they should not be given.

This is true. It is also true that a thoughtful process of democratic deliberation and compromise can yield better policy outcomes than merely following the majority’s will. But these considerations hardly describe our current situation. The invocation of constitutional principle has become an increasingly lame and embarrassing excuse. The framers of the Constitution, having experienced a popular revolution, were hardly recommending that the will of the majority be ignored. The Constitution sought to fine-tune majoritarian democracy, not to silence it.

The most obvious historical precedent for our times is the Progressive era. During the first decades of the 20th century, the American public voted for politicians who supported economic reforms like maximum-hour work laws and bans on child labor. But the Supreme Court struck down most of Congress’s economic legislation, deeming it unconstitutional.

In our era, it is primarily Congress that prevents popular laws from being passed or getting serious consideration. (Holding an occasional hearing does not count as “doing something.”) Entire categories of public policy options are effectively off-limits because of the combined influence of industry groups and donor interests. There is no principled defense of this state of affairs — and indeed, no one attempts to offer such a justification. Instead, legislative stagnation is cynically defended by those who benefit from it with an unconvincing invocation of the rigors of our system of checks and balances.

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Why Can’t We?

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Saving the World

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What Happened to Empathy?

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Do We Want Normal?

By Alex Kingsbury/ NY Times Editorial/ March 1,2019

 

Normal

At the end of his eloquent remarks concluding a hearing where the president was accused of multiple crimes by his former attorney, Representative Elijah Cummings, the Oversight Committee chairman, pined for a return to a pre-Trump America. “We have got to get back to normal,” he said.

But Normal America produced Donald Trump, fueled his cult of personality and created the conditions for him to rise to the height of political power. If anything, Michael Cohen’s testimony was a devastating indictment of decisions that Normal America made over the past few decades that produced President Trump in 2016.

Most of the charges — proven or alleged — against those caught up in the Mueller investigation are not obviously related to treasonous collusion with Moscow. It’s proof, the president’s blinkered backers bray, that the whole inquiry is a waste of time.

Read another way, that set of facts shows how decades of declining prosecutions of white-collar crimes may have allowed Paul Manafort, a man guilty of tax evasion and bank fraud, to lead a presidential campaign. If the number of white-collar crimes prosecuted by the Justice Department had not fallen more than 40 percent in the past 20 years, perhaps Mr. Cohen, who committed tax fraud and bank fraud, might not have ascended to become deputy finance chairman of the Republican National Committee, a post he held until June 2018.

Then there’s the president himself, Exhibit A of what happens when a country spends decades treating crimes by the poor as felonies and crimes by the powerful as misdemeanors.

At the start of Mr. Trump’s career, he and his father were charged with discriminating against African-Americans in their apartment rentals. Father and son settled with the government and admitted no wrongdoing.

Later in life, Mr. Trump’s casino was charged with money launderingand got off with a fine. Just after Mr. Trump was elected, his cardboard castle of a university that bore his name settled a class-action lawsuitbrought by from former students.

It took a shoe-leather investigation by The Washington Post to prompt authorities to assess that the Trump Foundation, founded in 1987, was being used as the family A.T.M. The New York State attorney general charged the foundation with “improper and extensive political activity, repeated and willful self-dealing transactions, and failure to follow basic fiduciary obligations or to implement even elementary corporate formalities required by law.” Imagine if the foundation had been scrutinized years before Mr. Trump ran for president.

Democrats, paging through the catalog of legal malfeasance connected to the president, worry that investigating too many of them will make the party vulnerable to claims of overreach. But exuberance in defense of justice is no vice, so as long as they don’t go full #Benghazi. After all, accountability has been in short supply of late.

It may well be a myth that no one was jailed after the 2008 financial crisis — 56 bankers and traders, including 13 C.E.O.s, were sent to prison. But none were prominent. And the boiling rage about the fact that mortgage owners got stuck with the bill for the sins of high finance was an animating factor for Trump voters. The Tea Party got its revenge on the system it saw as corrupt in 2016. Occupy Wall Streetis now standing restlessly in the wings and calling for world revolution as it waits for its turn in 2020. Justice delayed, after all, is justice denied.

Democratic societies are the result of choices that voters make. Last year, more than 60 percent of federal criminal prosecutions came in immigration-related cases. That follows: The voters who put Mr. Trump in office wanted a crackdown on noncitizens making lives for themselves illegally in the United States. That’s happening. But it also means that the number of prosecutions for all other types of crimes — committed by citizens making their living illegally in the country — are way down.

When gobs of resources are directed at something like reducing violent crime, the amount of violent crime declines. When the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Division gets stuck with the same number of special agents it had 50 years ago, lots of tax cheating is going to go undetected and unpunished. If Congress decides not to properly fund the I.R.S., it wouldn’t be overreach for Democrats to look into the president’s tax returns. After all, Mr. Trump’s tax scheming over the years included outright fraud, according to a Times investigation.

Recent research suggests that the public is increasingly aware of the seriousness of white-collar crime and becoming more punitive toward those found guilty of it. Sentences for white-collar criminals are getting longer. But while Americans still feel that violent criminals warrant harsher sentences, they say they want equal or more resources devoted to white-collar crime control.

Harder still is deterring white-collar crime, wrongly perceived as victimless, in the first place. “Without the same psychological stop signs that signal that one is about to break the law, many white-collar criminals cannot identify in hindsight the moment they crossed the line,” wrote former federal prosecutor Nicolas Bourtin.

Mr. Cohen now says, after a decade of dutiful service including issuing an estimated 500 threats against those seen as somehow threatening to Mr. Trump, that it was Mr. Trump’s behavior in office that led to an epiphany about the weight of Mr. Cohen’s own guilt. But Mr. Cohen was no doubt hustled along to that realization when he was arrested and staring down the long corridor of a multiyear prison sentence.

Normal America gave white-collar criminals parking tickets, while sending SWAT teams after drug dealers because it viewed one type of criminal as a far greater threat to the republic. Now is not the time to return to what was normal. It’s a time to learn from past misjudgments.

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