January 16, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


New court filing indicates prosecutors have extensive details on Manafort actions not yet made public (Spencer S. Hsu January 15, 2019, Washington Post)

Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III have intensively scrutinized Paul Manafort's activities after President Trump's election -- including after Manafort was criminally charged -- and indicated they have extensive details not yet made public about Manafort's interactions with former Russian aide Konstantin Kilimnik and others, a Tuesday court filing showed.

Although heavily redacted, the documents state that Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, claimed he was trying to get people appointed in the new presidential administration. The filing also states that in another Justice Department investigation, Manafort provided information that appears related to an event while he was with the campaign in August 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Donald Trump's Pattern of Deference to the Kremlin Is Clear (DAVID A. GRAHAM, 1/15/19, THE ATLANTIC)

During the campaign, Trump repeatedly praised Putin, and downplayed objections to Russia's seizure of Crimea. In one extraordinary campaign rally, he called on Russia to hack emails from the former U.S. secretary of state, who happened to be his rival for the presidency. (Russian hackers made their first attempt to do so that very day.) He hired Paul Manafort as his campaign manager despite copious warning signs, including his work as a lobbyist for foreign dictators and his offer to work for free. Manafort was one of several aides who in June 2016 met with Russians who, the aides believed, were bringing damaging info about Clinton. (Trump would later dictate a misleading statement about the meeting.)

Several Trump advisers, especially George Papadopoulos and Carter Page, had extensive contacts with Russians, which they have attempted to downplay. The Trump Organization also claimed it had cut off discussions about building a tower in Russia, when in fact it remained in close contact with Russian government officials about the project.

Before and after the election, Trump dismissed the judgment of the U.S. intelligence community that Russia was interfering in U.S. politics. During the presidential transition, Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner (who attended the June 2016 meeting) sought to set up a secret backchannel with Russia that would bypass the federal government. Meanwhile, National-Security Adviser-designate Michael Flynn had conversations with the Russian ambassador, about which he lied to FBI agents and Vice President Mike Pence. Trump only fired Flynn when his lying was revealed in the press.

During a February 2017 interview with Bill O'Reilly, Trump dismissed concerns about Putin killing dissidents and journalists. In May 2017, he abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey, citing the Russia investigation as his motivation. The day after he fired Comey, he welcomed Russia's U.S. and ambassador and foreign minister to the White House--an arrangement that rattled some intelligence experts on its own--where he told them that firing that "nutjob" Comey had relieved "great pressure because of Russia" on him. Trump also disclosed sensitive classified information to the Russians.

During the summer of 2017, Trump continued to deny that Russia had interfered in the presidential election, despite a growing body of evidence. In July 2017, he met with Putin in Hamburg, with a tiny team of advisers; Trump greeted Putin warmly, and according to the Russians, Trump "accepted" Putin's denials of interference in the election.

That meeting turned out to be only a warm-up for a disastrous meeting with Putin in Helsinki the following summer, in which Trump kowtowed to the Russian leader; openly took Putin's side over U.S. intelligence on the interference issue; suggested allowing Russia to take part in the inquiry; and entertaining allowing the Russians to question a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow.

More recently, Trump regurgitated a strange and bogus Russian assertion that the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in 1979 to fight terrorists. According to TheTimes, the president has also discussed the idea of withdrawing the U.S. from NATO, which would effectively destroy the organization and fulfill one of Putin's greatest desires in geopolitics.

Any of these specific incidents, and many others that I have omitted, might be individually explained away fairly easily. As a pattern, they're too weird to dismiss with a shrug or cobbled together explanations.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


The red state that loves free college: How Tennessee is making Bernie Sanders' favorite education idea a reality. (BENJAMIN WERMUND, 01/16/2019, Politico)

From the beginning, free college in Tennessee was framed not as a form of personal betterment, or social welfare, but in terms of economic development. State leaders found that companies considering locating in Tennessee wanted a broad base of skilled workers more than just about any financial incentive they could offer.

"I can't emphasize enough to anybody who's not in the middle of these economic development conversations how much it has changed - literally it is all about workforce development," Haslam said. "You could look out and say, 'We're really close to having a big mismatch and jobs are going to go somewhere else and we're going to have a lot of people here who won't have jobs.' So that's the primary emphasis, that was the primary motivating factor."

Increasingly, that means workers with some form of postsecondary education. For Tennessee, this was a problem: The percentage of Tennessee residents with a degree beyond high school was in the low 30s - nearly 10 points below the national average at the time. Haslam created a statewide initiative to bring that up to 55 percent by 2025.

The centerpiece of that initiative was free college. Haslam saw it as the quickest, most surefire way to get people - especially those who had never considered college - talking about it. It had to make a splash - even if it meant running up against political resistance from his own party.

"We wanted it to be an easy thing to sell and describe," Haslam said. "If I say, 'Well, it's free unless your income's above this level,' or, 'it's free unless you make a 2.5 GPA' ... Free was an easy discussion so we could say, 'If you walk across that high school stage, then you could go to college free.' And that was a conversation we wanted people to have around their dinner tables."

But "free" wasn't an automatic sell to the Republican lawmakers who would have to sign off. "There were people, particularly on my side of the aisle, who had an issue around, like, 'free - free? - so you don't have to do anything to qualify for it?'" Haslam said. "There was a sense in which this is going to be another entitlement program. That was one of the issues. Mainly from Republicans."

Haslam enlisted Mark Norris, the Senate majority leader and one of the state Legislature's most conservative members, to draft free college legislation and get their Republican colleagues on board. The plan would be funded from a lottery reserve - meaning no new taxes - and it would require students do community service to qualify, so it wouldn't be seen as a handout.

Norris, now a district judge after he was tapped by Trump to a federal bench in western Tennessee, was quickly faced with "concern this was, quote unquote, just another entitlement program that was costing taxpayers money," Norris said. But "when people came to learn it wasn't costing taxpayers money unless they play the lottery, it gave them pause."

In retrospect, Tennessee Republicans came up with a remarkably effective strategy for how free-market politicians could talk about free college to their donors, voters and national colleagues. First Tennessee Promise is billed as an economic-growth program, a way to boost the workforce and lure companies - and jobs - to the state. It focuses on community colleges and technical colleges where students train for those jobs, rather than more elite universities that serve better-off students and come with what critics see as a liberal political culture.

Second, the program is open to everyone, not just low-income students. That sends a signal that it's not a "poverty" program or an "entitlement," and gets buy-in from wealthier families who have their own concerns about the growing cost of college. And importantly, Tennessee's programs are state-based, not a federal mandate or "just another entitlement check from Washington," as Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Tennessee Republican and former state governor, put it.

"It's different than the Bernie Sanders, 'We'll just send you a check from Washington," said Alexander, who also served as president of the University of Tennessee and U.S. secretary of Education. "That's why Republicans are very comfortable with it, conservatives are very comfortable with it ... We don't think of it as an entitlement, we think of it as a ladder to the middle class."

To make it affordable for a non-wealthy state, Tennessee's program is "last dollar" - meaning the state pays only what isn't covered by Pell Grants, the federal aid program for low-income students. It costs the state about $45 million a year, an amount covered entirely by the lottery reserve fund.

"We did it without raising taxes. We didn't add any debt or add to the deficit," said Michael Sullivan, executive director of the state's Republican Party and a supporter of the program. "We took the fiscally responsible steps."

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 AM


The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Getting History Right (Seth G. Jones, January 13, 2019, LawFare)

To understand Soviet concerns about Afghanistan, it is helpful to go back to 1973, six years before the Soviet invasion. On July 16, 1973, Muhammad Daoud Khan overthrew King Zahir Shah, who had ruled the country since 1933, in a coup d'état. Moscow, which had been providing military aid to Afghanistan since at least 1955, grew increasingly alarmed about instability in Afghanistan. In April 1978, Daoud was assassinated during a coup led by Nur Mohammad Taraki, further increasing Soviet fears about their southern flank.

The next year, it was Washington's turn to become alarmed after its ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolf Dubs, was kidnapped by armed extremists posing as police. When Afghan security forces attempted to rescue him, Dubs was shot and killed. President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, blamed the incident on "either Soviet ineptitude or collusion."

Afghanistan headed toward the abyss. Demonstrations erupted in cities like Herat, and, as one top-secret Soviet assessment concluded, key parts of the Afghan Army "essentially collapsed." In June 1979, there was yet another coup, as Taraki was replaced by Hafizullah Amin. This was the last straw for Moscow. As the Soviet archives indicate, Moscow's leaders believed that Amin was growing too close to Washington. A top-secret report to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned: "It is known, in particular, that representatives of the USA, on the basis of their contacts with the Afghans, are coming to a conclusion about the possibility of a change in the political line of Afghanistan in a direction which is pleasing to Washington." The KGB came to similar conclusions and assessed that Amin would likely turn to Washington for aid.

On December 8, 1979, Brezhnev hosted a meeting with several trusted Politburo members, including ideologist Mikhail Suslov, KGB head Yuri Andropov, Defense Minister Dmitriy Ustinov, and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Andropov and Ustinov argued that Washington was trying to expand its influence in Afghanistan. The group tentatively agreed to direct the KGB to remove Amin and replace him with the Babrak Karmal. They also deliberated about sending Soviet troops to Afghanistan. On December 12, Brezhnev, Suslov, Andropov, Ustinov, and Gromyko met again. The group assessed that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan threatened the security of the Soviet Union's southern borders, which the United States and other countries could take advantage of by aiding the Afghan regime. In addition, Afghanistan could become a future U.S. forward operating base situated in the Soviet Union's "soft underbelly" in Central Asia.

On Christmas Eve 1979, elite Soviet forces began flying into Kabul airport and the military airbase at Bagram. The 357th and 66th Motorized Rifle Divisions of the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan from Turkmenistan and began advancing south along the main highway. The 360th and 201st Motorized Rifle Divisions crossed the Amu Darya River from Uzbekistan.

The Soviet invasion created an immediate global uproar. In response, over five dozen countries--including the United States--boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow. The Soviet invasion increased already-high tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Terrorism had nothing to do with all this. While Soviet leaders were concerned about "religious fanatics" that were involved in Afghan protests, the Soviets were overwhelmingly worried about U.S. power and influence. To argue that the Soviets were "right to be there," as President Trump remarked, is either to misunderstand Cold War history or, even worse, to legitimize Brezhnev's cold-blooded, anti-U.S. strategic rationale for invading Afghanistan.

In response to the Soviet invasion, the United States conducted one of its most successful covert action programs during the Cold War. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:07 AM


US must stand with Congo's voters and its civil society (K. RIVA LEVINSON, 01/14/19, The Hill)

"Congo opposition leader Felix Tshisekedi clinches surprise win in presidential election," reported Reuters. The BBC announced "Felix Tshisekedi steps out of his father's shadow to lead DR Congo," and the United Nations extolled the country's "first peaceful transfer of power." [...]

On Sunday 30 December 2018, millions of Congolese went to the polls to elect a new president and national lawmakers. Despite a two-year delay, a chaotic process, and the exclusion of four percent of the electorate because of the on-going Ebola health emergency, the vote came off with relative calm.

The presidential contest was fought between Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, the choice of the country's president Joseph Kabila (who is under EU sanctions for human rights crimes), Felix Tshiekedi, the son of the country's veteran opposition leader who founded the Union for Democracy and Social Progress in 1982 and died in 2017, and Martin Fayulu, a former executive of Mobil Oil who was backed two political leaders the government barred from standing.

Just getting to this point of electoral uncertainty was a struggle of epic proportion for Congo's 85 million people -- and why the final certified result must be just, and evidence-based.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Confessions of a Recovering Libertarian (Charlie Sykes, January 15th, 2019, The Bulwark)

On today's Daily Bulwark Podcast, Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center joins host Charlie Sykes to discuss Jerry's confessions as a recovering libertarian, virtue signalling in the GOP, how the decline of broad political knowledge is fueling excessive partisanship, and the future of moderation in our hyper-partisan times.

As per below, this is a great conversation about what partisanship does to the mind.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 AM


Steve King's Fall Offers Three Lessons for Conservatives (Ramesh Ponnuru, January 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

[C]onservatives themselves need to be better at policing that distinction. Too often conservatives react to unjustified charges of racism by discounting all such charges. Conservatives ought to be realistic, too, about the unsavory supporters that even defensible causes can draw.

The third is that the frequency and offensiveness of King's provocations have grown as Donald Trump has become the dominant force in the Republican Party. That is probably not a coincidence.

During his presidential campaign, Trump barely and belatedly disavowed the white nationalist David Duke, attacked a judge for having Mexican ancestry, and urged the banning of all adherents of a global faith. And he won.

Maybe King felt liberated by his example to be less politic about his views. 

The thing that has really surprised conservatives about this time is the revelation of just how racist the Right, which we've often made common cause with, is. It's quite salutary.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Trump's Attempt to Bypass Democratic Leaders on Wall Falls Flat (Justin Sink  and Sahil Kapur, January 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's attempt to bypass Democratic congressional leaders to break open negotiations on the government shutdown fell flat as he failed to persuade any of the party's rank-and-file members to attend a hastily arranged White House meeting Tuesday.

Could have at least gone and scored some burgers...

January 15, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Defying Trump, U.S. Senate advances measure critical of easing Russia sanctions (Patricia Zengerle, 1/15/19, Reuters) 

The U.S. Senate voted on Tuesday to move ahead with a resolution disapproving of a Trump administration plan to ease sanctions on Russian companies tied to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, clearing the way for debate and a vote on the plan.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Why Conservative Media and the Far Right Love Tulsi Gabbard for President: The enigmatic congresswoman has earned substantial praise from many across the right--from Fox News star Tucker Carlson to white nationalists like David Duke. (Maxwell Tani,  Kelly Weill, 01.15.19, Daily Beast)

In a Monday evening segment, featuring anti-war leftist journalist Glenn Greenwald, the Fox News host argued that Gabbard had been unfairly maligned because of her deep skepticism about intervention in Syria and willingness to talk to Assad.

"There's something so stealthy and feline and dishonest about the way they're attacking her," Tucker said. "If you don't like her foreign policy views, let's just say so. But no one ever really wants to debate what our foreign policy should be. They just attack anyone who deviates from their own dumb ideas."

Gabbard first became an in-demand Fox News guest in 2015 after she criticized Barack Obama's unwillingness to use the label "radical Islamic terrorism." Her media tour explaining that position earned her positively-tilted coverage in right-wing outlets like Breitbart and The Daily Caller--a trend that continued when she later expressed skepticism of Obama's Iran nuclear deal. [...]

Steve Bannon, Trump's former White House chief strategist, reportedly admired Gabbard's foreign policy, and arranged a meeting with her and Trump shortly after his election. Bannon was reportedly considering Gabbard for an administration role, although no such job ever materialized.

"He loves Tulsi Gabbard. Loves her," a person close to Bannon told The Hill at the time. "Wants to work with her on everything." The person added that Gabbard "would fit perfectly too [inside the administration] ... She gets the foreign policy stuff, the Islamic terrorism stuff."

Richard Spencer, a white nationalist and alleged domestic abuser who has called for "peaceful ethnic cleansing," has tweeted multiple times in support of Gabbard. David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader and current racist, has also heaped praise upon her.

"Tulsi Gabbard is brave and the kind of person we need in the diplomatic corps," Spencer tweeted in January 2017. "Tulsi Gabbard 2020," he tweeted later that year.

In a November 2016 tweet, Duke said Gabbard was representative of a "political realignment" he hoped to see in the U.S., and called for Donald Trump to appoint her secretary of state. Duke ran a favorable blog post about Gabbard on his website.

Gabbard hit back at Duke. "U didn't know I'm Polynesian/Cauc?" she tweeted at the former KKK leader. "Dad couldn't use 'whites only' water fountain. No thanks. Ur white nationalism is pure evil." But he continued to laud her, writing "God bless Tulsi Gabbard" later that year.

Spencer and Duke credited their Gabbard support to her stance on Syria, where civil war has resulted in an estimated half-million deaths. (Some on the far right view Assad as a hero. The Intercept reported that fascists in the U.S. and abroad see Assad as creating an ideal "homogeneous" authoritarian state, free of political dissent. And James Fields Jr., the neo-Nazi who murdered a woman with a car at a 2017 white nationalist rally in Virginia in 2017, posted a meme of Assad on Facebook, alongside pictures of swastikas and Hitler.)

Gabbard has billed herself as an anti-interventionist in Syria, but she's gone further than many pacifists--most famously by meeting with Assad on the trip organized by members of a far-right group in early 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 PM


The Supreme Court Just Handed a Big, Unanimous Victory to Workers. Wait, What?   (MARK JOSEPH STERN, JAN 15, 2019, Slate)

Tuesday's case, New Prime v. Oliveira, involves a dispute between a trucking company (New Prime) and one of its drivers, Dominic Oliveira. When he began work, Oliveira was required to complete 10,000 miles hauling freight for New Prime--for free, as an "apprentice." He was then compelled to complete another 30,000 miles as a "trainee," for which he was paid about $4 an hour. Once he became a full-fledged driver, Oliveira was designated as a contractor rather than an employee. He was forced to lease his own truck (from a company owned by the owners of New Prime), buy his own equipment (from the New Prime store), and pay for his own gas, often from New Prime gas pumps.

Typically, New Prime would have to pay all these expenses. But because it classified Oliveira as a contractor, it deducted the costs from his paycheck. Sometimes, that paycheck wound up negative due to these deductions, meaning New Prime essentially charged Oliveira to work for the company.

In 2015, Oliveira filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of himself and tens of thousands of other "contractors." He alleged that New Prime had misclassified him as a contractor to underpay him, a violation of federal labor law. But Oliveira's contract with the company declared that all disputes must be resolved through individual arbitration, a process that is costly, time-consuming, and often unjust, favoring employers over workers. New Prime asserted that, under the Federal Arbitration Act, courts must enforce this "agreement" and dismiss Oliveira's claims. That's no surprise: In recent years, SCOTUS has repeatedly used the FAA to crush labor lawsuits, deploying the 1925 law to throw class actions and labor disputes out of court.

But New Prime had a problem. The FAA generally obligates courts to enforce arbitration clauses. But it expressly excludes "contracts of employment of ... workers engaged in ... interstate commerce," such as "seamen" and "railroad employees." Everyone agrees that truckers qualify for this exception. New Prime, however, asserted that truckers who work as contractors do not have "contracts of employment" and thus do not qualify. And by classifying so many workers as contractors, the company believed it had worked around the FAA's exemption.

Not so, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court on Tuesday. We may see a formal distinction between "employment" and contractor work today. But when Congress passed the FAA in 1925, Gorsuch explained, "Dictionaries tended to treat 'employment' more or less as a synonym for 'work.' " Indeed, "all work was treated as employment," whether or not "a formal employer-employee or master-servant relationship" existed. Citing six dictionaries from the era, as well as contemporaneous statutes and rulings, Gorsuch concluded that "contract of employment" was understood to encompass "work agreements involving independent contractors." As a result, Oliveira, along with other truckers and transportation contractors, qualify for the FAA's exemption. His class-action lawsuit may proceed in court.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Trump once dismissed Pat Buchanan's politics as for the 'right-wacko vote.' Now he's quoting him. (The Week, 1/15/19)

In 1999, President Trump briefly ran against paleo-conservative Patrick Buchanan for the Reform Party presidential nomination, and before dropping out of the race, Trump told NBC's Tim Russert that Buchanan is "a Hitler lover" and apparent "anti-Semite," and "it's just incredible that anybody could embrace this guy. And maybe he'll get 4 or 5 percent of the vote and it'll be a really staunch, right-wacko vote. I'm not even sure if it's right. It's just a wacko vote." Upon dropping out, Trump wrote in The New York Times: "I leave the Reform Party to David Duke, Pat Buchanan, and Lenora Fulani. That is not company I wish to keep."

On Sunday night, Trump tweet-quoted approvingly from a recent Buchanan column about militarizing the border to preserve white male America.

He went further than that: "The Reform Party now includes a Klansman, Mr. Duke, a neo-Nazi, Mr. Buchanan, and a communist, Ms. Fulani." 

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM


Alabama judge overturns law protecting Confederate monuments (Gina Cherelus, 1/15/19, Reuters)

An Alabama judge has voided a 2017 state law preventing the removal or alteration of historic memorials, saying it infringed citizens' free-speech rights and effectively enshrined a pro-Confederacy message in the southern U.S. state.

The ruling was the latest blow in an ongoing national fight over memorials to the pro-slavery Confederacy, which lost in the 1861-1865 U.S. Civil War. Backers of the monuments call them a tribute to history and heritage, while opponents decry them as powerful tributes to institutionalized racism.

Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Chris Christie accuses Jared Kushner of political 'hit job' in explosive new book (Ed Pilkington and Martin Pengelly in New York,  15 Jan 2019, The Guardian)

As Bannon was carrying out the firing, at Trump Tower in New York, Christie forced him to tell him who was really behind the dismissal by threatening to go to the media and point the finger at Bannon instead.

"Steve Bannon ... made clear to me that one person and one person only was responsible for the faceless execution that Steve was now attempting to carry out. Jared Kushner, still apparently seething over events that had occurred a decade ago."

The political assassination was carried out by Kushner as a personal vendetta, Christie writes, that had its roots in his prosecution, as a then federal attorney, of Charles Kushner in 2005. The real estate tycoon was charged with witness tampering and tax evasion and served more than a year in federal prison. [...]

The elder Kushner hired a sex worker to seduce his brother-in-law Bill Schulder, then filmed them having sex in a motel and sent the tape to his own sister, Esther. The bizarre plot was an attempt to blackmail the Schulders into keeping their silence about Bill's knowledge of Charles's fraudulent activities.

Charles Kushner pleaded guilty to 18 charges and served 14 months in a federal prison in Alabama.

In one of the most visceral passages of the book, Christie recounts for the first time how Jared Kushner badmouthed him to Trump in April 2016, pleading with his father-in-law not to make Christie transition chairman. Remarkably, he did so while Christie was in the room.

"He implied I had acted unethically and inappropriately but didn't state one fact to back that up," Christie writes. "Just a lot of feelings - very raw feelings that had been simmering for a dozen years."

Kushner went on to tell Trump that it wasn't fair his father spent so long in prison. He insisted the sex tape and blackmailing was a family matter that should have been kept away from federal authorities: "This was a family matter, a matter to be handled by the family or by the rabbis."

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


NBC News Tells Staffers Not To Directly Call Steve King's Racist Remarks Racist (Yashar Ali, 1/15/19, Huffington Post)

NBC News' standards department sent an email to staffers Tuesday telling them not to directly refer to Rep. Steve King's recent comments about white supremacy as "racist."

"Be careful to avoid characterizing [King's] remarks as racist," reads the email, which two NBC News staffers shared with HuffPost. "It is ok to attribute to others as in 'what many are calling racist' or something like that."

It speaks well of the American people that we're reluctant to say that racists are racist, but, on the other hand,  it strips words of their meaning.
Posted by orrinj at 4:19 AM


When America Stared Into the Abyss (John Lawrence, Jan. 7th, 2019, The Atlantic)

The commission appointed by Congress in 2009 to investigate the causes of the meltdown concluded that it "was the result of human action and inaction, not of Mother Nature or computer models gone haywire." A "combination of excessive borrowing, risky investments, and lack of transparency put the financial system on a collision course with crisis." And perhaps most tellingly, the commissioners determined, the crisis had been "avoidable."

In the leadership meeting Pelosi convened after her phone calls with Bernanke and Paulson, the Federal Reserve chairman described a "very severe financial crisis--hundreds of billions in losses." The administration was forced to turn to Congress, Bernanke declared, because the Fed was "no longer able to use the tools we have to maintain stability. It is a matter of days," the chairman warned, before "a major meltdown [would occur] in the United States and globally." Paulson agreed. "I've never seen anything like it," he said. "Once in 100 years."

Congress would have to authorize the Treasury to purchase the toxic assets. "If we don't deal with it by next week, the country could collapse," Paulson warned. The alternative, Bernanke predicted, was a "deep, long recession." Congressional leaders, many of whom considered the two financial managers politically naive and partly responsible for the unfolding catastrophe, were stunned. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid asked how much the purchase would cost. "Hundreds of billions," Paulson admitted, and even then, it was inevitable that widespread foreclosures would cost millions of Americans their homes.

Democratic leaders immediately seized on the strategy of using Wall Street's crisis to benefit millions of Americans on "Main Street" who were seeing their homes, savings, and jobs evaporate without generating any comparable urgent response. Congress had negotiated with Paulson and the Bush administration a meager $168 billion stimulus bill in February, but the law had minimal impact on the worsening recession. Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer of New York insisted that something like Paulson and Bernanke's audacious proposal could only secure Democratic votes if it included billions of dollars in anti-recessionary spending to promote job creation, extend unemployment assistance, and fund other initiatives to reduce the "perception the bill is a [corporate] bailout." Barney Frank, the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, also demanded restrictions on the exorbitant executive-compensation packages of financial-services companies to help secure the needed votes.

The administration and congressional Republicans reacted negatively to these efforts to expand the scope of the legislation. "We won't get there if you take that approach," Paulson admonished. The House Republican leader, John Boehner, agreed, advising the Democrats, "Don't play politics." Other Republicans raised their own concerns. Dick Shelby, the senior Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, skeptically described the administration's proposal as "a blank check." Reid explained that Democrats would also face challenges rounding up votes without incentives. "It's political reality," Reid declared in defense of the additional spending. Without the anti-recessionary provisions, Frank advised, "I can't tell you the bill will pass." After a tense moment, Paulson glumly responded, "Then God help us." [...]

Administration negotiators were also exasperated by a plethora of conservative-generated TARP alternatives, including one from Chief Deputy Whip Eric Cantor that would have substituted a federal insurance plan for the bailout. Paulson dismissed these alternatives as "pretty ridiculous" and focused on crafting the legislation with Democrats. Meanwhile, on the Senate side of the Capitol, Paulson was "laying an egg" with the Senate Finance Committee, a top Boehner aide confided in me. White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten told Democratic leaders their Republican counterparts were "horrid," according to Reid, and Obama quoted Bush as having declared, "My problem is House Republicans." According to a senior White House staffer, neither Senator Shelby nor the ranking member Spencer Bachus of Alabama was being helpful. The obstinacy of Bachus, said Paulson, was "disgraceful."

Reid was flabbergasted to hear that even McCain was leaning against the bill. "We can't pass a bill unless 80 percent of Republicans vote for it," he told Pelosi, who called McCain's opposition "just pathetic." When McCain called Pelosi on September 24 to complain about the pace of the discussions, Pelosi sharply rebuked him. "We are making progress," she said. "It is not accurate to say otherwise." McCain then proposed a suspension of the presidential campaign and the convening of a bipartisan White House summit to hash out a legislative agreement. Pelosi was concerned that a White House meeting would cause delays. When Bolten called to invite her to attend the meeting, the speaker reproached him for capitulating to McCain's "political stunt." She instructed Paulson, "Tell the president to lead! ... I will not allow Congress to look like it's in disarray!" Later in the meeting, she reminded him, "The president never listened to us on Iraq ... He never broaches disagreement." Unless Bush embraced the TARP design they had fashioned together, she told the Treasury secretary, "we have wasted our time, and it is an insult to you." Sardonically, Paulson noted, "I'm beyond that point."

Schumer thought McCain's suggestion was "just weird," especially coming from someone who had offered little "except for an occasional, unhelpful statement, sort of thrown [in] from far away." The Democratic presidential nominee, Barack Obama, was similarly skeptical of the meeting, which might force the postponement of his first debate with McCain, but he was also wary of rejecting the kind of invitation he might soon as president extend to congressional leaders. "We've got him boxed in ... We have him on the ropes," Obama said. "If we didn't go, it would be a bad precedent," he told Reid and Pelosi. They unenthusiastically decided to participate, and decided Obama would serve as their leader. However, they agreed, there would be no deal-making at the meeting, and the exit statement to the press would emphasize that it was the Republicans who needed to "get their ducks in a row."

"We've got a serious economic crisis," Bush declared to the participants around the enormous oval table in the Cabinet Room. "This meeting is an attempt to reach agreement quickly. I can't tell you how important it is to get something done." He cautioned against loading up the bailout with controversial provisions that could jeopardize passage, but he also signaled flexibility, adding that if Paulson and Bernanke signed off, "we're for it. You damn sure don't want to be the people who see it crater." He made, I recall, a point of singling out Pelosi for her collaboration with administration officials.

Obama's opening statement focused on the proposal under negotiation, while Boehner and Bachus again floated alternative approaches. Their ideas, like the insurance scheme, drew sharp rebukes from Frank and Reid, who accused the Republicans of leading negotiators "down a primrose path" only to throw up obstacles at the last minute. As the parties parried, Bush became increasingly restless. "It's easy for smart guys to sit around," he said, but "if money isn't loosened up, this sucker could go down." Although he had proposed the meeting, McCain remained silent for nearly an hour. A CNN reporter confidentially disclosed to me later that McCain's campaign staff had feared that his presence in the meeting could be "political dynamite," and a Boehner staff person privately expressed to me deep concern at the nominee's lack of preparation, admitting he had requested staff assistance from Boehner only the day before the meeting.

After nearly every other principal had spoken, Obama turned to his rival. "We need to hear from John," he declared, and all heads turned to the silent senator. McCain awkwardly stumbled through a rambling statement, thanking Bush for convening the meeting and declaring his support for the concerns expressed by other Republicans. Puzzled looks flew around the Cabinet Room.  [...]

Afterward, Nowakowski told me the Republican leader was displeased with the outcome of the White House meeting and furious with Paulson for seemingly siding with Democrats against the GOP proposals. Perhaps, she mused, Pelosi should "start thinking" about a bill that could pass with only Democratic votes. Confidentially, a top White House aide admitted that Boehner's conference was filled with "hardheads" and that the meeting had been awful, "chaos ... typical of McCain world," allowing others to "outmaneuver him." I recall one Republican aide telling me, "The only person in the room who looked presidential was your guy," Obama. [...]

Unease hung over the House chamber as the debate began on September 29. Blunt advised Pelosi, "Don't count on the Republicans," while Nowakowski advised that some Republicans would undoubtedly "beat their chests" in opposition. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Paulson, and Bernanke continued to call House members, the White House liaison Dan Meyer reported, but there might be only 75 Republican votes for the bill. He asked for additional time to convince recalcitrant Republicans, but Pelosi, worried that her own members might begin to drift away, insisted that the vote go forward.

In a leadership meeting, Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn confidentially predicted that only half of the Democrats' 235 members would support the bill, but far fewer if the Republicans produced only 75 of their own. Pelosi dispatched Barney Frank to meet with skeptical Democratic factions, including the liberal Hispanic and Black Caucuses, and the conservative Blue Dogs. Steeling himself for the onslaught of complaints, Frank asked, "When is the Asshole Caucus, and do I have to address them?"

Shortly after the New York stock market had opened that morning, Citigroup announced it was taking over the failing Wachovia Bank, and several central banks announced plans to shore up the credit markets. Neither action prevented the Dow from beginning a precipitous decline, a worrisome backdrop to the debate. In her statement in support of the bill on the House floor, Pelosi acknowledged, "We have a situation where on Wall Street, people are flying high. They are making unconscionable amounts of money. They make a lot of money. They privatize the gain. The minute things go tough, they nationalize the risk ... they drive their firm into the ground, and the American people have to pick up the tab. Something is very, very wrong with this picture."

She castigated Bush for squandering the $5.6 trillion surplus bequeathed him by President Bill Clinton on unpaid wars, tax cuts, and a Medicare expansion. "No regulation" and "fiscal irresponsibility, combined with an 'anything goes' economic policy, has taken us to where we are today," she asserted. Now, she assured the skeptics in her caucus, "the party is over." She promised that "before long, we will have a new Congress, a new president of the United States, and we will be able to take our country in a new direction."

In his floor speech, Jerry Lewis, a well-respected Southern California Republican, offered a rationale for his recalcitrant fellow conservatives to support the bill. "Frankly, I'm furious," he admitted. "The idea of spending taxpayer dollars to prop up risky investments keeps me awake at night. It goes against all the principles I have lived by." But there was little choice. "Doing nothing will cause a potential catastrophe."

The toughest selling job fell to Boehner, who had privately described the bill to Republicans as a "crap sandwich, but I'm going to eat it anyway." His voice cracking as he spoke in the well of the House chamber, his cheeks streaked with the tears, he acknowledged, "Nobody wants to vote for this, nobody wants to be anywhere around it ... I didn't come here to vote for bills like this. But let me tell you this, I believe Congress has to act." He pleaded with members on both sides of the aisle: "What's in the best interest of our country? Not what's in the best interest of our party [or] our own reelection." His earnest plea received tepid applause, and then it was time to vote.

As the seconds ticked down on the 15-minute clocks flanking the chamber, it became evident that the bipartisan entreaties and White House pressure had failed. The bill was defeated by a vote of 205-228, a rare loss on the floor for Pelosi. Nearly 60 percent of Democrats (140 out of 235) voted "yea," compared with just 33 percent of Republicans (65 of 198). Bush, who had called all 19 Republican members of his Texas delegation, had persuaded just four to support the bill. One of the Texas dissenters, Jeb Hensarling, denounced TARP as the first step "on the slippery slope to socialism."

Anxiety over the fast-approaching election played a significant role in the defeat. Of 18 members in "toss-up" races, 15 voted against the bill, including all six freshman Democrats facing tight campaigns. Some voiced skepticism about the accuracy of the administration's description of the crisis, recalling the misleading information provided Congress about weapons of mass destruction that was used to justify the war in Iraq. Many in the Hispanic and Black Caucuses proved unwilling to explain to their economically suffering constituents the massive spending for Wall Street, particularly since the bill contained little of what Democrats had sought for the jobless and those at risk of losing their homes.

In the cloakroom, stunned members watched the Dow Jones average plunge sharply lower. When the final vote was announced, the bottom fell out. Within minutes, the market had lost nearly 700 points off its opening, ending 778 points lower for the day, a record one-day point loss. By day's end, $1.2 trillion in IRAs, pension funds, and savings was gone--nearly twice the size of the bailout package itself. The VIX index that chronicled market volatility, the so-called fear index, closed at the highest level in its 28-year history.

Reality always trumps ideology, but not often as quickly as that week.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Pelosi learned the art of "no" from working with Bush. Trump is a whole new test. (Ella Nilsen,   Jan 15, 2019, Vox)

[I]n the fall of 2008, Pelosi still wrangled the votes for a massive bank bailout proposed by Bush's administration, in part because of a willingness to give Democrats some key demands in exchange.

Admitting his party had taken a "thumping" in the 2006 midterms, Bush pledged to work with Pelosi. And he did; in 2007 and 2008, Pelosi and Bush partnered on a fiscal stimulus bill and a large energy bill that raised fuel efficiency standards, among other things.

"We had good lines of communication, we had regular meetings down at the White House," remembered John Lawrence, Pelosi's chief of staff from 2005 to 2011.

Pelosi is an old-school politician who sees the role of speaker of the House as standing up for the institution, ensuring it fulfills its constitutional responsibilities, and making deals on bills. Even with a powerful position in the majority, she has had to compromise with the Senate and the White House; for example, agreeing to cut a public option from the final version of the 2010 Affordable Care Act. But she still has a strong record working with both Democratic and Republican presidents.

"She makes it very clear going into negotiations with the executive branch that she is not there to simply follow the dictates of any other branch," Lawrence told me recently.

Go behind the scenes. Chat with creators. Support Vox video. Become a member of the Vox Video Lab today.

As Pelosi begins her second tenure as speaker of the House -- this time, amid a government shutdown -- Trump would be wise to look back at her working relationship with Bush. The 43rd president learned that when he came to the table willing to truly engage, he could get a deal with Democrats. When he wasn't, Pelosi wouldn't cave.

She's earned respect from her Republican opponents. "I don't think there's any question that she's a very accomplished legislator," said Michael Steel, who served as a spokesperson for former Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Posted by orrinj at 4:10 AM


The disturbing timeline of events surrounding the first Trump-Putin meeting (Luiz Romero, 1/15/19, Quartz)

July 7, 2017 -- First meeting

Trump received some disturbing news on the morning of July 7, when the New York Times reached out to the White House seeking comment on a bombastic story. The Times had learned that Trump's son, Don Jr., together with Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort, had met with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer. The meeting took place at Trump Tower, in the midst of the presidential campaign in June 2016.

(Last week, prosecutors charged Veselnitskaya with obstruction of justice in the context of a money laundering probe. The case is unrelated to the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but helped confirm Veselnitskaya's ties to the Russian government.)

Later that day, Trump and Putin met in person for the first time. Their encounter, which was scheduled as part of the G20 summit in Hamburg, lasted more than two hours, and was surrounded by secrecy. The only people present were Trump and Putin's translators, and the American and Russian foreign ministers. Afterwards, both presidents gave reporters vague descriptions of what was discussed.

Trump reportedly ensured the content of the meeting was kept secret by keeping his translator's notes, and demanding that she not brief anyone on what was discussed, according to the Post.

Secret chat

Then, on the evening of July 7, during a formal dinner in Hamburg, Trump walked up to Putin, and the two talked "privately and animatedly" for almost an hour, Ian Bremmer, the head of political risk consultancy Eurasia, said at the time, citing world leaders who had been present at the dinner. [...]

July 8 -- Statement to the Times

While flying back to Washington from the Hamburg summit, the president dictated a statement to aides regarding the Trump Tower meeting. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Barr sent or discussed controversial memo with Trump lawyers (Ariane de Vogue, January 15, 2019, CNN)

Attorney General nominee William Barr shared a controversial memo last year with nearly all of President Donald Trump's lawyers concluding that an aspect of special counsel Robert Mueller's case could be "fatally misconceived," Barr acknowledged Monday.

Barr's 19-page memo -- which concluded that Trump's publicly reported interactions with ex-FBI Director James Comey could not constitute obstruction of justice -- was addressed to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel and released as a part of Barr's Senate questionnaire last month. But it was previously unclear who else had seen it.

In a letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham Monday night, Barr said that he had sent it to White House special counsel Emmet Flood, Solicitor General Noel Francisco, and his former Justice Department colleague Pat Cipollone who is now White House counsel. He also discussed the issues raised in the memo with Trump lawyers Marty and Jane Raskin and Jay Sekulow. In addition he sent a copy, or had a conversation about the contents of the memo with Abbe Lowell, an attorney for Jared Kushner.

While it's obviously pertinent that his memo misreads the law, it was one thing when he'd just shared his thoughts with the DOJ, but acting as virtual counsel for the suspect in the biggest case before the Department he wishes to head has to be disqualifying.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Mueller Probes an Event With Nunes, Flynn, and Foreign Officials at Trump's D.C. Hotel (Erin Banco, Asawin Suebsaeng, Betsy Woodruff, Spencer Ackerman, 01.14.19, The Daily Beast

The Special Counsel's Office and federal prosecutors in Manhattan are scrutinizing a meeting involving former House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, one-time National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and dozens of foreign officials, according to three sources familiar with the investigations.

The breakfast event, which was first reported by The Daily Sabah, a pro-government Turkish paper, took place at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. at 8.30 a.m. on Jan. 18, 2017--two days before President Donald Trump's inauguration.

Nice that Erdogan has kompromat too.

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 AM


Trump Discussed Pulling U.S. From NATO, Aides Say Amid New Concerns Over Russia (Julian E. Barnes and Helene Cooper, Jan. 14, 2019, NY Times)

There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.

Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States. [...]

[M]r. Trump's national security team, including Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, scrambled to keep American strategy on track without mention of a withdrawal that would drastically reduce Washington's influence in Europe and could embolden Russia for decades.

Now, the president's repeatedly stated desire to withdraw from NATO is raising new worries among national security officials amid growing concern about Mr. Trump's efforts to keep his meetings with Mr. Putin secret from even his own aides, and an F.B.I. investigation into the administration's Russia ties.

So we do know the content of Vlad and Donald's pillow talk. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 AM


This CO2 machine could transform the way we fight climate change: Carbon Engineering's affordable, scalable way to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere might just wean us off our addiction to fossil fuels. (JACKSON RYAN, JUNE 7, 2018, CNet)

Previous research suggested the idea of sucking carbon out of the air -- "direct air capture" -- would prove too costly, with CO2 removal breaking the bank at $600 per ton. However, new research published in Joule on June 7 by Canadian company Carbon Engineering demonstrates that they can suck CO2 out of the air for between $94 and $232 per ton.

"It's unlike CO2 capture that's designed to work from a power plant. We're capturing CO2 from the atmosphere -- that's what our technology does," David Keith, founder of Carbon Engineering, tells CNET.

"The purpose of capturing from the air is that you can make low carbon fuels from renewable power."

The research is a major breakthrough demonstrating direct air capture technology can be economically viable and provide an alternative means of generating low-carbon fuels that can "drop-in" to existing infrastructure -- meaning they might be powering cars and planes in the future.

That's important because solar and wind power continue to get cheaper, even powering entire cities, but Keith says that "doesn't allow us to make airplanes fly and trucks drive." By combining existing renewable energy sources with the direct air capture system, Carbon Engineering can generate fuel that is essentially carbon-neutral and affordable.

"You can make gasoline or diesel fuel [via direct air capture] but, of course, they didn't come from the ground, so the amount of carbon they emit when they burn is just the amount you used making them, so they're carbon neutral," says Keith.

Posted by orrinj at 12:10 AM


Republicans need to condemn Trump's brazen bigotry (Michael Gerson, January 14, 2019, Washington Postr)This article has been updated.

In their criticism of King, you get the sense that Republicans are actually relieved to be in the position of attacking racism for a change, instead of being forced to defend it from the president. They seem to be signaling that they are not really the bigots they appear to be. Republicans seem desperate to explain that they are normal and moral -- despite all the evidence. Attacking King reveals some sense of shame at what they have become.

Yet, in the end, Republican critics of King manage to look worse rather than better. If racism is the problem, then President Trump is a worse offender. And the GOP's relative silence on Trump is a sign of hypocrisy and weakness. [...]

By any standard, Trump says things that are reckless, wrong, abhorrent, offensive and racist. Until Republicans can state this reality with the same clarity and intensity that they now criticize King, they will be cowards in a time crying for bravery.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 AM


Pompeo Trip Fails to Ease Questions Over U.S. Goals in Mideast (Nick Wadhams, January 15, 2019, Bloomberg)

Missing throughout the trip was any concrete plan or vision for how to move beyond the problems that already bedevil the region -- from the 18-month diplomatic spat between the gas-rich state of Qatar and its Gulf neighbors to the investigation into the death of columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whose killing has become a hurdle for U.S.-Saudi ties.

In the background was the drumbeat of the continuing federal government shutdown, new reports about the investigations into Trump and Russia, and the president's own Twitter feed. It all made for weakened leverage for America's top diplomat.

"The U.S. rolls in hot without a plan or the architecture of policy planning and bureaucracy to support its aims," said Karen Young, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute who focuses on the Middle East. "The underlying anxiety of dealing with the Trump administration, with its domestic upheaval, and its foreign policy towards the Middle East that changes daily, is exhausting and counterproductive to diplomacy."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM

TRUMPONOMICS (profanity alert):

Trump's Shutdown Turns Atlanta International, the World's Busiest Airport, Into a 'Shitshow' (Pilar Melendez, 01.14.19, Daily Beast)

The world's busiest airport has descended into chaos as President Trump's government shutdown drags into its fourth week.

Travelers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport are reporting hours-long waits at domestic terminals, missed flights due to lack of security personnel, and the closure of checkpoints across the airport due to a lack of TSA agents.

For one Atlanta air traffic controller, the airport, which processes more than 100 million passengers per year, has become "a total s[***]show."

January 14, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


The Week in Public Finance: The 10 States That Give More to the Feds Than They Get Back (LIZ FARMER, JANUARY 11, 2019, Governing)
Residents in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have some of the highest tax bills in the nation. They also pay thousands more in federal taxes than their state receives back in federal funding.

In total, 10 states are so-called donor states, meaning they pay more in taxes to the federal government than they receive back in funding for, say, Medicaid or public education. North Dakota, Illinois, New Hampshire, Washington state, Nebraska and Colorado round out the list.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


How the Trump administration's secret efforts to ease Russia sanctions fell short (Michael Isikoff, 6/01/17,Yahoo News)

In the early weeks of the Trump administration, former Obama administration officials and State Department staffers fought an intense, behind-the-scenes battle to head off efforts by incoming officials to normalize relations with Russia, according to multiple sources familiar with the events.

Unknown to the public at the time, top Trump administration officials, almost as soon as they took office, tasked State Department staffers with developing proposals for the lifting of economic sanctions, the return of diplomatic compounds and other steps to relieve tensions with Moscow.

These efforts to relax or remove punitive measures imposed by President Obama in retaliation for Russia's intervention in Ukraine and meddling in the 2016 election alarmed some State Department officials, who immediately began lobbying congressional leaders to quickly pass legislation to block the move, the sources said.

"There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions," said Dan Fried, a veteran State Department official who served as chief U.S. coordinator for sanctions policy until he retired in late February. He said in the first few weeks of the administration, he received several "panicky" calls from U.S. government officials who told him they had been directed to develop a sanctions-lifting package and imploring him, "Please, my God, can't you stop this?"

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


Contactless payments are coming to the US, another threat to the use of cash (John Detrixhe, January 9, 2019, Quartz)

The US has long been a laggard when it comes to payment technology. But several factors, from changes in how fraud liability is handled to the biggest credit card issuer's embrace of contactless technology, are now coming together (paywall) for a reboot. Even the Federal Reserve is contemplating how best to upgrade the country's payment plumbing to make it real-time and available 24 hours a day.

Britain's experience with contactless payments shows how it gives physical cash a run for its money. Spending using contactless cards rose to £3 billion ($3.8 billion) in 2017, up from £117 million in 2014, according to the UK Cards Association. A CMSPI consultancy case study of a large fast-food chain found that contactless payments catch on quickly, "cannibalizing both cash and card payments." The study showed that contactless transactions increased by 64% in one year to account for 27% of all purchases, while cash declined by 11%.

"In the UK, contactless payments have been key in digitizing low-value high-frequency payments," Bernstein research analysts wrote in a report this month. [....]

The US, encumbered by entrenched interests and aging transactions systems, has been slow to change. But the massive data breach in 2013 at retail company Target helped spur the shift away from the magnetic stripe, an older and more vulnerable way of processing payments. Since then, a change in fraud liability (pdf) has given merchants, like stores and restaurants, an incentive to switch to EMV chip technology that's more secure. Merchants, instead of card issuing banks, have been on the hook for fraudulent magnetic stripe payments since 2015. While the US has lagged behind in NFC and contactless payments, "that is rapidly changing"  given the recent overhaul in payment terminals, Bernstein wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 AM


What Someone Needs to Explain to Trump About 'National Emergencies' (BOB BAUER, JANUARY 11, 2019, Defense One)

It is critical to bear in mind what is at stake here: Congress has exclusive control of the power to appropriate. The expenditure of federal funds without lawful congressional authorization is a criminal offense. Congress could have written into the law the president's unfettered discretion to determine the existence of an emergency. It did not. Courts will not lightly read into the law what Congress does not expressly provide on an issue central to the constitutional separation of powers.

Moreover, the more questionable the case for an emergency, the more unlikely that a court would read the statutory authorizations as broadly as the administration would like. You can only push the courts so far. A president who's trying to advance the most aggressive case for deference to his judgment about an emergency may succeed on that front, and then fail to convince the courts that even with the emergency in place, he has clear statutory authorization for the particular project--in Trump's case, of course, the construction of the "beautiful" steel wall with slats that enable stateside observers to peer through to the other side.

So the first problem the president faces is seeking to exercise discretion under this statute that he does not have. The second is that some of what he has said about the "emergency" undercuts the very claim that there is one. In fact, the president has periodically declared that things are going quite swimmingly at the border, as he did in remarks in meetings with congressional leaders:

A lot of the wall is built. It's been very effective. I asked for a couple of notes on that. If you look at San Diego, illegal traffic dropped 92 percent once the wall was up. El Paso, illegal traffic dropped 72 percent, then ultimately 95 percent once the wall was up. In Tucson, Arizona, illegal traffic dropped 92 percent. Yuma, it dropped illegal traffic 95 to 96 percent.

Now, of course, the administration will argue that these comments merely showcase the virtues of the wall. If walls work in San Diego or Tucson or El Paso, they can be expected to work with similarly spectacular results elsewhere.

The downside of this argument, however, is that to take the president at his word, the administration is making do quite nicely without the declaration of an emergency--and he has pushed his point hard. At Christmastime, he advised the American public that "our country is doing very well ... We are securing our borders," after tweeting two weeks before that, "Border Patrol and our Military have done a FANTASTIC job of securing our Southern Border ..." What, then, supports the need for the use of extraordinary authorities in the name of an "emergency"?

Trump is not helped in answering this question by his other, repeated public utterances on the subject. He and his spokespersons have repeatedly made false statements about the terrorists, drugs, human trafficking, and ordinary criminals crossing over into the United States on foot at the southern border. These claims have been debunked by fact-checking just about everywhere, including at his own State Department. So he starts off in a bad place when claiming legal authority to proclaim an emergency, having both bragged that he is doing quite well without one and then misrepresented the grounds that might exist for such a proclamation if he nonetheless decided to issue it.

Finally, courts will not fail to note the considerable evidence in the president's public statements that he is looking to the national emergency as a tool to resolve a conflict with the Congress. He has said that one way or another, he is going to build the wall, and the shutdown was the first bare-knuckled maneuver to break the stalemate in congressional negotiations. Now he's speaking of an emergency. It is, on its face, a negotiating gambit, apparently also a political rallying cry. But because he is treating the declaration of an emergency as a tactic, he has added considerably to his difficulties in having his "emergency" taken seriously by the courts.

The president's predilection for trampling on his own case brings to mind his unhappy experience with the travel-ban litigation caused by his statements on Twitter and on the campaign trail. Eventually, after considerable trimming and adjustment, the administration was able to do better with a revised executive order and a superseding proclamation. These cases tested difficult questions about the extent to which the president's public utterances--including statements on the campaign trail--invite the examination of the true motives behind executive action.

That Trump eventually survived this scrutiny in the travel cases will have little relevance to his efforts to concoct a national emergency now to support his wall-building project. In the travel-ban cases, the Supreme Court found that he was operating under an immigration law that "exudes deference to the President in every clause."  The National Emergencies Act only "exudes" deference to his decision to proclaim an actual emergency. Moreover, none of the tricky issues presented by campaign-trail statements made prior to the election are present in this instance. Trump has issued a steady stream of statements as president. No one has to engage in any raw speculation or psychological testing to ferret out his motives. He has said what he has said, in clear terms and consistently. These are not slips of the tongue, but one statement after another, most of them separately--and all of them in the aggregate--damning to his legal position on the existence of an emergency.

Commentators looking for illuminating constitutional precedents typically begin with the Youngstown Steel and Tube Co. case, in which the Supreme Court rejected President Harry Truman's claimed authority to direct the secretary of commerce to seize steel-producing facilities. The majority in that case produced two opinions, and other justices wrote as well, so it is fair to say that teasing out lucid doctrine from that case is no simple matter. However, it has become clear over time, from the more developed historical record, that the Court was decisively influenced by the evidence that no steel-shortage crisis existed. There was no emergency, and the Court was aware of this.

And so, for that matter, was the Truman White House. One staff memorandum that later came to light openly acknowledged public skepticism about the claim of emergency and conceded that it was well founded. "The fact is that the public has never believed this contention, and in the face of recent releases of steel for racetracks and bowling alleys, they are even less likely to believe this now."

For this reason, Maeva Marcus, a leading historian of the case, has written: "The Court simply was not convinced of the crisis confronting the nation was sufficiently grave to justify the president's assertion of power." The factual circumstances surrounding the president's claim of authority drove the court's decision. Marcus notes approvingly one commentator's view that "the legal arguments between the two divisions of the Court [in Youngstown] were consequently of little significance; the vital disagreement was over premises." The Truman administration's key premise was an emergency shortage in steel production--and there was none.

Trump has manufactured for himself the same problem from which Truman suffered: an absence of presidential credibility. It is possible, of course, that the courts will let Trump off the hook, giving him more of the benefit of the doubt than Truman enjoyed. Trump would purportedly be acting pursuant to a statute, not on an expansive claim of inherent, constitutional authority. But is also true that when Truman misrepresented the emergency steel shortage, he was at least leading a nation at war.  

It is also worth noting that Trump is repeating another mistake that Truman made. Like his distinguished predecessor, he is flaunting his view of the unqualified "absolute right" to declare this emergency. It never serves presidents well to enter into these constitutional tests with a show of arrogance, especially when their legal footing is far from secure. If Trump doubts this, he might ask legal veterans of the George W. Bush administration how they fared before the courts in advancing confrontational positions on rule-of-law issues in the War on Terror.

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