November 20, 2018

Crisis: Constitutional Crisis, Rebel Democrats, SCOTUS, Trump vs. The Press, Progressives, Oliver


1. Summary
Crisis Files
     A. Selections from November 20, 2018
     B. Extra Bit (John Oliver)

This is a Nederlog of Tuesday, November 20, 2018.

1. Summary

This is a crisis log but it is a bit different from how it was until 2013:

I have been writing about the crisis since September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but since 2010 in English) and about the enormous dangers of surveillance (by secret services and by many rich commercial entities) since June 10, 2013, and I will continue with it.

On the moment and since more than two years (!!!!) I have problems with the company that is supposed to take care that my site is visible [1] and with my health, but I am still writing a Nederlog every day and I shall continue.

2. Crisis Files

These are five crisis files that are mostly well worth reading:

A. Selections from November 20, 2018:
1. Are We About to Face Our Gravest Constitutional Crisis?
2. ‘Message of Change’: 16 Rebel Democrats Vow to Oppose Pelosi
3. Ginsburg’s Ribs and the Future of SCOTUS
4. James Risen: Trump Is Attacking Free Press 'In a Way We Haven't Seen
     in Modern American History'

5. Failing to Learn the Lessons of 2018
The items 1 - 5 are today's selections from the 35 sites that I look at every morning. The indented text under each link is quoted from the link that starts the item. Unindented text is by me:

1. Are We About to Face Our Gravest Constitutional Crisis?

This article is by Chris Hedges on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

Before this lame-duck Congress adjourns in December we could face the most serious constitutional crisis in the history of the republic if Donald Trump attempts to shut down the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

A supine and pliant Republican Party, still in control of the House and the Senate, would probably not challenge Trump. The Supreme Court, which would be the final arbiter in any legal challenge to the president, would probably not rule against him. And his cultish followers, perhaps 40 million Americans, would respond enthusiastically to his trashing of democratic institutions and incitements of violence against the press, the Democratic Party leadership, his critics and all who take to the streets in protest. The United States by Christmas, if Trump plays this card, could become a full-blown authoritarian state where the rule of law no longer exists and the president is a despot.

It certainly is quite possible that Trump will try to shut down Robert Mueller's investigation, and I agree this would be quite problematic. Then again, I do not think I quite accept that in that case "The United States by Christmas" will "become a full-blown authoritarian state where the rule of law no longer exists and the president is a despot".

In fact, Hedges did not write "will" (which is what I wrote, because I am not a fan of political speculation that cannot be refuted), for he wrote "could". But with "could" we firstly do not have a prediction which may be falsified, and secondly, I agree with Hedges that the situation with Trump as president is serious enough:

Trump has flouted the Constitution since taking office. He has obstructed justice by firing the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, replacing Sessions with the Trump partisan Matthew Whitaker. The president regularly ridicules the Mueller investigation and insults its leader. In a tweet last week he called the investigation a “witch hunt,” a “total mess” and “absolutely nuts,” and he went on to assert that Mueller and his investigators were “screaming and shouting at people” to make them provide “the answers they want.” He called those involved in the probe “a disgrace to our nation.”

He has repeatedly delivered diatribes against the press as “the enemy of the people,” belittled, mocked and insulted reporters during press conferences and defended his revoking of the White House press credentials of a CNN reporter. He and his family openly use the presidency for self-enrichment, often by steering lobbyists and foreign officials to Trump’s hotels and golf courses. He has peddled numerous conspiracy theories to discredit U.S. elections and deployed military troops along the southern border to resist an “invasion” of migrants.
Yes indeed, and this is all quite true - and incidentally, see item B below, which is about authoritarianism, including Trump's.

Here is more:
However, an attempt to fire Mueller and shut down the investigation would obliterate the Constitution as a functional document. There would be one last gasp of democracy by those of us who protest. It is not certain we would succeed.
Well... in the first place I do not think there is any agreement or indeed any clarity about what would "obliterate the Constitution as a functional document". And in the second place, if you were to ask me, I think this has happened in 2010, with the Citizen's United case, when the majority of the Supreme Court decided (in effect, and minus legalistic evasions) that money = votes and that corporations = persons.

I think that was an utterly insane decision, if considered on its judicial principles, but then again I do not think the judicial principles (which were essentially raped) were important: What was important is that this decision would make the few rich very much more powerful, which is what the Republicans wanted, and by that time Republican judges in the Supreme Court had the majority, and decided to give the Republicans what they wanted.

In other words, it was all politics, dressed up as if it were law.

Back to the article. Here is more by Hedges:
“Trump knows once the Democrats control the House, they can subpoena the records of his administration,” Ralph Nader said when I reached him by phone in Connecticut. “He’s going to want to get this over with, even if it sparks a constitutional crisis, while the Republicans still control the Congress. There’s little doubt this will all come to a head before the Christmas holidays. Unfortunately for Mueller, he has not issued a subpoena to the president that would have protected him [Mueller]. If he had issued a subpoena, which he has every right to do, especially after being rebuffed in hours and hours of private negotiations for information from the president, he would be protected. Once you issue a subpoena, you have a lot of law on your side. If Trump defied a subpoena, he would get in legal hot water. But short of a subpoena, it’s just political back and forth. By not issuing a subpoena Mueller is more vulnerable to Whitaker and Trump.”
I respect Nader a lot, but this strikes me as speculation. It may well be true, but that I simply do not know.

Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:
“Trump is in a dimension by himself,” said Nader. “He has inured the public to all kinds of scandals, bad language, accusations, admissions, harassment of women, boasting about it, lying about his business and keeping his tax returns a secret. You have to have an even higher level of damning materials in the [Mueller] report in order to breach that level of inurement that the public has become accustomed to.”

Yes, that is undoubtedly true. And this is a recommended article, although I doubt I quite agree with it.

2. ‘Message of Change’: 16 Rebel Democrats Vow to Oppose Pelosi

This article is by Julie Hirschfeld Davis on The New York Times. It starts as follows:
A rebellious group of 16 Democrats went public on Monday with their opposition to electing Representative Nancy Pelosi speaker when the new Congress convenes in January, taking the first formal step in a bid to force a leadership shake-up that could change the face of their party.

It is also exposing significant divisions just as Democrats take the majority.

In a letter to Democratic colleagues, 11 lawmakers and four newly elected members of the House declared that “the time has come for new leadership,” and said they would vote accordingly both when their party meets next week for an internal round of secret balloting to choose leaders and in a floor vote in January.
I think I quite agree with the "rebellious group of 16 Democrats", but I did not read their letter, and 16 rebellious Democrats does not appear as a lot, at least not in my eyes.

Here is a bit from the letter they wrote to their colleagues:

“We are thankful to Leader Pelosi for her years of service to our country and our caucus,” they wrote, calling Ms. Pelosi “a historic figure whose leadership has been instrumental to some of our party’s most important legislative achievements.”

But the signers said Democrats had won this month’s midterm elections on a “message of change.”

“Our majority came on the backs of candidates who said that they would support new leadership because voters in hard-won districts, and across the country, want to see real change in Washington,” the letter said. “We promised to change the status quo, and we intend to deliver on that promise.”

I think this is all correct, and this is about the facts in the House:

If all 435 members of the House were present and voting, Ms. Pelosi would need a majority of 218 to be elected speaker. Democrats now control 232 seats, according to The New York Times’s latest count, meaning that 16 defectors would be enough to deny her the post. Still, the numbers could change, with four races yet to be called.

Organizers who had collected 17 signatures on the letter as of late last week had hoped to demonstrate more opposition to Ms. Pelosi, holding off on releasing it so they could draw 20 or more names; their decision to put it out Monday with fewer names than they had originally raised questions about whether the effort was flagging.

But the list of potential “no” votes is longer.
Well... I said that "16 rebellious Democrats does not appear as a lot" and this is shown here: If
just 1 of the 16 decides to vote for Pelosi, she very probably will win again.

There also seems to be a bit of an age difference. Here are some politicians of the ages which Pelosi, who is 78, supports:
Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, 79, is running to reclaim his former spot as majority leader, and Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, 78, is seeking to return to the No. 3 position as whip. Ms. Pelosi endorsed both Monday, confirming that she means to keep the longstanding top-three lineup.

In contrast, the rebellious Democrats all are in their forties of fifties, or younger. But I think this may be incidental. And while I am much against Pelosi as an elected speaker (and much against Schumer, Perez and Hillary Clinton) I do not at all know whether Pelosi will loose as the new speaker, while my guess is (unfortunately) that she will win. And this is a recommended article.

3. Ginsburg’s Ribs and the Future of SCOTUS

This article is by Bill Blum on Truthdig and originally on The Progressive. This is from near its start:

Even before Ginsburg’s accident, the prospect of her departure from the court prompted calls from liberal activists and some prominent law professors to revive Franklin Roosevelt’s court-packing plan of the New Deal era. Some writers on the left, like Current Affairs columnist Vanessa Bee, argue that “court packing is necessary to save democracy.”

While no doubt controversial, such a plan may be the best—and possibly only—way to counter conservative domination of the Supreme Court, which will otherwise continue for decades to come. But implementation won’t be easy. It will require the Democrats to take back both the presidency and the Senate in 2020.
First as to Ruth Bader Ginsburg: She is a Democrat, who have the minority in the Supreme Court; she recently broke three of her ribs; and she is 85.

Next about the Supreme Court: I think its major shortcoming is that its judges are nominated for life - which also seems to be the only case in the world. I think that rule has to go, and I think that judges to the Supreme Court should be nominated for 6 to 10 years (after which they could be renominated once).

But this is not the case, and it will also be difficult to introduce. And given that, and given the fact that the Supreme Court by now is more political than legal, I think that court packing (which was considered by Roosevelt in the 1930ies, but not instituted) may be a reasonable idea.

Here is some background:

Under the Constitution’s “advice and consent” clause, only the Senate has the power to approve or reject federal judicial nominations. Because the Senate eliminated the filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominations in 2017 to clear the way for Neil Gorsuch’s elevation, the upper chamber exercises that power by a simple majority vote. The House gets no say.

With the Supreme Court already tilting decisively to the right, any further attrition of its liberal membership could make the tribunal more conservative than it has been at any time seen since the Gilded Age. Even with the court’s present five-four conservative majority, a host of core liberal precedents are at risk, ranging from affirmative action and abortion rights to environmental protections, wage and hour standards, voting rights, and same-sex marriage.

Yes indeed. Here is the last bit that I quote from this article:

The advantage of expanding the number of Supreme Court justices is that expansion only requires an act of Congress.

The Constitution does not establish the number of justices. That determination is up to Congress.
If the Democrats reclaim the Senate and hold onto the House, they could abolish or amend the remaining filibuster rules that still apply to pending legislation and increase the number of justices on the Supreme Court by a majority vote in both chambers. A Democratic president could then sign enabling legislation into law.

Yes. Meanwhile, all of this is quite uncertain, and the Supreme Court probably will remain conservative and pro-Republican in majority, and may remain so for the next thirty years if no changes are made. And this is a recommended article.

4. James Risen: Trump Is Attacking Free Press 'In a Way We Haven't Seen in Modern American History'

This article is by Jake Johnson on Common Dreams. It starts as follows:

Speaking from his years of experience being pursued by the Obama Justice Department for simply practicing journalism and refusing to reveal his confidential sources, Intercept reporter James Risen told The Hill on Monday that President Donald Trump is building on his predecessor's war on the free press by "demagoguing" the media "in a way we haven't seen in modern American history."

"Obama tried to put me in jail for seven years... A lot of conservatives try to point to me as an example of Obama on press freedom and I fully agree with the view that he had a terrible record on press freedom," Risen said. "The difference with Trump is that he is demagoguing the issue in a way we haven't seen in modern American history."

Yes, I think Risen is quite correct. Here is more:

Trump, Risen said, is "going to the people constantly to try to destroy their belief in the press and I think the Acosta incident is really just a symbol of that—it's a symbol of an attempt to discredit not only CNN but the entire press corps in Washington and really more generally the press all over the country."

As Common Dreams reported, in addition to the White House's attacks on CNN, Trump's Justice Department also inadvertently revealed in a court filing that it has secretly charged WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to the U.S. for publishing classified and embarrassing information that the American government was keeping secret from the public.

Journalists and civil liberties advocates immediately decried the unspecified charges as a dire threat to the free press.

Quite so, and this is a recommended article.

5. Failing to Learn the Lessons of 2018

This article is by John Atcheson on Common Dreams. This is from near its beginning:

In many ways, ballot initiatives are a better measure of how popular progressive issues are with the American voter because they separate the issues from party affiliation, or identification with a particular incumbent.

Even in deep red states, progressive ballot initiatives won handily. For example, initiatives to raise the minimum wage won in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri in 2018.  Doesn’t get much redder than that.  And that’s on top of eleven minimum wage ballot initiatives the voters passed between 2004 and 2016, many in red states. 

Similarly, initiatives on criminal justice reform, progressive budget reforms, Medicare extension, voter re-enfranchisement, and anti-gerrymandering were on the ballots in blue and red states, and all passed, and most enjoyed majority support from both parties. In blue California, voters overwhelmingly rejected an initiative to repeal the gas tax, and in deep red Utah, a measure to establish an independent redistricting commission looks like it will win.
I think this is quite correct. Here is more - and also see item 2

Because here’s the dirty little secret centrist Democrats, conservatives and oligarchs don’t want you to know:  on an issue-by-issue basis, the overwhelming majority of Americans are progressive.

There’s a reason this hasn’t translated into votes and victories. First, almost no one has been representing a progressive position since Reagan and the DLC highjacked politics and handed the process over to the oligarchy.  You can’t beat something with nothing, and the Democrats offered nothing but tactics, identity politics, and nano-issues.

Which brings us to the second reason progressivism hasn’t done well since the days of the Great Society – values.  By choosing identity politics, “winning issues,” and clever tactics like “triangulating,” rather than a more broadly structured appeal to use the power of government to achieve the common good, the Democrats essentially played into the hands of the Republican’s divide and conquer strategy.

I think this is also quite correct, and especially the fact that the Democrats did NOT "appeal to use the power of government to achieve the common good", which in fact is one of the most important differences between (real ) Democrats and Republicans (who are nearly all against government and for corporations).

This article ends as follows:

There is a progressive momentum in America right now.  And that means we can do great things again.  We can pass single payer health care; we can protect and expand Social Security; we can stop stupid and costly wars; we can tackle climate change; we can raise up and restore the average citizen’s hopes and prospects by creating a level playing field for all; we can rebuild our crumbling infrastructure; and we can make our educational system—once the envy of the world—affordable and excellent, once again. 

And yes, these things are affordable.  By ending stupid wars, cutting the obscenely bloated defense budget, imposing a small transaction fee on the sale of stocks and securities, raising taxes on the uber wealthy, increasing the tax on corporations, upping the inheritance tax to where it was for decades (while protecting farmers and folks with less than $5 million estates); and by removing the cap on income that now protects the wealthy from paying their fair share into the payroll tax system supporting Social Security, all these things are possible, without blowing up the deficit.

But if what passes for your “big ideas” are de minimus stratagems and tactics like “paygo” or a freeze on middle class tax cuts, then I’m sorry, but you’ve got to go. This is a time for vision and courage, not stratagems and caution.

Well... I agree in principle that all these things "can" (or could) be done, but I think it also is too optimistic, at least as long as Pelosi, Schumer, Perez and Clinton rule the Democrats, for they are mostly - in fact - against most of the above. But this is a recommended article.

B. Extra Bit (John Oliver)

This article is by Natasha Hakimi Zapata on Truthdig. It starts as follows:

"There's a pretty good chance you may have been watching the news at some point this year and found yourself wondering, 'What the fuck is happening in the world and why?' "

That's how John Oliver started his "Last Week Tonight" monologue on authoritarianism this week. With his characteristic humor-filled, informative style, the comedian went on to analyze three traits that authoritarians in power across the globe share in order to come to grips with why they're so appealing to voters. Oliver also tried to determine whether the U.S. is headed in the same harrowing direction as are one third of the countries on earth.

Yes indeed and here is Oliver's program from last Sunday:

It is strongly recommended.


[1] I have now been saying since the end of 2015 that is systematically ruining my site by NOT updating it within a few seconds, as it did between 1996 and 2015, but by updating it between two to seven days later, that is, if I am lucky.

They have claimed that my site was wrongly named in html: A lie. They have claimed that my operating system was out of date: A lie.

And they just don't care for my site, my interests, my values or my ideas. They have behaved now for 2 years as if they are the eagerly willing instruments of the US's secret services, which I will from now on suppose they are (for truth is dead in Holland).

The only two reasons I remain with xs4all is that my site has been there since 1996, and I have no reasons whatsoever to suppose that any other Dutch provider is any better (!!).
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