Investigations, Indictments, and Impeachment

There was a brief bit of excitement as the first round of indictments came out of Robert Muller’s investigation a few days ago. Some on The Left started doing a happy dance, hoping that this was just the beginning, and the dragnet would very shortly close in around the president and force the start of the impeachment process.

Well, it’s not that simple. There’s still a lot more to do and uncover, and even then it might not be enough for an impeachment. Sure, Trump’s sympathies (such as they are) are pro-Russia. But that, in and of itself, isn’t a crime. One would need direct evidence that he conspired with Russia. Or that members of his campaign team did, and he knew about it and did nothing.

Given his recent panic over the investigation, it seems as if things are hitting close to home. Perhaps he really does have something to worry about, or he’s so insecure that he cannot handle any challenge to his authority. Either way, there are two things we need to watch out for.

Continue reading

Advertisements

On the 2017 World Series

Wow.

What a World Series! What can I say? It was an unbelievable set of games, between two amazing teams. All the games were very close and hard-fought. Even the ones that look like blowouts from the final score weren’t. Game 4, that ended with the Dodgers winning 6-2? It was tied at 1 going to the ninth inning. And even Game 7 was tighter than you’d think.

Sure, the Astros scored their five runs early. Yu Darvish is probably already getting blamed for it, but watch the replays. Springer’s leadoff double was fair by inches, and if Cody Bellinger has simply put the ball in his pocket instead of throwing it to El Monte…. Meanwhile, Astros’ starter Lance McCullers must have thought he was playing dodgeball instead of baseball against the Dodgers – he hit four of the thirteen batters he faced. But the Dodgers offense left the population of Burbank on the basepaths, dooming whatever chances they were handed.

Even so, knowing the state of the Astros’ bullpen and the overall strength of the Dodgers’ offense, there was always the hope / worry that Los Angeles would put something together and pull out a win. They didn’t really look dead until the bottom of the ninth.

Continue reading

On Presidential Succession

With “El Presidente” showing more and more signs of his his colossal unsuitability for holding the highest office in the land, commenters in various fora on the the Internet are speculating on what happens when Trump is pushed out, either by impeachment or Section 4 of the 25th Amendment. Many are worried that Mike Pence is just as corrupt as Trump, so he’ll soon be given the boot as well. This leads them to the unpleasant prospect of President Paul Ryan.

While they do get the Presidential Order of Succession correct (President, Vice President, Speaker of the House), they miss one important fact: that order presumes an essentially simultaneous removal of both the president and the VP. As a historical example, when President Reagan was shot, and VP George H.W. Bush was on his way to Washington DC and therefore out of contact for a little while, Speaker Tip O’Neill was technically acting as president for a few hours.

So unless Trump and Pence are both incapacitated at the same time (and for any length of time) through some unbelievable set of circumstances, Paul Ryan isn’t getting anywhere near the Oval Office.

There’s a historical precedent for what happens under the rules currently in force when a president leaves office.

You may recall – I hope – that when Nixon resigned, VP Gerald Ford was inaugurated as President. That left the office of VP vacant. Speaker of the House Carl Albert did NOT automatically become VP. At best, he became ACTING VP – but I don’t see any provision in the rules that allows that to happen.

Section 2 of the 25th Amendment deals with the situation when there’s a vacancy in the office of Vice President:

“Whenever there is a vacancy in the office of the Vice President, the President shall nominate a Vice President who shall take office upon confirmation by a majority vote of both Houses of Congress.”

Nixon resigned on August 9, 1974. Ford was inaugurated that same day. On August 20, Ford nominated Nelson Rockefeller – then the governor of New York – to become his VP. Congress debated and discussed the nomination (it took a while; there were a number of financial improprieties in Rockefeller’s career that needed to be clarified), eventually giving their approval. He took the oath of office on December 19.

So if Trump is booted and Pence becomes President, one of his very first acts had better be the nomination of a new VP. Ryan may have something to say about the nomination, but he won’t automatically become VP himself. Even if something happens to put Pence out of commission for a while during the nomination process, Ryan isn’t likely to be more than a temporary placeholder.

Ryan will have even less to say about the process should the Democrats take control of the House in 2018. That will give them the right to pick their own Speaker of the House. So if we Democrats can hold our horses until then (and concentrate on winning Congress), we will be in a great position for dealing with and controlling a President Pence.

Here’s a fun scenario to think about: Given the GOP’s control of Congress, and that they are not likely to turn on one of their own, impeachment / removal doesn’t start until the Democrats win control of both houses of Congress in 2018. Trump is shown the door and asked to hand over his keys in early 2019. Then, President Pence is essentially forced to choose a VP who is liked and approved by Democrats. They browbeat him into nominating Hillary Clinton (who handily wins approval). Then, Pence is told to take a hike….

Farewell to Cassini

In the early hours of September 15 (EDT), the Cassini probe will break apart and burn up in Saturn’s atmosphere.

Launched in October of 1997, it entered orbit around the ringed giant on July 1, 2004. A complex dance amongst the moons and rings revealed many surprises. The moon Enceladus has an ocean of water under its icy shell. Titan has lakes of methane, and an atmosphere of hydrocarbons that contains complex molecules that just might be able to combine into lifelike assemblages. The rings are a far more dynamic and interesting place than we imagined.

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2017/09/cassini-saturn-nasa-3d-grand-tour/#preamble

The probe is deliberately being destroyed so as to avoid possible contamination of Enceladus and Titan.

It’s a bittersweet ending for the scientists on the program, many of whom were there from the planning stages in the 1980s.

“It’s been part of my life for so long, this spacecraft, it’s going to be a shock to have this happen,” said Thomas Burk, a JPL engineer. Linda Spilker, a Cassini project scientist, said, “Our families have gotten to know each other, in some cases our children have grown up together, and now in the final two weeks we’re sharing the end of this incredible mission.”

By the time you read this, Cassini will have passed the “point of no return”, taken its final photographs, and sent its collected store of data back home. About 12 hours after that, the onboard computers will have reconfigured for real-time data transmission. It will attempt to send back information on temperature and the composition of the atmosphere for as long as it can. But eventually, there won’t be any fuel left to stabilize the craft as it shudders and tumbles in the upper atmosphere. Cassini will heat up; parts of it will break off. The main body of the craft will explode. As NASA spokesperson Preston Dyches has said, “We’re going out in a blaze of glory.”

The next big planetary science effort is the Europa Clipper, which will launch in the 2020s. Its goal is to investigate Jupiter’s ice moon. There’s nothing else in the works for the outer solar system. Given that it takes about a decade of planning just to get a mission off the ground (literally), trips to the outer Solar System are for the next generations to enjoy.

Yes, we all know there are more important things to spend our money on here on Earth. And we’re not giving up on Mars at all. But it’s still a sad sign to know that an era of exploration is coming to an end, with no plans at all to return to those farthest shores.

On Confederate Memorials

There’s a lot of talk lately about removing Confederate monuments and other symbols of that lost cause. Before we all get crazy, let’s have some guidelines as to what is and isn’t acceptable, OK?

STATUES AND MONUMENTS:

Is it in a cemetery? – It stays.
Is it a memorial honoring local people who died in the Civil War? – It stays.

Addendum, 8/18/17:

Is it a generic memorial to the Confederate war dead? – If possible, change the inscription so it honors all war dead. If not, replace the entire thing.
Is it a marker indicating the location of a battle or other important incident? – Replace it with one with better wording.

Is it a statue of a person with clear ties (he was born or lived much of his life there) to the area? – Leave it up to the local citizens.
Is it at a battlefield or some other location that is of clear importance in the person’s life? – It can stay. Probably.
Is it in a place with no connection at all to the person? – Take it down.

NOTE: No matter how much you may want to take it down yourself, leave that to the professionals. Vandalism is never to be condoned. If you absolutely cannot leave the statue alone, try something non-damaging. Stick a white “surrender” flag in its hand. Hang a sign saying “I’m a Loser” on it. Be creative! Just don’t damage it.

BUILDINGS AND FACILITIES:

Does the building have a function that is related to the person? Like a fort or military institute? – It can stay, but it would be better to rename it after someone more appropriate.
Is it named after a person with ties to the local area? – It’s probably best to rename it for someone else with local ties, but it’s not urgent.
Is it named after someone with no connection at all to the locale? – Rename it as soon as convenient.

PLACES (Streets and communities):

Was the person born there or very nearby? – It can stay; it’s probably not worth the cost of changing it.
Does the person have no ties at all to the area? – Change it as soon as there’s funds available for all the new signage.

NOTE: A lot of these removals and name changes are going to cost money. If you really want to make the change, offer to pay for it. And come up with the new name.

 

Festina Lente

Now that a Special Counsel has been appointed, the cries of “Impeach!” have died down a bit. Having the president out of the country playing with a palantir helps, too. We can all stop, catch our breath, and consider just what it is we are asking for with an impeachment.

You can look up the details of the impeachment process and history just as easily as I can, so I’ll leave that to you.

However, given the situation in Congress, and that Vice President Mike Pence may be caught up in the scandal, it’s worth it for the liberals / Democrats to come up with a long-term strategy. Something other than a simple “Get Trump out as soon as possible” plan.

Should Trump be removed from office, VP Pence becomes President, and he gets to nominate someone to take over as VP. That person must be confirmed by a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress before taking office. Although they are fractured, the Republicans still control both the House and Senate at the present time. It should be considered highly likely that they will force the selection of someone easily pliable, and able to help push through their agenda. The same outcome would happen if Pence is forced out first, and Trump (guided by the GOP) gets to “nominate” a replacement.

If Trump *and* Pence are both run out on the same rail, then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan becomes Acting President – and everything goes bonkers. The Constitution gives absolutely no guidelines on what happens then. Are special elections held right away? What powers does he have? Who takes his place in the House? Who becomes Acting VP? Whatever happens, the Republicans still control Congress, so they will basically have all the cards in this situation.

Arguably the best thing for the Democrats to do would be to let the investigation proceed and the evidence accumulate until the 2018 mid-term elections (Note that it took a year after the first try at a resolution of impeachment before Nixon finally resigned). They can then use the scandal – and the prospect of impeachment – as the driving issue in the campaign. Don’t give the Republicans time to recover and regroup. If they aren’t totally inept, the Democrats should be able to take control of the House. And with a little luck, the Senate as well. That will put them in a great position to control the agenda for the remaining two years, and set them up well for the 2020 election.

In the meantime, they can be the principled opposition, and block everything evil that Trump and the GOP try to do. While it’s tempting to kick Trump out as soon as possible, we probably don’t want to leave his enablers in power. Let Trump and the GOP destroy themselves while continuing to mitigate the damage. It won’t be easy to keep the radical left (the ones chanting “Lock him up!”) in line, but if patience helps get rid of the worst / most reactionary elements in the GOP, it will be worth it in the end.

Unless, of course, Trump’s offenses are shown to be so egregious that we cannot afford to keep him in office one day longer.

 

#Resist

In Defense of James Comey

One could say it was all the fault of Loretta Lynch.

As Attorney General, she should have known better than to have a private meeting – no matter how brief – with Bill Clinton when she was in the middle of overseeing an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

But she blew it, and had to pass the buck to FBI Director James Comey.

Under normal circumstances, Comey would have wrapped up the investigation and handed everything over to Lynch, along with a recommendation, for her to make the final decision. But now, Comey was thrust into the limelight. He, in effect, would have to make the final decision as to whether or not to bring any indictments on Clinton.
Continue reading

The First Hundred Days

Ever since FDR became president – and had to push through a lot of things right away as the economy was in free fall, the “first hundred days” of a presidency has become a sort of “meme” for the press. It really is an arbitrary point; it just happens to be a nice round number that sounds better than “three months”. There’s also the idea of a “honeymoon” period, where the new president can ride the wave of popularity that won him the election to trade some of that free political capital on advancing his agenda and fulfilling a campaign promise or two.

It isn’t really fair to judge a presidency on what amounts to a mere seven percent of a full term. And a lot can change in the country and the world over four years. But it is fair to use it as an estimate, a sort of “probationary period”, of what sort of person is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And if the White House staff itself is fully on board with the “100 days” idea, then it’s fair to judge them on it.

So, what have we got?

Continue reading

On Funding the Arts and Sciences

Donald Trump recently announced his proposed budget, and among all the draconian cuts to many small but very beneficial programs, there are the usual cuts demanded by conservatives to arts programs (The National Endowment for the Arts, et al.), and drastic cuts to various science agencies.

I’m not going to get into the many cost-benefit arguments that get tossed around; rather, I’d like to look at another aspect.

Why do these programs get Federal funding anyway?

Let me make my case with two arguments – one literary, and one historical. The former covers the Arts, the latter the Sciences.

Continue reading

The Resistance Must Be Branded

During the Second World War, Free French forces and the French Resistance adopted the Cross of Lorraine as their symbol. The famous “peace sign” was first used as a logo for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 50s. The “Black Power” movement of the 60s used the traditional raised fist (a black one, naturally) as a symbol. Women’s Liberation used the fist as well, but put it inside the circle and cross symbol that normally signified women or females. The “Gay Pride” movement chose a rainbow flag to rally around. Earlier this year, millions of women around the world wore pink knit hats to unite the hundreds of marches into one single rally.

If the many different factions that oppose Trump and Trumpism are going to ever unite, they are going to need some sort of sign or symbol to link them together.

Continue reading