Saturday, April 20, 2019

Just the Facts


Smart Republicans are ignoring, Trump is likely incapable of understanding (and if he was capable, he would deny it and lie about it), and even some responsible journalists and media personalities are finding it difficult to understand or articulate exactly what was Robert Mueller's justification for not "coming to a conclusion" on obstruction.

A careful reading of the report (which I admit I have not yet completed, but am depending on Rachel Maddow and others at MSNBC to pick out the critical passages), describe the Mueller team's approach as an almost scientifically objective one, "...we determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes."

Why? Mueller cites in detail relevant Justice Department rules from the manual about not being allowed to indict a sitting president, and given that the unfairness of even suggesting a criminality when there was no courtroom or process for mounting a defense (apparently the bully pulpit and the court of public opinion were not considered adequately objective).
So does that mean he left it to Barr and Rosenstein? That would make no sense. They are limited by the same rules Mueller is. Their decision to absolve the president of obstruction charges, even if based on a disagreement with Mueller's justification for not coming to a conclusion, is revealed as political by the way that Barr made the announcement weeks before releasing the report and prefacing it's release with a press conference with an audience of one who wanted him publically to say "no collusion."

Someday, Rosenstein may ask the American people for a mea culpa and talk about how conflicted he felt as he stood behind Barr as he lied about the report, stoically looking straight ahead and keeping his face in a tight mask. Though he is a hero for protecting the Mueller investigation, he has also shown himself to be a company man and a coward twice--once when he did not speak publicly about Trump's lie pinning the firing on his memo, and again when he allowed Barr to persuade him to stand behind his decision to absolve Trump of obstruction.

But back to my original thought--it is very hard for anyone to understand the degree of objectivity and restraint Mueller and his team used in avoiding even seeming to pass judgement. It is a type of thinking they share with scientists--the ability to withhold judgement and simply reveal the facts. I guess in a way, it's like the legendary Dragnet character, Sgt. Friday, who used to say something like, "Just the facts, ma'am. All we want are the facts. All we know are the facts."

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Only Road to Greatness (no, not Trump's)


Two articles on the same day in a recent Charleston Gazette-Mail highlight the damage being done to America’s self-image in the era of Donald Trump. One was about a woman who accused a man of Egyptian origin of attempting to abduct her daughter from the Huntington Mall. She later admitted she “overreacted,” and that he had merely smiled and patted her daughter’s head. The other was about a viral video that falsely claimed Syrian refugees were being given housing and money to create a “Sharia Zone” in Charleston where non-Muslims would be banned.



This hate and fear of immigrants is contrary to Ronald Reagan’s vision of America as “A Shining City on a Hill,” and described as “teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.”

That is not Trump’s vision of greatness. But what is it that makes America great? Most of us automatically respond with some combination of freedom, independence, ingenuity, hard work, and democracy. America was the first democracy in the modern world, the first to replace monarchs of the Western world with a system of electing a president whose powers are balanced by a legislative body and courts.

Another word central to America’s ideal that has caused much turmoil, is equality. “All men are created equal” appears in our Declaration of Independence, yet slavery (and its justification, white supremacy), Jim Crow laws, and unequal voting rights for people of color and women delayed that equality until….well, many would argue we’re not quite there yet.

Another concept that makes us exceptional among nations is our diversity of ethnic and racial identities. While those who wrote the Constitution were white men of English origin, the inhabitants of the new country included Native Americans and people from all over Europe and Africa. Long standing hostilities between people of different countries and ethnicities, while not absent in America, tend to diminish and disappear as generations pass and young people raised here begin to think of themselves as Americans first, and then as Italian or Chinese or Nigerian.

Alongside race and national origin as identities comes religion. America has been, and still is overwhelmingly Christian (74%; 2% Jewish; 1% Muslim; 2.5% other; 18% none). When the founding fathers wrote freedom of religion into the Constitution, they were thinking about keeping different groups of Christians from discriminating against each other and passing laws enforcing their religious morality. But even then there were Jews and Muslims living here who enjoyed more freedom than in most other countries. The church, synagogue, mosque, or other religious meeting place, are places that try to maintain cultural identity, preserving traditions often brought from other countries. Many of us have been welcomed to a Greek feast at the local Orthodox church, an Indian repast, or a Jewish Passover dinner, or enjoyed the great variety of ethnic food offered at restaurants and appreciated the diversity our country offers.

America’s remarkable ability to integrate people from all over the world, from every country, religion, race, and ethnicity is arguably the single most important factor in American greatness. When America fails in meeting its vision of equality of opportunity is when we fail to be great. We have failed many times—in our treatment of Native Americans, African Americans, the Japanese during WWII, and to some extent, Muslims since 9/11. Today we have a president who demonizes immigrants from Muslim, non-white and Latin American countries. And yet he claims to want to make America great…again.

His road is not a road back to an imagined American greatness. The only road to greatness is the road we have traveled since our founding—the road to more equality, to more freedom for all Americans; the road that is open to welcoming people of diverse origins to make their home here and participate in the American dream.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Barr's "Summary" is Spin



When the Barr letter to Congress with its summary of the Mueller Report’s main conclusion was released on Sunday, March 24, I took early media reports on it at face value and said it's time to pivot from "need to impeach" to "need to defeat." I still think that's probably going to be the end result, but I view the Barr memo as a propaganda victory, not the end of the line on the crimes this president and his campaign may have committed in getting help from Russia and trying to cover it up/obstruct justice. The Barr summary is a lawyerly piece of writing that must be viewed as a partisan document and an attempt to spin the Mueller report as an exoneration, when it clearly is not. 

Because of the way the Barr summary is written--carefully and lawyerly--the media (including some NPR news people this morning) has been largely snookered into saying things like, "there's no evidence of collusion," and "Trump did not obstruct justice." Even Barr's summary does not say that. 

Barr quotes Mueller to say they did not "establish" that anyone in the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with “the Russian government in its election interference activities." What does the word "establish" mean in this context? It means there is evidence, but not enough evidence to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. 

And why not? Mueller does not rule out obstruction of justice, though Barr tries to, by "noting" that without an "underlying crime" it is hard to establish "corrupt intent." But what if some of the evidence of obstruction is dangling a pardon to keep Manafort and others quiet? Manafort offered to cooperate with Mueller and then told lies. Why? Loyalty. Because he expects a pardon? Someday, maybe the whole truth will come out--but we deserve whatever truth is in the full Mueller report, and we should be wary of Barr's summary which is in no way the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Carbon Fee & Dividend Would Fuel Alternative Energy Boom!


I wrote the following in response to an op-ed in the Charleston Gazette Mail by David Yaussy, Feb 21. My response appeared in CGM on March 1
Predictably, a contributing columnist who represents the fossil fuel industry doesn’t find much to like in proposals like House Resolution 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. The columnist dismisses it as a “carbon tax” that will deprive the poor of heat for their homes and gas for their cars.

But contrary to the column that appeared on the Daily Mail Opinion page on Feb. 22 (A cure worse than the disease, David Yaussy), the carbon fee and dividend approach to transitioning from fossil fuels like coal, gas, and oil to non-polluting renewable energy is a bipartisan, market based plan that recognizes the true cost of continuing to release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and prices them accordingly.

Rather than waste time debunking the columnist's speculations about why a carbon fee might not work, why don’t we for once listen to the experts? In a letter published in the Wall Street Journal on Jan. 7, forty-five top economists from both parties, including former Fed chairs Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke, and Janet Yellen, called for a carbon tax and dividend approach.

Greg Mankiw, who chaired the Council of Economic Advisors under President George W. Bush wrote, "a carbon tax together with rebates is, in some sense, the most conservative way to deal with climate change."

Fees collected at the mine, the pump, or at our borders will be returned to American households, which will enable them to transition to cleaner forms of energy. Energy companies are already planning for this future as they shut down coal plants, open natural gas powered plants, build wind and solar farms and utilize geothermal resources. Innovations in battery technology and pump storage (pumping water uphill to be released when needed to turn turbines) are already making alternative energy scalable, and some countries, like Iceland, Sweden, and Costa Rica plan for 100 percent renewables in a few decades.

In all likelihood, this will speed the pace of a reduction of coal mining because coal will become more expensive. That is, unless new technology solves the problem of making carbon sequestration cost-effective and helps keep coal, oil, and gas competitive with non-carbon based solutions.

This is exactly the kind of approach that will unleash the forces of capitalism and the entrepreneurial spirit to slow or stop the warming of our planet. Climate change is already causing hundreds of billions of dollars in damage annually due to massive storms, droughts, fires, illnesses, and movements of populations.

Mr. Yaussy properly attributes the proposed legislation to Citizens Climate Lobby, a national organization that has been organizing volunteers to push Congress to pass this bipartisan solution for a decade.

In West Virginia, local volunteers are working to help their fellow citizens understand the facts about climate change and HR 763. We are also working with Citizens Climate Lobby groups in other coal producing states to propose a “carve out” of some of the fees collected to help affected communities.

Learn more at citizensclimatelobby.org or come to one of our monthly meetings at the West Virginia State University Economic Development Center, 1506 Kanawha Boulevard West, at noon on the second Saturday of every month.