A Cynical New Low

A destructive, idiotic tax plan that seems to purposefully be crafted to do damage



This is the most cynical, disruptive, baseless change in the tax code since Bush’s giveaway. It runs up a huge deficit to the tune of $1.5T, but does offer up a fig leaf of increasing taxes on America’s bottom half so it at least feels like its screwing someone. Why not do away with that bit and just make it a cool $2T? No, better throw the country’s account into the toilet with a little English on the ball, the bootstraps crowd will eat it up on Fox and the radio.

Meanwhile, the largest living, breathing beneficiaries of the bill are… foreign investors. Not Americans. Not even rich Americans. Our economy is so financialized the America First #MAGA party can’t even figure out a way to actually make America first; we’ve sold it all so much that it isn’t even ours anymore to play with.

I think the most offensive thing in all this is that it doesn’t have to be like this. A little over half the country literally, state-by-state, district-by-district, chose these assholes.

Impeachment is the purview of Congress

Trump’s lack of ethics are a solvable problem, if we had a functioning Congress

Impeachment is a political act, not a criminal one. If the House majority is more enamored of their prospective legislative agenda than a President’s criminal or unethical activity, then that activity is by definition not sufficient to lose the office. The President can do whatever he likes until the House decides it’s Too Much™. Calling unethical behavior “not obstruction of justice” is a canard; the real question is if Paul Ryan cares more about creating an Ayn Rand wonderland than suffering a Keystone Kops Executive. He clearly does. 

Once upon a time, “it’s not illegal if the President does it” was a joke on its face for its hubris. The truth we’ve been reminded is, “it’s not functionally illegal for the President if Congress abides it”. Certainly the President can hire and fire who he wants in the Executive; the check against abuse of that power is impeachment. The President could systematically fire every federal investigator and prosecutor probing them, FBI, CIA, NSA, DoJ, whoever – they all serve at the behest of the President, and he can functionally dismantle pretty much any investigation of his conduct the moment he’s aware of it. Again, the only check on that is impeachment, or a Cabinet-level 25th Amendment revolt.  

Congress didn’t abide Clinton’s weasel answers about blowjobs. They apparently are much more comfortable these days with the President strong-arming the heads of the FBI, CIA, and the DNI about on-going investigations involving close allies of the President. The sad fact is that the American federal legislative body is so moribund and rotten through that it can no longer be counted on to fulfill any of its roles, compromising itself, the Executive, and the nation itself.

Maybe I should re-read The Fountainhead. I don’t remember it being THAT good.

Hacks talking about serious topics unseriously

Take a look at this thing:

I want to use the word “shocking” to describe an article covering this topic that would mention Bush only once, for the surveillance powers he doled out, and only to praise them. I can’t, because it’s not surprising at all.

The USA PATRIOT Act was the real first shot fired in the modern Imperial Presidency (back when it was just the “Unitary Executive” according to Cheney). Under that, the NSA lied to Congress and the American people and conducted flatly illegal surveillance – and Congress saw no reason to challenge any of that and still doesn’t. In fact, the only reason we know about such abuses is due to Snowden’s leaks… which this article feels were unnecessary and totally should be prosecuted.

Remember, this is an article warning of the Imperial Presidency. It doesn’t excoriate Congress for inaction. It goes out of its way to praise Bush, and then specifically Obama’s prosecution of leaks. It never mentions Cheney.

Articles like these are the reason why people can read extensively about serious topics and not have much to show for the effort. The Imperial Presidency is a real danger to the Republic, but it’s a symptom of a weak Congress and a divided nation with little capability for discourse. Articles like these are one reason why that divide exists.

America’s Dysfunction in One Speech

No one on national television will ever care about the real story of Benghazi.

Patricia Smith is a grieving woman, and is allowed her grief. And she’s angry over her loss and that’s understandable. I bear her no ill will; I wish her peace.

That said, let me identify the three major issues I see here whose absence illuminates the rot in American political discourse:

  • No one wants to talk about whether or not we should have been in Benghazi in the first place. Following the entirely predictable (and predicted) collapse of Iraq and subsequent long-term disaster, the oligarchic Beltway consensus was that Libya’s teetering state should be tipped over. At no point has this rationale been significantly challenged by anyone in power. The entire intervention in Libya has – once again – led to a chaotic mess of what used to be a country, with spillover effects in the region, none of them good. We can’t forget Iraq, but Libya seems to have no trouble slipping into the memory hole of bad ideas, and the enablers that promoted it have never been held to account, largely because they’re all the same people and have no interest in mea culpas.
  • Congress – and mostly Democrats due to political reasons – never significantly challenged the fact that the American intervention in Libya violated the War Powers Resolution. The Democrats, for reasons of party loyalty, never allowed Congress to proceed with a formal rebuke over Libyan intervention. The GOP made an attempt and it went nowhere. Ultimately, Congress rolled over because arguing about Libya is really arguing against killing people, an ugly past-time that is basically guaranteed to earn support from the majority of inhabitants in your district.
  • The State Department and Hillary Clinton specifically declared to Congress that there was no need for their authorization, despite the War Powers Resolution. Not only was this against the Resolution, it also was against the limits set by the Department of Justice and a raft of precedent. Basically the Executive told the Legislature that it had no power, they’d be doing whatever they wanted anyway, and to trust them, and the Legislature ultimately went along with it. This isn’t a story of just Congress being useless, it’s also a story of the continued growth of presidential executive power in America.

Instead, what came of Benghazi? Endless reams of interviews and panels and inquiries, all to determine that the CIA was stirring up trouble in Benghazi, the Embassy was essentially undefended and overly reliant on local untrustworthy militias, that reinforcements were either going to come from the CIA who wanted to stay as undercover and unseen as possible or from Italy (too far to actually do anything in a combat situation where airfield access is unknown)… and oh yeah, some emails.

Benghazi was an undefended outpost of an imperial power that was put smack in the middle of its own stirred-up covert intelligence shenanigans, in order to attempt to stabilize a country that had been destabilized for bad reasons clear both before and after the interventions. Absolutely none of that has penetrated into the wider discourse in this country.

Clinton’s emails did. And it turns out that she carelessly shared classified material with people cleared to see them. And that’s dumb, but it didn’t murder anyone in Benghazi. It’s the kind of thing that gets a Navy officer two years probation and a $7,000 fine.

This poor woman is pissed off that Clinton said that a video caused the attack. It didn’t. That was at worst a lie, at best a mistake. The real reason the embassy was attacked was because it was a vulnerable American outpost in a volatile region, a truth that transcends the particulars, and that’s the reason why Ms Smith can’t get an answer. The answer is, “knowing everything we do about Iraq, which only reminded us of the obvious truths we knew before Iraq, we Americans collectively attacked a place, overthrew its despot, watched the region crumble, then put an embassy in the middle of it all and didn’t properly fund its defense”. And that answer indicts not just Clinton, but pretty much all of Washington.

None of that came up. None of that will come up. The hawks who clamor always for more war sneak by. The Congress that can’t do much other than grandstand sneaks by. A Presidential executive that will go to war when and how it wants to and will tell Congress to get stuffed sneaks by. The Pentagon’s budget, ever-ballooning, never auditable, grows and sneaks by. Instead, we’re treated to the parade of a grieving woman and told to hate Clinton. The Republicans should be ashamed; everyone involved in this should be.

Playing to the Edge

Do What Thou Wilt (if Ye Can Afford It) is not a great model of governance

It’s no secret that there are two Americas in the legal system, and that if you can afford the better version you get to define all kinds of grey areas as your playground. The relative powerlessness of the SEC in the face of financial institution malfeasance drives this home the strongest, but the best example in American politics is in the operations of the Clintons.

Now, they’re not illegal! I don’t actually think the various scandals we’re told by the GOP to concern ourselves with has been illegal, but that’s more a feature of the two-tier American legal system than an outright measure. It’s the asterix next to Sammy Sosa’s records.

And the Clintons are great at this stuff, and I’m also guessing that they’re hardly the only folks mining their connections to make money and doing whatever the hell they feel like so long as counsel says it’s fine. But they are the most public, thanks to GOP efforts to dig up anything that’ll stick. And I have to feel that GOP frustration, because they keep alllllmoooost finding something and then HEYO WHAT’S THIS and it turns out nope that’s not illegal either. Over and over again.

I dislike Clinton as a Presidential candidate because of her terrible and bloody foreign policy judgment, but her comfort with Do What Thou Wilt Shall Be the Whole of the Law as a basis for professional conduct is also of an especially dangerous note in contemporary America, wherein Congress (thanks to the GOP) has written themselves out of the game and given the controller over to the President. Because Clinton is going to way too comfortable with that kind of arrangement. If you thought the Bush DoJ gave him and Cheney a pass to make shit up as they went along, Clinton is going to take that concept and use it as a sledgehammer against any kind of obstacle she finds, and just take the current problem and make it bigger.

America is headed for a rough time… and if Trump wins it’ll be even worse. This too will pass, but I hardly believe that things are going to go well for any of us.

The Problem isn’t the Presidency

Worrying about who is President makes sense, but it’s been accentuated by the abysmally incompetent Congress.


Bernie Sanders is making the case here that he’s the right guy for the Presidency, owing to Hillary Clinton’s weaker prospects against Trump. That’s a legitimate concern if you’re a Democrat, because Trump with a GOP Congress is about as disruptive a combination I can imagine to run the American federal government.

What’s unfortunate is that the narrative of a supreme President calling the shots misses out on some key points about what the American federal system ought to be, which is “only slightly dysfunctional”. As it is, we are historically at “highly dysfunctional”: Congress is, in historical terms, the most inactive it’s been in over a century. We’re at war in a half-dozen places under a Congressional authorization that’s over a decade old and in another half-dozen places which are only pretending to be under that authorization. The intelligence services and FBI are so empowered to be playing games with Congress that Congress can’t get itself together to outlaw or sanction the agencies for their criminal activities. Judges aren’t getting approved by the Senate.

America needs a revised Church Committee and a revised War Powers Resolution. The Dodd-Frank Act was passed in the midst of crisis and managed to chip away at out-of-control financial power in the US, but that was probably the last hurrah for big Congressional acts to address systemic dysfunction in America. The Affordable Care Act was the best we could do to control America’s broken healthcare system, and in essence it’s a giveaway to insurance companies which is only going to slightly un-break the system, basically ensuring that no one goes without the ability to receive high-end health care in exchange for everyone not making $300k+ a year from getting screwed with low-end medical costs and higher insurance premiums.

The country needs some serious help, and if Clinton wins she’s going to be facing an even more hostile Congress than Obama faced… and I don’t get the impression she’s going to be half as restrained as Obama was in the face of Congressional torpor. Leaving aside her policies, yet another eight years of an expanding executive and Presidency isn’t going to do a damn bit of good to create a more functional Congress; it’s going to exacerbate the situation so far as I can tell. We all know Clinton is going to do what she wants – she’s had decades to get tired of GOP bullshit – and considering Congress is probably going to be worse than useless the country will need that kind of attention to get anything done, with the inevitable backlash and deepening GOP intransigence to follow. I doubt that in such an environment that the party could mount an effective resurrection and resurgence.

It took the Federalist Party a few decades to die out. While it lingered on, it was irrelevant and basically handed the non-judicial reins of government over to the Democratic-Republican Party. I can only hope that the GOP’s apparent atrophying is sped along by the faster pace of modern life and that something new and powerful emerges. The country will not functional well with a one-party system any more than it has done through the current one-and-a-half party system.