Confederate Interrogation

There more than 700 Confederate Monuments in the United States according to FiveThirtyEight. The same site provided the following map of the locations of these monuments:

I’m having a difficult time finding good arguments for the preservation of these statues. I’ve decided to throw the question to the public. Are there good arguments for the preservation of Confederate monuments and statues?

A Quick Note about Transgender Members of the Military

Image result for Transgender

Donald Trump is going to ban all transgender people from joining the military. Here are the relevant tweets:

Image result for trump transgender military tweet

I want to zero in on the monetary argument. Trump wrote that transgender people burden the US budget with “tremendous costs.” Is this statement true? Bloomberg looked into the matter and found that transgender people make a negligible dent in the defense budget:

A 2014 study estimated that 15,500 trans people were currently serving in the U.S. military. The Williams Institute, a think tank at UCLA School of Law that researches gender identity, came to that figure using a 2011 survey of 6,546 transgender Americans. Around 20 percent of that survey’s respondents said they had served in the armed forces. There are currently 1.3 million active-duty personnel in the U.S. military and an additional 800,000 in reserves.

Using various extrapolations based on population estimates and rates of service for men and women, the Williams researchers concluded that 8,800 people were in active duty and another 6,700 were in the National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve. Trans people, the Williams report suggested, might even join the military at a higher rate than other groups.

“It’s a consistent finding in studies that have been done across a variety of different data sources that trans people serve in the military at higher rates than the general population,” said Jody L. Herman, a co-author of the Williams study. She cited academic interviews conducted with transgender servicemembers that underscored the appeal of the military’s perceived hypermasculine environment.

But, as Herman added, “trans people want to serve in the military for the same reasons as everyone else wants to serve in the military.”

Researchers from RAND used much lower numbers to estimate transgender-related health-care costs, putting the total ranks of active transgender service members between 1,300 and 6,600 and concluding that only about 130 might seek gender-related surgeries. But even if the number of transgender service members is closer to the Williams Institute’s estimate, the cost for their medical care would be a negligible share of the military’s total health budget.

Trans people represent a small number of military members and thus a small portion of healthcare costs. If budgetary concerns aren’t the real motivation for the ban what is?

There is some speculation that Trump issued this tweet to divert attention from the raid on Paul Manafort’s house (see previous post for details). This theory is supported by the fact that we have no details or timeline for the execution of the ban.

This post is not meant to argue the merits of allowing transgender people into the military. This is meant to expose deception in Trump’s arguments against allowing transgender people into the military.

Warranted Home Invasion

Image result for police raid

The Washington Post printed news that represents a significant escalation in the Russia investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller. The FBI raided the home of the former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort on July 26th.

Think about the significance of this action. Search warrants must be signed off by a federal judge. This means a federal judge saw enough evidence to support a sudden, unannounced intrusion into Manafort’s home. This move suggests that Manafort is not being as cooperative as the special counsel would like him to be. Remember, federal investigators were using the less intrusive subpoena process to gain information from Manafort. Why the shift in method? A writer for CNN wrote:

The tactic appears unusual for a case that has been under investigation for months and for which Manafort has already turned over hundreds of pages of documents to Senate investigators.

Paul Manafort was awoken by federal agents knocking on his bedroom door!

FBI agents did not leave Manafort’s home empty-handed. The FBI seized documents and “other materials” from Manafort’s home. Tax and banking documents were taken from the home. The FBI even took “binders prepared ahead of Manafort’s congressional testimony.”

Here is my advice to Republicans: seriously consider jumping ship. Untether yourself from the administration’s sinking vessel.

The CBO: What does the CBO say about the Senate Healthcare Bill? (Part 3)

Image result for health insurance

What did the CBO conclude about the Senate Healthcare Bill?

1. The Bill will reduce the federal deficit by $321 billion over the next 10 years
2. 22 million Americans will be uninsured by 2026

Source: FiveThirtyEight

3. There will be 15 million fewer people enrolled in Medicaid by 2026
4. Premiums will rise 280% for the elderly and the poor
5. A principal complaint against the Affordable Care Act is it penalizes those who do not purchase health insurance. Republicans complained that the ACA forced people to buy something they didn’t want. There is a version of that penalty in both the Republican House and Senate bills. Here is how FiveThirtyEight describes it:

Penalizing those who went without insurance for more than 63 days by imposing a six-month waiting period before they can get coverage in a new plan. All three systems — the ACA, the House bill and the Senate bill — seek to punish those who don’t have insurance in order to discourage people from buying health insurance only after they have gotten sick and to make sure that relatively healthy people get insurance, which helps keep insurers’ costs down. The ACA does this through the so-called individual mandate, which charges a tax penalty to people who don’t have health insurance. The House bill would have done it by allowing insurers to impose a 30 percent surcharge on premiums for people who had gone without coverage for 63 days or more in the previous year.

Once again, this bill is a colossal failure.

The CBO: How Accurate are CBO Projections? (Part 2)

Related image

Skepticism of CBO projections may appear to be warranted if we consider:

1. In March of 2010 the CBO said 21 million people would buy insurance on exchanges created as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by 2016. In fact, only 11.5 million people purchased coverage by the end of 2016
2. That same report said there would be 30 million fewer uninsured people in the US. The reality is the CBO reduced that number to 22 million in March of 2016.

Why is there such a gap between the CBO estimates and reality? First, I think we need to understand the basis of the CBO’s baseline projections. CBO projections are based on the “assumption that current laws governing federal revenues and spending will generally remain unchanged.” Here is how the CBO further explains their projections:

The baseline projections are not intended to be a prediction of budgetary outcomes. Rather, the projections reflect CBO’s best judgment about how the economy and the budget will evolve under existing laws. That approach allows the baseline to serve as a neutral benchmark against which Members of Congress can measure the effects of proposed legislation.

This means projections will be modified when there are relevant legislative changes. One wonders how anyone could be in the ballpark in any projection or forecast if we couple possible legislative changes with unpredictable human behavior.

Let’s consider again the CBO’s estimates of how many people would purchase insurance on the new insurance exchanges. There were several mitigating factors here:

1. The CBO thought more employers would stop offering health insurance to their employees
2. More people were eligible for Medicaid than the CBO expected. This means the CBO underestimated how many people would get coverage through Medicaid.
3. The Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the Medicaid expansion in the ACA was optional for states

The CBO changed its estimates after the 2013 Supreme Court decision. The revised forecast said 89% of Americans would have insurance by 2016 and, in fact , 89.7% of Americans under 65 had insurance in 2016.

A formal study was done by the Commonwealth Fund and it concluded:

Simulations of the effects of health insurance reforms have received considerable attention over the past two decades, leading to substantial improvements in modeling. The CBO, and several private forecasters, were fairly accurate in their predictions of the likely coverage and cost implications of the ACA. A few forecasters—notably the CMS—assumed much higher rates of responsiveness to subsidies and coverage expansions, and these models generated the least accurate predictions. CMS estimates of participation in subsidized coverage, Medicaid enrollment, and total marketplace spending were 2.7, 2.0, and 2.9 times, respectively, higher than actual figures.

I think we can trust the findings of the CBO as long we keep in mind the reasonable limitations mentioned in this series.

The CBO (Part 1)

Image result for congressional budget office

There is a lot of talk about the CBO and the accuracy of their work. I thought it might be helpful to do an in-depth series on the CBO.

What is the CBO?

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is a body composed of economists and budget analysts who provide independent budgetary and economic analyses for monetary decision making.

Standards for Objectivity

Employees of the CBO commit to the principles of objectivity and transparency. Some members are even required to provide financial disclosure statements to make sure they have no conflicts of interest. CBO employees are required to get permission from managers if they want to be employed by an entity outside of the CBO. Political activity that could identify the CBO with a “political campaign, candidate, officeholder, or cause” is forbidden.

These are just some of the ways the CBO tries to maintain a high level of objectivity. I think this goes a long way to help employees remain objective.

People

The CBO has a visiting scholars program that enlists the help of macroeconomists, health economists, and public economists. These men and women must have PhDs and demonstrated research in relevant fields. Recent Visiting scholars include: Sheng Guo, assistant professor of economics at Florida International University, Hassan Tetteh, U.S. Navy Commander and an Assistant Professor of Surgery at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and Chao Wei, associate professor of economics at the George Washington University.

The panel of economic advisers includes professors from the University of Maryland, University of California, Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard, and the University of Chicago.

In all, there are about 235 staff members at the CBO.

Legal Creep and Moral Fortitude (Part 5)

 

Related image

Moral Fortitude

Fortitude refers to the strength of mind and character to endure pain and hardship. Moral fortitude is exemplified when a person does the right thing in the face of tremendous pressure to do evil. Republicans must choose between party loyalty, potential campaign loses, and the common good. I want to list some pertinent issues raised by the 2016 Republican platform and ask Republicans some questions. A party’s platform is supposed to tell the public what matters to the party. A platform is also supposed to embody a party’s values. Let’s take a look:

1. Executive Orders: “The President has refused to defend or enforce laws he does not like, used executive orders to enact national policies in areas constitutionally reserved solely to Congress….” (pg. 9) Trump echoed this plank of the platform when he spoke at a town hall in South Carolina in February 2016 when he said, “The country wasn’t based on executive order.” He also said “[r]ight now, Obama goes around signing executive orders. He can’t even get along with the Democrats, and he goes around signing all these executive orders. It’s a basic disaster. You can’t do it.” Trump signed more executive orders in his first 100 days than any other recent president since World War II.

2. Presidential Credibility: “Our most urgent task as a Party is to restore the American people’s faith in their government by electing a president who will enforce duly enacted laws, honor constitutional limits on executive authority, and return credibility to the Oval Office.” (pg. 10) Let me quote at length from an article written by conservative Kevin Williamson in the National Review:

It is impossible to get at that in a meaningful way without considering the unsettling question: What sort of man is the president of these United States? We know he is a habitual liar, one who tells obvious lies for no apparent reason, from claiming to own hotels that he does not own to boasting about having a romantic relationship with Carla Bruni, which never happened. (“Trump is obviously a lunatic,” Bruni explained.) He invented a series of imaginary friends to lie to the New York press about both his business and sexual careers. He has conducted both his private and public lives with consistent dishonesty and dishonor. He is not a man who can be taken at his word.

Conservatives used to care about that sort of thing: Bill Bennett built a literary empire on virtue, and Peggy Noonan wrote wistfully of a time “When Character Was King.” But even if we set aside any prissy moral considerations and put a purely Machiavellian eye on the situation, we have to conclude that having a man such as Trump as president and presumptive leader of the Republican party is an enormous problem for conservatives and for the country corporately. Allegations of petty corruption against Donald Trump cannot simply be dismissed out of hand, because no mentally functioning and decently informed adult thinks that Donald Trump, of all people, is above that sort of thing. Quid pro quo patronage? He’s proud of it. Dishonesty? He boasts about it in a book published under his name. Question: If a young, attractive, blonde woman employed by the Trump Organization came forward claiming to be having an affair with the president, why wouldn’t you believe her? Because Donald Trump isn’t that kind of guy? He’s precisely that kind of guy — that’s the main reason anybody outside of New York ever knew his name in the first place.

Of course it is the case that Democrats and anti-Trump Republicans are predisposed to believe the worst about the man. But the fact is that doing so is not obviously wrong or unreasonable. Trump apologists instinctively want to treat Democrats’ exaggeration and hysteria as contemptible scandal-mongering, but their defenses — no hard evidence of collusion with the Putin regime! — sound a lot like “no controlling legal authority.”

The question isn’t whether the president is a crook. The question is: What kind of crook is he?

Can anyone believe Trump can “return credibility to the Oval Office”?

3. Crony Capitalism and Corporate Welfare: “Cronyism is inherent in the progressive vision of the administrative state. When government uses taxpayer funding and resources to give special advantages to private companies, it distorts the free market and erodes public trust in our political system. By enlarging the scope of government and placing enormous power in the hands of bureaucrats, it multiplies opportunities for corruption and favoritism. It is the enemy of reform in education, the workplace, and healthcare. It gives us financial regulation that protects the large at the cost of the small. It is inherent in every part of the current healthcare law, which is packed with corporate welfare. Crony capitalism gives us special interest tax breaks, custom-designed regulations, and special exemptions for favored parties.” (pg. 28)

Donald Trump often points to his deal with Carrier as an instance of fulfilling his promise to retain American jobs. The problem is this is just another instance of crony capitalism. These are not my words. They are the words of conservative Robert Tracinski in the Federalist:

Donald Trump won the presidency with a promise to “drain the swamp” of crony insider deals in Washington DC. Then again, he won the presidency with a whole lot of promises, including one to save American manufacturing jobs from competition with cheap labor in China and Mexico.

Spoiler alert: he is not going to save American manufacturing jobs, because China and Mexico are not the reason those jobs are disappearing. The big truth is that American manufacturing output has steadily increased all along and is at record highs. We still produce things in this country. But American manufacturing employment has been in steep decline, because while we produce more things then ever, we produce them with more machines and fewer workers.

…Trump is not going to change these big trends, because he is not going to overturn the laws of economics. But Trump is a showman, and he knows that he can make a big show of reversing these trends and “bringing back our jobs.” Hence his big announcement about how he personally negotiated a deal to get Carrier to keep a thousand jobs at a plant in Indiana instead of shifting them to a new factory in Mexico. (Another 1,300 jobs are still going south of the border, but that’s buried down in the seventh paragraph, so nobody is going to notice.)

So how did Trump make this deal? With your money, of course. The company agreed after a personal call to the CEO from the president-elect—and oh, yeah, after Mike Pence, Indiana’s current governor and our vice-president-elect, offered them a big fat chunk of what the New York Times report calls “economic incentives.” That’s buried in the eighth paragraph, demonstrating that our media is doing its usual bang-up job. So in place of crony insider deals made in Washington DC, we get crony insider deals made in Indianapolis.

… So let’s see: the president cuts a deal with corporate executives to give him favors—in this case, a press conference and some good PR—in exchange for straightforward handouts and the implicit promise of greater rewards in the future, to be gained from personal access to public officials. What would you call that?

This blog series is dedicated to the examining the facts emerging in the Russian scandal. We know Donald Trump and his administration is under investigation by the FBI. Let’s rehearse what Republicans said about people under investigation by the FBI:

Senator Marco Rubio (R): “Can this country afford to have a president under investigation by the FBI? Think of the trauma that would do to this country.” November 1, 2016

Kellyanne Conway (White Counselor):

Image result for Kellyanne Conway most honest people i know

Image result for Kellyanne Conway hillary made history today we've not

Jeb Bush: “I don’t — I only get my news from Fox & Friends, so that’s all I get. All I’m saying is that she’s under investigation by the FBI. Just pause and think about that. That’s not, that’s a pretty uncommon thing for a presidential candidate. And each and every week it just seems like there’s more information. Now there’s, according to Fox again there’s expanded investigation on the connection with the Clinton Foundation. This is a serious deal. So I’m, look, I want to win. I think the Republicans need to win. We need to unify. Hillary Clinton would be an unmitigated disaster for ideological purposes. But she also has this legal problem that would really undermine our country.”

Mike Huckabee:

Image result for tv news devotes 4x more time to trump

I could go on, but I think the point is clear. Donald Trump has crossed clear red lines for Republicans and conservatives. Do conservatives have the courage to denounce Donald Trump? Will Republicans initiate impeachment proceedings at the appropriate time? Will Republicans act in accordance with their clearly stated moral convictions? Does anyone in the Republican Party have the virtue of moral fortitude?

Legal Creep and Moral Fortitude (Part 4)

Image result for breaking the law

More Legal Issues

Bob Bauer is the Professor of Practice and Distinguished Scholar in Residence at New York University School of Law. Bauer clarifies what is meant by offering “substantial assistance”:

The relevant regulation suggests that something more is required: at least “substantial assistance” to the foreign spender in providing this “thing of value.” Does a presidential campaign render this substantial assistance to a foreign national engaged in influencing an election by endorsing the specific activity and confirming its strategic utility? When the Federal Election Commission (FEC) promulgated this ban on “substantial assistance,” it said little about its scope. It did make clear that the term was to be broadly construed. It offered the concrete example of a U.S. citizen acting as a “conduit or intermediary” for foreign spending, but noted that this was provided as only one example. It expressly left open other possibilities.

The President and others associated with the campaign made no bones about the value to them of the purloined email communications. The President told a rally of supporters he “loved” Wikileaks and read from the hacked communication to support his attack on his opponent for “a degree of corruption at the highest levels of our government like nothing we have ever seen as a country before.” He drew on the emails in the debates with Secretary Clinton. Notably, when he was asked during the debates to acknowledge the Russian program of interference and given the opportunity to openly oppose the actions, he wouldn’t do so. He also mentioned Wikileaks 124 times in the last month of the campaign. The Russians could only have been strengthened in the conviction that their efforts were welcome and had value. That covers the evidence in plain sight.

Of course, investigators will examine whether there were Trump campaign communications or private assurances to foreign nationals—including Russians and associates of Wikileaks acting as their “agents”—to encourage them or help coordinate the dissemination of these materials. Coordination at this level could well trigger the application of other provisions of the rules directed at the political campaign’s acceptance or receipt of the Russian assistance, or even its direct solicitation of it. But the “substantial assistance” prong would cover the more indirect of the Trump campaign activities—including public statements—that were conducted at more of a distance, and yet still intended to signal the Russians that help was needed and of “value.”

Bauer’s insights don’t end there. He argues that Trump Jr. may be legally liable under ordinary “aiding and abetting” principles of criminal law:

It may be easier to appreciate the case to the contrary–that liability with the requisite intent could be imposed for these actions–by considering how the case could also be brought under ordinary “aiding and abetting” principles of the criminal law.

It is well understood that established “aiding and abetting” principles have wide, elastic application. The abettor is not required, of course, to have been “in on it” from the beginning. In Learned Hand’s classic formulation in United States v. Peoni, the law requires only “that he in some sort associate himself with the venture, that he participate in it as in something that he wishes to bring about, that he seek by his action to make it succeed.” The courts have defined in various terms this association, but what is required is “some affirmative conduct designed to aid in the success of a venture with knowledge that [the]actions would assist the perpetrator, the principal of the crime.” United States v. Cowart, 595 F.2d 1023, 1031(1979).

Note that the assistance constituting aiding and abetting does not have to be substantial. The accomplice liability provision of the federal campaign finance law, focused on “substantial assistance,” is, in that sense, stricter. ,So federal prosecutors proceeding on an “aiding and abetting” theory may have the latitude to reach a broader range of Trump campaign conduct in support of the Russian program.

It would not be the first time that Prosecutors would have enforced campaign finance law with an “aiding and abetting” charge. And they have evidence in the Trump/Russia case with which to work.

The campaign was fully aware of the Russian source of the stolen material and of the Putin regime purpose to intervene in an election. The hackers did not steal into the Podesta account for their private consumption and edification; they put the stuff out with fanfare, with the intention of generating sensational disclosures that would have the most impact possible on the presidential campaign. Understanding the foreign national aim, the campaign welcomed the intrusion and did what it could to advance its objectives. The national party over the course of the month of October issued multiple releases highlighting whatever it judged politically useful in the content of the Wikileaks disclosures. The President himself, who had openly invited the Russian hacking and declared that he “loved “ Wikileaks, cited this material in the closing weeks. His confidante Roger Stone has made various and inconsistent statements about whether he had advance knowledge of the Wikileaks document releases, and there remains an open question of what he knew and how he came to know it; but he certainly amplified the disclosures by promoting them in advance and afterwards.

The possibility of legal action against senior members of the Trump administration is steadily creeping forward.

Legal Creep and Moral Fortitude (Part 3)

Image result for russian hacking

We recently learned that Natalia Veselniskaya was not the only Russian in the meeting. A man who worked “counterintelligence in the Soviet military” was present as well. Rinat Akhmetshin was an intelligence officer in the Soviet Union. Akhmetshin is a lobbyist and his clients include governments and members of private industry.

We also learned there may be documents that were left with Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. Were these documents left? Where are they now?

Legal Issues

Some people think the email and meeting was simply an effort to obtain opposition research. Put this way, the meeting is politics as usual. Do the emails or the meeting make Donald Trump Jr. legally vulnerable?

One area of vulnerability is statute 52 U.S.C. 30121, 36 U.S.C. 510 which says:

(b) Contributions and donations by foreign nationals in connection with elections. A foreign national shall not, directly or indirectly, make a contribution or a donation of money or other thing of value, or expressly or impliedly promise to make a contribution or a donation, in connection with any Federal, State, or local election.

(g) Solicitation, acceptance, or receipt of contributions and donations from foreign nationals. No person shall knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation prohibited by paragraphs (b) through (d) of this section.

(h)Providing substantial assistance.

(1) No person shall knowingly provide substantial assistance in the solicitation, making, acceptance, or receipt of a contribution or donation prohibited by paragraphs (b) through (d), and (g) of this section.

What does “solicitation” and “contribution” mean in this statute. Brendan Fischer of Campaign Legal Center said a contribution doesn’t simply refer to money. “It could mean anything of value provided to a campaign, and opposition research does appear to be something of value.” It certainly appears to be solicitation when Trump Jr. says he loves it and asks “Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?”

Norman L. Eisen is an attorney and a senior fellow with Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. Richard W. Painter is the S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law at the University of Minnesota Law School and served as a chief White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush. Eisen and Painter laid out the potential legal case against Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner in an opinion piece in the New York Times:

It raises a host of potential criminal and other legal violations for Donald Jr. and others involved, including his brother-in-law Jared Kushner; Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman at the time; and perhaps the president himself. These new facts are a critical inflection point in the Trump-Russia matter. But they should not be exaggerated: The investigation has much further to go before Donald Jr.’s liability, or that of others, can be finally assessed.

The defense that this was a routine meeting to hear about opposition research is nonsense. As ethics lawyers, we have worked on political campaigns for decades and have never heard of an offer like this one. If we had, we would have insisted upon immediate notification of the F.B.I., and so would any normal campaign lawyer, official or even senior volunteer.

That is because of the enormous potential legal liability, both individually and for the campaign. The potential offenses committed by Donald Jr., his colleagues and brother-in-law who attended the meeting, and the campaign itself, include criminal or civil violations of campaign finance laws. These laws prohibit accepting anything of value from a foreign government or a foreign national. The promised Russian “documents and information” would have been an illegal campaign contribution from a foreign government — and a priceless one.

Then there is the question of whether the statements of enthusiasm in the emails about the meeting (“I love it,” Donald Jr. wrote) constituted assent on behalf of the Trump campaign to continuing Russian help. Welcoming the information and taking the meeting can reasonably be understood to signal a broader receptivity to Russian aid. This is even more serious than the campaign finance violation because it brings conspiracy law into play. That could make Donald Jr. and others liable for all of the Russian dirty tricks that followed, including any Russian cybercrimes or other crimes targeting the Clinton campaign.

Although we do not yet have enough facts to judge, Donald Jr. and others may also be liable for conspiracy with respect to espionage, depending on how any illicit information was obtained and the level of their awareness of any spying. Because the Russian campaign that followed was nothing less than an assault on our democracy, we understand why some are raising issues of treason as well. Prosecution under the federal treason statute is ultimately unlikely because we are not at war with Russia. But during the Cold War, treasonous conduct was often prosecuted under other statutes. (Alger Hiss was sentenced to four years in prison for “forgetting” in sworn testimony that he had met with Whitaker Chambers, an American working for the Russians.)