The Cold Banality of the Democratic National Convention Lineup

Ain’t no party like a Klobuchar party ’cause a Klobuchar party don’t ZZZZZZZ… (Photo Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

The 2020 Democratic National Convention: Feel the excitement?

Not quite. The four-day celebration of the best the Democratic Party has to offer and John Kasich has its schedule set—and if you’re like me, you’re less than impressed.

Day 1 features Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama as their top-billed speakers. Other than that, though, the list doesn’t exactly overwhelm. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Catherine Cortez Masto, fresh off not earning vice presidential nominations, are evidently set to inspire conventioneers with their newfound status. Ditto for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Sen. Doug Jones is there because…he has an election to try to win? Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has seen his star rise despite his state’s dilatory early response to news of positive COVID-19 tests and allegations of corruption will…call Donald Trump names?

In all, the speakers here seem to evoke an air of temporary/contextual relevance because they were once considered candidates for president or vice president or for their handling of the coronavirus. Bernie’s and Michelle Obama’s legacies seem pretty secure, but the others? Aside from Reps. Jim Clyburn and Gwen Moore, their records and future party standing are questionable. Clyburn’s and Moore’s inclusion itself speaks to the Democratic Party’s preoccupation with identity politics but only to the extent it reinforces “old guard” politics.

Day 2 features Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and is headlined by Dr. Jill Biden. Lisa Blunt Rochester is…from Delaware (not to downplay her significance as both the first woman and first African-American to represent her state in Congress, but she’s definitely not a household name)? Sally Yates is presumably there because of her defiance to the Bad Orange Man?

After that, it’s a trio of white dudes who definitely represent establishment Democrats. Chuck Schumer and John Kerry, one might imagine, will be on hand to deliver plenty of bland generalities. And then there’s Bill Clinton. If his association with Jeffrey Epstein and the “Lolita Express” aren’t problematic enough, there’s a good chance he’ll say something cringe-worthy just the same.

Day 3 has, um, Billie Eilish for the young folks? Seriously, though, she’s slated to perform. Newly-minted vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and Barack Obama are the top political stars of the evening. As a whole, this day belongs to the ladies—and that’s pretty cool. Unfortunately, two of those women are Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, of whom to say they are removed from the concerns of everyday Americans would be an understatement.

Other than that? Meh. Gabby Giffords will be bringing her party loyalty and her obvious standing to talk about gun control to the table. Elizabeth Warren, the picture of party unity that she is, also will be delivering remarks. Michelle Lujan Grisham has…grit? And I don’t know what business Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin has speaking at this convention. This man made a late bid to postpone his state’s primaries, was rebuffed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and didn’t intervene in the same way Republican governor Mike DeWine did in Ohio to push back elections due to concerns about coronavirus infections at polling places. Even if spikes following the Wisconsin primaries can’t be definitively linked to in-person voting, failing to act to reduce or eliminate this risk is to be decried, not celebrated with a speaking slot.

The final day of the convention belongs, of course, to Joseph Robinette Biden. Andrew Yang is speaking—or he isn’t—or maybe he is again? We’ve got not one, but two Tammies—Tammy Baldwin (surprisingly progressive for Biden) and Tammy Duckworth.

Aside from these speakers, I could take or leave the rest of the program. With no disrespect meant to The Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks), OK, were party supporters clamoring for you to be here? Chris Coons once more fulfills the obligatory Delawarean portion of the program and that’s about it. Sen. Cory Booker, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms are present as not-too-old, not-too-young faces of the Democratic Party. Also, Pete Buttigieg is slated to gnaw on some cheese. Just saying—the guy looks like a rat.

This is what awaits viewers for the virtual Democratic National Convention, for the most part. As noted, John Kasich, who is still a member of the opposition party, should be speaking, though I didn’t see him listed on the official convention website schedule. All in all, with the Democratic Party speakers thus enumerated, there’s not a lot to excite prospective younger voters. A number of these political figures are either older, fairly obscure outside of political circles, or both, when not additionally owning problematic legacies (hello, Amy Klobuchar, Bill Clinton).

More critically, the attention to policy specifics, as it has been with Joe Biden the 2020 presidential candidate, will likely be sparing. In a political environment inextricably linked to the ongoing pandemic and impacted by the moment’s (overdue) push for economic, environmental, racial, and social justice, Americans hungry for substantive change want to know what the Democratic Party will do for them should the Democrats take the White House. The standard platitudes aren’t cutting it.

I refer to the “cold banality” of the Democratic National Convention in the title of this piece because, in addition to this event being a boring four-day celebration of Democrats not being Donald Trump, it largely freezes out progressives.

Bernie Sanders has been afforded a prominent role in the proceedings, though he has largely (and dubiously) tried to paint Joe Biden and his campaign as embracing a progressive platform. Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren will be also be delivering remarks, though on the latter count, it’s tough to know what exactly Warren’s commitment is to the progressive cause in the United States. She notably backed off her prior support for Medicare for All and took super PAC money during her own presidential campaign, trying to justify it by claiming everyone else was doing so and that she needed to follow suit. That doesn’t make you sound very principled, Ms. Warren.

And what about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? This is where it gets juicy, as they say. AOC’s entire involvement with the convention is reportedly limited to a one-minute prerecorded message. That’s it. Sixty seconds for one of the party’s rising stars and biggest fundraisers. If this sounds stupidly self-defeating, one has only to remember this is the Democrats we’re talking about here, masters of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

This goes beyond mere strategic miscues, however. The DNC knows what it’s doing, and Ocasio-Cortez’s effective snub is another potshot at progressives seeking authentic leadership from the Democratic Party. Furthermore, with 2024 chatter already underway, the party establishment is probably desperate to blunt any momentum she might have for a presidential bid. They don’t want her pulling a Barack Obama and using her speech at the convention as a springboard to a viable candidacy. If that were to happen, they might—gasp!—actually have to commit to policies that help everyday Americans.

The old guard of the Democratic Party knows its days are numbered. Progressives haven’t won a ton of primary challenges, but little by little, they’re scoring impressive victories and elevating recognition of outspoken leftists to the national consciousness. Policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal are resonating with the general public. Heck, a significant percentage of Democratic voters say they have a positive view of socialism. Dreaded socialism. When people are finally beginning to sour on almighty capitalism, you know a real sea change is in our midst.

It is because of this percolating progressive energy within Democratic ranks that, while it’s still frustrating that the progressive movement isn’t further along by now, leftists in the U.S. and abroad can take heart knowing that there is strength in grassroots organizing and people-powered solutions to society’s ills. The Democratic National Convention, in all its pomp and circumstance, already felt somewhat irrelevant given the fragmentation of the global media landscape in the social media age. With a global pandemic and economic, political, and social unrest altering the political calculus in 2020 even more, it seems especially so now.

On Stormy Daniels and Problematic Storytellers

You may not like or even care about Stephanie Clifford a.k.a. Stormy Daniels, but your reaction (or non-reaction) to her alleged affair with Donald Trump, possible violations of campaign finance laws, and threats made against her person may say a lot about you. (Image Credit: CBS News

Russian prostitutes and golden showers. If there is anything about the so-called Steele dossier with which you are familiar, most likely, it’s related to these kinds of salacious details/services that Donald Trump is alleged to have solicited at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Moscow in 2013. To be sure, there are more serious concerns to be had within the Trump-Russia dossier, ones pertaining to notions that Vladimir Putin and Russian operatives cultivated Trump as a candidate and means to disrupt Western alliances, that key members of the Trump campaign worked alongside Russian leadership to foster this relationship and to discredit Hillary Clinton, and that Trump and Co. negotiated deals which outlined a plan for Trump to lift sanctions on Russia and to remove Russian intervention in Ukraine from a list of campaign priorities in exchange for a stake in Russian oil. Very, very serious concerns.

Of course, these aspects of the dossier do not grab attention and headlines quite like lurid tales of peeing on beds as a way of thumbing one’s nose at Barack and Michelle Obama. What’s more, this scatological material and doubts raised by some critics as to the veracity of the dossier’s contents have made even those on the left who would characteristically jump at the chance to exploit such intel about Trump reluctant to do so. It is in this context that we may view the delicate relationship between those who demonize the President and his supposed affair with Stephanie Clifford, known more commonly to the world as Stormy Daniels, screenwriter, director, and pornographic actress. According to Daniels, she had a sexual encounter with Donald Trump after meeting him in 2006 when she was 27 and he was 60. Oh, and he happened to be married to Melania at this point, too.

Recently, Daniels was interviewed by Anderson Cooper for 60 Minutes, and while many of the details discussed may have been known to people who have specifically been following this story, having it unfold on national television lends itself to being talked about at the water cooler, or throughout the blogosphere or Twitterverse. Much of it, for better or worse, is entertaining. Daniels spanking Trump with a magazine with his own face on the cover. That the pair did not use a condom. Trump telling Daniels she reminded him of his daughter, Ivanka. (Creeper alert!) As with the Steele dossier, there are larger issues to be found within Stormy Daniels’ insider account, including but not limited to a $130,000 payment to Daniels facilitated by Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, associated with the alleged signing of a non-disclosure agreement to keep this affair secret less than two weeks before the 2016 election (which may be part of a campaign finance violation), as well as threats of lawsuits and physical violence against Daniels if she did not comply or violated the terms of the agreement.

Again, there are elements of this story which people on both sides of the political aisle would find disagreeable, and thus would make Stormy Daniels a strange and uncomfortable bedfellow. Certainly, Trump loyalists will question Daniels’ credibility based on notions that she is leveraging her supposed encounter with Trump for fame and money, or that she claims to have lied about the affair never happening because she felt she was under duress or otherwise forced to; Anderson Cooper alludes to these thoughts of naysayers at different points during the interview. Meanwhile, on the other side of the fence, many Trump haters, though perhaps eager to discredit POTUS on matters of deficient moral fiber, are nonetheless gun-shy about invoking the words of a porn star when they may possess their own reservations about her character. There’s a separate discussion that merits having with respect to expression of sexuality in our society, especially for women, but suffice it to say that even discerning members of the left may view Daniels as a lesser-than who lacks real skill or talent, or worse yet, tantamount to a whore.

Even if we see less value than others do in Stormy Daniels’ chosen profession—though I have a number of concerns with aspects of the adult entertainment industry, I personally don’t see value in shaming sex workers, but you’re entitled to your opinion—and even if we question her motives in speaking out publicly about her affair with Donald Trump, whether or not she’s telling the truth about having sex with “the Donald” or being paid “hush money” or being threatened legally and physically is a separate issue. Jose Canseco may have cheated the game of baseball and its fans years ago by using performance-enhancing drugs, but when it came time to name names, a number of his accusations rang true. The genesis of Christopher Steele’s research into potential collusion of the Trump campaign with Russian leaders began with funding by the Clinton campaign for the sake of research, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that all of what Steele came back with is hogwash.

As for Daniels, her career involves people having sex on camera, and she stands to make more money as a result of being in the spotlight of late. But this has no bearing on how truthful her public statements are. Anderson Cooper—and likely scores of viewers at home—too questioned the motives of Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti. Cooper noted how, in the past, Avenatti has done opposition research of his own for Democrat Rahm Emanuel, and how this type of case is not his usual cup of tea, suggesting to some that this involvement is politically motivated. Avenatti, for his part, said he has not been involved in politics in some 20 years, and that he took the case because Daniels is “credible” and “telling the truth.” Skeptical as we may be of that assertion, if the evidence bears out that what his client says about Mr. Trump and her is accurate, who are we to judge? Unless critical evidence is being hidden or manufactured, the truth is the truth and should be recognized as such, regardless of the source.

Stormy Daniels’ account of extramarital intercourse with the man who is the putative “leader of the free world” also makes for a compelling case study against the backdrop of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. In saying this, let me stress that Daniels is not a victim of sexual assault or other misconduct here, nor is she claiming to be; in the interview, Daniels was explicit about the idea the sex was consensual. If there’s any fault-finding to be done here regarding what transpired back in 2006, it’s on the side of morality, and that’s on the individual voter to decide how much (or little) he or she cares about what Donald Trump did before he was ruining the country as President. Still, it’s not as if Trump has been free of genuine allegations of unwanted advances and other impropriety along the lines of #MeToo and Time’s Up. Hell, the man was caught on tape boasting of his ability to exploit his status to cop a feel. That he is a philanderer doesn’t automatically make him a predator, but it doesn’t help recover his character either.

Yet more to the point, the uneasiness that bringing up Stormy Daniels’ name promotes—both among those who defend Donald Trump and those who want to see Congress vote to give him the ol’ heave-ho—intersects with concerns about defending “imperfect” accusers that existed long before advocates of victims’ rights were tweeting their outrage about systemic oppression. Should we value Daniels’ concerns about her image and about what really happened concerning the NDA less because she is an adult entertainer, thereby engaging in another form of “slut shaming?” Does the notion she accepted the $130,000 invalidate those concerns completely? Does her reluctance to bring threats made against her to the police also work to undermine her arguments? On top of all this, even if Daniels were a victim, would the public be putting her lower than, say, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez, one of Harvey Weinstein’s more recent victims (from 2015) and a key figure in his downfall, in their continuum of esteem simply because she (Daniels) is a sex worker?

These are seemingly problematic questions even for purported liberals and feminists, making it that much harder for women who tell their stories to find advocates when tabloids and other publications go out of their way to cast aspersions on their character. Battilana Gutierrez’s reward for shedding light on Weinstein’s misdeeds was a slew of negative press about her and her apparent blacklisting in terms of modeling gigs. Kathleen Parker, a nationally-syndicated columnist for The Washington Post, pulled no punches in her negative assessment of Daniels, underscoring the fact she is not a victim and that she could’ve resisted the advances of a man to whom she had no attraction, suggesting she is no more than an attention-seeker “whose principal purpose is to facilitate her audience’s onanistic gratifications,” and asking, point blank, “Who cares about Stephanie Clifford, really?” Jeez Laweez, Ms. Parker. She is a human being, after all.

Even if you, the reader, are not as brutal as Kathleen Parker in your condemnation of Stormy Daniels or as dismissive of the whole affair with Donald Trump, you might very well share her sentiment of “Who cares?” Particularly if we are subjecting this case to the “whatabout-ism” that evidently plagues today’s politics and political analysis, the encounter occurred 12 years ago—before Trump was President of the United States—and thus meriting a distinction from the antics of someone like Bill Clinton. By this token, it’s old news, and plus, nobody got hurt. Daniels got her money and is getting mainstream attention. Everyone wins, right? Besides, it’s not like this is apt to damage Trump in any substantial way. After all, for some of us, it’s pretty hard to like him any less than we already do, if we’re thinking ahead to 2020. Nor will this episode lead to his impeachment, even though that is a “careful what you wish for” scenario given that Mike “Tonight We’re Gonna Party Like It’s 1699” Pence is next in line.

Even the business of Michael Cohen facilitating a hush money payment to Daniels and potentially violating campaign finance laws is likely considered weak sauce to many. On the campaign finance side, as serious as the implications are for this scenario (recall the close proximity of Cohen’s payment to Election Day) and topic undermining democracy, election financing is not a sexy topic. Not when the fate of Dreamers remains uncertain or when people like Stephon Clark are getting shot 20 times by police or when high schoolers have to become activists on gun law reform because previous generations have failed to do their part. There are so many issues facing our country and our world today, and election laws, assuming we are even familiar with them or understand them, aren’t the attention-grabber that they could or perhaps even should be, another aspect of the political process about which to throw up our hands and “wish” we could change.

As for CBS’s decision to make the Stormy Daniels story its feature presentation on 60 Minutes, the network and the show’s producers are being criticized in their own right for their seeming opportunism. Sure, they may have delved into consideration of campaign finance law and possible infractions therein, but as some would have it, what they were peddling was, ahem, trumped-up smut that appealed to a lower common denominator. Stephen Galloway, executive editor for The Hollywood Reporter, indicates as much in a response piece to the Daniels interview’s airing:

Landing an interview with the porn star was a terrific scoop for Anderson Cooper, but it further lowered an already low bar on broadcast and cable. It was the kind of thing once reserved for the tabloids, until the dividing line between tabloid and mainstream vanished with the Monica Lewinsky scandal that came to light exactly a quarter-century ago.

Twenty-five years since the media indulged in an orgy of Lewinsky coverage, nothing’s changed for the better. The sordid and the squalid are still given priority over anything that might shape actual lives.

Sure, 60 Minutes tricked up its interview with talk of campaign finance and the legal risks to President Trump, just like all the news media that have been breathless in Daniels’ pursuit; but deep down, its producers knew we were looking for smut. We were eager for dirt, anxious to glean any detail of licks and tickles and bites. We wanted the licentious, the kind that Standards and Practices probably would never have permitted on the air.

There’s nothing wrong with that — to a degree. But in giving Daniels and her peers so much attention, TV is leaving no room for anything else. Switch on the evening news and you barely get a glimpse of the important events around the world. Turn on cable and it’s even worse: an endless recycling of the same three or four stories, with nary a sop to Brexit or the UN or the refugee crisis that’s upending nation states and devastating millions of lives.

Severe lack of confidence in the media, including cable news, has been brewing for some time now, and for what Galloway’s comments are worth, this TMZ-worthy fodder probably won’t help. Worse yet, Trump supporters probably see this story as further evidence of bias against Donald Trump and a deliberate attempt by the “liberal left” to take down the President. Such a reactionary attitude is reminiscent of the quip that it’s not paranoia if everyone is truly out to get you, but I’ll leave it up for you to decide whether or not CBS is merely trying to get a rise out of its viewers or is interested in pursuing legitimate news.

Going back to the subject of morality, what may be of greatest value with respect to the Stormy Daniels affair is any additional strain this puts on evangelicals and other Christians who contort themselves to defend “Two Corinthians” Trump despite his “lapses” and, while we’re keeping it 100, his ignorance of the Good Book itself. Christians, by and large, went hard for Trump in spite of his adultery, his less-than-fervent commitment to a “love thy neighbor” outlook, and his petty name-calling leading up to the 2016 election. To some, this is just another indication that many ultra-conservative Christians are hypocrites, the likes of whom are standing behind Trump because he defends their positions on abortion, “religious liberty,” and other matters of heightened importance to them.

Then again, it may be simply in the Christian spirit to forgive one for his or her trespasses. Of course, it would help this theory if Trump were to actually admit he has “sinned,” and not only does Trump refuse to acknowledge he had sexual relations with Daniels, but he apparently has commented that he doesn’t even find her attractive. This seems highly dubious, as anyone with a pulse seems more like his speed, but again, you can believe what you choose to believe.

Whether or not you care about whether or not Donald Trump cheated on Melanie with a porn star and later paid her off/threatened her is one thing, but why you care or don’t care is another. Discussions about how we regard Stormy Daniels and sex workers in general, how much importance we place on getting money out of politics, and whether morality matters in today’s politics are all worth having. For all the time spent watching what is captured through a camera’s lens, we should be turning the lens around and seeing what our own reactions say about us.

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Don’t Mess with Robert Mueller

Robert Mueller could probably kill you. Even if he’s just prosecuting you, though, you should still be afraid. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

What did you wish for in advance of 2018? One thing I am hoping for—but not banking on happening by any meansis that Robert Mueller and his team will be allowed to conduct their investigation into possible collusion between members of Donald Trump’s campaign and Russian officials undisturbed. As time wears on, my concern and the worries of many stand to grow as more and more Republicans begin to voice their opposition to the Mueller probe. Devin Nunes’ apparent assault on the credibility and unbiased work of Mueller and Co. is particularly troublesome for many, as Karoun Demirjian writes for The Washington Post. As you might recall, Nunes, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, stepped away from his involvement in leading the Committee’s own investigation into matters of Russia after he was accused of improperly disclosing classified information; this information was related to his own accusation of impropriety on the part of the Obama administration in exposing the identities of individuals tied to Trump on surveillance reports. Since being cleared of wrongdoing, however, per Demirjian, Nunes has stepped up his attacks on Mueller’s team and federal law enforcement agencies working with the probe, and while some Republicans in the House close to Nunes have distanced themselves from his tactics, other GOP members of the House Intelligence Committee seem willing to challenge the Mueller investigation with allegations of corruption.

The basis for any insinuations of bias or improper procedure herein seem to exist with respect to the revelation that members of Robert Mueller’s investigative team—who have since been removed from their roles—exchanged anti-Trump texts. Putting aside what appears to be that minor issue as well as other dubious proof of anti-Trump prejudice such as past criticisms of Trump by an FBI official and donations to Democratic Party candidates, there are those who object to the Mueller probe on the basis that it involves the criminal justice system into the workings of the executive and legislative branches. On both counts, though, there is ample room to debate whether these elements/qualities of the investigation merit a curtailing of or ending to it. David E. Kendall, an attorney at Williams & Connolly LLP, recently authored an opinion piece outlining his case for why Robert Mueller should be left alone. While we’re considering possible prejudice in forming opinions or effecting courses of action, it should be noted that Kendall’s firm represents Bill and Hillary Clinton, and has even since the time of the Kenneth Starr investigation into Bill’s, ahem, affairs.

Nevertheless, I would submit Kendall makes a compelling set of arguments as to why Republican criticism of the Mueller probe is overblown. First of all, on the idea that any anti-Trump prejudice has tainted the investigation:

In his Dec. 24 Sunday Opinion commentary, former Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr proposed a “reset” of the Russia investigation in which Congress “steps up” to establish a bipartisan investigative panel and the “executive branch’s approach” changes from criminal law enforcement to some kind of nebulous fact-finding. Despite its bland profession of respect for the probe, Starr’s column was really just a subtler version of suddenly pervasive efforts by Trump apologists to undermine the investigation into Russian tampering with the 2016 election.

The reasons given for Starr’s reset are wholly specious: There is ostensibly a “drumbeat of criticism” aimed at special counsel Robert S. Mueller III which “has become deafening,” including “cascading revelations of anti-Trump bias.” This is true only on Fox News, in President Trump’s tweets and in the shoe pounding of the Freedom Caucus at legislative hearings. The claims of bias amount to some private comments of an FBI official criticizing candidate Trump (and other candidates). Despite the fact that government employees are entitled to have political opinions (so long as they do not interfere with their work, and there was no evidence of this), Mueller promptly removed this official.

The key thought in this reasoning is that there is no proof that any criticisms of Donald Trump as candidate or POTUS have impaired the investigation or have prevented it from being able to fairly assess whether there is evidence of the Trump campaign trying to collude with Russia and sway the 2016 presidential election. The obvious retort is that there is no proof these remarks haven’t compromised Mueller’s probe, but then again, that’s not how the law works—or at least is not how it’s supposed to work. You are innocent until proven guilty, no? In referencing Starr’s column in this way, David Kendall also responds to possible conflicts of interest regarding senior aides to Robert Mueller donating in the past to Democrats’ campaigns—which likewise do not mean the investigation can’t be conducted in a professional manner, as was the case when Starr conducted his own investigation into Bill Clinton’s conduct while at the same time being a Republican donor—and the idea that the FBI deputy director’s wife once ran for a legislative seat with financial backing from a friend of the Clintons, which has little to no bearing on Trump’s matters considering that this relationship has long since been disclosed and cleared, and besides, this deputy director is not even a part of Mueller’s team.

As for the notion championed by Kenneth Starr and others that a bipartisan congressional investigation is preferable to this independent investigation on Robert Mueller’s part, there are any number of ways that Kendall, or you, or I could attack this reason for a “reset” of the Russia probe. Before I get rolling with my pontification, I’ll let Mr. Kendall have the floor first. From the op-ed:

Starr’s misleading call for a “Watergate model” ignores the work of the Watergate Special Prosecution Force. It is true that the investigations of the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973 and of the House Judiciary Committee in 1974 were generally bipartisan and produced valuable information. But equally important was the work of the Watergate special prosecutor, first Archibald Cox and then Leon Jaworski, who fairly and thoroughly investigated criminal wrongdoing by President Richard M. Nixon and many of his top officials. It was that office’s successful pursuit of the Nixon White House tape recordings all the way through the Supreme Court, and its successful prosecution of several Nixon officials, that finally revealed the facts about Watergate.

So while a thorough, public, fair and bipartisan congressional investigation of Russian tampering would be terrific, good luck with that. Benghazi hearings anyone? The House and Senate intelligence committees have for months been conducting hearings on these issues, but these have been, particularly in the House, partisan, meandering, contentious and closed-door. And calling for a vague “fundamental . . . reset within the halls of the executive branch” on the part of the Trump administration is also utterly unrealistic. Firing the special counsel and all his staff would be the most likely “reset” by this White House.

Especially with the likes of a Trump apologist like Devin Nunes lurking, it would indeed seem unlikely that a fair investigation into Trump and Russia is possible in the current political climate. Either way, though, Kenneth Starr’s deprecation of Mueller, described by David Kendall as “a decorated Marine combat veteran, a Republican and a highly esteemed, long-serving law-enforcement professional,” is curious. I mean, the man was only able to serve as director of the FB-freaking-I for 12 years, a tenure that spanned presidents of different parties. If Robert Mueller, as a Republican, could challenge the George W. Bush White House on the use of unconstitutional domestic wiretapping and could disagree with the use of “enhanced interrogation” techniques in questioning terrorists, it is reasonable to assert that the man would be able to put politics aside to assess whether or not Trump and Co. acted specifically to obstruct justice. If the results of the probe thus far are any indication, after all, Mueller’s work has been fruitful indeed. Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign director from June to August 2016, and Rick Gates, Manafort’s business associate and deputy of the campaign while Manafort was in charge, have already been charged in connection with the Mueller investigation. And Michael Flynn, the short-tenured Trump National Security adviser, has already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacting Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak. This would not seem to be small potatoes.

The above doesn’t even include important considerations about those pointing the finger at Robert Mueller, nor does it mention another facet about findings from the American intelligence community that seemingly gets lost in the conversation about the viability of the investigation. With specific regard to Kenneth Starr, for instance, and as David Kendall alludes to, Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Bill Clinton was highly politicized, and as far as Congress goes, the trend seems to have continued into fairly recent times. See also the Benghazi probe. Different Clinton, same (largely speaking) waste of time and other resources. Even more importantly, though, if we believe the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community on Russian meddling in our elections, then there is a formal acknowledgment of a deliberate attempt by Russia to hurt the chances of Hillary Clinton in the election and to disparage her in favor of Donald Trump, as well as to undermine the confidence of the American people in the electoral process. One might well argue U.S. politics has already done its part to grease the proverbial slope of eroding confidence in this institution, so it’s doubtful that the Russians should receive too much credit simply for giving it a push, if you will, but at any rate, the desired effects were achieved. Even if such meddling did not yield the same impact, however, the level of concern about the integrity and security of our electoral process should be very high, for democracy’s sake.

This dovetails into my own common-sense reasoning on the matter of whether Donald Trump and those around him should be above the kind of scrutiny that Robert Mueller’s probe entails. Owing to how serious the issue of corruptibility of the American electoral process isand by this, I mean primarily from foreign sources, though there would certainly seem to be enough to go around on the domestic frontif Republicans and their ilk are truly serious about national security, and not just in the arena of border security and terrorism, they would welcome this investigation. After all, Pres. Trump is presumed innocent, right? Going back to the Karoun Demirjian article about Devin Nunes and characterizations of the House Intelligence Committee investigation, if Democrats’ depictions are true, then numerous flaws plague this look into any possible Trump-Russia connections, including denied requests for documents related to/interviews of key witnesses, as well as a haphazard schedule marked by overlapping interview times that is difficultif not impossibleto follow. As Demirjian characterizes this situation, per critics of the House probe, it all amounts to mere window-dressing to make the investigation seem respectable, but in the end, the key figures behind it already have their mind made up to absolve Trump and undercut Mueller’s examination of the evidence. Assuming the Mueller probe is not an abject waste of time, then, what do we presume is truly motivating resistance from the right to its very existence? Is it pure partisan politics? Or, and not merely to be a conspiracy theorist, do critics of the Mueller investigation fear that Donald Trump and those close to him are actually guilty?

The obvious and present concern with Robert Mueller’s investigation is how Donald Trump—the big fish at the heart of this episode of prosecutorial justice, as many see him—might try to screw with things on his end. It makes the obvious and present follow-up question to this concern, “Well, can Trump fire Mueller?” In a word, kinda? Laura Jarrett, reporting for CNN, explores this subject in a piece (very directly) titled, “Can Donald Trump fire Robert Mueller? And how would it work?” Under special prosecutorial regulations, the President can’t directly remove someone like Mueller—that function would go to the Attorney General. As you might recall, Jeff “Hmm, Maybe I Did Talk to a Russian Ambassador After All” Sessions has recused himself from investigative matters related to the 2016 election, meaning Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, the man who appointed Mueller in the first place, would be the one to fire him. Rosenstein, at least from public statements, has indicated that he sees no reason to get rid of Mueller. (For the record, Trump, too, said he has no plans to send Mueller packing, but then again, the man is a lying liar who lies, so take his words with many grains of salt.) So, what Trump could do is fire Sessions, fire Rosenstein, and then the next person up could fire Mueller. Or, getting yet more theoretical, Trump could order the special prosecutorial regulations repealed and then he could fire Mueller himself. I mean, Trump has already broken with any number of conventions—what’s a few more?

The follow-up question to the follow-up question to the aforementioned obvious and present concern, then, is, “Should Donald Trump fire Robert Mueller even if he can?” Jarrett also addresses this, saying that, much as the decision to fire James Comey for apparent political reasons brought Trump additional and unwanted scrutiny, removing Mueller from the investigation would further suggest our President has something to hide. Furthermore, there’s every likelihood that firing Mueller won’t even kill his probe, as FBI Director Christopher Wray would take the reins and would presumably forge ahead with the investigation. The caveat to all this is, constitutionally speaking, the President of the United States is the head of law enforcement as the top dog in the executive branch. Consequently, if Trump were to give absolutely zero f**ks and get rid of Mueller himself, it doesn’t seem like there would be much legal recourse to challenge him on this point. For all the reverence the Constitution inspires, this apparent flaw in its design is one that Trump’s flippant disregard for this cornerstone of American law tests in a major way. The resemblance to Watergate, of course, is readily apparent. With Nixon, though, the man was facing certain impeachment and removal for his misdeeds. With Trump, there’s no same guarantee congressional Republicans would want to see him oustedespecially not after seeing their garbage tax plan get signed into law. By and large, the GOP is getting what it wants from Trump. Should, say, Trump’s approval rating become toxically low, though, or should Republicans lose control of the House, the Senate, or both, maybe the situation changes. That so much control is currently in the hands of President Agent Orange, Devin Nunes, and other sympathetic Republicans, meanwhile, is less than inspiring.

At least in advance of the 2018 midterms, though, it might just behoove Nunes et al. not to mess with Robert Mueller. If the opinions of voters mean anything to them, especially as regards their esteem of Mueller, they could be putting their personal political prospects in danger.

You Down with TPP? Yeah, You Shouldn’t Be

Many would insist that the TPP would be better used as TP, and based on its language which primarily benefits rich corporations and wealth investors, it’s hard to argue against these sentiments. (Photo Credit: Alex Milan Tracy)

Want to see the negative side of party politics? Take a gander at the divisions that exist within the Democratic Party with respect to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and you’ll see how solidarity for the sake of solidarity means that choices can be made for constituents in a way that serves only the political apparatus and goes against what lawmakers themselves believe.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is a successor to the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP), which was originally signed in 2005 by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore. In terms of membership for the TPP, in addition to the four aforementioned nations already serving as parties to the TPSEP, as of February 4, 2016, eight additional countries are named as signatories: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States and Vietnam. In terms of the stated justifications for the U.S.’s participation as a party to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the International Trade Administration, a subset of the Department of Commerce, illuminates the reasons. Per the ITA page on the TPP:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will reduce the cost of exporting, increase competitiveness of U.S. firms, and promote fairness. It also reflects our values on issues including labor, the environment, and human rights. TPP delivers for middle-class families, supports jobs, and furthers our national security.

The agreement will eliminate tariffs, lower service barriers, and increase transparency while also increasing competitiveness by instituting stronger intellectual property rights protection and establishing enforceable labor and environmental obligations.

The TPP will promote fairness by ensuring non-discriminatory treatment of U.S. goods and services; establishing rules for fair competition with State-owned enterprises; and providing the same rights and protections for U.S. investors that foreign investors currently enjoy in the United States while protecting the inherent right of governments to regulate.

Through this agreement, the United States is seeking to support the creation and retention of high-quality jobs at home by increasing American exports to a region that includes some of the world’s most robust economies.

If all that doesn’t have you sold, according to Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, “The TPP is a modern and tough trade agreement, reflecting our values on labor, the environment, and human rights,” and to quote Under Secretary Stefan Selig, “TPP will give U.S. business improved access to eleven Pacific Rim markets collectively representing 40% of global GDP.” Wow. The TPP sounds like the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Just for kicks, why don’t we consider what people outside the Obama administration have to say about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, shall we? Robert Reich, a well-regarded economist and someone who has served in the administrations of multiple presidents, was initially bullish on free trade, but has since changed his tune in light of what he sees as a seismic shift in the nature of trade agreements. As Reich underscores in a blog post about the “new truth about free trade,” while the “old-style” agreements of the 60s and 70s increased demand for American goods and, therefore, stimulated domestic job growth, the “new-style” agreements enhance profits for corporations and wealthy investors while keeping wages low, such that the motivation on the part of big companies is based on direct foreign investment, not trade. In terms of corporations’ benefits, deals like the TPP are all about access to new markets and customers as well as greater protection of their intellectual property. Reich explains:

Recent “trade” deals have been wins for big corporations and Wall Street, along with their executives and major shareholders, because they get better direct access to foreign markets and billions of consumers.

They also get better protection for their intellectual property – patents, trademarks, and copyrights – and for their overseas factories, equipment, and financial assets.

That’s why big corporations and Wall Street are so enthusiastic about the Trans Pacific Partnership – the giant deal among countries responsible for 40 percent of the global economy.

That deal would give giant corporations even more patent protection overseas. And it would allow them to challenge any nation’s health, safety, and environmental laws that stand in the way of their profits – including our own. But recent trade deals haven’t been wins for most Americans.

By making it easier for American corporations to make things abroad, the deals have reduced the bargaining power of American workers to get better wages here.

Clearly, Robert Reich is not enamored with the Trans-Pacific Partnership—and he is not alone. Bernie Sanders has been a vocal opponent of the TPP, as he has been with respect to other free trade deals in the past such as CAFTA, NAFTA and PNTR with China. (Sanders has been notably silent, meanwhile, on Fanta, but that is because it is a line of beverages. With, for whatever reason, up-tempo Latin music and dancing girls.) You can read his prepared statement on the agreement here, but here’s an excerpt from the document:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a disastrous trade agreement designed to protect the interests of the largest multi-national corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy. It will also negatively impact some of the poorest people in the world.

The TPP is a treaty that has been written behind closed doors by the corporate world.  Incredibly, while Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry and major media companies have full knowledge as to what is in this treaty, the American people and members of Congress do not. They have been locked out of the process.

Further, all Americans, regardless of political ideology, should be opposed to the “fast track” process which would deny Congress the right to amend the treaty and represent their constituents’ interests.

The TPP follows in the footsteps of other unfettered free trade agreements like NAFTA, CAFTA and the Permanent Normalized Trade Agreement with China (PNTR).  These treaties have forced American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage labor around the world. The result has been massive job losses in the United States and the shutting down of tens of thousands of factories. These corporately backed trade agreements have significantly contributed to the race to the bottom, the collapse of the American middle class and increased wealth and income inequality.  The TPP is more of the same, but even worse.

Hmm, between what the Obama administration says about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and what Robert Reich, Bernie Sanders and others have to offer, there is a lot to bite off and chew, and much of it contradictory. Might we get a viewpoint (and thus, even more to ingest) from an independent source, one that is both nonpartisan and nonprofit? Robert E. Scott of the Economic Policy Institute believes unequivocally that putting the provisions of the TPP into force would be bad for workers in the United States and in other member countries. From his press release:

The TPP, which is an agreement to manage trade and investment on behalf of large corporations, will put downward pressure on wages of workers in the United States, and will likely lead to growing trade deficits and job displacement. Both outsourcing and the growing use of parts from non-TPP countries will lead to rising imports, increasing trade deficits and job losses in the United States. Meanwhile, core issues like currency manipulation and abusive labor practices in Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam, and Brunei are addressed only in weak side agreements, or agreements that cannot be enforced for at least five years, if at all.

By extending U.S. copyright and patent protections to consumers in the rest of the TPP, which will dramatically increase the prices of prescription drugs, the treaty will shift billions in profits to big pharmaceutical companies while denying access to life-saving medicines to countless poor consumers. The agreement will encourage the growth of outsourcing to low-wage export platforms in countries like Vietnam and Malaysia, and create a back door for dumped and subsidized imports from China and other non-TPP members to enter the United States duty-free or at preferential TPP tariff rates.

The United States could have negotiated an effective TPP that addressed currency manipulation, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and harmonized financial regulations upwards. Instead, the TPP supports a race to the bottom in international regulations that will primarily benefit multinational corporations at the expense of workers and consumers in the United States and other TPP countries.

Not really a ringing endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is it? Scott’s arguments seem to fly directly in the face of the assertions put forth by Secretary of Commerce Pritzker et al. as reasons why the TPP should be put into force. According to him, we won’t be gaining jobs, but losing them, with wages remaining depressed. Those protections for intellectual property rights touted by the Department of Commerce? Among other things, they would likely cause the cost of medicines to skyrocket, and regardless, put more power in the hands of pharmaceutical companies. And what about some of these other issues? Currency manipulation? Environmental standards? Financial regulations? Overall, Robert E. Scott seems to point to an accord that favors corporations and leaves their powers in trade amongst the signatories dangerously unchecked. While heavy-handed regulation of industry (“red tape””) can have deleterious effects on businesses, lax restrictions are an issue in their own right. To think about this in another way, as a general rule, many tend to be wary of any legislation which gives more power to corporations that are already so influential in the political sphere—myself included.

If the Trans-Pacific Partnership were so great, the details would have been made more readily available sooner. That says something. (Photo Credit: SumOfUs/Flickr

If you’re wondering why you didn’t hear about something as monumental as the TPP prior to the 12 member nations signing it in February of this year, this is not entirely a coincidence, and on top of all the purported negative economic effects of putting it into force, the legislative aspect of America’s involvement with the treaty is a bone of certain contention, and is worth its own academic study. Michael Wessel, a liaison to two statutory advisory committees, international co-chair for the John Kerry-John Edwards presidential campaign, and a former commissioner on the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission, penned an op-ed on Politico detailing the secretive nature of the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s negotiations. As Wessel explains:

The text of the TPP, like all trade deals, is a closely guarded secret. That fact makes a genuine public debate impossible and should make robust debate behind closed doors all the more essential. But the ability of TPP critics like me to point out the deal’s many failings is limited by the government’s surprising and unprecedented refusal to make revisions to the language in the TPP fully available to cleared advisors.

If cleared advisors weren’t even afforded a full text, logically speaking, what chance did the rest of us have? It’s not like the concerns within the text, leading up to President Obama signing on behalf of the United States, were unimportant ones, either. Michael Wessel goes on to say:

Questions pervade virtually every chapter of the proposed agreement, including labor and the environment, investor-state, intellectual property and others. The answers to these questions affect the sourcing and investment decisions of our companies and resulting jobs for our people.

In particular, the issue is with the idea of “fast track” legislation. What is Fast Track, you might ask? Well, let’s go to the Clinton-era version of the White House website to find out, which looks like it was made on Angelfire, Geocities, or something of that ilk. (Love those animated American flag GIFs!) On a page devoted specifically to Fast Track, we find this information:

The Constitution gives Congress exclusive authority to set tariffs and enact other legislation governing internation trade. The President has the Constitutional authority to negotiate international agreements. If the President negotiates a trade agreement that requires changes in U.S. tariffs or in other domestic laws, that trade agreement’s implementing legislationmust be submitted to Congress — or the President must have Congress’ advance approval of such changes.

Fast track is an expedited procedure for Congressional consideration of trade agreements. It requires Congress to vote on an agreement without reopening any of its provisions, while retaining the ultimate power of voting it up or down. The three essential features of any fast track authority are:

(1) extensive consultations and coordination with Congress throughout the process;
(2) a vote on implementing legislation within a fixed period of time; and
(3) an up or down vote, with no amendments.

Ultimately, fast track gives the President credibility to negotiate tough trade deals, while ensuring Congress a central role before, during and after negotiations. The authority puts America in a strong position to negotiate major trade agreements and maintains a partnership between the President and Congress that has worked for more than 20 years.

Sounds great, right? Except for the notion its critics liken it to “rubber stamping” legislation, and specifically, the Obama’s administration employ of it with respect to the TPP has come under fire from numerous Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Michael Wessel notes the difference in tone set between Bill Clinton’s approach to free trade pacts and that of his Democratic Party presidential successor in that same Politico piece:

Bill Clinton didn’t operate like this. During the debate on NAFTA, as a cleared advisor for the Democratic leadership, I had a copy of the entire text in a safe next to my desk and regularly was briefed on the specifics of the negotiations, including counterproposals made by Mexico and Canada. During the TPP negotiations, the  United States Trade Representative (USTR) has never shared proposals being advanced by other TPP partners. Today’s consultations are, in many ways, much more restrictive than those under past administrations.

All advisors, and any liaisons, are required to have security clearances, which entail extensive paperwork and background investigations, before they are able to review text and participate in briefings. But, despite clearances, and a statutory duty to provide advice, advisors do not have access to all the materials that a reasonable person would need to do the job. The negotiators provide us with “proposals” but those are merely initial proposals to trading partners. We are not allowed to see counter-proposals from our trading partners. Often, advisors are provided with updates indicating that the final text will balance all appropriate stakeholder interests but we frequently receive few additional details beyond that flimsy assurance.

To stress, while we may know more about the Trans-Pacific Partnership today subsequent to Obama’s signing, leading up to that event, despite the insistence of his administration that the TPP is meant to encourage transparency, negotiations were recognizably opaque. As its detractors are quick to point out, this has a lot to do with the influence of various industries in its development—industries not exactly known for their regard for the American people. In particular, corporations already well versed in outsourcing, pharmaceutical giants and Wall Street firms had a hand in its authorship, and it shows in the language. The TPP allows big companies to challenge laws of member countries that it deems would unfairly and detrimentally affects its profits, in doing so suing these nations in international tribunals rather than domestic courts and giving little thought to environmental safeguards, food safety standards and human rights records of those countries who serve as a party to the agreement. By protecting and potentially strengthening patents for monopolistic drug companies, the TPP lets them keep prices artificially high, maximize profits and thereby prevent the people who really need their products from being able to afford them. In addition, the TPP bars foreign governments from instituting controls on the flow of capital in and out of their respective nations, which lends itself to market instability and the risk of financial crisis. In short, the Trans-Pacific Partnership works mainly for the wealthy corporations and investors which made their political presence felt—without much regard for workers domestic or abroad, and for that matter, the general public.

President Obama, front and center here, is a proponent of the TPP despite dissent within the Democratic Party. Because of party politics, however, Democratic loyalists won’t challenge him on the agreement’s flaws. (Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

OK, so the TPP is a hot mess, right? Bernie Sanders has ten reasons why he thinks it’s a train wreck in the making. Elizabeth Warren, who has been bandied about as a potential vice presidential pick for Hillary Clinton, also has voiced her concerns about this treaty. Shit, even Hillary herself has come out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I don’t know to what extent she actually believes it’s a bad idea—Hillary conveniently reassessed her position on the TPP after Sanders started gaining ground on her in the race for the Democratic Party nomination, and after she herself declared the TPP the “gold standard”  in free trade deals—but she most recently has said she opposes it. So, as far as the official Democratic Party platform goes in advance of the election, this should be a slam dunk, shouldn’t it?

Not so fast, Skippy. We’re forgetting about the part party politics has to play, and as far as slam dunks are concerned, no one in the Democratic Party is going to throw down on Barack Obama—figuratively or literally. Dude can ball. President Obama, unlike Clinton, Sanders and Warren, believes in the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I mean, he should if he’s signing it. Obama penned an editorial for the Washington Post earlier this year regarding his support for the TPP, and had this to say in closing:

I understand the skepticism people have about trade agreements, particularly in communities where the effects of automation and globalization have hit workers and families the hardest. But building walls to isolate ourselves from the global economy would only isolate us from the incredible opportunities it provides. Instead, America should write the rules. America should call the shots. Other countries should play by the rules that America and our partners set, and not the other way around.

That’s what the TPP gives us the power to do. That’s why my administration is working closely with leaders in Congress to secure bipartisan approval for our trade agreement, mindful that the longer we wait, the harder it will be to pass the TPP. The world has changed. The rules are changing with it. The United States, not countries like China, should write them. Let’s seize this opportunity, pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership and make sure America isn’t holding the bag, but holding the pen.

President Obama gives a lot of information within his essay, but this last bit speaks volumes to me. Regardless of any other pointed economic justifications in favor of the TPP, America’s involvement as a key party to the accord, when it comes to brass tacks, is about authority, about marking our economic territory in the face of an emerging China. It would not be unfair to suggest, therefore, that Obama’s actions in advancing the TPP are taking a strong position for the sake of furthering a narrative about the U.S. economy, and not necessarily for the strong position in which it puts American workers.

Thinking once more in terms of the drafting of the Democratic Party platform, therein lies the rub. Many Democratic leaders may privately find fault with the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but for the sake of party unity—that ideal apparently prized above all others among establishment Democrats—they wouldn’t dare to challenge the most powerful Dem in all the land, even one who’s a lame duck on his way out. Either that or it’s loyalty—to a fault. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, Peter Nicholas quotes one platform member and Clinton supporter as saying, “I thought it was important not to embarrass President Obama. Later in the article, Nicholas describes a testy exchange between a Sanders supporter and an Obama-phile, with the latter reportedly accusing the former of “giving a middle finger to the president.” Bernie Sanders and his delegates have consistently voiced their opposition to the TPP, but because they refuse to play the party politics game, and in Sanders’ specific case, because he has only been a Democrat for a short time, they, evidently, are the assholes. Even though they may have a more legitimate claim than their critics to the kind of progressive agenda that the Democratic Party truly needs.

For Democrats to be more worried about Barack Obama’s feelings and legacy with respect to their support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership when real lives in the United States and in the other member countries hang in the balance is unconscionable, or as Robert Reich puts it, “incredibly stupid,” if for no other reason than it gives Donald Trump, an outspoken critic of the TPP, NAFTA and like trade deals, more ammunition leading up to the general election. That so many mainstream Republicans support the agreement, a treaty which favors Big Pharma, multinational corporations and Wall Street because they helped write it, should’ve been a tip-off that this bit of foreign economic policy is ill-advised for a party which is trying to sell itself as the working person’s party. As unpopular as NAFTA has proven in labor circles, concerning the TPP, which has been referred to as “NAFTA on steroids,” any support on the part of the Democratic Party communicates the wrong message as to whose corner the party is in—namely that of moneyed interests over the public interest.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been signed by President Obama, but has yet to go into full force, as Congress has yet to vote yea or nay on its adoption, so there’s still time for the public to voice its rejection of what the TPP in its current form represents; for your part, I encourage you to sign any number of petitions that have been started in protest against the agreement. If the Democratic Party’s elite were smart, they would come out more strongly against its passage by the House and Senate. As evidenced by their inability or unwillingness to move beyond party politics on this issue, however, establishment Democrats are proving they are neither very courageous nor smart. Come November and in the years to follow, they could very well find themselves adding “rueful” to this list of descriptors.

No Further Questions?

FBI director James Comey doesn’t recommend charges be filed over Hillary Clinton’s use of E-mail on unsecured personal servers, but in light of his criticisms of the former Secretary of State, he’s going to have a heck of a time explaining why not. (Photo Credit: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

In the Season 6 finale of Game of Thrones—and yes, this contains spoilers, because if there’s one show you need to watch and not get behind on, it’s this one, so I have no qualms about spoiling it for you; I mean, for Christ’s sake, people stop watching Internet porn while it airs—Cersei Lannister looks to be in a difficult spot. She has been denied a trial by combat—with a gigantic man nicknamed “The Mountain” in her corner, mind you—and faces a hearing in front of the High Sparrow and, presumably, the gods, regarding a litany of alleged offenses, which we as viewers know largely to be true. So, after seasons of manipulating and scheming, it would seem as if Cersei is set to finally receive her comeuppance. We see her staring out the window from her lofty perch, imagining she might be simply counting down the moments to her grim fate, or perhaps finally showing a shred of remorse for her misdeeds and the general carnage she has wrought.

Eh, not so much. Like any true powerful villain, Cersei Lannister has an ace up her sleeve, or rather, the ultimate trump card in the form of barrels and barrels of Wildfire, an explosive substance hidden in a cache under the Sept of Baelor and thus conveniently located perilously close to where she is set to stand trial. Such that instead of actually facing responsibility for her actions, she instead orchestrates a way to detonate that Wildfire, blow up the Sept, and not only avoid any such consequences, but in one fell swoop, take out her major enemies within King’s Landing, namely that of the High Sparrow himself and of Margaery Tyrell, her chief rival in terms of power over the throne and over her son, Tommen, king of the realm and husband to Margaery. Well played, Cersei. Except for the fact Tommen, either so grief-stricken at the loss of his beloved, so fully aware now that he has been a puppet since he started wearing the crown, or both, that he decides the best course of action is to hurl himself out of the closest available window, thereby fulfilling the prophecy long ago told to Cersei that all her kids would die. Um, take the good with the bad, eh? This particular chapter of the Cersei Lannister ends with the blonde puppet-master herself now seated atop the Iron Throne as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. I mean, she pretty much has won the post by default, but regardless, there she is—hear her roar.

Why do I bring up Game of Thrones in a blog about politics, social issues and other topics related to current events? Because I imagine a lot of people, reacting to news that the FBI is not recommending that the Department of Justice levy charges against Hillary Clinton and her aides in her ongoing scandal about her use of a private E-mail server to respond to classified matters of state, feel about the same way regarding the twist of expectations. As with Cersei Lannister’s apparent ability to stack the deck in her favor and otherwise maneuver out of harm’s way, Hillary, faced with not one but two high-profile investigations (let’s not all of a sudden forget the recent to-do about her culpability in the attack on Benghazi), looks to be in the clear on both counts, at least in terms of criminal liability. And while Hillary may not be nearly as conniving as Cersei, that critics see a pattern of deception and lies without any legal repercussions which fits a Clintonian narrative that began with Bill’s own ethical and moral flexibility, shall we say, while in the Oval Office, has many observers convinced that both she and Bill play by a different set of rules than the ones you and I do. For all the talk of a “rigged” economy and political system this election cycle, Hillary Clinton’s “great escape” can be seen as a prime example.

Before we get too ahead of ourselves, let’s step back a bit and revisit how the news broke. On Tuesday, FBI director James Comey spoke publicly to say that there was no evidence that Clinton intentionally transmitted or willfully handled classified information, and as such, per the Bureau’s judgment, “no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case.” Hillary’s top three aides—Huma Abedin, Cheryl Mills, and Jake Sullivan—also appear to have been cleared of wrongdoing. The transcript of Comey’s statement can be found here.

James Comey’s statement explains much about the painstaking process used to assess whether or not Hillary Clinton was guilty on two fronts: a felony count of mishandling classified information either intentionally or in a grossly negligent way, and a misdemeanor count of knowingly removing classified information from appropriate systems/storage facilities. While ultimately the Federal Bureau of Investigation claims to not have clear evidence of malfeasance on either count, Comey’s remarks are notable for their commentary on Hillary’s handling of the situation, as well as the notion they refute prior statements made by the former Secretary of State regarding specific actions during her tenure and as part of the FBI’s investigation. Gregory Krieg of CNN, in fact, highlighted the seven most damning lines on Hillary Clinton within James Comey’s speech, which I will enumerate with my own notes:

  1. “Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” While only 110 messages in 52 chains of the 30,000 messages analyzed by the FBI are reported to have contained classified information at the time of their transmission, this nonetheless refutes Clinton’s assertion than none of the E-mails were classified at they were received or sent. Ms. Clinton, your nose just grew a little.
  2. “There is evidence to support a conclusion that any reasonable person in Secretary Clinton’s position, or in the position of those with whom she was corresponding about those matters, should have known that an unclassified system was no place for that conversation.” Here we go with the whole “reasonable” person idea. We’ve already brought up what a “reasonable” prosecutor should or shouldn’t do, and now we have what a reasonable Cabinet member should do. Bear in mind Hillary isn’t the only one who has been found to have erred in this way, but if we’re trying each case on its merits, others’ lack of adherence to procedure shouldn’t have a bearing here.
  3. “None of these emails should have been on any kind of unclassified system, but their presence is especially concerning because all of these emails were housed on unclassified personal servers not even supported by full-time security staff, like those found at agencies and departments of the United States government—or even with a commercial email service like Gmail.” Yeesh. You know, as a government unit charged with the sanctity of sensitive information, that when your level of security is being compared to that of Google’s, you’re doing something wrong.
  4. “Only a very small number of the emails containing classified information bore markings indicating the presence of classified information. But even if information is not marked ‘classified’ in an email, participants who know or should know that the subject matter is classified are still obligated to protect it.” This sentiment is particularly intriguing for two reasons: 1) even if the percentage is small of messages containing classified info (less than 1%), according to this argument, the absolute number carries more weight, and 2) no matter whether or not a message says “classified” or not, discerning minds should know better. Should.
  5. “While not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department in general, and with respect to use of unclassified email systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information that is found elsewhere in the government.” Cybersecurity is a serious issue these days, such that the State Department’s evidently cavalier attitude toward these matters does not inspire confidence in the agency as a whole—nor does it speak highly to the tone set at the top by the person in charge.
  6. “We do assess that hostile actors gained access to the private commercial email accounts of people with whom Secretary Clinton was in regular contact from her personal account. We also assess that Secretary Clinton’s use of a personal email domain was both known by a large number of people and readily apparent.” OK, this definitely doesn’t inspire confidence. In fact, it’s downright scary that classified information was accessed in this way, and while there is a mitigating factor in terms of the zeal with which hackers may pursue access, this doesn’t change the idea that E-mail security should have been a top priority under Clinton’s watch.
  7. “She also used her personal email extensively while outside the United States, including sending and receiving work-related emails in the territory of sophisticated adversaries. Given that combination of factors, we assess it is possible that hostile actors gained access to Secretary Clinton’s personal email account.” See also #6. On a good intelligence day, lone wolf and splinter group terrorist attacks are still able to occur, such that “hostile” adversaries really don’t need the help. For someone who prospectively would have the ultimate responsibility of keeping America safe as Commander in Chief, this does not speak well of Hillary’s leadership abilities.

It should be noted that just because the FBI doesn’t recommend an indictment, this doesn’t mean that the Department of Justice can’t decide to still follow through with criminal charges of some form. Technically, then, Hillary Clinton is not completely out of the water. Then again, Hillary is technically not the Democratic Party nominee until party delegates make their official declaration at the Democratic National Convention. But, yeah, as much as I, H.A. Goodman, or any number of Bernie Sanders supporters might wish it, HRC is almost certainly not getting indicted, and almost certainly will be the Democratic Party nominee.

With that business aside, the reaction of many to the Bureau’s findings is characterized by disappointment, if not downright anger. Of course, Hillary Clinton could be caught in the act of littering, and people would still be calling for her head. Not to diminish littering, mind you—we only have one Earth, after all—I’m just trying to make a point about the antipathy the woman inspires. Even if objectivity is seemingly in short supply for all things related to Hillary, however, except for her staunchest supporters, the general consensus seems to be that something doesn’t add up in the Case of the Missing E-Mails. For one, it is not especially clear as to how Clinton’s actions, as “extremely careless” as they were, do not qualify as “gross negligence” and therefore do not satisfy the requirements for an indictment. As Julia Edwards of Reuters reports, the answer may have as much to do with legal precedent as much a wholly concrete definition of the term. According to the lawyers surveyed in the piece, without proof of specific intent of Hillary Clinton’s to share sensitive information with people not authorized to see it, under the Espionage Act, there is not much prior incidence of charging individuals along these lines. That is, recklessness does not necessarily equate to negligence. Donald Trump and other Republicans are quick to point to the example of General David Petraeus as being a superficially similar set of circumstances, but as the article and interviewees within highlight, Petraeus admitted to sharing confidential information with Paula Broadwell, his biographer and lover, and only did so after initially lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about doing so. There are appreciable differences in these two scenarios.

Then again, as amateur and professional legal analysts might argue, intent does not necessarily need to be present to qualify behavior as negligence. Meanwhile, as more recent testimony from Clinton’s top aides suggests, the former Secretary of State may have been more active in concealing certain evidence than mere carelessness would hint at. One surprising admission on the part of Huma Abedin when deposed was that Hillary Clinton put her daily schedule as Secretary of State in a “burn bag” on more than one occasion. Elsewhere in her deposition, Abedin was questioned on a message sent by Clinton regarding the latter’s demand that there not be “any risk of the personal being accessible” with respect to her E-mail, which may be read as Hillary trying to take normal precautions of safety (as Abedin chose to read it), or may be interpreted as HRC deliberately looking to hide government information. These details are surely no smoking gun, and some might even point to the knowledge that President George W. Bush’s staff burned his schedules, according to Brad Blakeman, Dubya’s former scheduler. And yet, it would be vaguely weird for Hillary Clinton to insist on making sure her printed schedules were unobtainable yet leave the door unlocked, so to speak, with respect to her electronic communications. Intent or no intent, the inconsistency is pretty embarrassing, simply put.

As tends to be the case with Hillary, it is not necessarily an act of explicit malice which defines her “dark side,” if you will, but an attitude or pattern of noncompliance under the premise that certain standards of normal conduct don’t apply, a modus operandi attributable to Bill, as well. The intersection of Mr. and Mrs. Clinton’s troubled legacies came to a head last week when the former just happened to run into the Attorney General Loretta Lynch at Phoenix Airport, and they just happened to talk about nothing pertaining to the investigation the agency Lynch heads has been conducting with respect to Mrs. Clinton, and it totally didn’t dawn on either of them that they shouldn’t be meeting like this. Notably on Bill’s part, as Robert Reich and others have insinuated, it speaks to a sense of entitlement. Granted, Bill and Hillary are not alone in feelings of hubris, so to speak, among the political elite in the United States and elsewhere, but they are hardly models on this dimension. After Slick Willie’s stunt on the tarmac in Arizona, one might venture to say they aren’t particularly careful or smart about it either. Bad optics? Even a blind person would be wont to think something looked fishy with that “chance encounter.”

Hillary Clinton and her supporters have been quick to turn the page following James Comey’s and the FBI’s recommendations not to indict the presumptive Democratic Party nominee, and their calls have been that much louder for Bernie Sanders to call it a campaign and fully get behind Clinton following the news; reportedly, Bernie has even been hearing jeers from other members of Congress growing more and more impatient with the absence of his endorsement. (If they were smart, establishment Democrats would take Sanders seriously in hearing about how to fix a party that has its own trust issues with the public; see also Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, for instance, who sided with Republicans and payday lenders against consumers. But they don’t seem terribly interested in that.) Even if charges are not filed against HRC, however, and even if Bernie Sanders gives that prized endorsement (because an endorsement means that his supporters will automatically jump at the chance to vote for Hillary, since they evidently are mindless drones who hang on Bernie’s every word), Comey’s criticisms are more or less a blueprint for Republican attack ads leading up to the election. Plus, on the heels of fault-finding by the Special Committee on Benghazi, if this is supposed to help the would-be “Madam President” on her perception problem, um, it’s not doing the job. In fact, for all the answers this FBI investigation was intended to provide, any number of questions loom large in the wake of James Comey’s press release.

Speaking of being quick to turn the page, the FBI director, after making his statement, took no questions from the media. It seems only fitting for a case like Hillary Clinton’s use of E-mail while serving as Secretary of Stare, in which adherence to protocol was suspect, and the integrity of evidence is questionable. At best, the findings point to poor judgment on the part of Hillary and her top aides, and that’s before considerations of potential ethics violations or woeful incompetence. Either way, the cloud of suspicion that has hung over Hillary Clinton will, in all probability, not go away anytime soon, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s own reputation stands to take a hit in its own right. “Fidelity, bravery, integrity?” Americans are less sure about that right now—myself included.