Thursday, May 25, 2017

Don Trumpoté de la Torre

When life itself seems lunatic, who knows where

madness lies? 

— Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Don Quixote de la Mancha

In the novel, Don Quixote is remembered for, among other things, tilting at windmills he believed to be hostile giants, as he travelled through Spain in search of perceived evils he could remedy, or people he could help. Instead of tilting at windmills, believing them to be giants, our very own DonTrumpoté, has been tilting at windmills by insisting that voter fraud is rampant in the United States. To rid the country of this evil, he has appointed a commission to study this non-existent problem and recommend solutions. By creating a commission to investigate a non-existent problem, Don Trumpoté guarantees that the perceived, but nonexistent evil of voter fraud, will remain on the front burner of the stove on which Don Trumpoté cooks all his facts.

To accompany him on his travels, and help him accomplish the goals he had set for himself, Don Quixote enlisted the help of Sancho Panza, a simple man who, unlike Don Quixote, was not delusional. When Don Trumpoté decided to attack voter fraud and established the “Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” he asked Sancho Kobach, to serve as the vice chair of the commission. At this point, and in fairness to Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza, it should be noted that Sancho Panza did not share Don Quixote’s delusions and, recognized that Don Quixote did not see things as they were. Sancho Kobach, by contrast, is every bit as delusional as Don Trumpoté, and had established his credentials in tilting at voter fraud prior to his appointment to the commission.

Sancho Kobach aka Kris Kobach, is the Kansas Secretary of State, and in that capacity has actively sought to eliminate and then prevent non-existent voter fraud. A Kansas law known as the Secure and Fair Elections Law was passed by the Kansas legislature to protect the state from nonexistent voter fraud. It was struck down by a federal court, insofar as it pertained to federal elections, and in striking it down, the judge observed that: “There is evidence of only three instances where noncitizens actually voted in a federal election between 1995 and 2013.” The judge further observed that during that same period, only 14 non-citizens attempted to vote. Although Sancho intended to appeal, he feared no favorable ruling could be obtained before the 2016 general election. He prevailed on the Kansas Rules and Regulation board to issue a temporary regulation in July 2016, to make it more difficult for people to vote, hoping that would prevent fraud in Kansas in the upcoming elections.

In early February 2017, White House Policy Advisor, Stephen Miller, was interviewed on an ABC Sunday morning show. When asked about Don Trumpeto’s claims of massive voter fraud during the 2016 election, Mr. Miller suggested that Sancho Kobach should be invited on to the show “because he can walk you through some of the evidence of voter fraud in greater detail.” The next day Sancho Kobach was interviewed on CNN by Kate Boduan, and was unable to provide any evidence of millions of cases of voter fraud. He did, however, say that in Kansas alone, six people had pled guilty to the crime of voting in two states, an indication, in Sancho’s mind, of rampant voter fraud. He was unable to provide any other evidence of massive voter fraud, but promised it would be forthcoming. The country is still waiting.

In addition to the federal judge who ruled in the Kansas case, Sancho Kobach’s belief in voter fraud is belied by the number of federal court cases that have examined the question. In one case in the U.S. court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the court observed, in a voting rights case before it, that in Arizona and Kansas “only a tiny fraction of one percent of registered voters were non-citizens.” In a Washington Post article in early December 2016, the paper found that there were four documented cases of voter fraud in the 2016 election.

Vice president Pence is chairing the advisory commission, but it is almost certainly Sancho who will be the actual leader since he has nothing else to do with his time. Mr. Pence said the commission would “review ways to strengthen the integrity of elections in order to protect and preserve the principle of one person, one vote, because the integrity of the vote is the foundation of our democracy.”

Commenting on the appointment of Sancho to the advisory commission, Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said that Sancho “might use his position on the presidential commission to sow doubt about the integrity of elections and then push to amend federal voting law to require proof of citizenship. . . . I mean, he’s the king of voter suppression.” Marc Veasey, co-chair of the House Voting Rights Caucus said: “During Secretary Kobach’s term, the state of Kansas implemented a severely restrictive voter ID law designed to discourage and suppress voters rather than assure fair elections. We all have reason to be wary of his intentions in leading this commission.”

At the end of the novel, Sancho Panza accompanies Don Quixote back to his home where, restored to sanity, he developed a fever that led to his death. Don Quixote’s bout with madness had no effect on Spain. It affected only Don Quixote. It is too bad that cannot be said about the madness of Don Trumpoté and Sancho Kobach.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Return Receipt Requested?

Oh for the good old days of heavy post-coaches and speed at the rate of six miles an hour.
— Philip Hone, Diary, November 28, 1834

The preferred way of answering the question would have been to give Sen. Lindsey Graham (R.SC)a copy of his most recent tax returns. Another, and the one chosen, was to have his lawyers send Senator Graham a letter.

The issue arises because Senator Graham is chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee that has been trying to determine whether there was interference by the Russians in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. That was the election that magically transformed the corrupt businessman, DJT, into a completely unqualified, and totally incompetent, president of the United States. Senator Graham told CNN that he is exploring the possibility that there are ties between Russia and DJT’s businesses. In trying to determine that he asked for evidence of DJT’s business connections to Russia, if any.

If Senator Graham had had access to DJT’s tax returns, he would not have needed the letter. DJT, however, refuses to release those returns because, as he used to say, they were under audit and he couldn’t release them until the audits were completed. Now that his tax lawyers have said that the audits of his tax returns for the years 2005-2008 have been completed, the proffered reasons for refusing to release them is because no one wants to see them except the corrupt press. His refusal to release his returns does not suggest, however, that DJT is uncooperative. He came up with the perfect way to satisfy Senator Graham without exposing his tax returns to the light of day or inquiring eyes. He provided what he called a “certified” letter dated March 8, 2017 from his law firm in response to Senator Graham’s early May request. The word “certified” may or may not refer to the method of delivery as discussed hereafter. Perhaps the word “certified” was used because it adds a certain weightiness to something as mundane as a letter.

The “certified” letter that DJT provided to Senator Graham, was prepared by Sheri Dillon, a lawyer with the Washington firm of Morgan Lewis and Brockus. Sheri was the lawyer who appeared with DJT on January 11, 2017, at DJT’s first press conference as president. The press conference was called, in part, to introduce the public to dozens of boxes of documents assembled by Sheri. The unseen contents of those boxes proved DJT had done what he was required to do to avoid conflicts of interest even though, as Sheri explained at the press conference, “conflicts of interest laws simply do not apply to the president or the vice president.”. Nonetheless, it was reassuring to see all the boxes.

Since Sheri did such a fine job at the January press conference, it was not surprising that she and a colleague in her law firm were the ones who wrote the letter about DJT’s business dealings in Russia. In addition to having represented DJT for many years, there are few lawyers better qualified to make representations about DJT’s business connections in Russia. Not only does Sheri’s law firm maintain an office in Moscow, but in 2016 her firm was named “Russia Law Firm of the Year” by Chambers & Partners, a firm that rates and ranks outstanding law firms around the world.

Sheri’s letter says that 10 years of the same tax returns that Senator Graham (and the public) have not been permitted to see, show that, with three exceptions noted at the end of the letter, DJT has “no income of any type from any Russian sources.” The three exceptions are (a) several million dollars received from the Miss Universe pageant held in Moscow in 2013, (b) $95 million received from the sale of an estate in Florida to a “Russian billionaire” and© “over the years it is likely that [DJT entities or DJT] engaged in ordinary course sales of goods or services to Russians or Russian entities. . .. With respect to this last exception,” Sheri’s letter says, “the amounts are immaterial.” “Immaterial” probably has a different meaning to DJT and Sheri, than it does to the rest of us. Immaterial amounts, according to Sheri, include money received from “sales of goods or services to Russians. . . such as sale . . .for condominiums, hotel rooms . . .Trump licensed products (e.g. ties, mattresses, wine etc.) that could have produced income attributable to Russian sources. . ..”

In addition to the information contained in the letter, its delivery, rather than its contents, is what made it special. In discussing delivery of the letter to Senator Graham in a press conference, Sean Spicer said: “IT IS BEING SENT BY CERTIFIED MAIL.” The fact that it is being sent by certified mail (instead of being hand delivered the way the letter firing James Comey was), means it is more important than a letter dropped in a mail box on the White House grounds. Sean did not indicate whether it was simply sent by certified mail or whether the White House took the additional precaution of sending it “certified mail-return receipt requested,” thus making it an even more important missive.

Only a person unfamiliar with the workings of the DJT White House would find it surprising that the President of the United States would respond to a request for information from a United States Senator by sending the information to the United States Senator by the U.S. Postal Service instead of having it hand carried. On the other hand, it was slightly more respectful than responding to Senator Graham’s request with a tweet.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Trump Trumps Trump

With consistency a great soul simply has nothing to do. —Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays, Self Reliance

One of DJT’s many virtues is that he does not slavishly adhere to positions he has publicly taken when he either (a) forgets that he took them or (b) is reminded by someone with whom he happens to agree at that moment that earlier positons were wrong. This was forcefully brought home on May 5, 2017, when DJT released his budget for 2018, an event that followed a DJT appearance that took place a few weeks earlier. (It is of course, also shown by the fact that he forgot how much he appreciated Jim Comey’s work prior to firing him, but that is for another time.)

On March 29, 2017, DJT took part in what was, without even a hint of irony, described as a “listening session” on Opioids and Drug Abuse. In welcoming his guests, DJT praised his Secretary of Defense and Homeland Security, John Kelly, who, DJT said, had done an amazing job. As proof, DJT said that: in terms of people and the drugs that are being stopped it is “down 61 percent at the border right now. . . . “That is an extraordinary result since at the time DJT spoke, Mr. Kelly had only been in office for eight weeks. Employing the enthusiastic, if incomprehensible rhetoric for which he is known (when speech replaces tweets), DJT said: “This is a total epidemic and I think it’s probably almost untalked about compared to the severity that we’re witnessing.” If ever there was a clarion call to action, that was it, and it was addressed for the next two hours by the participants in the meeting. At the end of the meeting, DJT was asked whether he was taking it (the drug issue) on the road. He responded, “Yes, we will. It’s a big issue-very very big issue.” When DJT got on the road, as it were, a strange thing happened. He got lost.

May 5, 2017, DJT’s support for greater activity with respect to what he had described as the “crippling problem throughout the United States” of drug abuse, disappeared. Its magical disappearance was effected by the release of DJT’s budget for 2018. The proposed budget cut funding for the Office of National Drug Control Policy from $388 million to $24 million, a 95% reduction. If implemented, the office will lose 33 employees.

Rich Baum, the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy who had been appointed by DJT, and attended the listening session, was blindsided, saying: “These drastic proposed cuts are frankly heartbreaking and, if carried out, would cause us to lose many good people who contribute greatly to O.N.D.C. P’s mission and core activities. I don’t want to see this happen.” It is reported that if the funding cuts take place, the high-intensity drug-free communities support program would come to an end as would the high-intensity drug trafficking program.

Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio) is the co-author of a major opioids bill that was passed in 2016. He said of the proposed cuts: “We have a heroin and prescription drug crisis in this country and we should be supporting efforts to reverse this tide, not proposing drastic cuts to those who serve on the front lines of this epidemic.”

The cuts do not affect DJT’s approach to medical marijuana issues. Like his position on drug control, his approach to marijuana has undergone a transmogrification.

The budget bill that cut funding for the O.N.D.C.P. that DJT signed, also includes a provision known as the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment. That amendment bars the Justice Department from using any appropriated funds to interfere with implementation of state laws governing the use of medical marijuana. That provision is consistent with the DJT position as expressed by him during the 2016 campaign. He repeatedly said that dealing with marijuana legalization was up to the states. In one interview he said: “I do like it, you know, from a medical standpoint. . . it does do pretty good things. But from the other standpoint, I think that it should be up to the states.” Apparently seconding the DJT campaign position, Sean Spicer, DJT’s press secretary, spoke about DJT’s attitude towards medical marijuana in a press briefing. He said: “[I] think the president understands that [medical marijuana] can be a vital part of treatment, especially for terminally ill patients and people facing certain kinds of medical things. . . . but there is a big difference between the medical and the non-medical.”

At the signing of the appropriations bill on May 5th that includes the ban on using federal funds to block medical marijuana use in states, DJT had forgotten what he’d said a few months earlier and what Mr. Spicer said he believed. Referring to the Amendment that says federal funds cannot be used to block implementation of medical marijuana laws by various States and territories, DJT said that he had a “responsibility to take care that the laws be faithfully executed,” thus suggesting that he might, (if he remembered), ignore the Rohrbacher-Farr amendment and permit the justice department to challenge states that permit the use of medical marijuana. That will please Attorney General Jeff Sessions who has said that marijuana is only slightly less awful than heroin, thinks “Medical marijuana has been hyped too much” and has said arguments for its medical use are “desperate.” It will disappoint the terminally ill and others, who only weeks ago, were described by DJT as benefitting from its use. Quite sad.