2000-2019: What Hath The Internet Wrought?

While I usually write about politics, I’m also interested in technology.  And, of course, technology is political. So here are a few observations about the social and political impact of the Internet in the first twenty years of the twenty-first century.

THE INTERNET turned fifty in October.  The modern era of the Internet began in 1989 with the invention of the “world-wide web” and the first web browser.  The past twenty years has seen rapid deployment of the Internet throughout the world — although in some locations, such as central Africa, it’s difficult to read your email without a satellite phone.

The vast expansion of the Internet has impacted all aspects of our lives, from our daily personal rituals to the conduct of our businesses.  It’s been facilitated by the develpment of high-speed telecommunication networks, LTE (long-term evolution) — mostly 4G in the U.S.  And by the advent of the PDA (personal data assistant) and e-commerce (electronic commerce).

DOMESTIC INNOVATION:  It’s hard to believe, but twenty years ago, none of us sat in bed in the morning, checking our cellphones for email or text messages or Facebook posts.  The fact we can do this is due to several developments.

Ipod, Iphone, Ipad: The Ipod launched in 2001, followed by the iPhone in 2007, and the iPad in 2010.  Of course, cellphones have been used for forty years.  But the modern era, the “smart” phone, began with the delivery of the iPhone in 2007.  This was the first phone that allowed you to make voice calls, send text messages, read your email, and surf the web.

Multiple factors contributed to the ubiquity of the PDA.  Communications companies built national LTE networks.  And, beginning in 1992, there was a rapid deployment of wireless network technology — WiFi.

Of course, it’s very convenient to be able to have a full range of communications on your phone.  But there are social consequences.  Email has been around since the advent of the Internet and came into widespread use in the 70s.  That was when social observers first noted that people will say things in an email that they would not say in a text.

There’s no doubt that over the past 20 years there’s been a “coarsening” of social dialogue.  The Internet has promoted worldwide rapid communication, but it’s also made it more likely that citizens will fire off thoughtless hostile comments.

Social Networks:  In 2004 Facebook was launched at Harvard; in 2006 it became generally available.  (That same year, Twitter came out.)  Social networks are now part of the American social landscape.  (Millions of Americans wait for the next Trump tweet.)

We can debate about whether this is good or bad.  There’s no doubt that the social networks have both contributed to the coarsening of social dialogue and increased the amount of “fake news.”  (Millions of people now get their news via Facebook.)

Hacking:  With the rapid expanse in the use of the Internet there’s been a corresponding increase in computer crime of all sorts.  Most of us have had experiences with various sorts of hackers: stolen (digital) credits cards, viruses or worms…. There’s a lot of wealth on the Internet and its ubiquity has spurred a new breed of thieves.  It’s estimated that there is one hacker attack “every 39 seconds.”(https://hostingtribunal.com/blog/hacking-statistics/#gref)

BUSINESS INNOVATION:  At the same time that the rapid deployment of the Internet has facilitated personal communication,  new Internet tools have been a boon to business.

E-Commerce: 1995 saw the formation of both Amazon and eBay.  (Shortly thereafter Paypal was formed.)  These companies made it possible to purchase a wide variety of new and used goods without having to travel to a “bricks-and-mortar” store.  Soon the public’s buying habits had dramatically shifted.

Streaming: Although there were earlier music streaming services, the first significant service was iTunes in 2001.  A comparable service for videos was provided by YouTube in 2005.  Although Amazon had been selling books over the Internet since 1995, it was not until 2007 that it introduced the Kindle and the notion of the eBook — streaming books, magazines, and other documents.

In 1997 Netflix was formed to facilitate renting DVDs over the internet.  In 2010 it refocussed and began delivering DVD content as streaming media. (In 2012 it also began delivering original content.)

New forms of Service Delivery: Entrepreneurs noted that where you could deliver goods via the Internet you should also be able to deliver services.  This led to the 2008 launch of Airbnb followed by ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, and freelance labor exchanges such as Taskrabbit.

Cloud Computing:  Although the notion of “cloud computing” — the on-demand use of shared computers and data storage — had been discussed since 1996, it first became widely available via a 2006 Amazon offering.  What this means is that businesses, of various sizes, do not have to have their own dedicated computer facilities; they can purchase these resources from Amazon, or the like, as they need them.  (Nor do these business have to have other specialized facilities such as accounting, human resources, and marketing; they can also be purchased from companies such as Salesforce.)

Personalization:  As e-commerce developed, massive amounts of consumer data were collected.  This has permitted vendors, such as Amazon, to personalize offers to their customers; that led to messages such as, “based on your recent purchases, we recommend the following products…” Personalization expanded beyond e-commerce to news services that began delivering tailored messages and articles.

Microtargeting: Since 2004, U.S. political parties have used a form of personalization, “micro targeting,” to tailor political messages to specific audiences.  (In 2016, this practice included information obtained via Facebook.)

SUMMARY:  By any measure, the Internet is a gigantic resource (https://www.livescience.com/54094-how-big-is-the-internet.html)

“According to Cisco’s Visual Networking Index initiative, the Internet is now in the “zettabyte era.” A zettabyte equals 1 sextillion bytes, or 1,000 exabytes. By the end of 2016, global Internet traffic will reach 1.1 zettabytes per year, according to Cisco, and by 2019, global traffic is expected to hit 2 zettabytes per year…. According to Cisco’s research, 8,000 petabytes per month of IP traffic was dedicated to video in 2015, compared with about 3,000 petabytes per month for Web, email and data transfer. (A petabyte is a million gigabytes or 2^50 bytes.)”

There are more than 100,000 e-commerce sites with significant revenue.

But big is not synonymous with good.  The Internet is a gigantic resource that is available — at least in rudimentary form — all over the world.  But it is not necessarily a trustworthy resource.

in 2020, Internet users do not have to be “techies;” they do not have to a deep technical understanding of how the Internet works and where Internet data comes from.  But these users do have to be skeptics because they are being bombarded with misleading information; and they do have to be wary because their privacy is under daily attack.   Sadly many Internet users are not skeptical or wary and, therefore, they are subject to manipulation on a scale not seen before.

It’s not surprising that Trump’s base — with a disproportionate number of uneducated white men — has proven easy to manipulate.  Daily, they are bombarded with Trump tweets and false news from related Internet sources.  The formation of the Trump cult is one of the unsavory side affects of the massive deployment of the internet.

Who’s Afraid of Michael Moore?

At otherwise jolly holiday parties, my political friends couldn’t stop talking about Michael Moore’s prediction that Donald Trump would win in 2020. (Remember, Michael predicted Trump would prevail in 2016.)  How worried should we be?

Michael Moore made his prediction in a December 26th conversation with Amy Goodman (https://www.democracynow.org/2019/12/26/michael_moore_donald_trump_impeachment ):

“I believe whoever the Democrat is next year is going to win by 4 to 5 million popular votes. There’s no question in my mind that people who stayed home, who sat on the bench, they’re going to pour out, in California, New York… The problem is, is that [Trump] will — if the vote were today, I believe, he would win the electoral states that he would need, because, living out there, I will tell you, his level of support has not gone down one inch. In fact, I’d say it’s even more rabid than it was before, because they’re afraid now.”

Moore explained to Goodman that he believes the reason 2016 Democratic presidential candidate  Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump was because, in states like Michigan, she did not generate enthusiasm among rank-and-file Democrats.  In 2020, Moore is afraid that Democrats will lose again if they repeat the Clinton “mistake.”

The good news is, again, number one, never forget, there’s more of us than there are of them. The majority of the American people agree with us. Seventy percent of the voters next year are women, people of color and young adults… So, what we have to do is we have to make sure we don’t give them another Hillary Clinton to vote for. 

Michael Moore is a smart guy.  What he is saying is that if, in 2020, Democrats nominate a Hillary-clone then they’ll lose again because Trump will carry the midwest and, therefore, win the electoral vote.  This is an important argument that has three components: 1. Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election because Democrats in critical states, such as Michigan, didn’t vote for her.  2. Moore believes the 2020 “centrist” Dems, such as Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, are bound  to be as unpopular as Clinton.  3. In 2020 the other political dynamics will be the same as they were in 2016.  That is, Trump will probably carry the Independents.  Furthermore, Moore believes Trump will probably win the same “red” states and the Dems will probably win the same “blue’ states and therefore, the race will come down to the same handful of states such as Michigan.  Let’s examine each of these contentions.

1.Hillary lost swing states because registered Democrats didn’t vote for her.  The 2016 election post-mortem suggested that Clinton lost the electoral college because she underperformed in three states and lost them by a total of 77,759 votes. Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,307 votes (0.7 of a percentage point), Wisconsin by 22,748 votes (0.7 of a point) and Michigan by 10,704 votes (0.2 of a point).

Michigan: Trump had 2,279543 voters (47.50%) and Clinton had 2,268,839 voters (47.27%).  Two other candidates, Gary Johnson and Jill Stein had 223,499 voters (4.66%).  So it’s likely that some Democrats who didn’t like Clinton, chose instead to vote for Johnson or Stein.

The CNN exit polls indicated that while there were more potential Michigan Democratic voters than Republican, only 88 percent of Dems voted for Clinton versus 90 percent for Trump.

Wisconsin was similar to Michigan: Trump had 1,405,284 voters (47.22%) and Clinton had 1,382,536 voters (46.45%) , while Johnson and Stein had 137,746 voters (4.62%).  Once again it was likely that some Democrats that didn’t like Clinton voted for Johnson or Stein.

Pennsylvania results indicated that Trump had 2,970,733 voters (48.18%) and Clinton had 2,926,441 voters (47.46%).  Johnson and Stein had 196,656 (3.19%).

The CNN Pennsylvania exit polls were similar to Michigan.  There were more Democratic voters (42%) than Republican (39%) but only 87% of Dems stayed with Clinton versus 89% that stuck with Trump.

Conclusion: In these key states, Michael Moore is right when he states that Clinton lost because her base didn’t stick with her.  But it’s an oversimplification, because Moore ignores the decisive role played by Independents — Trump carried the Independents in each state.  (By the way, the national exit polls indicated that Trump carried Independents — 20 percent of the electorate — 48% versus 41% for Clinton.)

2. The 2020 “centrist” Dems, such as Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar, are bound  to be as unpopular as Clinton.  Michael Moore believes that 2020 Dems are about to make the same mistake they did in 2016 and nominate an unpopular candidate — leading to a “hold your nose” election where Trump will prevail. The most recent polling data doesn’t support this.  538 (https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-democratic-presidential-candidates-are-becoming-less-popular/ ) notes that Trump is by far the most unpopular candidate (47.8% “very unfavorable” rating).

Among the Democratic candidates: Joe Biden had a 31.4% “very unfavorable” rating, while Bernie Sanders had a 34.4% rating and Elizabeth Warren 34.2%.

Conclusion: Michael Moore seems to be off in his assertion that the 2020 centrist Democratic candidates  will be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.

3. In 2020, Michael Moore assumes the other political dynamics will be the same as they were in 2016.  There are  actually two parts to this assertion; the first is that Trump will, once again, carry Independent voters.  This doesn’t seem to be the case.

The latest Gallup poll shows that Trump’s approval rating is 42 percent with Independents.  This is consistent with the 2018 election results where Democratic candidates “took 55 percent of independents compared to just 41 percent for Republican candidates.” (https://thehill.com/opinion/campaign/475607-independent-voters-will-make-donald-trump-a-one-term-president)  A recent The Hill article observed: “A recent Reuters/Ipsos survey found that 62 percent of independents ‘disapprove of the way Donald Trump is handling his job as president.’ ”

This shift in the sentiment of independent voters seems to indicate that, in 2020, Independents will prefer the Democratic presidential candidates over Trump.  There isn’t a lot of polling on this, but a November Washington Post/ABC News poll (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-trails-democratic-rivals-in-national-survey-as-independents-move-away/2019/11/04/) showed that among Independent voters: Biden led Trump by 56% to 39%.

The second Moore assertion is that the 2020 election map will look the same as it did in 2016.  That is, the coasts will go to the Democratic presidential candidate, the south and heartland will go to Trump and the election will be decided by a small number of states, such as Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Many Democratic strategists don’t agree with Moore’s perspective; they think many more states will be in play.  Seven states have been mentioned as possible Democratic targets.

Arizona: In 2016. Trump won Arizona with 48.1% (Clinton got 44.6%).  However, the state is inexorably swinging towards the Democrats.  In 2018, Democratic Senator Krysten Sinema replaced (outgoing) Republican Jeff Flake.  Recent polls show that Trump’s popularity is waning; Real Clear Politics indicates that he and Joe Biden are tied in the Arizona polls.  (Explanation: I’m using Joe Biden as the potential Democratic candidate because — in these seven states — Biden has the best poll numbers versus Trump.)

Florida:  In 2016, Trump won Florida with 48.6% (Clinton got 47.4%).  As we know, this is a volatile state.  At the moment, Joe Biden leads Trump by a 2 percent margin.

Georgia:  In 2016, Trump won Georgia with 50.4%.  We know this state is difficult to peg because of historic Republican-instigated voter suppression.  Nonetheless, at the moment, Joe Biden leads Trump by 8 percent.

Iowa:  In 2016, Trump won Iowa with 51.1%.  In the latest polls, Trump leads Biden by approximately 2 percent.

North Carolina:  In 2016, Trump won North Carolina with 49.8%.  At the moment, Biden leads Trump by 3 percent.

Ohio: In 2016, Trump won Ohio by 51.3%.  In the latest poll, Biden leads Trump by 6 percent.

Texas:  In 2016, Trump won Texas by 52.2%.  In the latest polls, Trump and Biden are even.

Conclusion:  Michael Moore is predicting that Donald Trump will again win in 2020 because (1) Democrats will nominate an unpopular candidate — Moore, who is a Bernie Sanders supporter, believes that Joe Biden will prove to be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.  (2) Moore’s second assertion is that Democrats will again lose Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.  At the moment, Biden (and other Democratic candidates) are ahead of Trump in these three states. (3) Moore’s third assertion is that, in 2020, Independent voters will break for Trump.  Once again, this doesn’t seem to be the case.  (4) Finally, Michael Moore believes that the 2020 electoral map will be the same as it was in 2016.  Once again, this is questionable.  At the moment, Democratic candidates — particularly Joe Biden — seem to be extremely competitive in seven states that Trump carried in 2016.

I’m not saying that Trump will definitely lose in 2020.  I’m saying the situation looks different than it did in 2016 and Dems should have “guarded optimism.”  At the moment, several Democratic candidates — notably Joe Biden — have a good shot at defeating Trump.

2019: Ten things to be Thankful For

2019 has been a dark year.  Americans have spent much of the year under the grim shadow cast by mad emperor Trump. Nonetheless, there is much to be thankful for. Here are ten reasons to be grateful.

1.Nancy Pelosi: Twelve months ago, when it was clear that the Democrats had won a substantial majority in the House of Representatives, some pundits suggested that it was time for Nancy Pelosi to move on — someone else should become Speaker of the House.

What a mistake that would have been!  During 2019, Pelosi has been the primary leader of the Democratic Party, effectively leading the House Democrats through the treacherous impeachment landscape — and simultaneously overseeing the passage of more than 400 major pieces of legislation.  At the end of the year House Democrats impeached Donald Trump, setting the stage for a historic 2020 trial.  Thank you, Nancy Pelosi.

2. Increased awareness of Global Climate Change.  Because of her vocal leadership on climate change, Greta Thunberg was named Time Magazine’s person of the year (https://time.com/person-of-the-year-2019-greta-thunberg/).  But it wasn’t only Greta that spread the word; all over the world, celebrities and politicians stepped up to make the public aware that climate change is an existential threat.  As a result, 2019 polls indicate that 75 percent of Americans believe that humans fuel climate change and a strong majority regard it as a crisis.  Thank you, Greta Thunberg, Bill McKibben, and the many other climate change leaders.

3. Fire Season has ended.   Because of climate change, California had an extended, deadly fire season.  During the Kincade fire, my community had to evacuate and go without electricity for six days.  Fortunately, most of us escaped the mammoth fire.

We’re thankful that fire season is over.  (And that we have since had normal rainfall.)  And we’re grateful for the extraordinary efforts of our emergency-service providers.

4. The Democratic Presidential Candidates.  So far, Democrats have had 28 politicians announce they would compete for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.  At the moment, 15 are still in the competition that begins with the February 3rd Iowa caucuses.

The good news is that these candidates offer a full-spectrum of opinions regarding how to move the United States forward.  The bad news is that it’s not obvious who would offer the best chance of defeating Donald Trump.  Nonetheless, in a year dominated by Trump’s shadow, each of these candidates offered glimmers of hope.

5. The Whistleblower(s).  At the beginning of the year, Democrats believed that the Mueller report — into Russian interference in the 2016 election — would bring to the light the treachery of the Trump campaign.  Instead, the report confused Americans; rather than unite us in recognition of Trump’s perfidy, the Mueller report heightened the polarization. Many Democrats fell into a funk.

Then, in September, we learned that a whistleblower had filed a report with the Director of National Intelligence regarding a bizarre phone call between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky.  In this call, Trump offers a bribe to Zelensky — military aid in return for compromising information on Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.  As a result of the whistleblower’s complaint, House Democrats began an investigation into Trump’s actions that eventually resulted in two articles of impeachment: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Thanks to the whistleblower and the others who are providing detailed information about Trump’s treachery.  And thanks to the investigative journalists that continue to tell the truth about what goes on in Trump’s White House.

6. Reporters and Aid-workers at the Southern Border.  The heinous Trump Administration “family- separation” policy began in 2018 and has continued to this date.  In January of 2019, the White House admitted that they had separated more children than had previously been reported and they did not have an adequate tracking system in place.  (At the end of the year, whistleblowers reported that almost 70,000 children had been detained.)

Throughout 2019, reporters and aide-workers have been at the border, chronicling the consequences of the family-separation policy and — whenever possible — providing comfort to the children and their families.  Thank you aide-workers who minister to the suffering.  (And thank you to activists everywhere.)

7. The New Democrats in the 2019 House of Representatives.  In January, Democrats welcomed 59 new members to the House — their most diverse class ever.  The most notable of these new congresswomen was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.  We can say a lot about AOC but most importantly, she, and her associates  brought a breath of fresh air to the Democratic Party.  Thank you, AOC and associates, for shaking up the Dems.

8. Democracy Advocates.  Even though much of the world has been under the shadow of Donald Trump, and other totalitarian leaders, there have continued to be political actions by advocates for Democracy. In Hong Kong.  Russia.  Iraq.  Even Saudi Arabia.

We’re grateful for all those who stood up for Democracy.  Hold on, in 2020 we’ve got your back.

9. Nature.  In 2019  my family completed our move to the country.  What a blessing!  No matter how dreadful the state of U.S. politics, taking a walk among the Redwoods always cheers me up.

10. Music. In hard times like these, music is my go-to source of comfort: Miles Davis, Bruce Springsteen, Muddy Waters, Johnny Cash…

2020 brought the wonderful Ken Burns “Country Music” documentary series.  And the stories of how music transformed the impoverished lives of the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, and many others.  “Country Music” was a reminder of the rejuvenating power of the music of the American people.  And, a reminder that, even in these dark times, there is more that unites us than divides us.

Donald and Boris

Even though we’re 5000 miles away from London, the results of the December 12th British election sent a chill through left-coast voters.  The ascension of Boris Johnson was painfully reminiscent of the 2016 election of Donald Trump; further evidence that we have entered the buffoon era of geo-politics.  There are two political lessons to learn from the British tragedy.

Two Unpopular Candidates:  The British General Election was an awkward “popularity” contest between Boris Johnson, leader of the Conservative Party, and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of Labour — the British press characterized it as the “ugly baby contest.”

In this sense, the British contest was a replay of the 2016 U.S.  presidential election that pitted two historically unpopular candidates: Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.  The final 2016 Gallup election poll (https://news.gallup.com/poll/197231/trump-clinton-finish-historically-poor-images.aspx ) found Trump with a 61 percent unfavorable rating and Clinton with a 52 percent unfavorable score.

Donald Trump has remained unpopular.  In December 2019, roughly 52 percent of voters disapprove of his performance in office ( https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/).  According to the 538  summary, Donald has been in this negative range since April of 2017; during these 33 months he’s been viewed unfavorably by 52 to 57 percent of poll respondents.  Based upon this polling, Trump has been the most unpopular President in recent American history.  This is unlikely to change between now and November 3, 2020.

On election day, how popular will the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate be?  It’s unlikely that any candidate will be as unpopular as Hillary Clinton.  Nonetheless, at the moment, It’s difficult to get a comparable approval rating for the leading Democratic candidates.  (A recent Monmouth University Poll (https://www.monmouth.edu/polling-institute/reports/monmouthpoll_us_121019/) found that among Democratic voters Elizabeth Warren had the highest net favorability rating (+61) and Michael Bloomberg the lowest (+1).)

According to the latest Quinnipiac Poll (https://poll.qu.edu/national/release-detail?ReleaseID=3651), most of the leading Democratic candidates would beat Trump: “If the general election for president were being held today, 51 percent of registered voters say they would vote for Joe Biden, while 42 percent say they would vote for President Trump. When Trump is matched against other Democratic contenders the race remains in single digits: Bernie Sanders gets 51 percent, while Trump has 43 percent; Elizabeth Warren receives 50 percent and Trump gets 43 percent; Michael Bloomberg gets 48 percent to Trump’s 42 percent; Pete Buttigieg has 48 percent, while Trump receives 43 percent…”

If the only issue was popularity, and the election was held today, Donald Trump would probably lose.  Considering this, it should be noted that over the past 36 months, Trump has made no concerted effort to increase his favorability ratings; Donald has not reached out to those  who did not vote for him in 2016.  Trump’s strategy is to (1) hold his base and (2) drive down the popularity of his competition.  He implements this strategy by either disenfranchising likely Democratic voters or by disparaging his competitors via social media.  (Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine President Zelensky announce an investigation into Joe and Hunter Biden is an example of Trump’s elaborate attempts to influence the popularity of his competitors.)

Simple Message:  In their analysis of why Boris Johnson won, the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/dec/13/five-reasons-the-tories-won-the-election) observed that Johnson, and the Conservative Party, had a simple message, “get Brexit done, repeated over and over again [that] appears to have resonated with a public weary of the lack of resolution over the UK leaving the EU.”  In contrast Corbyn and Labour “had a multiplicity of huge policy offers from mass nationalization to free broadband and compensating women in the 50s for the rise in pension age…”

Corbyn could have helped by taking a strong remain stand but, instead, meekly called for another referendum.  (At a distance of 5000 miles, Corbyn came off as a wimp.)

Johnson won because he was the least ugly baby and he campaigned with a simple message.

In 2016, Donald Trump had two simple messages: “Build the wall” and “Drain the swamp.”  With regards to the latter, Trump successfully painted Hillary Clinton as a member of the Washington elite, part of the swamp, and played to his base’s antipathy towards government.

In 2020, Trump will likely resurrect “Build the wall” as “Finish the wall.”  And he will tout the economy, claim, “You never had it so good!”  But what about “Drain the swamp?”  Will Trump dare to repeat “Drain the swamp,” after presiding over one of the most corrupt administrations in American history?  Perhaps not.  But then again, we’ve learned that Trump has no shame — and that his base will likely swallow whatever lies Donald feeds them.  (Trump tells his base that impeachment demonstrates that “the swamp” is alive and well.)

What is certain is that whomever the Democratic presidential candidate is, Trump will attack them as corrupt.  (We’ve already seen that with his attempt to implicate Joe Biden in a Ukraine scandal.)  Trump will try to drive down the favorability ratings of his opponent by lying about them: Biden as corrupt, Sanders as a crazy socialist, Warren as Pocahontas, Buttigieg as “wink-wink,” etcetera.

What will the Democratic response be?  No doubt one message will be, “We can’t afford four more years of Trump!” And Democrats might find a companion message concerning global climate change:  “Trump fiddles while the planet burns.”  Or Democrats may opt for a simpler message, such as Joe Biden’s promise to “bring us together.”  (In the December 19th Democratic debate, Biden effectively repeated this, “I refuse to accept the notion, as some on this stage do, that we can never, never get to a place where we have cooperation again. If that’s the case, we’re dead as a country. We need to be able to reach a consensus.”)

The lesson from the British General Election is that popularity matters — even when both candidates are unpopular — and voters prefer a simple message.

Capitalism Has Failed

In the seventies, I was privileged to hear the British economist E.F. Schumacher — author of “Small is Beautiful: A study of economics as if people mattered” — speak in Palo Alto. Schumacher observed that we were all living in the new age of dinosaurs, where our economy is ruled by giant corporations that roam the earth crushing everything in their path.  Schumacher cautioned his audience to be prepared for the day when corporations collapsed. That’s where we are now: giant corporations are beginning to disintegrate.  Capitalism has failed and the end times have come for mega corporations.  Donald Trump is a harbinger of the death throes of capitalism.

Even though the holidays are just around the corner, December 2019 has been unusually depressing.  Every day we receive new warnings that the environment is in perilous straits (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/10/arctic-sea-ice-cover-falls-to-alarming-low-as-temperatures-rise). There are riots throughout the world.  And, of course, there’s the omnipresent news about mad emperor Trump.

These aren’t isolated events.  Global Climate Change is the result of unfettered capitalism; corporations pillaging the planet.  Social unrest is most often the result of economic injustice produced by the unequal distribution of income and capital that are the byproducts of the dominant economic system.  And, as Robert Reich notes (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/dec/08/donald-trump-citizens-united-anti-democracy-decade?), Donald Trump is the logical consequence of unfettered capitalism.

Rather than dismiss Trump as a pathological politician, it’s necessary to see him as the extreme symptom of unfettered capitalism.  It’s important to defeat Trump in 2020, but even more important to address cancerous capitalism that threatens the soul of democracy as well as the well-being of the planet.

There’s a lot to say about Donald Trump, but we can begin by recognizing that he’s the consummate capitalist.  In all circumstances, Trump places his own interests above other ethical (and legal) considerations.  (Donald favors the crony capitalism, corporate bailouts, and corporate welfare that characterize capitalism in 2019.)  Trump is resolutely committed to the maxim: “the ends justify the means.”  (This explains his astonishing willingness to lie, as well as his predilection for self-dealing.)  And Trump typifies the paternalism that permeates giant corporations.

The fact that Trump is the consummate capitalist shouldn’t come as a big surprise.  It explains his appeal to his base. UC Berkeley Sociology professor Arlie Hochshild’s epoch study, “Strangers in Their Own Land,” explicates the strange hold that Trump has over his followers — the cult-like aura that’s been created.  Hochschild had lengthy talks with a broad spectrum of southern voters living in some of the most polluted areas of Louisiana.  The interviewees in “Strangers in their own land” blamed government for their lack of success.  Their sole hope for salvation was big business — capitalism.  Hochschild observed that her interviewees “identify ‘up,’ with the 1 percent.” In other words, Trump supporters identify with Donald and believe he will provide their salvation.

Of course, this is a position taken out of desperation.  Trump voters cling to a “leader” who steadfastly represents the capitalist interests that are destroying their lives.  It’s collective insanity.

I’m traveling down this sad road to make a point to Democratic voters: when you consider which candidate to support in the upcoming presidential primaries, it’s not sufficient to stop with the notion of who can beat Trump.  Most of the Democratic candidates can beat Trump —  a recent Quinnipiac poll found that all the major candidates beat Trump by 4 to 9 points.  Since Trump is an extreme symptom of America’s dysfunctional economic order, the key question to ask is: which candidate is best prepared to change unfettered capitalism?

Seven candidates have qualified for the December 19th Democratic debate: Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, Sanders, Steyer, Warren and Yang.  Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg who hasn’t qualified for the debate, are billionaires; they have progressive policies on many issues but not on fundamental reform of corporations.  Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar are self-identified “moderates;” none of them advocate elemental reform of corporations.  (Nor does Andrew Yang, although he leans in that direction.)

Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have a lot to say about corporate reform.  Senator Sanders has a long record speaking against giant corporations and monopolies.  “Corporate America doesn’t give one damn about workers.”  He favors measures to increase corporate accountability, to shift the wealth of the economy back into the hands of the workers who create it.  For example, he would, “Give workers an ownership stake in the companies they work for.”  If he became President, there’s no doubt that Bernie Sanders would work for drastic reform of corporations.

Nonetheless, the most expansive corporate-reform proposals has been developed by Elizabeth Warren. “We need courage to take on corporate monopoly giants… big, structural change.”  Senator Warren has a lot to say about the problem of unfettered capitalism.  In her position paper, “Empowering Workers through Accountable Capitalism” (https://elizabethwarren.com/plans/accountable-capitalism/?) Warren has four key proposals:

“1. Require very large American corporations to obtain a federal charter as a “United States corporation,” which obligates company directors to consider the interests of all corporate stakeholders, not just shareholders.  2. Empower workers at big American corporations to elect no less than 40% of the company’s board member. 3. Remove bad financial incentives by restricting directors and senior executives at big corporations from selling company shares.  And, 4. Ensure corporate political spending reflects the interests of workers: Big American corporations must receive the approval of at least 75% of their shareholders and 75% of their directors before engaging in any political expenditures.”

Capitalism has failed.  We’re entering the end times for giant corporations.  Nonetheless, in 2020, Donald Trump will run as the champion of corporate interests (monopolies, bailouts, corporate welfare, and “pay to play” political influence).

It’s essential to both defeat Trump and to elect a Democratic president who will advocate significant corporate reform.

The New Normal

This week, Northern California had its first significant rain and our fire season ended. (Unfortunately, as I write this, there is a big fire burning in Southern California near Santa Barbara.) For the last several years, fire season has lasted longer than it once did, and the fires have been more ferocious. Californians are beginning to acknowledge that this is the new normal.

Here in Sonoma County — north of San Francisco — we’re still recovering from the mammoth Kincade fire, which started on October 23rd and was fully contained on November 6, 2019. It burned 77,758 acres and destroyed 374 buildings.  Amazingly, no one was killed; probably because the County Sheriff ordered a massive evacuation and our local utility company turned off almost all the county’s electricity.  (Once the evacuation order was lifted, it took several days for power to be restored.)

Most of the locals see the Kincade fire as a consequence of three factors: global climate change, reckless building in the “wildland-urban-interface” (WUI), and infrastructure decay.  Climate change has caused our summers to become much drier and the fall winds to be more intense.  (During the Kincade fire there were 96 mile-per-hour winds.)  For a variety of reasons, California’s suburbs have pushed into the wildland-urban-interface and shortsighted city planners have let developers build in locations there were once thought to be too dangerous because of the possibility of wildfires.  Finally, our energy infrastructure has not been properly maintained by the primary Northern California provider, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E); now, when the winds kick up, we are at risk because of aging transmission lines and transformers.  (Belatedly, PG&E acknowledged this; early in the course of the Kincade fire, the utility shut off all electric service in the projected path of the firestorm — most of west Sonoma County.)

The question Californians now face is how to adapt to the new normal.  One option would be to relocate, but that would likely mean a move out of state because all parts of California are now threatened by wildfires.  (Indeed, most of the western states have this problem.)  And, of course, moving to another state means moving to an area that is subjected to another consequence of climate change, such as hurricanes.

The other option is to remain in California and support substantial action to mitigate fire risk.  Two approaches have been suggested; both of them involve major financial expenditures.  One is to upgrade the electrical grid in a way that minimizes the fire risk.  The other is to “harden” vulnerable communities.

As a consequence of the 2017 Tubbs fire — also in Sonoma County — and the 2018 Camp Fire — up the road in Butte County — PG&E declared bankruptcy. (https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-pge-bankruptcy-filing-20190129-story.html)  Now Californians are embroiled in discussion about what to do with the utility.  This will take several years to work out.

In the meantime, Californians, who live outside big cities, must be prepared to have their power shut off for days at a time — during fire season. In other words, Californians who live in rural areas, or the “WUI,” will have to have substantial backup power — generators or solar panels plus batteries  — or do without.  This new reality applies to both homes and businesses — one of the problems uncovered during the October Sonoma County evacuation was that many gas stations did not have power and therefore their pumps didn’t work.  (Obviously, the prospect of continuous power outages places a singular burden on the less fortunate members of the community.)

Regardless of the ultimate disposition of PG&E, the electrical grid needs to hardened.  In many cases this means burying transmission lines and distribution lines.  In other cases this means fortifying electrical substations and transformers.

Vulnerable communities also need to be hardened.  City planners need to severely restrict further building in the WUI.  (A restriction that runs head-on in California’s desire to provide more housing units.)  Communities must provide incentives for landowners to maximize their defensible space.  Evacuation routes need to be widened and adjacent foliage needs to be cleared.  Substantial fire breaks need to be created between communities — spaces at least one-quarter mile wide.  Finally, funding should be provided so that communities can provide “shelter-in-place” fire refuges.

(If these steps aren’t taken, insurance companies are going to declare large swaths of California as uninsurable.  Meaning that many rural communities will disappear.)

If you live outside California, and think none of this relates to you, you’re mistaken.  Global climate change will impact all regions of the United States.  If you live in areas along the Atlantic or Gulf coast you will be subjected to hurricanes and rising tides.  If you live in the midwest, you will be subjected to ice storms and tornados.  When you recognize that this is the new normal, you will be faced with the same decisions that confront Californians: either move or take dramatic action to accommodate these new challenges.  You can run, but you cannot hide.

Talking to Republicans About Impeachment

The holidays are coming.  And with them,  more opportunities to talk to those recalcitrant Trump supporters in your family.  Such as Aunt Bertha who believes God sent Donald on a mission.  And Uncle Bert who wants Trump to blow up Washington. Here are ten tips on how to talk to them about the impeachment process.  Ten responses to familiar Republican (false) arguments.

Contention 1: “Democrats are trying to overthrow the 2016 election.”  This a good place to start the conversation because there is an element of truth in this Republican argument.  Response: Yes, impeachment is about removing the President from office and replacing him with the Vice President.  Democrats are using this process because they believe Donald Trump has committed grave offenses that threaten our Democracy.  (Helpful hint: Don’t mention that Vice President Mike Pence could also be a candidate for impeachment because of his involvement in the Ukraine scandal.)

Contention 2: “Democrats are making a false charge.  Trump’s call to Ukraine was perfect.”  Helpful hint: take a deep breath.  Response: have you read the White House memo on the July 25th call?  (It’s not a transcript.) Trump discusses U.S. aid to Ukraine and then says “I would like you to do us a favor” and mentions an investigation of Hunter and Joe Biden. Many constitutional lawyers have stated that Trump’s action is bribery. That’s why there is an impeachment inquiry.

Contention 3: “The Whistleblower was out to get Trump.”  Time for another deep breath.  Response: everything that was mentioned in the Whistleblower report has been confirmed by the White House memo on the July 25th call and witnesses to the event.  Trump has admitted the basic facts so the Whistleblower is no longer relevant to the investigation.

Contention 4: “All the evidence is second hand.”  Response: While the original Whistleblower report was indeed second hand, this information has been confirmed by the White House memo on the July 25th call and witnesses to the event.  For this reason, the critical evidence is first hand; it’s been provided by Donald Trump or others who listened to the phone call.

Contention 5: “What about the Bidens?  Shouldn’t they be investigated?”  Response: Democrats have no objection to an investigation of the Ukraine activities of Hunter and Joe Biden.  However, this investigation has nothing directly to do with the impeachment inquiry; it is a separate matter.  [Pause for emphasis.]  Donald Trump controls the Department of Justice and and the FBI and they have yet to initiate an investigation into the activities of Hunter and Joe Biden.  [While this was being written, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham — chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee — launched a problem into the Bidens (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/graham-launches-probe-into-bidens-burisma-and-ukraine/2019/11/21/5a5675b4-0ca5-11ea-97ac-a7ccc8dd1ebc_story.html ). ]

Contention 6: “There was not a crime because no damage was done; Ukraine got the money.” Take another deep breath.  Response:” After the July 25th phone call, military aid to Ukraine was put on hold by Trump.  The aid was not released until September 11th, after the whistleblower report and after the House of Representatives launched related investigations.  Because of this sequence, many characterize what happened as a failed bribery attempt.  Nonetheless, a bribery attempt that fails is still a crime.

Contention 7: “The Impeachment process is flawed.”  Response: The Impeachment process is similar to that used in previous impeachment inquiries — for example, the Clinton impeachment — except for the fact there is no special counsel involved.  This process follows the rules set down by the House of Representatives and those rules include the involvement of Democrats and Republicans at each phase.

In addition, it would help the process if Donald Trump did not forbid the testimony of relevant witnesses.  (Of course, it would also help if Trump testified before the impeachment panel.)

Contention 8: “Trump should be able to confront his accusers.”  Take a deep breath.  Response: There are two phases of the impeachment process; the inquiry — held in the House of Representatives — and the trial — held in the Senate.  Trump will be able to confront his accusers during the Senate trial.  In addition, House Speaker Pelosi has offered Trump a chance to give testimony during the inquiry and offered his counsel an opportunity to present evidence during the House process.

Contention 9: “Whatever… it’s not an impeachable offense.”  Take two deep breaths.  Response: Whether or not Trump’s acts — bribery, obstruction of justice, and abuse of power — are impeachable offenses needs to be decided after the process has played out — by a vote in the Senate.  It’s serious enough that it should not be dismissed on a purely partisan basis.

Contention 10: “I don’t care what Trump did.  As long as the economy works for me and my family, I’m supporting Trump.”  Take many deep breaths.  Response: “I will pray for your moral compass to be restored.”

Ranking the Democratic Candidates

 While the impeachment inquiry continues to command most of the attention of the mainstream media, in the background the Democratic presidential candidates continue their slog towards the February 3rd Iowa caucuses. Here’s the BB perspective on how these candidates are doing.  And a prediction as to what the race will look like coming out of “Super Tuesday,” March 3rd.

1.Elizabeth Warren: Massachusetts Senator Warren garners the number one slot for two reasons: she has the most momentum and she has “out wonked” all the other candidates.  Elizabeth has a plan for everything stretching from the very serious (how to deal with global climate change) to the other extreme (how to get Americans to eat more vegetables).

In addition to would-be-dictator Trump, Americans are beset by a frightening array of problems:, including climate change, wealth inequity, and cancerous capitalism.  Senator Warren is the only candidate to have a well-thought-out plan on all of these.  It’s convenient to characterize Warren as a candidate of the left and others, such as Joe Biden, as a candidate of the “center,” but the reality is that Elizabeth wants big change in American society and many of the other candidates — such as Biden — seek modest changes.  The BB perspective: The U.S. needs big changes.

2. Joe Biden: Former Vice-President Biden is a nice guy who was a worthy sidekick to Barack Obama.  Can he run the show on his own?  I’m not convinced.  Biden seems old — he’ll turn 77 at the end of the month — and lacking the energy required to run the big show.

Some Democrats are attracted to Joe because he’s a “safe” choice.  They believe he’s the most likely to beat Trump: The current Real Clear Politics poll of polls shows Biden beating Trump by 10.2 percent.  However the same poll shows Warren beating Trump by 7.3 percent.  So they both beat Trump — and Biden has way more name recognition than Warren does.

The election has two steps: beat Trump and fix America.  Warren would do a better job on second step.

3. Bernie Sanders: Bernie doesn’t seem to have the same fire that he did in 2016.  He seems tired — although not as tired as Biden, who is one year younger.  Bernie has been “out wonked” by Elizabeth Warren.

On October 1st, Senator Sanders had a heart attack.  A month later, the attack doesn’t seem to have slowed him down.  Nonetheless, while his fundraising is ticking along, Bernie has slipped slightly in the polls. (For example, the latest New Hampshire Quinnipiac poll shows Bernie running behind Biden, Warren, and Buttigieg.)

BB prediction: after losing the New Hampshire primary, Bernie will drop out and support Elizabeth Warren.

4. Pete Buttigieg:  So far, the big surprise of the Democratic presidential primary contest has been Mayor Pete.  (In the second quarter, Buttigieg raised more money than all other Democratic contenders — $24.9 million.)  Mayor Pete is very smart and has a remarkable public presence.

If Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are candidates of the left, Joe Biden and Pete Buttigieg are “moderates.”  For those Democrats who initially supported Biden, and now think he is too old, many have shifted to Mayor Pete.  (Who is 37; forty years younger than Biden.)

BB prediction: After “Super Tuesday,” March 3rd, Biden will drop out and the competition will narrow to Warren, Buttigieg, and the billionaires.

By most accounts, Warren, Biden, Sanders, and Buttigieg have more than 75 percent of the primary votes of Democrats.  No other candidate has double digit support.  Why?

The women: Harris, Klobuchar, and Gabbard.  Six months ago Senator Kamala Harris was a hot political property — challenging Warren, Sanders, and Biden as a frontrunner.  Now her support has greatly diminished.  Two problems: Harris didn’t give voters a clear reason to support her and she got out wonked by Warren and Sanders.

I’ve expected Senator Amy Klobuchar to surge in Iowa.  For “moderates” she seems like a good alternative to Joe Biden.  Instead, Pete Buttigieg has taken this role.

Tulsi Gabbard keeps hanging around.  The “maverick” candidate.  Some say that if Bernie Sanders wins the nomination, Gabbard will be his choice for VP.

The billionaires: Bloomberg and Steyer. The big news this past weekend is that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has jumped into the race for the Democratic nomination.  (He’s the sixth richest person in the U.S.; one of our 2153 billionaires.)  Bloomberg has good liberal credentials — for example, his positions on climate change and gun control — but he isn’t an exciting candidate.

For months San Franciscan Tom Steyer has been pushing for the impeachment of Donald Trump.  (And for taking action on climate change.)  HIs hearts in the right place but I don’t see Steyer becoming a frontrunner — the latest California Democratic primary poll shows Elizabeth Warren in 1st place with 27 percent of the vote and Steyer in ninth place with 1 percent.

The “outsiders”: Yang, Booker, and Castro.  Andrew Yang is another “maverick” candidate — who has gotten more traction than Tulsi Gabbard.  Nonetheless, his national support continues to languish in the single digits.  If Biden or Sanders falter, will Yang get more support?  I don’t think so.

What’s the story with Cory Booker?  He does well in the debates but it doesn’t seem to translate into more voter support.  I expect Booker to drop out before Iowa.

Several months ago, Julian Castro surged and then faltered.  He’s a candidate who looks better on paper than he does in person.  I expect him to drop out before Iowa.

(As this was being written, former Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick entered the New Hampshire primary.  It’s another indication that “moderate” Democrats aren’t happy with Biden.)

Summary: The competition for the Democratic nomination will come down to Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg.

Impeachment and Ukraine

Although the impeachment inquiry is cloaked in legalese — such as whether Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense — it’s also about the relationship between Trump, and his associates, and Ukraine.  There is a counterintelligence aspect: Trump was trying to manipulate the Ukrainian government on multiple fronts.

The Crime: There are two pivotal documents in this matter.  The first is the “Unclassified Memorandum of [Juy 25th] Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/25/trump-ukraine-phone-call-transcript-text-pdf-1510770 ).  Early in this conversation, Trump says: “We do a lot for Ukraine. We spend a lot of effort and a lot of time. Much more than the European countries are doing.”  Zelensky says, “We are almost. ready to buy more Javelins [missiles] from the United· States” and Trump responds, “I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it.”  

The second pivotal document is the “Unclassified Whistleblower memo to Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Adam Schiff.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/26/us/politics/whistle-blower-complaint.html) In this memo the whistleblower says that during the July 25th phone call, Trump pressured Zelensky to do three things:

    • “initiate or continue an investigation into the activities of former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son, Hunter Biden;
    • assist in purportedly uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine, with a specific request that the Ukrainian leader locate and turn over servers used by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and examined by the U.S. cyber security firm Crowdstrike, which initially reported that Russian hackers had penetrated the DNC’s networks in 2016; and
    • meet or speak with two people the President named explicitly as his personal envoys on these matters, Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General Barr, to whom the President referred multiple times in tandem.”

Three things jump out of these documents.  The first is there was a quid pro quo.  Trump mentions aid to Ukraine and then says “I would like you to do us a favor.” Many constitutional lawyers have stated that Trump’s action is a violation of U.S. Government Code title 18 Section 201(b) ( https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/201), which states that any public official who “corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for… being influenced in the performance of any official act” is breaking the law.

The second thing that jumps out is the sequence of the ask: first Trump asks for assistance in “uncovering that allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election originated in Ukraine;” and then he asks for helps investigating the Bidens.  It’s clear from the memorandum of the July 25th telephone conversation that the former is what’s on Trump’s mind — he spends more time talking about it.

The third thing that jumps out is that Trump goes out of his way to malign the previous U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. “The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news… she’s going to go through some things.”

Ukraine and Paul Manafort: What lurks in the background is the unsavory relationship between Trump, and his associates, and sketchy characters in Ukraine.  This relationship first became apparent in June of 2016, when Trump hired (former Ukraine) political operative Paul Manafort as his campaign manager.  Manafort served in this position for three months, resigning in August of 2016.  During this period — which included the Republican convention — three significant event happened: Manafort was part of the notorious Trump Tower meeting with Russian agents; Manafort intervened to weaken a Ukraine policy item in the Republican platform; and Manafort’s connection to former former Ukrainian President Yanukovych, and his for-Russian party, was revealed to the American press.  (In addition, the Mueller report noted that, during this period, Manafort passed proprietary campaign polling data to pro-Russian Ukrainians.)

On October 30, 2017, Manafort was arrested by the FBI after being indicted by a federal grand jury as part of the Mueller investigation.The indictment charged Manafort with conspiracy, money laundering, failing to register as an agent of a foreign country, and making false statements.  In March of 2018, Manafort was sentenced to seven and a half years in Federal prison.

Many have reported that Manafort maintains contact with Trump.  Recently released Mueller documents reveal that, in 2016, Manafort told Trump that he thought Ukrainians had been responsible for hacking the DNC during the presidential campaign. (https://www.alternet.org/2019/11/paul-manafort-pushed-ukraine-conspiracy-theory-on-trump-during-the-2016-campaign-mueller-documents/?)  Whatever the reason, Trump has long nurtured resentment towards Ukraine (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/for-trump-ukraine-is-a-story-of-personal-resentment-and-political-opportunism/2019/10/04/a256eb70-e6d8-11e9-a6e8-8759c5c7f608_story.html).

Ukraine and Rudy Giuliani: The “memorandum of the July 25th Trump-Zelensky phone call” makes it clear that Rudy Giuliani is Trump’s man in Ukraine.  Trump encouraged  Zelensky to talk to Attorney General Barr and Rudy G.  There’s some (baroque) logic to the involvement of Barr — he’s leading an investigation into the origins of the Mueller investigation.  But there’s no clear logic to Giuliani’s involvement.

Rudy G has been involved in Ukraine for couple of years.  He’s worked as a U.S. lobbyist for Ukrainian businessmen and he’s tried to get American companies lucrative Ukrainian contracts.  Giuliani was part of a small group that, apparently, worked outside the U.S. State Department to influence the government of Ukraine.  One member of this group was Trump-donor turned Ambassador-to-the-EU, Gordon Sondland.  Another member was Energy Secretary Rick Perry.  (Recently the Wall Street Journal noted that, “Rick Perry wanted to put two U.S. energy industry veterans on the board of Ukraine’s state-owned energy company, according to text messages written by the former Ukraine special envoy.”)  Giuliani also has ties with controversial Ukrainian Oligarch Dmytro Firtash (https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/10/how-an-indicted-oligarch-became-a-key-player-in-trumps-ukraine-scandal/ ).

Giuliani pushed for the replacement of U.S.Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.  On November 7th, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent told the House Intelligence Committee: “Throughout March 02019], Giuliani trafficked in ‘slander’ designed to get… Marie Yovanovitchhas  fired from her posting in Kyiv and clear a roadblock to the agenda Giuliani and his clients were pursuing there.”  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/trumps-demands-of-ukraine-came-down-to-three-words-investigations-biden-and-clinton-officials-testimony-shows/2019/11/07/d5ffab54-0197-11ea-8bab-0fc209e065a8_story.html ) Now Rudy’s activities are under investigation by Manhattan-based Federal Prosecutors (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/11/us/politics/rudy-giuliani-investigation.html ).

Summary: There are four part of this affair.  First, Trump came into the White House with animosity towards Ukraine.  Second, Trump did not trust the State Department to manage relations with Ukraine so he commissioned Rudy Giuliani to represent him with President Zelensky.  Third, Giuliani and Trump deliberately withheld much needed Ukrainian military aid in order to coerce Zelensky into launching two investigations: possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the activities of Joe and Hunter Biden.  Fourth, Giuliani and (no doubt) Trump conspired to have Ambassador Yovanovitch removed from her position.

And, of course, Trump has abused his position by not cooperating with the impeachment inquiry.

Impeachment and the Supreme Court

As the House of Representatives’ Impeachment Inquiry rolls along, it continuously runs into non-cooperation from the Trump Administration.  Dems could chose to ignore this but if they did they would deprive the investigation of potentially vital information.  On the other hand, fighting this non-cooperation means going through the legal system — and likely appearing before the Supreme court — and that takes time.  The longer the inquiry takes, the more likely that the public will lose interest and the more likely that support for impeachment will diminish.  The House Democratic leadership is engaged in a balancing act between keeping the public informed and wrenching vital information out of the Trump Administration.

It’s unlikely that Trump will ever voluntarily cooperate with the House investigation.  Trump has had a checkered business career and, in the process, engaged in more than four thousand lawsuits.  (In 2016, USA Today (https://www.usatoday.com/pages/interactives/trump-lawsuits/) counted 4095 lawsuits.) Since entering the White House Trump has been as litigious, and over the past 34 months, he has precipitated dozens of additional legal actions.   Some of these — such as those involving sexual misconduct — do not bear directly on the impeachment proceedings.  Many of the others — such as those involving alleged violations of the Constitution — are related.

In all the legal cases, the Trump pattern is the same: Trump unapologetically pushes limits and, when challenged, defies his adversary to prove their case in court.  (Typical is the legal case regarding Trump University that took four years to reach a $25 million settlement in 2017 — Trump’s response was,  “The ONLY bad thing about winning the Presidency is that I did not have the time to go through a long but winning trial on Trump U. Too bad!”)  Trump never acknowledges that he did anything wrong.

The House Impeachment Inquiry alleges three basic offenses, detailed in Speaker Pelosi’s October 20th memorandum (https://www.speaker.gov/sites/speaker.house.gov/files/Trump%20Shakedown%20and%20Coverup.pdf ) “The Shakedown.  The Pressure Campaign.  The Coverup.”

1.The Shakedown: The key transaction took place on July 25th during a telephone conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President (“Unclassified Memorandum of Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/25/trump-ukraine-phone-call-transcript-text-pdf-1510770 ).) In return for the promise of U.S. assistance, Trump requested, “I would like you do us a favor,” and asked Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden.

Many constitutional lawyers have stated that Trump’s action is a violation of U.S. Government Code title 18 Section 201(b) ( https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/201), which states that any public official who “corruptly demands, seeks, receives, accepts, or agrees to receive or accept anything of value personally or for any other person or entity, in return for… being influenced in the performance of any official act” is breaking the law.

From the Whistleblower complaint (“Unclassified Whistleblower memo to Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Adam Schiff.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/26/us/politics/whistle-blower-complaint.htm )) we know that “Senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call… the transcript was loaded into a separate electronic system… used to store and handle classified information of an especially sensitive nature.”

Therefore, it is reasonable for the impeachment inquiry to insist upon the “official word-for-word transcript of the call.”  It is also reasonable for the Impeachment Inquiry to subpoena Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was present during this call — and anyone else in the room.

2. The Pressure Campaign:  During the past several weeks, we’ve learned that the Trump Administration used a variety of means to pressure Ukraine to deliver dirt on Joe and Hunter Biden.  The key person in the effort is Rudy Giuliani — Trump asked Zelensky to work with Giuliani.  Also involved in this pressure campaign were Vice President Pence, Attorney General Barr, acting White House Chief-of-Staff Mulvaney, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

It is reasonable for the impeachment inquiry to command the testimony of all these individuals — and to demand that they deliver related materials such as texts, emails, transcripts and notes.

3. The Cover Up: During the past several weeks, we’ve learned that the Trump Administration used the power of the White House “to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”  They then took extreme steps to hide these actions, such as hiding the official transcript on a highly classified electronic system, or forbidding witnesses to appear before Congress.  This is an abuse of presidential power.

It is reasonable for the impeachment inquiry to command the testimony of the applicable Trump Administration officials — and related materials.  If they fail to do this, that would constitute an additional offense.

Summary: We’re in the middle of the first of three phases of the impeachment process: investigation.  During this phase there will be multiple hearings, some public, some not.

At the conclusion of this phase, Democrats will initiate the second phase and construct the articles of impeachment.  (These will be voted on by the house and, if passed by a majority, the process will move into the third phase: an impeachment trial in the Senate.)

It’s clear there is enough evidence to construct three article of impeachment: bribery, conspiracy, and obstruction of justice.  It would be helpful if some the related lawsuits were settled by the Supreme Court before the trial in the Senate.  (For example, the Supreme Court could rule that Secretary Pompeo must testify and must turnover his related notes and texts.)  However, this is not necessary for construction of the articles of impeachment.

However, there is enough evidence to start the impeachment trial and Trump’s non-cooperation can be litigated during the trial — after all, Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts will preside over the Senate trial.  In this sense, the Supreme Court will be involved in the final phase of the three-phase process.

Ten Impeachment Realities


Ready or not, the Impeachment of Donald Trump is coming. Before the end of 2019, the House of Representatives may vote on a variety of impeachment charges and the issue will be passed to the Senate. Here’s what we’ve learned so far.

1. During the next 90 days, there will be an impeachment vote in the House of Representatives.  The House Intelligence and Judiciary committees have already assembled enough evidence to call for a House vote.  (It’s not a matter of if, but when the vote will occur.)  Trump appears to be guilty of multiple violations of the U.S. Government code including bribery, extortion, obstruction, and campaign finance misdeeds.  (He’s also guilty of obstruction and, quite possibly, conspiracy.)  The House Dems are going forward, at a deliberate pace, to build the strongest case possible before year end.  Some of the impeachment counts require information that will be provided only if ordered by the Supreme Court.

2. Regardless of what happens in the Senate, once the House votes for impeachment, the Republicans’ fate is sealed.  While there is no doubt that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will mess with the Senate Impeachment trial — attempt to doctor the proceedings so they favor Trump — the evidence is too damning: Trump has committed a variety of high crimes and misdemeanors.  Trump will lose in the court of public opinion, and he will drag down those Republican Senators that side with him.

There are 100 Senators: 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats, and 2 Independents who vote with the Dems.  Therefore, the two-thirds majority will require 20 Republican Senators to vote with Democrats.  At the moment, it’s difficult to see more than 10 who will shift: Alaska (Murkowski), Arizona (McSally), Colorado (Gardner), Georgia (Perdue), Iowa (Ernst, Grassley), Maine (Collins), Nebraska (Sasse), North Carolina (Tillis), and Utah (Romney).   When the Senate vote occurs, every swing-state Republican Senator will be between the proverbial “rock and a hard place.”  (Trump has already gone after Romney for indicating that he is appalled by Trump’s actions and might vote for impeachment. (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/10/16/club_for_growth_ad_democrat_secret_asset_mitt_romney_is_colluding_with_democrats_to_impeach_trump.html ) )

As long as there is a Senate majority that favors impeachment — and public opinion that favors impeachment — Republicans will lose.

3. The Democrats’ impeachment message must remain simple.   Over the past month, public sentiment has shifted in favor of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.  To maintain this momentum, Dems have to move quickly and keep the impeachment charges simple — Trump violated the law by manipulating foreign policy for his own benefit.  If the message gets too complicated, voters’ attention will waver and support for impeachment will diminish.

At the same time that House Democrats go forward with the impeachment inquiry, they must ensure that they are perceived as also doing the people’s business: working on legislation.  So far, Speaker Pelosi has done a good job advertising that the House Dems are working on three paths: “Legislate; Litigate; and Investigate.”

4. Democrats must retain public support.  On September 24th, Nancy Pelosi announced the House had initiated an impeachment inquiry — based upon the Ukraine affair.  Since then there’s been a 17-point swing in favor of the impeachment inquiry.  (And the positive sentiment is growing.)

The majority of Americans support the impeachment inquiry.  Democrats have to build upon this and carefully construct a case to present to the Senate.

Over the next three months there are six other factors that will influence this drama.

5. Count on Trump to “self impeach.”  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi predicted that Donald Trump would eventually”self-impeach” — that his behavior is so warped that he cannot resist committing illegal acts.  That’s happening at least once each week: On October 3rd Trump seemingly admitted to reporters that he tried to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens == Ukraine needs a “major investigation” into the Bidens — and  volunteered that China “[also] should start an investigation into the Bidens.”  On October 17th, Trump announced that in June he will host the G7 Summit at his failing Doral resort  in Miami.  (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/17/us/politics/trump-g7-doral.html )

By the time the Senate votes on the articles of impeachment, there will be overwhelming evidence against Trump — but that may not be enough to produces a two-thirds majority.

6. Trump loyalists will turn.  Even though the Trump White House leaks like the proverbial sieve, during the lengthy Mueller inquiry there weren’t any significant defections from the Trump inner circle — with the exception of Michael Cohen.   With regards to the Ukraine scandal, the opposite is the case — there are major defections.  Numerous members of the Federal government have defied Trump and testified before the House Intelligence Committee.  (For example, former Trump national-security aide, Fiona Hill.)

On October 17th, Trump’s acting Chief-of-Staff, Nick Mulvaney, admitted there was a Ukraine quid pro quo ( https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/10/17/white-house-chief-staff-mick-mulvaney-admits-it-there-was-ukraine-quid-pro-quo/).

There are a variety of theories about what’s different now.  It may be that Trump’s behavior is so egregious — badgering the Ukraine President to dig up dirt on the Bidens — that the vast majority of Administration officials recognized it was wrong.  It may also be that the involvement of Trump’s pal, Rudy Giuliani, has had a catalytic impact — most insiders don’t like Rudy.

7. Trump’s behavior will get more extreme.  Over the past few months we’ve seen many experienced folks leave the White House.  (Most recently, Dan Coats resigned as Director of National Intelligence and was replace by a less-experienced person, Joseph Maguire.)  Like or not, Trump is now operating without training wheels and is making decisions primarily based upon his gut feel.  (Abandoning the Kurds is an example of this.)  Because of the pressure, Trump is decompensating.

8. Trump will do anything to stay in power.  We already know that Trump is a liar.  As the impeachment process plays out, Trump’s lies will become more extreme.  (For example, his claim that the Kurds are worse than ISIS.)

We already know that Trump will insult his opponents.  As the impeachment process plays out, Trump insults will become more extreme.  (For example, calling Speaker Pelosi a “third-grade politician” and saying she favors ISIS “because they are communists.”)

We already know that Trump will use false claims of executive privilege  to keep Administration officials from testifying before Congress and to deny lawful document requests.  What else will Trump do?  At the moment, there seem to be no limits to extreme behavior.

9. Social Media will be an issue.  Facebook is permitting Trump to run blatantly false ads and Twitter is allowing him to promote damaging lies.  Democrats have called upon the social media companies to regulate Trump’s online behavior but they are unwilling to do this.(https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2019/10/17/facebook-ceo-mark-zuckerberg-says-interview-he-fears-erosion-truth-defends-allowing-politicians-lie-ads/ )

10. The Supreme Court will be involved.  Even though many Trump-Administration insiders have begun to testify before the House Intelligence Committee, there are others that have declined to do so — based upon Trump’s broad assertion of executive privilege.  In addition, House Dems are demanding access to the complete Mueller Report including Grand Jury Testimony.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/house-pushes-for-release-of-mueller-grand-jury-testimony/2019/10/08/a88a504e-ea3a-11e9-a329-7378fbfa1b63_story.html )

Both of these matters are wending their way through the courts and will likely be decided by the Supreme Court.  Therefore, the conclusion of the House impeachment inquiry probably depends upon the Supreme Court schedule.

Impeachment Messaging

With the September 24th initiation of a formal impeachment inquiry, the political battle lines have formed. Democrats will subpoena witnesses and gather material that will be presented before the House Intelligence committee; eventually the House Judiciary Committee will construct the formal impeachment measure and submit it to the entire House of Representatives. Meanwhile, Donald Trump, and his Republican acolytes, will do everything they can to discredit the inquiry. Their obstruction will take (at least) ten forms.

By the way, before you consider what follows, it would be a good idea to read the “Unclassified Memorandum of Telephone Conversation” between Donald Trump and Ukrainian President Zelensky (https://www.politico.com/story/2019/09/25/trump-ukraine-phone-call-transcript-text-pdf-1510770 ).  It would also be a good idea to read the “Unclassified Whistleblower memo to Senator Richard Burr and Congressman Adam Schiff.”  (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/09/26/us/politics/whistle-blower-complaint.html)

One Trump strategy will be to ignore the allegations of Trump misconduct and to attack.

1.Harassment: Trump loyalists will insist that Democrats have been “hounding” Trump for three years and this impeachment inquiry is the latest example of unfair treatment.  Republicans will assert, “Democrats aren’t interested in governing; they spend all their time attacking Trump.”  Republicans won’t address any of the specific accusations against Trump but rather demean them as “more of the same” and claim that Dems are trying to “steal the election.”  (That’s the theme of the latest Trump campaign ad (https://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2019/09/27/trump_campaign_ad_democrats_want_to_impeach_trump_for_trying_to_drain_the_swamp.html).)

2. Setup: Some Trump supporters will go into more detail and assert that the Trump-Zelensky affair was “a set up.”  These Trump stalwarts will, in essence, be claiming that Democrats fabricated the phone conversation and the related whistleblower information.  (That’s the drift of the claims by Republican stalwart Liz Cheney (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2019/09/30/liz-cheney-ukraine-phone-call-political-set-up-donald-trump/3826791002/).)

3. Vendetta: Other Trump supporters will claim that the impeachment inquiry is a personal vendetta being lead by House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff.  Republicans will personally attack Schiff — Trump has already called Schiff a traitor and urged him to resign.   (On September 29th, Trump tweeted, “I want Schiff questioned at the highest level for Fraud & Treason.”)

4. Deep State: Many Trump supporters will assert that the inquiry is a conspiracy launched by “the deep state” — that is, by the intelligence community including the CIA and FBI.  Many Trump loyalists have long claimed that elements within the intelligence community have been out to get Trump since he entered the White House.  (Recently, Republican stalwart Newt Gingrich wrote, “[The impeachment inquiry] is a legislative coup d’etat. It is an effort by the hard left, the news media, and the deep state to destroy the president chosen by the American people,” )

5. Biden: Finally, some Trump advocates will take the position that not only is there nothing to the Trump-Zelensky affair but rather the mainstream media is missing the real story: Joe and Hunter Biden’s illegal involvement in Ukraine.  (On September 29th, White House staff member Stephen Miller claimed “Trump is the real whistleblower.” (https://www.foxnews.com/politics/stephen-miller-says-trump-is-real-whistleblower).)

For each form of these attacks, the Democrats response is straightforward: they should return to the known facts of this case as detailed in the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call and the whistleblower memo.  The problem Dems face is that Trump is launching a multi-million dollar attack campaign over social media (https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/30/politics/facebook-trump-impeachment/index.html).  Democrats have to make sure that their side of the story is widely publicized.

Another core Trump strategy will be to attempt to undermine the whistleblower report.

6. Hearsay: Republicans will assert that the whistleblower report is based on “hearsay;” that is, it is inaccurate, because the whistleblower was not present during the actual phone call(s).

The Democratic response should be to point out that the Inspector-General has already conducted an investigation and has corroborated the whistleblower assertions.

7. Illegal Act: Another way to demean the whistleblower claim is to assert that he or she broke the law.  That is, regardless of the facts of the matter, Republicans will claim that the information was obtained illegally.   (On September 30th, Trump tweeted: “The Whistleblower knew almost nothing, its 2ND HAND description of the call is a fraud!”)

Again, the Democratic response should be to lean on the report of the Inspector-General, who has determined that the whistleblower acted within the law.

8. Obstruction: The Trump Administration can seek to undermine the whistleblower report by blocking Congressional verification of the elements of the report; that is, keeping congressional committees from recreating the investigation already conducted by the inspector general.  That seems to be the strategy of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (https://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/pompeo-house-depositions).

9. No Crime: A more sophisticated tactic would be for Republicans to argue that no crime was committed.  That is, Donald Trump may have asked Ukrainian President Zelensky to for a “favor” — to investigate the Bidens — in return for military aid but that is not a violation of the law.  On October 3rd, Trump seemed to take this position when he asked both Ukraine and China to continue to investigate the Bidens.  (https://www.cbsnews.com/live-news/trump-impeachment-inquiry-latest-updates-today-2019-10-03/)

Many legal experts believe that Trump’s action was a violation of Federal campaign finance law and possibly Federal laws related to bribery and extortion.  (Separate from that is consideration of whether, in this action, Trump launched both a conspiracy and a coverup.)

10. Not Impeachable: Finally, Republicans may ultimately argue that even if Trump’s actions technically broke the law they are not of sufficient severity to constitute an impeachable offense.  At the moment, that seems to be the attitude of most Republican Senators.  (That’s the position taken by former Attorney General Michael Mukasey on the October 3rd PBS News Hour ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e9fELgg6718 ).

Again, Democrats should return to the known facts of this case as detailed in the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky phone call and the whistleblower memo.  (They can also use the recent statements of Donald Trump where he appears to be admitting to the accusations; taking the position that he is above the law.)  Democrats have public opinion on their side and should press forward with impeachment proceedings.