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Tom Rinaldo

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Member since: Mon Oct 20, 2003, 05:39 PM
Number of posts: 22,218

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"And you know something's happening But ya' don't know what it is Do you, Mr. Jones?"

I just might be a relative of Mr. Jones. Hopefully not quite as clueless but related just the same. It comes, I believe, with the turf of aging, and of generational changes. I think I'm overall less detached from the reality/world view of a youthful generation today than my parents were of mine back when Bob Dylan recorded "Ballad of a Thin Man. It helps that I've been a web surfer for decades, but mostly it's because I intuitively understand that nothing stays the same, having come from a generation when everything it seems was changing faster than those who were my elders seemed to grasp.

I've seen Democrats proudly wield the power of the federal government to counter racist "States Rights" while rapidly expanding the social safety net that we inherited from FDR. And then I saw Democrats proclaim that "the era of big government is over." And then later still Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act. And failed to secure a Public Option, after not even considering Single Payer or "Medicare for All". And now those latter ideas are ripe again for wide scale discussion. Pendulum swings? History rhyming but not repeating?

I've seen Democrats drastically escalate our troop presence in Vietnam, and later run an anti Vietnam War candidate for President. I've seen a Democratic Speaker of the House and many leading Democratic Senators support the Iraq War Resolution, and then later Democrats elected a President who opposed it.

I've watched as the percentage of Americans who identify neither as Democratic or Republican steadily rise until "Independents" make up the plurality of voters. And with dramatic consistency I've seen polls on a variety of issues and political personalities that show that Americans under the age of 40, and even more so under 30, have significant political differences with people of my Medicare eligible generation. So I feel pretty comfortable is saying that I "know something's happening" and also that it's unlikely that most people of my age (myself included) fully "know what it is."

Sometimes there are generational "Changes of the Guard" brewing. Sometimes "sea changes are stirring". I am confident that I will not be among the first to know when they are about to reach critical mass. But because I already know at least that much, I'm pretty hopeful I won't be among the last to know either.

We don't know if 2020 voters will want a moderate consensus building candidate or a system changer

THAT is one of the main reasons why I am not firmly in any candidate's camp yet. Sure I know we have to win, that beating Trump is virtually everything. THAT is one of the main reasons why I am not firmly in any candidae's camp yet.

It is old accepted political wisdom that the path to the Presidency runs through the center in the General Election by attempting to win over the small sliver of genuinely undecided swing voters in the middle of the ideological spectrum. That accepted wisdom was definitely cracked if not shattered in 2016. What we went through in 2016 may cause the center to reassert itself as a counter reaction for 2020, or it may have been an indicator that we are seeing increasing turbulence in the electorate that has not yet seen its peak. Tried and true was not the winning formula in 2016. It is far to early to be seen what will be in 2020.

At this point I am throwing all of the various electability arguments all candidate proponents are making straight out the window. It is simply too damn soon to make that case for anyone. The first primary votes are still ten months away. The Democratic Convention is well over a year away. Most Americans are not focused yet on the 2020 election beyond a gut instinct on whether Trump is good or bad for America. The minority who think he is good for America are virtually all beyond our reach, unless reality intervenes with a crisis of some sort, like an economic recession. Beyond that there is no clarity over what type of President Americans want next, to a large degree because most Americans aren't thinking about that yet.

We are guessing what other people will be thinking a year and a half from now before the primaries have even begun let alone a general election. There hasn't even been one let alone a dozen Democratic Presidential debates. I am watching to see how broad numbers of people actually respond to our candidates, not predicting who we should support now based on projections of who the electorate will want later. And for the moment I am looking at our candidates on their own merits, not on who I think other people will appreciate the merits of in the future.

Did pardon dangling undermine the case for "collusion"?

Barr did not state that there was no evidence of a conspiracy, he simply said that Mueller "did not establish" it. In other words that could well translate to "insufficient evidence" rather than "no evidence". Mueller made a point not to exonerate the President on Obstruction of Justice. It remains unclear whether Mueller ever would have flatly concluded that Trump was guilty of an indictable crime given DOJ policy regarding sitting Presidents. The relative weight of evidence for and against Obstruction though is an incredibly important variable that was not covered in Barr's letter. So are the specifics on when and how Trump may have attempted to obstruct justice.

Did he do so in regards to influencing to the degree of cooperation potential witnesses gave to the Office of Special Counsel? Did Trump act to undercut the motivation for witnesses to testify against him to Mueller's office, by dangling a potential get our of jail free pardon card in their faces on national TV, but only if they did not squeal like "rats" against him? Did the lack of cooperation by certain key witnesses tip the scales of evidence for collusion to the point where it could not "be established" despite some indications that it may in fact have happened?

Barr's letter was (in my view intentionally) opaque in that regard, to the point where he cited a lack of conclusive evidence on collusion as a reason to conclude that the burden to establish whether obstruction occurred could also not be met. Implicit in that latter argument is the contention that one can't establish "corrupt intent" to cover up a crime if that crime did not occur. What is lacking from that equation though is simple, and chilling. What happens when Obstruction succeeds? What happens when, through the obstruction of justice, the literal ability to assemble evidence of a crime is impeded to the extent that sufficient evidence to indict on that crime can no longer be established? Should that then get used as supporting evidence that justice was never obstructed?

All of the above includes a great deal of speculation, speculation only necessitated by the fact that we do not now have access to Mueller's actual report We do not have Mueller's reasoning as to why he could not establish whether a conspiracy occurred. We do not have Mueller's evidence for how Obstruction of Justice may have occurred, in what ways, with what people, toward what ends. There can be no resolution possible, nor any semblance of justice achieved, until that full report is made available.

My own hunch and I will not call it more than that, is that Mueller was not going to move directly against either Trump or his immediate family members on the matter of criminal conspiracy against Russia unless the evidence for that conspiracy was overwhelming, in essence virtually air tight. He too felt the horns of the dilemma Pelosi weighed in setting such a high bar for impeachment proceeding to begin. We have a President who would literally pull down this nation if he could rather than let the House of Trump fall. That, I believe, is why Trump's family members were never interviewed in this probe. I contend that they would have been in the closing stages of the probe were the other needed pieces all in place. In my view Trump's ability to obstruct justice weakened the case against him and his family just enough to make pressing charges against any of them too dangerous for us as a nation to pursue, given the likely reaction of the Man in the Oval Office were that to happen. OK, that's making a fairly bold claim. But until we all see Mueller's full report, that is where this all leaves me.

So Mueller punted to Barr regardind an Obstruction charge. And he never interviewed Trump in person

Nor did he submit follow up question to the take home quiz interview Trump was given. Pundits mused that Mueller probably had all the evidence he needed without forcing a constitutional showdown with Trump. But he didn't even have enough evidence to make up his own mind. If nothing else, that is inexcusable.

Mueller Report Vicious Circle

The Mueller Report "did not establish" that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government". Which means they can not prove it happened with full confidence in that conclusion.

They can not prove it happened with full confidence because Trump Obstructed Justice with his witness tampering, using among other things the non subtle dangling of pardons to witnesses who could have helped establish conspiracy and/or coordination with the Russian government: Think Stone and Manaford for starters.

Because "collusion" was thus not clearly established, Barr notes that the Special Counsel did not establish that the President was guilty of an underlying crime. He then notes that the lack of such evidence bears upon the matter of "corrupt intent" on the part of the President, making Obstruction harder to establish, since "corrupt intent" is a key element in proving Obstruction of Justice beyond a reasonable doubt.

Therefore the success of Trump's Obstruction of Justice prevented an underlying crime from being established, and the fact that no underlying crime was established prevents Obstruction of Justice from being proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

At least that's how Barr gets to where he wants to be.

I will state what I hope is obvious. When there is insufficient evidence to support an indictment...

...there should be no indictment. Period. (Note, this is a separate matter from whether a sitting President should be indicted when the evidence does support an indictment.)

I know no more than anyone else about Mueller's report, his decision making process, or whatever possible further indictments may yet be outstanding from other investigations. I have my own semi-informed opinions about who I think it is who likely committed this or that crime, but dozens of incredibly experienced professionals at the top of their fields have spent many thousands of hours conducting the investigation that has now concluded with Mueller's Report. They pretty much know infinitely more than I do about it. And assuming that Barr is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when he affirms that no initiative that Mueller sought to pursue with his investigation was blocked by anyone above him in the Justice Department, that resolves my final lingering concern.

Trump is the one who believes that our system of Justice should be used as a political weapon, not us. He is the one who wants to lock up his opponents because they are his opponents. Trump is the one who is willing to undermine our Constitution and our Bill of Rights in order to pursue his chosen agenda, the law and democratic traditions be damned. It is imperative that Democrats highlight the difference between how we regard and uphold the rule of law compared to how Trump and his Republican lackeys do. It makes us the true patriots, and we have every reason to stand proudly on that ground, and contrast ourselves to Trump while doing so.

OK, for the moment at least, put me down as a "soft" supporter of Warren

I am not fully committed to any candidate. Warren is among several who I am most drawn to for now. In a very real way I am still fundamentally "Undecided". My current plan, actually, is to shift my "Logo" back to Undecided within a week.

So why am I calling myself a Warren supporter today? Glad you asked. I am showing support for Senator Warren for the way in which she is injecting specific policies and issues into our political debate. She is not being given enough credit in general for that in my opinion. She should be being taken much more seriously than she has been. I want Warren's voice to be considered and heard. This is my gesture for her in that regard. When I most likely shift back to Undecided later it will not be (unless I say otherwise at the time) because I am cooling on her as a candidate. Consider this temporary "support" symbolic perhaps, but it is meant as a show of my respect for Senator Warren.

The Electability Argument at This Point is Mostly Political Spin

I wince or laugh (or both) every time I see some pundit on TV (or on DU for that matter) now seriously implore that only this or maybe that Democrat can defeat Trump in 2020. To begin with, there is no track record on earth historically more reliably wrong than the predictions made by political pundits almost two years out regarding who can and who can not win the presidency in the coming election. At this point in 1991 George Bush was viewed as unbeatable for reelection and Bill Clinton was merely an asterisk in an overview of the potential Democratic field of nominees. That example jumps out at me, but the litany of broken presidential crystal balls is endless.

Any Democrat with the wherewithal to make it onto a DNC sanctioned presidential debate stage can plausibly defeat Donald Trump in 2020, and most of them would at the least be likely to. "Likely to" of course is not a guarantee but there are rarely any guarantees in politics. Of course I believe that electability is a crucial factor in picking who Democrats should run in 2020, I just think it absurd for anyone to insist that they know now who can best defeat Donald Trump then. At this point in 2015 who do you know believed that Donald Trump would become the Republican nominee with Scott Walker, Mark Rubio and Jeb Bush all knocked out in the early rounds? Who thought Hillary Clinton wouldn't waltz through all of the Democratic primaries without losing more than one or two of them if any?

Donald Trump is a historically unpopular President no matter how you look at it. Women are the majority of the electorate and Trump does horribly with women, much worse in polling now than he did in 2016. The demographic shift long underway in America will be 4 years further along in 2020 than it was in 2016. Trump barely squeaked through a pin hole of a path to winning the Electoral College in 2016, and Democrats surged back during the midterms (which historically are better years for Republicans than Presidential election years) in the States that Trump squeaked through with in 2016.

Any Democrat who captures the imagination and enthusiasm of the electorate stands an excellent chance of defeating Trump in 2020. I would argue that no Democrat can capture the imagination and enthusiasm of the general electorate without first doing the same with Democrats. It is excitement that generates interest, and whoever excites on the Democratic side in the runoff to the Democratic Convention will be bestowed with national excitement and interest beyond just Democratic ranks. Right now serious arguments are made that Beot O'Rouke might just be that person. I accept the potential legitimacy of those arguments. But who among us could even conceive that Beto O'Rouke might be our best bet for defeating Donald Trump for President back back in March of 2017? No one. I repeat, no one.

A Hillary Clinton presidency loomed big at this stage in the 2008 race. A Hillary Clinton presidency loomed big at this stage in the 2016 race. She would have made an excellent President either time, not my personal ideal president but excellent still the same. In 2015/2016 one of the arguments used by Clinton supporters against Bernie Sanders was electability. I knew many personally and read many others here who admitted back then that they preferred Sanders on the issues to Clinton, but believed that Sanders could not win a General Election. This despite the fact that many polls found him running stronger against Trump than Clinton did. This despite the fact that Sanders favorability numbers were among the best of all national politicians while Clinton's were among the worst.

Hillary Clinton would have won the Electoral College in 2016 were it not for James Comey and the Russians. Agreed. But she was running against a deeply flawed and generally unpopular opponent in Donald Trump. Who knows how well Sanders would have done instead? That can be debated endlessly but none of us will ever really know. It was a very unusual year in politics. The old guard in the Republican Party, Jeb Bush and the like, certainly did not have the force with them that year. When it came to Democrats, to what extent was that a factor as well with Independent voters, who make up a larger bloc than either Democrats or Republicans?

One thing is certain. 2020 will not be the same as 2016. No two elections are ever the same and the mood of the public seldom stays fixed for long. All of this is just a long way of saying that I don't have the faintest idea now which of our potential Democratic candidates will seem most "electable" when the 2020 General Election is upon us. Anyone who expresses certainty on that point I am tempted to simply tune out. I am fine with all who make arguments in favor of why this or that candidate might be the more electable option, as long as they are not delivered as the Gospel Truth. We will all know a lot more by December, and a whole lot more by next March. To call America's politics volatile right now is an understatement of epic proportions.

I am for the moment very open to arguments in favor of this or that candidate on her or his merits. Electability? Not so much. Our most electable candidate could well end up being someone tried and true like Vice President Joe Biden. Or it could be the strongest shake up the system candidate out there, potentially a Bernie Sanders. Or a charismatic young new star candidate. Or a charismatic former prosecutor turned Senator female candidate. Or whoever else manages to bottle lightning between now and then.

Yes I will be assessing electability when it comes time to cast my primary ballot. That is over a year away.

Yes it's FOX News. Yes it's Right Wing Radio. But mostly it's the Republican Party

It's been centuries since our American democratic system evolved into a two party state. It's is not a coincidence that for all practical purposes the term "bi-partisan" is taken in many cases to mean exactly the same as "non-partisan." Two political parties by default are the guardians of our Democracy. Because 90% of American political activity is directed too flow through one of those two channels, there has been an unspoken presumption that each of them is broad based enough to resist becoming a mere front for deeply anti-democratic and extremist views.

True American extremists have historically usually been relegated to organize through shadow organizations and fringe political parties. At times they have tried to capture one of America's two reigning political parties. Racists have made serious runs in the past to control the Democratic Party, sometimes wholly succeeding at the State level. Fanatical "anti-Communist" right wingers moved to control the Republican Party with Joseph McCarthy as their spearhead, and they gained quite a foothold in it at the time. Ultimately more responsible elements within each Party fought back and pushed back the extremists. The 1968 National Democratic Convention was noteworthy for many reasons, but one of them was the floor fights to prevent segregationist oriented Party delegations from being seated at it. William F. Buckley and others aligned with him famously led a (then) successful effort to delegitimize the John Birch Society within Republican ranks.

That was then this is now. When our Constitution was written it was believed that our legislative branch of government would jealously guard its ceded authorities from encroachment by the Executive branch. When our Constitution was written we did not have political parties, so the President was not predicted to someday be universally viewed as the leader of a standing political bloc. Political parties in essence have become the unofficial fourth branch of American government, nowhere to be found in the Constitution but everywhere to be seen in practice. Political parties as institutions are not literally sworn to uphold and defend the U.S. Constitution. But it is through political parties that all American Presidents for centuries have been vetted and presented to the American people as viable potential leaders of our democracy.

Political actors such as David Duke have repeatedly in the recent past been repudiated by both of our major political parties. When a true extremist in recent years has managed to somehow secure a major party nomination, that party has broken ties with that person and urged their defeat at the ballot box. In that way our two party system had worked as a check on radical extremism.

What is happening today with the Republican Party is a new and very dangerous development for our democracy. The national Republican Party has turned over one of the only two current sets of keys to the White House to a racist, deeply self serving individual with no loyalty to the principals that underpin our freedoms and our grand experiment in self government. They fervently shy away from any efforts to uncover the depth of this President's own corruption. The Republican Party had a choice, and it has chosen to swear allegiance personally to an aspiring despot hell bent on creating a cult of personality around him, rather than to the U.S. Constitution. In so doing they provide Trump with the cover he requires to subvert the very same Constitution that Republicans have long ingenuously claimed to honor. This is on them.

It is too soon to call for impeachment, but it's time to openly call Trump a threat to our Democracy

I'm not trying to be coy, or to play word games. I accept that it is not yet the most opportune time to begin literal impeachment procedures. House hearings need to pick up steam, criminal investigations at the state and federal level need to proceed, and further word from Mueller is awaited. Strategically we should have the discipline to allow all of that to perk a little more, especially since Democrats can't impeach Trump on our own. The stronger the legal case for impeachment that can be made, the harder it will be for Trump's defenders to frame it as Democrats over reaching when we begin the formal process to impeach him.

But the groundwork for successfully impeaching Trump can best be prepared by emphasizing now how much of a threat Donald Trump poses to the very fabric of our Democracy, with or without substantial proof of him having colluded with Russia or any other criminal offense Trump may be guilty of. That is the theme we all must hammer on, and that includes the national media. It took the national media almost 18 months before it was comfortable with boldly describing Trump as a flat out liar. Before that they mostly commented on how often he uttered "falsehoods". It was a short but crucial step for them to start literally calling him a liar rather than simply someone who lied in this or that instance.

Now the media is still stuck in describing how Trump is violating presidential norms, again in this way or that. They talk about how this or that policy of his may not be constitutional, and how this or that policy of his may not be well grounded in facts. They point out times when Trumps goes against the counsel of most of his senior advisors, or never even consults with them to begin with. And they talk about how the constant flood of toxins that he emits serves to divide Americans rather than unite us. They do not however yet talk about him presenting a clear and present danger.

Now it is time to draw the obvious conclusion. Whether or not he is impeached and removed from office before the 2020 Presidential elections, Donald Trump the man poses an existential threat to our constitutional Democracy as well as to our national security. He literally is destabilizing the fabric of our society and unraveling the ties that bind us together as Americans. He is at heart an autocrat with no intrinsic respect for Democratic institutions or the truth. We may have to wait a little longer to impeach him, but we can't afford to wait another day in speaking the truth about the Man in the Oval Office. And by doing so we bring his removal from office, one way or another, ever closer.
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