Masih Alinejad

Journalist Masih Alinejad escaped the long arms of Iran’s authoritarian regime, thanks to the excellent work of the FBI and the Department of Justice, who caught her would be assassins. It was a very close call. The Department of Justice announcement coincided with the beating death of Tyre Nichols, so unless you turned to C-Span, you likely didn’t catch this news story.

Masih Alinejad lives in the US. If she returned to Iran, she would be immediately arrested, for her efforts to advocate for the rights of Iranian women, and respect for civil liberties. It is alleged that the Iranian government paid assassins to permanently silence her in the United States.

Attorney General Merrick Garland announced the arrest. The following link provides the details of the three men arrested. Rafat Amirov was the group’s leader, and was arrested in New York. The three men arrested belong to an Eastern European crime group, and they were part of a murder-for-hire plot.

I am glad that Masih Alinejad can continue to do her important work.

Link CNN: Justice Department announces new arrests in plot to kill New York-based journalist directed from Iran

Stay tuned,

Dave

Alina Habba problem

On October 24, 2022, Alina Habba joined MAGA, Inc. Per Bloomberg News:

“One of former President Donald Trump’s top lawyers has taken on a role as senior adviser for his new political action committee, pressing his MAGA message even as she defends him in a series of high-stakes lawsuits.  Alina Habba, who represents Trump in the suit filed by New York’s attorney general over his asset valuations, has joined the MAGA Inc. team as it spends millions on ads to support Trump’s endorsed candidates in key midterm races.”

The above screenshot of Alina Habba is from NewsMax, where she was being interviewed by Sean Spicer. Sean Spicer has written several books since leaving the White House, all of which I assume are very favorable to Trump. She has an office close to Trump’s golf course and resort in Bedminister, NJ. Very convenient.

Link: Wikipedia, Alina Habba

Attorney Habba filed a civil lawsuit for Donald Trump and on January 19, 2023, Judge Middlebrooks ordered sanctions against Trump and Habba totaling $938,000. In my last posting, I summarized many of the Judge’s comments. They were not kind to Ms. Habba. Thus, Alina Habba got her 15 minutes of fame, appearing on Fox News, sending Twitter messages, etc. And for Donald Trump, it’s just another day at the office, or really running for President.

In the week that followed, two lawsuits against NY Attorney General Letitia James as filed by Alina Habba were withdrawn. Why? First, I assume that these lawsuits had zero chance of winning in court, because Trump would never allow a lawsuit that even had a one in a million chance of winning, to be withdrawn. It wasn’t every going to great news coverage, because it would remind people that AG James is suing Trump for a hefty 250 million dollars and her case is proceeding well.

Link: Trump drops appeal, ending legal fight against New York Attorney General Letitia James

Attorney Habba is worried about being disbarred, plain and simple. Sean Hannity isn’t about to invite her back to explain why she lost in court. Neither will Sean Spicer at NewsMax. When her conspiracy case got so obliterated by Judge Middlebrooks, there isn’t much to say unless you want to blame the entire legal system. They tend to be interested in facts over allegations. Trump can go on, and blame it all on the judge.

The judge added that Mr. Trump’s use of the courts had helped to undermine the public’s confidence in them. “A continuing pattern of misuse of the courts by Mr. Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm,”

The four lawyers which were initially sanctioned by Judge Middlebrooks are: Alina Habba, Michael T. Madaio, Peter Ticktin and Jamie Alan Sasson, were assessed $50,000 penalties, plus $16,000 to cover the legal fees paid by one of the defendants. I believe these sanctions are being appealed.

More on Habba’s law firm:

Link from Nov 2021: Trump turns to small N.J. law firm for latest lawsuits

One of the other lawyers sanctioned by Judge Middlebrooks is Peter Ticktin, whose law office is in Deerfield Beach, Florida. Tinkin is 76 years old, and was a classmate of Donald Trump at the New York Military Academy. See link:

Link from Daily Beast: Trump’s New Lawyer Has Been Fawning Over Him Since High School

Peter Ticktin even wrote a book documenting his love of Trump: What Makes Trump Tick: My Years with Donald Trump from New York Military Academy to the Present.

Finally, I can understand how those in the legal profession are tempted to use their power of persuasion to enter into politics. I mean they have years of experience in advocacy and oratory. The difference in court, you have opposing counsel, always there to check your facts And of course, a judge to examine both sides of an issue.

There are discipline ethic boards for attorneys, such as Rudy Giuliani, John Eastman and perhaps Alina Habba, who went way too far, for their clients.

Stay tuned,

Dave

The Crime of the Century – Not!

In March 2022, Donald Trump filed a lawsuit against everyone he could think of connected to the DOJ Russian probe, the Clinton campaign and the Steele Dossier for damages under the RICO Act. He asked for at least 24 million dollars. Like so many of his lawsuits, it was dismissed in September with scathing comments from Judge Middlebrooks. So Trump got nothing but legal bills. Plus of course, a lot of free publicity, thanks to appearances of his attorney Alina Habba with Sean Hannity on Fox News. All pretty sad.

The Judge sanctioned Trump for filing a frivolous lawsuit. But the worst was still to come. On January 19, 2023, Trump and his lawyer had to pay Clinton and the other defendants just under one million dollars for their legal expenses.

Judge Middlebrooks let Trump have it by calling it a political manifesto and a shotgun pleading. But, his harsh language came only after he allowed Trump and his attorney, Alina Habba to “cure” obvious problems with the initial filing. Trump decided to double down, and add 80 more pages of unsupported claims.

I am thinking Trump’s big legal bill will be paid for by his “Save America” PAC. So, as usual, it is his biggest fans which Donald Trump is ripping off. The judge in the case got it right, in this lawsuit should never have been filed.

The Judge made it clear there would be no third filing, as the amended complaint was not just inadequate in any respect but was inadequate in all respects. Two strikes and you’re out.

“Here, we are confronted with a lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose,” he wrote.

As I was completing this blog, I discovered this blog from the Democratic Underground website which really nailed it:

Link: This is priceless! From the Court’s decision in TRUMP v. HILLARY CLINTON

Every quote is accurate. I have posted the orders of Judge Middlebrooks under “Trump’s Lawsuit” and it’s best to download the opinion. Everyone can select their favorite section. Here’s one I like:

“The deliberate use of a shotgun pleading is an abusive litigation tactic which amounts to obstruction of justice.”

Further on, the Judge states:

“I find that the pleadings here were abusive litigation tactics. The Complaint and Amended Complaint were drafted to advance a political narrative; not to address legal harm caused by any Defendant.”

I guess the only last bit I could add, is that two days after this verdict, Trump withdrew the 250 million dollar lawsuit he had filed against New York Attorney General Letitia James. See links below:

Additional links:

ABC News, January 20, 2023: Donald Trump withdraws lawsuit against New York Attorney General Letitia James

New York Times November 11, 2022: Judge Fines Trump Lawyers in Clinton Conspiracy Suit Tossed in September

Newsweek Sept 9, 2022, Judge Threatens Trump Lawyers With Possible Sanctions Over Clinton Lawsuit

Now the gory details

Key dates are March 24, 2022 for the initial filing, June 22, 2022, amended filing, September 8, 2022 for the Order to Dismiss and January 19, 2023 for the Order to Sanction Donald Trump and lead attorney Alina Habbab for 938,000 dollars.

“Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit on March 24, 2022, alleging that “the Defendants, blinded by political ambition, orchestrated a malicious conspiracy to disseminate patently false and injurious information about Donald J. Trump and his campaign, all in the hopes of destroying his life, his political career and rigging the 2016 Presidential Election in favor of Hillary Clinton.”

Page after page, the Judge shows it is Donald Trump, not the defendants who makes incomplete unsubstantiated claims. I have posted the judge’s scathing comments of September 8, 2022 on the Pages section of the website. As I read this, I am sure the judge wanted to do exactly what Speaker Pelosi did Trump’s state of the union address – tear it up.

The Order to Dismiss on September 8, 2022 does not mince words.

“Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is 193 pages in length, with 819 numbered paragraphs. It contains 14 counts, names 31 defendants, 10 “John Does” described as fictitious and unknown persons, and 10 “ABC Corporations” identified as fictitious and unknown entities. Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is neither short nor plain, and it certainly does not establish that Plaintiff is entitled to any relief. More troubling, the claims presented in the Amended Complaint are not warranted under existing law.”

When the Judge noted problems with the lawsuit with unsubstantiated claims, he allowed Trump to fix it. The normal way would be to add more evidence or withdraw a particular complaint. Instead, Trump just kept piling in another baseless claim of criminality – wire fraud.

“The Amended Complaint alleges that the Defendants “engaged in a calculated scheme to defraud the news media, law enforcement, and counterintelligence officials for the purpose of proliferating a false narrative of collusion between Trump and Russia.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 577). Not only does Plaintiff lack standing to complain about an alleged scheme to defraud the news media, but his lawyers ignore the Supreme Court’s holdings that the federal wire fraud statute prohibits only deceptive schemes to deprive the victim of money or property.”

Page 4 of Order to Dismiss. So, clearly when told to “cure” the complaint, Trump went in the opposite direction, making more baseless accusations.

In 2019, Attorney General Bill Barr appointed John Durham to head up an investigation of wrong doing in the origins of the Russian probe. It was supposed to find evidence that the Russian investigation was a “Witch Hunt” but has yet to find any serious legal violations. Michael Sussman was indicted for lying to the FBI, but found not guilty by a jury trial. The Judge’s commented:

“Likewise, the Amended Complaint cites copiously to the indictment of Michael Sussmann and a substantial portion of the Amended Complaint contains its allegations. But nowhere does the Amended Complaint mention Mr. Sussmann’s acquittal.” (page 9) Note that Michael Sussman was acquitted on May 31, 2022 and the amended complaint filed on June 22, 2022. For brevity I have not included the 27 citations which reference Michael Sussman.

On page 31, the judge states:

“Perplexingly, Plaintiff appears to argue that the Defendants obstructed investigation Crossfire Hurricane by contributing to the initiation of Crossfire Hurricane. That Defendants could have obstructed a proceeding by initiating it defies logic.”

In the US, anyone can sue anyone in a civil proceedings. But a private citizen needs to sue the agency of the government, not the individual. For this reason, 8 federal employees including former FBI Director, James Comey, Senator Adam Schiff, and former FBI agent, Kevin Clinesmith were removed as defendants, and the United States was added. FBI agent Clinesmith plead guilty to altering evidence in the FBI investigation (a single email) and received a one year probation sentence. I think that’s all the criminality that John Durham has proven to date. All claims of a deep state existing in the Department of Justice has apparently alluded John Durham’s investigation.

The RICO statutes were originally passed so law enforcement could go after organized crime. Later, they were used in numerous drug and financial criminal cases. In the 65 pages on the order to dismiss, Judge Middlebrooks methodically dismembers Trump’s lawsuit, and concludes on pages 63-64:

“It is not simply that I find the Amended Complaint “inadequate in any respect”; it is inadequate in nearly every respect. Defendants presented substantively identical arguments in support of dismissal in the earlier round of briefing on Plaintiff’s original Complaint. (See DEs 52, 124, 139, 141, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 149, 157, 159, 160, 163, 165). But despite this briefing, Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint failed to cure any of the deficiencies. Instead, Plaintiff added eighty new pages of largely irrelevant allegations that did nothing to salvage the legal sufficiency of his claims. The inadequacies with Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint are not “merely issues of technical pleading,” as Plaintiff contends, but fatal substantive defects that preclude Plaintiff from proceeding under any of the theories he has presented. At its core, the problem with Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is that Plaintiff is not attempting to seek redress for any legal harm; instead, he is seeking to flaunt a two-hundred-page political manifesto outlining his grievances against those that have opposed him, and this Court is not the appropriate forum.”

A political manifesto. Wow. This is how the Order to Dismiss ends.

On January 19, 2023, the judge ruled in favor of defendants on sanctions. There were more choice words for the shotgun pleadings as he termed it. He cites other cases, which used similar strategies. The first two sentences of his order to sanctions are:

This case should never have been brought. Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim. Thirty-one individuals and entities were needlessly harmed in order to dishonestly advance a political narrative. A continuing pattern of misuse of the courts by Mr. Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm.

In his order, he delves into how the lead attorney, Alina Habba used conservative talk show hosts, NewsMax and Sean Hannity on Fox News to misrepresent the facts in the case.

The judge continues:

Here, we are confronted with a lawsuit that should never have been filed, which was completely frivolous, both factually and legally, and which was brought in bad faith for an improper purpose. Mr. Trump is a prolific and sophisticated litigant who is repeatedly using the courts to seek revenge on political adversaries. He is the mastermind of strategic abuse of the
judicial process, and he cannot be seen as a litigant blindly following the advice of a lawyer. He knew full well the impact of his actions. See Byrne, 261 F.3d at 1121. As such, I find that sanctions should be imposed upon Mr. Trump and his lead counsel, Ms. Habba.

As correctly stated from the blogger in the Democratic Underground website, to support their conspiracy theory, they used statements obtained from Russian intelligence as follows:

[From Trump’s complaint] Ratcliff’s letter stated that Clinton and her campaign conceived the false Russia collision [sic] story to protect Clinton’s presidential bid, which was at the time, in trouble because of revelations about her illegally using a private email server to handle classified information. Ratcliff confirmed in the letter that Obama, Comey and Strzok knew about it.

[Judge’s footnote] This provocative allegation stirred my curiosity, so I looked up the Ratcliff letter. The allegation in the Amended Complaint fails to mention that the information came from a Russian intelligence analysis and that Mr. Ratcliffe commented: “The IC (intelligence community) does not know the accuracy of this allegation or the extent to which the Russian intelligence analysis may reflect exaggeration or fabrication.” Letter from John Ratcliff, Dir. of Nat’l Intel., to Sen. Lindsey Graham, U.S. Senate (Sept. 29, 2020) https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/press/rep/releases/chairman-graham-releases-informationfrom-dni-ratcliffe-on-fbis-handling-of-crossfire-hurricane. Mr. Trump’s lawyers saw no professional impediment or irony in relying upon Russian intelligence as the good faith basis for their allegation.

Yes. We can trust Russian intelligence as we attack at least five members of the FBI, US Senator, and a host of other prominent officials.

It is likely there are more appeals before any payment is actually made. Personally, I’d like to have seen the sanctions equal to the 24 million dollars that Trump was asking for. But our legal system doesn’t work this way.

Stay tuned,

Dave

I checked Attorney Alina Habba website. It mentions a number of important cases she has worked on. Trump v. Clinton et al, isn’t one of them.

Debt Ceiling: Mint the Coin!

Democrats want Congress to raise the debt ceiling without conditions. Republicans in the House want numerous concessions. At present, it looks like both sides are on a collision course.

The Democrats on this issue are right. It should not require an act of Congress to allow the government to borrow the funds it needs to pay its obligations. As stated in Forbes:

Remember the U.S. is essentially the only country requiring a separate vote on raising the debt ceiling. Most governments assume if spending is legally authorized then the necessary funds must be made available, either through taxes or borrowing.

Yes, borrow it or raise taxes. Nobody, particularly Republicans are arguing to raise taxes.

See Link: The Trillion Dollar Coin

It does not need Congressional approval. Congress can work in a bipartisan manner, to cut spending. But not use the debt ceiling as some kind of bargaining chip. The consequences are too devastating in case of a standoff.

The second option which I like is for the Treasury to create a special-purpose entity to issue new securities (more like promissory notes) that can pay for expenditures. These entities have been used by the states, so in a way, they have been “road tested.”

I would have preferred Representative Elizabeth Warren’s recommendation to get rid of the debt ceiling. That makes perfect sense. Countries take incredible measures to avoid default on their debt, while we apparently intentionally crash our economy, while we have the ability to borrow the money.

See VOX Link: Our debt ceiling crisis could hit as early as June. Here’s how Biden can sidestep it.

The VOX article suggest in Option #3 that the president declares he must spend the money for the programs approved by Congress, and to do so, he is forced to borrow the money, since only Congress can raise taxes. So, in essence to obey one law, he must break another one. And of course, this is asking for a court battle and the 14th amendment will be pulled into the fight. . And absolutely calls for impeachment of Biden. Avoiding default by doing something about half of the US will consider illegal, is not a very good solution.

There is a second option, which I don’t see much chance in success. It is the discharge petition, which means Democrats have to find 5 moderate Republicans in the House to sign off on the no-strings attached ceiling limit increase, then get a discharge petition approved so they can bring it to the floor of the House.

Wall Street Journal: House Lawmakers Discuss Discharge Petition to Force Debt-Ceiling Vote

The last option would be to do everything the Republican want, which will assure Joe Biden or any other Democrat will have no chance of winning in 2024. Deep cuts in Medicare or Social Security will be blamed on Biden.

So, almost by default, the big coin option wins. The special purpose entity will buy time. The best option has to wait until Democrats control the House and the Senate, and the debt ceiling is eliminated for good.

Stay tuned,

Dave

The Political Riot in Brasilia

January 8, 2023 riot in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil resembled January 6, 2020 in some ways, but very different in others. It was widely anticipated that there would be massive protest turning into violence on inauguration day, January 1, 2023. This did not happen. There was a lot of speculation that the military would step in prior to January 8 and Lula da Silva would not be inaugurated. In fact, the more radical supporters of Bolsonaro hoped he would void the election by calling in the military. Again, this was completely unfounded, just a lot of Facebook posting nonsense.

The idea of calling in the military to “fix” an election result, is a very good way to end a democracy. Every dictator depends on the military to control the population. Just go ask Vladimir Putin.

The general election was held on October 2, 2022. The runoff election between Bolsonaro and Lula was held on October 30, 2022, and Lula was declared the winner on October 31.For a summary of the Brazilian first general election and runoff presidential election (Oct 30, 2022) see the link below:

Link: 2022 Brazilian General Election

Bolsonaro is not Trump. This is meant as a compliment. I was relieved when Bolsonaro made a brief statement on November 1, saying that he authorized his chief of staff to begin the transition process. In essence, he was telling millions of supporters that the election was over. There is no legal requirement to concede. All he has to do is step aside, and he did this.

He said everything he does is within the mandates of the constitution. Thank God for this. Everything seem quick and final. Brazil has no write in or mail in voting. It is 100% electronic and considered by many, to be reliable. Every Brazilian has a national identity number and getting a job is difficult without it. There was no “Stop the Steal” craziness or 61 attempts to challenge the results in court. But, he refused to acknowledge that Lula had won. I thought from November 1 to January 1 (inauguration day) things would cool off.

Per Wikipedia: “On 22 November, he and his party formally contested the election result, after an audit revealed that electronic voting machines made before 2020, which comprised 59% of machines used in the 2022 election, lacked identification numbers in their internal logs. They requested that the Superior Electoral Court invalidate the votes recorded by the affected machines, which would result in Bolsonaro being elected with 51% of the remaining valid votes. However, experts claimed that the software error did not affect the election results and pointed out that the identification numbers did appear in the physical vote records printed by the machines.[313] On the next day the court rejected the request and fined the party R$22.9 million (US$4.3 million) for what it considered bad faith litigation.[314]”

Unlike the US, there is only one ultimate authority on election integrity, and that is the Superior Electoral Court headed by Alexandre de Moraes. See link below for his background

Link: Alexandre de Moraes

The Brazilian system of justice may be flawed, but at least candidates need only to petition one court with their complaints. Justice Alexandre de Moraes was astute enough to ask if the results from 59% of voting machines were to be invalidated, did this apply to the first election and the runoff? The problem for Bolsonaro’s party was that many of their candidates for Governor, Senator and Congress won in the first election, so of course they did not want to throw out these favorable results. It was immediately obvious to everyone involved that the court filing was just a publicity stunt.

False information about the voting machines spread quickly both in Brazil and the US. I received several postings on Facebook saying that in truth, Bolsonaro had won 73% of the vote. It seems the Brazilian community in Miami were very quick to hit the share icon.

See link from National Public Radio (US): Why false claims about Brazil’s election are spreading in far-right U.S. circles

It is definitely true that Steve Bannon and others in the US were trying to package and sell the “Stop the Steal” campaign stuff to far right groups in Brazil after Bolsonaro lost. But, for the most part, it isn’t packageable, at least not yet. It really takes powerhouses like Sean Hannity and Carlson Tucker on Fox News to spread misinformation to fuel the anger and frustration that comes from losing an election.

There are other enormous differences between Brazil and the US in the months after the election. While Bolsonaro’s party did file in court that the voting machines were flawed, this was quickly ruled on and dismissed. In the US, Trump was taking every possible opportunity to advance the “Stop the Steal” movement in court filings and fully endorsed the angry mob on January 6, 2020 that was on the brink of becoming violent. The Save America campaign was created to raise money to keep the “big lie” alive. There was no equivalent in Brazil. Thank God!

There was desecration of artwork in official rooms I am glad that no one died in the riot on January 8, 2022. No official, including Bolsonaro, referred to the rioters as patriots. No politician downplayed or minimized the impact of the January 8 riots, as Republican lawmakers had done in the US. It was recognized as an anti-democracy attack.

Wikipedia: Artworks damaged, destroyed or stolen in the 2023 Brasilia attacks

I am also glad to hear over 1,000 rioters (some reports are 1,500) were arrested. They seemed to be filming themselves, for posting to social media. I’m certain many cellphones will be confiscated as evidence. Note to rioters, don’t bring expensive iphones to riots.

Justice Alexandre de Moraes suspended Governor of Brasilia, Ibaneis Rocha from his job as governor for at least 90 days, saying that the upheaval “could only occur with the consent, and even effective participation, of the security and intelligence authorities.” The supporters of Bolsonaro had set up tent cities in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro. The court ordered them dismantled.

Lula da Silva has got a huge challenge now, convincing Brazilians he truly wants to unite the country. The voting system of Brazil works. Many will go on believing that the election was stolen and Lula now will turn Brazil into an autocratic communist country like Cuba. The democratic structure of Brazil is too strong for this to happen.

Bolsonaro is too proud to say he lost in a free and fair election. But he shown to be much better than Trump, as he has conceded to others in private that he lost the election. He is now in the US, for medical treatment. I wish him well.

Stay tuned,

Dave

US House Republicans v. Republicans

In case you’ve missed it, I’m talking about the inability of the House Republicans to elect the Speaker of the House, because 20 “holdout” Republicans will not vote for the most likely candidate, Kevin McCarthy. Thus after now 11 votes, McCarthy has not gained a majority.

It is unprecedented event, at least in the last 164 years. Much of the negotiations are in secret, but some demands have leaked out. Imagine if a group of kidnappers took a child, and each sent a separate ransom note, and not one note assured the release of the child. It is that crazy.

Link: CNN, What do these hardliners want? Here’s what they’ve said

Link CNN: McCarthy fails on 11th ballot amid hopes for tentative deal with conservatives

The Republican lead House will not pass legislation. Most scary of all, the US reaches the debt ceiling in mid-summer and it needs to be raised. Unfortunately, it is wrongly portrayed as permission to spend recklessly. Approval has come after a lot of grandstanding by Republicans of how totally out of control our government spending is and they will put a stop to it.

It is in fact, it is government asking permission to borrow enough money above a certain limit to pay for expenses that have already been authorized. Failure to approve the debt ceiling increase will mean the US is now in default on its payments, and trust in the US dollar will plummet. Higher interest rates will affect everyone. Trying to repair the damage afterwards is very difficult.

Rep. Ralph Norman, a South Carolina Republican, said the debt ceiling fight is a “non-negotiable item” which is really scary talk. It guarantees that Norman will have his day in the sun, as he can blast the Democrats for our cumulative debt. The Trump administration also increased the national debt, with large tax cuts, mostly for the wealthy, in 2017, which continues to effect borrowing today.

Link: Kevin McCarthy must commit to government shutdown over raising debt ceiling, say Freedom Caucus holdout.

The Republicans will hold hearings. Under brutal attack will be the Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas for the crisis at the southern border. Republicans may start impeachment hearings against Mayorkas.

Our support for Ukraine will come under constant attack from the radical right Republicans who will attack almost everything the Biden administration is doing right.

Many of the 20 holdouts belong to the Freedom Caucus, and one of the demands of this group, is that the members of important committees must be members of the Caucus. Thus, it is the Caucus with unelected officials and not the Republican Party, which is really driving policy.

Finally, the holdouts want to make it very easy to get rid of the Speaker, thus vastly reducing his authority. Imagine McCarthy has negotiated a deal on increasing the debt ceiling, but the hard right representatives don’t like it. They don’t need to debate it, they just send McCarthy packing. And then go through more rounds of voting on a new Speaker.

There has been some great reporting. From the New York Times, “It’s not about policies, it’s about the fight,” said Doug Heye, a former aide to Representative Eric Cantor, the onetime majority leader who lost his seat in a stunning 2014 upset by a far-right challenger, David Brat. “The more you hear the word ‘fight’ or ‘fighter,’ the less you hear about a strategy for winning that fight.”

Matt Gaetz has said repeatedly there are at least 5 representatives who absolutely will not vote for Kevin McCarthy, and this is enough to block him from serving as Speaker. One of them is Representative Lauren Boebert, who decided to be interviewed by Sean Hannity on Fox News. He asked, “Is this a game show?” which is interesting as I consider most of Hannity and Carlson Tucker just entertainment for conservative Republicans.

It is Trump MAGA stuff: Winning is for the strong, Compromise is for the weak. Unfortunately, as Trump has shown, it isn’t winning for the country, and for personal political gain.

Buckle up, we are in uncharted waters.

Dave

Trump’s insulting names for people and organizations

Wikipedia compiled a list. See link:

List of nicknames used by Donald Trump

It is a long list, and contains many Republicans as well as Democrats. Frequently, they are related to being corrupt or dishonest. What is interesting is that none of the people called corrupt, have ever been charged with a crime.

Then, there’s the lazy or low energy names, and the most famous is Sleepy Joe, for Joe Biden. He’s got a long list of nicknames for Biden, including the “Corrupt Joe.”

The Trump organization has already been found guilty of corruption. Steve Bannon is free on bond at present, as his conviction is being appealed. Roger Stone received a full pardon from Trump on December 23, 2020, but I think he’ll be back in court in connection with the January 6 violence.

The list is long, and way down at the bottom, are his insults to new organizations, which he attacked as corrupt, and offering the public “fake news.” No nicknames for the the truly corrupt and ultra right wing organization, Infowars, headed by Alex Jones. Awards to victims from the defamation cases total more than 1.4 billion dollars and Jones has filed for bankruptcy. Similarly, no insulting names for Fox News which is being sued by Dominion Voting Systems, for their commentators who constantly attacked the reliability of their equipment without evidence. This was real fake news.

I congratulate Wikipedia and the great service they do. Just before posting this blog, I wanted to discuss the recent success with nuclear fusion, and of course, my first reference was Wikipedia.

So, let me close with a nickname of my own: “Amazing Wikipedia.” It is their fund raising time, and you can make a donation from their website.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Trump’s Documents Case: Special Master is Gone

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled yesterday in favor of the Department of Justice, and ended the review by the Special Master of seized documents as Judge Aileen Cannon had ordered.

Chief Justice John Roberts remarked in an interview, that he likes to write opinions that ordinary people can understand. Many of the opinions fall short of this goal. The Appellate Court delivered a “Roberts’ gem.” The 19 page decision gets to the point quickly. Judge Cannon did not have the right to order the Special Master review of seized documents. Donald J. Trump verses the United States of America sets out unique privileges that former presidents or any former official just don’t have.

I am certain that Judge Cannon focused on a very narrow balancing act, between the right of the Department of Justice need for documents for possible prosecution, verses Donald Trump right to have returned to him, those documents which were clearly personal items. So, I guess her thinking was that if DOJ and Trump could work out rules for a speedy review, her order would stand.

But, Judge Cannon goes from law to politics, when she goes from singular to plural in just one word. And the Appellate Court catches her, as she claims she must consider the parties need for the documents, instead of the party (Donald Trump) to support the need of the Special Master review. I can see now, why the Department of Justice needed an expediated appeals hearing. The judge was re-writing case law and setting a dangerous precedent, that makes every search warrant a balancing act between parties.

The opinion’s first line: This appeal requires us to consider whether the district court had jurisdiction to block the United States from using lawfully seized records in a criminal investigation. The answer is no. And the next 18 pages, show clearly why the Judge’s opinion lacks merits based on case law.

Then, starting on page 20, the opinion in two sentences sums up the problem with Judge Cannon’s decision. “The law is clear. We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so.”

There are in fact, situations where the Department of Justice will ask for a Special Master to review documents. And other times, where the search went beyond the warrant or there is client-attorney privileged documents, best handled by a third party, as a Special Master overseen by a court magistrate.

The beauty of this opinion is that the Appellate Court is crystal clear that the burden for blocking access to seized material was with Trump, and he failed to pass the “Richey Test.” On page 20, the Appellate Court states:

The Richey test has been in place for nearly fifty years; its limits apply no matter who the government is investigating. To create a special exception here would defy our Nation’s foundational principle that our law applies “to all, without regard to numbers, wealth, or rank.

Judge Aileen Cannon, who violated this principle, is not called out. That’s not the way opinions are written. But, she definitely is soundly condemned by this ruling.

The Special Master is gone. The FBI’s internal review by their filter team can begin.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Covid-19 Vaccines are Effective

The Kaiser Family Foundation estimated 234,000 people would still be alive if they had taken their shots. Vaccines are working if people get all the shots available to them. KFF: COVID-19 leading cause of death ranking

The bad news: People vaccinated are still getting Covid. Good news: They rarely die of Covid if they have gotten the boosters and the new bivalent dose, if available.

If one shot works so well, why take a second one? This comes from someone who should know better. The misinformation in the social media on Covid-19 is absurd. Yet, it has recently extended to more reliable sources such as the Washington Post and the Indian broadcast news network, WION, which wrote:

“Fifty-eight percent of coronavirus deaths in August were people who were vaccinated or boosted, according to an analysis conducted for The Health 202 by Cynthia Cox, vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation.”.

So, the takeaway message, is why get the shot, if it increases your chance of getting Covid-19.

Washington Post, Nov 23, 2022: Covid is no longer mainly a pandemic of the unvaccinated. Here’s why.

WION, Nov 24: Vaccinated people accounting for majority of Covid deaths in the US: Report

The story of a “US Report” is everywhere thanks to social media. The Washington Post has an online service, Health 202, and it covers a variety of health subjects in a very summarized manner, which is generally well sourced. This time, they really went off the tracks.

— What is true

So, of course I googled Cynthia Cox and Covid-19. No report with this conclusion. She has co-authored an analysis done in April 2022 and updated in November 10, 2022.

(1) COVID-19 is on track to be the third leading cause of death in the United States for the third year in a row.

(2) COVID-19 deaths among unvaccinated adults that likely could have been prevented with primary series vaccinations, June 2021-March 2022 is estimated to be 234,0000.

KFF: COVID-19 leading cause of death ranking

Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death in the US. As you can likely guess, heart disease and cancer were #1 and #2 leading cause of death. If someone can give me a vaccine against these two diseases, I’ll be first in line.

Cynthia Cox is Vice President at KFF and Director for the Program on the ACA, where she conducts economic and policy research on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its effects on private insurers and enrollees. Her work focuses on enrollment, pricing, and competition in the ACA’s exchange markets. So, she is of course, the right person to provide hospitalization and death statistics on Covid-19.

CDC analyses tend not to have splashy headlines. But, if I had to choose one, as from a CDC report dated Nov 16, 2022, it is this:

COVID-19 vaccines continued to reduce the risk of dying among all age groups, including older adults, with the most protection observed among people who have received ≥2 booster doses.

Link CDC, Nov 16, 2022 Impact of Vaccination on Risk of COVID-19–Related Mortality

Which group do you want to be in? The top line (dark green) of the deaths per 100,000 in the population, or the bottom line, in red, with 2 boosters with very close to zero deaths per 100,000 in population. Personally, I got 2 boosters and the bivalent shot so I got the most protection I can.

The figure below is the death rates as measured by deaths per 100,000 population. For the vaccinated group, with the primary series of shots, the mortality rate is near zero. Every time the Covid variant mutates there is a noticeable rise in the unvaccinated and vaccinated groups, but notice how the deaths with the vaccinated group is near zero.

The current variant is easier to catch but in general, the symptoms are not as severe. Things might not stay that way.

Bloomberg News, Next Covid-19 Strain May be More Dangerous, Lab Study Shows

Predicting the next viral mutation is extremely difficult. I feel a lot safer knowing I’ve taken the 2 boosters and the bivalent shot. There was at one time a lot of discussion of which vaccine offered the best protection. I think the mRNA vaccines by Pfizer and Moderna are the best against the new variants.

The above graph does not include the individuals who survive Covid, but do not fully recover. Long Covid is real and often is accompanied by “brain fog.”

NY Times, October 12, 2022 Nearly Half of Covid Patients Haven’t Fully Recovered Months Later, Study Finds

The personal stories on brain fog are really sad. The therapeutic Paxlovid is supposed to help, but it must be taken at the onset of Covid. Brain fog goes way beyond the normal memory loss with aging. Beyond vaccines, I’m focusing on a better diet (fruits, veggies and fiber) and low impact exercise.

Being vaccinated means freedom. Personally, I like to travel and social distancing is nearly impossible in airports and bus stations. If I was 40 years younger, I’d still take all shots available. I don’t want to get Covid in the first place, and although I know my antibodies might not fight off a new variant, I am still much better off than those who are not vaccinated.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Per the false information on Covid vaccines, social media is full of them:

CDC: Facts and Myths

https://www.factcheck.org/

Debt Ceiling Solution

There should be a convention of wordsmithers on the debt ceiling. Raising the debt ceiling sounds like rewarding someone for bad behavior. Suspending the debt ceiling sounds much better, but it’ ‘s really a game of kick the can down the road. Then there is Minority Leader of the House, Kevin McCarthy simple, direct, and completely wrong statement:

“we have paid for everything the Trump administration spent.”

“But it wasn’t paid for,” says Marc Goldwein, senior vice president for the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB) . The Trump administration spent more money than they were taking in. So Trump like every other president for the last 20 years ran a deficit and three times the debt ceiling was increased.

Link: Fact-checking partisan claims on government spending under Trump

Senator Elizabeth Warren has got the right solution. Abolish the debt ceiling. She said the following:

“Me? I’d get rid of the debt ceiling altogether. It serves no function except to create leverage for people who are willing to blow up the economy,” she added.

The GAO estimated that the delay in raising the debt ceiling during the debt ceiling crisis of 2011 raised borrowing costs for the government by $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2011 and noted that the delay would also raise costs in later years.[45] The Bipartisan Policy Center extended the GAO’s estimates and found that the delay raised borrowing costs by $18.9 billion over ten years.[46]

That’s the consequences of a delay. Defaulting on our obligations would be much worse.

Link: Warren calls for removing debt ceiling during lame-duck Congress

I think the best argument to get rid of it, is that it is redundant. Congress already controls the budget and taxation. Also, borrowing to cover shortfalls, really does make economic sense. The Covid-19 Relief Act kept our economy going, when people could not work, particularly in the hospitality area. Trying to pay for this with increased taxes would make no sense.

Link: Wikipedia, US Debt Ceiling

So, what Senator Warren is proposing, makes complete sense and would benefit Americans from cliff hanging partisan battles in Congress. What other country has a legislature that tries to crash the economy unless he does what they want?

Stay tuned,

Dave

Holding the US Economy hostage for political gain

Of course, I’m assuming the Republicans take control of at least the House, and next year refuse to increase the debt ceiling unless their demands are satisfied. It appears this will be cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, making sure that Biden will be a one term president. It will be how to hurt Biden or any other Democrat candidate in the future.

It is the reason I voted for only those in the Democratic Party in the mid-term election. We have never defaulted on our debt, and it will be terrible if that happens.

It is the definition of brinkmanship:

“the art or practice of pursuing a dangerous policy to the limits of safety before stopping, especially in politics.”

The debt ceiling doesn’t limit government spending. It is permission to borrow the money necessary to pay for its committed expenditures.

Link: https://www.reuters.com/world/us/us-congress-could-be-bruising-debt-ceiling-fight-after-midterms-2022-10-10/

Stay tuned,

Dave

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is China going to invade Taiwan?

There is this notion that Russia and China are following similar paths as they are both autocratic regimes. Autocracies are efficient and give the people of a country a sense of stability. In reality, it is a breakdown of independent institutions and laws designed to limit the powers of rulers.

An autocracy is a system of government where one person has absolute power. Vladimir Putin in Russia and Xi Jinping in China, rule their countries through fear and paranoia of the Western powers. It is often more extreme in Iran and North Korea, but they do not have the military capabilities of Russia and China. The unchecked authority of Putin is a key element leading to the decision to invasion of Ukraine.

It seemed a bit crazy when commentators were suddenly talking about the possible invasion of Taiwan by China, following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. But, the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, concluded this week was really about Xi Jinping emphasizing nationalism, security and formally adopting a more threatening policy towards Taiwan.

China watchers agree that Xi Jinping is more powerful than ever, with his handpicked new six member Politburo Standing Committee and his election to an unprecedented third term in office.

See link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20th_National_Congress_of_the_Chinese_Communist_Party

So, unfortunately the commentators arguing that Xi is likely to follow Putin’s foot steps seem to be right. Putin’s justifications of the Ukrainian invasion are basically (1) They are just taking back what has always belonged to Russia and (2) Ukraine was never really a country. Also, Russia ignores the UN condemnation of the invasion and the sanctions imposed by US and the EU.

Russia also claims that they were pushed into reclaiming Ukraine because of NATO’s expansion. Putin is good at concocting a rationale for the brutal invasion, and I have blogged previously that NATO acceptance of application of Eastern European break away countries, was consistent with NATO’s principles and an act of defense rather than aggression. Russia was never threatened by NATO expansion, but rather saw it as an ideal pretext to defend their actions.

Xi Jinping is obviously taking notice. He has tightened his grip on his party, and now is using paranoia of the US and Western nations, to convince the country that their security is at risk. It would be absurd to think that Ukraine posed a risk to Russia, or similarly Taiwan posed a risk to China. To justify an invasion, it is necessary to reduce Taiwan to a geological entity, known for centuries as the island of Formosa, and taken from the Chinese after World War II, as a refuge to the defeated army of Chiang Kai-Shek, and propped up by the US military,

Anyone who has studied Asian history would immediately know that Taiwan was under Japanese rule for 50 years from 1895 to 1945. Ironically, it is General Chiang Kai-Shek and his Chinese army who insisted that Taiwan was not only part of China, but that it was the provisional capital of China. From 1949 to the 1970s, the primary mission of the Taiwanese military was to “retake mainland China” through Project National Glory (Wikipedia). I’m not sure anyone believed this mission 50 years ago, and certainly the military today is strictly defensive.

Mainland China is the People’s Republic of China or PRC. The nation of Taiwan refers to itself as the Republic of China or ROC. Per Wikipedia:

The political and legal statuses of Taiwan are contentious issues. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) claims that Taiwan is Chinese territory and that itself has replaced the ROC government in 1949, becoming the sole legal government of China. The ROC, however, has its own currency, widely accepted passport, postage stamps, internet TLD, armed forces and constitution with an independently elected president. It has not formally renounced its claim to the mainland, but ROC government publications have increasingly downplayed this historical claim. Though it was a founding member of United Nations, the ROC now has neither official membership nor observer status in the organization.

Link: Wikipedia, Taiwan

Now, the US has tried to form a better relationship with China, for the obvious reason that China is a nuclear power with 18.5% of the world’s population. For this reason, we adopted the “One China” policy.

Link: What is the US “One China Policy”?

But we also want to continue strong ties to Taiwan and ensue their security. Administrations have tried to sidestep the question of ROC status. The question is whether ROC should pursue a path of unifying with China (one nation, two systems) in a manner similar to Hong Kong, through peaceful means or put more effort in achieving worldwide recognition as a separate nation, and formally abandoning its historical claim, that it is the legitimate government of China. I believe the latter is the more practical approach, even though China would see this as a threat.

The more belligerent Xi Jinping becomes, peaceful re-unification with two systems looks like a naïve, distant dream. The US has a very small military presence on Taiwan itself, but a large naval fleet close at hand. We don’t want a large military presence on Taiwan, because this could exacerbate an already tense situation. As Biden has remarked a number of times, if two nuclear powers are on the same battlefield, this can quickly become World War III.

Our US policy from Carter through Trump has been called “strategic ambiguity” towards the status of Taiwan. Biden’s recent comments on the US commitment defending Taiwan, appear to break with this policy.

Link: Biden leaves no doubt: ‘Strategic ambiguity’ toward Taiwan is dead

There will be some quiet back stepping, as we don’t want to cause Beijing to have a pretext to invade.

“Strategic ambiguity” never really could be a real policy, yet it endured for decades. It seems at odds with the fundamental aspects of good policy-making of clarifying areas of agreement, and narrowing issues of disagreement. It was the US trying to find a middle ground between ROC and RPC, when there was less and less they could agree on.

Xi is watching Putin’s war. He sees the successes and failures. And the most obvious failure is Russia’s inability to occupy and administer the eastern flank of Ukraine. The new Ukrainian counter-offensive, including the retaking of Kherson, means wars are most easily won in theory on maps rather than on the battlefield.

So, a Ukraine win will be a Taiwan win as well. Are we entering a new cold war, with both Russia and China? I really hope not, because so much progress has been made to resolve conflicts without going to war.

Stay tuned,

Dave

What happens if the Republicans win in the mid-term elections

They will pursue a very different agenda. Of course, all efforts to legalize abortion will end. Jan 6 committee will be disbanded. Funding for green energy, I believe, will disappear.

But, none of this I believe is as terrible as another showdown on raising the debt ceiling limit. I’ve written about this in a number of blogs. It is not about controlling how much Congress can spend. It is all about allowing the White House to borrow money it needs so it can pay for its obligations. If the government does not pay its bills, then the government is in default.

Default has extreme consequences. The cost for the US to borrow money will soar. The stock market will plummet. And businesses will fail. And it is all unnecessary, because the debt ceiling does not limit spending.

I’ve got at least 5 blogs on this topic.

I’ve decided to vote straight Democratic in the mid-term elections. Too many radical Republicans out there and I am definitely afraid they could tank the economy just to do battle with the Democrats.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Check out previous posts on this topic by adding Debt Ceiling to the search box.

UN Vote on Russia Annexation

The UN was created from the ashes of World War II. The Security Council, with 15 members had the power not only to condemn invasions, they could authorize military action. This happened when North Korea invaded South Korea in 1950. But, the UN also allowed the 5 permanent members the power to veto resolution. Thus the Security Council is powerless when the aggression is from any permanent member, including Russia and China.

Russia’s veto of the condemnation of the annexation in the Security Council was no surprise. Ten members voted to condemn Russia and four members abstained. China, India, Brazil and Gabon abstained.

China with a population of 1.45 billion constitutes 18% of the world’s population. China has been firmly on the fence over the conflict (Reuter’s reporting). It is very sad to see China expressing concerns about the expanding war, but not backing sanctions. Thus, the abstention of China is likely due to the numerous sanctions imposed by the US on trade related issues. How I wish China would have condemned Russia, because the Russian elites and military would have taken notice.

India sadly joined China in basically looking the other way. They urged peaceful resolution to the Ukraine conflict, which is really nonsense when Russia is looking to recruit 300,000 fresh troops and talks about using nuclear weapons.

Brazil is quick with the normal platitudes and lacks all conviction. They condemned the referendum in occupied areas, but wanted a “toned down” resolution. What! Russia is claiming ownership of 15% of Ukraine and threatening to use nuclear weapons to defend their occupied lands. President Bolsonaro is highly nationalistic, so it is in keeping to look the other way at Russia’s atrocities. Today (Oct 2, 2022) is election day, and Bolsonaro likely will lose to his left-leaning opponent, Lula da Silva. I am hoping the change in government will lead to more international cooperation on both climate change and condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Gabon a small African country has numerous internal conflicts. Official corruption is reported to be very high. A coup d’etat was attempted in 2019. The health of President Bongo is being questioned.

How I wish the vote was 14-1, with every single member of the UN Security Council being responsible, and not looking for sidelines in this conflict. It is truly amazing that Ukraine has survived this long against the Russian military. They should have global support in defending their nation.

It is fundamental to world peace that each country respect its national boundaries. It is the function of the UN to resolve territorial disputes. By invading Ukraine, Putin believes more in the power of his war machine in settling disputes and has no concerns about bombing schools, hospitals, apartment buildings and other civilian targets.

The annexation requires strong condemnation of all leaders. Shame on China, India, Brazil and Gabon.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Putin’s Pushback: The one-two punch

The news media covers the world 24/7. Sure, cable news has been saturated with Hurricane Ian for good reason. The destroyed homes, boats, roads and bridges both in the Florida and Cuba resembles war. But, rescue and recovery efforts are beginning right now.

There’s been some excellent reporting and commentary on the referendums which I call Putin’s one-two punch. Putin is attempting to legitimize the invasion by holding sham referendums as reported by CNBC news:

“The referendums, widely described as a “sham” by the international community, are seen as having created a pretext for Russia to annex the occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions in the south and pro-Russian, separatist “republics” in Luhansk and Donetsk in eastern Ukraine. The regions amount to around 15% of Ukraine’s territory.”

Putin’s one-two punch is designed to legitimize an invasion. From the beginning, Putin claimed Ukraine belonged to Russia. By holding these fake referendums, he will claim that the people of the region have decided to be part of Russia. So, Punch 1, The formal annexation and recognition of new boundaries of Russia that includes these regions. Punch 2: Putin will claim it is being attacked by NATO, as it arms Ukrainian fighters to invade Russia. It is all nonsense, but the lies are consistent.

See CNBC link: Fake referendums in occupied Ukraine set the stage for annexation — and immense danger for Ukraine

Please see the map in this link. The annexation redraws the eastern boundary of Ukraine all the way from Luhansk to Crimea. Of course, what Putin wants in Russia, Putin gets, so the legislature will rapidly approve of annexation. With the 1-2 Punch, the invaders become the victims of invasion. Poor mother Russia.

Nobody outside of Russia is really fooled. But Putin’s threat of introducing nuclear weapons is super-scary. The CNN post, provided below, is excellent, as it calls “Putin’s new land grab” a very dangerous step, in changing Russian borders, to suit Putin. I don’t like Congress to run foreign policy, but in this case I support the Graham-Blumenthal draft resolution, to cut off relations with any country which recognizes the annexed territories.

See CNN link: Putin’s new land grab is dangerous for Ukraine – and the world

Who would support annexation? North Korea, Chechnya and Belarus are likely. Iran? I just don’t think so. Syria – maybe. Just countries whose autocratic leaders have demonized the “Western Powers” as they loot and ruin their own countries.

Putin has done this before, to turn his invading army into simply protecting Russian nationals. Crimea and Chechnya are excellent examples. It is a tactic Hitler used in early stages of World War II, claiming his invading army was actually liberating the neighboring countries from oppressive regimes and protecting German citizens who lived there. So Putin is pulling out a tactic from Hitler’s playbook. Austria was the first country to be annexed by force in 1938, and it took seven years and millions of lives lost for it to regain its sovereignty.

This is far more than I intended to write. I wish I could say how all this ends, but every day, there are immense positives and negatives. I use the metaphor, 1-2 punch from boxing, because it is supposed to knock someone out quickly. Not going to happen in this case. Ukraine’s resistance to the invasion has been phenomenal. All I can say, at this point, no quick end is in sight.

Please read the excellent two articles.

Stay tuned,

Dave