Friday, June 23, 2017

Don't do it, Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan would be stupid to agree to a Russian plan to send Kazakhstani soldiers to Syria. Under any such plan, the Kazakhstanis would intervene on the Russian side of the conflict. That is, they would be there to prop up the Assad regime and to oppose both ISIS and the various rebel factions supported by Turkey, and the U.S. If they did that, it would completely ruin Kazakhstan's carefully cultivated image as a neutral party to host peace talks. It would also potentially damage relations with Turkey and the U.S., two countries that Kazakhstan has very good relations with.

What it has always been about

Trump's favorite middle eastern country is demanding that Qatar shut down the closest thing the Arab world has to an independent news channel before it lift the blockade of its neighbor.

This is not about "terrorism." It is about suppressing criticism of the Saudi royal family and its friends. That is really all that the Saudi leadership ever cares about.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What is the Saudis' deal?

Is Saudi Arabia still projected to run out of money in the next few years? A year or two ago, when it became clear that low oil prices was the new normal, there were all these articles noting that because KSA needed oil to be at least $106/barrel to balance its budget it was spending down its cash reserves at a furious pace and was projected to run out before 2021. Oil is currently trading below $43/barrel, and yet Saudi Arabia is still acting like a dickish economic superpower.

Either something has changed (and if so, what changed?) or the Saudis are living on borrowed time and they know it. So why such a brash foreign policy? Are they just putting themselves in as strong a position possible before their inevitable crash? Or are they just living in denial and/or betting there will be a new surge in oil prices?

By law I must write a post about what Ossoff's loss means

I get the whole "yeah but they overperformed" argument. But the bottom line is that argument won't appeal to anyone but the wonkiest political wonks. To everyone else, it's just four consecutive losses for Democrats.

There are two things these recent special elections could have done for the Democrats: (1) predicted a big enough victory in the 2018 midterms for the Democrats to retake house, and (2) scared the Republicans into changing their behavior right now. Those are different things (although they are related), For #2 to happen, Ossoff had to win (and if you wanted total Republican panic, they would have had to also lose in KS, MT, or SC).

The overperformed argument really only speaks to #1. It is too wonky to cause enough Republican panic to get them to buck their President and drop key elements of their agenda. If Democrats continue to overperform and beat the partisan base by 8% in Congressional districts across the country in 2018, they will take the House. But to do that Democrats need to maintain the same enthusiasm they have now for another 1.5 years. That could be tough, especially if the Ossoff loss and other inevitable losses to come become demoralizing.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Afraid of being confronted by angry voters? Why not stay longer so you can do more things to piss voters off?

This is probably just an empty threat to get GOPers to come to a deal on how to ruin American health care, but there really is no reason not to cancel their recess. It's not like their members want to go home to face their constituents.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Republicans will give us single payer (but only after making people suffer first)

I completely agree. Back in 2009 and 2010, my favorite conservative commentator on this site (does anyone remember Golden Boy?) was convinced that ObamaCare would inevitably lead to single payer. But the ACA always seemed to me to be a way to diffuse pressure for health care reform while preserving our existing private health insurance system. So in that sense, it would make single payer less likely. I could see how some proposals floated during the 2009-2010 health care debate (e.g. the public option and the Medicare buy-in) could have led to a single-payer system. But none of those proposals made it into the final bill.

If ObamaCare is either repealed or destroyed through the Trump administration's administrative neglect, that model for health care reform will be discredited as a failure. Any proposal for enduring health care reform in the post-TrumpCare world (and believe me, given what the House version of TrumpCare looked like, you can bet it will get people clamoring for reform as soon as the legislation goes into effect) would almost certainly be a single payer system.

Let's teach the North Korean leader to be a shitty negotiator

This has got to be the cleverest way to hobble an adversary.

Maybe on his next trip, Rodman can get Kim Jong Un to enroll in Trump University.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A profoundly stupid man

Our esteemed Preznit thinks that floating the idea of firing someone that he does not have the legal ability to fire, will get that person to do what the Preznit wants him to do.

Trump does not have the power to fire Mueller

In an article that starts like this:
Last month’s appointment of Robert S. Mueller III as a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia enraged President Trump. Yet, at least initially, he holstered his Twitter finger and publicly said nothing. 
But behind the scenes, the president soon began entertaining the idea of firing Mr. Mueller even as his staff tried to discourage him from something they believed would turn a bad situation into a catastrophe, according to several people with direct knowledge of Mr. Trump’s interactions. A longtime friend, Christopher Ruddy, surfaced the president’s thinking in a television interview Monday night, setting off a frenzied day of speculation that he would go through with it. 
For now, the staff has prevailed. “While the president has every right to” fire Mr. Mueller, “he has no intention to do so,” the White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters late Tuesday.
...isn't it worth noting that the President does not have the legal authority to fire Mueller?

Acting AG Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller pursuant to 28 C.F.R. §600.4-600.10. Under 28 C.F.R. §600.7(d), Mueller may only be "disciplined or removed from office only by the personal action of the Attorney General." Furthermore, the Attorney General cannot fire the Special Counsel at will. Rather any termination must be for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies" and the AG would have to inform Mueller "in writing of the specific reason for his or her removal." Because Sessions is recused, those AG decisions would be Rosenstein's.

The article does note that Rosenstein told a Senate panel "he would not permit Mr. Mueller to be dismissed without legitimate reason," but the rest of the article gives the clear impression that Trump has the ability to fire Mueller and that he can do it whenever he wants for whatever reason he wants.

What Trump can do is order Rosenstein to fire Mueller. If Rosenstein complies with the order and fires the Special Counsel without good cause without good cause, Mueller could immediately challenge the discharge in court and I personally don't think the administration would have much of a case given the language of the regulation. If, on the other hand, Rosenstein refused, Trump could follow in Nixon's footsteps and fire Rosenstein, and then order the next person in the Acting Attorney General chain of command to fire Mueller. If that person refuses, Trump could terminate that person and order the successor to fire Mueller, working his way down the chain until he finds someone willing to do what he wants.

As Jack Goldsmith noted in the Lawfare Blog, this raises another problem. Only a Senate-confirmed AG official can be acting AG. Because Trump fired all the U.S. Attorneys and has not gotten around to appointing people to most positions in the executive branch, the ranks of potential successors to Rosenstein are pretty thin. After Rosenstein, next up would be Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand. After Brand, the only remaining option is probably acting AAG for the National Security Division Dana Boente. Boente has not been confirmed in that position but because she was previously confirmed as a U.S. Attorney, she would theoretically be able to step in as Acting AG if Rosenstein and Brand refuse Trump's order to fire Mueller and are themselves fired.

If Boente refuses to go along as well, I am not sure what would happen. With no one to step in and fire Mueller, could Mueller be fired? Would the President just claim the authority to do it on his own notwithstanding the language in 28 C.F.R. §600.7(d) that makes it clear that Mueller cannot just be fired at will? Would Sessions un-recuse himself and do it?

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I don't know how they expect to get away from this, and yet I expect they will probably get away with it.

You would think the entire press establishment (including, at least, Fox News, if not some other righting media outlets) would freak out about this. But after witnessing the past six months, does anyone actually think Senate Republicans won't get away with it?

Dumb celebrities will set people free

I'm guessing that this is what passes for a Trump diplomatic initiative.

It kinda makes sense, at least if you can look at things through a Trumpian lens. Trump is enamored by celebrities, and he doesn't seem to understand or care for regular qualified diplomats. On top of that, the President knows Dennis Rodman. Okay, Trump did fire him,  but only as a television stunt. Plus, Rodman is one of the few Americans who knows Kim Jong-Un and has been to North Korea as his guest.

And it might actually work. Because the North Korean leader likes attention too. I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of the Americans currently held in NoKo is standing next to Trump at the White House soon.

UPDATE: Here's one.