Thursday, April 30, 2020

Immigration and the Off-Year Elections: Updated (Feb. 14)

Update VIII, Feb. 14: Politico showing a tie both for Trump approve/disapprove and for the generic Congressional ballot.

Update VII, Feb. 7: Quinnipiac: Trump's approval still only 40%, but better than its been; numbers on economy and Trump are up, and there's a SOTU bump.

Update VI, Feb. 7: IBD/TIPP has Trump at 35% approval, -23% compared to Disapprove, unchanged since January. Most of the poll was conducted before the State of the Union address. Trump's net favourability rating is up "sharply" from August, and polling on the Trump tax cuts is increasingly positive, which should help Republicans in the off-year elections.
Dems now have only a 5% advantage in generic congressional poll, close to the RCP average of 6.6%, down from 13 points in December.

Update V, Feb. 6: Gallup has Trump approval/disapproval at -17%, perhaps slightly down from -20% in their previous poll, and the highest approval number for Trump in Gallup since last May.

Update IV: Rasmussen now showing a tie on Trump approval/disapproval (Friday Feb 2). For them it was still -10% on Wednesday, -8% yesterday, and today tied.

Update III: Three other polls show Trump down on approval 9, 10, 12: down from 22 to 12 in the case of Reuters, a bit down in the case of Economist. Generic Congressional vote Dems by 6 and 5, a bit down for Reuters.

Update II: Monmouth on RCP now showing Trump only down 4% on approval, generic Congressional vote only favouring Dems by 2%.

Update: Podhoretz is focussing on polls after the State of the Union. Thanks once again to Kaus.

Independents who watched the State of the Union liked it. Watchers were disproportionately Republican, but even Dems who watched liked it more than one would expect. Is this going to be a speech like Nixon's "Silent Majority" that actually turns polls around, while enraging liberals?

Are Democrats planning to go into the off-year elections in the fall with one #1 issue, immigration, and their own position that unrestricted immigration, open borders, is the only decent position that moral people can hold? That seems crazy. (Thanks to Kaus).

Off-years tend not to go well for incumbent presidents. Real Clear Politics is showing Trump consistently behind on approval: pro-Trump polls about 10% behind, anti-Trump polls more like 20%. Generic Congressional elections are showing Dems up by anywhere from 5% to 13%. Dems are not getting the full advantage of Trump's unpopularity. The general election in 2016 showed that people are capable of disliking Trump quite thoroughly, yet voting for him; it might be even easier to dislike him and vote for candidates, of either party, who actually support some degree of restriction on immigration. Incumbents have an advantage in the U.S. system if they successfully cater to a home district or state (in Canada this effect is somewhat vitiated, I think is the word, by party discipline, and the desire in bellweather ridings to bring about a majority government).

Not that long ago, lots of liberals and Dems said they wanted a big amnesty for illegals (sentimentally and falsely portrayed as college graduates who are itching to serve in the armed forces), but of course they wanted some restrictions on future illegal immigration. Often the amnesty was immediate and real, "enforcement" was weak and indefinitely postponed; but lip service had to be paid. Today it's only because of Trump that there is a debate about immigration--he has led a debate about policy, ideas, so-called values, contrary to the usual portrayal of what he does. There were a few genuine restrictionists before, mainly Senate Republicans, but they were lonely voices. During his first year Trump has said many different things, ranging from: a whole list of restrictions including the wall and e-verify are needed; to: the main thing is an amnesty for those wonderful DACA kids or Dreamers. The recently negotiated "framework," associated with Trump, seems to go back to massive amnesty yes (arguably the biggest amnesty yet), restrictive measures maybe. Yet this compromise is rejected by many Dems as racist and evil.

I don't know whether it's advertent or inadvertent, but Trump seems to have "made" the Dems take an extreme position that is unlikely to win elections, and manoeuvred them into becoming more extreme only a few months before the off-years. Trump may have a working restrictionist majority in Congress in 2019, and if the Dems' clever plan to create a new electorate of Dem voters is foiled, they may be in a hole for a long time. Of course a lot can happen in those few months.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Mueller and Friends: Keystone Cops: Update

Update: a bit more on the Flynn case, and a bit on the Ted Stevens case (prosecutors withheld exculpatory evidence) from Mike Cernovich.

The expression "keystone cops" used to mean law enforcement officers who failed, due to clumsiness or incompetence, to get the bad guys. In the modern era there is some concern that U.S. prosecutors make their careers by convicting people who are innocent, or convicting them of serious offences, getting them to plead guilty in order to stop a prosecution, when they are only guilty of minor or procedural offences. One may or may not feel sorry for Martha Stewart or Conrad Black, but there are some cases that are directly relevant to the Mueller investigation.

More journalists including Sara Carter are looking at the career of Andrew Weissmann, now a senior member of Mueller's team. He first made his reputation by going after mafia figures in New York. He would offer pretty generous terms to one criminal in order to get a conviction against another--whose crimes may have been no more serious than those of the star witness. He inadvertently helped to make new case law by withholding evidence that might have exonerated an accused person, or at least made it more difficult to get a conviction. His defenders have pointed out that a document that said Weissmann should be sanctioned was later amended to remove his name; critics continue to say even that amendment resulted from questionable conduct on the part of public officials. A circuit court did not conclude definitively that the evidence Weissmann withheld passed the test of "materiality"--it wouldn't necessarily have led to acquittals. Yet when people who had been convicted managed to win new trials, many of them were in fact acquitted.

Perhaps we are willing to see some killers go free, as long as at least some killers are convicted in the process. Attorney Sidney Powell, after a career as a prosecutor, went into private practice and represented clients who suffered from Weissmann's methods. Weissmann was appointed by Mueller to head the team investigating Enron after that company's failure--which took down the careers and life savings of many people. To get convictions against many Enron officials was considered a great success. One official pleaded guilty after his wife was found to be guilty of tax fraud--presumably a private matter, unrelated to Enron's fate. The official was clearly trying to protect his wife from prosecution. Clever. Then the prosecutors went after Arthur Anderson--an accounting firm at the time, which had apparently never blown a whistle on the dubious financial reporting by Enron. Weissmann got indictments against the entire accounting firm, then got at least some convictions. The company, employing tens of thousands of people, was destroyed, and every one of the convictions was eventually overturned by a unanimous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court. Unanimous is pretty impressive in this context. Monica Showalter in the American Thinker provides an update, citing Betsy Woodruff in the Daily Beast. (Powell, in the link above, also refers to Weissmann's role in the Merrill Lynch case).

Weissmann's fingerprints seem to be present in some major actions by Mueller. One is the early morning raid on Paul Manafort's home in order to arrest him--almost unheard of in a case of white-collar crime. The other is the indictment of Michael Flynn. Here Andrew C. McCarthy seems to have done the homework. Peter Strzok, mainly famous now for carrying out a clandestine love affair at work, was the main interrogator who questioned Flynn. Flynn was not given notice that he was being investigated--as far as he knew, he was going to receive one in a series of briefings by the FBI on files he would have to know as National Security Advisor to the President. Had Flynn known what was going on, he could have exercised his right to refuse the interview, or to have an attorney present. As it was, Strzok evidently concluded that Flynn was not lying. The decision to charge Flynn was made later, presumably at a higher level. Now there are indications that a different judge has been put in charge of the case (the first judge was probably one who granted FISA warrants, arguably improperly, on Carter Page), and the new judge is one who is famous for insisting on the right of accused people to see any evidence that might exonerate them. One could say this is a judge who rejects the approach Weissmann has taken throughout his career, and wants to establish an anti-Weissmann doctrine. Perhaps Flynn should have been told that FBI investigators, in the normal course of their duty, had concluded that Flynn had not lied? Surely this would weaken the case for his guilt.

Update on Flynn: Margot Cleveland in the Federalist.

All of this goes some way toward raising questions about the career of all of Mueller's friends, including Comey. To what extent have they kept each other out of trouble for what might seem to be misconduct, and indeed worked to ensure they all climbed very high in the bureaucracy, in some cases then being able to move to lucrative careers outside government? Steve McIntyre is digging away on Mueller's role in identifying terrorist threats to the U.S. This is obviously relevant to assessing his judgment in assessing the Russian Facebook threat, which seems cartoonish in a country where billions of dollars are spent by many people "trying to sow discord."

McIntyre goes back to the Khobar bombing of U.S. Air Force personnel in Saudi Arabia in June 1996. FBI Director Louis Freeh was convinced that the bombing was the work of pro-Iran Hezbollah. Al Qaeda was much less well known in those days, but many intelligence experts were convinced that they were the responsible group, and the Clinton administration leaned in that direction. Diplomatically/politically, Saudi Arabia did not want to admit that there were home-grown Saudi terrorists who were capable of such a thing. Hardy har har. Freeh insisted on taking personal charge of the case, believing his personal contacts with Saudi leaders would help.

1999: Freeh tries to reassign Khobar case from Washington field office, where leadership is refusing to take the Hezbollah/Iran line, to Virgina; Attorney General Janet Reno refuses to allow this. March 2001, shortly after Bush II inauguration: Freeh reassigns the Khobar case from Washington field office to Virginia, with approval of acting Deputy Attorney General Robert Mueller. "And who was the compliant 'U.S. attorney in Richmond, Virginia'?

"Drumroll..... none other than James Comey."

Mueller was promoted to FBI Director on September 4, 2001--a few days before 9/11. Comey got several big promotions--in December 2001 to New York, and two years later, Deputy Attorney General. Mueller and Comey pleased the Bush Administration by supporting and reinforcing a bunch of bullshit about Iraq and Syria. McIntyre seems to think that if Mueller had not followed the wrong trail on Khobar, he might not have believed so easily that various sovereign governments in the Middle East were a threat to the U.S. related to terrorism. The anti-Syria view today is tied up with a pro-Saudi and pro-Israel view.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Still winter

The first three photos are of our front yard; the fourth is a creek running behind McDonald's.

Andrew McCarthy again

Again McCarthy, as a former prosecutor, clarifies that there are kinds of government action that should not be converted into lawsuits or prosecution. A response to what Russia did with Facebook is probably one. As more of a secondary thought, he focusses on what "Russia" was trying to do: was it to help Trump?

[Messages supported by "Russia"] are taken at face value if the commentators and partisans calculate that doing so is helpful to their political agenda. Thus, we get nonsense like, “The Kremlin wanted Trump to win” and “Putin was motivated by his fear and loathing of Hillary Clinton,” etc., etc.

In reality, what happened here could not be more patent: The Kremlin hoped to sow discord in our society and thus paralyze our government’s capacity to pursue American interests. The Russian strategy was to stir up the resentments of sizable losing factions. It is not that Putin wanted Trump to win; it is that Putin figured Trump was going to lose. That is why the Kremlin tried to galvanize Trump supporters against Clinton, just as it tried to galvanize Sanders supporters against Clinton, and Trump supporters against Cruz and Rubio, during the primaries. It is why the Russians suddenly choreographed anti-Trump rallies after Trump won. The palpable goal was to promote dysfunction: Cripple a likely President Clinton before she could even get started, wound President Trump from the get-go when he unexpectedly won, and otherwise set American against American whenever possible.

That should be the upshot of coverage of the indictment. Instead, it’s the usual cherry-picking to bolster our partisan arguments. For example, in its aforementioned report, the New York Times rejects out of hand the president’s matter-of-fact observation that because Russia’s “anti-U.S. campaign” started long before Trump announced his candidacy, the indictment cuts against the narrative of Trump–Russia collusion. The Times counters: “Mr. Trump’s statement ignored the government’s conclusion that, by 2016, the Russians were ‘supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump’ and disparaging Hillary Clinton, his opponent.” The Gray Lady is then off to the races, framing Mueller’s indictment as confirming “a startling example — unprecedented in its scope and audacity — of a foreign government working to help elect an American president.”

And so it goes.

We don’t have collusion. We have division. And we have an adversary that thrives on our division.

This goes rather well with comments by the VP of Facebook: much of the "spend" on the Russian Facebook campaign took place after Trump was elected. Trump re-tweeted this, since it supports the notion that the campaign was never pro-Trump, except incidentally; it was anti-U.S. Of course Mueller is not within a million miles of showing that anyone close to Trump had anything to do with planning or carrying out the Russian campaign.

DNC hacks: only three out of 17 intelligence agencies ever suggested that any of these hacks showed Russian "fingerprints"; there has been no evidence to support such a claim, and substantial doubts have been raised. Crowdstrike were the "experts" who worked with the DNC server, they were paid by the Hillary campaign, and the FBI never saw the server.

Steele dossier: was never subjected to normal testing by professionals as to whether any claims amounted to solid intelligence, of the kind that needed to be investigated and possibly justified a FISA warrant. Instead it was pipelined from GPS Fusion/Hillary's campaign to the Department of Justice and the FBI so that it would be given a much higher priority than much of the usual rumours that come to such agencies. Again the Steele dossier is not getting better with age: none of the contentious parts are holding up. At worst, from Trump's perspective, there might be some story somewhere that could be used to blackmail Trump, and people at Justice and the FBI may have believed they were performing public service in tracking down such stories. Maybe. The Papadopoulos story is even more ridiculous.

Borrowing from McCarthy: counter-intelligence work to see what other countries are doing within the U.S. to hurt that country is of course ongoing by the FBI and many other agencies. Such work mostly requires secrecy, not publicity, and sanctions would be from government to government, not somehow determined by court action in the U.S. Mueller's investigation is the wrong tool for this.

Counter-intelligence investigations, or any investigations, might conceivably find evidence of criminal actions by the President or other senior officials. If that happens, it might be necessary to have a special prosecutor. It hasn't happened yet, so there is no need for Mueller's investigation to continue.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

How Big a Disgrace is Mueller?

Robert Barnes, thanks to Althouse:

Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted foreign citizens for trying to influence the American public about an election because those citizens did not register as a foreign agent nor record their financial expenditures to the Federal Elections Commission. By that theory, when will Mueller indict Christopher Steele, FusionGPS, PerkinsCoie, the DNC and the Clinton Campaign?

Mueller’s unprecedented prosecution raises three novel arguments: first, that speaking out about American politics requires a foreign citizen to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act; second, that speaking out about American politics requires a foreign citizen list their source and expenditure of funding to the Federal Election Commission; and third, that mistakes on visa applications constitute “fraud” on the State Department. All appear to borrow from the now-discredited “honest services” theories Mueller’s team previously used in corporate and bribery cases, cases the Supreme Court overturned for their unconstitutional vagueness. The indictment raises serious issues under the free speech clause of the First Amendment and due process rights under the Fifth Amendment.

Andrew McCarthy hoping to get an answer

Here. Is there an obstruction case against Trump? McCarthy doesn't think so.

Is it reasonable for the FBI and other agencies to carry out counterintelligence investigations of the activities of foreign countries in the U.S., including attempts to interfere with elections? Of course. One would presume that such investigations are always ongoing, and mostly secret.

Do such investigations call for a special counsel like Mueller? No. The special counsel is specifically for criminal investigations in which all the "usual" responsible people at the Department of Justice and the Office of the President have a conflict of interest.

The real question then: has there ever been or is there now a justified reason for Mueller's investigation to exist? McCarthy says no.

Foreign influence on Canadian elections?

Environmental activists? Support from Obama?