Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Balance of Power and Doing Maths

The impeachment is a done deal - and acquittal looks all-but-certain.  Why bother to bring a process you know will fail?   There may be political reasons, but they may also backfire.

UPDATE: A reader reminds me that under Article 1 Section 3 of the Constitution, a two-thirds majority is required to remove a president. Thus the math to remove President Trump is all but impossible.  I was criticizing others for "not doing maths" when I failed to do them myself!

But one wonders why they bothered bringing articles of impeachment knowing they were doomed to fail? Not only that, but the only thing that can come of this impeachment is further damage to Joe Biden should he or his son be called to testify, even though they arguably have done nothing wrong.

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There is a lot of hand-wringing going on about the impeachment trial. Adam Schiff made an impassioned speech pleading with Senators to do their Constitutional duty and act as jurors, not politicians.   But I suspect that speech fell on deaf ears, other than on NPR.

Simply stated, the Republicans have enough votes to acquit the President and will likely do so.  They have a 2/3 vote majority in the Senate, and if they can let no more than three twenty senators defect, they can win the day.  

It begs the question, surely enought senators would break ranks and vote to impeach, right?  Perhaps, perhaps not.   All eyes are focused on Mitt Romney from Utah and Susan Collins of Maine. Romney has been critical of the President in the past, and Collins is walking a fine line in her own State, which like much of America is schizophrenically liberal and conservative at the same time. And so far, neither has shown any inclination to go against the party.  The rules package voted on last night went down on party lines - meaning Romney and Collins didn't even bother to make a protest vote, or even vote "present".

The question is, why?   And the answer is pretty simple - this is a political situation, not a legal one.  Despite all of Adam Schiff's  eloquent words to the contrary, the Senate is a political beast, and impeachment is a political process.  The Senators know that if they go against Trump, they will pay for it later on, if he is acquitted.  Unless a bloc of four or more twenty or more Senators can agree to vote to convict, and they keep their promise to do so, Trump will be acquitted.  And I suspect Republican Senators don't trust each other enough to go along with this.  If one or more changes their mind, they leave the rest of the conspirators hanging out there.   It's like bungee-jumping.  You go first.

But I suppose in a House of Cards type of scenario, Vice-President Pence could have secret midnight meetings with some amenable Senators who want that new "Space Force" base located in their State - or some other plum - and could be persuaded to vote to convict.   Act shocked - this is how the system works, how people work, and how the "founding fathers" knew it would work (Mr. Schiff's protests aside). People are people, and the idea that some would vote their conscience and not their pocketbook is ludicrous.

Speaking of House of Cards - the British production, not the flawed ran-too-many-seasons no-point-to-it soap-opera version in the US - that show illustrated how the system actually works.  Why do you think they have a position known as the "whip" in Congress?   As they put in on the UK show, his job was to "shake the stick around" and get MPs in line to vote the party, not their conscience, but their own personal interests.  They get votes the old-fashioned way - they blackmail some legislators by threatening to expose their personal peccadilloes - or to withhold funding for their favorite pork-barrel bring-home-the-bacon legislation, or failing that, promise some prime piece of pork for their home district, if they toe the party line.

It is how politics have worked since day one - here in America, and overseas as well.   Protests to the contrary are idiotic  Thinking that people are noble or are willing to act against their own self-interest is naive thinking.  People will, of course, vote against themselves, you just have to convince them that gay marriage or abortion is more of a threat to them than your looting of the treasury or your friends' looting of their pension fund.   People will act against (and vote against) their own self-interest only if they are particularly dense and are convinced they are doing the opposite.   And people in both parties do this - many a wealthy liberal votes for tax increases and thinks "free things" won't cost them anything, even as they live in a high-tax "blue State" with a $15,000 real estate tax bill to pay every year.

People are idiots, look around you.

If you are still not convinced this is not a political process, than please explain the legal ramifications and justifications for the Clinton impeachment.   The most investigated political family in the history of the USA, Clinton was hounded from the first day in Office over every tiny (and large) transgression he (or his wife) ever made.  The whole thing started as a "Whitewater" investigation, and when that went nowhere, they bugged Linda Tripp's phone while she called Monica Lewinsky for some "girl chat".  The entire "crime" that Clinton was accused of, was lying about his personal sex life which is hardly a crime - most people do it.   But even then, he was acquitted.

Hillary's commodities trading scandal was never an issue (and should have been).  But that would cut too close to home. I wonder how many other politicians have used such "investment" strategies, aided and abetted by lobbyists, to make money on the side.  Nosiree, no one at Tyson's bribed me!  They just "helped" me make a quick hundred-grand as a novice investor - and then I got out of trading commodities forever.  Neat way of transferring money from point A to point B and declaring it as legitimate income, too.

Similarly, if there was a "scandal" in the Lewinsky case, it was that Clinton was having a relationship with a subordinate employee (a real no-no in today's "woke" me-too culture) and what's more, arranged to give her a cushy government job in an effort to keep her quiet (which apparently didn't work).  That might have actually been illegal and actionable, but for some reason, Congress was strangely incurious about it - perhaps again, they have stuffed some Secretary or Page into an out-of-the-way, high-paying position themselves, to keep them mum.

But all that aside, the Clinton impeachment was all about politics.  It was payback for Watergate and Iran-Contra.  It was payback for Bush losing re-election after only one term. It was just political payback - a chance to damage an incumbent President and stir the waters and muddy them and make things look worse than they were.

And it worked, too.   Bush Jr. was elected as a result.  And the reaction among voters was interesting.  I mentioned before how two friends of mine - lifelong Democrats and today, Trump-haters - hated Clinton for the Lewinsky affair.  It turns out that both had come from broken relationships (one a marriage) where the other partner had cheated on them.   They didn't care about fine legal issues or even the politics of it - it hit them at an emotional level and as far as they were concerned, Bill Clinton was a stand-in for their ex-spouse.   (Today, the same couple are hoarders, so they were not very smart people, I guess, and hoarders are also emotional thinkers).

That right there is the problem with the Trump impeachment.  It will raise issues and muddy the waters, but perhaps not in the way Democrats intended. The Trump faithful either think he is innocent and believe the conclusory statements Trump makes that it is all a "witch hunt".  Other, more moderate Republicans (and they exist, in dwindling numbers) and more importantly, independents, either don't give a shit about the Ukraine, or are more alarmed by the prospect of a Bernie Sanders Presidency than four more years of Twitter-President insanity.

It has only been a decade or so after Swift-boating, and yet Democrats failed to learn any lesson from that.   A decorated Vietnam war veteran goes up against a draft-dodging wimp of a President, and loses based on his war record.   The Republican machine is very adept at using a mirror to stave off attacks, turning arguments against the people who made them.   So Bush is not a draft-dodger, and Kerry is a coward - and they made it stick, too!   Democrats, trying to "rise above the fray" by "refusing to stoop to answer such arguments" only enforced them.

And so today, the only thing to come out of impeachment will be a crippling of Joe Biden.  The real corruption in the Ukraine - in addition to the government there and the oligarchs - was Trump withholding aid in exchange for an investigation of his political opponents.   But all people will take away from this is, why so much about the Ukraine in the news today?  So much about corruption there - and by Ukrainians here in the US too.   Why was Hunter Biden on the board of a gas company there, again?

And that question is, of course, unanswered, as it was very likely that he was leveraging his last name to make a tidy salary on the board of that company, even if he did nothing illegal or wrong.   It is like how the Clintons give $50,000 speeches, or how Chelsea gets a six-figure job right out of college with no experience.   Or how politicians of all sorts "write a book" which vaults to the "well-seller" list because PACs buy up thousands of copies.  The Obamas just bought a $12M home on Martha's Vineyard.   Not bad for a guy who started out as a "street organizer" and maxed-out his salary at $250,000 as President of the United States.   Gee, where did all that other money come from?

That is why it is sort of laughable that Democrats call-out Trump for "corruption" for renting out hotel rooms to visiting Saudis.   If he is doing that for financial gain in return for political favors, he's selling himself pretty cheaply - compared to $50,000 speeches, which have a far lower overhead.  I am not defending Trump, just pointing out the obvious.

And that is why some people support Sanders or Warren - the latter called "The Best President Money Can't Buy!"   Neither seems to have made much money from their political gigs - Sanders is, as I pointed out before, essentially bankrupt, and he and his wife have bankrupted what few enterprises they have engaged in.   But then again, I guess Jesus was probably not a very good Jewish Carpenter, either.  But at least he didn't have a wife who bankrupted a college!

The folks who support Bernie or Warren are turned-off by the Clinton dynasty (Chelsea coming soon to a voting booth near you!) and its sort of low-rent corruption.  But sadly - or perhaps by design - the only alternatives are whack-jobs.  Like I said, rational people act in their own best interests, and that is why even Barack Obama, man of the people, is living in a $12M home. Well, not living in it, it is just one of a number of homes he owns.  No one lives in Martha's Vineyard in the winter, unless they are locals.   By the way, Barack, be careful driving there at night, particularly at that bend in the road at Chappaquiddick.  Just saying.

It is very sad, the whole thing.  The Democrats are handing the election to Trump on a silver platter, and this impeachment debacle is only making it easier for Trump.  But then again, I suspect the Democrats really want to lose this time around.    When 1929 comes again, you want a Hoover in the White House, not a Roosevelt.   The timing of the last recession was too close - so many people today believe Obama caused it, even though it struck before he was even elected or took office.

They lose in 2020, and after four disastrous years of the Trump recession - and accompanying market collapse - people will vote for any Democrat, no matter how crazy or corrupt.  Strategically speaking, this is the smart move to make.

Oh,wait, you still think politicians are noble and wise?   I am not so sure, anymore.