It’s been a while…

… since Washington DC’s last World Series game. Look who threw out the first pitch.

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Tax-foolishness

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The Democratic Party has a job to do.

First, deliver us from the evil of Donald Trump. Next, get America focused on our longer-term national disasters — the undermining of democracy, the grotesque overconcentration of wealth and income, the swollen power of corporations and financial privateers, the rapid heating of the air and seas, to name a few.

That’s the task that, more than many of us might like, we are counting on the Democrats to tackle over the next few years. It’s a mission that some elements of the party have yet to take to heart. I offer in evidence a transcript of last week’s presidential debate and the results of my first foray into computer-assisted textual analysis – a search for appearances of the letters t-a-x.

Sixty-nine. That’s how many times somebody or other mentioned taxes or taxing or taxation. In fairness to the candidates, the culprit was often one of the so-called moderators. Marc Lacey of the New York Times got the ball rolling with his multiple attempts to make Elizabeth Warren acknowledge, with Bernie Sanders, that taxes for middle-income families could go up to cover the cost of the Medicare for All plan that both candidates support. Since Warren declined the invitation, Lacey’s main achievement was to demonstrate that an old-fashioned print scribe could do tax gotcha as mindlessly as any TV newshound.

Sadly, though, a number of would-be Presidents insisted on getting into the game. Joe Biden raised the mythical specter of a $10,000 tax hit to “firefighters and schoolteachers” and went on sermonize (in a post-debate interview) about the need to “be candid and honest with the American people.” Amy Klobuchar lectured her fellow candidates along similar lines, declaring that “we owe it to the American people to tell them where we’re going to send the invoice.”

Pomposity ran rampant. Canned attack lines abounded. Warren’s failure to say just how she would fill a “multi-trillion-dollar hole in this Medicare for All plan” was, according to Pete Buttigieg, emblematic of “why people here in the Midwest are so frustrated with Washington in general and Capitol Hill in particular.” Once a supporter of Medicare for All, Mayor Pete had just a few months earlier urged his rivals to “stand up for the right policy” and “stop worrying about what the Republicans will say” since “they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists” regardless. In last week’s spin room, a different-sounding Buttigieg complained that Warren had been “more specific and forthcoming about the number of selfies she’s taken than about how this plan is going to be funded.”

Not to be left behind (except in the polls), Beto O’Rourke answered a wealth-tax question with the observation that Warren sometimes came across as “more focused on being punitive and pitting some part of the country against the other instead of lifting people up and making sure that this country comes together around those solutions.”

It was a dubious characterization of Warren and her campaign. Substituting the word party for country, however, it was a pretty apt assessment of the latest turn in the candidacies of O’Rourke, Biden, Klobuchar, and Buttiegeg.

Shabby oneupsmanship aside, the scare talk about taxes was disheartening. Once upon a time, Democrats left that sort of thing to Republicans. After Ronald Reagan rode the California property-tax revolt into the Governor’s mansion and the White House, many Democratic lawmakers were cowed into voting for his top-heavy tax cuts. Then an opportunistic band of “New” and “Third Way” Democrats sold their party on the neoliberal agenda of low marginal tax rates, deregulation, monopoly-coddling, union-scorning and corporate-centric trade pacts. It turned out to be a poor formula for “lifting up” the have-nots and have-lesses, but a great boon to the fortunes of the have-mores and have-mosts.

And so, along with all the Democratic Party’s other challenges, it must now work very hard to rebuild its credibility as a champion of the unwealthy and unconnected.

Of the 2020 candidates, Sanders and Warren have led the way in this crucial project. Both have come up with brave policy ideas. They have been brave on the tax front as well, even if Warren has pointedly refused to create a telltale bit of “I will raise taxes” video for Republicans to use in their attack ads, which, as she well knows, will carefully omit whatever she might add about the impact on health, health care and what people with and without insurance have to pay for it.

When Democrats make Warren out to be a dangerous tax-hiker, they feed into the anti-government cynicism that was and remains the other party”s chief stock in trade. That would be bad form in any election season. It is shameful behavior among those engaged in a collective effort to end the rottenest and most dangerous presidency of at least our lifetimes.

If I had a more sophisticated analytical toolkit, I would not be content to count variations on the T-word. I would develop a metric for references to the public goods that taxes make possible — clean-energy innovation, public transport, schools, white-collar law enforcement and the rest. When candidates up and down the Democratic ticket start bringing up those things more often than they speak of taxes, their party will be in a far better state of readiness for the assignment that awaits.

Are the Democrats being too polite to each other?

That’s the complaint lodged in this morning’s NY Times by columnist Frank Bruni. He wants Amy Klobuchar, Michael Bennet and Steve Bullock — lower-tier candidates “who have won statewide elections in red, purple or purple-ish places” — to go after the front-runners. Elizabeth Warren, for example should be asked to explain “how she can be sure” her wealth tax “will raise as much money and pay for as much as she says it will” and why she once seemed to be a supporter of for-profit charter schools.

“If she can’t answer the question well, let’s find out now, before it’s too late,” Bruni reasons.

His argument rests on at least three bogus assumptions. The three I have in mind are that (1) substantive argument will form a significant part of the Republican general-election campaign, (2) the Dems don’t already face enough pesky questions from their media inquisitors, and (3) the eventual standard-bearer will be better equipped to handle criticism if she gets more practice in the here and now.

The Democratic debates have not been hugely edifying exercises, thanks to the absurd number of candidates vying for airtime and the party’s readiness to have the format dictated by self-important TV celebrities and their ratings-crazed employers. But the comparative politeness of the debates up to now has been a plus. It suggsts that the candidates agree about many things, above all about the transcendent evil of the President and the Party they are up against.

A thousand Einsteins. Only one Bezos.

Jeff Bezos has come up with the weirdest of all possible reasons to be excited about space travel. Blue Origin, his rocket-and-rover-building venture, hopes to develop giant tube-shaped space colonies that will allow humanity to go on endlessly propagating and expanding. “We can have a trillion humans in the solar system,” Bezos says, “which means we’d have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins.” So Franklin Foer explains in the November issue of The Atlantic.

A thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins. Just what the world needs, unless our problem is a faliure to cherish and recognize the thousands of Mozarts and Einsteins who already live among us.

My Midweek Vacation

Monday 4 pm, my bike and I board the Capitol Limited from DC to Martinsburg West Virginia.
… for a visit to Emma Lardner, caught here in the act of receiving a text mssage from an admier.
Tooling around Martinsburg.
Patterson’s Drug Store has a soda fountain! It’s been there for 41 years.
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Shepherdstown, where I begin the ride home. 72 miles to DC.
Setting off down the Potomac.
Harpers Ferry
A lock. I forget which.
Coffee in Brunswick.
Not your average cafe.
Onward.
Monocacy Aqueduct. The 45-mile mark.
Dancing Leaf Farm. Sleepover.
Counting sheep. 2 of them.
And a lot of wool. (Host is a yarn-dyer.)
Breakfast in Poolesville.
Down to Edwards Ferry.
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Fields aplenty.
Back on the towpath.
Canal dweller.
Great Falls.
Guardian at the city’s gate.
Georgetown! Thursday 4 pm. Riding the No. 31 bus up Wisconsin Ave.

Elizabeth Warren’s Presidency, According to David Brooks

Are you having trouble seeing the future? No worries. David Brooks will wipe your windshield clean for you.

In his September 20th column, Brooks has scoped out the next 50 years of U.S. history, beginning with Elizabeth Warren’s election as President and the Democrats back in charge of the Senate.

Here’s some of what Brooks says is destined to follow:

  • A moment of “dance-in-the-streets euphoria” on the part of “the American educated class”;
  • An Administration composed of self-righteous ideologues, incapable of compromise;
  • Failure to enact President Warren’s take-it-or-leave-it proposals, one after another — Medicare for all, free college, a wealth tax, and the rest;
  • Warren and her kind swept from office in 2024 on a fresh tide of national disgust;
  • A country soured forever on the twin follies of “conservative populism” and “progressive populism”; and finally…
  • A resurgence of Clinton-Obama-style “moderate liberalism… embracing all and seeking opportunity for all.”

As a freelance pundit, this is where I should jump in with my critique of the Brooks scenario. But I’m going to save myself the trouble. Truth is, I can think of little to say that has not already been said in the online comments of hundreds of pissed-off readers of the New York Times op ed page. I now yield the podium to a few of them:

“Another paternalistic little fable.” – mary k, north Carolina

“Every time I read what David Brooks has to say about Warren, I am left wondering – would he say the same things if she was a man? She is so far from his caricature of her, I think her strength is threatening to him.” – Cassandra, Sacramento

“Has he not heard about the climate crisis? There is no mention of it in this essay.” — the quiet one, US

“BTW Dave, in your vision of 2050 did you happen to see how climate change was progressing? I’m interested to know how my grand kids are coping.” – Claudius, Pleasant Vly, NY

“David Brooks continues his habit of characterizing garden variety liberal Democrats as bomb-throwing radicals. Elizabeth Warren… hardly needs Prof. Brooks to instruct her that she will meet with resistance in the U.S. Senate. She works in the U.S. Senate.” – Chris Rasmussen, Highland Park, NJ

“I think Mr. Brooks conflates American Democracy with a love of capitalism a bit too much; what people want more than a chance to become bazillionaires is a chance to feel treated fairly within the system that dominates their lives.” – Brad Price, Portland

“FDR was pushed from below by the socialists and the Communists and the unionists. The middle class was born and the corporatists and the capitalists had to start paying their own way. Modern day GOP-supported capitalism is completely out of control.” – Bill T, Farmingdale, NY

“If centrist Democrats see a candidate win by running on a progressive platform, they’ll migrate left. And what were once fringe ideas – like universal healthcare, free college, a green new deal – will become more mainstream.” – Quay Rice, Augusta GA

 “The positions you regard as extreme are likely to be remembered as an opening offer in what becomes a compromise piece of legislation.” – DA, St. Louis

“You assume that she will choose to be a failed dogmatist over a successful pragmatist. You say that what distinguishes her from Bernie is that she shows self-awareness (a debatable point about Bernie) and then spend the rest of the column outlining a scenario where she is utterly unaware of those with whom she has to work… What I respect about conservatives is that they played the long game. You don’t dismantle the New Deal and Great Society overnight. I support Warren because I sense she has the self-awareness to know that to move our nation toward economic, social and environmental justice, we have to play the long game.” – Tomg, Rosendale

“Warren is both a savvy politician (knows how to work with people and get things done) and a fighter for principles and policy… American capitalism is seriously broken… It no longer serves even the middle class, much less the working class and the poor. It is not about making things or serving the public good. It needs major repair, not tweaks and fixes. Warren is the only Democrat running [with] the wherewithal, the smarts, the experience, the know-how and the fight, to take on the rich and powerful… All that said, even if Warren wins and the Dems take back the Senate, the rest of us will have to stay active or became more active to have a chance of turning the hate-filled, mean-spirited society around so that it truly works for the public good.” – rgoldfilm, Berkeley

“To paraphrase Elizabeth Warren, it’s amazing that David Brooks would go to the trouble of writing a piece likes this, just to show us all the things we cannot have and all the things we should not fight for”. – adam, Brooklyn ny

“Dems have always known how to legislate for half a loaf. Exhibit A: Obamacare. Unlike craven Mitch, a Democratic Congress would send bills to President Warren without requiring pre-approval. Warren herself knows how to wrangle.” – A Boston, Maine

 “We need five or six parties, not two. We need an electorate that builds their opinions based on the same factual foundation. We need healthcare and college for all with opt-outs for people who want to buy their own (e.g., in NYC, not everyone takes the subway). We need… a lot. In the meantime, I’ll take Warren with open arms.” — mattcasper11, San Diego, CA

“I sense a certain panic in the course of reading this op-ed. People who have benefited from the status quo tend to be the ones most resistant to change… With Warren, I see a fighter; for our democracy and for social justice.” – wp, Oklahoma City, OK

“I suspect that Elizabeth Warren will not hold your opinion in anywhere near as high regard as Obama apparently did. You were exactly the kind of thoughtful conservative that Obama was trying to win over. Yet somehow, when push came to shove, you sided in your columns time and again with the obstructionist Republicans in opposing Obama’s initiatives… You demonstrated that the bonds of loyalty to ones friends and colleagues and ideology are not easily broken…” —  DebbieR, Brookline, MA

“Looking back from 2050, half of us have drowned.” — Amos Baynes, NC

Something for the Dems to Try Out on the Trail: Togetherness

At Texas Southern University, in Houston, on Thursday night, the major Democratic candidates for President will finally be assembled on one stage. For three hours, from 7 to 10 p.m. Central Time, they will deal with questions posed by representatives of ABC News and Univision, and voters and pundits will judge their performances and form conclusions about who is getting the better of whom.

Meanwhile, another contest with implications for both the 2020 election and our collective future will be unfolding. It involves the invisible parties known as centrifugal and centripetal force—the tendency of moving bodies to fly apart or come together, respectively.

Read on…

Have Democrats Forgotten How to Do Oversight?

August has arrived, and not a moment too soon for the Democrats of the House of Representatives. Imagine them making the most of it. Picture this recess as their chance to examine past mistakes and present circumstances and to ask themselves, now that their dream of a deus-ex-Mueller has been dashed, how they might finally begin to use their own powers—the powers of the unit of government they control—to illuminate the crimes, misdeeds, and maladministration of Donald Trump, his family, his campaign, and his gang of appointees and accomplices.

Let us certainly hope that question is on their minds. Meanwhile, I have posed it to a range of experts on congressional oversight, and their answers add up to something like a consensus judgment on how the Democrats should and shouldn’t proceed.

One key shouldn’t: They should not see their task simply as one of picking up the package of evidence handed to them by Robert Mueller and continuing to pursue the case he was either unable to nail or unwilling to state. Mueller felt bound to define his investigation narrowly, sticking to the trail of a potential Trump-Russia plot to meddle in the 2016 elections and adjacent offenses. The House, my panel of authorities agrees, needs to define its investigation broadly, as an inquiry into the bigger and more basic problem of kleptocratic corruption—of self-enrichment, crony enrichment, and betrayal of the public trust.

That rich realm encompasses three sub-territories. The first consists of all the areas where the Trumps have tried to turn the presidency to personal profit, whether by sneaking a $60 million real-estate developers’ tax break into the Republican tax package; getting government entities, contractors, and supplicants to purchase overpriced lodgings at Trump properties; or doing whatever they did with the $100 million supposedly raised for the inauguration ceremonies. In the second zone lie the various members of the president’s circle who, following his lead, have taken financial advantage of official positions or Trump ties. That domain blurs over into a third, in which we find the galaxy of federal departments and agencies that, thanks to the strategic placement of industry lobbyists and corporate insiders in the decision-making ranks, now routinely bow down to corporate interests at everybody else’s expense.

Plain old money corruption is the recurring theme everywhere in Trumpworld, his dealings with Russia included. He signaled as much in July 2017 when he warned the newly named special prosecutor (via an interview with The New York Times) that the Russia probe would cross a red line if it touched on Trump’s finances. That was surely the concern behind the “I’m fucked” rant memorialized in the Mueller report: Trump had every reason to expect a Russia inquiry to morph into a financial inquiry because, of course, he drew no such line himself. Although Mueller wound up chronicling acts that bordered on subversion, any loyalty to a foreign power was incidental: The real goal for Trump and the aides, agents, and hangers-on in contact with shady Russians during the campaign and transition was to make money.

In Trump’s case, the immediate loot was supposed to come from a real-estate boondoggle in Moscow. But he had also developed a taste for Russian financing when past sources had run dry. “After multiple bankruptcies in the 1980s and ’90s, Trump turned to Russian oligarchs and crime figures for a ready supply of cash,” Representative Jamie Raskin pointed out to me. “They were looking for ways to launder and safeguard money looted from the former Soviet Union.” Those transactions and thoughts of more like them appear to have been the original source of Trump’s desire to cozy up to Vladimir Putin, and in that sense, they drive U.S. Russia policy today.

Democrats, Raskin and others say, should rethink the aim as well as the subject matter of their inquiry. A scholar of constitutional law by trade (a former professor of same at American University’s law school), Raskin has no doubts about the impeachment-worthiness of credible allegations already on record. But regardless of what the House decides about impeachment or how long it takes to decide, it is time, he says, to concentrate on points of fact rather than law, and to lay out the facts to “tell a coherent and digestible story to the American people about how the president’s campaign and administration have both been money-making operations from top to bottom.”

Storytelling must be the mission. And the story has to go beyond the act of corruption, says Paul C. Light, an oversight specialist and professor of public service at New York University; it needs to include the injury to government’s ability to do right by everyday people. “There’s a lot of outrage in the Democratic bloodstream,” Light says. “Unfortunately the House has not paid much attention so far to the effects of Trump’s corruption. Why does it matter to the American people? How does it affect your pocketbook or your children’s future? Who’s he robbing?”

Eight years in the minority have sapped the Democrats’ supply of oversight know-how. One of the party’s past masters of the art, former Representative Henry Waxman, counsels persistence and a willingness to “hit the same point over and over again.” The Democrats, he says, should borrow a page from Trump’s “No collusion, no obstruction” playbook. They should be willing to keep pounding away at a concise (in their case, true) message about crooked government and innocent people being shafted. “Sometimes it’s hard to get something across except in a cumulative way,” Waxman says.

Members of Congress are prone to attention-seeking behavior, and the attention is sometimes gained at the expense of credibility or respect. House Republicans happily accepted that trade-off throughout their two-and-a-half-year investigation of the Benghazi terrorist attacks. The Democrats, having lived through a number of such partisan score-settling exercises, could be tempted to respond in kind. That is a temptation to be resisted, in the opinion of party elders with oversight experience.

One of them, former Michigan Senator Carl Levin, heads a nonprofit based at the law school of Wayne State University in Detroit. The Levin Center, dedicated to “oversight as an instrument of change,” champions a bipartisan approach, and in partnership with the Lugar Center and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) has taken more than 200 House and Senate staffers through oversight-training boot camps built around hypothetical scandals. Literal bipartisanship is, of course, impossible in the age of Trump and Mitch McConnell. Nevertheless, says Elise Bean, co-director of the Levin Center’s Washington office and a former top Levin aide, House chairs and inquisitors would do well to rein in their instincts for invective and blame-setting. For the House’s hearings to stand a chance of stirring anyone beyond the base—any of the estimated 13 percent of Trump’s 2016 voters who had supported Barack Obama in 2012, for example—committee chairs will have to work extra hard to coordinate questioning and discourage grandstanding. “These inquiries need to be fact-based,” Bean says. “They can’t just come across as one group of people railing at another group of people.”

Grandstanding can be especially tempting in House committees with dozens of members coveting their five minutes of glory. The chairs themselves can be greedy for attention, a concern that may cause them to prioritize what are known as “fire alarm investigations” built around matters of immediate news interest. The alternative—the “police patrol investigation” of a systemic problem with a backstory—may look like too much work for too little gain. But it’s far more likely to be impactful, Light says, based on a review of 31 House investigations between the years 1945 and 2012. And the Democrats can afford to be comparatively subdued on the subject of Trump corruption, because the facts themselves are so appalling.

Most hearings, as a matter of cold statistical fact, draw little media or public notice. What gets noticed is the occasional riveting image of, say, a gang of tobacco executives swearing that nicotine is nonaddictive, in front of a committee with evidence of long-standing corporate knowledge to the contrary. But it is generally a mistake to aim for a knockout punch; moments of high drama are serendipitous and not to be counted on, says Waxman, who chaired that particular hearing back in 1994. While the tobacco execs’ robotic denials of the obvious got lots of play, Waxman points out that nobody remembers the long slog of investigations and hearings leading up to that climax.

On top of the usual challenges, Democrats must now deal with a president and an attorney general telling everyone under their authority (and quite a few people who aren’t) to withhold cooperation. “Lots of norms are being thrown out the window,” says Molly Claflin, a former Senate Judiciary staffer now employed at American Oversight, an anti-corruption nonprofit that files lawsuits and surfaces official documents to compensate for the recent neglect and underfunding of Congress’s investigative work.

To get over the Trump stonewall, House committee staffers will have to cast a wide and imaginative net for witnesses, what with all the Trump-dependent people likely to resist testifying. One place to look, Light suggests, is in the middle ranks of corrupted entities, private or public. The Financial Services Committee, for example, might bring in some of the Deutsche Bank financial-crime watchdogs who tried to warn their superiors against continued lending to Trump family interests. The Natural Resources Committee could question some of the career employees at the Environmental Protection Agency who have been blocked from going after polluters. If such people feel skittish about testifying, they can be offered the option of wearing masks and having their voices distorted—a nice touch, perhaps, for the committee’s attention-getting purposes as well as the witnesses’ job-security purposes.

The ultimate victims of crooked government—everyday people—can also be called in. A Department of Education in the clutches of for-profit college companies and private student lenders is one unlikely to implement a loan forgiveness program for holders of student debt who commit themselves to public service. Light points to that program as a neglected and ripe target for oversight. “You have tens of thousands of people,” he says, “who have made their payments on time and are working as police officers, nurses, medical professionals and can’t get a dollar of forgiveness.” The testimony of a carefully chosen sample of those people could be the perfect prologue to a round of student-loan hearings.

Powerful stories can be aired more than once in forums with different frames of reference. The House Education and Labor Committee could hold a stand-alone hearing on the loan forgiveness program, for example; but that problem could also be examined by the Oversight and Reform Committee, under the spirited leadership of Elijah Cummings of Maryland, as part of a multi-agency investigation of the role of the former corporate lobbyists and executives now littered across the federal government. They’re all over: David Bernhardt, the fossil fuel lobbyist turned interior secretary, proud of his readiness to hand out oil-drilling leases in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; Daniel Elwell, the former airline guy running the FAA while it slow-walked its response to the safety issues of the Boeing 737 MAX; Jay Clayton, the ex–Goldman Sachs lawyer (married to an ex–Goldman Sachs executive) presiding over the Securities and Exchange Commission, and on and on. “Trump has found a fox for every henhouse in Washington,” Raskin says. That point could be effectively dramatized not only by the testimony of career public servants trying to do their jobs, but by an electronic map of the Trump administration with one agency after another lighting up as its conflicted leaders are identified.

Tax policy and tax enforcement is an obvious hearing topic. The Ways and Means Committee, under the cautious chairmanship of Richard Neal, took a woefully long time to sue for Trump’s tax returns, and it is unclear whether or how soon that litigation will bear fruit. The practical consequences of a New York law intended to force the release of Trump’s state tax returns are also up in the air. But Neal’s committee should have plenty of fodder for investigation, including an “opportunity zone” tax break with potentially large benefits for Jared and Ivanka, the disposition of a $7 million back-tax debt owed by the hedge fund manager and Republican donor Robert Mercer, and the strangely fast-tracked Senate confirmation of an Internal Revenue Service general counsel who had previously helped the Trump Organization with its taxes.

Trump hotels and resorts present another fertile area of inquiry. It is easy to imagine a hearing devoted to the parade of foreign dignitaries and business promoters feeding the coffers of the Trump International Hotel in downtown Washington en route to meetings with Trump-appointed public officials. The Emoluments Clause, widely associated with favors from foreigners, has a domestic dimension as well, Raskin points out. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution tells us that the president is paid a fixed salary and “shall not receive … any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” That language could be hard to square with, say, military personnel being housed at Trump-related properties in Las Vegas, Hawaii, and elsewhere, and not always when the president was there with them.

The issue of Russian money laundering will be a tough nut to crack—but worth cracking. Hearings on that topic could strain the patience of that segment of the public already inclined to tune out matters related to Trump and Russia, while others may have trouble understanding why a rich Russian’s money is any dirtier than a rich non-Russian’s money. The Intelligence Committee could help clarify that point by introducing us to some of the thugs in the Trump orbit and to the practical meaning of the term “oligarch” in Putin’s Russia.

House Democrats could hold nonstop hearings from now until November 2020 without exhausting the supply of worthy targets. So far, however, they have not shown much appetite for oversight. Since the delivery of the Mueller report they have issued subpoenas, filed lawsuits, argued about jurisdiction and privilege and prerogative, and endlessly debated the pros and cons of impeachment, but they have done very little to call public notice to the rampant criminality of the Trump regime.

Some in their ranks seem content to soft-pedal the issue. If Mueller couldn’t come up with a Trump-busting scandal, they seem to believe, there is no point in carrying on with the hunt. On that theory, the Democrats should lay off the attacks, put on a smiley face, and just talk about “what we plan to do for the country,” says one such Democrat, the centrist Massachusetts Congressman (and pretend presidential candidate) Seth Moulton. But the experience of the past several months suggests just where that formula is likely to lead. If lawmakers and candidates lose interest in Trump’s crimes, so will the country at large, and a wide swath of the media will feel more liberated than ever to follow its natural impulse to normalize.

The country needs Congress to do more oversight, not less. It’s time for the Democrats to map out a coordinated and thoughtfully sequenced series of hearings and investigations designed both to expose new information and to stir more awareness and outrage over what is already known and half-known. Old stories, vividly told, can have fresh impact; that is true even if they have a sketchy basis in reality, as the House Republicans proved with their endless claims about Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s emails. The Democrats can proceed, moreover, with confidence that more dirt will surface, even if they cannot say exactly what it will be or where it will be found. Elected by fraud and fluke, Donald Trump has given us the crookedest presidency in our national memory, if not our history. Never has anyone with so much to hide occupied such a central and visible place. That is a formula guaranteed to keep the flow of ugly information coming as long as anyone keeps looking.

Mueller and his team, in the course of not quite finding an actionable Trump-Russia conspiracy, unearthed evidence of a multitude of other offenses, and that haul helped the Democrats retake the House of Representatives last year. By Election Day next year, Trump’s crimes could be his undoing, and they could pose an impossible burden for his Republican partners in Congress as well. The Democrats cannot be sure of that—but it would be a terrible mistake to discount the possibility. Donald Trump himself is clearly troubled by the prospect of renewed scrutiny. We caught a recent glimpse of that fear in his racist fulminations against Elijah Cummings—a crazed preemptive effort to undermine one of the senior House members and committee chairs most bent on pressing ahead with aggressive oversight. If the president doesn’t think he’s home free, the Democrats had better not make that assumption either.

(Originally published by The American Prospect)

Stepping Down Charles Street and Over History

New York City is where I grew up and have lived the longest. But I still have a lot to learn about, well, Greenwich Village for example. Here is some of what I found this weekend while walking the length of Charles Street from the Hudson River to Greenwich Avenue.

135 Charles, The Gendarme. Now apartments, originally the 9th Precinct stationhouse.  They don’t design police buildings like this anymore.
121 Charles, 200-year-old farmhouse once tenanted by Margaret Wise Brown (“Goodnight Moon,” “Runaway Bunny” etc.) when it was on the Upper East Side.
PLAQUE RECALLING A WORLD WAR TWO-ERA RENTER
Congregation Darech Amuno, established in 1838 by Orthodox Jews from Holland. They moved here (remodeling an old building) in 1912.

1925-27 RESIDENCE OF JAMES M. CAIN, WHEN THE FUTURE AUTHOR OF “THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE” WAS, IMPROBABLY, WRITING EDITORIALS FOR THE NEW YORK WORLD UNDER THE SUPERVISION OF WALTER LIPPMANN.

Onetime Charles Streeters also include Sinclair Lewis and Fiorello LaGuardia.

Dementia Check

What to make of the fact that I spent roughly two minutes on the phone this morning with a self-proclaimed representative of the Social Security Administration calling to alert me to acts of financial fraud that had supposedly triggered the suspension of my account. Why did I continue listening after the caller identified herself as “Officer Chelsea Woun, Badge No. 417C2741.” How to account for my failure to hang up when she spoke of the “four federal agencies” potentially recording our conversation?

In the immortal words of Oscar Hammerstein II: Who can explain it? Who can tell you why? Fools give you reasons. Wise men never try. I had arisen late and had yet to brew a cup of coffee. Perhaps I was not fully ready to deal with the world of commerce. In any case, I regret to say I did not utter a firm statement of disbelief and conclude the call until “Officer Woun” alluded to the string of warrants supposedly out for my arrest and seven New York State bank accounts containing millions of dollars in my name.

It turns out, according to the New York Times, that the Social Security Administration recently displaced the Internal Revenue Service as the federal agency that financial scammers are most likely to claim affiliation with.

Falling prey to a telephone scam, the Times story adds on the authority of a Chicago neuropsychologist named Patricia Boyle, can be an early warning sign of cognitive problems or Alzheimer’s. That doesn’t mean that every sap out there is fated to develop dementia. But it might be wise, Dr. Boyle suggests, to monitor such a person’s behavior for potential problems.

Monitor away.