It's NICOLE SANDLER, one more time, filling in for Brad and Desi on today's BradCast.
After an update on the latest news, I'm joined by Blogger TOM SULLIVAN, aka BloggersRUs, who writes for Digby's Hullabaloo blog. After publishing a post about Lawrence O'Donnell's MSNBC report on Donald Trump and Deutsche Bank, Tom received a letter from Donald Trump's attorney demanding a retraction and an apology. He explains what happened.
Then we turn our attention across the pond to the UK, where the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears to have engineered a coup of sorts. The Queen approved his plan to suspend Parliament for five weeks to allow him time to push through a "no deal" Brexit. People have taken to the streets in protest. I'll speak with American ex-patriot DENIS CAMPBELL, an author, journalist and broadcaster, who does his best to explain what's happening over there.
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Notwithstanding Donald Trump's 4-Pinocchio claim that low-end wages are on the rise, there is an ample body of evidence that wealth inequality has reached levels not seen since the onset of the Great Depression. Those who study the issue often compare the financial holdings of the privileged few to those of the many.
A 2017 study, for example, revealed that just three individuals – Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and Jeff Bezos – had, at that point, held as much wealth as the bottom 50% of the American population --- some 160 million people. It's a wealth gap that continues to grow exponentially.
Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos is the Ebenezer Scrooge-like poster child for obscene wealth disparity. Last year, Bezos agreed to pay Amazon employees $15 per hour wages, but only after sustained pressure from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who introduced the StopBezosAct.
At $15 per hour, a full time, 40 hour per week Amazon employee would earn $31,200 per year, before taxes. How generous! According to Business Insider, every 60 seconds, Bezos earns $149,353. That's more than four (4) full-time Amazon employees collectively earn in a year. Bezos' per minute earnings are $56,000 higher than the $93,170 in annual earnings an individual would have to make in order to be placed within the top 10%.
In the minds of most people, $215 million looks like an enormous sum of money, and it is. Business Insider reports that Bezos rakes in $215 million per day, every day, and more than $6.5 billion per year. Amazon, which reported $11.2 billion in earnings last year, did not pay one dime in federal taxes.
While these numbers are essential to understanding our gaping inequality problem, they really don't do much by way of exposing what life is like for those at the bottom end of the scale, to wit: the homeless, who, to many, are simply "invisible" .
In a recently released report (see below) titled, "Paradise Lost", Eric Johnson of Seattle ABC News affiliate, KOMO, takes an in depth look at what wealth disparity has wrought for those at the very bottom --- the 59,000 homeless people in Los Angeles County. Not mentioned by Johnson is that 11% of those struggling to survive without a roof over their heads are U.S. military veterans. The numbers of individuals in L.A. who are slipping into the homeless abyss, according to Johnson, are increasing --- by 16% over the previous year.
Johnson focused on what he described as "the worst man-made disaster in the United States" --- "53 square blocks of suffering and mental illness and drugs on a level that is hard to fathom." For the homeless of L.A., conditions may be even worse than those experienced during the Great Depression. They face what Johnson described as "the long-ignored cousin of addiction and homelessness: disease."
"We have not seen conditions for humans like this since medieval times. Period. And that's a fact," Dr. Drew Pinsky told Johnson. He is, literally, correct...
The federal courts, so far anyway, are holding up well amidst the Constitutional Crisis foisted upon the nation with President Donald Trump's attempts to stymie all Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch and the potentially criminal record of its chief occupant. The Judicial Branch firewall, at least according to one renowned Constitutional law expert --- and at least on the matter of the Congressional subpoenas --- should hold up all the way to even the otherwise very divided U.S. Supreme Court.
On May 20, just seven days after hearing oral arguments, United States D.C. District Court Judge Amit P. Mehta issued an erudite 41-page decision [PDF] in which he ordered Donald Trump's accounting firm, Mazars USA, to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Oversight Committee. Both the subpoena and subsequent court order directs Mazars to provide financial records from Trump and several affiliated entities to the panel. Judge Mehta also denied Trump's request to stay the order pending appeal, reasoning that the President had failed to either cite "potentially persuasive authority" or "present serious legal questions" to overcome nearly 140 years of Supreme Court case law establishing the right of Congress to obtain the requested records as part of its broad investigative authority.
Judge Mehta's rationale was so compelling --- and the "legal" arguments advanced on behalf of the President so specious --- that, when Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, a preeminent constitutional expert appeared on MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell following the ruling, he predicted the President's appeal would not only be swiftly denied by the United States D.C. Circuit Court of Appeal, but that the Supreme Court would either deny the President's request that it hear the case or swiftly affirm the District Court decision. Tribe described the law in this realm as a "slam dunk" and said he'd "expect all nine Justices...would follow the law."
It took only one day for Tribe's sentiment to be echoed elsewhere. Citing Mehta's decision, Judge Edgardo Ramos at the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, issued a bench ruling immediately after oral arguments in a separate, if related case. Ramos directed Deutsche Bank and Capital One to comply with a Congressional subpoena to turn over the President's bank records. That subpoena, according to The New York Times, seeks "to elicit information on potential money laundering and bank fraud." Like Mehta, Judge Ramos refused to issue a stay pending appeal...
So long as there is a prospect for the issuance of a pardon by a Vice President once he/she becomes President, or the expiration of the statute of limitations while a President remains in office, the indictment of a sitting President may be the "only" constitutional means for ensuring "Equal Justice Under Law".
That conclusion, of course, is at odds with the official U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) position that a sitting President cannot be indicted until after he/she leaves office. The DoJ's position is based upon the December 10, 2000 Opinion issued by the DoJ's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), citing an earlier OLC opinion that "the institution of criminal proceedings 'would interfere with the President's unique official duties, most of which cannot be performed by anyone else.'"
But that position is flawed and is being challenged by a number of legal scholars, including Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe, a preeminent constitutional expert, whose famous former students include Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and President Barack Obama.
In a December 10 Boston Globe op-ed and during a subsequent appearance on MSNBC's Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell (see video below), Tribe noted that the long-controversial OLC opinion lacks the force of a judicial precedent and is at odds with the legal accountability required of all federal officers, including the President...
Of all of the reactions to the July 16 joint press conference in Helsinki, Finland in which Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Donald Trump responded to reporters' questions, perhaps the harshest assessment came in a Tweet by former CIA Director John Brennan.
Trump's "performance", Brennan contended, "rises to & exceeds the threshold of 'high crimes & misdemeanors.' It was nothing short of treasonous."
Brennan may have been uniquely positioned to offer that assessment since he was amongst the intelligence officials, who, on Jan. 6, 2017, showed President-Elect Trump emails and texts between high-level members of Russia's military intelligence agency, the GRU, that purportedly establish that Putin had personally ordered the cyberattack on the 2016 election.
Various half-hearted walk-backs aside, Trump's continued refusal to accept that Putin personally ordered Russia's alleged cyberattacks on the 2016 election and denial that any such attacks might have even taken place, is at odds with (a) the bipartisan conclusions offered by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee; (c) an extraordinarily detailed, 37-page speaking indictment in February, setting forth how 13 Russians and 3 Russian companies allegedly carried out an illegal foreign influence campaign, and (d) the more recent, 29-page, July 13 indictment filed against 12 members of the GRU, laying out the dates and specific manner in which named individuals are said to have carried out cyberattacks on the DNC, Hillary Clinton's campaign chair and many others.
The July 13 indictment also details the manner in which Special Counsel investigators say emails --- purloined information --- from several of those attacks were weaponized for release during the campaign and that, for the first time, the GRU had targeted Clinton's "personal office" emails on the very same day that candidate Trump publicly called for Russia to find her "missing" emails during a July 27, 2016 campaign rally.
Ironically, as observed by MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell, Trump's decision to cast aside the unanimous conclusions of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement after the Helsinki summit was promptly followed by a "Perry Mason moment" when Putin was questioned by Reuters correspondent Jeff Mason at the joint press conference of the two Presidents:
Mason: "Did you want President Trump to win the election, and did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?"
Putin: "Yes, I did. Yes, I did."
Early-on, as we reported last February, after accepting an assignment to conduct a human-sourced intelligence investigation into Trump's ties to Russia, Christopher Steele, a former British MI-6 intelligence officer, informed Glenn Simpson of research firm Fusion GPS that he, Steele, had a professional responsibility to report his findings to the FBI. He explained his reasoning at the time. Steele believed he'd uncovered a "crime in progress" and that there was a chilling prospect that the man who might become the 45th President of the United States was and is a compromised Russian asset.
Hillary Clinton appeared to share Steele's concern. During a debate, she not only described Trump as "Putin's puppet," but also presciently added: "You encouraged espionage against our people, sign up for his wish list: break up NATO, do whatever he wants."
The very notion that a Commander-in-Chief could be a compromised foreign asset is so unprecedented that it is difficult to comprehend. Just think how history would have turned out if it had been George Washington instead of General Benedict Arnold who had committed treason.
Yet, the factors that suggest Trump is indeed compromised include, but are not limited to, (a) the retention of Michael Flynn for 18 days after Acting AG Sally Yates warned the White House that the DOJ believed Flynn was a compromised Russia asset, firing him only after Flynn was publicly exposed by the Washington Post; (b) the disclosure of highly classified information to Russia's ambassador during an Oval Office meeting; (c) the continuing refusal to impose Congressionally enacted sanctions against Russia --- a refusal that violates the President's duty to see that the laws are faithfully executed --- and (d) Trump's performance at and after the Helsinki Summit.
If Trump is, indeed, a compromised Russian asset, it would represent a monstrous betrayal, a clear and present danger to the national security of the United States and grounds for his removal from office. But, as Brad Friedman correctly observed during a July 16 BradCast, the question as to whether that betrayal amounts to "treason" entails a difficult, unsettled and far murkier legal issue as to whether the U.S. and Russia are at war...
The real issue is not whether Donald Trump --- an utterly dishonest raging authoritarian narcissist and "pathological liar" --- should be removed from office. Instead, the focus should be on which of two alternative constitutional means for removing this miscreant from office has the best chance of ultimately succeeding.
Impeachment is a cumbersome process that, assuming the GOP-controlled Congress would permit it, entails lengthy investigative hearings, and the introduction of Articles of Impeachment alleging High Crimes and Misdemeanors --- Articles that must be approved by a majority of the House. This would be followed by a trial in the Senate. Trump would then be removed from office only if two-thirds of the Senate votes to convict. Tall orders for both Republican-majority chambers, to say the least.
Throughout the length of those protracted proceedings, Trump would remain in office with access to the nuclear codes.
In his recent New York Times op-ed, Nicholas Kristof, quoting Harvard's renowned Constitutional Law Professor Laurence Tribe, opined that the 25th Amendment offered a viable means for removing Trump from office. Per the language of Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, if Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of Trump's own cabinet transmitted to the leaders of the House and Senate "their written declaration that [Trump] is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President." The burden would then shift to Trump to submit "his written declaration that no inability exists." If he submits a declaration contending that he is able to carry out the duties of his office, Trump would not be permanently removed unless two-thirds of both Houses of Congress upheld the Vice President's declaration.
Irrespective of the legal bases for impeachment --- such as Trump's corrupt and remarkably overt violations of the Constitution's Emoluments Clauses --- it is unlikely that a GOP-controlled Congress would be willing to entertain, let alone vote to impeach a Republican President. This would especially be true if, as is likely, the Articles of Impeachment were introduced by Democratic members of the House.
By contrast, as observed by Lawrence O'Donnell during a Feb. 20 airing of The Last Word (see video below) --- if successfully invoked, the 25th Amendment would pit Republicans against Republicans: to wit, Vice President Mike Pence and a majority of the cabinet against Trump and a minority of the cabinet. If the chaos that is the Trump administration continues and potentially threatens GOP majority rule in either or both houses of Congress in 2018, there's a distinct possibility that, as predicted by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the dynamics within the GOP could undergo a significant change. If he could overcome loyalty to the man who named him as his running mate, Pence and a majority of the cabinet could legally initiate a swift end to the Trump presidency.
That's a lot of "ifs"...and even if they all came to pass, there is more to think about regarding this path...
I have been unable to find any evidence that even one single primetime program at cable news channel MSNBC --- which bills itself as "The Place for Politics" --- spent even one minute of coverage on this week's 3-hour oversight hearing in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next Director of the FBI.
The current Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, was appointed by George W. Bush, and has served in that position since the week prior to 9/11/2001. During his tenure, there has been a vast, radical expansion of the use of torture, indefinite detention, and massive foreign and domestic surveillance by the U.S. Government. While the term for an FBI Director is ten years, Mueller has served almost twelve, following a two-year extension requested by Obama and authorized by the Senate --- which is responsible for advice, consent and confirmation of FBI Director nominees --- in 2011.
James Comey, Jr., who served as U.S. Deputy Attorney General during the George W. Bush administration, after having served as one of Bush's U.S. Attorneys, has been nominated by Obama to become the next Director of the FBI. He will, in theory, serve ten years if confirmed by the U.S. Senate and will be the first FBI Director appointed after 9/11.
According to the FBI's website, the Director oversees "56 field offices located in major cities throughout the U.S., approximately 380 smaller...resident agencies in cities and towns across the nation, and more than 60 international offices called 'legal attachés' in U.S. embassies worldwide." The Bureau employees almost 36,000 people and has an annual budget of just over $8 billion.
Even without the ongoing national (and international) debates about the U.S. use of torture, indefinite detention and its massive worldwide and domestic surveillance policies in the wake of disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, it seems the oversight hearings for any new FBI Director, which, in this case, would be only the 7th in its history, would be newsworthy.
Given the importance of the role and the enormity of the appointment, especially at this moment in history, the fact that the entirety of MSNBC's primetime line-up seems to have completely ignored those hearings entirely, seems newsworthy as well.
All of that even more so, given the man who was nominated for the job and the extraordinary content of the hearings...
This still photo depicts actor Mark Wahlberg using the powerful .50 BMG Barrett M82A1M to shoot down an approaching helicopter at the outset of the 2007 motion picture, Shooter. Later, in the same film, what appears to be a Barrett M82A1 mounted atop a computer-operated weapon platform, is remotely accessed to carry out the long-distance assassination of an Archbishop who is standing next to the President.
On a segment of Thursday night's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell, the host addressed the fact that the National Rifle Association (NRA) is funded and controlled by those who are making obscene profits off the very weaponry used to carry out mass murders of civilians in the U.S. O'Donnell pointed out that, since 2005, when former Senator Larry "Wide Stance" Craig (R-ID), now an NRA Board member, pushed a bill through Congress which immunized weapons manufacturers from civil liability for the carnage wrought by the weapons they unload on the public, the NRA has received over $38 million in contributions from weapons manufacturers.
O'Donnell's list of NRA Board members included George Kollitides of the Freedom Group, owner of multiple weapons manufacturers, including Remington and Bushmaster. Kollitides' company manufactured the AR-15 that was used to murder 20 children and 6 educators at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT last month. Another one of his companies, Advanced Armaments, manufactures silencers, that, according to its web site, are legal in 39 states. Who inside this country, aside from mob hit men, need silencers?
The truly disturbing revelation, however, was that the military grade weapon, the Barrett M82 (see narrated video below), akin to the one seen in the still photo above, is being sold to the general public by Ronnie Barrett, yet another wealthy member of the NRA's Board of Directors.
The Barrett M82 semi-automatic sniper rifle chambers a powerful 12.7×99 mm NATO (.50BMG) armor piercing round. Known as the "Barrett Light Fifty," it was used by the IRA to conduct a sniper campaign against British armed forces in Northern Ireland. It has been sold to the armed forces of some 40 nations. During the First Gulf War, the U.S. military used the Barrett M82 to disable Iraqi armored personnel carriers.
It is difficult to imagine what possible legitimate function the M82 would have in any civilian setting --- that is unless one considers assassinations and shooting down helicopters to be a constitutionally protected sporting event. Yet, lighter variations of the M82, like the more advanced M107, are readily available to civilians in every state except California. When California banned civilian purchases of these insanely deadly weapons, Barrett retaliated by suspending sales to all of the Golden State's law enforcement agencies. Frankly, the following narrated video suggests that this powerful weapon should not be in the hands of law enforcement agencies either, let alone civilians.
One can't help but think of the words Martin Luther King presented during his moving "Beyond Vietnam" speech: "Somehow this madness must cease"...