All political power is unitary. It is one of the great lessons for thinking about politics. You are always in the process of adding to it or diminishing it. Assert power and sustain it and you gain power. Fail to do so and a politician grows weaker. This is why the concept of expending ‘political capital’ is mostly nonsense.
We have seen this unfolding before us over the last month. President Trump now daily asserts power he cannot sustain. ‘Law and Order’ street fighting confrontations using the US military, Bolton’s book, bungled DOJ purges, a humiliating Tulsa venture. Each gambit newly exposes his deteriorating power and thus hastens the process, emboldening others to oppose or resist him.
An anonymous DOJ vet shares some key details about Geoff Berman’s unique legal status as US Attorney in the Southern District of New York.
Many others weighing in about the SDNY fiasco, but I’m not seeing this point, which is worth considering.
Even if Trump can ultimately dislodge Berman (under 28 USC 541 he, though not Barr, can likely fire him), he can’t pick the temporary replacement. Until the Senate confirms someone, that choice plainly belongs exclusively to the SDNY judges under 18 USC 846. If Trump tries to ignore that and install his own pick anyway he faces two problems he can’t easily overcome. First, there would be a staff revolt. Second, every criminal defendant indicted under the bogus US Attorney would have standing to seek dismissal because the indictment was not authorized or signed by the lawful US Attorney — and those motions would be decided by the same SDNY judges whose authority Trump is trying to usurp.
A remarkable turn of events last night unfolding in New York City and Washington, DC. As you see in the headline, Bill Barr attempted a Friday Night purge of the Manhattan US Attorney’s office but it seems not to have gone according to plan. (This in itself is evidence of Trump’s ebbing power.) Barr announced that Geoff Berman, the US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, had “resigned” “effective immediately” and was being replaced on a temporary basis by the next door US Attorney for the District of New Jersey, Craig Carpenito. Barr further announced that President Trump would be nominating Jay Clayton, currently the Chairman of the SEC, to become the next US Attorney. There are a million things off about this; scheduling it on an exhausted Friday evening just puts a seal on that reality. But when I left off early yesterday evening I had at least assumed that Barr and Trump had made sure that Berman was going along with this or going quietly.
That turned out not to be true.
It’s Juneteenth and President Trump is, predictably, handling the day that marks the liberation of slaves in the United States poorly.
When the Justice Department shows up to court on Friday to argue in favor of blocking John Bolton’s book, it will have in front of it a very daunting — if not impossible — task.
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I have spent a lot of time analyzing the New York COVID epidemic both because it was the center of the storm in the United States and because it affects me, my loved ones and coworkers so directly. The graphed shapes of the New York outbreak and the nationwide outbreak are quite different. The former rockets upward and falls down again at a slower but still comparable arc. Nationwide it’s quite different. The numbers rocket upward and then basically plateau. It’s not a proper comparison. The epicenter of an outbreak has different dynamics than the more rolling spread of contagion in less hard hit areas. This is why the proper comparison is not New York vs the United States or the United States versus any European country, all of which are dramatically smaller than the US, both in geography and population. The proper comparison is the United States (~330 million) vs the EU (~440 million). This brings together hotspots and peripheries, urban and rural and all the mix of population densities into one. As you can see here the progress has been very different and not at all good for the control of the epidemic in the United States.
Another bizarre incident in the evolving story of New York and its relationship with the NYPD. Last night three NYPD officers went to a Shake Shack in Lower Manhattan, got shakes and then became ill after drinking the shakes. They either went to or were taken to the hospital, treated and then released. This quickly led to suspicion that the officers had been intentionally poisoned by one or more Shake Shack employees as part of the purported left-wing, Antifa, civilian “war” on the NYPD. An investigation was commenced. But before anything was established the NYPD’s police unions went into overdrive accusing one or more Shake Shack employees of attempting to assassinate the officers.
Momentarily, President Trump will head out to the White House Rose Garden, parading out a group of families whose loved ones were victims of police violence, and announce a set of executive order reforms that will do little but appease the police.
A chaotic scene unfolds in Albuquerque. A crowd of protestors who were intent on pulling down a statue of one of conquistador founders of New Mexico were met by a group from a far right militia which goes by the name ‘New Mexico Civil Guard.’ Precise chain of events is unclear. But one militia member opened fire and hit one protestor. The militia members have been taken into custody by police who arrived on the scene. The condition of the shooting victim is unknown.
Way, way back on March 11th, I wrote that we appeared to be entering onto a months’ long period of COVID whack-a-mole: a new normal across the country, an outbreak in this city or region followed by a lockdown until the spread abates, with the cycle repeated over and over indefinitely over time until science and medical research come to the rescue. The reality turned out quite different. The New York City metro was on the cusp of catastrophe. Four days later the state would report its first three fatalities. Just under one month after that post the daily statewide death toll would peak at 799. What slowly became clear was that New York wasn’t the first to be hit. It was a unique and devastating scale of outbreak for the whole United States, indeed on par with the worst in the world.
Today we finally seem to be in the midst of that whack-a-mole model we discussed three months ago. For the moment at least New York seems to be one of the most COVID-controlled regions in the country. The state has more than double the rate of national testing and the percentage of positive tests has been consistently under 2% since the beginning of June. Meanwhile cases are growing steadily across the South and in much of the West.
I love this story. It’s an amazing story, which is part of the suburban Antifa invasion genre but takes it in an interesting and novel direction. We start in Columbus, Ohio, another city with BLM protests and what is probably best described as an old school hippie bus with all the flowery freeform murals and the like. It’s the home of a group of street circus performers who do something called Flow Art which the paper calls “an umbrella term for a type of street performance that usually involves juggling and spinning flaming objects.” I just learned about Flow Art. Maybe you already know about it. The troupe call their bus Buttercup. Fair enough. The bus is co-owned by Marisa “Reese” Digati and her partner, Jonathan “Bearpaw” Crane. They live in the bus.
We won’t know for sure until we get their decision. But it sure seemed like a majority of the appellate panel that heard Michael Flynn’s objections to his judge’s recent conduct were okay with letting the judge do the things he has planned in the case for the next month.
Every major news outlet has some sort of headline on this news today. It’s too juicy to resist.
TPM Reader RS has a good idea about a new name for Fort Benning …
It was a pleasure to re-read the essay you wrote on Grant and his memoirs.
And it reminded me of another great American general who doesn’t get the credit he deserves: George C. Marshall. Starting at Fort Benning in the late 1920’s, Marshall literally created the modern US Army that won every major battle it fought in WWII, save the Rapido River crossing in central Italy.*
You should take a few moments today to read this report in the Times about the photo op stunt in Lafayette Park going on two weeks ago. It’s consistent with other recent reports about the background maneuvering between the Pentagon and the White House. But it adds significant new layers and nuance to the story.
The gist is that Pentagon leaders pushed harsh and aggressive tactics, damaging the Guard and the military generally, in an effort to head off a direct order from the President to unleash combat troops against US civilians. In other words, they pushed aggressive and violent tactics to show that regular army combat troops weren’t necessary. The National Guard could knock heads fine on their own.
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As Confederate monuments appear to be facing what may be a final reckoning, consider the other side of that coin. The United States has few if any monuments or statues dedicated to the horrors of slavery, to abolition or to the heroes of Reconstruction. Monuments mark a society’s civic values and embraced identity. By this measure, it is not simply the ubiquity of Confederate memorials but the non-existence of the others which speaks volumes.
In 2018 I wrote this post about Ulysses Grant and his Memoirs, which is one of the great works of American literature, likely the greatest written by any public figure. (It’s one of my favorites from the last few years.) Grant was a white General and President. He is no stand-in for the kind of largely non-existent monuments I describe above. But I note him here because Grant’s own historical reputation is part of the same story.
Let me add a few more points on the masking question. This continues to be a highly contentious debate. For some background, here’s what I wrote about this on May 21st.
Back on the 21st, I shared an article by scientists at CIDRAP in Minnesota. It was dated April 1st, so very early in the epidemic. But it was very skeptical of any directives for the general public to wear masks. The Director of CIDRAP, Michael Osterholm, is a highly respected infectious disease expert and he remains highly skeptical of masking. A number of readers forwarded me a link to his latest podcast which he devotes entirely to this issue. If you’re interested in this topic, I recommend it. Because it’s the best statement of this view. You can read a transcript here.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood on the Senate floor this morning, nobly calling out the “double standard” he thinks is being applied to protests amid COVID-19.
From TPM Reader SG …
It was the Lott/Thurmond brouhaha that caused me to discover TPM almost 20 years ago! And this Southern Partisan interview obviously predated that matter by almost 20 years. I hadn’t read it since you first linked to it. Very interesting to reread now, given the links to key elements of Trumpism. At least two dog-whistle references to Civil War as “unrest between the states” and “war of northern aggression.” Mocking Ferraro’s Catholic (“ethnic”?) name (which I guess Bannon wouldn’t do, but there you have it). Deep state-like references to State Department and Justice career officials. Pretty incredible.