Weekend Open Thread: Political Roundup for April 7, 2017


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This post is not sponsored by or affiliated with Monsanto’s “Roundup” — AT ALL!

Let’s weed through the international, national, state, county, local, and hyper-local news and find things to eradicate.

INTERNATIONAL

The story of the day is that President Trumpnocchio somehow turned human, located his barely-used conscience, and decided that use of sarin gas to burn and suffocate one’s own citizens actually does go beyond what he thinks is morally acceptable.  Unfortunately, so does consulting with Congress prior to engaging in an act of war such as unleashing almost 60 Tomahawk™ cruise missiles on Syria.

The good news is that Steve Bannon is probably crapping tarry blood at Trump’s sudden turn into an interventionist, but that’s not necessarily much different from any other of Steve Bannon’s days, especially now that he will have a permanent gig turning Ivanka’s husband Jared Kushner into the Emanuel Goldstein of anti-Semitic hatred for the rest of the century.  (Yes, “Kushner as the Evil Globalist Jew” will outlive both Bannon and Kushner.  Then again, take a good look at Bannon.  If your kid has a hamster, it might outlive him too.)  And, Syria’s Donald Trump (although actually more like his Donald Jr., for those of us who remember Hafez Assad, a real dictator’s dictator) Bashir Assad is probably in a lousy mood over this, because even though the Russians are backing him up they realistically have no chance of ever getting a President more to their liking than the one that they campaigned for, so what are they going to do?  Provoke him to do something crazier?  He will, as we all know!

Look, I’m not necessarily opposed to humanitarian military intervention, although I can’t remember the last time that I favored it and didn’t regret it.  Someone has to try to enforce norms against crimes against humanity, and we’re the one with the biggest arsenal.   (The personal humiliation of Assad probably matters more here than the loss of life and materiél when it comes to influencing Syrian policy, which is why I’m in favor of something like bombing his summer estate and his favorite cars.  “My cars!  My cars!  You monster!”)  And, as part of a multinational coalition that would seek to implement a coherent plan that will promote human rights, this sort of “tit-for-tat” (or more properly “tat-for-lung”) action, as a means of raising the cost of such violations is probably pretty much exactly what an enlightened political establishment would do.

But this isn’t that!  This is more like a tantrum!  The people harmed by it are a lot more affected by it than those who are helped by it — to the extent that “revenge = help” in the first place — so essentially it makes us more enemies without making us more friends.  (A serious and lasting pro-human rights military strategy, by contrast, might have the opposite effect.  Although probably not.)  By not involving Congress, Trump sets a mini missile — call it a “Tom Cruise” — at his own foot, because he doesn’t gain the added authority and fearsomeness of being able to say that he spoke for a united United States government.  Instead, it just becomes more gravitas kibble to serve as fodder for Rep. Adam Schiff’s inevitable Senate Campaign.  (I don’t know whether Schiff knows that he’s running for Dianne Feinstein’s seat yet — but he will be.  Schiff, by the way, sounds, sort of looks, and presents himself quite similarly to Anaheim’s courtly Councilmember Steve Faessel — which is I think that Faessel may be the one to beat for Anaheim Mayor next year.  Or I could just be creating trouble by saying that.  It’s hard to know!  Yoo-hoo, Mayor’s race coming!)

Anyway, Assad has learned a lesson today that Trump never will: sometimes, subtlety is everything.  If the same number of children in Idlib had been killed by Russian ninjas — if there are such things — few outside of the area would have known or cared.  (I’m not pleased by that, but the track record is clear.)  But (as Kim Jong Un is learning with respect to his brother’s airport poisoning): sometimes being flashy seems good, but it may just get you in trouble.  Especially when the American President is a tyke who hates being shown up.

NATIONAL

I really doubt that, even in his wildest dreams, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell really thought that he would get away with stealing a Supreme Court seat.  He didn’t think that Trump would win either.  I presume that his plan, when he decided to take unprecedented — DON’T EVEN ARGUE ABOUT THAT WORD, I WILL DEFEAT YOU — action to block Obama’s Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland from EVEN GETTING A HEARING before Congress, was that once Hillary won the election he’d just turn around and have Garland approved after all with a minimal hearing, because Garland was about as conservative justice as Democrats were ever likely to offer and Hillary was likely to nominate a feminist so flagrantly ardent that Mike Pence’s wife wouldn’t want him to be in a room alone with anyone who had been in a room with her over the previous week.

That’s the battle that I had expected to be fighting last November and December — against confirming Garland because he was both too moderate and (let’s be frank) too old, having turned 64 the week after the election.  (Seriously: WHAT WAS OBAMA THINKING?  Doesn’t anybody here know how to play this game?)  Yes, in fact, Republicans do know how it’s played — which is why Neil Gorsuch became the first person confirmed to the Supreme Court over a successful filibuster at age 49.  If you figure (as used to be a reasonable guideline) that Justices serve about 15 years, Gorsuch would thus be worth two Supreme Court appointments to Garland’s one.  If he serves only until Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s age, he won’t be off the Court until 2052.  THAT”S HOW SUPREME COURT POLITICS WORKS NOW, MY IDIOT DEMOCRATIC FRIENDS — Clarence Thomas was appointed at age 43! — and we get no Brownie Points for appointing someone old enough to collect Social Security.  (My preferred solution for this appointment was to bring Sandra Day O’Connor back onto the court until after the next election.  She’s pretty sprightly.)

My friend and former fellow Manhattan “Big Law” associate, Elie Mystal of “Above the Law,” had what I thought was the best take on the tactic that Democrats should have taken: don’t attack Gorsuch for being a conservative in the bag for corporations — not enough people are about that — but oppose him because THEFT IS BAD AND CHEATERS SHOULD NOT PROSPER.  Elie’s preferred confirmation hearing would have gone like this:

SENATOR: Welcome to the hearing, Judge Garland

GORSUCH: Um, I’m not Judge Garland, I’m Judge —

SENATOR: I DON’T CARE WHO YOU ARE!  If you aren’t Judge Garland, then you have no right to be here, so get lost!

Making it about Judge Gorsuch was a bad idea.  If Justice Antonin Scalia had had the good sense to die a year later, after Trump won the Presidency (note to fellow Democrats: YES HE DID!  YES HE DID SO!), then we would not have seen a filibuster because it would have been within Trump’s moral and ethical right to appoint him.  It was denying Garland access to even a hearing that was beyond the pale.  If Republicans had done so but then voted him down — well, they could do that.  But at least — like Abe Fortas, like Robert Bork, like Harriet Miers others — he would have had the chance to make his case!

Why didn’t Mitch McConnell allow this?  Because he was afraid that Garland would make his case to American voters who would have pushed his nomination through.  THAT was cheating — and Democrats did NOT have to take it.  Did Republicans want a return to the status quo ante?  Well THIS WASN’T ONE, unless Justice Scalia seemed likely to revert to age 49!  The most fair approach would have been to do what has been done before: expand the court to ten seats and agree to the appointment of both Garland AND Gorsuch, with the law specifying that the first Justice on the court who left the court at age 80 or more would not be replaced, having been “pre-replaced” by Garland.  And, they would have done what McConnell would have done in opposition, which is to say that NO business would be conducted by the Senate AT ALL if McConnell’s scheme had gone through.

Finally, let’s remember that one of the villains of this piece is Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has shown hubris unseen in politics since … well, only since Hillary Clinton’s campaign, come to think of it.  Ginsburg (a cancer survivor) has been unwilling to contemplate giving up her seat AT ALL so that she could be replaced by Obama at a time when he COULD be certain to get her confirmed by another liberal, because apparently she felt that (1) she was never going to die, or (2) she could retire after Hillary one the election, WHICH WAS A CERTAINTY BECAUSE SHE WAS THE MOST QUALIFIED PERSON EVER TO RUN FOR blah blah blah….

This arrogance has been insane for years now — and supposedly rational feminists of an uncompromising stripe have attacked actually rational Democrats for even suggesting that Ginsburg was being selfish and foolish for not taking into consideration the probability that she would not live forever and her successor might be appointed by a conservative Republican. Well, here we are.

During my lifetime, I’ve seen two great liberal Supreme Court justices suffer in office for years of pain and fading faculties because they waited too long to retire.  William Douglas — whom TIME magazine called “the most doctrinaire and committed civil libertarian ever to sit on the court” — was finally hounded off of the court in November 1975 after serving over 36 years.  This was almost a year after suffering a debilitating stroke, although he lived until 1980.  This turned out not to be such a critical change because Gerald Ford’s appointment, John Paul Stevens, ended up becoming part of the Court’s liberal wing.  But then in 1991, Thurgood Marshall — the Court’s first African-American Justice — resigned from the Court a day before the 24th anniversary of his ascension.  He had been serving under a Republican President for approaching eleven years — eight under Ronald Reagan — but his health was declining and there seemed to be little hope that any Democrat would defeat George H. W. Bush in the 1992 election after his victory earlier that year in the Gulf War.  So, he let himself be eased off of the Court — and was replaced with Clarence Thomas.  Marshall died just four days after Bill Clinton, the Democrat who did beat Bush, was inaugurated.

(Here’s to your health, Justice Ginsburg, though not to your hubris.)

STATE

One of Governor Brown’s closest advisors in the first five years of his term was Steve Glazer, who was elected to the State Senate in a May 2015 special election.  There have been erroneous reports that only one Democrat, Assemblyman _______, opposed the just-passed Transportation Bill; actually, there were two.  Glazer also opposed it, with his decisive vote in the Senate being countered by the vote of Sen. Anthony Cannella, who voted for it in exchange for some big money being appropriated to his Central Valley district, which had not otherwise fared so well under Democratic legislative rule.  (Don’t blame Cannella — if the Democrats had really needed Glazer’s vote, they’d probably have gotten it, perhaps with ample sweeteners for his own East Bay district, which didn’t really need them so much.)  Assemblyman Rudy Salas of Bakersfield apparently drew the straw that allowed him to vote against the bill, while Riverside Assembly reps Richard Roth and Sabrina Cervantes won the consolation prize of aid to their districts to ease the discomfort of what we can presume was casting a difficult vote.

Glazer issued a statement on the vote, which was somewhat remarkable for Brown’s former thisclose advisor, especially if negotiations with Canella might have failed and his vote would be needed (and, perhaps, this draft leaked.)  Here it is, courtesy of Scott Lay’s The Nooner sending readers to the East Bay Times:

I want to thank Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, Sen. Jim Beall and Gov. Jerry Brown for their hard work in addressing the problem of crumbling roads and aging transportation systems.

My constituents are particularly dependent on good roads and highways and reliable transit systems, so I agree we need additional transportation investments.

But this transportation package did not have the support of my district, for good reasons. Even after a multi-million dollar lobbying effort supporting the $52 billion bill, sentiment in my district ran two-to-one opposing these new gas taxes and car registration fees.

My constituents have told me loud and clear that they want any new taxes to be spent more wisely and effectively. For instance, it doesn’t make sense to spend billions of dollars on an unpopular High Speed Rail system that backers claim might be completed by 2029 when it could go for transportation improvements today.

Beyond the issues of setting better spending priorities and taxes, I also believed this bill could have been improved. We need to be more forward thinking, where we recognize the role technology can play in allowing us to use our roads and highways more efficiently.

And we need a plan that provides commuters with the confidence and assurance that reliable transit will be there for them every day of the year.

This bill also failed to ensure that any new transportation funding given to local transportation agencies be used only for the purposes intended and not diverted to other uses.

I was also concerned about last-minute amendments to this bill that the environmental community and air quality regulators say will unwisely limit our ability to control diesel pollution from trucks. These changes have never been fully vetted and deserve more scrutiny.

I look forward to continued discussions with the governor in which we take into account the need to modernize our approach to transportation in an efficient and reliable manner.

The weird thing here — well, one of them, not counting Glazer spitting on Brown’s pet High Speed Rail program — regards the section I’ve placed in orange.  It’s true that this bill doesn’t include such a proposal, but, as Capital Public Radio explains:

Separately, if SB 1 moves forward, there will also be a vote on a constitutional amendment that would protect transportation funding from being diverted for other purposes (think Al Gore’s “lockbox”). If approved by the Legislature, this measure — either ACA 5 (Frazier) or SCA 2 (Newman) — would be placed on the June 2018 ballot.

So, based on discussion that we’ve had here recently, we should be able to presume that all of us will be behind that “lockbox” constitutional amendment, right?  I expect to be!

LOCAL

Larry Agran’s Irvine Community News and Views is beside itself at what it views (and newses) as Melissa Fox’s betrayal of all that is good, decent, and FivePoint-phobic.  (The IrvComNewVu piece gets printed in whole for fair-use purposes of criticism!  And how can they complain about the additional publicity?)

      “For a moment I was exhilarated…then I was infuriated.”  That’s how one angry Irvine resident described Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, which focused on the progress of the Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery at the Great Park.  The Veterans Cemetery project was initially approved by the Irvine City Council in 2014.

     In a bold move to quickly gain the final State and Federal go-ahead for construction of the Veterans Memorial Park and Cemetery on a dedicated 125-acre site within the Great Park, Councilmember Jeff Lalloway proposed that the City Council authorize the expenditure of up to $40 million in available Great Park development funds — enough to fund half of the estimated costs to construct the Memorial Park and Cemetery. Lalloway’s motion set a goal of having the Veterans Cemetery operational on or before Veterans Day, 2019, just 30 months from now.  

Under the Lalloway plan, the other half of the funding — up to $40 million — would be expected to come from the State of California.  In a letter to the Irvine City Council, Orange County Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, who gained initial State approval of the project in 2014, has pledged to work with her colleagues in the Legislature and with Governor Jerry Brown to secure the necessary State funds.

     Tuesday evening’s Council meeting took place in a crowded City Council Chamber.  After more than two hours of public testimony and nearly an hour of City Council discussion, the Council voted 3-to-2 for Councilman Lalloway’s motion. Lalloway and Councilmembers Lynn Schott and Melissa Fox voted YES, while Councilmember Christina Shea and Mayor Donald Wagner voted NO.  Then, in a bizarre twist, moments after the historic motion was approved, Councilmember Melissa Fox, who had spoken in favor of Lalloway’s motion and had just voted YES, asked for “reconsideration” of the vote

     Whether it was spontaneous, or the result of pressure from Mayor Wagner and from lobbyists for developer FivePoint Communities, Fox stated she was “confused” and then asked for help in cobbling together her own motion, which was pretty much a restatement of Lalloway’s motion.  However, Fox added a provision directing City staff to explore a “second track” for the Veterans Cemetery.  Specifically, she asked that City staff be directed to meet with representatives from development company FivePoint Communities to discuss their controversial “land-swap” proposal.

The “land-swap,” which some have derided as a “land swindle,” involves moving the Veterans Cemetery to an entirely different site near the Irvine Train Station and deeding the 125-acre site in the Great Park to FivePoint for future development.
Lalloway repeatedly attacked the “land-swap” proposal as nothing but a thinly veiled entitlement scheme, which would result in FivePoint getting development rights to build 1,500 or even 2,000 new residential units on the 125-acre property in the Great Park.  

     Lalloway called Fox’s motion a “poison pill” that sends the wrong message to the State Legislature and Governor.  With the City pursuing two Veterans Cemetery sites instead of one, Irvine’s chances of getting State funds for the City’s original 125-acre Great Park site are jeopardized, according to Councilman Lalloway.
     Finally, Fox’s motion passed, 3-to-2, with Councilmembers Lalloway and Schott voting NO.  Asked after the meeting what he was going to do, Lalloway said he was considering next steps, and he intended to confer with Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva and others.

Frankly, I’m shocked that Agran and his writers are shocked at Fox’s vote.  It did not seem like a sure thing to me, but given the long-standing good relationship between Fox and the OCVMP and other veterans, it was likely enough for me to have predicted it in my piece earlier this week.  What may strike the authors of this piece as her having been “bought” by FivePoint has a simpler and likelier explanation: she’s simply not out to hurt FivePoint if it can substantially facilitate making the dream of a veteran’s cemetery in Orange County come true.

If FivePoint can deliver even more concessions, so much the better.  But I think that the Legislature knows how to play this game as well, and knows that its having its own money at the ready is likely to lead FivePoint to even greater deeds of (self-interested) “generosity.”  As one who wants to see something wonderful and lasting in Irvine — a sort of “West Coast Arlington,” if that could be managed — I like the “two-track” approach so long as either tracks likely leads to victory.

[MORE CRITICISM TO COME!]

This is your Weekend Open Thread.  Talk about that, or whatever else you’d like, within reasonable bounds of discretion and decorum.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose worker's rights and government accountability attorney, residing in northwest Brea. General Counsel of CATER, the Coalition of Anaheim Taxpayers for Economic Responsibility, a non-partisan group of people sick of local corruption. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Occasionally runs for office to challenge some nasty incumbent who would otherwise run unopposed. (Someday he might pick a fight with the intent to win rather than just dent someone. You'll know it when you see it.) He got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012 and in 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. A family member co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)