The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Could the Left Chuck Chuck?

Making the click-through worthwhile this morning: Wondering if Chuck Schumer is the Democrats’ leader in the Senate for the long haul, a new initiative from the Koch network aiming to reduce criminal recidivism, some tough questions about corruption in American life before and during the Trump presidency, and some great news from Davos, Switzerland.

Will Chuck Schumer Offer Funding for the Wall Again or Not?

One of the more surprising headlines in the final days before the short-lived government shutdown was that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and the Democrats appeared ready to make a concession and begin funding a wall on the southern border.

The administration has asked Congress for $18 billion to build the wall; Mr. Cornyn said that in negotiations with the White House before the shutdown, Mr. Schumer had offered the president $25 billion. A spokesman for Mr. Schumer declined to comment but did not dispute the figure.

But Mr. Schumer said he rescinded the offer because Mr. Trump had rejected the rest of the immigration package.

“The wall offer was made as part of a broader deal. The president rejected that broader deal, so the offer is off the table,” Mr. Schumer said.

Okay, so if the broader deal comes back, then the offer for Democrats’ support for wall funding comes back, right?

Or is Schumer now so unnerved by the thermonuclear freak-out among grassroots Democrats and immigration amnesty groups that he can’t make that offer again? Progressive writer Kate Aranoff wants Democratic rank-and-file voters to directly elect their Congressional leaders, instead of the current method of election by the party’s senators and House members. The proposal is an unworkable mess – picture presidential-style national campaigns, at any time, for Senate and House leadership jobs – but the sudden overt sentiment for replacing Schumer suggests that if some Senate Democrat announced today an intention to challenge him, that senator would instantly become the Bernie Sanders to Schumer’s Hillary Clinton.

There’s a logjam of Democratic senators who either want to run for president in 2020 or are thinking about it: Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Sanders, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kamala Harris of California, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York . . . 

Maybe if you’re an ambitious Democratic senator, you don’t want to be one of a half-dozen or so senators competing for two minutes of nationally-televised debate time and praying Oprah doesn’t jump in and make you look boring. Maybe it would be more rewarding to be leader of your party in the Senate.

The Koch Network’s New Plan for ‘Safe Streets and Second Chances’

The Koch Seminar Network is probably one of the most misunderstood organizations in American politics. They’re denounced by Democrats as “shadowy” and “right-wing,” but their libertarian-leaning, pro-freedom philosophy brings them to advocate some positions that aren’t always in line with the traditional perception of the Republican party. They want to leave marijuana laws to states, are welcoming displaced Puerto Ricans who are moving to Florida, and they want permanent residency for DACA recipients. They also oppose gas taxes and expensive mass transit plans, and love the new tax cuts.

Last year’s winter meeting of the group focused heavily on criminal justice reform, and this year’s meeting is expected to center around a new initiative called Safe Streets and Second Chances, designed to promote anti-recidivism programs in U.S. prisons.

“Over 95 percent of people who are incarcerated will eventually be released, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to make sure that these individuals are better when they leave prison than before they went in,” said Koch Industries senior vice president and general counsel Mark Holden. “The vision of Safe Streets and Second Chances is that, rather than waiting until the end of an individual’s sentence, the reentry process should begin on day one. The Koch group contends that states that have reformed their reentry policies over the past decade “have shown that this data-driven approach keeps communities safe, reduces recidivism rates, and restores second chances to those who have paid their debt to society.”

The program will include a new research component using eight sites across Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Louisiana, featuring a “randomized controlled trial involving more than 1,000 participants in a mix of urban and rural communities.” The research will be directed by Dr. Carrie Pettus-Davis of Washington University in St. Louis.

The network hopes this is a project the Trump administration will find reason to support; it pointed to Trump comments supportive for prison reform and programs that reduce recidivism during an event at the White House earlier this month.

“The vast majority of incarcerated individuals will be released at some point and often struggle to become self-sufficient once they exit the correctional system,” the president said. “We have a great interest in helping them turn their lives around, get a second chance and make our communities safe.”

Did Trump Make America ‘Open to Corruption’?

A lot of folks on the left (and a few on the right) are still shocked and horrified that Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election — well, some are still in denial — and some worry that he’s inflicting some sort of national moral stain that won’t be washed away within our lifetimes.

Our old friend David Frum says in a conversation with Ross Douthat that by electing Trump, “the Russians gained a United States that operates in ways they are comfortable with — open to corruption and oligarchy — and they have scored points for the argument that democracy is a joke and a fraud.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Trump didn’t step into the Oval Office and wave a magic wand, suddenly making the country corrupt and run by national elites that acted like an oligarchy. Trump reflects the problem, but he didn’t cause the problem, and no doubt many people voted for him as a reaction to the problem.

If you name any powerful American institution, it’s probably had at least one appalling scandal involving abuse of trust or abuse of power in recent years, and in most cases, it’s had quite a few.

The military? More than 500 cases of serious misconduct. Corporate America? The “toxic asset derivatives,” bailouts, Bernie Madoff, Enron. The church? Horrible child abuse scandals. Law enforcement and cops? Fatal shootings of debatable justification caught on video, sexual abuse, corruption scandals. The courts? We have judges taking bribes and impregnating witnesses before them and “systemic corruption” in prosecutors’ offices.

The media? Rathergate, Brian Ross blaming the Tea Party for the Aurora shooting, NBC misleadingly editing the audio from George Zimmerman, Rolling Stone’s outrageously false report about rapes at the University of Virginia . . . 

The government? Fast and Furious, abuses at the Internal Revenue Service, cronyism in the stimulus, incompetence and cover-ups at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the president standing in the Rose Garden, encouraging Americans to buy health insurance from a government-contracted web site that didn’t work . . . 

And the person leading the argument against the corruption that Trump represented was . . . Hillary Clinton.

Russia didn’t do any of that to us; though it would be psychologically easier to deal with if they had created our problems instead of ourselves. Moscow didn’t need to run some sort of elaborate psychological-manipulation or intelligence operation to persuade Americans that there is corruption and oligarchy-like elites within their own country. Americans saw it with their own eyes and lived with the consequences.

The point of this is not that “America stinks” or that the frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Americanism you see at the Kremlin-funded RT is worthy of serious discussion. But Trump is turning into a scapegoat for a lot of problems that existed in the United States long before he descended that escalator and announced he was running for president. And those problems will probably still linger long after he leaves office.

At the heart of all corruption is some variation of, “I deserve this, I’m entitled to this.” Bribery, cronyism, secret favor-trading, sexual improprieties, it all stems from some sense of, “I do so much good in A, B, and C, that I’m entitled to some moral corner-cutting in X, Y, and Z.” No doubt the Clinton Foundation did some good work, but if Doug Band’s e-mail is to be believed, it also diverted resources to Chelsea Clinton’s wedding. The entire Clinton network was a revolving door between policymaking at the highest levels of government and the heights of corporate power, or sometimes doing both at once, as Huma Abedin managed to collect a State Department paycheck and corporate consulting fees at the same time.

And Trump made America “open to corruption”? Come on. He just continued the game with different, less sophisticated players.

You want to beat Trump? Set a better example.

ADDENDA: Absolutely spectacular news from the World Econmic Forum in Davos, Switzerland:

As Bank of America chief executive Brian Moynihan travels the world in 2018, he says he keeps hearing the same thing over and over: Foreign businesses want to pump money into the United States again after President Trump’s tax cuts. Like the White House, he thinks the positive bounce from the tax bill could be far bigger than most experts predict.

There’s growing cohesion among executives — cutting across industry and even geography — that Trump’s tax plan is going to deliver massive new investment in the United States, which should, in turn, boost growth and employment.


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