- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Capital Times, Dec. 27

If Trump fires Robert Mueller, impeachment will be the watchword of 2018

Barely two weeks into Donald Trump’s presidency, at the start of the dizzying, disorienting and deeply disturbing year of 2017, Congressman Mark Pocan mentioned the “I” word on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. When the Wisconsin Democrat was recounting some of the first examples of the intersection of personal greed and political abuse that has come to define Trump’s tenure, he warned that members of Congress should be “keeping every option open to try to get this administration to function like any other administration in the past - Democrat or Republican.”

“Clearly,” the congressman concluded, “one of those remedies is the power of impeachment.”

As 2017 comes to a close, Pocan seems prescient - as the constitutional crisis that Trump threatens to create makes the power of impeachment an ever more essential option.

Walter Shaub, the former director of the U.S. Office of Government Ethics who now serves as a senior director focusing on ethics issues for the Campaign Legal Center, offered a sense of what is at stake in mid-December, when he warned the Trump administration, its surrogates, and its allies to back off from what the center refers to as “their attempt to undermine the investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.”

Noting efforts by one of the president’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, and others to “muddy the waters and impede Mueller’s investigation,” the center issued a statement Dec. 15 in which Shaub said: “The coordinated effort by President Trump and his surrogates to discredit the Mueller investigation raises serious alarms. Rather than making themselves complicit in this assault on the rule of law, members of Congress should send a clear message to the president that firing Mueller is a red line he must not cross.”

Shaub is right about the red line. If Trump fires Mueller, as many now speculate is possible, the United States will find itself in a constitutional crisis - where the executive branch rejects scrutiny, checks and balances, and the rule of law in order to protect itself from accountability. The extent of threat was made clear when a Trump-aligned member of the House, Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, said on CNN: “Congress has an obligation to expose what I believe is a corrupt investigation and I call on my Republican colleagues to join me in firing Bob Mueller.” Following that, Shaub tweeted: “Make a plan folks. Be ready to take to the streets. This is an attack on our Republic.”

Taking to the streets is always a good idea when the oligarchs and plutocrats spin out of control. That’s why the founding generation of the American experiment established First Amendment rights to assemble and to petition for the redress of grievances. But it is important, now, before a potential crisis becomes a real one, to signal what that reaction will be.

Citizens need to know what they will demand when they assemble and petition for the redress of grievances.

So what’s the right demand if a president attacks the Republic?

When the Constitutional Convention of 1787 outlined the impeachment power, there was a good deal of clarity regarding when and how it should be employed. It was to serve as a check and balance on the executive branch in general, and on presidents in particular. “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued,” argued George Mason. This check on presidential abuses of power provided an answer to the questions that vexed Mason: “Shall any man be above justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?”

Some members of Congress recognize their duty in these times to answer those questions with a clear commitment to hold this president to account. Congressmen such as Tennessee Democrat Steve Cohen have proposed impeachment resolutions - with an appropriate focus on concerns about presidential obstruction of justice, and with an appropriate sense of urgency. But when Texas Democrat Al Green raised the issue of impeachment in the House this month, his motion was tabled on a 364-58 vote.

Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore was one of the courageous 58, but most Democrats joined with Republicans to table Green’s motion.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California and Democratic whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland released a joint statement that read: “Legitimate questions have been raised about his fitness to lead this nation. Right now, congressional committees continue to be deeply engaged in investigations into the president’s actions both before and after his inauguration. The special counsel’s investigation is moving forward as well, and those inquiries should be allowed to continue. Now is not the time to consider articles of impeachment.”

Supporters of a robust system of checks and balances were disappointed by the caution Pelosi and Hoyer displayed. But the attention the Democratic leaders paid to Mueller’s inquiry establishes a red line of the sort Shaub describes.

Pelosi and Hoyer have always been cautious about impeachment. But if the president fires Mueller in 2018, there will be no more room for caution. Impeachment will become the watchword of 2018.

For now, Democrats would be wise to take Pocan’s counsel and keep the impeachment option at the ready. Indeed, one of the best ways to defend the Mueller inquiry is for House Democrats to make it clear at this point that - while they are, indeed, a minority in the House and Senate, and while they surely face the obstacle of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s partisanship-over-principle approach to governing - their response to the firing of Robert Mueller would be an absolute and unequivocal demand for the impeachment of Donald Trump.


Wisconsin State Journal, Dec. 27

Keep biofuel benefits flowing

Twelve years ago the United States began a program to support the production of biofuels. The goals were to decrease dependence on foreign oil, create renewable sources of energy, combat global climate change and boost rural economies.

The program, the Renewable Fuel Standard, has been a success. That’s why, despite a massive lobbying effort to cut the standard, the Trump administration last month renewed the program for the next two years. The country will be better for the decision.

The Renewable Fuel Standard, RFS, mandates the blending of renewable fuels with gasoline. To be classified a renewable fuel, a source must show a life-cycle greenhouse gas profile at least 20 percent lower than that of the fossil fuel it replaces.

The renewable fuel used to meet most of the standard is ethanol produced from corn. Corn ethanol is controversial because of its impact on corn markets and on land use. Consequently, several conservation groups have joined with the oil industry in an odd alliance to roll back the RFS.

Opponents of the RFS are equipped with studies, including a recent one from UW-Madison, arguing corn ethanol is a bad idea. The studies are useful in understanding corn ethanol’s shortcomings. But no current energy source - solar, wind, water, oil or nuclear - is free of negative effects. Corn ethanol may be far from perfect. But much is good about corn ethanol, compared to gasoline.

A study conducted for the U.S. Agriculture Department found corn ethanol’s life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions, by 2022, will be 43 percent lower than gasoline baseline emissions if ethanol plants continue as usual. If ethanol production makes improvements with available technologies, emissions reductions could total 76 percent. Corn also may be a bridge to better ethanol-producing biomass crops.

Domestic corn ethanol enhances national security by reducing dependence on foreign nations for energy. And corn is a renewable source of energy, compared to a dwindling supply of petroleum.

Corn ethanol production in 2016 provided nearly 75,000 jobs in rural America and supported an additional 265,000 spin-off jobs. It also added $42 billion to the gross domestic product, $23 billion to household income and $9 billion in tax revenue.

Furthermore, many of corn ethanol’s negative factors turn out to be not so negative after all. As much as 40 percent of U.S. corn is used for ethanol rather than food. But thanks to yield improvements and increases in acres farmed, food prices have remained affordable, and America has exported more corn over the past five years than in the five years before the RFS took effect.

Farmers have cleared land for cornfields, reducing wildlife habitat and increasing ethanol’s carbon footprint. But ethanol is a small part of the incentive to clear more land. Low prices for an array of crops are forcing farmers to look for economies of scale, which leads to planting more acres. In fact, if a rollback in ethanol production further reduces corn prices, farmers may be pressured to clear even more land.

A reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is good. Less dependence on foreign oil is good. Renewable energy is good. More jobs and income for rural areas is good. Earlier this year that evidence convinced China to announce plans to use corn ethanol nationwide by 2020. The evidence means U.S. support of ethanol deserves to go forward as well.


Beloit Daily News, Dec. 22

The argument now turns to outcomes

The economy will roar, jobs will skyrocket and wages will jump - or not.

The talking is over and the Republican tax plan has passed both houses of Congress, without a single Democrat vote. The stroke of President Trump’s pen makes it law.

Three key points of the plan are. first, a roughly 40 percent cut in the corporate tax rate; two, individual cuts that direct most savings to upper-income taxpayers; and, three, repealing a key Obamacare provision analysts say may remove up to 13 million people from coverage. Most middle- and lower-income taxpayers get a break, too, but it’s small. Personal tax cuts are set to expire in 2026, after which people earning below $75,000 will see a tax increase, while those in higher brackets will see their tax cut shrink. Business tax cuts are permanent.

Republicans argue that’s pro-growth, and the real benefits to the middle- and lower-income sectors will come when empowered businesses and wealthy individuals invest and create new jobs and higher wages. Democrats call that the same old “trickle-down” ideology, claim it hasn’t worked in the past, and argue the vast majority of Americans just got hoodwinked.

Who’s right? That question is impossible to answer today. It will be answered in the coming year and beyond by observing the behavior of businesses and job creators.

The ideology has guided conservatives since at least the Reagan era. Put more capital in the hands of business and the titans of industry and the ensuing investments will flow out to increase prosperity for all. It’s the same bet being made, just in a different year.

Another part of that bet has been predicting new economic growth so robust it will erase the red budgetary ink caused by reducing revenues flowing to government. Here’s the truth: U.S. deficit spending has existed for decades, but exploded in the 1980s when lower revenues (through tax cuts) were combined with continuing high spending patterns. Briefly, at the end of the Clinton presidency and the beginning of the George W. Bush presidency, a growing economy helped produce balanced budgets and some debt pay-down. Early in the Bush administration taxes were cut again. Then the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 followed. America went to war, but did not raise new revenues to pay for it. The net result: No more balanced budgets and the deficits exploded again.

In the final months of the Bush presidency, with the calamitous economic collapse during the fall of 2008, government spending and bailouts expanded rapidly blowing up deficits even more. The nation hasn’t come close to a balanced budget since.

This newest tax cut, according to independent economic analysts both inside and outside Congress, is expected to add more than $1 trillion of deficit spending over the next decade.

By the numbers, those are the stakes. So all Americans should hope Republican projections are right and Democrat doubts are wrong. But projections - positive or negative - are just educated (hopefully) guesswork. In this case, the guesswork is colored in partisan ideological hues. Republicans are less concerned with independent analysis than with what they deeply believe. Likewise, Democrats cling to their own ideological biases about businesses and the wealthy, expecting them to hoard money rather than play nice and share.

The ideological battle, however, is over. Republicans won. They got what they wanted.

What comes next is about factual outcomes.

The American economy either will respond as Republicans predict - investors will pony up, businesses will expand, hiring and wages will go up - or the anticipated gains will be no-shows.

Once the ideological dust settles, only results matter.

Going forward, the political stakes are enormous. Republicans are saddled with President Trump, whose standing among the people is sinking like a rock. A running national poll of Fox News viewers even showed Trump’s support dropping from a high of 90 percent in June, to 74 percent in October, to 58 percent in December. Trouble on the horizon is obvious if GOP support is slipping among Fox News viewers.

But with 2018 midterm elections fast approaching, Democrats would be foolish to believe the country is falling in love with them all over again. “We’re not Trump” is an exceptionally weak electoral pitch.

As always, politically, it will come down to this: Do people think they are better off now? Add to that a unique Trump-era twist: Can people put up with his eccentric behavior?

It’s a long way to November. Plenty can change. But this won’t: People will make judgments based on their own sense of well-being, not on ideology or left-right spin.

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