Thankfully it was, for this Administration, a slow week.
Trump issued pardons on Thanksgiving. No, they weren’t for campaign or administration officials but for actual turkeys. Perhaps he’s practicing to make sure that any future pardons go to the right beasts. The pardoning of turkeys is not an ancient tradition: It was instituted by President Ronald Reagan, who was trying to deflect questions about possibly pardoning two key figures in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Something else to be thankful for: We found out that, at a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster opined that Trump was an “idiot,” a “dope” and has the intelligence of a “kindergartner”. At least we know McMaster has an accurate read on the situation.
On Thanksgiving, the New York Times reported that the legal team for Michael Flynn told Trump’s attorneys that they would no longer be communicating about special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference. Perhaps they unfriended the other side. Flynn is a former Trump campaign advisor and later Trump’s national security adviser for a time.
Attorneys for defendants in a criminal investigation frequently share information with one another. It is unethical, though, for attorneys to do this when their defendant is cooperating with prosecutors and another defendant is not. While not definitive, this may mean that Flynn is cooperating with Mueller. Perhaps others in the administration will decide they want to be “in like Flynn”.
Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in Alabama for a U.S. Senate election to be held December 12 remains in the race. A prominent right-wing preacher proposed the defense that Roy Moore had dated “younger ladies” for their “purity”, with “younger” meaning girls below the age of consent. You can’t make this stuff up. Moore’s communications director resigned. Need we say that this is highly unusual, given that the election is only three weeks away?
Alabama’s largest newspapers ran front-page denunciations of Moore and asked voters to elect Democrat Doug Jones. On the other hand, after waffling Trump finally decided to support Moore. With all the sexual harassment allegations against Trump, Trump must see a kindred spirit.
Per polling guru FiveThirtyEight, the aggregate polls show a current tie, although it may take time for the revelations about Moore to have their full effect. As British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli once said to a heckler complaining that he could not hear, “Truth travels slowly, but it will reach you in time.” So we hope.
As for tax cuts, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is apparently going to schedule a Senate vote this week on the Republican legislation to cut taxes for corporations and the wealthy and massively increase the U.S. debt. By 2027, around 50 percent of taxpayers will see a tax hike due to the legislation, virtually all lower and middle class taxpayers. That should go over well.
There are Republican Senators with competing interests who might still sink the bill, although it’s going to be close. While the tax-cut bill would be hugely harmful to the country, if it passes it may give the Democrats a strong advantage in the 2018 elections. Be careful what you wish for, Republicans (which we will attribute to Aesop).
And then there is net neutrality. Or at least there was. Net neutrality is the principal that Internet service providers, like Comcast and AT&T, must treat everyone equally. In other words, they cannot do things like refuse to carry certain websites or services or increase their download times or charge websites higher fees for faster Internet responses.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) specifically barred such practices. In part, this was based on “common carrier” law that goes back centuries. It’s the idea that a provider of services to the public cannot discriminate against users it doesn’t like, such as competitors. Per the Electronic Frontier Foundation, there are documented instances of Internet discrimination.
On Tuesday, FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced that the FCC would repeal net neutrality. That would allow Internet providers to charge additional fees to services like Netflix or to let large users pay so their websites download faster. It would make it harder for small companies to compete and for new Internet startups to survive, given they don’t have the money that established companies do. One has to wonder whether Google and Facebook would have been successful if Pai’s new rule had been in effect.
It may come as no surprise that Pai was once Associate General Counsel at Verizon Communications, an Internet provider. Verizon, formerly known as Bell Atlantic, is one of the seven Baby Bells created when AT&T was broken up in 1984 by the Justice Department’s antitrust division.
Perhaps it’s Pai’s goal to return to the good old days. As Lily Tomlin, playing Ernestine the operator on Laugh-In, said in the pre-breakup period, “You’re dealing with the phone company, Mr. Veedle. We are not bound by city, state, or federal regulations. We are omnipotent.”
Tim Wu, a law professor at Columbia, believes that Ajit Pai will find it difficult to justify the new rules ending net neutrality in court. One hopes that’s the case. The only other defense may be to have cities build and offer their own Internet service. Be careful what you wish for, AT&T.