An Unlikely Hero And A Strange Deal

Two perplexing stories came out of late last week. Let’s explore.

I am of the hardest line on the Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court. If I were in the Senate I would simply refuse to meet with or vote to confirm any nominee Trump put forth until the Mueller investigation is over. The idea of advancing the nominee of a president so likely to face removal from office and who it increasingly appears may not even be legitimately elected is ludicrous.

The Senate Democrats are powerless to stop the nomination and the Senate Republicans have yet to prove they have a patriot among them who will actually stand up to Trump and the right wing extremists who constitute a sizable portion of the Republican primary electorate. Many moderate Senators of both parties are keeping their powder dry hoping things either resolve themselves or the outcome becomes a foregone conclusion.

On the Republican side Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski looked like the only two who might flip against Kavanaugh. Politics being what they are, neither will take a firm stand if they end up casting a politically harmful vote that doesn’t change the outcome. On the Democratic side Indiana’s Joe Donnelly, South Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin are running for reelection in red states that Trump carried and are very vulnerable. Even staunch progressives will understand if they vote to confirm if their vote is essentially meaningless. Taking a stand on principle in a sure losing cause this close to election is simply a bad political strategy.

In addition to the Court vacancy, Trump has been busy getting young, right wing judges on federal courts. Very important to keep in mind is that these appointments are lifetime appointments. A relatively obscure forty something appointee today will most likely to still be serving and rendering rulings when my older grandchildren are nearing retirement and I’m long gone from the scene. Trump, Chuck Grassley and the enablers have been forcing these judges through at a record pace. (The fact that Mitch McConnell-led obstruction left a lot of openings during the Obama administration is contributing to the “success”.)

Suddenly the “train” has come to an abrupt stop. The unlikely (and perhaps accidental) hero in this story is lame duck Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake. These nominees must first get through the Grassley chaired Senate Judiciary Committee before they come to the floor where 51 votes gets them confirmed. (These positions used to be subject to filibuster but the Democrats were forced to change the rule in the face of McConnell-led Republican obstruction of Obama nominees. McConnell then changed the rule in the middle of the “game” to include Supreme Court nominees in order to get Neil Gorsuch confirmed.)

Flake went to Zimbabwe to observe their election and in his absence the Committee is split even along party lines preventing Grassley from getting any controversial nominees through. He wisely hasn’t even called hearings on Kavanaugh. Flake is scheduled to remain in Zimbabwe (which he is familiar with from his time as a Mormon missionary there) through a good part of August. That would neutralize McConnell plan to confirm a bunch of federal judges in what would normally be a vacation/campaigning period for Senators. There is a lot of real estate between here and the filling of Anthony Kennedy’s seat but for the moment Flake may be a hero, albeit in my opinion an accidental one.

I’m certainly not an expert on high end real estate deals but I know when something doesn’t pass the smell test even if I can’t identify the specific odor. It was announced that a Canadian firm, Brookfield Asset Management, bailed Jared Kushner out of the troubled building at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. It’s a bit deeper than that surface statement.

Kushner has spent much of his government career shopping for a bailout from foreign countries; (his travel expenses picked up by the American taxpayer.) Kushner overpaid for the building when he bought it at the apex of the real estate bubble in 2007 for $1.8 billion, having financed $1.1 billion of the price which is due in February of next year.

Few details of the deal were disclosed. One that was is that Brookfield bought the building via one of its real estate funds that has approximately 200 limited partners. The partners are undisclosed and it appears will remain that way. Anytime financial interests are undisclosed it bothers me! Who are these people who are suddenly willing to invest in a property that the Chinese, Saudis and Israelis were unwilling to touch? Do they have some business with the United States that they are willing to pay a “tribute” for?

Brookfield bought the building but Kushner retains the ownership of the land. Again I am far from a real estate expert especially at this commercial high end but if you don’t own the land the building sits on aren’t you at a disadvantage? It would seem to me that you are effectively a tenant; just one paying a very high rent.

It might be interesting to see how Canadian business deals in the US are treated by the Trump administration in the near future.

An unlikely and uncertain hero coupled with at best a strange real estate deal; plenty to ponder today.

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