Four takeaways from Barr’s letter about Mueller investigation

“We finally got our first glimpse of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final conclusions from his Russia investigation, with Attorney General William Barr summarizing them on Sunday,” according to the Washington Post. “Below are the big excerpts, with some analysis.”

1. No firm conclusion on obstruction of justice

“It became pretty clear on Friday that Mueller would not be charging anyone on the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia during the 2016 election, given he opted for no more indictments. But that left completely unanswered the question of whether President Donald Trump had committed obstruction of justice.

“Perhaps the biggest revelation from the report is that Mueller takes no firm position as to whether Trump committed a crime, instead opting to lay out the evidence and let others make that determination:

“After making a ‘thorough factual investigation’ into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment.

“The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.'”

2. No collusion, officially

“As mentioned above, there wasn’t much doubt that Mueller had decided there wasn’t proof of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. But Barr’s summary makes it clear:

“The report further explains that a primary consideration for the Special Counsel’s investigation was whether any Americans including individuals associated with the Trump campaign – joined the Russian conspiracies to influence the election, which would be a federal crime.

“The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: ‘The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.’

3. Barr personally doesn’t see obstruction

“The lack of collusion proof appears to have spared Trump a potentially harsher finding on the obstruction of justice portion:

“In making this (obstruction) determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that ‘the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,’ and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction.

“Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding.

“In cataloguing the President’s actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

4. There is more to come

“Ever since his confirmation hearing, in which Barr indicated that he was restricted from releasing Mueller’s entire report, the question has been how much we would find out. Barr’s letter Sunday suggests there is more to come.

“As I have previously stated . . . I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.”

The rest of the article is here.

Gov. Newsom leads while The Union follows: The latest example

I’m out of town, but I sighed when I read The Union’s weekend editorial back home: “Our View: Gov. Gavin Newsom misfires on death penalty issue.” It began: “If Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration is like a car, the cylinders aren’t firing right.”

I was reminded of the phrase: “Leadership is an action, not a position” — or in The Union’s case, being a follower instead of a leader despite its position as our community’s leading newspaper. (Small towns are a hoot!)

By contrast, Newsom has taken action, as leaders do. And it’s not the first time either. Just ask the clerks and justices at the U.S Supreme Court, among others.

As San Francisco’s mayor, “Newsom unleashed a political and legal tempest (in 2004) when he ordered the city clerk to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” as reminds us. Added the L.A. Times: “The move drew rebukes from social conservatives and prominent Democrats, including gay rights icons and Newsom’s political mentors.”

As it turned out, Newsom became a national leader on the issue:  The U.S. Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal nationwide in 2015 — 11 years after Newsom jumped into the debate. As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) told the Times: “History has proven that Gavin Newsom made the right decision, a very bold decision, which paved the way for marriage equality.”

Now Newsom is seeking to be a leader on the death penalty issue, issuing an executive order imposing a blanket moratorium on the execution of California death row inmates, at least while he is governor. And it is not just about “creating rules of his own,” as The Union claims.

As a recent New Yorker article noted: “In truth, the boldness of Newsom’s reprieve may be a little overstated. California as a whole has voted against repealing the death penalty, most recently in 2016, when it favored a ballot measure to expedite the process, yet voting patterns show that metropolitan Californians, the core of the state’s blue electorate, decisively oppose it.

“Meanwhile, in the past two decades, support for capital punishment in murder convictions has collapsed nationwide, especially among Democrats, in line with broader trends. The Pope forbade the practice categorically last year. The European Union won’t admit death-penalty states—opposition was the first human-rights standard that its council adopted—and it prohibits the trade with other nations of goods involved in capital punishment. (The list includes guillotines, whips, ‘shields with metal spikes,’ and, more problematically for the United States, lethal-injection drugs.)”

To be sure, this is a complex issue, but there’s a lesson in leadership here.

The Union could take a cue from Newsom when it comes to leading, not following, when it comes to growing its own business as a local media leader (at least given its “position.”)

The winds of political change are blowing through The Union’s circulation area  — we are “purple”or “blue” politically, no longer “red.” This is not the staid “Ingram/Moorhead era” at The Union; it is 2019. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land, and other demographic shifts are rippling across America.

As for the media business, digital media and social media are booming, while print newspaper readership is flatlining.

The Union needs to come up with a bold game plan of its own — just like Newsom. Perhaps it could learn from him.



Greetings from Carefree, Arizona

Little League, ’70

CAREFREE, Ariz. — I’m a “late bloomer” when it comes to the annual trek to the Phoenix area for spring training baseball. I’m a lifelong baseball fan, but I didn’t attend a Cactus League game until about 15 years ago. Since we moved “up the hill” from San Francisco to Nevada City, I’ve been a regular.

It’s a quick and affordable plane fight from Sacramento Airport to Phoenix; spring weather is in full swing; and I’ve rooted out some pleasant budget accommodations, along with some luxurious ones. I like the restaurants and “watering holes” too (the Mission, Vincent on Camelback, and Barrio Queen are among them).

The turmoil at the Giants has been discouraging, but I brushed it off at the last minute and flew down to Phoenix this week, mixing baseball with some new experiences.

I’m the first to admit I’m a fair-weather fan — at least when it comes to the teams. I enjoy rooting for the Cubs, the Giants, and —get this — the Dodgers.

I grew up in the L.A. area, rooting for the Dodgers; I went to graduate school at Northwestern, rooting for the Cubs; and I graduated from high school, went to Cal and worked at The Chronicle and CNET later in life, cheering for the Giants. I just like the game.

The Giants tied the Cubs 5-5 on Thursday in an exciting ballgame — a satisfactory ending, at least for me. It was a packed house at Sloan Park, the spring training home of the Cubs since 2014. All of the Cactus League games are attracting big crowds, another sign of Arizona’s vibrance.

Arizona is booming

The Feds signaled this week that it won’t raise interest rates this year, expressing caution about economic growth. Arizona’s economy is booming, however.

It is the nation’s third-fastest growing economy, behind Washington and Utah, according to recent economic data. The economy also has diversified since the Great Recession; in financial and business services, health care and manufacturing.

Through spring training games alone, the Cactus League created $373 million for Arizona’s GDP last year, according to the Arizona Chamber. Job creation and indirect sales contributed to a  $644.2 million economic impact.

The Cactus League attracted nearly 1.75 million fans last year, according to an Arizona State University study. Of those, roughly 60 percent visited from other states.

A visit to the hotel swimming pools confirms this — a lot of pale, not tanned, bodies. I visited with groups from the Midwest and East, who were glad to escape the cold, wintry weather.

I went uptown for 2019 spring training — feeling more entitled than usual after turning 60 last week.

Royal Palms Resort

I spent a night at the Royal Palms Resort and Spa, an iconic Spanish-style resort at the base of Camelback Mountain near Scottsdale. This is a longtime family favorite, along with the Arizona Biltmore.

Now I’m at the Boulders Resort & Spa to the north in Carefree (an appropriate name for the lifestyle here). It has breathtaking views of the Sonoran Desert and nature trails. I woke up to sounds of wild animals. I used Hilton Hotel points for this trip, a good value.

I’m going to wrap up this excellent adventure in Tempe, just east of Phoenix and home of Arizona State University (and the California Angels). It’s a walkable downtown.

I’m getting some work done too. Turning 60 isn’t that bad after all.

Casita with a view at the Boulders Resort & Spa

The “wag brigade” brings cheer to airport travelers

Meeting “Luke” at Sacamento Airport

I was going to skip Spring Training for 2019, thanks to the Giants’ front-office turmoil  and lackluster performance. I guess I’m a fair-weather fan after all, because I like to go to Dodgers and Cubs games too. On top of that, I’ve been traveling a lot — for pure pleasure.

But I couldn’t resist the warm weather this week in Arizona while it was raining at home, so I traded some airline miles for a plane ticket from Sacramento to Phoenix.

It will be a working “vacation,” but I’ll also watch some games, go swimming and enjoy some favorite restaurants, ranging from Barrio Queen to Vincent on Camelback (I own chef-owner Vincent Guerithault’s cookbook; he’s a local legend).

I was glad to book a trip out of Sacramento instead of SFO. I’m a dog lover, so I also enjoyed petting a Golden Retriever named “Luke” before take off (see photo).

Sacramento has a program that provides dogs “whose temperament makes them suitable for the noisy, crowded environments of an airport terminal,” as the program states.

“The B.A.R.C. (Boarding and Relaxation Corp.) program is aimed at reducing stress and adding to the enjoyment of passengers,” according to Sacramento County’s website. “Visitors will recognize a B.A.R.C. handler by their navy blue vest and their canine will also wear a navy blue vest that says, ‘PET ME.’

“Lend a Heart ensures that dogs have undergone obedience training, are spayed or neutered, and are up-to-date on vaccinations. They evaluate the handlers and their dogs before certifying them as animal-assisted therapy animals. Dogs are required to be cleaned and groomed prior to visiting.”

Currently, there are similar programs in an estimated 30 U.S. airports, including SFO (where the dogs are called the “wag brigade”).

I enjoyed meeting “Luke” before take off. Luke let me pet him, and he rolled on his back for more scratching (like our dog). In this era of hurried air travel, it’s a delightful distraction.


The Roots of the Christchurch Massacre

“This week, as those of us in the United States attend Friday Prayer, the Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand, are preparing for funerals,” as Wajahat Ali, a contributing opinion writer, observes in The New York Times

“People around the world are praying for the dead in Christchurch after terrorist attacks at two mosques. The authorities say a 28-year-old Australian walked into two mosques with assault rifles and killed at least 49 people. New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, called it “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence.”

“Thoughts and prayers are not enough. These attacks are the latest manifestation of a growing and globalized ideology of white nationalism that must be addressed at its source — which includes the mainstream politicians and media personalities who nurture, promote and excuse it.”

The rest of the article is here.