Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Trump prepares for another Saturday Night Massacre ...

… and Fox News and the GOP are just fine with that.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) delivers this chilling conclusion: Trump and his allies are laying the groundwork for a Saturday Night Massacre. Here’s the full story.

Let’s be clear on what’s happening in our politics right now. President Trump and his media allies are currently creating a vast, multi-tentacled, largely-fictional alternate media reality that casts large swaths of our government as irredeemably corrupt — with the explicitly declared purpose of laying the rationale for Trump to pardon his close associates or shut down the Russia probe, should he deem either necessary.

We often hear that Trump and his allies are trying to “distract” from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s intensifying investigation. That’s true, but this characterization inadequately casts this in terms ordinarily applied to conventional politics. Instead, Trump’s trafficking in this stuff should be seen as another sign of his fundamental unfitness to serve as president. Similar efforts by his media allies should be labeled as a deliberate effort to goad Trump into sliding into full-blown authoritarianism, and to provide the air cover for him if he does do so.

The Associated Press reports that people who have spoken to Trump say that he has recently revisited the idea of trying to remove Mueller, now that Mueller appears to be digging into Trump’s finances. Meanwhile, CNN reports that former Trump strategist Stephen K. Bannon is privately urging Trump to try to get Republicans to defund Mueller’s probe.

Monday night, Sean Hannity delivered perhaps the most perfect expression yet of efforts to create the rationale for such moves. Hannity dismissed the news of major allegations against Trump’s campaign chair Paul Manafort and the cooperation adviser George Papadopoulos as big nothingburgers. He also hit all the high points of the new Trump/media campaign, points that Trump himself and the White House have made repeatedly in public statements. Those include reviving the made-up scandal that Hillary Clinton approved a deal for a Russian nuclear agency to gain access to U.S. uranium extraction rights in exchange for kickbacks, and the absurdly exaggerated claim that the Clinton campaign, having paid through various intermediaries for research that ultimately led to the “Steele Dossier,” actually colluded with Russia to interfere in the election. These have been extensively fact checked and debunked.

In an important new piece, Post fact checker Glenn Kessler blows another big hole in one of this campaign’s key story lines. Kessler notes that multiple Trump media allies are repeating the claim that Clinton gave away “20 percent” of our uranium capacity to Russia. And he shows that, for various technical reasons, this figure is itself absurdly inflated, and the description of this as a Clinton giveaway has no relation to reality.

But the real point of Hannity’s presentation came when he flatly accused Mueller of trying to “change the narrative to distract from the real Russia collusion and massive cover-ups.” Hannity added that Mueller “is clearly complicit in the Uranium One scandal.” This is a reference to the fact that Mueller headed the FBI when the uranium deal happened. Reports that the FBI was investigating a Russian energy official’s efforts to corrupt a U.S. company at the time have led to GOP questions about why the Obama administration green-lighted the deal anyway. But this is also absurd, as Kessler explains, since the deal went through an extensive multi-agency process and no evidence has been presented that this process improperly skirted any FBI probe.

Regardless, Hannity concluded: “We are at a real crisis point in America tonight.” Trump has tweeted in support of many of these allegations. And as Jonathan Chait details, other Trump media allies have explicitly cited these and other similar story-lines (Mueller’s investigators are Dem donors!) in support of the notion that Mueller should resign or that Trump should close down the Russia probe.

We don’t know if Trump will go full authoritarian or not. But as Brian Beutler says, the mere fact that congressional Republicans are not flashing a bright warning sign itself suggests that we cannot count on any procedural response meeting it, if it does come to that. The continued media treatment of efforts to lay the groundwork for such an eventuality as mere efforts to “distract” from Mueller suggests another guardrail is inadequate as well.

Indeed, it’s important to reckon with the scope of what Trump and his allies are alleging. The idea is that Mueller — who was originally appointed to head the FBI by George W. Bush, and who became special counsel because of Trump’s own firing of his FBI director over the Russia probe — originally participated in a hallucinatory conspiracy to cover up Clinton collusion with Russia. Now Mueller is using the current investigation to distract from it. In this alternate universe, all of that is the crisis (Hannity’s word) we face, and the only way to address it is for Trump to close all of it down. Dem strategist Simon Rosenberg is right to point out that Trump’s trafficking in all of this — his endorsement of the idea of preposterous levels of corruption and conspiracy theories unfurling at many levels throughout the government — itself raises questions about Trump’s fitness to serve. We need to confront the insanity and depravity of all this forthrightly, and convey it accurately.

Here are other short stories in that same Tuesday Plum Line.

  • ‘SEETHING’ TRUMP HAD TO BE TALKED DOWN ON MUELLER
  • TRUMP FRETS THAT MUELLER IS LOOKING AT HIS BUSINESS DEALINGS
  • REPUBLICANS NOT FEELING URGENCY ABOUT MUELLER
  • THE REAL JOHN KELLY SHOWS HIMSELF
  • MUELLER IS RUNNING A VERY AGGRESSIVE INVESTIGATION
  • MANAFORT’S MONEY LAUNDERING, MAPPED OUT

Regarding the last item above, Sargent concludes “The sheer brazenness of this scheme continues to surprise, as does its acquisitiveness: More than $12 million was spent on personal goods and more than $6 million went to real estate.” He also points us to a NY Times graphical depiction of How a Federal Inquiry Says Paul Manafort Laundered $18 Million, and How He Spent It.

Significant digits: Manafort loses freedom and passport, Trump loses ratings

$10 million

Federal prosecutors are asking for a $10 million bail to be set for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and $5 million for Rick Gates. Both men pleaded not guilty at an arraignment Monday. Manafort is a wealthy man with allegedly millions of dollars in offshore accounts, according to information detailed in the indictment. [FiveThirtyEight, The Washington Post]

In addition, The Hill reports that Manafort is under house arrest and his passport has been secured by the FBI.

Prosecutors have also requested that Manafort be released on house arrest in Virginia. The special counsel’s office considers him a flight risk, lawyers in Mueller’s office argued before Robinson on Monday afternoon, citing the seriousness of the charges and the extent of Manafort’s ties abroad.

The bureau took possession of Manafort’s passport yesterday, his lawyer said.

$300 million

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority cancelled a $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings, a tiny firm that has ties to the Trump administration. About 70 percent of Puerto Rico remains without power in the wake of hurricanes hitting the U.S. territory. [The Huffington Post]

6 service members

On Monday, a U.S. district court judge issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration’s plan to ban transgender service members from serving in the armed forces. There are already significant numbers of trans Americans serving, and six active-duty service members sued in August to block the policy. [The Washington Post]

33 percent

The Gallup tracking survey released Monday had the president’s approval rating at 33 percent, a new low. [FiveThirtyEight]

Could it be lower? Will it be lower? Scriber thinks the answers are Yes to both. Here is why.

14 percent

Approval rating for Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey according to a new Suffolk University/USA TODAY poll. If that poll is accurate, it would nudge Christie further into the record books: he’s currently the third most unpopular governor for whom polls can be found. [Harry Enten, Suffolk University, FiveThirtyEight]

The GOP’s downward path of dishonor

Michael Gerson describes The perils of the Republican partisan in the time of Trump in the Daily Star (reprinted from the Washington Post).

Trump’s ultimate objective … matters greatly. If he wants to recruit Republicans into a defense of the shady political and business dealings of Paul Manafort and the rest of the president’s political circle — now exposed by federal indictment — it will be discrediting and humiliating. A party that rallies to the defense of corruption will eventually be seen as a swamp in need of clearing.

But if Trump’s goal is to escape a tightening legal investigation by firing special counsel Robert Mueller and issuing a string of pardons, the participation of the Republican Party takes on a different meaning. In this case, Trump would be turning his authoritarian pose into authoritarian practice, removing an essential check on the abuse of power. Liberal democracy itself would be under attack from an American Putinism. And elected Republicans who enabled this would be complicit in a crime against the Constitution and violate the oath they took to defend it.

As the indictments begin to come down, Republicans need to ponder what legal and ethical lines, if any, they are willing to draw. Continuing the attacks on Hillary Clinton’s own dishonest dealings is all fun and games (except to Clinton, I suppose). Joining the defense of slimy political figures such as Manafort makes one, ceteris paribus, into a slimy political figure. Obscuring or excusing Russian influence on the American political process is a dangerous disservice to the country. Supporting Trump in a power play against the special counsel and his investigation would be an attack on the stability and legitimacy of the Republic — a source of infamy in American history.

To what circle of hell are Republican officials about to consign themselves? It would be useful for members of Congress to declare that they will never enter the fourth circle — the demolition of the integrity and independence of the FBI — if only to deter Trump from forcing a constitutional crisis. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., has done so, arguing such an action would be “the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency.” But it is hard to imagine such courage written broadly in today’s GOP — and even harder to imagine such courage exhibited pre-emptively.

It is worth making clear that every conservative media voice — including, recently, the editorial voice of The Wall Street Journal — that attacks the objectivity and legitimacy of Mueller is giving Trump cover and encouragement to move against him. They are dropping lit matches in the dry tinder of American politics. And they would be responsible, in part, for the resulting wildfire.

Do Republicans and conservatives really want to be remembered as a bodyguard of enablers for this man? For this cause? Few enter the fray of political ideas, or make the considerable sacrifices of entering public life, to defend corruption and the abuse of power. That is now the calling of the Republican partisan, and the downward path of dishonor.

Are any Republicans willing to take action against Trump’s authoritarianism? You can cite Corker, Flake, and McCain for their speeches. However they have yet to convert words into action and they have yet to mobilize more of their colleagues as noted in the Huffington Post’s column, Speeches Do Matter. But What Actions Are Flake, Corker, And McCain Willing To Take To Stop Trump? And are others willing to join them?. So far the answers to these questions are disappointing in the extreme.

Key points from the Manafort-Gates indictment and a campaign advisor flipped

Takeaways from the indictment

Instead of reading the entire indictment, you can read the Five Key Points From the Indictment of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates courtesy of the NY Times. The points are categorized:

  • Lobbying and offshore accounts
  • Lying about work in Ukraine
  • No word of collusion, for now
  • A lavish spender [Manafort]
  • No transaction was too small for prosecutors

Mysterious change in GOP platform

The Huffington Post reports that Paul Manafort’s Indictment Sheds More Light On Pro-Russia Change To GOP Platform. The original report from the Huff Post claimed that The pro-Russia change was the only party platform tweak the Trump camp cared about, sources say.

The conspiracy and money laundering charges against former Donald Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort raise new questions about a mysterious pro-Russia change to the Republican Party platform made at the 2016 GOP convention in Cleveland.

Both Trump and Manafort denied having anything to do with the last-minute change to the party platform. But the financial benefits Manafort received from pro-Russia politicians in Ukraine, as detailed in the charges against him, intensifies the skepticism that has long surrounded his denial.

The 12-count grand jury indictment alleges that Manafort and Gates “generated tens of millions of dollars in income” as a result of their lobbying for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.

“In order to hide Ukraine payments from United States authorities, from approximately 2006 through at least 2016, Manafort and Gates laundered the money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts,” the indictment says.

In total, $75 million flowed through Manafort and Gates’ offshore accounts, according to the indictment. Manafort allegedly laundered $18 million, while Gates allegedly laundered $3 million.

The change to the GOP platform dropped a call for the U.S. to provide arms to Ukraine in response to aggressive moves by Russia that included the occupation and eventual annexation of the Crimea province from Ukraine in 2014. After the annexation, Russian President Vladimir Putin continued to fuel violent unrest in other parts of the Ukraine.

The amendment to the Republican platform came as a surprise just days before Trump was officially nominated for president at the party’s convention. Two Republican National Committee officials privately acknowledged at the time that Trump’s campaign pushed for the change. Trump denied involvement, however.

“I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved,” Trump said. [Scriber: Of course not.]

After months of internal debate, the Trump administration is stalled on whether to arm Ukraine to counter Russian continued aggression, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

Evidence of collusion

The biggest story yesterday, however, was the testimony from a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor whose statements “make clear that he was acting with the involvement of higher-ranking officials in Trump’s orbit.” Here is a snapshot from the Huffington Post morning email.

There may have been a brief moment Monday morning when the White House thought the week wouldn’t be so bad. The federal grand jury indictment unsealed against Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and his longtime associate Rick Gates, dealt with much of their lobbying work before the 2016 election.

At first glance, the indictments didn’t seem to have much to do with whether Trump and his team coordinated with Russia. They could certainly be used to gain leverage over the former Trump associates, but there was no smoking gun tying the Trump campaign to Russia.

But any moment of optimism would have been short-lived. Not long after Manafort and Gates were in federal custody, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team dropped another bombshell: They’d flipped a former Trump campaign adviser months ago.

The charges against Trump’s former foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos ― a little-known, little-qualified 30-year-old who listed his involvement in Model United Nations as one of his credentials ― may end up being a much bigger part of the Russia investigation. The Papadopoulos charges, dated Oct. 5 but only unsealed on Monday, deal directly with his work during the election and his attempt to link up the Russian government with the Trump campaign. His statements also make clear that he was acting with the involvement of higher-ranking officials in Trump’s orbit.

Read more in another Huff Post report about how Robert Mueller Flipped A Trump Campaign Adviser. That’s Bad News For The White House. This little-known 30-year-old campaign aide has been cooperating with investigators for months.

Is that all there is?

h/t Joe Franklin for his citation of that Peggy Lee song commenting on Dave Fitzsimmons’ Facebook post.

My answer to Ms. Lee’s question: Oh, hell no!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Manafort and Gates indicted

The New York Times this morning reported that Paul Manafort, Once of Trump Campaign, Indicted as an Adviser Admits to Lying About Ties to Russia. To quote TV ads - “and not only that” Manafort and his associate Rick Gates are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and multiple violations of laws governing registration as foreign agents and overseas financial transactions (aka money laundering).

President Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was indicted Monday on charges that he funneled millions of dollars through overseas shell companies and used the money to buy luxury cars, real estate, antiques and expensive suits.

The charges against Mr. Manafort and his longtime associate Rick Gates represent a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over Mr. Trump’s first year in office.

The indictment of Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates makes no mention of Mr. Trump or election meddling. Instead, it describes in granular detail Mr. Manafort’s lobbying work in Ukraine and what prosecutors said was a scheme to hide that money from tax collectors and the public. The authorities said Mr. Manafort laundered more than $18 million.

Here is a link to the complete indictment and in another form, the NY Times slide show.

Don’t Cry for Me America - as sung by President Trump

Donald Trump sings Don’t cry for me America
It won’t be easy, you’ll think it strange
When I try to explain how I feel
That I still need your love after all that I’ve done
You won’t believe me, all you will see is a nation you once knew…

A similar version, Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, is sung by Madonna here.

On Harvey Weinstein and President Trump - Make America Grope Again.

GOP the cowardly elephant visits Oz.

White House defends US military in Niger - by attacking black women.

Kelly knew what he signed up for - picking up poop.

Want to reduce the opioid crisis? Try just saying “no” — to big pharma and lobbyists.

All these and more toons are in AZBlueMeanie’s cartoons at Blog for Arizona.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

First arrests imminent in Mueller investigation

Start holding your breath. Sometime tomorrow (Monday) we should learn who is/are the first indictee/indictees in the Mueller investigation. I offer you a choice of which of two New Yorker articles to read about that. And it’s not a mutually exclusive choice.

John Cassidy informs us that Robert Mueller Sends a Message: He’s Deadly Serious. News of an imminent arrest has moved the Mueller investigation firmly into the media spotlight, where it is likely to stay.

On Friday night, CNN reported that a grand jury in Washington, D.C., has approved the first charges arising from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion between Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign and the Russian government. Citing “sources briefed on the matter,” the network said that a judge had ordered the charges kept under seal, but that at least one arrest could take place as early as Monday.

CNN’s reporting was confirmed by the Wall Street Journal, Cassidy says, and yesterday evening NBC also confirmed.

… What isn’t speculation is the fact that, five months into his investigation, Mueller has brought a first set of criminal charges. By the standards of recent special prosecutors, that is fast work, and it confirms Mueller’s reputation as someone who doesn’t like to dally. Now that he has started arresting people, there is no reason to suppose he will stop. And that is precisely the message he wants to send.

In The Borowitz Report, (New Yorker satirist) Andy Borowitz reports that an Excited Crowd Outside Mueller’s Office Awaits First Arrest. If you fly to DC today, you too can join the crowd estimated by one of Andy’s sources at a million. While a peaceful assembly was expected, there were some differences of opinion.

… isolated arguments have erupted over which member of Trump’s circle the attendees would like Mueller to arrest first.

A faction shouting “Don, Jr.” started pushing and shoving another group chanting “Jared” before police intervened.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Trump supporters look like a cult but even his base does not like how he conducts himself

Here are three takes from Washington Post writers on sources of Trump support — and its decline.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) provides some perspective on how The Trump authoritarian cult is driving the Republican “civil war.”

The Glorious Republican Civil War of 2017 isn’t really a battle over policy or ideology. It isn’t even quite the clash of grand agendas we constantly read about — the supposed showdown between populist economic nationalism on one side, and limited government conservatism, free trade and internationalism on the other.

Instead, the GOP civil war is really a battle over whether Republican lawmakers should — or should not — genuflect before President Trump. The battle is over whether they should — or should not — applaud his racism, his authoritarianism and his obvious pleasure in dispensing abuse and sowing racial division. It’s also over whether Republicans should submit to Trump’s ongoing insistence that his lack of major accomplishments is fully the fault of Republicans who failed his greatness.

The GOP civil war is really over how Republicans should react to Trump’s bigotry and authoritarianism, and about how they should react when Trump demands that they admit that they are the losers when things go wrong. This is why Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker focused their criticism on those particular excesses; why other Republicans were reluctant to endorse that criticism; and why Trump easily brushed them off by ridiculing them as losers. This is not to say there are no meaningful policy divisions — if Trump pulls out of NAFTA, there will be a real schism — but rather that they pale in importance to these larger story lines. Trump put it well in this tweet:

Jeff Flake, with an 18% approval rating in Arizona, said “a lot of my colleagues have spoken out.” Really, they just gave me a standing O!
5:33 AM - Oct 25, 2017

We don’t know if that actually happened, or if it did, why Republicans applauded Trump. But what Trump means by this is that Republicans have no choice but to applaud him even though he damn well will keep doing all the things that Flake and Corker protested, and even though they also find those things distasteful or horrifying. And as it happens, Trump is right.

EJ Dionne, also at the Washington Post, tells us why Republicans won’t quit Trump. (h/t AzBlueMeanie.) A recent Pew research report tallies support among various types of Republican voters.

Yes, it’s a very big deal that Republicans Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, John McCain and George W. Bush are now ready to take on what Flake rightly calls President Trump’s “reckless, outrageous and undignified” behavior. Their voices are the sound of the protective political wall around the White House cracking.

But the other side to this story is as disturbing as the signs of open rebellion are heartening: Both Corker and Flake have chosen not to run for reelection because they know that their views are out of line with those of the GOP’s electorate.

Flake was plainly on track to lose reelection next year. The Republican congressional leadership, far from embracing Flake and Corker, moved immediately to sidestep any challenges to their “complicity” and get on with tax cuts, their sacred cause.

Flake’s address on the floor of the Senate coincided with the release of an important study by the Pew Research Center that helped explain Trump’s self-confidence. The report analyzed the United States’ political landscape and offered an updated typology of the key partisan and ideological groups in the American electorate. …

Pew described four GOP groups: Core Conservatives, 34 percent of registered voters who call themselves Republican or lean that way; Country First Conservatives, 15 percent; Market Skeptic Republicans (22 percent); and New Era Enterprisers (18 percent). The remainder of Republicans scatter among other groups in Pew’s typology.

Basically the results show that every one of these groups overwhelmingly support Trump. For instance:

… as of this summer, when the survey on which the study is based was undertaken, 93 percent of Core Conservatives [like Flake] approved of Trump’s job performance and 90 percent had a favorable view of him. If this group stays with Trump, most congressional Republicans will, too. …

However, newer data suggests that things are not looking that good for Trump. Dionne hedges:

Trump’s GOP numbers may well have deteriorated in the months since the survey was completed, and even then, there were warning signs in the answers Republicans gave to a question Pew asked about how Trump “conducts himself as president.”

I computed the percentages of those responding positively to how Trump “conducts himself as president” weighted by the different groups’ frequencies in the Pew sample. Only 31% of that entire sample liked the way Trump conducts himself.

Trump’s GOP opponents can still hope to demonstrate that the negative impact of how the president operates matters far more than any ideological victories he might deliver to conservatives. Trump daily proves Corker’s point that it’s foolish to expect he’ll ever change.

But it will be an uphill struggle. Republicans such as Flake and Corker have reason to worry their party is so profoundly Trumpified that it is lost to them. At some point, they may just have to walk away.

There are other signs that Trump’s support is on the wane. Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post/Right Turn) warns Republican lawmakers that Trump’s poll numbers should be a warning to Republicans.

Despite the eloquence of former president George W. Bush and Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) — all of whom have discussed the unfitness of President Trump and the unacceptability of Trumpism — we have yet to see a throng of brave Republicans step forward to grab their party back from the president. Flake declared from the Senate floor:

It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, “Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?”— what are we going to say?

Based on what we have seen so far, they will have to mumble something or another and shuffle their feet. Contrary to Flake’s exhortation, they are still putting political self-preservation above country and principle. (“The principles that underlie our politics, the values of our founding, are too vital to our identity and to our survival to allow them to be compromised by the requirements of politics. Because politics can make us silent when we should speak, and silence can equal complicity.”)

Well, if eloquence and appeals to conscience don’t persuade them, perhaps some cold, hard poll numbers will. A Fox News poll shows the president at a new polling low:

Thirty-eight percent of voters approve of the job Trump is doing in a new Fox News poll, down from 42 percent last month. At the same time, disapproval is up 4 points to a high of 57 percent. That includes 49 percent who “strongly” disapprove.

Some of the drop comes from white men without a college degree, as 56 percent approve of the president, down from 68 percent last month. Working-class white men were a key voting bloc for him in the election.

It seems that the NFL kneeling issue, sparring with a Gold Star wife, insulting members of Congress and flopping around like a fish out of water on everything from health care to taxes have not endeared Trump to the country, or even his own base. He is personally reviled …

Rubin goes on to cite other numbers showing that the public thinks Trump is neither honest nor trustworthy. He does not have “the knowledge (38 percent), compassion (37 percent), and judgment (37 percent) to serve effectively as president.” The public does not believe that Trump “cares about me”, and that is especially true when “me” is nonwhite, female, young, and poor. Trump has similarly lousy ratings on health care and hurricane relief.

Trump sneered at Flake, saying that he couldn’t get reelected and that he is doing the right thing by sitting out the next election. Those words might be equally applicable to Trump in 2020. In the meantime, Republicans who spend time with Trump apple-polishing (or golfing — as Sens. Rand Paul and Lindsey O. Graham have done in an extraordinary display of self-debasement) might want to consider whether their strategy is working out. Not only is Trump’s approval rating in the dumpster, but also Fox’s generic congressional poll shows Republicans trailing Democrats by 15 points (35 percent to 50 percent). If that holds, it will be a blowout in 2018.

So if buttering up Trump gets elected Republicans no legislative results, a disastrous outlook for 2018 and utter contempt from many Americans, maybe it is time to try something new. They could rebuke Trump’s egregious rhetoric and conduct, ignore him, proceed on legislation and begin to exercise some oversight — just as the Constitution envisions a coequal branch of government behaving. Hey, even if it doesn’t work and they lose one or both houses anyway, at least they’d have some self-respect.

We can hope that Trump’s inconsistency stays consistent. He might yet prove to the nation to be his own worst enemy. And those negative ratings do not take into account Special Prosecutor Bob Mueller’s grand jury charges reported Friday. The new developments in the investigation can’t be good news for Trump, especially if the investigation lasts into 2018. Stay tuned.

Friday, October 27, 2017

PAC head to manage Ward campaign for US Senate - but is it legal?

Bear with me. This is relevant to the 2018 race to fill retiring Senator Jeff Flake’s seat.

Stephen Colbert announces candidacy, forms superPAC

You might remember, back in 2012, that Stephen Colbert announced campaign for President. He also formed a super PAC. Supposedly those two entities are barred from coordination. But, thanks to “Citizens United”, campaigns and PACs can easily skirt this leaky firewall.

Here is the essence of how the coordination between Colbert’s super PAC and his campaign became legal. Snippets are from the Wikipedia entry Colbert Super PAC. (For an example of the Colbert Report on this topic, watch this video.)

During the January 12, 2012 episode of The Colbert Report, Colbert announced his plans to run for “President of the United States of South Carolina.” Colbert’s lawyer, Trevor Potter, made it clear that it is illegal for Colbert to run for president while active in his Super PAC (though it would be perfectly legal for him to “volunteer” on its behalf). Colbert then signed over control of his Super PAC to Jon Stewart (President pro tempore), and announced that the organization would now be referred to as “The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC”.[34] Immediately after this legal block was removed, Colbert announced his decision to form an exploratory committee for his run for “President of the United States of South Carolina”.[35] Super PACs are not allowed to coordinate directly with candidates or political parties since they are “independent”; however, a candidate may talk to his super PAC through the media and the Super PAC can listen, just like everybody else.[36]

In a press release, the new PAC president, Jon Stewart, denied that he and Colbert would secretly coordinate their efforts: “Stephen and I have in no way have worked out a series of Morse-code blinks to convey information with each other on our respective shows.”[37]

According to experts, Colbert’s actions were perfectly legal and shine a light on how the financing of elections has dramatically changed since the Citizens United ruling.[18][19] Speaking in 2014, Trevor Potter said:

[Colbert] was able to show America the loopholes (or “loop-chasms” as he called them) in the laws designed to regulate coordination between candidates and supposedly “independent” groups. By having his own Super PAC and 501(c)(4), Stephen could evolve right alongside the campaigns—or often be a step ahead of them. His understanding of the possibilities inherent in the legal confusion was keen enough to discover and exploit absurd legalities before it became clear that actual candidates and political activists were doing the same thing.[23]

Potter called Colbert’s ability to not only quickly understand complicated finance legal concepts but to also make them funny “pure genius”.[23]

What does this have to do with the 2018 race for US Senate? Continue with these snippets from the Friday edition of the Daily Star.

PAC head now campaign chief for Kelli Ward in Arizona Senate race.

The chairman of a political action committee backing Arizona Republican Senate candidate Kelli Ward is assuming a senior role in her campaign, prompting questions about coordination between the groups, which is prohibited by federal law.

Veteran GOP strategist Ed Rollins, chairman and founder of Great America PAC, will remain head of the so-called super PAC, the group’s lawyer said Wednesday, as the campaign announced that Rollins was being named Ward’s campaign chairman.

Campaign finance law bars collaboration between a candidate’s campaign and super PACs such as Great America, which can solicit unlimited contributions to promote candidates, unlike federally regulated candidate committees.

Great America lawyer Dan Backer said Rollins will recuse himself from any PAC discussions of the Ward race. The group, affiliated with President Trump’s former adviser Steve Bannon, also plans no further expenditures to promote Ward beyond the $20,000 it spent in August.

Gawd, my gut hurts from LOL.

So here are the slots in the frame and who fills them.

Candidates: Stephen Colbert, Kelli Ward
PAC chairs: Jon Stewart, Ed Rollins
Legal advisors: Trevor Potter, Dan Backer

See? Reality and satire are perfectly blurred … as is campaign financing since Citizens United.

The radical nonconservative ideology driving the reckless, irresponsible tax cuts

This morning NPR aired a rerun of a Here & Now program on the great Kansas experiment. This one is well worth hearing given the national push to pass a tax cut that would benefit the wealthy while addling trillions to the national debt. Here’s a really short summary and a link to the interview with a Republican state lawmaker who voted to stop the fiscal hemorrhaging instituted by Gov. Sam Brownback.

The selling point was “explosive growth.” Nothing even close to such growth happened - quite the opposite.

When Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback passed massive tax cuts in 2012, the hope was to accelerate the state’s languid economy. A year later, growth slowed and the state deficit shot up.

Kansas GOP lawmaker Melissa Rooker (@MelissaRooker) helped lead the rollback of the tax plan in 2016, calling it “reckless fiscal management.” Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson speaks with Rooker about that effort and lessons learned from the Kansas tax experiment.

BTW: Rooker is being attacked by the Koch’s war wagon, Americans for Prosperity a year in advance of the onset of the next election cycle.

Listen to the MPR audio here. Kansas Republican Says ‘Reckless’ State Tax Cuts Offer Warning For U.S.

Not knowing about, or not caring about, the failed Kansas experiment, our government is fixing to inflict the same kind of fiscal damage on itself - itself meaning us, we the people.

The NY Times yesterday reported that the House Passes Budget Blueprint, Clearing Path for Tax Overhaul. Basically the Republicans, led by Trump, want to do to the nation what Kansas did to itself.

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday sounded the starting gun on legislative efforts to cut taxes by as much as $1.5 trillion over the coming decade, narrowly clearing a budget blueprint that will allow a tax bill to pass Congress without any Democratic votes.

But the 216–212 vote hinted at how difficult actually legislating a tax overhaul could be. The budget measure cleared Congress over the loud protests of House members from high-tax states like New York, New Jersey and California, who worry that the blueprint will doom the current deduction for state and local taxes — a deduction of great importance to taxpayers in their states.

Twenty Republicans voted against it, 11 of them from New York and New Jersey.

You will be surprised to learn that our CD2 Rep. Martha McSally was not among those 20 voting “no.” See the FiveThirtyEight voting record for McSally’s votes and the bill at congress.gov.

The budget measure would allow for a tax bill that adds as much as $1.5 trillion to federal deficits over a decade, at a time when the federal government is already piling up more and more debt, which has now topped $20 trillion. …

The blueprint, as unveiled, would cost the Treasury more than $2 trillion over a decade, according to estimates by tax-writing experts. …

The budget measure contains parliamentary language that will shield a tax bill from a Democratic filibuster in the Senate, allowing it to pass with the approval of only 50 senators in a chamber where Republicans hold 52 seats. It also could pave the way for lawmakers to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil and gas drilling.

Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said the budget measure was “not a real effort at responsible budgeting.”

“It is a means to an end,” Mr. Yarmuth said, “a single-minded plan to make it easier to enact tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations regardless of the consequences for everyone else.”

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Is there one last good man to stand against “Trump’s metastasizing ethical cancer”?

Who is left to stand up to Trump?

Not the Senate. Sen. Flake? He opines against Trump’s excesses but votes with Trump almost always. Sen. Corker? He’s late to the bash Trump parade.

Not the House. Our own CD2 Rep. Mcsally, just for example, dodges and dances around issues but her votes mark her as one of the top Representatives supporting Trump’s agenda.

Then there is the Cabinet.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke? Forget it. Slate: Small Company With Connections to Trump Administration Wins $300 Million Puerto Rico Recovery Contract. Daily Beast: $300M Puerto Rico Recovery Contract Awarded to Tiny Utility Company Linked to Major Trump Donor. “The contract has also raised eyebrows because the company is based in Whitefish, Montana, the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke …”

EPA director Scott Pruitt? No way. Huffington Post: EPA Abruptly Blocks 3 Agency Scientists From Giving Talks On Climate Change. ”It’s the latest sign of the administration’s assault on climate science.” And where does this come from? “The move comes days after the EPA scrubbed dozens of links from its website to materials that helped local governments deal with the effects of climate change. Administrator Scott Pruitt has said he does not believe greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels cause climate change, and has scrapped or proposed eliminating numerous regulations to reduce emissions. Two weeks ago, he proposed repealing the Clean Power Plan, the federal government’s primary policy for slashing utilities’ output of planet-warming gases. “The sudden cancellations on Sunday inflame *concerns that the agency is muzzling scientists to further the White House’s political interests.*”

I could go on but I trust you get the picture. The members of Congress are worried about getting re-elected and are caving - or have already caved - and largely remain silent and vote for what Trump wants. Trump hired the cabinet members to do his bidding and/or to satisfy GOP donors and/or to destroy the government agencies that they were hired to lead. So who is left?

Whoa, I hear you say. What about those honorable 4-star generals? What about Tycoon Tillerson who led the Exon Mobile behemoth for so many years?

“And then there was one.”

That last line is how Tom Friedman, in the NY Times, begins his advisory to General Mattis, Stand Up to Trump or He’ll Drag You Down. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

Here’s the entire essay.

In March I wrote a column in the form of a memo to Secretary of Defense James Mattis, National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, then-Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, C.I.A. Director Mike Pompeo and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

It began: “Dear Sirs, I am writing you today as the five adults with the most integrity in the Trump administration. Mattis, McMaster and Kelly, you all served our nation as generals in battle. Pompeo, you graduated first in your class at West Point. … Tillerson, you ran one of America’s largest companies. I am writing you directly because I believe you are the last ‘few good men’ who can stand up and reverse the moral rot that has infected the Trump administration from the top.”

Well, so much for that.

McMaster doesn’t seem to have built much of a relationship with Trump, not one that can constrain him. Tillerson blew himself up by reportedly calling the president a “(bleeping) moron” and then starring in a hostage video in which he sang the president’s praises and assured us that Trump was actually “smart.”

After Trump tweeted that Tillerson was wasting his time negotiating with North Korea, Tillerson had to publicly assure us that he had not been “castrated” by Trump — which meant that he had.

On Thursday Pompeo showed how much he has sold his soul. In an answer to a question, Pompeo told a conference held by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank, that “the intelligence community’s assessment is that the Russian meddling that took place did not affect the outcome of the election.”

That was a baldfaced lie. The C.I.A., F.B.I. and N.S.A. issued a report in January concluding that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin personally “ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” designed to denigrate Hillary Clinton and aid Trump. At the same time these agencies declared, “We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election,” which was outside their writ and expertise.

Pompeo just made that up, no doubt to please Trump.

Finally, sadly, Kelly squandered his moral authority by starring in his own White House podium hostage video. He began well. Kelly spoke eloquently and with great dignity about the pain of losing a son in battle, as he and his wife did, and about certain bedrock values that our society has lost in how we treat one another. He even seemed to explain how the president’s phone call to the widow of a Green Beret killed in Niger got garbled.

If only he had stopped there. But instead he began to talk like Trump, gratuitously smearing a black congresswoman who was a friend of the Green Beret’s bereaved family — with provably false charges. It was tragic. In an instant he went from General Kelly to Kellyanne Conway, just another Trump apologist.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders must have known that Kelly had lost his moral authority, because, the next day, when reporters challenged Kelly’s comments about the congresswoman, the White House spokeswoman tried to shut them up by holding up Kelly’s formal uniform, saying, “If you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that’s something highly inappropriate.” Sorry, Sarah, when a general lies, he loses his moral and formal credibility.

That leaves Mattis as the last man standing — the only one who has not been infected by Trump’s metastasizing ethical cancer, the only one who has not visibly lied on Trump’s behalf, and who can still put some fear into Trump.

Well, Secretary Mattis, here’s some free advice to the last man standing: Don’t just stand there. If you just stand there, you’ll be next. Because Trump and Sanders will be looking to enlist your old uniform next in their defense — that is, if Trump doesn’t throw you under the bus first to escape responsibility for the bungled operation in Niger.

Secretary Mattis, we don’t need any more diagnosis of the problem. We need action. And I am not talking about a coup. I mean you need to lead McMaster, Tillerson and Kelly (Pompeo is a lost cause) in telling Trump that if he does not change his ways you will all quit, en masse.

Trump needs to know that it is now your way or the highway — not his. That is how you talk to a bully. It’s the only language he understands.

Tell him: No more ridiculous tweeting attacks on people every morning; no more telling senators who forge bipartisan compromises on immigration or health care that he’s with them one day and against them the next; no more casual lying; no more feeding the base white supremacist “red meat” — no more distracting us from the real work of forging compromises for the American people and no more eroding the American creed.

Led by you and you alone, Secretary Mattis, your little squadron with Tillerson, Kelly and McMaster still has power. And if you can’t together force Trump onto an agenda of national healing and progress, then you should together tell him that he can govern with his kids and Sanders — because you took an oath to defend the Constitution, not to wipe up Trump’s daily filth with the uniform three of you wore so honorably.

And if those five quit en masse we would be faced with a governmental crisis that would be, using the media’s favorite understated descriptor, unprecedented.

After our just-completed trip to our nation’s capitol, Mrs. Scriber came away feeling optimistic. Our nation has suffered through crises like the sedition act and a civil war. She thinks we will survive Trumpism because our institutions are strong. Mr. Scriber is not so sure — but sure hopes she is right.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Senators Corker and Flake castigate Trump but vote with him anyway

Two Senators have announced their intention not to seek reelection: Bob Corker (Tennessee) and Jeff Flake (Arizona). Both are now publicly critical of (read condemning, damning) President Trump as someone to be reviled for character flaws, not to be trusted, and generally unfit for office. I agree, but there are grounds to withhold enthusiasm for what these two are doing. Consider that Corker was a big supporter of Trump’s candidacy and Flake has a voting record that almost perfectly aligns with Trump’s positions. Given the opportunity to do something concete about Trump after he took office, both Corker and Flake took a pass.

Now there is another side to this and that is that both Corker and Flake intend to serve out their present terms speaking out against Trumpism. AZ Blue Meanie takes a harsh view of what Flake is doing in Sen. Jeff Flake surrenders rather than fight against ‘Trumpism’. Scriber thinks the jury is still out and that the next 14 months will give us evidence on which to judge Corker and Flake. They need to speak out forcefully, but more important, they need to engage in active obstruction. And there is plenty going on in the administration worth obstructing. But early returns are not promising.

Here’s an example. The NY Times reports that the Consumer Bureau Loses Fight to Allow More Class-Action Suits.

Senate Republicans voted on Tuesday to strike down a sweeping new rule that would have allowed millions of Americans to band together in class-action lawsuits against financial institutions.

The overturning of the rule, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking a 50-to–50 tie, will further loosen regulation of Wall Street as the Trump administration and Republicans move to roll back Obama-era policies enacted in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis. By defeating the rule, Republicans are dismantling a major effort of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the watchdog created by Congress in the aftermath of the mortgage mess. [Read more about the rule in the Times’ report.]

Senators Corker and Flake (and McCain, BTW) voted along with Trump on this one. So as far as I can tell, the Republicans keep lining up with Trump when it comes to letting predatory businesses dump on the consumers. And Corker and Flake, despite their words, are right behind Trump’s rump when it comes to the votes.

FYI: the AZBlueMeanie reprints Flake’s speech on the floor of the Senate.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Mournday Mourning Sidewalk

The Scribers are in DC touring museums and monuments - and availing ourselves of opportunities for wining and dining. Here’s a belated post.

Words for today: Trumpathetic and other descriptors of one who lacks empathy. This and more illustrated news from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona. Good Mourning America!

On a Monday morning key board
I’m wishing that my post was read
Cause there’s something in the cartoons
That makes a blogger full of dread

And there’s nothing short of dieing
That’s half as wretched as the sound
Of a loathsome politician
In Monday mourning doubling down

With apologies to Kris Kristofferson who wrote “Sunday morning sidewalk” sung by Johnny Cash.

More on the Trumpist authoritarian response to criticism

Chief of Staff John Kelly has gotten entangled in a now classic Trumpian scandal. He got caught smearing a congresswoman with claims that were quickly shown to be untrue. And then the White House smear machine went into action defending Kelly and Trump in spite of the publicly available evidence. All that prompted me to consider some explanations in my post yesterday on What honorable people give up to work for Trump.

Is there something about Trump and his administration that attracts dishonest people? That’s one possible interpretation of recent events. [A second position is that] basically honest, dedicated public servants are corrupted once they experience the Trump environment, the President’s “swamp.”

Here are a few updates.

Chicken or egg question

A bit later on Sunday Paul Krugman tweeted a simpler version.

Paul Krugman
@paulkrugman
A chicken and egg question: does working for Trump destroy your integrity? Or do only people without integrity work for Trump?
10/22/17 12:40 PM

An authoritarian in the White House

Aaron Blake (Washington Post/The Fix) updated an earlier post in The Trump White House’s increasingly authoritarian response to criticism.

Yet again, the White House has declared itself to be above question.

On Friday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders bristled at attempts to fact-check Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s comments about Rep. Frederica S. Wilson (D-Fla.). But rather than make a compelling case based on the facts, she decided to posit that a four-star general should be immune to debate.

“If you want to go after Gen. Kelly, that’s up to you, but I think that if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate,” Sanders said.

… The inescapable conclusion here: According to Sanders, Kelly can say just about anything he wants, and the media should just accept it as fact.

Whatever you think of the White House or President Trump, that’s a remarkably authoritarian argument to make. And it’s hardly the first time the White House has gone down this road. It has suggested dissent is unhelpful — even unpatriotic — several times … [For example:]

In February, when the administration was pushing its entry ban, White House senior adviser Stephen Miller said the president’s prerogatives on foreign policy were absolute. “The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned,” Miller said.

Blake lists more examples and offers a “stunning” conclusion.

The White House isn’t disputing the criticisms; it’s suggesting they shouldn’t even be tolerated and aren’t good for the country. That’s a stunning posture for any White House to take.

But that’s only “stunning” if you do not believe that we have an authoritarian in the White House.

The Borowitz Report

Of course our favorite New Yorker satirist, Andy Borowitz, could not pass up a chance to observe that the White House Says It Is Unpatriotic to Offer Irrefutable Video Evidence That a General Lied.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In a stirring defense of Donald Trump’s chief of staff, General John Kelly, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said on Friday that it was “unpatriotic in the extreme” to offer irrefutable video proof that a four-star general lied.

“It is unpatriotic enough to accuse a four-star general of lying,” Sanders told the White House press corps. “But to make available a video that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that that general lied is unpatriotic bordering on treasonous.”

Warming to her subject, Sanders said that any American who sees undeniable video evidence that a general lied and chooses to believe the video “shows disrespect for our country and hatred for our flag.”

“General Kelly has served our country with courage and valor,” she said. “He has earned the right to lie without fear of being contradicted by the facts.”

Minutes after Sanders concluded her remarks, Kelly also received a vote of confidence from Trump, who called his chief of staff “a good liar, for a beginner.”

End satire alert.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

What honorable people give up to work for Trump

Is there something about Trump and his administration that attracts dishonest people? That’s one possible interpretation of recent events. Jennifer Rubin (Washington Post) stakes out a second position, saying that Trump makes himself, John Kelly and everyone around them look rotten yet again. That is, basically honest, dedicated public servants are corrupted once they experience the Trump environment, the President’s “swamp.” Or is it some of each? These questions are important because Chief of Staff (former) General John Kelly is embroiled in the controversy of the President’s making about what Trump said, or didn’t say, and when, about Special Forces Sergeant La David Johnson’s death in Niger. If working for the President demands that you defend the President no matter what, what happens when the President is caught out in a lie? What happens when the defense demands distorting the truth?

Ryan Lizza (Washington Post) has a slightly different version of what it takes to be in the White House today: John Kelly and the Dangerous Moral Calculus of Working for Trump. The bottom line: ”The White House chief of staff, John Kelly, is the latest example of how the President sullies the reputations of those who work with and for him.”

Anyone in politics or government who works for Donald Trump, whether on the payroll or in some other supporting role, is forced to make a sacrifice. Working for Trump means that one’s credibility is likely to be damaged, so there is a kind of moral calculation that any Trump supporter must make: Does working for him serve some higher purpose that outweighs the price of reputational loss?

There is a hierarchy of justifications for backing Trump. At the bottom are the spokespeople and purely political officials who are almost instantly discredited, because they are forced to defend the statements of a President who routinely lies and manufactures nonsensical versions of events. Sean Spicer learned this on his first day on the job, when Trump sent him into the White House briefing room to tell the press lies about Inauguration-crowd sizes. He never recovered. …

Republicans in Congress are a little farther up the pyramid. Many privately say that they believe Trump is a disaster of a President, an embarrassment to the G.O.P., and, as Bob Corker recently said publicly, echoing what he claimed were the views of most Republican senators, setting America “on the path to World War III.” They justify their support by noting that Trump will implement the core Republican agenda, and that alone is worth the price of a person at least some of them believe is unfit to be President. …

The tougher cases are at the top of the pyramid. The government needs to be staffed, and, especially in positions of national security, it’s hard to argue against anyone taking a senior position at the Pentagon, the State Department, or the National Security Council to insure that Trump’s worst instincts are contained. This, of course, was the moral dilemma of the three generals now in top civilian jobs serving Trump: Defense Secretary James Mattis; the national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster; and the White House chief of staff, John Kelly. They were all generally respected for their military service, untainted by prior association with Trump, and their work in the Administration was generally believed to be a continuation of their service to the country by making sure our erratic President doesn’t fulfill Corker’s warning.

We learned this week that, even if you maintain the most sympathetic view of why these ex-generals continue to serve Trump, there is no way to work for him without paying the Trump tax on one’s reputation. Since joining the White House, Kelly has been viewed as a force for good. He helped defactionalize the West Wing by removing some of its most difficult personalities, such as Steve Bannon. He has implemented some basic processes that all modern White Houses have had, such as a system for controlling who meets with Trump and what information flows to him. But then, yesterday, he was dragged into the sordid spectacle of Trump’s fight with a congresswoman and the grieving family of La David Johnson, the Army sergeant who was killed in Niger earlier this month.

If you don’t know them already, you can read more about the details of all this below the break. But let’s continue with Lizza’s analysis.

Trump called Johnson’s widow to express his condolences. Some things that Trump said, rather than console, offended Myeshia Johnson, who allowed her local congresswoman and friend, Frederica Wilson, to listen to the call. After Wilson complained publicly about the tone of the call, Trump, rather than doing what any normal President would do by apologizing for any miscommunication, escalated the apparent misunderstanding into a Twitter war. The fact that Trump’s targets, a widow and a Democratic congresswoman, are African-Americans added to the sense that the President was, yet again, being racially divisive. Kelly, who rarely speaks publicly, stepped into the briefing room yesterday to defend the President. The most newsworthy comments he made concerned Wilson, who he said was an “empty barrel” who had once turned a ceremony meant to commemorate the deaths of two F.B.I. officers killed in the line of duty into a celebration of her ability to steer tax dollars to her district.

His attack on Wilson is worth quoting at length:

A congresswoman stood up, and in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise, stood up there and all of that and talked about how she was instrumental in getting the funding for that building, and how she took care of her constituents because she got the money, and she just called up President Obama, and on that phone call he gave the money—the twenty million dollars— to build the building. And she sat down, and we were stunned. Stunned that she had done it. Even for someone that is that empty a barrel, we were stunned. But, you know, none of us went to the press and criticized. None of us stood up and were appalled. We just said, “O.K., fine.”

As was quickly reported, the video of Wilson’s nine-minute speech is online. Wilson did tell a story about how she; John Boehner, the House Speaker at the time; and Obama worked together to make sure that the building was named after the two slain F.B.I. agents in time for the event. She said nothing about securing funding (she was, in fact, not in Congress when the money was authorized) and nothing about “how she took care of her constituents.” She asked law-enforcement officials present to stand up “so we can applaud you and what you do,” adding, “we’re proud of you, we’re proud of your courage.” She then told the tragic story of the two agents who lost their lives. The speech bears no resemblance to the speech Kelly described. The White House chief of staff maligned a congresswoman, whose only crime seemed to be criticizing Trump, with a series of lies.

When a reporter at the White House on Friday asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders about the glaring discrepancy between Kelly’s account and the actual speech, she said that the White House stood by his remarks. “There was a lot of grandstanding,” she said. “He was stunned that she had taken that opportunity to make it about herself.” The reporter pressed: “He was wrong yesterday in talking about getting the money. The money was secured before she came into Congress.”

Sanders shot back with the kind of statement that would be normal in an authoritarian country, suggesting that Kelly’s previous military service placed him beyond criticism. “If you want to go after General Kelly, that’s up to you,” she said. “But I think that that—if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”

No, it is not. Kelly is the chief of staff and a political operative. He held a press conference and told a lie that smeared one of Trump’s political opponents. No government official’s military background, no matter how honorable, makes him immune to criticism, especially given the subject at hand. Sanders’s response was unnerving. But the bigger lesson of the episode is that no matter how good one’s intentions are, when you go to work for Trump, you will end up paying for it with your reputation. For Kelly, not even his four stars prevented that.

And the Washington Post’s editorial board said that John Kelly owes the congresswoman an apology. What Kelly does with this, or does not do, will be indicative of how his time in service of this president has dragged him into Trump’s moral swamp.

I’ll quote from Jennifer Rubin for the last word.

If you’ve decided after revisiting all of this that everyone, with the exception of the heroic Sgt. Johnson, his widow and his mother, looks shabby, you’re not alone. Trump apparently was trying to be nice but made the widow cry in his original call. Rather than apologize and move on, he spent two days lying, dragging others into the mess and ultimately distracting attention away from the slain serviceman and three others killed in Niger.

Kelly allowed himself to be used as a prop, simultaneously drawing on sympathy for his loss of a son and opportunistically spitting political venom at Wilson. (The Post reported, “The appearance was an attempt to tamp down a self-created and ballooning controversy over Trump’s contacts with the families of fallen soldiers.”) He didn’t express remorse for any upset suffered by Johnson’s wife or other family members because of the awkward call.

As for Wilson, she was telling the truth about the call, but acting more than a little too gleeful in ratting out the president when attention should have been on the Gold Star families.

Sometimes you just want the whole lot of them to go away.

We’ve grown sadly accustomed to watching Trump behave badly, punching “down” at those who call him out. The focus must always be on him, the perpetual victim.

Kelly’s conduct was a sad revelation, however, and a reminder that while he looks upon himself as serving the country (and he is), he is also enabling a dishonest, morally detestable politician.

As I said, it will be informative for us and for General Kelly to see what Kelly does next. I hope he does the honorable thing.

Below the break, from the NY Times, are more of the details: After Video Refutes Kelly’s Charges, Congresswoman Raises Issue of Race

<!—more—>

Video of a 2015 speech delivered by Representative Frederica S. Wilson revealed Friday that John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff, misrepresented her remarks when he accused her of bragging about securing $20 million for a South Florida F.B.I. building and twisting President Barack Obama’s arm.

Mr. Kelly, escalating a feud between Mr. Trump and Ms. Wilson, had cast the congresswoman on Thursday as a publicity-seeking opportunist. However, the video, released by The Sun Sentinel, a newspaper in South Florida, showed that during her nine-minute speech, Ms. Wilson never took credit for getting the money for the building, only for helping pass legislation naming the building after two fallen federal agents.

She never mentioned pleading with Mr. Obama, and she acknowledged the help of several Republicans, including John A. Boehner, then the House speaker; Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Carlos Curbelo; and Senator Marco Rubio.

Ms. Wilson, in an interview on Friday, called Mr. Kelly a liar and hinted strongly that the altercation, prompted by a call from President Trump to the widow of a fallen black soldier, was racially charged.

“The White House itself is full of white supremacists,” she said.

“I feel very sorry for him because he feels such a need to lie on me and I’m not even his enemy,” Ms. Wilson said of Mr. Kelly. “I just can’t even imagine why he would fabricate something like that. That is absolutely insane. I’m just flabbergasted because it’s very easy to trace.”

While she stopped short of accusing Mr. Kelly, a retired Marine general, of racial animus, she did say that others in the White House are racially biased.

“They are making themselves look like fools. They have no credibility,” she said. “They are trying to assassinate my character, and they are assassinating their own because everything they say is coming out and shown to be a lie.”

But Mr. Trump and his top aides remained defiant on Friday, even after the video was released.

Of course they would. And Trump’s chief press huckster, Sarah Huckabee Sanders weighed in by defending the administration’s lies.

Ms. Sanders escalated the messaging a few hours later: “As we say in the South: all hat, no cattle,” she said. Ms. Wilson is known in the Capitol and in South Florida for her colorful hats.

Ms. Sanders also told a reporter who questioned Mr. Kelly’s veracity that “if you want to get into a debate with a four-star Marine general, I think that that’s something highly inappropriate.”

“It’s almost like General Kelly was telling the congresswoman, ‘You don’t know your place, you’re not supposed to criticize the president,’” said Mr. Jordan, who is black. “That’s how it looks to the black people.”

“It should have ended yesterday after General Kelly’s comments. But it didn’t. It continued,” Ms. Sanders said. “He thought it was important that people got a full and accurate picture of what took place.”

If that was his goal, Mr. Kelly failed. His recollection of Ms. Wilson’s appearance at the dedication of the F.B.I. building was highly inaccurate, and only ratcheted up the political tensions.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

What the devll won’t tell you - about the CD2 race

Here’s the latest installment of Blake Morlock’s What the Devil won’t tell you column at Tucson Sentinel.
D.C. smart guys aside, McSally still a favorite if she faces Kirkpatrick … if. He says “Cook Political Report too quick on the draw calling CD 2 race a toss up.”

Morlock is not too keen on McSally. He’s not too keen on Kirkpatrick either. Here are just a few snippets. Hint: go read the whole thing.

I’ll let you in on a secret. However important we think money is in politics, you are underestimating it. Democratic donors don’t really care how their candidates would cast their votes. A candidate’s position on the issues or passion for service are both for chumps and true believers.

The party moneybags and throngs of consultants ask candidates two things: How are you going to raise money? Can you win?

They stop paying attention after the first answer. Win or lose, the consultants get their cut — but only if the cash flows. And the big donors don’t want to put themselves out by being the only one to back a candidate. That’s more embarrassing than losing a good fight.

Candidates must raise money to pay for Beltway-approved consultants, thereby confirming their chops so they can raise the money to get the right message out, narrow the polling gap for the purposes of raising more money to pull into the lead and raise more money to defend that lead. If they can’t raise the first round of cash, then the rest of it doesn’t really matter, does it?

Kirkpatrick clearly will be able to pony up the entry fee for a race while Trump is unwittingly doing all he can to make sure McSally gets an ulcer.

Kirkpatrick’s entry coincides with Cook’s increased odds for a Democratic pickup, the unwritten message being clear enough: Kirkpatrick is inevitable. She secured an early endorsement from EMILY’s List, which seeks out pro-choice women. Former U.S. Reps. Gabrielle Giffords and Ron Barber have also saddled up with Team Kirkpatrick.

How will voters take this whole moving down from Flagstaff thing? I moved down from Flagstaff in 1998. I just didn’t immediately run for Congress.

Yeah, yeah, Kirkpatrick has family here. Sure, fine, she’s got grandkids in town and their mom could use some extra help. OK, it’s Tucson and we’re all from somewhere else. I hear you, Team Kirkpatrick: she went to the University of Arizona during Nixon’s first term. But dudes, she lost a Senate bid in November, moved down to Tucson in the spring and announced a congressional bid in the summer. It seems just a bit Glassmanesque or “pulling a Rodney” or whatever you call someone a bit too eager to get elected to something.

I’m going to make a prediction right here: The Democrats running who have lived in the district will get the cold shoulder from national D’s, which is par for the freaking course. I cannot overstate how little the Harvard-Georgetown crowd thinks of those of us who lack the intellectual acuity to live in Washington, D.C., or New York. Bumpinville – basically all of America where theatergoers can’t catch “Hamilton” – will take the Democrats we’re given.

“You got Kirkpatrick and don’t give us any lip.”

As for the rest of the CD2 Democratic contenders?

The yocal Democratic field will undoubtedly not go quietly into the good night. I mean, former state Rep. Matt Heinz is in the mix and this guy just keeps coming, loss after loss.

Heinz, former state legislator Bruce Wheeler, former Assistant Army Secretary Mary Matiella and hotel manager Billy Kovacs will no doubt gang up on her as soon as they get their hands on some cash to get out the message and voters start paying attention.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Required viewing: How the Trump administration got Chad to withdraw from the fight against ISIS in Niger

Yes, you read that title correctly.

If you keep up with the political news, and, worse, If you write about it, at some visceral level, you get a little numb. But sometimes the news is so foul that it breaks through that emotional firewall and you get seriously pissed off. That happened to me last night as we were watching the Rachel Maddow show.

Here’s the bare bones account.

If you look at the map of subsaharan Africa, from west to east, you find three land-locked countries: Mali, Niger, and Chad. The latter, Chad, has a competent, respected military force with lots of experience fighting terror groups, ISIS and Boko Haram, active in that region. Chad functions like the command post for that fight. But the Trump administration managed to put Chad on the most recent travel ban. Arguably the most important ally we have on that piece of ground in Africa is Chad and we severely insulted that country by banning its citizens from travel to the US. (Chad’s ongoing tussle with Exon Mobile over oil revenues might have contributed something here as might some bureaucratic bungling over passports at State and DHS.) When that travel ban was announced, Chad started withdrawing its troops from Niger. The immediate consequence was that there was a reduced military presence and lessened security in Niger. Why is that important? Remember that Niger was where the four US special forces soldiers were killed. And Trump and the administration and our military do not want to talk about that. For if they did, they would have to connect some dots as did Rachel on her show last night. When they do talk about all this, as did Chief of Staff John Kelly did yesterday, the focus is on communicating with the families of those fallen.

With all due respect to John Kelly, and with sympathy for those families, I still must ask: How can we not be outraged by this incredible incompetence?

Some serious bowing, scraping, and groveling is in order. The administration needs to do whatever, and I mean whatever, it takes to bring Chad back into the fight against ISIS and Boko Haram. The problem is that Trump never admits guilt or takes responsibility. Therefore, Chad will be sidelined and that part of Africa, at least, and our fight against terrorism, will be damaged as a result.

Below is a link to Rachel’s reporting last night. Consider it required viewing.

Inexplicable Trump travel ban decision preceded US Niger exposure.
Rachel Maddow looks at the utterly confounding decision by the Donald Trump White House to add important partner Chad to the latest iteration of the travel ban, and how it might put U.S. military lives in danger in places like Niger. Duration: 25:22

Here’s a summary from AlterNet. [Rachel Maddow Reveals the Sickening Reason Trump Hasn’t Talked About U.S. Soldiers Killed in Niger][alternet].
He made a terrible decision and hopes to keep his critics distracted.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow explained how President Donald Trump’s decision to include Chad on his travel ban may’ve endangered the lives of servicemembers in Niger, four of which were recently killed under circumstances that have not been properly explained.

By including Chad on the travel ban, against the advice of foreign policy experts and multiple officials, U.S. soldiers lost Chadian ground support in Niger. Multiple terrorist groups, including ISIS and Boko Haram, are active in Niger. But Chad began to remove its soldiers immediately following Trump’s travel ban.

“[T]hose Chadian troops were really doing something in Niger. They were protecting those villages in that whole region from ISIS militant groups being able to operate freely and be able to take more territory from there once again,” Maddow explained. “And pulling those troops out had an immediate effect in emboldening those ISIS attacks.”

Less than one week after Chad began removing troups from the region, four American soldiers were killed in an ambush.

“So, no wonder the president doesn’t want to talk about it,” Maddow said.

Republicans pass scary budget

Katrina vanden Heuvel At The Nation asks the scary question: What’s Even Scarier Than Donald Trump?
Her answer: Republicans have put forward a budget that would have truly terrifying consequences.

Donald Trump’s flailings are ever more terrifying. In the course of a few days, he tossed a grenade into the health-care markets that millions rely on, traduced the Iranian nuclear deal, threatened to abandon US citizens ravaged by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, continued to sabotage action on climate change, tweeted about censoring the media, and so undermined his own secretary of state that Republican Senator Bob Corker accused him of castration. For all of that, Trump’s grotesqueries are exceeded by a Republican Congress intent on a course so ruinous as to be, one hopes, impossible to sustain.

This week, Senate Republicans will seek to push through a budget resolution for the current fiscal year. The resolution provides guidelines for spending and tax cuts, with projections for the next decade. Although its provisions are destructive and absurd, it has the support of virtually all of the Republican caucus.

The resolution is designed to facilitate the passage of tax cuts with Republican votes only. The final package hasn’t been written yet, but Republican leaders have produced a “framework.” Its elements are perverse. We know that extreme inequality corrupts our democracy and impedes economic growth. As a detailed analysis by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center makes clear, this bill will make it worse, with the top 1 percent pocketing over half of the tax cuts next year—and an obscene 80 percent by year 10. The multinational corporations that book profits abroad to avoid taxes will be rewarded with a retroactive tax cut for $2.6 trillion stashed overseas. The proposal would also expand that tax dodge by virtually eliminating taxes on profits they report as earned abroad. And at a time when hedge-fund operators pay a lower tax rate than schoolteachers, this bill would enlarge the outrage with a massive tax break for real-estate barons, hedge-fund managers, and lawyers, delivered by taxing “pass-through” income at a reduced rate. Instead of closing loopholes, this bill adds to them.

The spending side of the Senate bill has received less attention, but it’s even worse. As a comprehensive analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities details, the bill projects $5.8 trillion in spending cuts over the next 10 years. At a time when the baby boomers are retiring, it calls for cuts of $473 billion in Medicare, over $1 trillion in Medicaid, and hundreds of billions of dollars in Obamacare subsidies to medium- and low-income workers. It projects cuts of over $650 billion in income-security programs for low-income workers—primarily food stamps, the earned-income tax credit, the child tax credit, and supplemental security income for disabled seniors, adults, and children in need. Another $200 billion will be cut from the Pell grants and student loans that help working families afford college. These cuts will leave millions without affordable health care and make millions of disabled and low-income Americans even more vulnerable.

The budget also contains stunning cuts in what is called “non-defense discretionary spending” (essentially everything the government does outside of the military, entitlements, and interest payments on the national debt). These include cuts to agencies that contribute to our safety—law enforcement, the Coast Guard, the FBI, the DEA—as well as services vital to our health, like environmental protection and water and sewage systems. The public investment crucial to our economy and our future—science and technology, medical research, modern infrastructure, education and advanced training, and more—would also be slashed. These programs are already projected to sustain deep cuts under the 2011 Budget Control Act, but the Senate bill decimates them. By 2019, it cuts this spending by 10 percent from 2017 levels; by 2027, that number is nearly 20 percent. As a share of the economy, our spending on domestic services will be reduced to levels not seen since Herbert Hoover.

This is a suicide budget. In a country dealing with a growing population, rising global competition, and pressing new challenges like catastrophic climate change, the Republican Senate would cash in our future to provide endless tax cuts for the richest among us.

The United States will lag rather than lead the industrial world in education and training. We will squander our edge in innovation. We will suffer the rising perils and costs of a decrepit and outmoded infrastructure. We already witness all these trends today. The Senate budget is on course to accelerate them.

This folly, one hopes, is too extreme to be passed. Yet this week, all of the Senate’s Republicans—save perhaps for one or two dissenters—will vote for a budget that is truly a road to ruin. Why? Partly, of course, to reward the wealthy special interests that fund their party. They may also fear right-wing challengers if they don’t toe the line. Or they may be motivated by purblind ideological conviction, although it’s hard to imagine that any of them really believe these measures would make things better. And then there’s sheer desperation: At this point, the GOP has to get something done, even if it does more harm than good to most Americans. President Trump’s increasingly manic careenings are terrifying to behold, but the remorseless suicide mission of the Republicans caucus in Congress should horrify us as well.

AZBlueMeanie (Blog for Arizona) thinks the real action will be on the tax breaks for billionaires bill. In His post yesterday (this morning’s email), Kabuki theater: budget vote-a-rama in the Senate today, he wrote this.

The U.S. Senate is voting on the GOP’s budget resolution today, which is really not about the budget at all, but rather, rigging the procedural rules in the Senate so that the GOP can vote on its so-called “tax reform” (tax cuts for Plutocrats) bill at some point with a simple majority vote of 50 senators plus the Vice President, and bypass the Senate cloture rule of 60 votes to forestall a Democratic filibuster through adoption of reconciliation rules.

There is little chance that the budget resolution will not pass. The real drama will come over the tax cuts for Plutocrats package. Deficit hawks like Sen. Rand Paul insist on maintaining the budget sequestration caps adopted several years ago. Defense hawks like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham want the sequestration caps for defense repealed. Mythical moderate Republicans such as Sens. Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are opposed to the draconian cuts to Medicare and Medicaid in the budget. And Sen. Bob Corker, whom Trump has chosen to vilify in his Twitter rages, is on record saying of the tax bill “Unless it reduces deficits – let me say that one more time – unless it reduces deficits and does not add to deficits with reasonable and responsible growth models and unless we can make it permanent, I don’t have any interest in it.”

With Paul and Corker opposed because the GOP tax bill adds to the federal deficit, it only takes one more GOP defection to defeat the tax cuts for Plutocrats bill.

The Senate GOP leadership adopted reconciliation rules to repeal “Obamacare” and failed miserably. There is a very good chance that the tax cuts for Plutocrats package will also fail despite adoption of reconciliation rules. Bad policy is bad policy, and there is more than enough to dislike in what has been proposed to garner at least three GOP defections on the GOP tax bill.

We now have to count on a severely divided Republican caucus in the Senate to realize those defections. See my post from Wednesday, McSally champions Trump tax breaks, but will anything survive a divided Congress?

UPDATE: They did it. The New York Times reports that the Senate Approves Budget Plan That Smooths Path Toward Tax Cut.

The Senate took a significant step toward rewriting the tax code on Thursday night with the passage of a budget blueprint that would protect a $1.5 trillion tax cut from a Democratic filibuster.

The budget resolution could also pave the way for opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil exploration by ensuring that drilling legislation can pass with only Republican votes.

Despite having full control of the government, Republicans have so far been unable to produce a marquee legislative achievement in the first year of President Trump’s tenure, putting even more pressure on lawmakers to succeed in passing a tax bill. The budget’s passage could keep Republicans on track to approve a tax package late this year or early in 2018.

As early as next week, the House plans to take up the budget blueprint that the Senate approved on Thursday by a 51 to 49 vote. Doing so would allow for the tax overhaul to move ahead quickly.

Sen. Rand Paul was the only Republican “no” vote - and that’s because he thinks the blueprint calls for excessive spending.

“This is the last, best chance we will have to cut taxes,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina and a member of the Budget Committee, who warned that the consequences would be ruinous if the party failed.

“That will be the end of us as a party,” he said, “because if you’re a Republican and you don’t want to simplify the tax code and cut taxes, what good are you to anybody?”

Right question, wrong assumption. Instead, let’s ask: if you are a Republican and you want tax breaks for the wealthy, what good are you to anybody?

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Message for Trump supporters: You knew what you signed up for - and you voted for him anyway

Never let it be said that our President Donald Trump missed an opportunity to diss someone or some group. That’s particularly true of those now in the military and veterans.

The latest PR shit storm started when Trump was asked about four special forces soldiers who were ambushed and killed in Niger. The question asked was about what they were doing there and why Trump had not contacted the families. Trump deflected and redirected the question by claiming, falsely, that other presidents, notably Obama, had not called or written to families of solders killed in action. The redirection worked, according to Rachel Maddow on her show last night. The media is now consumed with what Trump said - or did not say - to one army widow. We’ll come back to the misdirection issue in a moment.

The Huffington Post reports that Trump Claims Congresswoman Lied About His Call To Army Widow.

The president was said to have told the woman her husband “must have known what he signed up for.”

Said Congresswoman was not having any of that.

President Donald Trump on Wednesday accused Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) of fabricating the claim that he told the widow of a soldier killed in combat that she “must’ve known what he signed up for.”

“I have proof,” Trump tweeted. He offered no evidence.

Wilson stood by her account of the president’s phone call with the widow, telling CNN’s “New Day” that she, too, has proof of Trump’s conversation. “He is a sick man,” she said. “He’s cold-hearted and he feels no pity or sympathy for anyone.”

Army Sgt. La David Johnson was killed during an ambush in Niger earlier this month. Myeshia Johnson, his pregnant widow, received the call from Trump on Tuesday.

The fallen soldier’s mother said she also heard the call, and confirmed Wilson’s account was accurate.

In an interview before Trump’s tweet on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Wilson called Trump’s conversation with Johnson “absolutely crazy” and said the president didn’t even remember La David Johnson’s name.

Pressed for said proof later on Wednesday, Trump told White House pool reporters to “let [Wilson] make her statement again and then you’ll find out.”

Shortly after, Wilson reiterated her claim in a tweet.

I still stand by my account of the call b/t @realDonaldTrump and Myesha Johnson. That is her name, Mr. Trump. Not “the woman” or “the wife.”
— Rep Frederica Wilson (@RepWilson) October 18, 2017

Wilson was with Johnson at the time of the Tuesday call and said she heard the conversation on speakerphone. She recounted the exchange to South Florida’s NBC affiliate.

“Sarcastically he said: ‘But you know he must have known what he signed up for,’” Wilson told NBC6. “How could you say that to a grieving widow? I couldn’t believe … and he said it more than once. I said this man has no feelings for anyone. This is a young woman with child who is grieved to her soul.”

The fallen soldier’s mother, who said she also heard Trump’s speakerphone conversation, confirmed that Wilson accurately repeated what the president said.

OK. Enough already. All this is typical Trump. We already have evidence that he disrespects members of our military. Recall, please, his war of words with the gold star parents (the Khans) of an army captain killed while saving members of his command. Recall, please, Trump’s claim that he did not consider Senator John McCain a real hero because Trump respects those who did not get captured and tortured for 5 years.

Is the implication here that McCain is at fault for getting captured? Does that extend to Sergeant Johnson’s getting killed? Is that Johnson’s fault? Should McCain and Johnson have been smarter?

But what were those American soldiers doing in Niger? The Washington Post has the story, such as it is known to date. Phillip Rucker and Dan Lamothe report on Twelve days of silence, then a swipe at Obama: How Trump handled four dead soldiers. Here is their reporting on the Niger mission.

The White House has not explained why Trump took so long to comment publicly about the Niger ambush, but officials said Tuesday that he was regularly briefed on the incident during that period. They declined to provide details.

It’s looking like the White House did not want to talk about the existence of American troops in Niger. Here is more.

This month’s deadly operation in Niger was unusual and highly sensitive, and the military has not yet disclosed many details. It was something of a surprise that the Special Forces unit came under fire — and the remains of one of the fallen soldiers, Johnson, 25, were not recovered until two days afterward.

Marine Lt. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff, told reporters Oct. 12 that the ambush marked the first time in at least six months that the U.S. military had faced enemy fire in the region.

McKenzie said the operation was meant to be an outreach effort in which the U.S. soldiers went out alongside local forces; it was “not designed to be a combat patrol.” But he defended the support the soldiers had, saying that there was a “pretty good level of planning” and that French forces responded within 30 minutes with helicopter air support.

The general said the Pentagon believes there is some connection to an affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group in the attack.

So maybe that is the real story - ISIS in Africa and America’s reaction to it.