Tuesday, December 11, 2018

CoS candidates taking the Trump Jump

In another post this morning I asked “Who is left to take a bullet for Trump?” In a different way of expressing it, John Cassidy in the New Yorker asks Are the Rats Preparing to Jump Off the Trump Ship?

What motivates our questions is the on-again, off-again attempt by Trump to replace outgoing Chief of Staff John Kelley with Nick Ayers, the young chief of staff to Vice-President Mike Pence. Trump was well along toward making the announcement when Ayers “spurned” the President.

Even in this news-addled Trump era, Sunday afternoon usually marks a lull: a time for reporters and politicos to indulge their social-media habits by tweeting about football, or even, perish the thought, to spend some time with their families. Not this week. Just before 4:30 p.m. on Sunday, the political class was jerked back to attention when Nick Ayers, the youthful chief of staff to Vice-President Mike Pence, let it be known on Twitter that he had turned down the chance to replace John Kelly as the White House chief of staff. “Thank you @realDonaldTrump, @VP, and my great colleagues for the honor to serve our Nation at The White House,” Ayers wrote. “I will be departing at the end of the year but will work with the #maga team to advance the cause. #Georgia.”

That triggered a bout of damage control. For instance, KellyAnne Conway, explained: "Those of us with young kids very well understand the personal decision he made.”

To say that the inhabitants of the media-political bubble greeted this explanation with skepticism would be an understatement. Summing up the general reaction, John Podhoretz, the New York Post columnist and editor of Commentary, said on MSNBC, “That’s a lot of crap. I don’t know Nick Ayers. I’m not saying he’s a liar, but people don’t get offered the White House chief-of-staff job very often. He was the Vice-President’s chief of staff. This is the center of the action. This is the red-hot center of world politics and world power. And he is going back to Georgia after being the chief of staff to the less-important guy? I am not buying it.”

Neither am I, John. Regardless of Ayers’s personal situation, the takeaway here is that a savvy, ambitious young Republican—one with strong links to the donor class that plays such a key role in the Party—has spurned the President. This just two days after federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York said that Trump had directed Michael Cohen, his former fixer and personal lawyer, to carry out two campaign-finance felonies, and the special counsel, Robert Mueller, said that Cohen had provided his team with“useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation.”

In a party in which allegiance to Trump among many elected officials has long been based on fear and self-interest rather than any genuine liking, this decision sends an alarming signal to Trump and his allies. After all, Ayers wasn’t in any sense an outsider. According to all reports, he had a good relationship with Trump, and with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, who supported his promotion to Kelly’s job. If a figure this connected has decided to hop off the Trump train—or at least to move to a carriage farther back—how long will it be before other Republicans follow his lead?

Steve Bannon is warning that it might not take long at all. Over the weekend, the former Trump strategist told the Washington Post that 2019 would be a year of “siege warfare” for the White House, and he went on, “The president can’t trust the GOP to be there when it counts… . They don’t feel any sense of duty or responsibility to stand with Trump.”

Bannon isn’t a wholly reliable observer, of course. But, in this instance, what he said may well be true. Trump didn’t win over the Republican Party: he conquered it. And, over the weekend, in the wake of Mueller Friday, there was a notable shortage of senior Republicans coming to the President’s defense.

The task was largely left to Senator Rand Paul, a longtime critic of the Russia probe, and Chris Christie, an ally of the President. And even Christie, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the White House chief-of-staff job, wasn’t all that reassuring. Appearing on “ABC News This Week,” the former New Jersey governor, who also served for eight years as a federal prosecutor, conceded that if he were one of the President’s lawyers he would be concerned about the Southern District’s sentencing memorandum. “The language sounds very definite, and what I’d be concerned about is, what corroboration do they have?” he said.

From what I’ve observed, my guess is that prosecutors have substantial corroboration.

Another potential nominee, reported this morning on ABC’s Good Morning America, is (gasp) KellyAnne Conway, spouse of frequent Trump critic, George Conway. Really.

Surreally, already another potential candidate for the CoS job has not survived one of Trump’s tantrums reports New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz: Trump Names TV Remote New Chief of Staff.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Having been turned down by several previous choices for the job, Donald J. Trump broke with tradition on Monday by picking his television remote to be his new chief of staff.

While some in Washington wondered whether an inanimate object was up to the rigors of working for the mercurial Trump, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, defended the unorthodox selection. “The President and the remote have demonstrated an excellent ability to work together, often for ten or twelve hours a day,” Sanders said.

But even as the White House touted the remote’s qualifications, its tenure as chief of staff appeared to get off to a rocky start on Monday morning.

After the remote got stuck and failed to change the channel when CNN’s Jim Acosta appeared on the television screen, Trump reportedly threw his new chief of staff across the room, narrowly missing Mike Pence’s head.

“I’ll be surprised if the remote makes it through the year,” a White House source said.

The remote would be well advised to follow Ayers and take the Trump Jump.

A 'smocking gun' - Trump's Towering Tawdry Tabloid Trickery

In his morning email, Judd Legum (popular.info) tells us if we are To understand Mueller, follow the money.

There was a flurry of activity in the Mueller investigation last week, including sentencing memos for three key players – Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Michael Cohen. A lot of the critical information in these documents was redacted, suggesting that Mueller isn’t quite ready to show his entire hand because more indictments are forthcoming.

But there is a key piece of information from Mueller’s office in the sentencing memo for Cohen. In his testimony before Congress, Cohen stated that plans for a Trump tower in Moscow were shelved by January 2016. This was false.

Cohen continued working on the project until at least June, after Trump had secured the Republican nomination, and discussed it with Trump. Notably, Mueller asserts that the project, if completed, would have netted Trump “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources.”

Ethically, Mueller could not include the value of the Moscow Project to Trump if he could not provide it in court. So he is almost certainly not just relying on Cohen’s testimony. He likely has documentary proof of the value of the Moscow Project to Trump.

What’s striking is that the Moscow deal was worth exponentially more to Trump than a typical transaction. At TPM, Josh Marshall runs through some examples:

In 2016, Trump got $1 million in licensing fees from his Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto.

For his building in Vancouver for 16 months between January 2016 and April 2017 he received “more than $5 million.”

For a Trump Tower in Baku, Azerbaijan, the Trump Org got $2.5 million in 2014.

Trump was paid $1 million for a licensing deal in the country of Georgia in 2011. The project was later canceled.

One of the key questions, especially after Trump’s humiliating performance in Helsinki, is why Trump consistently carries water for Russia. The enormous value of the Moscow Project appears to be a significant factor.

Trump has consistently denied that he ever had any business dealings with Russia. The New York Times reports that “on at least 23 occasions since the summer of 2016, Mr. Trump has said either that he had ‘nothing’ to do with Russia, or that he has ‘no deals,’ no investments and no ‘business’ in Russia.”

Russia knew that was a lie and, therefore, had leverage over Trump.

Tawdry Trickery

All that’s important stuff, but let’s not forget a parallel issue playing out in another court case: the hush money paid out by Trump in order to hide his affairs. Here too we are well advised to follow the money.

Trump’s Tawdry Tabloid Sagas Reveal Weightier Themes reports Jim Rutenberg at the NY Times.

The stories were tawdry, and the news coverage sometimes veered toward clickbait, but there were important questions hiding beneath the sheets.

Has the presidential election process become so cynical that players in a campaign can surreptitiously blow through legal limits on spending to deceive the public?

Are they free to coordinate with a media organization that behaved in a manner antithetical to the role the founders envisioned for a free press by paying to hide information about a presidential candidate, rather than share it with the public?

On Friday, federal prosecutors in New York answered those questions with a resounding No.

In making their stand against Mr. Cohen, they were arguing for the legitimacy of United States campaign finance law — which, for all its loopholes, may have some teeth, after all — and for the value of truth and transparency in campaigns.

Mr. Cohen has pleaded guilty to two sets of criminal campaign violations. By secretly paying Ms. Daniels $130,000 for her silence in October 2016, he was flouting the law that limits individual campaign contributions to $2,700 in a general election.

And by arranging for The Enquirer’s parent company to squelch Ms. McDougal’s affair accusation by buying the exclusive rights to her story for $150,000 and then sitting on it — a practice known in the tabloid trade as “catch-and-kill” — Mr. Cohen was inducing A.M.I. to violate a law that prohibits corporations from spending any money in campaigns in coordination with candidates or their agents.

When prosecutors proposed a “substantial” prison sentence for Mr. Cohen on Friday, they cited those violations ahead of other crimes to which he has pleaded guilty, including tax evasion and lying to Congress.

“Cohen’s commission of two campaign finance crimes on the eve of the 2016 election for president of the United States struck a blow to one of the core goals of the federal campaign finance laws: transparency,” the prosecutors wrote in the sentencing memo. “While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows.”

People following the yarn may not have expected that a story centered on a porn star and a onetime Playboy model would end up with prosecutorial paeans to American ideals. But here we are.

It was easy to understand … why so many pundits were skeptical that federal prosecutors would pursue a case related to the hush-money deals involving Ms. Daniels and Ms. McDougal. Across the television news networks, the experts expressed doubt that anything would result from what was referred to as “just a campaign finance violation.”

Beneath their words was a world-weary knowingness. Wasn’t this how the game was played?

On Friday, the law answered back.

But Trump, of course, returned fire. Payments to silence women were a ‘simple private transaction,’ not illegal campaign contributions, he said. John Wagner at the Washington Post reports.

In morning tweets, Trump sought to counter assertions in a court filing Friday that he had directed his former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to try to silence the women in a bid to influence the 2016 presidential election.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to the alleged crime, saying he acted at Trump’s direction.

In his tweets, Trump suggested that the payments were being scrutinized only because investigators have not been able to find evidence of collusion between his 2016 campaign and Russia.

He also blamed Democrats for the scrutiny — a day after some high-profile members of the party appeared on Sunday talk shows and suggested Trump faces serious legal jeopardy.

"So now the Dems go to a simple private transaction, wrongly call it a campaign contribution, which it was not,” Trump wrote.

He further asserted that even if the payments could be considered campaign contributions, he should be facing a civil case rather than a criminal case. And he said, Cohen should be held responsible, not him.

In the tweets, Trump also twice misspelled “smoking gun” as “smocking gun” as he quoted a commentator on Fox News talking about the Russia probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Trump’s tweets were criticized Monday by several lawyers, both for their substance and for his public airing of a defense that could complicate matters if charges are ever brought against him.

Among those weighing in was George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and a frequent critic of the president on Twitter and in op-eds. He seized on Trump’s assertion that Democrats were behind the scrutiny of the payments.

"No, the criminal campaign-finance violations were found by professional line prosecutors in a Republican-controlled United States Department of Justice,” Conway wrote. “It looks like a pretty good case. Kudos to them.”

At issue are the payments to two women who alleged sexual relationships with Trump before he ran for president.

In August 2016, Playboy model Karen McDougal reached an agreement with American Media Inc., publishers of the National Enquirer, that ensured she would not share her story about a lengthy relationship with Trump. In October of that year, adult film actress Stormy Daniels received $130,000 to similarly stay quiet about a liaison that she said had occurred a decade before.

Both of those agreements were facilitated by Cohen, as he admitted in court in August when he pleaded guilty to two campaign-finance charges, among others.

Prosecutors argue that because Cohen was an agent of the Trump campaign, the payments to McDougal and Daniels were campaign contributions in excess of federal limits and not unrelated expenditures.

“With respect to both payments, Cohen acted with the intent to influence the 2016 presidential election,” Friday’s filing from prosecutors in New York says. “Cohen coordinated his actions with one or more members of the campaign, including through meetings and phone calls, about the fact, nature, and timing of the payments. In particular, and as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual–1.”

We now know that Individual–1 is Trump. We also know, from Cohen’s own admission, that the intent of his actions - at the direction of Trump - was to influence the 2016 election. Cohen says he paid hush money at candidate Trump’s direction. The statement came as part of a plea deal that Cohen struck Tuesday afternoon [8/21/18] with federal prosecutors in New York.

… Cohen, Donald Trump’s combative former personal lawyer, on Tuesday [8/21/18] implicated the president in hush money payments he said were designed to sway the election, as part of a plea deal he struck with federal prosecutors on fraud charges.

Cohen, who once stated he would take a bullet for Trump, flipped on his former boss in a dramatic courtroom appearance …

“I participated in the conduct for the purposes of influencing the election” Cohen said about his payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal, two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump in the past …

That makes the payments, as George Conway put it, “criminal campaign-finance violations”.

It seems that Trump’s legal troubles multiply each day. Who is left to take a bullet for Trump? I’ll answer that in another post.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Wishing Trump a Mueller Christmas and other Illustrated Gnus

Here are today’s themes, schemes, memes, and falemes from AZBlueMeanie’s faves at Blog for Arizona - and a bonus breaking gnus report.

Mars to earth
  • Trump goes to war with Planet Earth. Martians consider building a wall.
  • Iconic image: Putin high-fives with MBS, Trump on sidelines.
  • Trump: "I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose support …
  • MBS: “and I could have a journalist dismembered in Turkey and not lose his.”
  • NYSE reacts to Trump tweets: “Aaaiiiiieeeeeeeee!” The rest of us react to NYSE: “Aaaiiiiieeeeeeeee!”
  • Faster than a sinking stock market: Tariff Man .
  • GOP cheats to win and cheats when they lose.
  • 41: 1000 points of light. 45: one point of light (his cell phone).
  • Bush lies in state. Trump lies in every state.
  • Mueller opens DC cabaret. Flynn sings.
  • Speaking of singing: Trump does not react well to carolers singing “We wish you a Mueller Christmas.”
  • And just in: John Kelly Departs White House with Nuclear Codes Hidden in Pants reports New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—The outgoing chief of staff, John Kelly, departed the White House with the nation’s nuclear codes hidden in his pants, General Kelly has confirmed.

Kelly, whose illustrious military career spanned five decades, called his absconding with the nuclear codes “my greatest act of service to my country.”

Speaking to reporters from his home, Kelly said that he had planned the heist of the nation’s nuclear codes with the pinpoint timing of a clandestine military mission.

“I went into the Oval Office on Friday when I knew Trump would be distracted because ‘Fox & Friends’ was on,” he said. “Then, when he started tweeting something that one of the hosts told him to do, I slipped the codes into my pants, as quick as lightning.”

Kelly revealed that, in order to prevent Trump from retrieving the codes, he was keeping them in his pants for safekeeping.

“Let’s see that draft-dodging coward try to get them off me,” he said, his eyes gleaming with malice.

Climate change pits those worried about the end of the month against those worried about the end of the world

As negotiators from around the world gathered in Poland to discuss how to lower carbon emissions, the Trump Administration unveiled two schemes promoting fossil fuels.

That’s one of the many climate developments reported by Elizabeth Kolbert in Coal for Christmas at the U.N. Climate Conference appearing in the New Yorker.

Last week, representatives from around the world gathered to begin another round of climate negotiations in Katowice, a city in the heart of Poland’s coal-mining country. Delegates arriving at the meeting, known in United Nations-speak as a Conference of the Parties, or cop, were treated to an outdoor performance by a Polish coal miners’ band. Inside the convention pavilions, they found mounds of coal displayed behind glass, like objets d’art, as well as arrangements of coal-based cosmetics and coal-encrusted jewelry. Poland gets about eighty per cent of its electricity from coal, the most carbon-intensive of carbon-based fuels, and the Polish President, Andrzej Duda, noted in his opening remarks that the country had enough as yet unmined supplies to last another two centuries. “It would be hard not to use them,” he said.

So one impediment to solving problems triggered by climate change is the plentiful fossil fuels. The time horizon for running out is centuries; the time horizon for massive extinctions, displacements, and economic hardships is merely decades. Policy makers are falling into one horizon or the other. They need to address both.

Depending on how you look at things, a coal-stuffed climate summit is either completely absurd—“beyond parody,” as one commentator put it—or merely appropriate. With each passing month, the threat posed by global warming grows clearer. And so, too, does the world’s failure to take that threat seriously. “We are in trouble,” the United Nations’ Secretary-General, António Guterres, said at the cop’s opening session. “It is hard to comprehend why we are collectively still moving too slowly—and even in the wrong direction.”

I just gave you one reason for our sluggish movement in the wrong direction: the consequences are not believed to be iminent. Here is another.

Last week, just as the session in Katowice was getting under way, the French President, Emmanuel Macron, suspended plans to raise that nation’s gasoline and diesel-fuel taxes. The increase had been intended to speed the transition to cleaner cars; the postponement came in response to violent protests by the so-called “yellow vest” movement. Demonstrators complained that Macron was worried about the end of the world, while they were worried about the end of the month.

Constrained by these two divisions the world talks while the planet burns in spite of the panic button hit by climate scientists

In October, a report from an international team of scientists warned that the planet was closer to dangerous warming than had previously been believed, and that a critical threshold could be crossed within a matter of years. To avoid this, a rapid and total overhaul of global energy systems would be needed. Such a transformation, the team observed, has “no documented historical precedent.”

Then, in November, a study put together by experts from thirteen U.S. federal agencies laid out the extent to which warming is already wreaking havoc in this country—via drought, intensifying storms, and an increasing number of wildfires. The study predicted that, as temperatures continue to rise, the country will experience “losses to infrastructure and property” that could run to hundreds of billions of dollars annually. (The Trump Administration did not tamper with the contents of the study, a version of which must, by law, be presented every four years. Instead, it sought to bury the assessment, by releasing it the day after Thanksgiving.) In the brief interval between the publication of the two reports, the deadliest wildfire in California’s history, the Camp Fire, claimed the lives of at least eighty-five people.

As these alarms were going off, one nation after another reached for the snooze button. Last month, the President-elect of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, chose as his Foreign Minister a climate-change denier, Ernesto Araújo. (Araújo has described climate science as part of a plot by “cultural Marxists” to cripple Western economies.) The incoming government promptly announced that Brazil was reneging on its offer to host the next cop, which is scheduled for November, 2019.

And the Trump administration in the United States actively pursues actions in the wrong direction - undermining climate science while promoting fossil fuels.

The Trump Administration, meanwhile, has already made plain its intention of undermining the whole cop process. Last week, the Administration basically flipped off negotiators in Poland by unveiling not one but two new schemes for promoting fossil-fuel use. The first was a proposed rollback of an Obama-era rule that effectively blocked new construction of coal-fired power plants. (The rollback was presented by the acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist.) The second was a plan to open some nine million acres of public lands in Western states to oil and gas drilling by sweeping aside protections for the greater sage grouse. Environmentalists—justifiably—labelled this move a “giveaway” to the fossil-fuel industry. As the Times noted, it would “open more land to drilling than any other step the administration has taken.”

This year’s cop—the twenty-fourth in the series—is supposed to resolve procedural questions left hanging when the Paris Agreement was negotiated, three years ago, at cop21. Under the agreement, each country was asked to formulate its own emission-reduction plan. The aim of this give-what-you-can approach was to nudge developed and developing countries toward a consensus. It was hoped that nations would, over time, push one another to increase their commitments. Back in 2015, this might have been a reasonable expectation. Now, in the era of America First, it looks increasingly like wishful thinking.

On Wednesday, even as negotiators in Poland were debating how to monitor CO2 reductions, researchers at the University of East Anglia and a group called the Global Carbon Project announced that emissions are again on the rise. Worldwide, they are expected to have increased by almost three per cent in 2018, to more than forty billion tons. In the United States, emissions rose by about 2.5 per cent, following a decade of decline. The message from this year’s tally “is more brutal than ever,” David Reay, a climate scientist at the University of Edinburgh, told the Guardian. “We are deep in the red and heading still deeper.”

Even gloomier was the assessment of a trio of prominent researchers at universities in California and Texas, which appeared last week in Nature. They argued that, while the latest warnings have been dire, they have not been dire enough. Owing in part to the recent uptick in emissions, warming will be “faster and more furious” than predicted. “For decades scientists and policymakers have framed the climate-policy debate in a simple way: scientists analyse long-term goals, and policymakers pretend to honour them,” they wrote. “Those days are over.”

If they’re right, this year’s carbon-friendly cop may indeed mark a turning point—the moment when climate negotiations can no longer be considered even a useful fiction.

The time for talk is over; we need action. We should consider treating our response to more rapid climate change as an infrastructure imperative, one that supersedes the need for bridges and roads, one that creates new economic opportunities while reducing carbon emissions. That approach might let us deal with “end of the month” issues while still addressing our very real concerns about the “end of the world.”

The same kind of approach can be deduced from futile efforts to bail out the coal industry. Mark Sumner at Daily Kos reports that Coal falls to level not seen since 1979, as Trump prepares final effort to bail out failing industry. Here are his introduction and conclusion.

Donald Trump has done everything he can think of to try and make it appear as if he’s “saving coal.” He’s signed a bill to allow more coal waste to be dumped into streams and rivers without remediation. He’s halted a study on the health issues of coal miners and another on the health effects of surface mining on nearby residents. He’s relaxed regulations on emissions from coal power plants, killed the entire Clean Power Plan, opened up new areas of federal land for mining, relaxed emissions standards, and put forward a plan that would simply nullify most federal regulations over coal power plants. He’s disbanded the EPA’s air pollution panel and proposed allowing power plants to send more mercury and heavy metals into the atmosphere. Along with can-you-believe-he’s-still-Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, Trump even tried to use emergency powers not touched since the 1950s to force utility companies to use more coal. That last attempt was stopped at the last minute, because Trump’s own advisers finally convinced him—for the moment at least—that it was both idiotic and illegal.

But in spite of all Trump’s promotion, coal plants closed at a record pace in both 2017 and 2018. And on Wednesday, the Energy Information Administration reports that coal consumption has plunged to levels not seen since 1979.

<[snip]

At this point, Trump could roll back every requirement for building a coal power plant — not just Obama-era regulations, all regulations. It wouldn’t result in a single new plant. Because not only is no one convinced that coal plants will be around to collect their first check in 2058, even right now it is cheaper to build new solar or wind power, from scratch, than it is to simply operate an already existing plant.

Forget rolling back regulations. Trump could be handing out ready-made plants. For free. And no one would sign up to operate them. However, if Trump starts handing off money to plan for new coal plants, there are plenty of operators who will be happy to take the cash and pretend, until he is gone.

Coal is going to finish out 2018 at a level 44 percent below where it was in 2007. 529 coal generation units have been retired since then. The one new unit coming on line next year represents 17 megawatts of power. However, there are already 11 gigawatts of coal-based generation slated to end next year, and that number is steadily increasing. Still, those planned retirements for 2019 and 2020 are much smaller than the numbers that closed in 2017 and 2018. That’s not because Trump is “saving coal.” It’s because, now that it’s less than 30 percent of electrical generation, there’s not that much coal left to save.

The biggest issue utilities face now is simply building out new wind and solar quickly enough to replace coal, and doing it before the falling demand brings on an ultimate crisis that makes it impossible to supply remaining plants.

Elizabeth Kolbert won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction for “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” Mark Sumner is a staff writer at Daily Kos.

Trumpian Troubles with Making America Great Again - 'anyone can grow up and become Individual-1'

The title of this post is inspired by a tweet from Preet Bharara, the fired U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York - with thanks to George Conway for resistance to Trump. George Conway, you probably know, is husband to KellyAnne Conway, one of Trump’s reiterators. Now Cleve Woodson at the Washington post reports thatGeorge Conway blasts Trump’s claim that Cohen filing ‘totally clears the President’.

On Friday, as The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky reported, federal prosecutors offered new evidence that implicated the president in plans to buy the silence of two women Trump allegedly had affairs with as far back as 2014. The documents also spoke of Russian efforts to forge a political alliance with Trump before he became president.

Trump tweeted that the investigation “Totally clears the President. Thank you!”

But Conway was among the most vocal in pointing out how wrong the phrase “totally clears the president” is.

George Conway
@gtconway3d
Except for that little part where the US Attorney’s Office says that you directed and coordinated with Cohen to commit two felonies. Other than that, totally scot-free.

Conway then proceeded to spend the rest of his Friday night focusing his Twitter on the Trump-as-potential-felon theme.

He retweeted a link from satirical site the Onion: “Giuliani Insists Breaking the Law Not a Crime.” He shared a Nixon-era headline “President: ‘I’m not a crook,’ retweeting presidential historian Michael Beschloss’s analysis: “What’s old is new again.” He also retweeted former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal, who said “The real news . . . is about the conclusion by federal prosecutors that Donald J. Trump has committed a serious felony.” And he shared a lengthier take by former assistant attorney general Jack Goldsmith: “One struggles to see how a document that alleges that such conduct took place at the direction of Individual–1 ‘totally clears the president.’”

Even Conway’s correct spelling of “scot-free” may have been a dig at Trump and his head-scratching use of the phrase “Scott Free” earlier in the week.

walter dellinger
@walterdellinger
Corrected: The United States Department of Justice filing today with the court leads to the unmistakable conclusion that President of the United States has committed felonies. This will mark the beginning of the end.

Friday’s criticism was one-sided, but it hasn’t always been that way. This week, for example, the president’s son Eric Trump wrote on Twitter that Conway’s constant criticism of the president shows “utter disrespect” to his wife.

"Of all the ugliness in politics, the utter disrespect George Conway shows toward his wife, her career, place of work, and everything she has fought SO hard to achieve, might top them all,” Eric Trump wrote on Twitter.

Kellyanne Conway is a “great person,” he added, and her husband’s actions “are horrible.”

As The Post’s Antonia Noori Farzan reported, Eric Trump’s words came shortly after Conway accused the president of witness tampering during a Monday morning tweetstorm where he seemed to be discouraging longtime adviser Roger Stone from testifying against him.

But Conway’s words on Friday weren’t all doom and gloom and indictments and impeachment. He also included a sardonically inspiring tweet from Preet Bharara, the fired U.S. attorney from the Southern District of New York:

“Inspiring reminder: In America anyone can grow up and become Individual–1”

Even Donald Trump.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Trump to Tillerson- Nyah, nyah, nyah-nyah, nyah, you're a moron too

Rex Tillerson on Trump: ‘Undisciplined, doesn’t like to read’ and tries to do illegal things reports Aaron Blake (Washington Post/The Fix). Tillerson made those remarks in a sit-down with CBS’s Bob Schieffer.

This post has been updated with Trump’s response, at bottom.

Rex Tillerson came a little bit closer Thursday [Dec. 6th] to saying what he actually thinks of President Trump.

The fired secretary of state, who while in office reportedly called Trump a “moron” (and declined to deny it), expounded on his thoughts on the president in a rare interview with CBS News’s Bob Schieffer in Houston.

It wasn’t difficult to read between the lines. Tillerson said Trump is “pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read” and repeatedly attempted to do illegal things. He didn’t call Trump a “moron,” but he didn’t exactly suggest that Trump was a scholar — or even just a steady leader.

“What was challenging for me coming from the disciplined, highly process-oriented ExxonMobil corporation,” Tillerson said, was “to go to work for a man who is pretty undisciplined, doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things, but rather just kind of says, ‘This is what I believe.’ ”

That’s the guy whose gut is bigger than his brain. “Challenging” is a sub for “frustrating.,”

[snip]

Perhaps the most damning quote came when Tillerson talked about how Trump as president regularly attempted to do things that violated the law.

“So often, the president would say, ‘Here’s what I want to do, and here’s how I want to do it,’ ” Tillerson said, according to the Houston Chronicle, “and I would have to say to him, ‘Mr. President, I understand what you want to do, but you can’t do it that way. It violates the law.’ ”

Tillerson also appeared to take a shot at Trump’s chief method of communication, Twitter.

“I will be honest with you: It troubles me that the American people seem to want to know so little about issues — that they are satisfied with 128 characters,” Tillerson said.

He was quick to say that that wasn’t meant as a shot at Trump but our political system more broadly. Next to his other comments, though, it wasn’t difficult to see he was lumping Trump with all those Americans who aren’t intellectually curious enough about policy and the actual details of U.S. government.

Update: Trump has responded by calling Tillerson both dumb and lazy.

Donald J. Trump
@realDonaldTrump
Mike Pompeo is doing a great job, I am very proud of him. His predecessor, Rex Tillerson, didn’t have the mental capacity needed. He was dumb as a rock and I couldn’t get rid of him fast enough. He was lazy as hell. Now it is a whole new ballgame, great spirit at State!
1:02 PM - Dec 7, 2018

Hence the title of my post.

And here is an addendum from Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) who weighs in with Doing himself no favors, Trump lashes out at ‘dumb’ former cabinet sec:

I don’t doubt that the president found this satisfying. Someone who saw how Trump tries to govern told the public some unflattering truths, so Trump found it necessary to lash out and insult his new critic. He gets hit, he impulsively hits back.

But if the president assumes these little outbursts make him look better, he has this exactly backwards. In fact, Trump’s tweet leads to a fairly obvious follow-up question: if Rex Tillerson is “dumb,” “lazy,” and lacking in “mental capacity,” why exactly did the president make him the secretary of state?

Remember, it was just a few years ago when then-candidate Trump vowed to surround himself “only with the best and most serious people” if elected. It was right around the time he promised via Facebook to “hire the best people.”

Either he’s succeeded on this front or he hasn’t – and according to Trump, there’s a fair amount of evidence for the latter.

I’m not just talking about all of the many, many members of his team who’ve left; I’m thinking more about the members of his team who’ve left, only to face public ridicule and condemnations after their departures.

The Atlantic’s David Frum had a good Twitter thread along these lines this afternoon, highlighting the president’s needlessly acerbic rebukes of all kinds of former allies, from his former attorney general (Jeff Sessions) to his former personal attorney/fixer (Michael Cohen) to his former chief White House strategist (Steve Bannon).

Maybe “the best and most serious people” were too hard to find?

Paul Waldman on the Russia probe - 'accountability is on its way'

Paul Waldman (Washington Post/The Plum Line) has a succinct version of the legal happenings this last week in The latest filings show that nobody can save Trump now.

At the end of the day Friday, we learned what federal prosecutors in New York think of Michael Cohen:

Federal prosecutors said in a new court filing that President Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen should spend significant time in prison — saying his assistance to investigators probing the president does not outweigh his past crimes.

The filing was made Friday as Cohen prepares to be sentenced next week in two separate cases, one involving campaign finance violations and lying to a bank, and another in which he admitted to lying to Congress about efforts during the 2016 presidential campaign to get a Trump Tower built in Moscow.

Cohen had asked for a sentence of no prison time, citing his cooperation with investigators, but prosecutors for the Southern District of New York filed a memo arguing that he should serve significant time, possibly years, in prison.

This is bad news for Cohen, but there’s something else interesting in the filing: Prosecutors explicitly state that Cohen coordinated with President Trump on hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal over his alleged affairs with them: “as Cohen himself has now admitted, with respect to both payments, he acted in coordination with and at the direction of Individual–1.” That’s Donald Trump.

We knew this already — and we knew that Trump lied about it, claiming not to know about the payments — but this says that prosecutors believe that Trump ordered Cohen to commit a crime.

That brings us to the second document that dropped at the same time, from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s office. In contrast to the New York prosecutors, Mueller states that Cohen’s cooperation in his investigation was substantial and helpful. But much of what Mueller has to say is vague. For instance:

Cohen provided the [special counsel’s office] with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with [Trump Organization] executives during the campaign.

What does that refer to? We don’t know. That means that there is more to this story that Mueller has yet to reveal.

And he will reveal it. One of the remarkable things about the discussion we’ve been having lately is that the president still seems to think that he can be saved from whatever this investigation uncovers. He just announced that William Barr will be his next attorney general, and the New York Times reported that in private, “Mr. Trump has also repeatedly asked whether the next pick would recuse himself from overseeing the special counsel investigation into whether his campaign conspired with Russia in its interference in the 2016 election.” It’s as though he thinks this investigation is in its early stages and can be quashed by a properly loyal underling.

Waldman counters with this prognostication:

But at this point it doesn’t matter. It’s far too late. Trump’s former aides have cooperated, they’ve conducted their interviews with the special counsel, they’re being sentenced, the documents have been reviewed, the connections have been traced, and the full picture is soon to be revealed.

This scandal can’t be hidden away. Republicans in Congress can’t save Trump, his attorney general can’t save him, and no amount of desperate tweets can save him. Accountability is on its way, and it’s arriving very soon.

AZBlueMeanie (Blog for Arizona) has more from other sources; he thinks Impeachment is coming.

Saturday, December 8, 2018

BnB owners beware - Trump wants Dems to approve 'Boarder Security'

If you have a rental unit anywhere south of Tucson, you should be concerned about your Boarder Security. That’s the inference from one of Trump’s rants raves tweets. Perhaps that’s why AZ Gov. Doug Ducey doesn’t know why Trump tweeted Arizona is bracing for ‘massive surge’ of migrants. That’s one of the items reported by Howard Fischer in this morning’s Daily Star. But that’s just part of the news. Read on.

PHOENIX — Gov. Doug Ducey said Friday he has no knowledge of Arizona “bracing for a massive surge” of migrants through a “non-walled” part of the border after a warning by President Trump.

“We’re in constant communication with Homeland Security,” the governor said when asked about the president’s tweet, sent late Thursday night. “We’re working with them right now to understand what the situation is there.”

The president’s tweet said: “Arizona, together with our Military and Border Patrol, is bracing for a massive surge at a NON-WALLED area. WE WILL NOT LET THEM THROUGH. Big danger.”

It also said, “Nancy and Chuck must approve Boarder Security and the Wall,” misspelling the term “border” and referring to Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer.

That wasn’t a misspelling. Nancy and Chuck are on the alert for appropriations for improving security for BnB units.

Carnac the Magnificent

Ducey said he had seen the tweet.

But as to its veracity, the governor had no specifics. In fact, he said, all the tweet did was raise more questions in his mind.

Come on, Dougie. Why waste your time on the ravings of the lunatic in the White House? You’d be better informed by watching pronouncements by Johnny Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent.

Trump turns to Faux News for U. N. ambassador nominee

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz reports that Heather Nauert Says Visit to “It’s a Small World” Ride Qualifies Her For U.N. Job

Nauert, you see, is Trump’s pick for the U. S. ambassador to the U. N. Trump apparently understands that Nauert may need some more time to prep for her new role. He relieved her of responsibility of attending cabinet meetings. Instead, she will report to the Secretary of State. That could be seen as an accurate reflection of the level of esteem held by Trump toward all the “sh!t-hole” countries making up the U. N. (And that is Trump’s term, not mine.)

Here’s Andy’s report.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Pushing back against criticism of her lack of diplomatic experience, Donald J. Trump’s choice to be the next United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Heather Nauert, said on Friday that a memorable visit to the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disney World made her eminently qualified for the U.N. post.

“When people look at me, they think Heather Nauert, former Fox News anchor,” Nauert told reporters at the State Department. “What they don’t realize is I’m also Heather Nauert, who went on ‘It’s a Small World’ three times when she was nine.”

Nauert said that, while career diplomats might spend twenty to thirty years learning about only one country, “I learned about twenty-five countries in fifteen minutes.”

Laying out her objectives for her tenure at the United Nations, the prospective Ambassador said, “Right now I’m just looking forward to seeing all of the other Ambassadors wearing their festive costumes and doing their dances. That’s going to be amazing, I think.”

Nauert bristled when a reporter asked about her controversial comment that D Day was evidence of the long-standing bond between Germany and the United States. “At the end of the day, there is just one moon and one golden sun, and a smile means friendship to everyone,” she said.

About that comment, the Washington Post has some things to say: Heather Nauert cited D-Day as the height of U.S.-German relations. Now she’s headed to the U.N.

The United Nations came into existence to vanquish Germany, as 26 nations jointly pledged in 1942 not to surrender to “savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world.”

Three-quarters of a century later, the woman who would soon become President Trump’s pick to represent the United States at the United Nations cited the D-Day landings — a cornerstone of this unwavering Allied pledge and the basis of the Nazi defeat on the Western Front — to showcase the strength of German-American relations.

“When you talk about Germany, we have a very strong relationship with the government of Germany,” Heather Nauert, the State Department’s spokeswoman, said in June. She added: “Tomorrow is the anniversary of the D-Day invasion. We obviously have a very long history with the government of Germany, and we have a strong relationship with the government.” She also pointed to the Marshall Plan, which rebuilt Western Europe in the ashes of Adolf Hitler’s quest for global domination.

The D-Day comment raised eyebrows over the summer, when some suggested it demonstrated a lack of historical understanding from the former “Fox & Friends” presenter who gained prominence on television during the Monica Lewinsky scandal but has no diplomatic experience. This critique is emerging again as she prepares to move to New York as the American ambassador to the United Nations …

With the appointment, Trump will solidify the symbiotic relationship between his administration and Fox News, from which he has drawn top communications advisers as well as policy ideas (which, in one case, happened to be a talking point of white nationalists). The move to install a television personality and loyal spokeswoman as one of the nation’s top diplomats will also further transform his foreign policy into an instrument of branding in line with his “America First” agenda.

Actually, appointing Nauert to a role for which she is completely unprepared conforms to the X-AntiX theory of Trumpian government. If you would destroy some governmental entity X, appoint as a leader of that entity AntiX.

Trumpist GOPlins are the true enemies of the people

Are you naive enough to think that there are any other kinds of GOPlin in the age of Trump?

The Republican Party has become the party that Republican President Dwight Eisenhower feared.

Speaking a century after the Grand Old Party waged its first presidential campaign, the president who sought to forge a modern Republican Party in the mid–20th century, celebrated “a certain kind of principle, or doctrine, or belief to fall back on” and warned that “If a political party does not have its foundation in the determination to advance a cause that is right and that is moral, then it is not a political party; it is merely a conspiracy to seize power.”

“A conspiracy to seize power” is an agonizingly apt description of the lie unto itself that Scott Walker and his cronies have made of the Republican Party.

That is how John Nichols wound up his essay in The Nation : The Republican Party Has Become ‘a Conspiracy to Seize Power’. His essential message is that “A brute-force power grab by Republicans in Wisconsin highlights the disregard for democracy that has infected the party of Lincoln.” He pulls no punches in explaining why Republicans these days are serious enemies of democracy.

Whoa, I hear you say. What’s the evidence for such an astounding, partisan claim? Ask and ye shall receive.

Max Boot: ‘The Corrosion Of Conservatism’: Max Boot On Why He Left The GOP. “That moment occurred the day after the last presidential election. I was somebody who was viscerally and instantly opposed to Donald Trump from the moment that he came down that escalator at Trump Tower attacking Mexicans as rapists and murderers. I couldn’t believe that you had a mainstream candidate who was talking like that, and I never imagined that he would win the Republican nomination, much less the presidency. So I was very dismayed to see Trump’s progress first in the Republican primaries and then in the general election. It was the shock of my life — and I think many people’s lives — to see Donald Trump actually win the presidency. And the next day I knew what I had to do which was after a lifetime as a Republican, as a movement conservative, I re-registered as an independent because I knew — I just knew at that point — I could not be part of this Trump-ified Republican Party.”

Rick Wilson: REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST RICK WILSON: DARK POLITICS IN THE AGE OF TRUMP
Rick Wilson is a seasoned Republican political strategist and self-proclaimed infamous negative ad maker. His regular column with The Daily Beast is a must-read in the political community, and he’s widely published in The Washington Post, Politico and The Hill. In Everything Trump Touches Dies, Wilson brings his dark humor and biting analysis to what he calls the “absurdity of American politics in the Age of Trump.” Come hear this lifelong conservative’s views of a Republican Party that he says “has abandoned its principles” and what that bodes for the future of the country.

Steve Schmidt: Republicans abuzz over Schmidt’s divorce from GOP. He tweets: “29 years and nine months ago I registered to vote and became a member of The Republican Party which was founded in 1854 to oppose slavery and stand for the dignity of human life. Today I renounce my membership in the Republican Party. It is fully the party of Trump.”

Jennifer Rubin : Jennifer Rubin: George H.W. Bush resigned from the NRA. Shouldn’t decent Americans quit the GOP? “I understand the inclination of some Republicans to try to reform and rescue the GOP from the clutches of Trumpists. But, it seems to me at least, this is nearly as fruitless as expecting [NRA head Wayne] LaPierre to talk sensibly and civilly. After one has tried for a decent interval to admonish and reform the GOP, isn’t the only course, if one wishes to preserve one’s own sense of decency and honor, to resign from and disassociate oneself from the GOP?”

If you track the events in Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina, you just must believe that the GOPlins have not yet come to understand Rubin’s moral plea and the danger to their own party - and even to our democracy - posed by ignoring the defections of Republicans, now ex-Republicans, Boot, Wilson, and Schmidt.

Trump sets a low Barr for nomination for AG

Aaron Blake (Washington Post/The Fix), among many others, sounds the alert on The red flags on Trump’s new attorney general pick, William Barr. All you need to know: Barr is a social conservative who would rather persecute the Clintons than prosecute Trump for collusion and obstruction.

President Trump confirmed Friday that former attorney general William P. Barr will be his nominee to head the Justice Department. Picking George H.W. Bush’s attorney general would seem a pretty safe and confirmable pick, on its surface.

But much like Whitaker’s, Barr’s past commentary has played down the severity of the allegations against Trump — on both the collusion and obstruction-of-justice fronts — and he also has suggested the Clintons should be in more trouble.

… Barr told the New York Times that there was more basis to investigate Hillary Clinton for the Uranium One deal than there is to investigate Trump for potential collusion with Russia. He went so far as to say the Justice Department was wrong to give Clinton a pass.

… Barr also explicitly called for more investigation of the Clintons, telling The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Matt Zapotosky, “I don’t think all this stuff about throwing [Clinton] in jail or jumping to the conclusion that she should be prosecuted is appropriate.” Then he added: “But I do think that there are things that should be investigated that haven’t been investigated.”

Barr also has given Trump a complete pass on one of the central events in the Mueller probe: Trump’s firing of James B. Comey as FBI director. In a Washington Post op-ed, Barr said Trump not only did nothing wrong but also that he “made the right call” …

It seems quite the coincidence that Trump has settled on yet another attorney general who might be prepared to take his side on these very personal and political investigative issues in a way Sessions wouldn’t. It’s also notable that Barr seems to believe it isn’t so necessary to erect a wall between the presidency and the nation’s top law enforcement official — a wall that Trump has long desired to demolish.

With an even larger tilt toward the right after the midterm, it is hard to imagine that the GOPlins in the Senate will not confirm Barr. But it is also hard to imagine that it will not be a brutal fight for the reasons listed and more.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Trump the 'Tariff Man' spooks stock market with his economic gobbledygook

When it comes to the global economy, Trump, the self-proclaimed “Tariff Man”, is a one-man wrecking ball. He tweets “Make America Rich Again” but his public pronouncements have the opposite effect. You think not? Then you should read the news about the Wall Street sell-off Tuesday. If that got your guttiwuts jumping about, just imagine what else Trump can do to your investment portfolio.

Here’s the short version from 538’s Wednesday morning significant digits email.

799 points
The Dow was down nearly 800 points — or over 3 percent — yesterday following evaporating optimism for a truce in the U.S.-China trade war. “I am a Tariff Man,” President Trump said on Twitter yesterday morning. [CNN]

For the longer story, also Wednesday morning, the NY Times reports that Trump Warns China That He’s ‘Tariff Man,’ Spooking Stock Investors.

Why the jitters? Here is more from money.com.

This Market Indicator That Frequently Signals a Recession Just Flashed Red

The bond market just flashed a big warning sign for the economy.

For the first time in a decade, a part of the yield curve inverted. On Monday, the yield on the five-year Treasury note slipped below yields on shorter-dated three-year notes, according to a report in Bloomberg.

Typically, bonds with longer maturities offer higher yields, as investors demand greater compensation to keep their money locked away for longer time periods. However, when investors expect interest rates to decline in the future — typically because of a weak economy — they scramble to lock in today’s comparatively high interest rates for as long as possible. By bidding up the prices for long-term bonds, investors can send longer-term bond yields downwards — even, at times, to the point where they fall below yields on shorter-term bonds.

An inverted yield curve frequently presages a recession, although most market watchers typically look more closely at the spread between 10-year and two-year or three-month Treasurys, not necessarily the three- and five-year notes.

Still, an inversion on any part of the yield curve could be a warning sign, according to Bloomberg‘s Brian Chappatta. “The yield curve from three to five years dipped below zero during the last cycle for the first time in August 2005, some 28 months before the recession began,” he wrote.

Here is more from bloomberg.com.

The U.S. Yield Curve Just Inverted. That’s Huge The move ushers in fresh questions about the Fed and the economy.

The Yield Curve Is Inverted! Remind Me Why I Care.

And the arrest of a Chinese tech executive yesterday looks to have driven the Dow even lower this morning.

UPDATE, Dec. 6

  • 9:30 AM EST, DJIA is at 24,593.23, down 433.84 (1.73%).
  • 9:55 AM EST, DJIA is at 24,520.59, down 506.48 (2.02%)

NC Republicans commit voter fraud

NY Times columnist Gail Collins shows how Trump Gets It All Wrong. Beware of busloads of voters with phony mustaches.

Midterm election update from the Department of Irony:

Republicans have been warning us about the danger of voter fraud for ages. And now it does appear that a major congressional race was impacted by that very type of evil-doing. Feel free to chortle/snort/howl at the moon when I tell you the accused fraudsters are Republicans.

The fictional version of voter fraud involves sinister characters — possibly illegal immigrants! — showing up at the polls repeatedly, perhaps disguising their nefarious intent by wearing different hats or an occasional false mustache.

… Trump appears to believe the only reason he has ever lost an election was phony voters. Remember his theory that the New Hampshire primary was flooded by thousands of people “brought in busses” from Massachusetts? In the real world, this sort of thing is approximately as common as the Asian Crested Ibis.

“We don’t see voter impersonation fraud anywhere in the country because it would be such a dumb way to steal an election,” said Richard Hasen, the author of “The Voting Wars.” When he was researching his book, Hasen said, he looked for a good example of multiple-voting and never found one.

Really, candidates of the future, if you want to steal an election just find ways to keep the other side from participating. You could try tweeting threats. (“Cheat at your own peril.”) Or simply using the whole voter fraud issue to make it more difficult for people to register, and more self-conscious about how they’ll be treated if they show up at the polls

For Republicans, all this has the convenient effect of discouraging people who are young, poor or minority from taking part in the system. Democrats are not really into the game. We would like to believe this is because of a firm belief in an open political process. But it’s probably also because, short of putting all the polls in fifth-floor walk-ups, there’s no easy way to keep elderly white men from voting.

… There really did seem to be a case of possible election-stealing in a congressional race in North Carolina.

It involved a couple of counties with large African-American and rural populations, and the victim was the Democrat. Dan McCready, the Democratic candidate, is the party’s new dream red-district combo: Ivy League college graduate/Marine, who found faith while fighting in Iraq and was baptized in water from the Euphrates River. People thought he had a chance, and on election night things were close, very close. But the Republican candidate, Mark Harris, a conservative former pastor, seemed to be about 900 votes ahead. McCready conceded.

Then — whoops — it appeared those counties had been the site of some extensive “ballot harvesting.” This happens when supporters of one candidate go out and encourage people to request absentee ballots, which they then reap like so many rows of soybeans. Sometimes they help a voter fill out a ballot. Sometimes, if a voter doesn’t seem to be following the preferred line, they lose said ballot on the way to the mailbox.

O.K., not a shock. But feel free to notice that Trump has never bothered to mention any concern about absentee ballots. “It’s the absentee ballots that are most ripe for fraud,” said [Jason Roberts, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina.] “People have been saying that for years.”

Meanwhile in North Carolina, the Republican State Legislature is hard at work on a constitutional amendment to require voter IDs.

UPDATE - Emoluments Clause Lawsuit

Yesterday, headlined tongue in cheek, Elected officials cannot be sued because lawsuits are a ‘distraction’, I posted about the suit working its way through the courts. Attorneys General for Maryland and Washington D. C. are charging Trump with violation of the emoluments clause in the Constitution of the United States. So far they’ve been given the clearance to proceed to discovery. But the DoJ - that’s right, our DoJ - is resisting and we taxpayers get to pay for it.

AZBlueMeanie has an update in Discovery in Emoluments Clause case to be resisted by the Grifter-in-Chief.

Grifter-in-Chief Donald Trump’s lawyers made a desperate last-minute bid over the weekend to block the discovery process in the Emoluments Clause case filed by the Attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia. U.S. District Court Judge Peter Messitte rejected their arguments.

The attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia have wasted no time in seeking discovery. Maryland and District of Columbia Seek Business Records Related to Trump Hotel:

The State of Maryland and the District of Columbia began issuing subpoenas on Tuesday for records related to President Trump’s hotel in Washington, seeking evidence of conflicts of interest that violate the Constitution’s anti-corruption provision.

See Subpoena For Documents (.pdf) to U.S. Department of Commerce (for payments made to Trump International Hotel, etc.), and Subpoena For Documents (.pdf) to DJT Holdings, LLC (for financial records from as many as 13 of President Trump’s private entities, including all state and federal business income tax returns, etc.) Production of documents is due on January 3, 2019.

The subpoenaed documents could lead to depositions with Trump Organization officials.

Their demands for a vast array of documents, including tax records related to the president’s business, are certain to run headlong into a legal challenge by the administration. The Justice Department is expected to contest rulings by a federal judge who allowed the litigation to go forward, and the case appears bound for the Supreme Court.

Now here is where the government’s defense gets interesting.

… before any documents are produced, the Justice Department is expected to ask a federal appeals court and, if necessary, the Supreme Court, to intervene in the case. Justice Department lawyers contend that Judge Peter J. Messitte of United States District Court in Greenbelt, Md., has wrongly interpreted the meaning of the emoluments clauses, construing the bans against corruption far too broadly.

No sh!t. Our government, specifically Trump’s lawyers, will argue to the Supreme Court that some corruption is OK, especially if it’s the president doing it. Perhaps the most important development will be whether the Supreme Court, now with Republicans in the majority, will buy that one.

[Among other claims, the] embassies of Kuwait, Bahrain and the Philippines have held events there [the Trump International Hotel in DC]. Moreover, “a large Malaysian government delegation has used the hotel, and Saudi Arabia has spent at least $270,000 there through its agents,” said Norman L. Eisen, the chairman of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a co-counsel for the plaintiffs.

“The president’s violations of the emoluments clause are blatant and ongoing,” he said.

Justice Department attorneys have so far unsuccessfully sought to delay this case and to prevent or at least delay discovery. Americans tax dollars are being wasted on having the U.S. Department of Justice defend this unethical grifter and con man who is profiting from influence peddling in court.

A second Emoluments Clause case, brought by 198 congressional Democrats, could open the president’s company to discovery beyond the D.C. hotel. A district judge in Washington has so far allowed that case to proceed.

The clearest example of foreign emoluments influence peddling is the amount of Saudi money the Trump organization has received resulting in the Trump administration’s cover up of Khashoggi’s killing:

Republican senators emerged from a briefing Tuesday about journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing and essentially accused the Trump administration of misleading the country about it — and even covering it up for Saudi Arabia.

Those Senators include Bob Corker and Lindsey Graham.

To be clear, these senators aren’t just accusing the administration of missing the point on Khashoggi; they’re saying they feel misled and that the administration has obscured the truth.

Donald Trump puts his self-dealing financial interests ahead of American national security interests. This makes this Grifter-in-Chief a national security risk. God only knows what all that Russian oligarch money has bought them.

Mueller’s Russia investigation might be the least of Trump’s worries.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Elected officials cannot be sued because lawsuits are a 'distraction'

Now I made that up but it is a logical extension of what DoJ lawyers are arguing with respect to a suit against the president. Via his morning email report, Judd Legum at popular.info updates us on a lawsuit charging Trump with violations of the emoluments clause.

A bad day in court

Trump’s legal problems got worse on Tuesday – and it had nothing to do with the Mueller investigation. The development involves the lawsuit filed by the Attorneys General of Maryland and DC, which alleges that Trump is violating the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution by profiting from his Washington DC hotel while in office.

A federal judge has allowed the case to proceed, which means the next stage is discovery where the Attorneys General get to collect information from Trump and his company that may be relevant to their case.

The AP reports they are planning on asking for a lot of information:

The subpoenas target 37 entities, including 13 Trump-linked entities and the federal agency that oversees the lease for Trump’s Washington hotel. Subpoenas were also being sent to the Department of Defense, General Services Administration, Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture, all of which have spent taxpayer dollars at the hotel or have information on Trump’s finances relevant to the case.

Other Trump entities that officials plan to subpoena include those related to his Washington hotel and its management.

The Justice Department filed a motion last Friday “indicating it plans to challenge the Maryland judge’s decision to allow the case to move forward.” Government lawyers claim the case would “be a distraction to the President’s performance of his constitutional duties.”

This is a constitutional crisis unfolding in real time. A “distraction”? Versus a violation of a constitutional prohibition against using the office of the president for self-enrichment? This is increasingly becoming a test of our national character. If the “distraction” defense is allowed to stand, then where does it stop? The VP? A senator? A DoD accountant?

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Yellow Vests in France - The Pitchforks are here

Paris protests

In February 2016 I posted on Economic Inequality as “The Defining Challenge of Our Time”. That’s how Barack Obama characterized the incredible inequality in the U. S. (and elsewhere).

The article in Scientific American was introduced this way.

In a candid conversation with Frank Rich last fall, Chris Rock said, “Oh, people don’t even know. If poor people knew how rich rich people are, there would be riots in the streets.” …

So societal upheaval is a possible outcome of the obscenely extreme gaps between rich and poor.

Societal upheaval is a possibility. Or maybe a certainty? The “pitchforks” article was written by a billionaire [Nick Hannauer] and addressed to his fellow 0.1%ers.

If we don’t do something to fix the glaring inequities in this economy, the pitchforks are going to come for us. No society can sustain this kind of rising inequality. In fact, there is no example in human history where wealth accumulated like this and the pitchforks didn’t eventually come out. You show me a highly unequal society, and I will show you a police state. Or an uprising. There are no counterexamples. None. It’s not if, it’s when.

Hannauer’s remarks were directed at the U. S. but economic inequality is a global issue. Consider the unrest going on right now in France reported by the NY Times in France’s Yellow Vest Protests: A Briefing on the Movement That Has Put Paris on Edge.

The broken glass and empty tear gas canisters have been swept away and the graffiti scrubbed off the major monuments, among them the Arc de Triomphe, after a weekend of violent protests in the capital by a grass-roots movement that calls itself the Yellow Vests.

It was the third weekend of protests and confrontations with the police by the group, and by far the most damaging.

The cost of repairing just the Arc de Triomphe — apart from the graffiti, there was damage to artifacts kept inside — could reach one million euros (about $1.15 million), according to the Center for National Monuments. On Monday, merchants and government officials were still assessing the total property damage.

More than 260 people were wounded nationwide, and at least three died outside Paris on the margins of the protests over the last three weekends. More than 400 people were arrested in Paris.

Who are the yellow vests?

The movement originated in May when a woman named Priscillia Ludosky, who has an internet cosmetics business and lives in the suburbs southeast of Paris, launched an internet petition calling for a drop in gas prices. She broke down the price into its components, noting that taxes made up more than half the cost in France. Per liter, lead-free gas was 1.41 euros on Sunday, or about $6.00 per gallon.

Early on, people who agreed with the petition were encouraged to show their support by displaying the high-visibility yellow vest every driver in France must by law carry, in case of roadside trouble. Supporters were asked to place the vests on their dashboard or back shelf.

Those who participated were predominantly men and women who rely on their cars to get to work and take care of their families. In the mix were small-business owners, independent contractors, farmers, home aides, nurses and truck drivers. They live and work primarily in rural towns and in the suburbs or exurbs of France’s big cities, many earning just enough to get by.

How big is the movement?

No one knows for sure. By French standards, the demonstrations have been modest in size. But they are unusual in that they erupted spontaneously in multiple places around France, without any union or political party organizing them. Their numbers have diminished since the first gatherings on Nov. 17, when nearly 300,000 Yellow Vests protested nationwide; this past weekend, it was 166,000, according to the Interior Ministry.

Why are they so angry?

Many protesters say their purchasing power has dwindled so much over the years that today they have trouble making ends meet — let alone coming up with money for simple outings, vacations or even just to go out to dinner once in a while. Many are earning close to the median income, but costs have risen and pay has not.

Since public transportation is limited in rural France and the suburbs, most of the Yellow Vests have no choice but to use their cars — and are especially sensitive to fuel tax hikes. And that tax comes on top of already high payroll taxes that help the government pay for the health care system, social security and unemployment insurance, among other things.

What do the Yellow Vests want?

Their demands span a broad spectrum.

The movement has so many participants with different circumstances and politics that it is hard to imagine everyone agreeing on a single list of demands.

Self-described “moderate” Yellow Vests who wrote an opinion piece on Sunday in a French newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, said a freeze on the planned gas tax increase was a precondition for negotiating with the government. Others have called for President Emmanuel Macron’s resignation, and some say Parliament should dissolve itself and hold new elections.

Are more protests expected?

Unless the government does much more to reach out to the working poor, small business owners, independent contractors and to all those who live outside the wealthy areas of Paris and other big cities, the unrest seems likely to spread.

Don’t get this wrong. The focus in France is on the proposed increased gas tax. But the Yellow Vest movement has deeper roots.

Many people who have not participated in the protests say they support them or are sympathetic to those on the street. That suggests the protests may again grow in size, or continue for a long time. Despite the damage over the weekend in Paris and elsewhere, overall support for the movement remains high, according to several polls.

My hypothesis is that the yellow vests worn by the participants in the uprising in France, especially Paris, are the modern day pitchforks. If I am right, the pitchforks are not coming. They are here and now.

Recommended reading - Night of Camp David

Camp David

I just finished Night of Camp David a 1965 political thriller by Fletcher Knebel. The essence of the novel is what our leaders could and could not do if our president went nuts and had to be removed from office. The novel proved prescient given the downfall of President Nixon and the naked narcissism of President Trump. Parts of the book are downright scary when considered in light of current events and considering the differences between political environments in 1974 and 2018.

Yesterday I posted on an essay by Charles Blow in the NY Times, The stuff of nightmares - the Russia investigation prompts the question of how America will weather the coming storm. He concluded:

I … don’t think that Trump would ever voluntarily leave office as Nixon did, even if he felt impeachment was imminent. I’m not even sure that he would willingly leave if he were impeached and the Senate moved to convict, a scenario that is hard to imagine at this point.

I don’t think any of this gets better, even as the evidence becomes clearer. I don’t believe that Trump’s supporters would reverse course in the same way that Nixon’s did. I don’t believe that the facts Mueller presents will be considered unassailable. I don’t believe Trump will go down without bringing the country down with him.

In short, I don’t believe we are reaching the end of a nightmare, but rather we are entering one. This will not get easier, but harder.

The country is about to enter the crucible. This test of our republic is without a true comparison. And we do not have a clear picture of how the test will resolve. But, I believe damage is certain.

Night of Camp David is a good read with contemporary relevance.

FYI: Knebel also authored Seven Days in May which was made into a movie about an attempted military coup in the U. S.

Monday, December 3, 2018

The stuff of nightmares - the Russia investigation prompts the question of how America will weather the coming storm

Suppose that several things are clear. If Trump was dealing with Moscow about a Trump Tower while running as candidate for our presidency. If Trump has obstructed justice, for example, by firing his FBI director. If Trump has subverted the justice department. If his campaign engaged with Russians as they interfered with our election. If Trump has gone totally soft on Russia. And if Trump has implicitly, at least, condoned the murder of a Saudi journalist who was a resident of the U. S. Suppose that those things are true.

“for the people who support and defend Trump, this has already been absorbed and absolved” writes Charles M. Blow, columnist for the NY Times, who asksWhat Happens If … He concludes: The possibilities ahead in the Russia investigation suggest we are not reaching the end of a nightmare, but rather entering one. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

What has been absorbed and absolved and by whom prompts questions that seem existential for our country. Blow asks:

How would Americans who support Trump now respond to evidence that Team Trump put their own personal and financial interests over the national interest? Would they break from their blind support and turn away from him and turn on him? How could they justify wearing the blinders for so long and countenancing so much? What language would they use to correct their complicity?

As I have said before, the real story of the 2016 election are those questions Blow puts to us. The real question is about the nature of Trump’s supporters and what they will or will not do when confronted the answers to those questions. Blow continues.

There is a precedent in the Nixon investigation. When the evidence of wrongdoing was clear and incontrovertible, people began to peel away, tails tucked and full of shame.

But that was a different time, one in which media wasn’t so fractured and partisan, before the advent of social media and our current dissociable mentalities.

Nixon had no propaganda arm. Trump has one. It’s called Fox News. There is little daylight between the network’s programming and the White House’s priorities. If Trump goes down, so too does Fox, in some measure. So the network has a vested interest in defending Trump until the bitter end, and that narrative-crafting could impede an otherwise natural and normal disaffection with Trump.

Furthermore, Trump does not strike me as a man amenable to contrition or one interested in the health and stability of the nation.

I expect Trump to admit nothing, even if faced with proof positive of his own misconduct. There is nothing in the record to convince me otherwise. He will call the truth a lie and vice versa.

I also don’t think that Trump would ever voluntarily leave office as Nixon did, even if he felt impeachment was imminent. I’m not even sure that he would willingly leave if he were impeached and the Senate moved to convict, a scenario that is hard to imagine at this point.

I don’t think any of this gets better, even as the evidence becomes clearer. I don’t believe that Trump’s supporters would reverse course in the same way that Nixon’s did. I don’t believe that the facts Mueller presents will be considered unassailable. I don’t believe Trump will go down without bringing the country down with him.

In short, I don’t believe we are reaching the end of a nightmare, but rather we are entering one. This will not get easier, but harder.

The country is about to enter the crucible. This test of our republic is without a true comparison. And we do not have a clear picture of how the test will resolve. But, I believe damage is certain.

Illustrated Gnus and other abhorrent denizens from Capitopedia

Good Mourning! It’s Mournday so you know what’s coming here: schemes, themes, memes, and falemes via AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

Not-so-Generous-Motors
  • Not-so-Generous Motors lays off workers, closes plants, collects bailout.
  • Exemplifying the Einsteinian definition of insanity, said workers will vote for Trump anyway.
  • The latest from the shiningtarnished city on a hill: The bad thing is that Trump will try to shut down government if he does not get his wall. The good thing is that government won’t be able to pay for the tear gas used on María, José and little Jesús. And Lady Liberty wept.
  • Quiz: Who said “We are seeking asylum to escape the dreadful situation in our country”? (A) Hispanic asylum seekers escaping from Central America. (B) U. S. citizens fleeing to Canada. (C) All of the above. (D) I’ve not been paying attention.
  • Calling climate change fake news, Trump visits California, throws climate change report into conflagration.
  • New slogan seen on red baseball caps: Make American Coal Again.
  • News from G20: MBS and Putin high fives, Trump seen lurking in background.
  • Sending Lynch Lady to U. S. Senate, Mississippi votes to go forward into the past.
  • “I have a gut” speech: Goes to show ya - Trump’s gut is larger than his brain.
  • In an apparent misconstrual of Harry Truman’s remark, Trump says “the bucks stop here.”
  • Trump answers Mueller questions, claims complete, total responsibility for answers. Might that be an “oops”?
  • Showing some degree of autonomous intelligence, Insight Lander applies for asylum.
  • Fearing a climate disaster like that of Thulcandra, inhabitants of Malacandra appeal to their Oyarsa to expel the Insight Lander. (Not a fan of C. S. Lewis? Look it up! Then read Lewis’ space trilogy.)

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Wealth Redistributed

Cross-posted from RestoreReason.com.
I was recently in a public forum on education when a school board member asked me whether my call to address inequities in our schools was a call for the “redistribution of wealth”. I told him local control dictates that our Governing Boards, representing the communities in which they live, are best positioned to decide how to allocate district resources for the maximum benefit of all their students.  I hoped, I said, they would do that.
His question though, caused me to think about this term, and why it seems to be a lightning rod for conservatives. Social scientist researcher Brené Brown believes it is because of the “scarcity” worldview held by Republicans/conservatives. “The opposite of scarcity is not abundance” she writes, “It’s enough.” Basically, “they believe that the more people they exclude from “having”, the more is available to them.” And, in this binary way of thinking, the world is very black and white (pun sort of intended), e.g., if you aren’t a success, you’re a failure, and should be excluded. Of course, this sort of mindset is a gold mine for those who fear-monger to garner support for their exclusionary agendas. “We’ve got to stop the illegal hoards from coming across the border” the narrative goes, or “they’ll be stealing our jobs and elections.”
I offer that the redistribution of wealth can also flow the other way as with the                                                privatization of our public schools. Those who already “have” are redistributing the “wealth” of those who “have not”. They do this by encouraging the siphoning of taxpayer monies from our district public schools, for charters, home and private schools. Once slated for the education of all, our hard-earned tax dollars are now increasingly available to offset costs for those already more advantaged.  
In Arizona, approximately 60% of our one million public K-12 students qualify for the free and reduced price lunch program, with over 1,000 schools having over 50% of their students qualifying. As you might guess, schools with the highest number of students qualifying for “free and reduced” are located in higher poverty areas and with few exceptions, have lower school letter grades. Zip code it turns out, is an excellent predictor (irrespective of other factors) of school letter grade. According to a study by the Arizona Partnership for Healthy Communities, “Your ZIP code is more important to your health than your genetic code” and a life-expectancy map for Phoenix released three years ago, “found life expectancy gaps as high as 14 years among ZIP codes.”
Clearly, when it comes to inequities in our public schools, the “public” part of the equation is at least as important as the “schools” part. In other words, the problem is bigger than our schools and must be dealt with more holistically if it is to be solved. Poverty is obviously a big part of the problem and is nothing new. What is relatively new, is the purposeful devaluation of concern for the common good and the marketing of privatization as the solution to all our problems. 
Privatization has not however, proven itself to be the panacea for fixing our “failing schools”, rather, it is exacerbating their problems. In Arizona, all forms of education privatization (vouchers, tax credits, home schooling, for-profit charters) are taking valuable resources out of the public district school system while delivering mixed results. We’ve also seen countless examples of shameless self-enrichment and outright fraud with taxpayer dollars. Meanwhile, some 80% of Arizona students are left in underresourced district schools, many of which are seeing (not by accident), their highest level of segregation since the 1960s. 
Noliwe M. Rooks, director of American studies at Cornell University and author of  “Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education, coined the term “segrenomics” to define the business of profiting from high levels of this segregation. In an interview with Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, Rooks said that, “Children who live in segregated communities and are Native American, black or Latino are more likely to have severely limited educational options. In the last 30 years, government, philanthropy, business and financial sectors have heavily invested in efforts to privatize certain segments of public education; stock schools with inexperienced, less highly paid teachers whose hiring often provides companies with a “finder’s fee”; outsource the running of schools to management organizations; and propose virtual schools as a literal replacement for — not just a supplement to — the brick and mortar educational experience. “ She went on to say that, “The attraction, of course, is the large pot of education dollars that’s been increasingly available to private corporate financial interests. The public education budget funded by taxpayers is  roughly $500 billion to $600 billion per year. Each successful effort that shifts those funds from public to private hands — and there has been a growing number of such efforts since the 1980s — escalates corporate earnings.”
This shift of taxpayer dollars from public to private hands is clearly a redistribution of wealth. Worst of all, in Arizona, it is a redistribution of wealth with little to no accountability nor transparency. Private, parochial and home schools are not required to provide the public information on their return on investment. And make no mistake, this investment is significant and continues to grow. In 2017 alone, taxpayer dollars diverted from district schools to private school options, amounted to close to $300 million. About $160 million of this, from corporate and personal tax credits with the other $130 million from vouchers. All told, according to the Payson Roundup, “vouchers have diverted more than $1 billion in taxpayer money to private schools. These dollars could have instead, gone into the general fund to ensure the vast majority of Arizona students were better served. In a 2016 study reported in USA Today, “a 20 percent increase in public school funding corresponds with low-income students completing nearly a year of additional education — enough to drastically reduce achievement gaps and adulthood poverty.” Of course, corporate reformers argue that school choice affords poor, disadvantaged children the opportunity to access the same education as their wealthier counterparts. But, does it?
The Arizona Republic reported in 2017 that, “75% of the voucher money came from school districts rated “A” or “B” and only 4% from those rated “D” or lower.“ And, not only were the tax payer dollars disproportionately siphoned from better (at least by the state’s grading system) performing schools, but “students leaving the ‘A’ and ‘B’ rated districts had an average award of about $15,300, while for those leaving the ‘D’ or lower rated schools, the average award was only about $6,700.” With the average private elementary school cost at about $6,000 and high school at $18,000, it is easy to see, even without the added hardships of having to provide transportation and lunches, that opportunity does not equal access for low-income students and that those students are not the ones taking advantage of other than district school, school choice options.
Unfortunately, low-income parents are sometimes lucrative targets to the promise of school choice. As Professor Rook writes, “What I learned writing this book is that parents in poor communities care so deeply about education that they are willing to go to almost any lengths, both tested and experimental, to find the silver bullet that might possibly provide their children with the educational access that has been so long denied.”
I believe the answer lies in recognizing that the common good matters and in the long run, is important to everyone, rich, poor, or in between. As Mark Baer wrote on Huffington Post, “ the more people you essentially exclude from participating in the economy, the worse the economy becomes because the money isn’t circulating.” There are after all, only so many yachts a billionaire needs (Betsy DeVos and her 10 yachts aside).
The point is, the more people we have participating in the American Dream, the stronger that Dream and our country, will be. Our system of public education for all, that created the greatest middle class in the world, is at risk and if we aren’t careful, will take our communities, the very fabric of our society, with it.