Friday, July 20, 2018

Both Sides Now - Trump and Nielsen walk back the walk back

Both Sides Now - an ode to Donald Trump
With apologies to Judy Collins
for this perversion of one of the most popular songs of all time.

The motivating news reports and commentaries for my ode follow the new lyrics.

Rows and flows of Donald’s hair
And nuc-lear missiles in the air
And interference everywhere
Collusion all the way

Arrogant and feeling proud,
Trump says “I love Vlad” right out loud
Schemes and screams and MAGA crowds
Fooled our nation that way

Now our al-lies are acting strange
They shake their heads, they say we’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
New tariffs every day.

Helsinki’s just another show
Trump leaves us puzzled when he goes
And if betrayed,we will not know
When he gives us away

We’ve looked at him from both sides now
From left and right and still somehow
It’s his illusions we recall
We really don’t know Trump at all

The Huffington Post reported that, most recently, Kirstjen Nielsen claimed Russian Interference In Election Infrastructure Meant To ‘Cause Chaos’ For Both Parties. Both sides now! “The Homeland Security secretary was forced to clarify comments she made Thursday at the Aspen Security Forum.”

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen on Thursday said Russia’s cyberattacks on election infrastructure were meant to “cause chaos” for both political parties.

“I haven’t seen any evidence that the attempt to interfere in our election infrastructure was to favor a particular political party,” Nielson said during the Aspen Security Forum when asked whether Russia attempted to help President Donald Trump win the 2016 election.

“What we’ve seen on the foreign influence side is they were attempting to intervene and cause chaos on both sides,” she added.

And then there is this from Nielsen’s boss - reported by Politifact, A walk in the woulds: Donald Trump reverses Helsinki comments on Russian election interference.

Trump was holding a scheduled meeting on tax policy at the White House, but he shifted gears to recap his European trip where he met with NATO leaders, spent time with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, and had summit with Putin. After giving the highlights, he launched into his correction of his words in Helsinki.

"I will begin by stating that I have full faith and support for America’s great intelligence agencies, I always have. And I have felt very strongly that while Russia’s actions had no impact at all on the outcome of the election, let me be totally clear in saying that, and I have said this many times, I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place.

"It could be other people, also. There are lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all and people see that and they see that strongly.

See? Both Sides Now! Or, should we say in the spirit of the Politifact report, Both Woulds Now.

In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’. The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t, or why it wouldn’t be Russia.’

“So just to repeat it, I said the word ‘would’ instead of ‘wouldn’t’ and the sentence should have been, and I thought I would maybe be a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video, but the sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia. Sort of a double negative.”

“So you can put that in and I think that pretty well clarifies things by itself.”

All I can say is, no, Donald, it does not.

All this might have been foretold by Trump’s reaction to the Charlottesville violence. The Atlantic reported that Trump Defends White-Nationalist Protesters: ‘Some Very Fine People on Both Sides’.

President Trump defended the white nationalists who protested in Charlottesville on Tuesday, saying they included “some very fine people,” while expressing sympathy for their demonstration against the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. It was a strikingly different message from the prepared statement he had delivered on Monday, and a reversion to his initial response over the weekend.

Speaking in the lobby of Trump Tower at what had been billed as a statement on infrastructure, a combative Trump defended his slowness to condemn white nationalists and neo-Nazis after the melee in central Virginia, which ended in the death of one woman and injuries to dozens of others, and compared the tearing down of Confederate monuments to the hypothetical removal of monuments to the Founding Fathers. He also said that counter-protesters deserve an equal amount of blame for the violence.

“What about the alt-left that came charging at, as you say, at the alt-right?” Trump said. “Do they have any semblance of guilt?”

“I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me,” he said.

“You had many people in that group other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists,” Trump said. “The press has treated them absolutely unfairly.”

"You also had some very fine people on both sides,” he said.

See? Both Sides Now!

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Shocking - a $12 million parade for a 'sad, embarrassing wreck of a man'

Here’s a gem from 538’s Significant Digits email.

$12 million parade
President Trump’s military parade through D.C., scheduled for November 10, is now estimated to cost $12 million. This is nearly as much, CNN reports, as the military exercise with South Korea that Trump canceled following his summit with Kim Jong Un. “We save a fortune by not doing war games,” Trump said at the time. [CNN]

I wonder how many supposedly fiscally conservative Republicans will take action to stop this corruption. Read on to get the answer.

Leonard Pitts Jr. pleads Spare me your shock over Trump’s sellout in Helsinki.

"Lawmakers in both major parties and former intelligence officials appeared shocked …”

—The Chicago Tribune

“U.S. lawmakers of both political parties reacted with shock …”

—Voice of America

“Some of Mr. Trump’s own advisers privately said they were shocked …”

—The New York Times

“Shocked?” Really?

After almost two years of unending chaos, the only shocking thing about Donald Trump’s disastrous Helsinki press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin is that some people were apparently shocked. That suggests they expected better, which, in turn, suggests they still don’t understand what we’re dealing with.

They don’t get that there’s no pivot coming, no magic moment when Trump becomes thoughtful, intelligent, presidential. He will not grow into the job, or change, or improve.What you see is what you get. What you see is what there is.

His nation under attack and the head of the attacking regime standing next to him, Trump was everything he professes to despise. Weak. Feeble. Impotent.

It was appalling, yes. But it was also predictable. And that’s an important point, because if we are to survive this existential emergency, it starts with being clear-eyed about the clear and present danger we face. This is not a good man, not a patriotic man, not a moral, smart or brave man. All of us should know that by now.

So yes, let us be angry, be determined, be resilient, but let us not be shocked by Trump. That’s a waste of time. November is coming.

Let him be shocked by us.

You most likely know the evidence giving rise to this these conclusions, but, if you are shocked, go read Pitts’ column.

George Will, also in this morning’s Daily Star, concludes that This sad, embarrassing wreck of a man, “America’s child president had a play date with a KGB alumnus, who surely enjoyed providing day care. It was a useful, because illuminating, event: Now we shall see how many Republicans retain a capacity for embarrassment.” The answer, I am afraid, is not many - if any.

Americans elected a president who — this is a safe surmise — knew that he had more to fear from making his tax returns public than from keeping them secret. The most innocent inference is that for decades he has depended on an American weakness, susceptibility to the tacky charisma of wealth, which would evaporate when his tax returns revealed that he has always lied about his wealth, too. A more ominous explanation might be that his redundantly demonstrated incompetence as a businessman tumbled him into unsavory financial dependencies on Russians. A still more sinister explanation might be that the Russians have something else, something worse, to keep him compliant.

The explanation is in doubt; what needs to be explained — his compliance — is not. Granted, Trump has a weak man’s banal fascination with strong men whose disdain for him is evidently unimaginable to him. And, yes, he only perfunctorily pretends to have priorities beyond personal aggrandizement. But just as astronomers inferred, from anomalies in the orbits of the planet Uranus, the existence of Neptune before actually seeing it, Mueller might infer, and then find, still-hidden sources of the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.

Finally, for now, David Fitzsimmons provides an illustrated version of “the behavior of this sad, embarrassing wreck of a man.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Republicans stand by and stare as Trump shoots America

This morning one of my friends expressed disgust, not at Trump (reason being that we all knew what to expect from him) but at the Republicans in congress and all others who support Trump in spite of the damage he inflicts on our country every single day. You might recall that Scriber has been saying that the real story of 2016 and the rise of Trump is not so much Trump as those who support him no matter what.

Donald Trump controversially observed that he could shoot an individual on a widely trafficked New York City street and not “lose one voter.” That is true according to factchecking by Snopes.

Now to put it in context, Snopes informs us that “The comment was part of a larger point Trump was making about the loyalty of his voting base”.

Trump knows that he can stand on stage in Helsinki, sucking up to the KGB agent now dictator of Russia, disparage America and its institutions, alienate our allies, and not lose a single Republican in congress. That also is true according to Scriber’s reading of the news about reactions to the Helsinki summit.

To put this one also in context, it is about the loyalty Trump enjoys amongst the Republicans in congress. Like, for example, AZ Senator Jeff FLake, the congressional Republicans might say Trump has done wrong, but they honor their bargain with him.

That’s the theme of John Cassidy’s column at the New Yorker, What’s Changed Between the G.O.P. and Trump After Helsinki: Nothing.

Donald Trump’s rise within the Republican Party is often described as a hostile takeover, and there’s obviously some truth in that description. But after Trump won the G.O.P. Presidential nomination, in 2016, most of the Party’s leaders in Washington made their peace with him, on the basis of an arrangement that is still in effect today.

… Trump agreed to campaign for other Republican candidates. He also agreed to abide by many of the central tenets of the G.O.P. faith, including its devotion to tax cuts, deregulation, and the dismantling of the liberal welfare and administrative state.

Trump has, however, insisted on adding some twists to the Republican platform, some of which—such as protectionism and suspicion of international alliances—contradict the old dogma. But internal consistency is a goal that democratic mass movements never fully achieve, and the Trump-G.O.P. concordat has proved more durable than many observers expected, surviving eighteen months of chaos, controversies, and occasional big setbacks, such as the failure to repeal Obamacare. Trump’s recent criticism of nato allies, and his denial of Russian election hacking at a press conference with Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki, have provoked an enormous political reaction, but nothing that has transpired in the past few days suggests that the Trump-G.O.P. deal is about to break apart.

To the contrary, both the President and his party are determined to get the Helsinki fiasco behind them and return to business as usual. “I take him at his word if he says he misspoke, absolutely,” the Ohio senator Rob Portman told Fox News, on Tuesday, shortly after Trump’s pitiful effort to walk back his comments at the press conference. Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, commented: “I can’t read his intentions or what he meant to say at the time. Suffice it to say that for me as a policymaker, what really matters is what we do moving forward.”

A few Republicans did call Trump’s comments disgraceful, but fear and short-term self-interest still have most of them cowed. At the grass roots of the Party, there is no sign of Trump’s supporters deserting him, which makes it very dangerous to cross him. …

But fear of Trump and his cult of personality isn’t the entire story. In their state of subjection, many Republicans console themselves with the thought that, in policy terms, the concordat is still holding, as evidenced, for example, by Trump’s nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, a conservative scion of the Republican establishment, to the Supreme Court.

With a Republican-controlled congress, there is little chance that anything meaningful will come of attempts to constrain Trump from standing on more Helsinki podiums and doing the national security equivalent of shooting America.

Trump now accepts US intelligence on Russian hacking? Oh, come on.

Before we get to the meat of this post - the disastrous display of Donnie courting treason at Helsinki - let’s pause for a listen to Christina Aguilera doing Something’s got a hold on me. As you listen, imagine slightly different lyrics.

Let me tell you now
Russia’s got a hold on me, yeah (oh, it must be Vlad)
Oh oh Russia’s got a hold on me right now, child (Oh, it must be Vlad)

That’s the only hypothesis that seems (to me) to make sense of our president’s bromance with Putin and his attacks on our democracy and our institutions. (You can take the referent in that highlighted phrase as either Trump or Putin.)

Onward …

Trump says he accepts U.S. intelligence on Russian interference in 2016 election but denies collusion reports the Washington Post.

After getting hammered in the media over his performance in Helsinki bordering on (insert T word here), Trump tried, stumblingly, bumblingly, dishonestly to rewrite history.

President Trump on Tuesday grudgingly sought to inch back his warm remarks about Russia and its leader during a summit in Helsinki a day earlier, saying he had misspoken when he appeared to accept President Vladi­mir Putin’s denials that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election.

Initially crossing his arms in front of him, and reading haltingly from prepared remarks, the president said he accepts the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia sought to influence the election — but added that it “could be other people also,” an assertion not backed by evidence.

The strained effort at damage control came more than 24 hours after his rhetorical embrace of Putin at a joint news conference set off a global uproar, including shouts of treason from some Democrats and demands from many Republicans that he mop up the mess. Many of his usual defenders had gone dark in the wake of the summit, and neither Trump nor his aides acknowledged any error until the president took to the cameras Tuesday afternoon.

Trump sought to minimize the impact of Russia’s efforts to interfere in domestic U.S. politics while repeating his frequent denials of cooperation between his campaign and Moscow. And he did not address the broader context of his remarks in Helsinki, which included praise for Putin, attacks on the FBI, and declarations that both Russia and the United States were equally to blame for sour relations.

“I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” Trump said Tuesday, flanked at the White House by Republican members of Congress who were preparing for a meeting on tax policy. “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there. There was no collusion at all, and people have seen that, and they’ve seen that strongly.”

The scene carried echoes of past moments of political crisis for Trump, including his comments last year that “both sides” were to blame for a deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Then, as now, Trump backtracked with apparent reluctance after a period of public outcry.

Trump had also tweeted before the news conference Monday that the United States had been “foolish” and “stupid” in its approach to Russia, and then said during the news conference that “we’re all to blame” for tensions.

What a difference a day makes

Trump’s explanation Tuesday hinged heavily on a single word that he sought to revise 24 hours later.

At the Helsinki news conference, during a disjointed soliloquy about a Democratic National Committee computer server, Trump referred to Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats and the findings of Russian interference in the election: “With that being said, all I can do is ask the question. My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others, they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Then at the White House on Tuesday, Trump asserted that he had misspoken by saying “would” instead of “wouldn’t.”

“The sentence should have been, ‘I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.’ Sort of a double negative,” Trump told reporters. “So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself. I have on numerous occasions noted our intelligence findings that Russians attempted to interfere in our elections.”

Let’s pause for an educational break - or maybe not. I was going to write a small essay about why changing one word makes little difference to the overall explanatory coherence of Trump’s remarks. There are just too many other pieces of verbal evidence, publicly available, that as a whole are consistent with the hypothesis that Putin has something big on Trump.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) says the same thing in simpler terms: Trump tries and fails to clean up his Putin summit mess.

Though the president tends to live in a bubble, Donald Trump realized at some level that his press conference in Helsinki on Monday was a disaster. Yesterday, he tried – and failed – to put things right.

First, while reading from a typed script that had been prepared for him, the president made the case that he misspoke while questioning U.S. intelligence while standing alongside Russian President Vladimir Putin. NBC News reported:

“I thought that I made myself very clear, but having just reviewed the transcript…I realized that there is a need for some clarification,” Trump said Tuesday at the White House. “The sentence should have been…’I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia’.”

At the Monday press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump said about election meddling in 2016: “(Putin) just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be.”

Contextually, this is impossible to believe, since Trump clearly made the case on Monday that he accepts Putin’s denials at face value. Indeed, the president’s attempts at a clarification were based on the idea that the only problem with his press-conference comments was a single word.

But that’s absurd. At the same event, Trump added, “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial.” Are we to believe the American president misspoke then, too? Perhaps there was another missing “not” that was supposed to be in that sentence?

Making matters slightly worse, I’ve seen some suggestions that Trump also said yesterday that he now accepts U.S. intelligence on Russia’s intelligence operation targeting our elections. That’s not quite what happened. What he actually said was, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also.”

That’s not an endorsement of the intelligence community’s findings. By adding “could be other people also,” Trump made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t fully accept his own administration’s conclusions.

And in that way Trump continues to play the role of Putin’s Puppet. The relevant constitutional phrase is “aid and comfort” offered to an enemy of the United States.

What else can I do?

Trump’s approach to Russian interference in our election comes down to this:

I asked Putin if Russia interfered with our election. He said no. What else can I do?

What if FDR would have responded to Pearl Harbor in the same way:

I asked Japan if they attacked Pearl Harbor. They said no. What else can I do?

h/t David Fitzsimmons via Facebook

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

'someone unfit to hold the office of president' gave 'aid and comfort' to an enemy.

Polishing Putin
Polishing Putin
LESLEY BECKER/GLOBE STAFF/FILE PHOTO/ADOBE

There are three parts to my headline. (1) Trump is unfit for office - any office. (2) By his actions in the Helsinki Summit, and many before that, he provides aid and comfort to another country. (3) That other country, Russia, by its actions, is at least an adversary and quite probably qualifies as our enemy.

Some will now, and some have already, called Trump’s performance in Helsinki as “treason”. Lawyers already are splitting legal hairs about the applicability of that term. (See, for example, this analysis in the Washington Post.) Legal wrangling will just get in the way of resolving the most important question. What hold does Russia and Putin have on Trump? What could have motivated such slimy behavior on the part of the President (the President of the United States of America, for God’s sake)? What could have led Trump to such abasement, such obeisance , such bootlicking before a foreign dictator?

Another line of questions need to be explored. It seems that every new transgression by Trump merits consideration as “the bottom” - as in “have we hit bottom yet?” More specifically, what would it take to line up the Republicans in congress in taking action against Trump? How can they, all of us really, rationalize not taking action? Do they think that Russia is our friend? That we as a nation deserve such treatment as is specified in the Mueller indictments? And if this is acceptable and not yet at bottom, then imagine, please, what would “bottom” look like. That vision bodes ill for our nation.

How Helsinki stunk

In disastrous press conference, Trump defended Putin, blasted Americans is a good summary by Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) of what went down in Helsinki. Here are highlights.

  • Putin, standing alongside Trump, insisted Russia never interfered in U.S. elections. This faced no pushback whatsoever from the American president.
  • Asked specifically if he believes American intelligence professionals or Putin, Trump gave every indication that he considers the latter more credible – Trump praised Putin’s “strong and powerful” denial, effectively endorsing the Russian leader’s line – before whining for quite a while about Hillary Clinton emails. (Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats was mentioned by name as someone whose judgment Trump chooses not to fully believe. The appropriate move would be for Coats to resign today.)
  • Despite the Republican line that Russia simply wanted to create division and chaos in 2016, Putin conceded today that he wanted Trump to win.
  • At no point did Trump condemn Russian election interference – apparently because Trump doesn’t really believe there was any Russian election interference.

Historians can speak to this with more authority, but this may have been the worst performance on an international stage for any American president, ever. Trump traveled to Finland, defended an American adversary, took cheap shots at Americans, and rejected the judgment of American intelligence professionals. I felt like I was watching our president launch an assault on his own office, siding against his own country, for reasons the White House will struggle to defend.

And this was Trump’s public performance. It’s worth taking a moment to consider what, exactly, Trump told his Russian benefactor in private.

Former CIA Director John Brennan wrote on Twitter, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you?”

That need not be a rhetorical question.

John Shattuck in the Boston Globe asks Is Donald Trump committing treason?

Following the 2016 presidential election, a specter of treason was hovering over Donald Trump because of his response to the mounting evidence that the Russians had intervened to help elect him.

As the president-elect entered the White House, he summarily rejected the conclusion of US intelligence agencies that Russia had engaged in cyberwarfare against the US elections. He worked to block investigations into Russia’s actions. Trump advisers and associates had extensive political and business dealings with the Russian government before and during the 2016 presidential campaign. While there has not been any direct evidence that the president-elect was involved in the Russian government’s actions, circumstances suggested that individuals or groups close to the president could have aided or known about the Russian meddling.

According to the law, the federal crime of treason is committed by a person “owing allegiance to the United States who … adheres to their enemies, giving them aid or comfort.” Misprision (abetting) of treason is committed if a person “having knowledge of the commission of treason conceals and does not disclose” the crime.

Today the evidence of Russian cyberattacks against the US democratic process is overwhelming. On July 13, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, a Trump appointee and former Republican senator, stated that “the warning lights are blinking red again,” as they were before the 9/11 attacks, and that “the digital infrastructure that serves this country is literally under attack.” This high-level warning came on the same day Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that 12 Russian agents had been indicted for hacking Democratic officials in the 2016 elections by a federal grand jury convened by special counsel Robert Mueller. The Russian attacks began the day after Trump had openly encouraged Russia to hack the e-mails of his opponent.

In response to the indictments of Russian agents last week, Trump declined to condemn the cyberattacks, nor did he indicate that he would to defend the country against them. Instead, the White House claimed that the Russian indictments exonerated the president because no Americans were accused of collusion. In the special counsel’s probe, however, four Trump campaign officials have already been charged with criminal conduct relating to the Russian cyberoffensive.

Before his meeting Monday with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Trump remarkably blamed his own country for the poor state of US-Russia relations, repeating his mantra that the Mueller investigation is a “rigged witch hunt.” Trump’s pre-summit comments implied that he would not use the tools of diplomacy, law, or military technology to defend the United States against continuing Russian cyberattacks. If true, this would be tantamount to giving aid and comfort to an enemy.

… it’s worthwhile to try to improve relations with an adversary. True enough, but not at the expense of US national security. The president’s hostility to the US investigation of Russian cyberattacks, his failure to impose a cost on Russia for the attacks, his denigration of US alliances, and his eagerness to have “an extraordinary relationship” with the Russian leader all point toward giving aid and comfort to an enemy.

In Some Dare Call It Treason Politico.com has a listing of many who agree, saying that “Trump’s bizarre summit with Putin has his critics reaching for new epithets.”

Trump’s coddling of Putin prompted Trump criticism to reach a fresh threshold, as the press and politicians started flinging a new, shocking descriptor that burns like acid when it lands: In their new stinging formulation, Trump isn’t just a lout or a loon, a firebrand or an opportunist, he’s a traitor.

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow was among the first to apply the “T” word to the president in a prescient Monday piece titled “Trump, Treasonous Traitor,” which appeared just hours before the presser. “It was nothing short of treasonous,” former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted of Trump’s press conference performance. “I’m so sorry the Commander-in-chief is a traitor,” tweeted Michael Moore, agreeing with Brennan for the first time ever. Tea Party stalwart Joe Walsh said the same. “Trump the Traitor,” read the headline on Boston Globe columnist Michael A. Cohen’s Monday afternoon piece. He concluded, “Trump is a clear and present danger to US national security.”

Other voices from both parties concurred without actually using the T-word. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) called Trump’s kowtowing to Putin “shameful.” In a statement, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Trump had “abased himself … abjectly before a tyrant.” “Disgraceful,” wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). “Shameful,” wrote Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). “Indefensible,” wrote former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power. “Useful idiot,” wrote journalist David Corn. “Disgraceful,” reiterated CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. “Dangerous and reckless,” wrote Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.). “Donald Trump is either an asset of Russian intelligence or really enjoys playing one on TV,” wrote New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman. American academic and diplomat Eliot A. Cohen added this on Twitter, “The word treason is so strong that we must use it carefully. But that press conference has brought the President of the United States right up to that dark, dark shore.”

Trump’s obeisance to Putin at Helsinki was easy to predict given his earlier refusals to call the Russians out and punish them. But were we ready to see him come this close to violating his oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution? Watching him grovel and defer to Putin revealed Trump as a coward and weakling, an excuse-maker and an apologizer, and as someone unfit to hold the office of president. “If this is what President Trump says publicly, what did he tell Putin privately?” asked Sen. Mark Warner.

For months now, Trump has denounced the press as an “enemy of the people.” He said it again in a tweet on the day before his Putin meeting, expanding his enemy list to include “all the Dems.” Having deceitfully placed the phrase “enemy of the people” into currency, it’s only right that it has boomeranged on him.

Newsweek asks “Did Trump Commit Treason at Putin Meeting?” and answers with Here’s What Lawyers Say.

There are many things you can accuse President Donald Trump of. And treason is now apparently one of those after his controversial press conference with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin at their summit in Helsinki, Finland. But do lawyers agree?

According to federal law on treason, 18 U.S. Code § 2381: “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”

And in Article III of the U.S. Constitution, it says: “Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.”

Laurence H. Tribe, Carl M. Loeb University Professor and a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, told Newsweek: "If one defines ‘war’ to include cyberwar—e.g. by deliberately hacking into a nation’s computer-based election infrastructure—then what we witnessed in Helsinki was President Trump openly aiding and abetting the Russian military’s ongoing war against America rather than protecting against that Putin-led cyber-invasion.

"That in turn could reasonably be defined as ‘treason’ within the meaning of 18 USC 2381 and Art. III of the US Constitution.

But Ross Garber, a lawyer and adjunct professor at Tulane Law School, who has represented state governors in impeachment trials, does not believe the constitution can be stretched or interpreted to regard Russia as an enemy against which the U.S. is at war.

“No matter how repugnant one might consider the president’s statements in Helsinki, they do not meet the constitutional definition of ‘treason,’ which is very narrow and addresses providing aid to an ‘enemy,’” Garber told Newsweek. “Russia is not technically an enemy because we are not at war with it. These matters are far too important to allow partisan aims to diminish serious constitutional analysis.”

I’ll let John Cassidy of the New Yorker sum up in Donald Trump’s Disastrous Trip to Europe. What are our allies thinking about Trump?

… From one perspective, Trump didn’t do or say anything very novel. We already knew that he admires Putin and wants warmer relations with Russia. We also knew that he rejects the unanimous conclusion of U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agencies that Putin’s regime interfered in the 2016 election. We knew that he’s still obsessed with Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and the special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. What was shocking was Trump’s willingness to reaffirm these things in full view of the world, with Putin at his side. Some of his longtime enablers in the G.O.P., such as the House Speaker, Paul Ryan, and Senator Tom Cotton, were moved to distance themselves from him as he flew home to Washington. But much of the rest of the world saw Trump’s performance on Monday as further confirmation of something they figured out a while ago: the White House is occupied by a determined international wrecker, a person who may have hidden obligations to Moscow.

America’s allies will be monitoring what happens in Washington over the next few days, and whether there is any real pushback against the President. They will also be looking out for any resignations among the members of Trump’s national-security team. To many Europeans, the continued presence at the Pentagon of James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, who is a staunch supporter of nato, has been somewhat reassuring.

But even if Mattis stays on, other countries will step up their efforts to defend their own interests. Initially, their efforts will focus on economics. Eventually, if Trump’s policies are sustained, there will be military implications, too. In most parts of Europe, there is still a lot of good will toward the United States as a country. But, remarkable as the idea would have sounded a few years ago, many Europeans now regard the American President as a serious threat. After the events of the past week, can you blame them?

And that suits Vladimir Putin just fine.

Monday, July 16, 2018

What We Get When Demography Collides with Democracy

Here’s the short take from 538’s Significant Digits email.

8 states
By 2040, eight states will be home to nearly half (49.5 percent) of the country’s entire population. An implication of that bit of trivia: 30 percent of the American population will control 68 percent of the American Senate. “The House and the Senate will be weighted to two largely different Americas,” the Post writes. [The Washington Post]

The Post’s Phillip Bump says more - In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states.

In response to Post opinion writer Paul Waldman’s essay about the current power of the minority in American politics, the American Enterprise Institute’s Norman Ornstein offered a stunning bit of data on Twitter.

Norman Ornstein
@NormOrnstein
I want to repeat a statistic I use in every talk: by 2040 or so, 70 percent of Americans will live in 15 states. Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30% will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent. Unsettling to say the least.

Paul Waldman
@paulwaldman1
In the age of minority rule, a Supreme Court justice appointed by a president who got fewer votes is confirmed by a party in the Senate that got fewer votes, to validate policies opposed by most Americans: https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2018/07/10/were-living-in-an-age-of-minority-rule

In broad strokes, Ornstein is correct.

The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service of the University of Virginia analyzed Census Bureau population projections to estimate each state’s likely population in 2040, including the expected breakdown of the population by age and gender. Although that data was released in 2016, before the bureau revised its estimates for the coming decades, we see that, in fact, the population will be heavily centered in a few states.

Eight states will have just under half of the total population of the country, 49.5 percent, according to the Weldon Cooper Center’s estimate. The next eight most populous states will account for an additional fifth of the population, up to 69.2 percent — meaning that the 16 most populous states will be home to about 70 percent of Americans.

Bump presents the graphical evidence for disturbing demographical trends.

Ornstein’s (and Waldman’s) point is clear: 30 percent of the population of the country will control 68 percent of the seats in the U.S. Senate. Or, more starkly, half the population of the country will control 84 percent of those seats.

… the possible anti-democratic effects of the lopsided Senate are [clear] … states that make up more than two-thirds of the land area of the United States — will … control enough of the Senate to overcome any filibuster.

But none of this will happen overnight. To underscore Waldman’s point, already a president who lost the popular vote will nominate a Supreme Court justice who will be confirmed by a minority party that has a bare majority in the US senate in order to enact policies that the majority of the electorate oppose. The data reviewed here are just extensions of what is in place right now. If the demographic projections hold, it will only get worse as a minority tightens its tyrannical rule.

Illustrated Gnus, GOPlins, and other fantastical critters

King Donald
Kavanaugh's Konstitution

Here are the main themes from the Mournday Mourning Illustrated News (aka toons from AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona)

  • The Kavanaugh Kaper
  • Which legacy would you prefer? Reagan brought down the USSR. Trump brought down NATO.
  • Trump’s Despotocracy - Ask not what your enemies can do for you - ask what you can do for your enemies.
  • Conversation overhead in London: “Bloody Hell! The real gas bag is more hideous than our balloon.”
  • House Republicans Strzok out.
  • U. S. asks Thai Navy SEALs to help with reunification. (No, we did not, but we should.)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

What you will not be told about the Supreme Court nominee

The NY Times provides a comprehensive (long) look at Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court: Influential Judge, Loyal Friend, Conservative Warrior — and D.C. Insider. We are warned that the narrative being constructed about Brett Kavanaugh leaves out a lot.

… as with any nominee, Judge Kavanaugh and his supporters are carefully shaping his narrative for the diverse Senate and the broader American public: his mother the judge, not his father the lobbyist; his parents’ early struggles, not their second homes in the Florida Keys and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; his service as a children’s sports coach and a Catholic volunteer, not his participation in some of the most bitter partisan fights in recent times.

They do not let on that Judge Kavanaugh is by legacy and experience a charter member of elite Washington: His family’s government-centric social circle, his two summer jobs on Capitol Hill, his White House service, his golfing at the capital’s country clubs, his residence in one of the richest suburban enclaves in America. Nor do they note that Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is the culmination of a 30-year conservative movement to shift the judiciary to the right.

In retrospect, his climb to a justice’s seat may seem calculated — from pursuing jobs that put him close to the nation’s most powerful men to the moment he raised some eyebrows by praising Mr. Trump for the breadth of his candidate search (“No president has ever consulted more widely…”). Although the president talked with many people about his choices, he selected Judge Kavanaugh from a list compiled with the guidance of conservative activists.

Although some would put it differently, remember that Kavanaugh is the guy who thinks sitting presidents are above the law and should not be subject to investigation or criminal charges. That, if put into practice, would be Trump’s get-out-of-jail card.

And that is why Trump picked Kavanaugh above other equally ultraconservative choices.

Mark Sumner at Daily Kos elaborates in Supreme Court nominee Kavanaugh argues that presidents can’t be indicted, sued, or even investigated.

Every Supreme Court nominee considered by Donald Trump was a genuine, Federalist Society approved ultraconservative. Every one of them could be counted on to uphold the right of big business while tearing away women’s rights, voting rights, gay rights, labor rights, and basically just rights. If it wasn’t included, word for word, in a document that was written before the steam engine, repeating rifle, and the corporation were invented … it’s out of here.

But something had to give Brett Kavanaugh the edge. There had to be something that made this member of the DC court a favorite with Trump, even though the most rabid members of his base favored someone else.

“I believe that the President should be excused from some of the burdens of ordinary citizenship while serving in office.”

That’s from an article that Kavanaugh authored in 2008 for the Minnesota Law Review. Just what burdens should be “excused” for sitting presidents? Indictments for one thing. Civil suits for another. Kavanaugh believes that presidents should be free from being sued while in office—a position he, rather inconveniently, did not hold while working for Ken Starr. To be fair, Kavanaugh calls on Congress to make this clear through legislation. It’s not certain how he would rule if such a suit against Trump should wander his way … but we’ll likely get to find out.

Kavanaugh’s defense of the idea that the executive—along with military leaders—should be freed from the threat of criminal indictment, comes with a statement that might be particularly pleasing to Trump that “no Attorney General or special counsel will have the necessary credibility to avoid the inevitable charges that he is politically motivated.” Kavanaugh’s position is that the president’s role is so important, that even preparing for a criminal investigation is too much. And confronting the idea that this would put the president “above the law,” Kavanaugh’s defense: “… it is not ultimately a persuasive criticism of these suggestions. The point is not to put the President above the law or to eliminate checks on the President, but simply to defer litigation and investigations until the President is out of office.”

So, Kavanaugh wouldn’t excuse the president from justice forever, just allow him to do as he pleases for years. …

What does Trump see in Kavanaugh? A guy who will give him what he wants most: Years of relief from facing his crimes.

Reactions to the indictment - Americans were in contact with the Russian hackers

The LA Times reported on the indictments and reactions to them: 12 Russians indicted in hacking of Clinton’s campaign and computers handling voter registration. Not surprisingly, Trump’s people are spinning it to favor Trump. And they got it wrong.

[To be sure] the indictment did not accuse anyone from Trump’s campaign of conspiring with Russians, a key issue that Mueller has been examining. The president’s lawyer, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, described Friday’s announcement as “good news.”

“The Russians are nailed. No Americans are involved,” he said. “Time for Mueller to end this pursuit of the president and say President Trump is completely innocent.”

The reaction from the Scribers (and left-leaning commentators) was “Haw, Haw, Haw!” Or in the grammar of the internet, “LOL” or “ROFL”.

Saying that no Americans were charged in the indictment (true) is not the same as claiming that no Americans had contacts with the Russian hackers (false) or that Americans did not collude with the Russians (an open question). Here, from the Times report, is why I say that.

One of the accusations in the indictment does overlap with a controversial statement that Trump made during the campaign. On July 27, 2016, at a news conference in Florida, Trump said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.”

According to the indictment, “on or about July 27, 2016,” the Russians attempted “for the first time” to hack emails located on Clinton’s private email server.

I don’t believe in coincidence. And we know from the indictment that other Americans were contacted by, or in contact with, Guccifer 2.0 (a cover for the GRU hackers). Below are verbatim relevant excerpts from the indictment.

(43) Between in or around June 2016 and October 2016, the Conspirators used Guccifer 2.0 to release documents through WordPress that they had stolen from the DCCC and DNC. The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, also shared stolen documents with certain individuals.

a. On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a re quest for stolen documents from a candidate for the U. S. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.

b. On or about August 22, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, transferred approximately 2.5 gigabytes ofdata stolen from the DCCC to a then-registered state lobbyist and online source of political news. The stolen data included donor records and personal identifying information for more than 2,000 Democratic donors.

c. On or about August 22, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, sent a reporter stolen documents pertaining to the Black Lives Matter movement. The reporter responded by discussing when to release the documents and offering to write an article about their release.

(44) The Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, also communicated with US persons about the release of stolen documents. On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, “thank u for writing back … do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?” On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow … itwould be a great pleasure to me.” On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person responded, “[p]retty standard.”

And who might that person be? The Washington Post speculates about a long-time Trump adviser, Charges against Russian intelligence officers intensify spotlight on Trump adviser Roger Stone. The Post writes “A person familiar with the investigation also confirmed that the Trump campaign associate referred to in the indictment is Stone.” The Post reports on what Stone has said about those contacts. It boils down to “Yeah, I was in contact” with Guccifer but “No, I did nothing wrong.” We’ll see.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Republicans humiliated in Thursday's House hearing as Strzok struck back

Thursday, on live TV, the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees launched an attack on a career FBI agent who was responsible for identifying, investigating, and deporting Russian sleeper agents. I started to watch and then gave up - it hurt my stomach to watch this McCarthy-ist witch hunt that was transparently an attempt to undermine the Special Counsel Russia investigation.

Those Republicans exemplified the alternative (and primary) definition of “oversight.”

o·ver·sight
ˈōvərˌsīt
noun
(1) an unintentional failure to notice or do something.
synonyms: mistake, error, omission, lapse, slip, blunder
(2) the action of overseeing something.

The thing is, the House committees Republicans’ oversight in the first sense was intentional. By design, they did not even pretend to be doing anything other than character assassination of FBI uber spy hunter Peter Strzok. But that did not work out so well for them. They took the low road focussing on minutia and interrupting Strzok’s testimony. Strzok, in stark contrast, for the nation and world to see, took the high road.

Rick Wilson writes at The Daily Beast Republicans Thought Peter Strzok Would Be a Punching Bag. He Just Knocked Them Out. He was supposed to be a key in the imaginary conspiracy Trump’s congressional lackeys and media fantasists have desperately tried to write as history. He was having none of it. (h/t AZBlueMeanie)

[Thursday’s] spectacle was designed for one purpose only: the destruction of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Donald Trump’s Russia ties. Republicans like Fredo Nunes who have tried to present a series of dramatic, table-flipping reality TV moments to reach that goal have failed time and again to derail the Mueller investigation. This morning was yet another swing-and-a-miss for the Trump GOP.

… After an hour of drama-queen badgering from Trey “Benghazi” Gowdy and Bob Goodlatte, Strzok issued two passionate statements that will be the takeaways from an otherwise disorganized and contentious shitshow of a hearing before the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees.

The first was a ringing defense of the FBI, with Strzok showing the kind of real passion that makes for great television. The FBI lifer issued a ringing defense of himself and his agency, punching Gowdy hard in the nose.

"I can assure you, Mr. Chairman, at no time, in any of these texts, did those personal beliefs ever enter into the realm of any action I took. Furthermore, this isn’t just me sitting here telling you you don’t have to take my word for it. At every step, at every investigative decision, there are multiple layers of people above me, the assistant director, executive assistant director, deputy director, and director of the FBI, and multiple layers of people below me, section chiefs, supervisors, unit chiefs, case agents and analysts, all of whom were involved in all of these decisions. They would not tolerate any improper behavior in me any more than I would tolerate it in them.”

He closed with this fastball:

"That is who we are as the FBI. And the suggestion that I in some dark chamber somewhere in the FBI would somehow cast aside all of these procedures, all of these safeguards and somehow be able to do this is astounding to me. It simply couldn’t happen. And the proposition that that is going on, that it might occur anywhere in the FBI, deeply corrodes what the FBI is in American society, the effectiveness of their mission, and it is deeply destructive.”

The second was a shot across Donald Trump’s bow: “I understand we are living in a political era in which insults and insinuation often drown out honesty and integrity. I have the utmost respect for Congress’s oversight role, but I truly believe that today’s hearing is just another victory notch in Putin’s belt and another milestone in our enemies’ campaign to tear America apart."

For more commentary on Thursday’s debacle, see AZBlueMeanie’s post in this morning’s Blog for Arizona, Putin’s puppet and his fellow traveler enablers in Congress attack federal law enforcement, undermining the rule of law and obstructing justice in defense of ‘Dear Leader’.

A TRUE BILL: USA v. 12 Russian officers

That’s the big news from yesterday. In the Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the DC Grant Jury indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers.

Before continuing, it is worth noting that these indictments did not address any complicity by U. S. citizens. But in discussions last night, MSNBC legal, political, and security commentators predicted the next set of indictments to target Americans who knowingly or unwittingly aided and abetted the Russian attack on our election.

Here are excerpts from the indictment. (All are direct quotes except for Scriber’s comments which are italicized.)

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
INDICTMENT
The Grand Jury for the District of Columbia charges:
COUNT ONE
(Conspiracyto Commit an Offense Against the United States)
In or around 2016, the Russian Federation (“Russia”) operated a military intelligence agency called the Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (“GRU”). The GRU had multiple units, including Units 26165 and 74455, engaged in cyber operations that involved the staged releases of documents stolen through computer intrusions. These units conducted large-scale cyber operations to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election.

Defendants … were GRU officers who knowingly and intentionally conspired with each other, and with persons known and unknown to the Grand Jury (collectively the “Conspirators”), to gain unauthorized access (to “hack”) into the computers of U.S. persons and entities involved in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Starting in at least March 2016,the Conspirators used a variety of means to hack the email accounts of volunteers and employees of the U.S. presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton (the “Clinton Campaign”), including the email account of the Clinton Campaign’s chairman.

By in or around April 2016, the Conspirators also hacked into the computer networks of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (“DCCC”) and the Democratic National Committee (“DNC”). The Conspirators covertly monitored the computers of dozens of DCCC and DNC employees, implanted hundreds of files containing malicious computer code (“malware”), and stole emails and other documents from the DCCC and DNC.

By in or around April 2016,the Conspirators began to plan the release of materials stolen from the Clinton Campaign, DCCC, and DNC.

Beginning in or around June 2016, the Conspirators staged and released tens of thousands of the stolen emails and documents. They did so using fictitious online personas, including "DCLeaks” and “Guccifer 2.0.”

The Conspirators also used the Guccifer 2.0 persona to release additional stolen documents through a website maintained by an organization (“Organization1”),that had previously posted documents stolen from U.S. persons, entities, and the U.S. government. The Conspirators continued their U.S. election-interference operations through in or around November 2016.

To hide their connections to Russia and the Russian government, the Conspirators used false identities and made false statements about their identities. To further avoid detection, the Conspirators used a network of computers located across the world, including in the United States, and paid for this infrastructure using cryptocurrency.

[The indictment then lists the coconspirators, one by one, and their offenses in rather amazing detail. Here is an example.]

Defendant IVAN SERGEYEVICH YERMAKOV (EpMaKOB I/IBaH Cepreeana) was a Russian military officer assigned to ANTONOV’s department within Unit 26165. Since in or around 2010, YERMAKOV used various online personas, including “Kate S. Milton,” “James McMorgans,”and“KarenW.Millen,”to conduct hacking operations on behalf of Unit 26165. In or around March 2016, YERMAKOV participated in hacking at least two email accounts from which campaign-related documents were released through DCLeaks.In or around May 2016, YERMAKOV also participated in hacking the DNC email server and stealing DNC emails that were later released through Organization 1.

[The indictment makes clear the objective of the conspiracy.]

The object of the conspiracy was to hack into the computers of US persons and entities involved in the 2016 US. presidential election, steal documents from those computers, and stage releases of the stolen documents to interfere with the 2016 US. presidential election.

[It also describes in detail the “manner and means.”]

For example, on or about March 19, 2016, LUKASHEV and his co-conspirators created and sent a spearphishing email to the chairman of the Clinton Campaign. LUKASHEV used the account “john356g ” at an online service that abbreviated lengthy website addresses (referred to as a “URL-shortening service”). LUKASHEV used the account to mask a link contained in the spearphishing email, which directed the recipient to a GRU-created website. LUKASHEV altered the appearance ofthe sender email address in order to make it look like the email was a security notification from Google (a technique known as “spoofing”), instructing the user to change his password by clicking the embedded link. Those instructions were followed. On or about March 21, 2016, LUKASHEV, YERMAKOV, and their co-conspirators stole the contents of the chairman’s email account, which consisted ofover 50,000 emails.

[Here is a stunner.]

The Conspirators spearphished individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign throughout the summer of 2016. For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

[That is potentially damning for President Trump. He gave his now infamous invitation to the Russians to release Clinton’s emails on the morning of July 27. See these Times reports here and here for more.]

[The indictment then lists the conspirators’ actions to plant false information using social media.]

On or about June 8, 2016, and at approximately the same time that the dcleaks.com website was launched, the Conspirators created a DCLeaks Facebook page using a preexisting social media account under the fictitious name “AliceDonovan.” In addition to the DCLeaks Facebook page, the Conspirators used other social media accounts in the names of fictitious U.S. persons such as “Jason Scott” and “Richard Gingrey” to promote the DCLeaks website. The Conspirators accessed these accounts from computers managed by POTEMKJN and his co—conspirators.

On or about June 8, 2016, the Conspirators created the Twitter account @dcleaks. The Conspirators operated the @dcleaks Twitter account from the same computer used for other efforts to interfere with the 2016 US. presidential election. For example, the Conspirators used the same computer to operate the Twitter account @BaltimoreIsWhr, through which they encouraged U.S.audiences to“[i]oin our flashmob”opposing Clinton and to post images with the hashtag #BlacksAgainstHillary.

[After describing how all this was paid for, by money laundering using cryptocurrency, the indictment lists direct attacks on the integrity of our voting system. For example:]

In or around October 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators further targeted state and county offices responsible for administering the 2016 US. elections. For example, on or about October 28, 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators visited the websites of certain counties in Georgia, Iowa, and Florida to identify vulnerabilities.

[I have not been able to do justice to the indictment with these select examples. It really is worth your time to read the whole thing.]

Friday, July 13, 2018

Women - are any of you REALLY counting on Collins' SCOTUS vote?

Collins gives it up
Is Sessions advising Collins on her SCOTUS vote?

In an earlier post I cited evidence that Collins was a pretty solid “yes” vote on SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

… On Tuesday, Susan Collins, of Maine, one of the few G.O.P. senators whom Democrats had been hopeful of picking off, released a statement that lauded Kavanaugh’s credentials. Another Democratic target, Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, also indicated that she was comfortable with Trump’s choice.

Sure enough, Joan McCarter at the Daily Kos tells us that Susan Collins abandons all pretense of carefully considering her Supreme Court vote. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has just demonstrated that she’s a Trump and McConnell Republican, through and through.

This is America ...

… and you will not like what you see and hear.

Hate exists.

And so do hate crimes and the punishment thereof.

Here from Daily Kos is a report on the Loudmouth Who Accosted a Woman Wearing Puerto Rico Flag Shirt Charged with Two Felony Hate Crimes.

Here’s one from one of David Fitzsimmons’ callers.

Another X-antiX appointment - Senate confirms unqualified candidate to head Criminal Division

From the very start of the Trump administration his picks for cabinet and other high positions followed a simple rule: “For a given agency X, pick as its leader someone who is fiercely antiX. Then sit back and watch the carnage.” Back in January 2017 I fingered Scott Pruitt’s appointment as EPA head as a X-AntiX case study: EPA regs on the chopping block.

Yesterday the U. S. Senate voted on party lines to confirm Brian A. Benczkowski. This guy, you see, has virtually no experience in criminal prosecutions. Yet, Trump put him up to head the Criminal Division of the Justice Department. As such, he would be the boss of the many career prosecutors. AZBlueMeanie, in this morning’s Blog for Ariziona, explains why that confirmation is a seriously bad move for justice in America: Senate Tea-Publicans abdicate their duty in favor of GOP tribalism.

This is inexcusable and indefensible. Senate Tea-Publicans have abdicated their constitutional duty in favor of GOP tribalism to confirm Brian A. Benczkowski to lead the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and oversee the government’s career prosecutors, including those investigating President Trump.

Moreover, Benczkowski has his own problematic connection with Russia.

Benczkowski, who has never tried a case in court and who was hired by Alfa Bank — a Russian bank under scrutiny by the Special Counsel over reports of a communications link to the Trump campaign, Was a Trump Server Communicating With Russia? — to prepare a report exonerating the bank, is not qualified for this position.

So the Justice Department’s Criminal Division (X) is now to be headed by Benczkowski (anti-X). What do you suppose he was hired to destroy? BlueMeanie answers.

Benczkowski is now in the line of succession at DOJ, should Trump decide to engage in a “Saturday night massacre” at the Justice Department. He is a Trump loyalist who will play the role of Robert Bork in the Watergate scandal.

And his confirmation confirms that the Republican senators are complicit in whatever leverage Putin has over Trump - every single one of them.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The President is above the law and can do no wrong and we know this because ...

… the President’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, told us so.

A pair of essays in the New Yorker provides the grounding for fears of what Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court justice could do to the nation.

Jeffrey Toobin traces Brett Kavanaugh’s Journey to Becoming a Supreme Court Nominee.

No one becomes a Supreme Court Justice by accident, but Brett Kavanaugh has worked with seeming extraordinary calculation for the moment that arrived this week, when President Trump announced his nomination to the high court. The journey has proved extravagantly successful for Kavanaugh, but it’s far less clear that his ascension will be good news for the rest of us.

These first thing to note is that Kavanaugh plays rough. He worked on the Clinton impeachment.

In a memo to [Ken] Starr, he proposed that Clinton be asked the following questions, among others, before the grand jury: “If Monica Lewinsky says that you ejaculated into her mouth on two occasions in the Oval Office area, would she be lying?" [Scriber won’t burden you with the second.]

Other than to say I told you so.

Worse, much worse, Kavanaugh treats the presidency almost like a monarchy.

… Kavanaugh, in his opinions and his extrajudicial work, has cultivated a broad conception of Presidential power. In a notable case from late 2011, which I wrote about the following March, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit voted, two to one, to uphold President Obama’s health-care reform, the Affordable Care Act. Kavanaugh dissented, primarily because he felt that the lawsuit was premature. His sixty-five-page opinion included guidance for any Republicans who might follow President Obama in office.“Under the Constitution,” Kavanaugh wrote, “the President may decline to enforce a statute that regulates private individuals when the President deems the statute unconstitutional, even if a court has held or would hold the statute constitutional.” This is an extraordinary view. It is courts—not Presidents—who “deem” laws unconstitutional, but not, apparently, in Kavanaugh’s view. President Trump’s sabotage of the A.C.A. comes right from Kavanagh’s approach to the law.

… In a law-review article from 2009, Kavanaugh said that Presidents should not only be free from the possibility of indictment while in office but should also be allowed to avoid questioning from law-enforcement officials. He wrote that Congress should “consider a law exempting a president—while in office—from criminal prosecution and investigation, including from questioning by criminal prosecutors or defense counsel.” …

John Cassidy explains Why It’s Right to Be Mad About Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court.

The first reason to be angry is that every Republican will line up behind Trump’s pick no matter how dangerous that pick is to our democracy. We’ve already lost two “moderate” Republican senators and the real fight has not even started – three if you count our own talk-but-don’t-walk Jeff Flake.

… Republicans will still have a two-vote advantage in the Senate, when the tie-breaking vote of Vice-President Mike Pence is taken into account. On Tuesday, Susan Collins, of Maine, one of the few G.O.P. senators whom Democrats had been hopeful of picking off, released a statement that lauded Kavanaugh’s credentials. Another Democratic target, Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska, also indicated that she was comfortable with Trump’s choice.

But there is even more at stake than preventing another rightward lurch on the high court. As Kavanaugh prepares to make his way to the Capitol, and, most probably, to a lifetime appointment in the old courthouse behind it, we are witnessing the dénouement of an outrageous power grab by a radicalized political party, its wealthy backers, and a rogue President. It is essential to remember this wider context.

At the risk of giving yourself a headache, consider some counterfactuals. Absent the Supreme Court’s 5–4 ruling, in 2000, under Chief Justice William Rehnquist, to halt the Florida recount and allow the election of a Republican President who lost the popular vote, John Roberts and Samuel Alito might not be sitting on the Court today. If, in 2016, Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, had adhered to precedent and allowed filibusters on the nomination of Merrick Garland, Gorsuch might well not be a Justice, either. And but for the quirks of the Electoral College nullifying Hillary Clinton’s almost three-million-ballot margin of victory in the popular vote, Kavanaugh would still be a relative unknown.

If these points sound like the complaints of sore losers, they are. But Democrats, Independents, and anybody else who cares about the functioning of American democracy have good reason to be sore. There is no majority of voters out there clamoring for a ban on abortion, restrictions on collective bargaining, roadblocks to legal claims against big companies, or the purging from the electoral rolls of voters who skip a couple of elections. These are the concerns of smaller groups, with strong ties to the Republican Party, whose interests will be disproportionately represented.

That, Toobin explains, is the result of a quirky Electoral College and a gerrymandered Senate.

This isn’t how democracies are supposed to work. But as Vox’s Ezra Klein pointed out a couple of days ago, the United States is “not-quite-a-democracy.” Rather than adhering to the commitment to equality contained in the Declaration of Independence, it relies on an antiquated electoral system that weighs votes in a manner that, in the modern era, has put Democrats at a structural disadvantage. …

By slowly fashioning a ruling conservative bloc on the Supreme Court, the Republican Party has carefully exploited the biases and shortcomings of the political system. Ultimately, that is what makes the prospect of Kavanaugh’s ascension so objectionable. It wouldn’t just cement in place a reactionary and unrepresentative majority. It would be the latest act in an anti-democratic (small “d”) heist.

And we will be facing the next steps in the transformation from a republican to a royalican nation.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Can you guess the two word answer to 'Why Kavanaugh?'

Daily Kos Staff writer Rebecca Pilar Buckwalter Poza asks “Why Kavanaugh?” And then answers in Two words: abortion and indictment.

There’s a reason I predicted Trump would pick Amy Coney Barrett over Brett Kavanaugh: She offered tremendous strategic advantages.

The flip side is that Kavanaugh offers relatively few advantages and quite a few vulnerabilities. But Trump’s decision, of course, likely didn’t have much to do with strategy. He had two things on his mind: criminalizing abortion and evading indictment.

Trump promised the religious right he’d only nominate pro-life justices, a clear vow to overturn Roe v Wade and pave the way to recriminalize abortion. Kavanaugh fits the bill.

Fatima Goss Graves
Trump fulfills his promise to nominate a justice to overturn Roe. #Scotus nominee is #JudgeKavanaugh. 1) Voted to allow religious beliefs to override the right to birth control; 2) Voted to block a young immigrant woman to access abortion care. #SaveSCOTUS

Renato Mariotti
Remember the undocumented pregnant minor who was denied access to an abortion? Brett Kavanaugh was in the minority of judges who voted against giving her access to an abortion. He will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.

Better yet, Kavanaugh wrote a law review article that proposed passing a law to protect the president from criminal investigation or prosecution.

Adam Bonin
In selecting Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump is picking the one person who’s argued more than anyone else in the nominee pool that a sitting President can’t be criminally indicted under the Constitution.
That’s really striking.

The biggest strategic advantage Kavanaugh offers? His indisputable qualifications.

With Barrett, the hope was that Republican Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski—who’ve wavered from the Republican line on both health care and reproductive freedom—would have had a clear, defensible reason for refusing to vote for her: her relative inexperience. Those senators will have a tougher time refusing to confirm Kavanaugh without staking their votes on health care and choice, thereby exposing themselves to attack from the right.

Amy Davidson Sorkin writing at the New Yorker pursues the question in more detail: Why Donald Trump Nominated Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Trump, in part of his opener, said "when it comes to today’s Supreme Court, can only be called an utter falsehood: “What matters is not a judge’s political views.”

… assuming that Kavanaugh takes the bench this fall, when he will be just fifty-three years old, his political views will matter for decades to come.

In addition to the Daily Kos’ two words answering “Why Kavanaugh?”, Sorkin adds “environment” and “guns”.

He has a strong record of ruling against regulations, notably environmental ones. His position opposing gun control goes significantly beyond an embrace of the Court’s controversial ruling, in Heller, that there is an individual right to bear arms—those whom Trump calls the “Second Amendment people” can rest easy with Kavanaugh. And recently Kavanaugh ruled, in the case of Garza v. Hargan, with the minority in favor of the Trump Administration and against an undocumented minor who was trying to get an abortion in Texas. Some conservatives worried that his decision didn’t come down strongly enough against reproductive rights. Kavanaugh presented himself as being constrained by the government’s failure to contest the premise that the girl had a theoretical right to an abortion, but he was also willing to let the government make it prohibitively difficult, if not impossible, for her actually to get one. In this, he embodies what is likely the near future of reproductive-rights jurisprudence: the stretching into meaninglessness of the standard, laid out in the Supreme Court decisions following Roe v. Wade, that the government should not put an “undue burden” on a woman when she seeks to exercise her right to end an early pregnancy. (The next-near future may simply be the overturning of Roe.)

Kavanaugh, who was a clerk for Anthony Kennedy, later worked for the independent counsel Kenneth Starr, during his investigation of President Bill Clinton. What that taught Kavanaugh about when to impeach a President has been a point of speculation. In a 2009 article for the Minnesota Law Review, he wrote that Congress should consider exempting sitting Presidents from criminal indictment, because such cases were distracting and “inevitably politicized”; at the same time, he wrote, “If the President does something dastardly, the impeachment process is available.” Trump, anyway, seems satisfied. …

Rescue of 12 Thai boys and their coach is complete

From the 538 Significant Digits email this morning:

1,700 meters
The nearly miraculous rescue of the 12 boys trapped in a cave in Thailand involves, in part, delivering air and communications across 1,700 meters (just over a mile) between a cavern called Chamber Three and the group’s location deeper in the cave. As of Monday afternoon, eight boys had been taken safely out of the cave. [The New York Times]

UPDATED at 10:57 a.m. Eastern, July 10 (by the NY Times):

• The four members of the Thai military — one army doctor and three Navy SEAL members — who had stayed with the team for days have come out of the cave together. The rescue operation is officially complete. Go here to read a Q. and A. about the details of the rescue operation by the Times reporter John Ismay, a former U.S. Navy diver.

• All of the young members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their 25-year-old coach have been rescued from Tham Luang Cave, and the operation chief confirmed that all are safe at the Chiang Rai hospital.

• The boys and their coach are to spend at least a week in the hospital to help protect them from infection, doctors say.

Trump picks Kavanaugh for SCOTUS

Brett Kavanaugh Is Trump’s Pick for Supreme Court reports the NY Times.

President Trump on Monday nominated Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, a politically connected member of Washington’s conservative legal establishment, to fill Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s seat on the Supreme Court, setting up an epic confirmation battle and potentially cementing the court’s rightward tilt for a generation.

See my earlier post for details about Kavanaugh. More from the Times:

For Democrats, the nomination sets up a political battle they are likely to lose. While Republicans hold a razor-thin margin in the Senate — Senator John McCain’s absence because of his brain cancer reduces it to 50 seats — a handful of Democrats might vote for the nominee, particularly those running for re-election in states where Mr. Trump won in 2016 and is still popular.

Among Democrats facing that dilemma: Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia. All three voted to confirm Justice Gorsuch. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is also up for re-election, made his intention to reject Mr. Trump’s choice clear hours before he even announced it.

Votes from those three (Heitkamp, Donnelly, and Manchin) would be enough to cancel any moves by Senators Murkowski and Collins to block Kavanaugh’s confirmation. There is no hope that our own senators will intervene. McCain is ill and not in Washington and Flake, as usual, talks a better line than he delivers (already admitting that he will vote for confirmation). It’s an uphill battle but one that we must fight.

Trump's trade war will do most harm to his own supporters

Some (many?) of us on the left looked on with marvel (dismay?) as Trump blared crazy stuff about what we knew wasn’t so. His ignorance of economics ensured that his promises could not be kept. (Consider the futility of bringing back coal jobs.) Nevertheless, in spite of record dishonesty (6.5 lies/day), his promises to middle-America snared the votes of those in red counties. It was only a matter of time until Trump’s economic alternative reality started to crumble, taking down those voters most worshipful of Him. Trump’s trade war is the stimulus for that collapse. The irony is that those who voted for Trump are those Americans under the biggest threat of job insecurity and higher cost of living.

Greg Sargent (Washington Post/The Plum Line) explains why Trump’s delusions are about to blow up in his own voters’ faces.

With the exception of the big, beautiful wall that is already being built on the southern border (in President Trump’s mind, anyway), the issue that taps most directly into the most visceral strains of Trumpism is his escalating trade war with China. Given how often he preens about his “toughness” toward China before roaring, worshipful rally crowds, it’s hard to see how he’ll back down, no matter what the consequences.

Numbers provided to me by the Brookings Institution suggest that those consequences will most directly impact the counties that voted for Trump. Indeed, the numbers show that China has taken aggressive steps to sharpen its targeting of Trump counties in the latest round of retaliatory tariffs it just announced.

This morning, Politico reports on the backstory leading up to Trump’s trade war. Trump has been ranting for decades about other countries “ripping off” the United States on trade. Now that hostilities are escalating, Politico notes that Trump has “no clear exit strategy and no explicit plans to negotiate new rules of the road with China, leaving the global trade community and financial markets wracked with uncertainty.” But Trump loyalists say he’s playing a long game and won’t buckle. As Stephen K. Bannon puts it, Trump “has preached a confrontation with China for 30 years,” making this a “huge moment” that pits “Trump against all of Wall Street.”

Despite this phony populist posturing about Trump targeting “Wall Street,” Trump counties are the ones most likely to take a hit. The Brookings Institution, which keeps detailed county-by-county data on employment by industry, looked at all the counties that have jobs in industries that China is targeting, and broke them out by counties that voted for Trump and Hillary Clinton. Brookings provided me with this table showing the results:

Trade war fallout for Trump voters

Nearly two-thirds of the jobs in industries targeted by China’s tariffs — a total of more than 1 million jobs — are in more than 2,100 counties that voted for Trump. By contrast, barely more than one-third of the jobs in China-targeted industries — just over half a million — are in the counties that voted for Clinton. (This is based on 2017 county/employment data.) This doesn’t mean those jobs will definitely be lost; it means that they are in industries that are getting caught up in Trump’s trade war, making them vulnerable, depending on what happens.

China’s retaliatory tariffs are mainly aimed at U.S. exports of agricultural and food products such as soybeans, cereal, seafood, meats, fruits and nuts, and dairy, as well as intermediate goods and transport equipment, including vehicles.

Mark Muro, a senior fellow at Brookings who compiled this data, tells me that the jobs targeted by Chinese tariffs include well over 200,000 in poultry processing; nearly 140,000 in other animal slaughtering; over 120,000 in automobile manufacturing; and tens of thousands apiece in industries involving the manufacture of light trucks, utility vehicles and construction machinery, among others. As maps compiled by The Post show, many of these industries are concentrated in the Midwestern heartland and in the South.

The rub here, Muro tells me, is that China’s new retaliatory tariffs actually go further in targeting red counties than its previously threatened list did. “These tariffs will touch down in very specific places,” Muro said. “They appear calculated to have that effect. In its final iteration the list became significantly more rural and agricultural and red.”

It’s sometimes said that this trade war might have a negligible effect on the U.S. economy overall. But Muro points out to me that, by targeting industries that are particularly important in their geographic areas, the tariffs could have outsize impact in concentrated localities. “These counties rely pretty heavily on these industries,” Muro says. “Certain places could be hit quite hard.” Red places, to be precise.

As Paul Krugman points out, Trump’s trade escalation is built on a foundation of delusions: the idea that trade wars are easy to “win” or that the country with the largest trade surplus has secured some sort of conquering status; the refusal to grasp that disrupting complex international supply chains hurts people on all sides, including U.S. companies and workers; the lie that the United States is getting “ripped off” by punishingly high tariffs. We don’t know how far Trump’s trade war will go. But given how deeply entangled it has become with Trump’s own megalomania and with the simplistic, rage-addled vision he has nursed about international trade for decades, does anyone want to wager that Trump will find a way out anytime soon?

AND TRUMP’S TRADE WAR COULD HURT U.S. EXPORTERS, TOO: The Wall Street Journal’s Greg Ip points out that Trump’s trade war, by taxing imports, could also deprive our trading partners of money to buy our exports, in addition to taxing those exports:

Though completely counterintuitive, theory and evidence show that taxes on imports act just like a tax on exports. Though it’s early, the Trump administration’s recent round of tariffs is already rippling out to exporters: Soybean farmers face plunging prices as China raises tariffs, Harley-Davidson will move production of motorcycles destined for the European Union out of the U.S., and BMW says foreign retaliation may hit exports from its South Carolina plant.

Who knew trade policy could be so complicated?

Monday, July 9, 2018

The last independence day and the vanishing intependents

This last independence day seems to mark the demise of true independents. Or, I should probably say, we just experienced the last independent’s day. Liberal columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. and conservative columnist Max Boot explains how the GOP went off the rails taking conservatism with it. Then author Susan Faludi offers a remedy that could save Roe v. Wade from a certain attack and might thereby save the soul of America.

Leonard Pitts Jr. bemoans the collapse of conservatism in the Miami Herald (and AZ Daily Star) Now I know how the Gipper felt.

… what used to be conservatism no longer is. When’s the last time you heard the right talk about the kinds of things — fatherhood, clear-eyed foreign policy — that once helped define it?

No, these days, being “conservative” means being angry and fearful at the loss of white prerogative. It means to embrace — or at the very least, tolerate — a new and brazen strain of white supremacy. It means to be dismissive of the norms of democratic governance. It means to willingly accept nonstop lies, intellectual vacuity and naked incompetence and pretend they are signs of stable genius. It means to be wholly in thrall to the Cult of Trump.

Small wonder GOP heavyweights like columnists George F. Will and Max Boot and campaign strategist Steve Schmidt have disavowed their party out of devotion to what conservatism used to be.

That said, one wonders if it will not turn out that these worthies are simply holding out on their own lonely island of principle, if conservatism’s headlong march toward fascism will not make them the ones who seem naive 20 years down the line. But that’s their problem.

This column is about my problem, which I guess I’ve solved, though not without some regret for the days when I felt free to walk between political extremes and not declare myself. But in 2018, that’s an unaffordable luxury. In 2018, one of those extremes represents a danger as clear and present as any foreign adversary.

So yes, I am a liberal. Because I have, literally, no alternative.

The above referenced conservative columnist Max Boot has a lot more to say as he asks so-called social conservatives to Consider the cost of your dream court, conservatives.

Conservatives for whom the selection of federal judges is the top issue – and there are many of them – are feeling vindicated by their support for President Trump. He has already appointed one reliable conservative to the Supreme Court (Neil M. Gorsuch). And now, in all likelihood, he’s about to nominate another.

I understand the fervor of social conservatives, in particular, who are desperate to overturn decisions that they view as an affront to their values. The question they have to ask themselves is what price are they willing to pay for the judicial branch? Is it worth turning over the far-more-powerful executive to a narcissistic demagogue who does violence to nearly every value that conservatives claim to revere? To get judges they like, conservatives are backing:

  • A president who benefited from Russian interference in the 2016 election and appears determined to pay back Vladimir Putin by inviting him back to the G–7, possibly recognizing Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, considering the pull-out of U.S. troops from Germany and continually demeaning America’s allies.

  • A president who is an appeaser of dictators, saying that Kim Jong Un has a “great personality” and that Putin is “fine,” while attacking ailing war heroes such as former president George H.W. Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

  • A president who echoes autocrats by calling the free press the “enemy of the people,” and attempts to retaliate against objective publications such as The Washington Post.

  • A president who uses dehumanizing language (“infest,” “animals,” “breed,” “snakes”) to refer to Latino immigrants – and not just gang members.

  • A president who claims that he is above the law by asserting “I have the absolute right to PARDON myself” and the “absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department.”

  • A president who demeans women (e.g., tweeting that “low I.Q. Crazy Mika” Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift”), brags about grabbing them by their private parts, and has been accused by at least 16 women of sexual misconduct.

That’s just a sample of Boot’s list of dozens of Trump’s offenses against conservatism. He concludes:

Is all this worth a few judges? Not in my book. Trump is doing long-term damage not just to the country in general but to the rule of law in particular – the same rule of law that judges are supposed to uphold. Tolerating his reign of error would not be worth it even if he filled every seat on the Supreme Court with Antonin Scalia clones.

How to save Roe v. Wade - and the soul of our nation

Today Trump is expected to nominate a Supreme Court justice who is predicted to cast the deciding vote on women’s health - a repeal of Roe v. Wade. But there is a way to stop it if the two principled “moderate” female senators take a firm stand and bolt the GOP that has become the party of Trump. AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona explores that option in The Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins gambit – leave the GOP citing a NY Times op-ed by Susan Faludi, Senators Collins and Murkowski, It’s Time to Leave the G.O.P..

Below are excerpts from Faludi’s Times essay.

… To save Roe, Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski might need to wield a bigger stick. Fortunately, there’s one at hand, and wielding it at this pivotal moment might do good beyond the single issue. They could bolt their party and shift the balance of power in the Senate. … Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski have an opportunity for a principled act of national preservation.

By leaving the G.O.P. — either to join the other party or, more plausibly, to become independents and caucus with the Democrats — Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski wouldn’t simply be registering their opposition to a single Supreme Court justice. They’d be taking a powerful stand against their party’s escalating betrayals of the country. The Trump-era Republicans have made screamingly clear what should have been obvious for a long time: The G.O.P. is no longer a comfortable home for anyone who cares about the rights of women — or of minorities, immigrants, L.G.B.T. people, and the poor — or about the Constitution. Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski could drop the pretense that dissenting within the party has made one bit of “moderating” difference.

Defection would come at a cost. Both senators would lose precious seniority and powerful committee appointments. But accommodations can be made, and neither necessarily needs the Republican Party to win re-election. Ms. Murkowski, famously, ran and was elected in 2010 despite her party, which chose as its nominee a hard-line anti-abortion Tea Party zealot. “I am very cognizant of how I was returned to the Senate,” she said. “It was not my party that returned me. It was voters across the spectrum that returned me.”

[In spite of Collin’s votes on other issues] It’s a mistake to doubt the sincerity of Ms. Collins’s and Ms. Murkowski’s dedication to questions of women’s health. Ms. Collins was one of only three Republican senators to vote against the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Last year, she and Ms. Murkowski broke ranks to cast the deciding votes against defunding Planned Parenthood. And this year, the two senators again voted with the majority of Senate Democrats to oppose a ban of abortion after 20 weeks. Both have been solid defenders of family planning and birth control. Both have earned high ratings with pro-choice groups — Ms. Collins has been rated higher than 90 percent by groups like NARAL in multiple years. To cave on this particular issue would be a tragic abrogation of personal, as well as political, conviction. Which is why the Supreme Court battle may at last compel both women to abandon the party they should have abandoned already.

There is precedent for such a move in Collins’ own state.

Maine Senator (and Congresswoman) Margaret Chase Smith, Ms. Collins’ political foremother and idol, often broke ranks with her party — to defend, for instance, F.D.R.’s New Deal legislation from conservative attacks. On June 1, 1950, she became one of the first members of Congress to denounce the anti-Communist witch hunt of fellow Republican Senator Joe McCarthy. She began her Declaration of Conscience speech: “I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition. It is a national feeling of fear and frustration that could result in national suicide and the end of everything that we Americans hold dear.” She did not want “to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”

After six moderate Republican senators signed the declaration, Mr. McCarthy labeled them, in Trumpian fashion, “Snow White and the Six Dwarves.” He had Ms. Smith removed from her post on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (replacing her with Richard Nixon) and lavished support on her challenger in the next election (she won anyway).

Ms. Smith could at least appeal to Republican legislators willing to put reason, compassion, and country ahead of party. Trumpist Republicans have no room for such niceties — they care only about winning. Which is why only losing the Senate can get their attention, and slow the party’s extremism.

We are at another watershed moment that could “result in national suicide and the end to everything we Americans hold dear.” As the damage and outrages pile up, it’s important to remember that Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski are enabling them with their affiliation, even when they dissent. They could halt the whole charade, and alter the course of history, with a press release.