Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Mueller refers alt-right plot to FBI

This morning the AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona reports that Robert Mueller refers alt-Reich media sex assault hoax targeting him to FBI for investigation. The Blue Meanie summarizes reporting from NBC, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast and other sources that scurrilous individuals and groups are offering women loads of cash to spin stories damaging to Mueller. In response, Mueller handed it off to theFBI.

Scriber thinks this whole thing sounds very Trumpian: in advance of a damaging report on campaign collusion with Russia, start circulating false information to discredit that report.

Check out the Blue Meanie’s post for details.

Trump threatens unconstitutional executive order nullifying 14th amendment

Trump claims he can defy Constitution and end birthright citizenship reports CNN.

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump offered a dramatic, if legally dubious, promise in a new interview to unilaterally end birthright citizenship, ratcheting up his hardline immigration rhetoric with a week to go before critical midterm elections.

Trump’s vow to end the right to citizenship for the children of non-citizens and unauthorized immigrants born on US soil came in an interview with Axios released Tuesday. Such a step would be regarded as an affront to the US Constitution, which was amended 150 years ago to include the words: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

Trump did not say when he would sign the order, and some of his past promises to use executive action have gone unfulfilled. But whether the President follows through on his threat or not, the issue joins a string of actions intended to thrust the matter of immigration into the front of voters’ minds as they head to polls next week.

Trump cannot win on substantive issues like health care so he trots out bright shiny objects as fodder for the media. Here’s another one:

A day earlier, the President vowed in an interview on Fox News to construct tent cities to house migrants traveling through Mexico to the US southern border. His administration announced the deployment of 5,200 troops to protect the frontier as the “caravan” continues to advance – though it is still weeks, if not months, from reaching the US border. And the President has warned of an “invasion” of undocumented immigrants if the border isn’t sealed with a wall.

That’s the equivalent of two combat brigades. Really? The deployment will expire before the “caravan” gets anywhere near our southern border. See? Another bright shiny object.

“Unconstitutional.” Such are reactions to Trump’s threatened executive order

[From CNN:] Well, you obviously cannot do that. You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order,“ House Speaker Paul Ryan told a Kentucky radio station. Ryan said it would involve a ”very, very lengthy" constitutional process to change the 14th Amendment, which was adopted in 1868 to protect citizenship rights for freed slaves.

[CNN:] The step would immediately be challenged in court.

[CNN:] The American Civil Liberties Union slammed Trump’s proposal Tuesday morning. “The President cannot erase the Constitution with an executive order, and the 14th Amendment’s citizenship guarantee is clear,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “This is a transparent and blatantly unconstitutional attempt to sow division and fan the flames of anti-immigrant hatred in the days ahead of the midterms.”

[CNN:] Asked about Trump’s promise on Tuesday, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Virginia, said the President has the “right to raise that debate” if he wants but “this notion that he can simply violate the Constitution by executive order, let’s face it, no serious legal scholar thinks that’s real.”
“This is simply an attempt for Donald Trump, who wants to do anything possible to bring back fears around immigration, to use that as a political tool in this last week before the election,” Warner said. “This is again, where a President’s words matter. The Constitution is quite clear that no one, including the President of the United States, is above the law.”

CNN is one of Trump’s targets via the pipe bomber.

Here are additional commentary quotes on what Trump thinks he can do (but the constitution says he can’t).

WASHINGTON — Donald J. Trump on Tuesday signed an executive order stripping the children of immigrant mothers of their citizenship, thus disqualifying himself from being President of the United States.

The constitutional crisis came to light moments after the signing ceremony, when a fourth grader visiting the Oval Office on a school tour pointed out the far-reaching legal ramifications of the order.

“Hey, wait, wasn’t your mother from Scotland?” the student, Tracy Klugian, asked. “That means you’re not a citizen and you can’t be President.”

Stephen Miller, a senior adviser to Trump and the author of the executive order, quickly grabbed the document from the Oval Office desk, panic spreading across his face as he reread it.

“Oh, my God,” Miller gasped. “What have I done?”

Trump immediately called Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh for help in voiding the executive order, but Kavanaugh was unable to take the call because he was “sleeping off a rough night,” an aide to the Justice said.

Asked to comment on Trump’s predicament, former President Barack Obama said, “I can’t imagine what it would be like not to be an American citizen. Of course, my mom was born here, so I’m good.”

The above additional commentary quotes are from the New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz’s column titled Trump Strips Citizenship from Children of Immigrants, Thus Disqualifying Himself from Presidency.

Biographical note about Trump’s mother

Quoting from Wikipedia: Mary Anne Trump (née MacLeod, Scottish Gaelic: Màiri Anna NicLeòid; May 10, 1912 – August 7, 2000) was the mother of Donald Trump, the 45th and current President of the United States, and the wife of real estate developer Fred Trump. Born in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, she immigrated to the United States in 1930 and became a naturalized citizen in 1942. She raised five children with her husband and engaged in philanthropic activities in the New York area.

Steve Schmidt - Trump is 'stoking a cold civil war'

Appearing on Chris Hayes’ All In, Steve Schmidt does not hold back, in tonight’s Commentary featured on the Daily Kos.

Here is a sample.

… where we are, is at an unprecedented place in American history.

We have never had a President of the United States do, what his president is doing.

He is stoking a cold civil war in this country, and it has turned hot on the periphery.

This man Bowers, what he said was, when he went in he said: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw the optics – I’m going in.”

And he went in, to kill Jews. Jews that he believed were financing ’the Caravan’; the invading army, like a Panzer Division, that is threatening the southern border – an army that is racked and riddled with disease.

The same type of rhetoric, the same type of propaganda, that you would have seen in Germany in 1938: Dehumanization. Turning people into infested vermin.

What Trump is doing is stoking and inciting, for the purposes of political power, the worst amongst us, to take action in his name.

We have a situation, whereby but for the grace of God, the largest mass assassination attempt was avoided – that target amongst them, two former presidents of the United States.

Everyone of those people, was a target of Donald Trump’s. …

… anybody who says there is no causality between these events and the incitements are as dishonest, as they are blind.

The video clip embedded below is 10 minutes long. Play it now.

Trump's threat to end birthright citizenship is BS

Trump’s proposal to end birthright citizenship is unconstitutional say both conservative and liberal lawyers.

The conservative George T. Conway III is of counsel at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz (and husband of KellyAnne Conway). The liberal Neal Katyal is a partner at Hogan Lovells and former acting U.S. solicitor general in the Obama administration.

The fact that the two of us, one a conservative and the other a liberal, agree on this much despite our sharp policy differences underscores something it is critically important to remember during a time marked by so much rancor and uncivil discourse: Our Constitution is a bipartisan document, designed to endure for ages. Its words have meaning that cannot be wished away.

And what do they agree on? What Trump proposed to do is unconstitutional. The short of it is this.

… a constitutional amendment would indeed be necessary to revoke birthright citizenship. But no matter what, an executive order could never suffice, notwithstanding the president’s assertion to Axios: “You can definitely do it with an act of Congress. But now they’re saying I can do it just with an executive order.” Whoever they are, they have it wrong. An executive order to reinterpret “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” could never pass muster because, if the Constitution provides any leeway to decide the meaning of that phrase, it provides it to Congress, and not the president.

The authors agree on the fundamental matter. The 14th amendment’s language is clear and not open to autocratic revision.

… the drafters of the 14th Amendment declared in their very first sentence, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” The drafters were motivated by their utter revulsion toward slavery and a system that relegated people to subordinate political status because of their birth. They weren’t thinking of, or concerned with, any exceptions to birthright citizenship other than the absolutely essential.

And what they wrote was simple and clear. Both proponents and opponents of the language at the time knew exactly what it meant: Virtually anyone born in the United States is a citizen. In 1898, the Supreme Court affirmed just that: It held that the “Fourteenth amendment affirms the ancient and fundamental rule of citizenship by birth within the territory” — “including all children here born of resident aliens.” The exception? “Two classes of cases” in which the United States could not apply its laws to foreigners under historic Anglo-American legal principles: “children born of alien enemies in hostile occupation, and children of diplomatic representatives of a foreign state.”

And about Trump’s claim that the U. S. is unique in its handling of birthright?

Judd Legum (popular.info) tells us not so. “At least 30 other countries also have birthright citizenship.”

… it’s an excellent example of how Trump manipulates the press to seize control of the narrative. Trump does not want people to talk about the Republicans’ legislative agenda over the last two years. The failed effort to repeal Obamacare and the successful passage of tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy are both very unpopular.

The larger point is that this is all smoke and mirrors. It will never happen. Trump may or may not issue such an executive order but, even if he does, it won’t go anywhere.

But Trump doesn’t care about that. He wanted to shift the conversation to what he perceives as a more favorable subject. And he knows how to exploit weaknesses in the media ecosystem to do it.

Mueller refers alt-right plot to FBI

This morning the AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona reports that Robert Mueller refers alt-Reich media sex assault hoax targeting him to FBI for investigation. The Blue Meanie summarizes reporting from NBC, The Atlantic, The Daily Beast and other sources that scurrilous individuals and groups are offering women loads of cash to spin stories damaging to Mueller. In response, Mueller handed it off to theFBI.

Scriber thinks this whole thing sounds very Trumpian: in advance of a damaging report on campaign collusion with Russia, start circulating false information to discredit that report.

Check out the Blue Meanie’s post for details.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Trump's rhetoric sets the occasion for right-wing violence

Here is the short version of the 2014 Las Vegas shootings from Wikipedia.

The 2014 Las Vegas shootings occurred on June 8, 2014 in northeastern Las Vegas, Nevada, when a married couple, Jerad and Amanda Miller, committed a shooting spree in which five people died, including themselves. The couple, who espoused extreme anti-government views, first killed two Las Vegas police officers at a restaurant before fleeing into a Walmart, where they killed an intervening armed civilian. The couple died after engaging responding officers in a shootout; police shot and killed Jerad, while Amanda committed suicide after being wounded.

On Tuesday, June 10, 2014, I reacted with Why extreme rhetoric matters: Setting the occasion for violence and terrorism. My post is reprinted below.

In response to the recent Las Vegas shooting, Greg Sargent in the Washington Post takes conservatives to task for their hyperbolic, apocalyptic rhetoric.

… there are some particular features of conservative political rhetoric today that help create an atmosphere in which violence and terrorism can germinate.

The most obvious component is the fetishization of firearms and the constant warnings that government will soon be coming to take your guns. But that’s only part of it. Just as meaningful is the conspiracy theorizing that became utterly mainstream once Barack Obama took office. If you tuned into one of many national television and radio programs on the right, you heard over and over that Obama was imposing a totalitarian state upon us. You might hear that FEMA was building secret concentration camps (Glenn Beck, the propagator of that theory, later recanted it, though he has a long history of violent rhetoric), or that Obama is seeding the government with agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. You grandfather probably got an email offering proof that Obama is literally the antichrist.

At this point, conservatives will weigh in with “false equivalence” saying liberals do it too.

To my conservative friends tempted to find outrageous things liberals have said in order to argue that both sides are equally to blame, I’d respond this way: Find me all the examples of people who shot up a church after reading books by Rachel Maddow and Paul Krugman, and then you’ll have a case.

The Las Vegas shooting is just one instance - get set for more.

And I promise you, these murders in Nevada will not be the last. It may be going too far to say that conservative politicians and media figures whose rhetoric has fed the deranged fantasies of terrorists and killers have blood on their hands. But they shouldn’t have a clear conscience, either.

Sargent knows that he will attract lots of flak for this column. Indeed, we have a precedent right here at home. Recall a similar argument made by Sheriff Clarence Dupnik when Gabby Giffords was shot. Both Dupnik and Sargent are spot on. The over-heated right-wing rhetoric is not a cause for any particular incident, but it does, in psychological terms, set the occasion for the violence.

Over four years later, nothing has changed - other than now having a president who does “set the occasion for the violence” we have witnessed just within the last week.

At Blog for Arizona, Bob Lord lays On the Hands of America’s President, the Blood of 11 American Jews. He says: “Bristle at the bluntness of the title of this post if you wish. But the chain of causation is clear.”

He cites a piece in the Washington Post by Julia Ioffe who asks How much responsibility does Trump bear for the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh? She concludes:

The president did not tell a deranged man to send pipe bombs to the people he regularly lambastes on Twitter and lampoons in his rallies, so he’s not at fault. Trump didn’t cause another deranged man to tweet that the caravan of refugees moving toward America’s southern border (the one Trump has complained about endlessly) is paid for by the Jews before he shot up a synagogue. Trump certainly never told him, “Go kill some Jews on a rainy Shabbat morning.”

But this definition of culpability is too narrow, too legalistic — and ultimately too dishonest. The pipe-bomb makers and synagogue shooters and racists who mowed a woman down in Charlottesville were never even looking for Trump’s explicit blessing, because they knew the president had allowed bigots like them to go about their business, secure in the knowledge that, like [Putin adversary] Nemtsov’s killers, they don’t really bother the president, at least not too much. His role is just to set the tone. Their role is to do the rest.

Lord then cites Adam Serwer of the Atlantic: In Trump’s Caravan Hysteria Led to This, Serwer explains:

Before committing the Tree of Life massacre, the shooter, who blamed Jews for the caravan of “invaders” and who raged about it on social media, made it clear that he was furious at hias, founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. He shared posts on Gab, a social-media site popular with the alt-right, expressing alarm at the sight of “massive human caravans of young men from Honduras and El Salvador invading America thru our unsecured southern border.” And then he wrote, “hias likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”

The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact. The shooter might have found a different reason to act on a different day. But he chose to act on Saturday, and he apparently chose to act in response to a political fiction that the president himself chose to spread and that his followers chose to amplify.

So there you have it. To stoke the anger of his right-wing base in the lead up to the mid-terms, Trump chose to rant dishonestly and incessantly about the so-called caravan from Honduras. As any moron could have predicted, Trump’s dishonest message lent credibility to the anti-Semitic vitriol of haters on the far right, who raged about Jewish sponsorship of immigrant “invaders.” Sure enough, a crazed killer, acting on the combined messages he’d received from Trump and Trump’s alt right base, took it upon himself to murder 11 innocent congregants in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

Let’s be clear, Trump did not commit murder. Trump’s actions don’t fit the legal definition of murder. He didn’t know in advance that his actions would lead directly to the killing of 11 innocent American Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

So, no, Trump didn’t commit murder.

But he may as well have. After all, he set in motion the chain of events that led to the murder of 11 innocent Americans by an enraged anti-Semite with an AR15. The end result was no different than if Trump had pulled the trigger of that AR15 himself.

Donald Trump, an American president with the blood of innocent Americans on his hands.

No, Trump did not shoot those 11 Jews in Pittsburgh. Neither did he make and mail the pipe bombs to his critics. But as explained above, his rhetoric directed at the other set the occasion for those violent acts.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Mournday Mourning Illustrated Gnus

Here are some schemes, themes, memes and falems for this week in the toons of the AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona.

  • Which do you fear more: a caravan of brown-skinned refugees 1000 miles away? Or a rally of thousands of white nationalists screaming “Lock her up”?
  • Trump asks audience about toning it down. They roared “NO!”
  • So is it any surprise that Trump tones it up?
  • Trump tells MBS how to do a better cover-up
  • Public mistakes WH decorations for halloween. It’s really the new normal complete with GOPlins.
  • Election 2018: Average voter flummoxed by choice between Trumpism and Democracy.
  • Bomb squad disables Trump communications.
  • Trump campaigns for new title - Igniter in Chief.

From words to guns and bombs - Trump's dystopia threatens to destroy us all.

An opinion writer in Haaretz.com tells our political leaders, and the rest of us, that We Pittsburgh Jews Don’t Want Your Thoughts and Prayers. Keep your facile words. Instead, show us some balls. Stand up, don’t cozy up, to the purveyors of hate, to the NRA, to the cowardly politicians who legitimized the synagogue shooter’s sentiments.

So many people - who know we live in Pittsburgh, and that we have called the Squirrel Hill neighborhood home for more than 40 years - thought about us, and wrote or called when they heard about the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. We have been moved and heartened by their concern.

We told you, our friends and to our family, that we were safe, in the sense that we were fortunate not to be among the victims of Saturday’s terrible hate crime.

We are not really safe, of course, because this vile, murderous bigotry can - and has - hit all of our communities, especially those who are consistently “othered”: People of color, Muslims, LGBT people.

The sentiments behind the worst anti-Semitic atrocity in American history have been legitimized and weaponized by cowardly, unprincipled political leaders who will now fall all over themselves to send their thoughts and prayers.

Keep those facile words. Instead, show us some balls.

Stand up to the purveyors of hate, instead of cozying up to them.

Stand up to the NRA instead of licking their boots for campaign contributions.

Stand up for our communities, our diversity, for the founding dream of our society and our country.

That dream is missing, not lost, but it will take courage to find it again. Today’s victims, like others before them, deserve no less.

It gets worse. Not only are there just inffectual “thoughts and prayers”, the victims are blamed for not providing their own “protection” by the ineffectual idiot in the White House.

In his statement about the shooting to the media, Trump blames victims of synagogue shooting for not having ‘protection’ reports Mark Sumner of the Kos Daily Staff. Following are Sumner’s concluding snippets.

… "aghast” barely described the faces of the people looking at Trump. They tried again, holding out some glimmer of hope that the ugliness of his response might slip through.

Reporter: You think that all churches and synagogues should have armed guards?

Trump: I hate to think of it that way. I’ll say that. I hate to think of it that way. So … we’ll see you at the Future Farmers …

Reporter: But is that what you’re suggesting?

Trump: It’s certainly an option. This world … This is a world with a lot of problems. And it has been a world with a lot of problems for many years, many many years. And you could say, frankly, for many centuries. I mean, you look at what goes on. But … certainly you want protection. And they didn’t have any protection.

And in case anyone had missed the idea that it was the fault of the victims for not having an armed protector on hand, Trump ground that heel one more time into the open wound.

Trump: They had a maniac walk in, and they didn’t have any protection. And that is just so sad to see, so sad to see. The results could have been much better. It’s a very difficult thing. For me to stand as president and watch any of this go … You know, before I ran for office then i would watch instances like this with churches, and other things, I’d say “What a shame. What a shame.” But it’s even tougher when you’re the President of the United States and you have to watch this kind of a thing happen. It is so sad to see. So … we’ll see you at the … with the young farmers. There are a lot of them.

That was Trump’s closing statement. That this is hard … on Trump. He never reached out to the victims, or the families, and his only advice was … get a gun.

So what might that protection be?
An armed guard in every synagogue? That was Trump’s answer.
But in every church?
In every place of worship?
In every classroom?
On every playground?
In every mall?
In every restaurant?
In every bar?
In every theatre?
In every concert hall?
In every grocery store?
In every barber shop?
At every sporting event? (How many for the Astrodome?)

I ask the same about metal detectors in schools.
About kevlar vests for our children.
About razor wire topping every fence around every school.

The shooter is reported in the NY Times to have 21 guns: “Representative Mike Doyle, who represents Pennsylvania’s 14th District, where the synagogue is, said that Mr. Bowers had 21 guns registered to his name.”

Following a series of mass killings in late 2017 and early 2018 I wrote the “J’Accuse” series of posts to this blog.

J’accuse: Our national failure and disgrace: October 3, 2017

“The policy of the United States shall be the acceptance of loss of life so that assault weapons are available for legal sale”: October 4, 2017

Bump stocks fly off shelves as America accepts Las Vegas shooting deaths: October 7, 2017

MAGA: Murder by American Guns Again shows our society’s criminal culpability: November 6, 2017

Guns 103: J’accuse - Our national failure and disgrace: February 17, 2018

Guns 104: “The policy of the United States shall be the acceptance of loss of life so that assault weapons are available for legal sale”: February 18, 2018

The theme running through those “J’Accuse” posts is this:

I accuse the American people for tolerating the murders of their fellow citizens - adults and children alike - in the name of an archaic document. I accuse my fellow Americans of rewriting their Constitution so as to bestow a right to bear weapons of mass murder. I accuse my fellow Americans of living in mindless fear, of being so afraid of all that surrounds us. I accuse my fellow Americans of being gulled by the gun industry and the NRA and the political leaders into believing that more guns mean more freedom and security.

I accuse, then, most of all, the United States of America for its failure as a nation. I accuse the USA of failing “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity …” I accuse the USA of inflicting unjust injury on its citizens. I accuse the USA of fostering domestic discord. I accuse the USA of harming the general welfare. I accuse the USA of the dishonest equation of guns and liberty. I accuse the United States of America of accepting and condoning the deaths of its citizens.

To this I add:

I accuse the President of the United States of America of intentionally fomenting a rhetoric aimed at stoking hatred and intolerance among his nationalistic, white, Christian, male following thereby setting the occasion for violent acts such the latest shooting in Pittsburgh.

Sasha Abramsky writes in The Nation, The Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting Is the ​Inevitable Result of​ Trump’s Vile Nationalism. Shame on all those who have been silent—or, worse, supported the president’s agenda.

It is past time for this viciousness, this godawful bloodshed, to stop. Whether the targets are Muslims or Jews, African Americans or Guatemalans, nothing justifies the toxic rhetoric and actions now coursing through the American body-politic. It is time for a moral awakening among ordinary American men, women, and children that shuts down this nationalist dystopia unleashed by Trump and his acolytes before it destroys us all.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Trump plans to withdraw from INF treaty - nuclear winter approaches as Doomsday Clock ticks

Quiz: Which one of these does not belong to the rest?
A. Ronald Reagan
B. George Shultz
C. Donald Trump
D. Mikhail Gorbachev

You might have seized upon Gorbachev’s Russian ethnicity. You might have picked George Shultz because he was not a president. (He was Secretary of State under Reagan.) But these are all surface similarities. The correct answer is Donald Trump. Reagan, Shultz, and Gorbachev were titans of the Cold War and understood the nuclear threats it presented. As such they were able to negotiate arms control treaties that took us back from the brink of nuclear war. Trump? He’s done exactly the opposite. By his narrow minded self-interest, by his trashing of treaties and alliances, he has once more brought us to the brink.

Here are commentaries in the NY Times from both Russian and American perspectives, from Gorbachev and Shultz, on Trump’s plan to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that Reagan and Gorbachev signed in 1987. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

Regan and Gorbachev signing
Signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear
Forces Treaty at the White House in 1987

From Russia

Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union, predicts A New Nuclear Arms Race Has Begun. And why is that? President Trump says he plans to withdraw from a nonproliferation treaty that I signed with Ronald Reagan. It’s just the latest victim in the militarization of world affairs.

Over 30 years ago, President Ronald Reagan and I signed in Washington the United States-Soviet Treaty on the elimination of intermediate- and shorter-range missiles. For the first time in history, two classes of nuclear weapons were to be eliminated and destroyed.

This was a first step. It was followed in 1991 by the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which the Soviet Union signed with President George H.W. Bush, our agreement on radical cuts in tactical nuclear arms, and the New Start Treaty, signed by the presidents of Russia and the United States in 2010.

There are still too many nuclear weapons in the world, but the American and Russian arsenals are now a fraction of what they were during the Cold War. At the Nuclear Nonproliferation Review Conference in 2015, Russia and the United States reported to the international community that 85 percent of those arsenals had been decommissioned and, for the most part, destroyed.

Today, this tremendous accomplishment, of which our two nations can be rightfully proud, is in jeopardy. President Trump announced last week the United States’ plan to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty and his country’s intention to build up nuclear arms.

I am being asked whether I feel bitter watching the demise of what I worked so hard to achieve. But this is not a personal matter. Much more is at stake.

A new arms race has been announced. The I.N.F. Treaty is not the first victim of the militarization of world affairs. In 2002, the United States withdrew from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty; this year, from the Iran nuclear deal. Military expenditures have soared to astronomical levels and keep rising.

As a pretext for the withdrawal from the I.N.F. Treaty, the United States invoked Russia’s alleged violations of some of the treaty’s provisions. Russia has raised similar concerns regarding American compliance, at the same time proposing to discuss the issues at the negotiating table to find a mutually acceptable solution. But over the past few years, the United States has been avoiding such discussion. I think it is now clear why.

With enough political will, any problems of compliance with the existing treaties could be resolved. But as we have seen during the past two years, the president of the United States has a very different purpose in mind. It is to release the United States from any obligations, any constraints, and not just regarding nuclear missiles.

[On Trump’s watch] The United States has in effect taken the initiative in destroying the entire system of international treaties and accords that served as the underlying foundation for peace and security following World War II.

Yet I am convinced that those who hope to benefit from a global free-for-all are deeply mistaken. There will be no winner in a “war of all against all” — particularly if it ends in a nuclear war. And that is a possibility that cannot be ruled out. An unrelenting arms race, international tensions, hostility and universal mistrust will only increase the risk.

Is it too late to return to dialogue and negotiations? I don’t want to lose hope. I hope that Russia will take a firm but balanced stand. I hope that America’s allies will, upon sober reflection, refuse to be launchpads for new American missiles. I hope the United Nations, and particularly members of its Security Council, vested by the United Nations Charter with primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, will take responsible action.

Faced with this dire threat to peace, we are not helpless. We must not resign, we must not surrender.

From America

George Shultz, Reagan’s Secretary of State, argues that [We Must Preserve This Nuclear Treaty]. This is the time to expand, not abandon, an important nuclear weapons agreement with Russia.

Nuclear weapons are a threat to the world. Any large-scale nuclear exchange would have globally catastrophic consequences. Conscious of this reality, President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union, worked in the 1980s to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, with the ultimate goal of getting rid of them.

The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987, was a major step toward this goal, eliminating a large class of nuclear weapons that were viewed as particularly destabilizing. The treaty is still in force, although both the Obama and Trump administrations have said that Russia is in violation. Whatever the case, we need to preserve the agreement rather than abandon it, as President Trump has threatened to do.

Indeed, we should invite other countries to join the treaty and resist the temptation ourselves to develop new classes of these deadly weapons. The first step would be to convene a meeting between American and Russian experts to discuss possible violations of the treaty.

The treaty included many special features, not the least of which were provisions for extensive on-site inspections to verify that all prohibited missiles had been eliminated. Many doubted that such inspections would ever actually take place, but they did. By 1992, nearly 2,700 missiles had been destroyed. The inspection provisions expired in 2001, but the United States and Russia could agree to revive them to help resolve the worries about compliance.

Determined leaders like Mr. Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev could see the need to limit the threat of nuclear weapons, and they acted on it. In their first meeting, they agreed that a nuclear war could never be won and must never be fought. Today, we need leaders who understand the destructive power of nuclear weapons and are willing to work against them.

On Oct. 19, 2017, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said: “If you ask me whether nuclear disarmament is possible or not, I would say, yes, it is possible. Does Russia want universal nuclear disarmament or not? The answer is also yes — yes, Russia wants that and will work for it.”

The United States’ Nuclear Posture Review, published in February, includes this statement: “The United States remains committed to its efforts in support of the ultimate global elimination of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons. It has reduced the nuclear stockpile by over 85 percent since the height of the Cold War and deployed no new nuclear capabilities for over two decades.”

Recent rhetoric has undermined the meaning of these statements, but they are part of the record, and the United States and Russia should strive to live up to them.

Now is not the time to build larger arsenals of nuclear weapons. Now is the time to rid the world of this threat. Leaving the treaty would be a huge step backward. We should fix it, not kill it.

George Shultz is “a distinguished fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, was the secretary of state from 1982 to 1989 and secretary of labor, secretary of the Treasury and director of the Office of Management and Budget in the Nixon administration.”

Two minutes to midnight

Lest Trump’s threat to our national security does not arouse your insecurity, consider this January 2018 Bulletin from the Union of the Atomic Scientists.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board believes the perilous world security situation … would, in itself, justify moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

But there has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its long-standing leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict US actions—or understand when US pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surreal sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening.

Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, the Science and Security Board today moves the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes to midnight—the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.

The Science and Security Board hopes this resetting of the Clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant—as an urgent warning of global danger. The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now: #rewindtheDoomsdayClock.

Among its many recommendations for actions to move the clock back, the Board advises a return to the negotiations about the INF treaty signed by Reagan and Gorbachev:

  • US and Russian leaders should return to the negotiating table to resolve differences over the INF treaty; to seek further reductions in nuclear arms; to discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries; to limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race; and to ensure that new tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons are not built and that existing tactical weapons are never used on the battlefield.

A retrospective disclaimer from your Scriber

No one would accuse Ronald Reagan or George Shultz of being a peacenik. Neither am I. I thought the Russian interference in our 2016 election was cause to take more strenuous action than Trump’s caving to Putin in Helsinki. But two nations can butt heads on one issue (cyber interference) and still cooperate on others (reduction of nuclear arms). True to form, President Trump has failed on both counts. He has not secured our democracy and its elections, and he seems about to reengage in a nuclear arms race. Trump is the epitome of the right wing X/Anti-X approach to governance and even foreign policy. For a given agency X (USA), pick a leader who is Anti-X. We must reverse that unfortunate choice and November 6, 2018, is a start. The nation cannot afford two more years of the Trumpocracy. From top to bottom of the ballot, vote “D”.

Friday, October 26, 2018

Lock him up, Part 2 - The many problems caused by Trump using an unsecured phone

Breaking news just in on Chinese and Russian intercepts from Trump’s unsecured iPhone.

WASHINGTON — Russian and Chinese spies who have been eavesdropping on Donald J. Trump’s unsecured iPhone calls complained on Thursday that he has foiled their efforts by speaking in a language that is infuriatingly indecipherable.

According to the spies, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, what they had hoped would be a treasure trove of valuable intercepts has amounted to little more than unintelligible gibberish.

“Trump has been communicating in an impenetrable code entirely of his own creation,” a Chinese spy said. “These phone calls might as well be triple-encrypted.”

A Russian spy who has monitored Trump’s calls around the clock said that the only words that could be identified clearly were “I” and “me,” but that they were used so frequently that they became virtually meaningless.

Both the Russians and the Chinese have given their top cryptologists the task of decoding Trump’s utterances, but many of these experts have quit within days, complaining of burnout, headaches, and depression.

"Trying to decipher Trump’s calls has reduced some of our top codebreakers to tears,” one Russian spymaster said. “They all miss Obama.”

I suppose I should ’fess up and admit the above is from the New Yorker Satirist Andy Borowitz, Spies Eavesdropping on Trump Complain He Is Speaking in Indecipherable Language.

But there is a serious and multidimensional side to the flap over Trump’s use of an unsecured phone. Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) explains Why Trump’s insistence on using unsecured phones is such a disaster.

In the early days of Donald Trump’s presidency, there were a variety of reports that the Republican was making use of an unsecured phone, to the frustration of White House officials. I’d assumed the issue would be addressed soon after. It wasn’t.

In May 2018, roughly 14 months into Trump’s term, Politico reported that the president was still “rebuffing” efforts to secure his communications. The article added that while Barack Obama turned over his devices every 30 days for a security review, the current president believed that would be “too inconvenient.”

Last night, as Rachel noted on the show, the New York Times took the story to a new level.

When President Trump calls old friends on one of his iPhones to gossip, gripe or solicit their latest take on how he is doing, American intelligence reports indicate that Chinese spies are often listening – and putting to use invaluable insights into how to best work the president and affect administration policy, current and former American officials said.

Mr. Trump’s aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure, and they have told him that Russian spies are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well. But aides say the voluble president, who has been pressured into using his secure White House landline more often these days, has still refused to give up his iPhones. White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them.

Hope? Our national security depends on “hope”? That’s sort of like hoping that Trump will admit to being the real enemy of the people. Benen enumerates the problems caused by Trump’s intransigence.

Let’s count the ways in which this is a disaster for the president. First, it offers proof of Trump putting sensitive information at risk, not accidentally, but as a result of neglect and laziness. On any given day, the president of the United States knowingly picks up unsecured mobile devices, has private conversations, and remains indifferent to the fact that foreign spies may be listening and recording everything that’s said.

Second, according to the Times’ reporting, officials in China are using what they’re learning from their surveillance in order to more effectively manipulate the Republican administration to Beijing’s advantage.

Third, Trump administration officials presented their silver lining to this story in a way that makes the president look even more ridiculous.

“They said they had further confidence he was not spilling secrets because he rarely digs into the details of the intelligence he is shown and is not well versed in the operational specifics of military or covert activities,” the Times reported.

In other words, U.S. officials take some solace in the fact that Trump is so ignorant, he probably doesn’t know important secrets, which in turn makes it unlikely he’s doing real harm to the nation’s security interests.

They’re not sure, though. These officials are simply hoping for the best.

Fourth, the level of dysfunction in the White House is so severe that people around the president – officials who’ve warned Trump about using unsecured devices, only to be ignored – have decided they have to go the press in the hopes of embarrassing the president into being responsible.

But even if we put all of this aside, even if we somehow reach the conclusion that the security threats aren’t all that important and West Wing dysfunction is trivial, we’re left with a staggering political fiasco.

It’s easy to forget, but the reason Republicans and much of the Beltway press was hysterical about Hillary Clinton’s email server protocols – a story that the American electorate was told to consider of the upmost importance ahead of the 2016 election – was because of the concern that she put sensitive information at risk. It was, voters were told repeatedly, an unforgivable transgression.

During the 2016 campaign, for example, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) went so far as to formally request that Clinton be denied intelligence briefings – because her server was proof that she couldn’t be trusted to handle secrets.

This nonsense never really went away. Indeed, just two weeks ago, Trump again told Fox News that Hillary Clinton “should be in jail,” not for leaking sensitive information, but for making it vulnerable to foreign interception.

I don’t imagine any fair-minded observer believes the hysteria over Clinton’s emails was offered in good faith, but the Republican president’s use of unsecured devices puts a dagger through the heart of the Clinton story.

The one thing the right had on Clinton turns out to be something Trump is himself guilty of.

If even one Republican leader publicly condemns Trump’s approach to IT security, schedules a congressional hearing, or requests an FBI investigation, I will gladly update this post and express my sincere astonishment. But since we can safely assume no GOP officials will take such a step, the next person who pretends to take the Clinton story seriously – or the next audience who chants, “Lock her up” – deserves to be laughed at mercilessly.

As I said in yesterday’s post: “Lock him up”.

The GOP preexisting condition - they voted to kill ACA before defending it

Republicans think you are stupid. As part of your mental incapacity, the GOPlins are betting that you, and millions of other voters, have no memory of what the GOP candidates said just a couple of weeks ago. A case in point is “preexisting conditions.” The entire Republican party repeatedly voted against the ACA (aka Obamacare) which has as a major feature protection for those with preexisting conditions. But the Republicans, notably the president and leaders of both House and Senate, vowed to kill ACA and thereby remove such protection. Closer to home, AZ CD2 Rep. Martha “Get this fucking thing done” McSally jumped on that bandwagon and repeatedly voted to kill ACA. Now, however, it is apparent that the public really likes ACA and wants its protection for those with preexisting conditions. Of course, you know what’s happening next. The Republicans, including McSally, are for such protection. Big time. Why the change? That’s the topic of this post.

I begin with various commentaries. But if you are strapped for time this morning, skip to the end and view the Rachel Maddow video from last night. It features our own Martha McSally flipping, flopping, and floundering on camera about the disconnect between her votes to kill ACA (and its provision for preexisting conditions) and now her claim to be its grand protector.

This morning 538 asks Are Republicans Losing The Health Care Debate? It looks like it. They’ve done a 180 on protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

This week President Trump tweeted that Republicans would “totally protect” health insurance coverage for the millions of Americans who have pre-existing medical conditions (while Democrats would not, he said) and encouraged people to “Vote Republican.” If this sounds like a bizarre 180-degree turn for Trump and his administration, that’s because it is.

Earlier this year, the administration supported a lawsuit that asks the courts to throw out key provisions of the Affordable Care Act, arguing that the individual mandate and protections for pre-existing medical conditions were unconstitutional. What’s more, Republicans have long campaigned on the promise to repeal the ACA and tried to “repeal and replace” it for much of the summer of 2017.

“The ground has shifted under Republicans and now they’re trying to catch up with this,” said Simon Haeder, a professor at West Virginia University. Haeder said the GOP may be trying to change its tune on ensuring coverage for those with pre-existing medical conditions because the position is now so widely accepted. “A decade ago or so, we had no protections for people with pre-existing conditions,” said Haeder. “And we got those with the ACA, and now they’re so accepted by everyone that Republicans feel compelled to acknowledge they want to support people with pre-existing conditions, despite what they’ve told us for the last eight years.”

But unfortunately for Trump and the Republican party, Democrats seem to be winning the health care public opinion battle: 53 percent of Americans said they trust Democrats to do a better job with health care than Republicans in a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll. Just 35 percent of respondents said they trusted Republicans over Democrats. Similarly, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that Americans were more likely to trust Democrats over Republicans on specific health care issues like continuing protections for pre-existing medical conditions and reducing health care costs. Even independents have gotten behind Democrats: 60 percent placed their faith in Democrats to protect pre-existing conditions (compared to 19 percent who trusted Republicans) in the Kaiser poll.

Americans have also come to feel more positively toward the the ACA in the last year. Forty-nine percent of U.S adults view the ACA favorably in the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll, compared to 42 percent who view it unfavorably. The popularity of the ACA even reached an all-time high in February of this year, with 54 percent of Americans approving of it according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

With just two weeks to go until the midterms, both Democrats and Republicans are doubling down on health care as a critical campaign issue. We reached out to experts to see if they thought it was a smart move for Republicans to try to shift the narrative on pre-existing medical conditions, but the experts we spoke to said Republicans were too far behind on the issue to gain much ground. They were also unsure if this might actually hurt Republicans at the polls. After all, health care isn’t the top issue for every voter.

Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at Harvard, told FiveThirtyEight that the best political strategy for Republicans is to “try to not talk about health care.” But Democrats have made health care a core campaign issue, running deeply personal and emotional ads, and Blendon said that has ultimately forced Republicans to respond. “If you’re there and the ads are running and you’re in a forum with a Democratic candidate accusing you, you have to say something. The old argument — ‘We’ll just get rid of it and start over’ — is a total nonstarter.”

In the short term, Republicans’ strategy of supporting protections for people with pre-existing conditions may help reassure some independent voters who were already planning to cast their vote for the GOP, but the experts we spoke with said it’s not likely to sway other voters. And in the long term, experts said today’s positions will make it tougher for Republicans to repeal the ACA, putting them in a difficult legislative position going forward.

Whether Republicans will suffer electoral losses as a result is unclear. But, Eric Patashnik, a public policy professor at Brown University, said in an email that “it is already clear that Republicans have made it even harder for their party to govern if they manage to retain control of both chambers and take another stab at dismantling Obamacare.”

See? The GOPlins are losing their bet against you and your memory.

Katrina vanden Heuvel writing in the Washington Post (and The Nation) hopes that Voters must catch on to Republicans’ con on health care.

And it seems that they are.

… [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell is getting criticized for handing Democrats a campaign issue, but this has been Republican gospel for years. …

McConnell’s heresy was to mention his plans a few weeks before the Nov. 6 midterm elections. As committed as Republicans are to cutting Social Security and Medicare, they are even more rabid about not admitting that in election campaigns. More than a dozen vulnerable Republicans scrubbed their websites to omit any mention of their pledge or vote to repeal Obamacare. This year, emulating Trump’s penchant for the big lie, many have been even more brazen — cross-dressing as Medicare’s defenders against Democrats who favor moving to a Medicare-for-all program. Trump himself weighed in with a characteristically dishonest opinion piece in USA Today, arguing that Democrats would “eviscerate Medicare.”

For the first time, however, Americans might be catching on to the shuck. Health care emerged as a leading issue this year, even before McConnell made his comments. Democrats are on the attack against Republicans who voted to repeal Obamacare, deprive millions of health insurance and end coverage of those with preexisting conditions. The Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks paid advertising by candidates, super PACs and party committees, reported that from Sept. 18 to Oct. 15, almost half of the ads in federal races mentioned health care, including nearly 55 percent of pro-Democratic ads.

A Morning Consult-Politico poll taken Oct. 11–14 reports that among voters who prioritize senior issues such as Social Security and Medicare, Democrats enjoy a 19-point advantage (52–33) over Republicans. Seventeen percent of the voters reported these issues were their leading concern. In recent years, seniors have been the most conservative voting cohort, while having the highest turnout. Republicans won the senior vote convincingly in the 2010 and 2014 midterms. Trump won 53 percent of the senior vote in 2016. If these concerns dent the Republican margin among seniors, a blue wave would be virtually assured.

And Paul Waldman, also in the Post, boldly declared that Obamacare has finally won.

It’s happening on multiple fronts. First, polls over the past year or so have shown the law to be consistently popular — more so than, for instance, the tax cut Republicans thought would be the key to a midterm election victory. When even Fox News polls show the law getting more support than ever, the world is obviously not as Republicans would like it to be.

Second, instead of demanding that the ACA be torn from its foundations and set ablaze, the public seems more inclined to entrench its protections and expand its coverage. As the Associated Press reports, in the four conservative states where voters got initiatives on the ballot to accept the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid and insure thousands more people, the conservative lawmakers who refused to do so for years have been shocked by the popularity of the measures, with polls showing them with a good likelihood of winning …

Perhaps it shouldn’t have been so surprising after the backlash they experienced when they tried to repeal the ACA last year and it became apparent how popular Medicaid is. In the latest Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll, by a margin of 56 percent to 37 percent, voters in states that did not accept the expansion of Medicaid — conservative states all — now say they support expansion.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that the ACA’s guarantee of coverage for people with preexisting conditions has suddenly become the hottest issue in the midterm elections, so much so that one Republican candidate after another is airing ads proclaiming his fervent commitment to maintaining those protections — the very protections Republicans have been trying to destroy with repeal efforts and lawsuits aimed at getting the law struck down. You can find few better signs of the political success of a law than when the people who fought against it and are still trying to destroy it rush to assure voters that in fact they dearly love what it does.

And every time another Republican airs an ad claiming that he wants to mandate protections for preexisting conditions, he only reinforces one of the ideas that drove the creation of the ACA in the first place: that it’s the responsibility of government to ensure that every American has secure health coverage.

This is a story in itself. Remember the Trumpian formula for governance? For a given agency X, appoint as its leader someone Anti-X.

Just to be clear, none of this means that the ACA is safe. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said that if Republicans have the votes next year, they will try again to repeal the law. The Trump administration is encouraging states to add work requirements to Medicaid, the purpose of which is simply to force recipients to navigate a bureaucratic maze so that the state can find a justification to kick them off their health coverage. To be in charge of the Medicaid program, Trump just appointed Mary Mayhew, a former aide to America’s worst governor, Paul LePage of Maine, who refused to accept the expansion even after his state’s voters passed an initiative requiring him to do so; her mission seems to be to destroy Medicaid from the inside.

Regardless, the popularity of ACA might well shield us against such attempts at bad governance. Waldman concludes “Once people started seeing the benefits of the ACA, it did indeed become more popular. It still has problems and leaves gaps, and Democrats are becoming united around the idea of moving past it to go all the way to universal coverage. But it’s looking increasingly unlikely that we will revert to the unspeakably cruel health insurance system we had before the ACA took effect. Even if that’s what Republicans would still prefer.”

Lastly, you should set aside 10 minutes or so and view this segment from the Rachel Maddow show last night (Thursday, Oct. 25th). The clip is embedded below but if you have trouble viewing it, here is the link.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

When political incitement becomes political violence

Trump has a choice. He can dial it back. Or he can continue with the hyper-heated rhetoric that gins up his base, and risk a translation of his words into violent action.

The Guardian reported that just a while ago a suspicious package addressed to film star Robert De Niro was intercepted by NYPD. “Helicopter footage shows a bomb disposal van leaving the Tribeca neighbourhood in New York. Police are investigating a suspicious package addressed to Robert De Niro following a wave of pipe bomb discoveries this week. CNN and NBC’s New York affiliate reported that the package was similar to ones sent to prominent Democrats and was sent to an address in lower Manhattan that houses a restaurant and offices owned by the actor.” De Niro is one of Trump’s most prominent and outspoken critics.

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy exposes The Dangerously Thin Line Between Political Incitement and Political Violence. Wednesday’s pipe-bomb attacks occurred against the backdrop of a feverish political environment in which outlandish and defamatory conspiracy theories routinely get propagated and believed.

Many details have yet to emerge about the pipe bombs that targeted Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Eric Holder, John Brennan, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, and George Soros. Mercifully, the Secret Service intercepted two of the packages, and none of the others exploded. So far, nobody has come forward claiming to have been the sender. Until that happens, or the F.B.I. nabs the perpetrator, caution should be exercised in attributing responsibility. But a few things are already clear.

One is that all of the targets were people that Donald Trump has lambasted in his campaign rallies and outpourings on Twitter. They are also people who have been subjected to hateful abuse online by Trump supporters and alt-right groups. (In the case of Soros, as my colleague Eric Lach pointed out earlier, the attacks aren’t limited to the United States, and they go back years.)

We also know that the package to Brennan was sent to CNN, which Trump has repeatedly demonized, calling it “fake news” and “the enemy of the American people.” He has used the same inflammatory language about other news organizations, and, on occasion, he has appeared to encourage his supporters to take matters into their own hands. Last week, at a rally in Montana, he showered praise on a Republican congressman, Greg Gianforte, who, last year, assaulted a reporter for the Guardian. “Any guy that can do a body slam, he’s my kind of—he’s my guy,” Trump said, to loud cheers.

In reacting to the news about the pipe bombs, the White House didn’t mention any of this, of course. “These terrorizing acts are despicable, and anyone responsible will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said in a statement. Trump initially stayed away from the cameras. Then, on Wednesday afternoon, speaking at a White House meeting on the opioid crisis, he said, “the full weight of our government is being deployed to conduct this investigation and bring those responsible for these despicable acts to justice.” He added, “I just want to tell you that in these times we have to unify. We have to come together and send one very clear, strong unmistakable message that acts or threats of political violence of any kind have no place in the United States of America.”

This statement of principle was welcome, if long overdue. But, unless Trump follows up by changing his behavior and his rhetoric in a fundamental way, his words will prove to have been empty. Will he now cease his attacks on the media? “The President, and especially the White House press secretary, should understand their words matter,” Jeff Zucker, the president of CNN, noted in a statement. “Thus far, they have shown no comprehension of that.” Actually, Zucker’s reading was a generous one. In targeting journalists and news organizations, Trump may well understand exactly what he is doing, and the dangers it entails. Nothing in his prior record suggests that he will alter course. Will he tone down his rhetoric in other ways? Will his supporters refrain from spreading baseless claims about Soros, the latest of which was that he had helped organize the caravan of refugees from Honduras?”

There are plenty of grounds for skepticism. Even before Trump spoke, some right-wing pundits and provocateurs were busy spreading another outrageous conspiracy theory. “These ‘Suspicious Package’ stories are false flags, carefully planned for the midterms,” Jacob Wohl, a Trump supporter and a writer at the Web site The Gateway Pundit, wrote on Twitter. The Daily Beast reported that Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan Administration official, and Michael Flynn, Jr., the son of Trump’s former national-security adviser, had voiced similar opinions. On his daily radio show, Rush Limbaugh muttered, “It’s happening in October. There’s a reason for this.”

We shall see what the investigation turns up. But we don’t need the F.B.I. or the Secret Service to inform us that, for years now, Limbaugh and his fellow Trump followers have been busy creating a feverish political environment, in which outlandish and defamatory conspiracy theories routinely get propagated and believed—from “Pizzagate” to the latest Soros slur. We should also be well aware, by now, that in a country as divided and media-saturated as the United States the dividing line between political incitement and deadly violence is dangerously thin.

Thomas Friedman - Making America America Again

Thomas Friedman (NY Times) has the formula for How to Make America America Again: Elect Democrats and win back the House or the Senate.

Friedman should be comforted by 538’s election forecast that gives the Dems an 83.9% chance of winning control of the House. Closer to home, in its election update email, 538’s average of polls for AZ CDZ2 has Kirkpatrick up by 11.2 points, a figure higher than the 4.9 in 2016 and the Republican advantage of 1.5 points in 2012. So Friedman, probably, can rest easy. But his story is interesting anyway and, probabilistically, AND, the Dems have a 16.1% chance of NOT winning the House. So read the article and then GOTV!

What is there left to say about the terrible murder of moderate Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its aftermath? Only one thing, and I have said it before, but I feel it even more strongly now: In the midterm elections, vote for a Democrat, canvass for a Democrat, raise money for a Democrat, drive someone else to a voting station to vote for a Democrat.

I don’t say that because I’m particularly liberal and want to shift the whole country to the liberal agenda. I say that because I’m particularly American and I want to put the best of American values back at the center of our diplomacy and politics. President Trump has spent two years attacking our best values — truth and trust — and I believe that Democrats getting a lever of power is necessary, but not sufficient, to reverse that.

Democrats could blow it if they get back a lever of power and use it just to bully Trump and Republicans the same way he has them. But I’ll take that chance. Because there is a basic respect for truth, science and decency in the Democratic caucus and because I know that two more years of the G.O.P. holding every lever of power and blindly following Trump’s basic disrespect for truth, science and decency will make it impossible to elevate America’s best values.

Truth without power today is just background Muzak to the march of the Trump administration.

[snip]

In sum, words today are not enough, investigative journalism is not enough, television special reports are not enough, documentaries are not enough, endless columns and editorials calling out Trump are not enough — even an audiotape of Khashoggi being killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul may not be enough — because the truth is just not enough today — not as long as we have a president who has no shame, who is backed by party that has no spine, that controls the House, the Senate, the White House, the Supreme Court and, indirectly, a major television network that has no integrity.

One day I hope the truth will be enough again. One day I hope great journalism will be enough again. But today only a lever of power — the House or the Senate — will make it so. Facts, science and truth — without power — are just leaves floating through the air in the age of Trump, scattering aimlessly without impact.

So, this year: No third party, no Green Party, no throwing up our hands and saying, “They’re all bad.” All of that’s for another day. For today, in these midterm elections, vote for a Democrat, canvass for a Democrat, raise money for a Democrat, drive someone else to a voting station to vote for a Democrat. It’s the only hope to make America America again.

Nothing else matters. Pass it on.

Read Friedman’s essay for more of his reasoning (in the [snip]) about what is at stake in this election. (h/t Sherry Moreau)

Lock him up!. Lock him up!!! LOCK HIM UP!!!

Trump made much, so much of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. But other than the Russian-based hack, perhaps inspired by Trump’s plea to the Russians to find her email, routine correspondence was not openly available to the intelligence services of the Russians and Chinese. Nevertheless, Trump’s mob shouted “Lock her up” and continues to do so today.

Trump’s personal iPhone is an entirely different story. According to the NY Times,When Trump Phones Friends, the Chinese and the Russians Listen and Learn.

When President Trump calls old friends on one of his iPhones to gossip, gripe or solicit their latest take on how he is doing, American intelligence reports indicate that Chinese spies are often listening — and putting to use invaluable insights into how to best work the president and affect administration policy, current and former American officials said.

Mr. Trump’s aides have repeatedly warned him that his cellphone calls are not secure, and they have told him that Russian spies are routinely eavesdropping on the calls, as well. But aides say the voluble president, who has been pressured into using his secure White House landline more often these days, has still refused to give up his iPhones. White House officials say they can only hope he refrains from discussing classified information when he is on them.

Mr. Trump’s use of his iPhones was detailed by several current and former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so they could discuss classified intelligence and sensitive security arrangements. The officials said they were doing so not to undermine Mr. Trump, but out of frustration with what they considered the president’s casual approach to electronic security.

American spy agencies, the officials said, had learned that China and Russia were eavesdropping on the president’s cellphone calls from human sources inside foreign governments and intercepting communications between foreign officials.

The issue of secure communications is fraught for Mr. Trump. As a presidential candidate, he regularly attacked his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, during the 2016 campaign for her use of an unsecured email server while she was secretary of state, and he basked in chants of “lock her up” at his rallies.

So, Scriber presents Trump with three Lock-him-ups.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

In Montana it's the Party of the People vs. the Party of Trump

Timothy Egan, at the NY Times, tells us about The Best Way to Keep Democrats From Blowing This Election. The two biggest political thrusts of the Party of Trump — a tax cut for the rich that opened a tsunami of debt, and trying to take away health care from millions — are widely unpopular. It’s as simple as that.

A challenger for a House seat in Montana is betting on that simple economic message.

… when the Mendacity Machine rolled into Montana for a rally on behalf of two of the least likable politicians in the Rocky Mountains. Trump praised one of those pols, Representative Greg Gianforte, a man with nouveau Gilded Age wealth and attitude to go with it, for committing criminal assault.

“Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my kinda guy,” said Trump. Gianforte, who stands to be the richest representative in the House with the retirement of Representative Darrell Issa, pleaded guilty last year to misdemeanor assault of a reporter who had asked him about health care. He threw the man to the ground and broke his glasses, then lied about it.

But while the presidential thug plug dominated the news, a quieter, more telling campaign has been unfolding under the Big Sky — one that returns Democrats to a role as defender of average working people. Kathleen Williams, who has been crisscrossing Montana in her camper with her dog, is poised to knock off Gianforte with an old-fashioned campaign that should be a model for Dems mired in media-driven sideshows.

Democrats have forgotten “the forgotten man”

Democrats used to be known for love of the Little Guy. Franklin Roosevelt won Texas, Oklahoma and Montana — for that matter, most of what is now Red State America — through four elections, while campaigning on behalf of “the forgotten man.” This dandy from a Hudson River Valley estate connected words to a political revolution that changed millions of lives for the better.

That message has been lost to history’s vapors. When 4,035 working-class voters in battleground states were recently asked to name an elected official who was fighting for them, the top answer was “no one.”

After attending the Democratic National Convention two years ago, Kellyanne Conway offered this summary of what she heard: “Their message is Donald Trump is bad, and we’re not Donald Trump. The rest of the message was race, gender, L.G.B.T.”

As this filters out to the heartland, it doesn’t help good people trying to put a check on Trump. “The national party hasn’t been engaged with a good message,” as Billie Sutton, a Democratic former rodeo rider running for governor in South Dakota, told my colleague Jack Healy. “It used to be fighting for the little guy.”

A winning strategy

A winning strategy is to go directly to the self-interest of a majority that is being hurt by Republican policies. The two biggest political thrusts of the Party of Trump — a tax cut for the rich that opened a tsunami of debt, and trying to take away health care from millions — are widely unpopular. This election should be no more complicated than that.

That’s exactly what Williams, who says she will not support Nancy Pelosi as House party leader, has figured out. While still a teenager, she lost her mother. And she later lost her husband, a Vietnam veteran, to early death as well. That gave her a sense of how life can throw a random punch to the gut.

“The millionaires have lots of people helping them,” she says. “I’m running for Congress because we need someone who will fight for us.” In a state that Trump won by 20 points, she’s polling about even with Gianforte.

“Not to be too dramatic about it, but Kathleen Williams is the congressional candidate Montana has been waiting for,” wrote the Missoulian newspaper in a recent editorial endorsement.

Gianforte, a tech magnate said to be worth about $600 million, favors tax cuts for people like himself and is against expanding health care for those at the other end. A Montana ballot measure that would raise tobacco taxes to provide health care for the working poor is well ahead in the polls. The key here is independent voters — around 44 percent of the electorate — who are willing to cut through the daily cable news fat in search of the real meat of politics.

It’s frustrating, during a week in which Trump has probably set a record for most lies to come out of a White House in so short a time, to stay focused on boring policy. Trump is counting on people being stupid, and easily distracted. Montana, a state that in 1916 sent the first woman to Congress, can show him otherwise, with the election of another woman in 2018.

So, the Montana race pits a representative of the Party of the People against a representative of the Party of Trump. The signs are promising for a win for the people.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Fake tax cuts and more - for Trump reality is an opponent that must be defeated

Judd Legum (in his popular.info email) nails the master of fake news on the fake tax cut. I’ve reprinted it below but if you go to the site, https://popular.info/p/preexisting-deception you will find another interesting post on how Republicans portray themselves as the saviors of insurance coverage for preexisting conditions while simultaneously working to get rid of that coverage.

The fake tax cut for the middle class

Trump is promising the middle class a tax cut before the November election. He revealed his plans while answering questions from reporters on his way to a rally in Nevada this Saturday:

We are looking at putting in a very major tax cut for middle-income people. And if we do that it’ll be sometime just prior to November. We are studying very deeply right now round the clock a major tax cut for middle-income people.

There is just one problem: Congress won’t even be in session before Election Day.

Trump repeated his claim on Monday but acknowledged that the vote wouldn’t happen until after Election Day:

We’re putting in a resolution sometime in the next week-and-a-half or two weeks… This is not for business. This is for middle. That’s on top of the tax decrease that we’ve already given… I’m going through Congress. We won’t have time to do the vote. We’ll do the vote later. We’ll do the vote after the election.

What will Congress be voting on? Trump has not released any plan or even basic details of what he has in mind.

Trump’s sudden announcement of a middle-class tax cut that will, in all likelihood, never happen is an obvious political ploy. But what’s more interesting is what it says about Trump’s last tax cut, which was enacted just 10 months ago.

Trump is tacitly acknowledging something that is true: his 2017 tax cuts did little for the middle class. This year, the average family making between $50,000 and $75,000 a year receive a tax cut of $570, or $47.50 per month. The average millionaire, meanwhile, gets $69,660. Two-thirds of Americans say they haven’t noticed any increase in their paychecks.

The fact that most families haven’t seen a significant increase in take home pay has had political consequences. A recent Gallup poll found only 39% of Americans approve of the cuts. What was supposed to be a blockbuster issue for Republicans in the midterms has turned into a bust.

The bill’s popularity is not likely to improve. The 2017 tax cut’s benefits for the middle class peak in 2018. Because of the way the tax brackets are indexed to inflation, the benefits will shrink each year. In 2025, the individual tax cuts expire completely, leaving many in the middle class worse off.

Trump is betting on the idea that it’s more effective to talk about tax cuts that don’t exist than about the ones he signed into law.

Reality is an opponent to be defeated

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) also boils, broils, and blisters Trump for coming up with a huge lie in Trump’s tax cuts were a dud, so he’s made up new ones that don’t exist. And not only that, Trump is “making up” everything from riots through voter frauds to the Saudi arms deal.

… said over the weekend that he and congressional Republicans are working “around the clock” on a new tax cut, which he suggested we’d see no later than Nov. 1, despite the fact that Congress is effectively out of session. …

… the president repeated the vow at a rally in Texas last night, boasting that the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee has been working on a new tax cut “for a few months,” and the proposal is “going to be put in next week.”

None of this makes a lick of sense. No one in Congress has any idea what this is about – even White House officials are reportedly “mystified” – and since Capitol Hill will be largely empty next week, there won’t be anyone around to unveil a new multi-billion-dollar tax proposal.

… while it may be tempting to simply point and laugh at Trump’s bizarre confusion, there are a couple of substantive angles to this.

The first is that there’s a growing realization, even inside the Oval Office, that Trump’s original tax cuts were a political dud, which has apparently led the president to believe it’s time to make up new ones before Election Day.

As the Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell explained overnight, “The Republican tax cut is a big, fat failure. It has achieved none of the things that Republicans promised it would. It didn’t reduce deficits. It didn’t target the middle class. And it didn’t win goodwill with voters.”

The second angle to keep in mind is that, with just two weeks remaining before the congressional midterm elections, Trump’s closing message is based almost entirely on brazen lies.

The president is making up tax cuts. He’s making up “riots.” He’s making up racist conspiracy theories. He’s making up health care policies. He’s making up voter fraud. He’s making up a $110 billion arms deal, which in his mind will create 500,000, 600,000, or a million jobs.

With the pressure on and early voting underway, Donald Trump has decided reality is an opponent that needs to be defeated.

Fitz - Journalists matter

In today’s Daily Star, cartoonist and columnist David Fitzsimmons tells us Why the death of Jamal Khashoggi matters. The editorial is reprinted here.

I was recently asked why the death of Jamal Khashoggi is such a big deal.

I have participated in many relevant discussions this year about the tenuous future of journalism . On Oct. 1, I moderated a panel of local journalists and political leaders at The Loft entitled, “Why a Free Press is Essential to Democracy” where I heard my fellow citizens express profound concern over the endangered status of journalism. Daily, from around the world, we have all heard the growing reports of reporters, editors and cartoonists threatened with violence, oppression, imprisonment or death.

The first week of September, I attended a conference of cartoonists in Mexico City hosted by Cartón Club, a global association formed by cartoonist Angel Boligán. The central feature of the gathering was a gallery show, “La linea de fuego” (The line of fire) which focused on the threatened status of the press around the globe and in Latin America in particular, where journalists continue to do their work at great peril.

Last week, a colleague, friend and neighbor of mine, political cartoonist Chris Britt, drew a political cartoon about Brett Kavanaugh that unleashed a firestorm of hate. Within hours he received thousands of posts and threatening emails. He’s thinking of moving. He closed his online presence. He’s had to hire security. A stranger with a gun was seen outside his home when he was not there.

At rallies, our president ridicules the press as a cabal of partisan liars and encourages his supporters to join in the lynch mob fun.

As an “enemy of the people,” I continue to suffer threats and insults that today far exceed any vitriol I ever received in the past in scale, fevered rage and threatening ugliness. In polls we know a terrifying number of our fellow Americans would welcome a muzzling of the free press. You will not find more patriotic citizens of a free republic than her journalists, citizens working tirelessly to preserve our democratic ideals of transparency, accountability and justice.

When I visit classrooms, I tell horror stories to capture the attention of students. I describe the lives of essayists, pamphleteers, cartoonists and fearless journalists who were drawn and quartered, crucified, burned alive, shot, poisoned, guillotined or tossed in gulags by monsters who fear inquiry. And now a bone saw is part of the litany of horror.

The death of Jamal Khashoggi is an international turning point for our world. We are at a crossroads. Will we turn away from our democratic ideals? Will we turn our backs on the watchdog journalists who are the natural foes of authoritarian dictatorships in every dark corner of the globe? Will the president who calls the press “the enemy of the people” side with the enemies of liberty and freedom?

Every journalist daring to question authority in this grim age of rising fascism is watching this crime drama unfold as pathetic rationalizations ooze from our craven White House. Every dictator and despot wringing their hands over the journalists who dare to question their absolute authority is watching our president’s cowardly response closely. They must be encouraged that the leader of the Free World is giving Saudi Arabia, the vile murderers of Jamal Khashoggi, a free pass.

And why? Because of lucrative financial ties.

The nation that once was the beacon for human rights around the globe is dimming its torch for 30 pieces of Saudi silver. The nation that once was the beacon for human rights is making it clear to despots and dictators they are free to butcher their critics because we just don’t care anymore or perhaps because our economic partnership is sufficiently profitable to buy our souls.

Enough is enough. Sanction Saudi Arabia. America must send a clear message to the world. Journalists matter. Democratic ideals matter. Jamal Khashoggi matters.

Yesterday's toons and a tune

Here are yesterday’s schemes, themes, memes, and falemes from the Chronicles of King Donald I.

I know - I’m a day late on this one. They appear first as cartoons selected by the AZ Blue Meanie for the Mournday Mourning Illustrated Gnus and then are reviewed by your Scriber. This week, however, Scriber is running in reverse, posting on the toons a day late. But that’s OK, right? The GOPlins under Trump are always running Back in Time.

With apologies to Huey Lewis and The News and their Back to the Future track:

Tell me, Donald, why are you being so mean
Is this the 50’s, or 2019
All I wanted to do, was collect my medicare
Repeal ACA? So un-fair
So you better promise me, you’ll go back in time
We’ll getcha back in time

McSally's treason
McSally's weird definition of treason
  • Deficit aka McConnell’s monster devours medicare, medicaid, and social security. Angry mob takes to the streets.
  • Trump courts MBS, calls him My Best Saudi. They agree that journalists are the enemy of the people.
  • Trump scrubs the Saudi Consulate after the accidental dismemberment.
  • You don’t suppose … Trump talked about cutting an arms deal and MBS took him literally?
  • Republicans think that clean energy bill Prop 127 costs too much. They prefer global catastrophe due to global warming.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Trump's Department of Health and Human Services negates the humanity of transgender people

Perhaps we should rename it the Department of Ill Health and Inhuman Services?

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) reports Trump admin eyes rolling back the clock on transgender rights.

the proposed change would “essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves – surgically or otherwise – as a gender other than the one they were born into.”

This comes on the heels of a series of related measures from the Trump administration that are designed to turn back the clock on the rights of LGBT Americans, including the president’s ban on transgender Americans serving in the military.

All of which may come as a surprise to those who believed what Candidate Trump had to say before he was elected.

I was doing some Googling over the weekend and came across this New York Times article from April 2016, right around the time Donald Trump was wrapping up the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The headline read, “Donald Trump’s More Accepting Views on Gay Issues Set Him Apart in G.O.P.”

Readers were told at the time that while Republicans have opposed civil rights for LGBT Americans, Trump is “far more accepting of sexual minorities than his party’s leaders have been.”

… Trump, in apparent seriousness, said he, not Hillary Clinton, would be the “better friend” of the “LBGT” [sic] community. Just two days after the Orlando shooting, Trump added, “Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you.”

If that is indeed what’s up, Trump could be redefining transgendered people as non-people. Here’s more from the NY Times article I posted on yesterday: ’Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration.

The new definition would essentially eradicate federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who have opted to recognize themselves — surgically or otherwise — as a gender other than the one they were born into.

“This takes a position that what the medical community understands about their patients — what people understand about themselves — is irrelevant because the government disagrees,” said Catherine E. Lhamon, who led the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights in the Obama administration and helped write transgender guidance that is being undone.

The move would be the most significant of a series of maneuvers, large and small, to exclude the population from civil rights protections and roll back the Obama administration’s more fluid recognition of gender identity. The Trump administration has sought to bar transgender people from serving in the military and has legally challenged civil rights protections for the group embedded in the nation’s health care law.

Several agencies have withdrawn Obama-era policies that recognized gender identity in schools, prisons and homeless shelters. The administration even tried to remove questions about gender identity from a 2020 census survey and a national survey of elderly citizens.

Ms. Lhamon of the Obama Education Department said the proposed definition “quite simply negates the humanity of people.”

And I know why that is. Here is a snippet from my blog posts spanning the 2016 election, one being Donald Trump: “you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect”.

Lastly, we should never forget Trump’s primal flaw - he has nothing but contempt for the vast majority of Americans. This is from NY Times report on Trump’s biographer’s tapes.

Who earns his respect? “For the most part,” he said, “you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”