Wednesday, July 31, 2019

How does the intelligence community inform a president who lives in the Fox News bubble - with a John Ratcliffe in charge

The correct answer might be “it doesn’t”.

JOHN RATCLIFFE AND ACCOUNTABILITY FOR A PRESIDENT WHO LIVES IN A FOX NEWS BUBBLE is today’s featured post at emptywheel.net.

Garrett Graff argues [in wired.com] that, even given the list of indicted or otherwise disgraced former Trump officials, John Ratcliffe may be Trump’s most alarming personnel decision. I don’t disagree that the Ratcliffe decision is dangerous. But Graff’s argument made me realize something else about the pick. Ratcliffe is dangerous because he may render the entire intelligence apparatus useless, but useless for a purpose it is not currently supposed to serve.

Graff describes, accurately, what the purported function of the Intelligence Community [IC] is: to provide the President with the best possible information that he will use — the assumption goes — to make the best possible decisions for our country

The biggest danger Ratcliffe poses is to the integrity of the job of director of national intelligence in the first place; the core principle of the intelligence professional is to speak truth to power.

The US spends $60 billion a year on the nation’s intelligence apparatus, a workforce of tens of thousands ranging from CIA officers and FBI agents to NSA cryptologists and hackers, NGA analysts, interpretation experts at the NRO, financial wizards at the Treasury Department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis, and much more.

All of that money and all of those workers share a simple uniting goal: To ensure that the president of the United States is, in every conversation and decision, the most informed, knowledgeable, best-prepared person in the room. They enable the president and his advisors to anticipate problems and opportunities; understand the mind, decision-making, and internal pressures of foreign leaders far and wide; know from satellites overhead, cables underground, and agents in the field what’s happening the world over—and why.

It’s odd, when you think about it, that you can have this enormous bureaucracy and the sole justification for it all, in statute, is to make the President smart. That’s not even practically how it works anymore — so many people in and outside that bureaucracy make decisions based off their work, and Congress increasingly relies on it too, that that justification seems rather odd when laid out like that. But that is what the legal justification remains.

Having laid out that accurate justification, Graff argues, correctly, that Ratcliffe’s record as a toady for Trump means he won’t speak truth to power as Dan Coats has at key times.

With a president so divorced from daily reality as Trump, it’s all the more important to fill the role of DNI with someone whose first duty is to puncture the Fox News fever swamp bubble that surrounds the White House, and provide real facts, grounded analysis, and ensure—to whatever extent possible—that the information that flows into the Oval Office and the decisions that flow out of it are informed and strategic.’

… if the most important role of the DNI is to accurately convey the true intelligence the IC has created — then it doesn’t much matter who Trump appoints. That’s because it doesn’t matter whether Trump hears the truth or not, he doesn’t use intelligence anyway. He’s going to do what his gut and Fox News tells him to do, regardless of whether it flies in the face of reality. Hell, much of the GOP will go along these days, including our Fox saturated Attorney General, who has in less obvious but no less dangerous ways lost his grip of a reality independent of the Fox bubble.

… Ratcliffe is a problem for a bunch of other reasons. It’s not just that he will brief the President with false claims the President wants to be true, but he will order up the entire bureaucracy to replicate the false claims the President wants to be true, in defiance of known facts. He will fire competent people and replace them with people willing to serve up the false claims the President wants to be true; indeed, both he and Trump have already said that’s what he wants to do. …

Those are all dangerous things. But that they present the real threat to the Ratcliffe appointment, they signal that the IC doesn’t actually serve the purpose laid out in statute anymore and that — especially in the wake of the Iraq War debacle (in the wake of which the DNI position was created, as a way to avoid similar catastrophes in the future) — the public has grown to expect the IC to serve as a measure of whether the President has spun free of reality (Obama did this most notably on Syria and Afghanistan).

There’s a hope, I think, that the IC can save us all from being forced to live in Trump and Ratcliffe and Bill Barr’s Fox News bubble, or at the very least, bringing Trump back from the bubble into reality.

If that’s really what purpose we expect it to serve, we need a dramatically different IC than we currently have.

A paid parental leave program that only Scrooge - or Trump - could love

In this Subscriber’s post, Judd Legum at popular.info, reports on a proposal by Republican Senator Bill Cassidy and Democratic Senator Kyrsten Sinema: Paying for your own parental leave.

Paying for your own leave

In his quest for reelection in 2020, Trump knows he must regain some support among women. That’s why he’s targeting women on Facebook with special messages. Among those messages: Trump supports paid parental leave.

This sounds pretty good. The United States is the only industrialized nation to have no mandatory paid maternity leave. As a result, only 17% of employers offer paid leave to new parents. Among low-income workers, just 6% have access to paid family leave.

But what does Trump mean by “paid family leave”? On Tuesday, we learned some details when Ivanka Trump tweeted her support for a new plan by Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

In short, the Republicans will only support a paid leave program if it is revenue neutral: the Cassidy-Sinema proposal “allows mothers or fathers to pay for their own leave by taking a loan and then repaying it through increased taxes over five years.”

Why does the Cassidy and Sinema plan offer no new benefits to parents and simply shift around resources? For example, you could have a version of the Cassidy and Sinema plan that provides a $5,000 benefit to parents without reducing the Child Tax Credit in subsequent years.

The plan is structured this way because Republicans insist that any “paid family leave” plan be revenue-neutral. In order to work with Republicans on this issue, Sinema had to agree to this constraint. Keep in mind, less than two years ago, Republicans unanimously voted for a tax cut package that provided over $1 trillion in corporate tax cuts without any offsets.

But there are different rules for parents. Republicans are insisting that even this most modest benefit for parents be fully paid for by increases taxes on any parent who uses it.

So, one message we might send to Sinema is that “work with Republicans” carries a cost: their way or no way.

It gets worse.

Very low-income workers have fewer resources to accommodate the birth of a new child. But for these workers, the Cassidy and Sinema plan is even worse. These workers, who make less than $12,000 per year, would not be eligible for the full $5,000 benefit. Instead, they could receive a maximum of 12 weeks of their salary. So a “single parent who works 20 hours a week and makes the current federal minimum wage of $7.25” could receive only $1,740. It still has to be paid back over a period of 15 years.

The Cassidy and Sinema plan places the burden entirely on employees. They are funding their leave through future tax increases. Employers and the federal government are paying nothing. According to [a] survey, this is the least popular option, supported by just 2% of voters.

The second-least popular option, drawing early from Social Security, was endorsed by Ivanka Trump last year. Just 3% support that kind of plan. 59% of voters support employers absorbing some or all of the cost.

From a 2017 OECD report:

In almost all OECD countries, the current length of paid leave available to mothers is longer than it was in 1970 and, to a slightly lesser extent, 1990. In 1970, on average across OECD countries, mothers had access to just 17 weeks of paid leave. By 1990 this had increased to about 40 weeks, and by 2016 to just over one year (52.5).

A more progressive proposal in the U.S.

In the United States, even progressive paid leave programs are quite modest. The Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, sponsored by Senator Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), would “[p]rovide workers with up to 12 weeks of partial income” for leave after the birth of a child or to deal with a serious health condition in their family. During that time, workers would “earn 66 percent of their monthly wages.”

The FAMILY Act would be “funded responsibly by small employee and employer payroll contributions of two-tenths of 1 percent each (two cents per $10 in wages), or less than $2.00 per week for a typical worker.” So the FAMILY Act is also revenue-neutral, but provides new resources to parents, rather than just saddling them with debt.

A separate survey question by the National Partnership for Women & Families found that 80% of Americans supported a proposal like the FAMILY Act.

To restate the obvious, like most things in the era of Trump, the GOPlins beat up on common folk. Suppose each parent has a full-time job. To care for the new-born, one must stay home or spend money to pay for someone to do child care. The Cassidy-Sinema proposal does the latter. It does Scrooge proud.

Winners and losers of last night's Democratic debate

Here is the NY Times “Opinion’s commentary for the first night of the second Democratic presidential candidate debate. In this special feature, Times Opinion writers rank the candidates on a scale of 1 to 10: 1 means the candidate probably didn’t belong on the stage and should probably drop out; 10 means It’s on, President Trump. Here’s what our columnists and contributors thought about the debate.” Winners and Losers of the Democratic Debate.

Thanks to our Roving Reporter Sherry Moreau.

Trump DNI appointment would subvert American intelligence

Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coats, is being replaced by a Trump loyalist - assuming he is confirmed by the Senate. Trump’s Message to U.S. Intelligence Officials: Be Loyal or Leave writes David Rohde, an Executive Editor of newyorker.com. Scriber thinks that this might be the single most dangerous action that Trump has taken. The danger lies in abandoning 40 years of the intelligence community speaking “truth to power” in favor of speaking what the great leader wants to hear. We’ve been through that. Faulty intelligence was what Dubya wanted to hear and that led to the Iraq war. And now we are faced with the possibility of a Trump sycophant as DNI. What could go wrong?

That’s the short version. Here is more from Rohde.

This past Wednesday, during Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Representative John Ratcliffe, a Republican from Texas who was previously a federal prosecutor, accused the former special counsel of illegally smearing President Trump. Ratcliffe demanded to know why Mueller had stated in Volume II of his report—which investigated whether the President had obstructed justice—that, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” His voice rising, Ratcliffe said that the sentence “was not authorized under the law to be written” and violated a “bedrock principle of our justice system.” He urged Americans to ignore the “Democrats and socialists on the other side of the aisle” who cited it. Fact checkers found Ratcliffe’s claims to be false, but he ended his appearance with a dramatic flourish. “I agree with the chairman this morning when he said Donald Trump is not above the law. He’s not,” Ratcliffe said, his voice rising. “But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where Volume II of this report puts him.”

In a Sunday-morning interview on Fox News, Ratcliffe again demonstrated his support for the President, declaring that “it was a great week for Donald Trump.” The congressman claimed that Mueller did “not have a command” of what was in the report, which, he said, had been written by “Hillary Clinton’s de-facto legal team.” He said that Trump deserved a presumption of innocence, then added, “What I do know, as a former federal prosecutor, is that it does appear that there were crimes committed during the Obama Administration.” Ratcliffe then praised an unprecedented review that Attorney General William Barr is conducting of the work of the F.B.I. and key intelligence agencies in the launch of the 2016 Trump-Russia investigation, saying, “Bill Barr has earned my trust already and the trust of the American people.”

Six hours later, Trump nominated Ratcliffe to be the most powerful intelligence official in the country, replacing Dan Coats, who is stepping down as the director of National Intelligence. Sources told the Times that Trump enjoyed watching Ratcliffe aggressively question Mueller, but denied that this was the reason the Texas congressman got the job. …

Reactions

… The Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, disagreed, issuing a statement that said, “It’s clear that Rep. Ratcliffe was selected because he exhibited blind loyalty to President Trump with his demagogic questioning of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller.”

James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence … said in an e-mail that it is the President’s prerogative to nominate whom he wishes. But he added that the nomination of a Trump loyalist to replace Coats sends a clear message to members of the intelligence community: “Obviously, the President wants someone in this position whose first priority is loyalty to Donald Trump.”

Clapper also expressed concern about the effect that appointing Ratcliffe could have on intelligence officials whose job it is to present apolitical information to policymakers. “I worry about the people in the Intelligence Community, and the impact of being directed to write intelligence analyses that comport with the Presidents’ world view, and not their best judgement as to the facts,” he wrote. “Over time, this could be very dangerous to the country. ‘Truth to power’ is a crucial, rock-bed tenet of US intelligence, and Dan Coats upheld that.”

Senator Angus King, a Maine Independent who caucuses with the Democrats and serves on the Senate Intelligence Committee, declined to comment on Ratcliffe. But he, too, warned of the dangers of politicizing intelligence. “We have gotten in trouble in this country in the past when we have cherry-picked intelligence for political purposes or to suit the needs of the President,” he told the Times. “That is the worst thing that can happen.”

There is a very good chance of seriously bad effects of a Ratcliffe as DNI.

Most important, Ratcliffe is a full-throated backer of Trump’s practice of trafficking in conspiracy theories for political gain; he has joined the President’s effort to claim that it wasn’t the myriad contacts between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials that led to Mueller investigation but, rather, that the inquiry was part of a “deep state” conspiracy. Ratcliffe has repeatedly claimed that Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, colluded with Russia and that a cabal of C.I.A. and F.B.I. officials, working with foreign intelligence services, carried out a global conspiracy to entrap Trump aides.

That’s why the AZBlueMeanie thinks that America is about to experience Stalinesque events: Coming this fall: Show trials for U.S. intelligence agents who investigated Russian interference in 2016. Citing another report on AG Barr’s investigation of the investigators:

Meanwhile Barr’s “investigation into the investigators” is underway, and the attorney general has said he is working very closely with Horowitz. The inspector general can recommend prosecutions, and U.S. Attorney John Durham, whom Barr tasked to lead the review, has the ability to convene a grand jury and subpoena people outside of the government. Beyond that, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, has promised a “deep dive” into the origins of the Trump-Russia investigation after Horowitz completes his work.

Fair warning: this is developing into “prosecute the investigators” with Stalinist show trials this fall as Trump has long demanded. And that may include members of the Obama administration, including President Obama himself, as Trump has frequently suggested. This is the stuff of authoritarian banana republics and dictatorships.

Trump has already captured the Department of Justice with the corrupt William Barr who has turned the department into Trump’s personal law firm to defend Trump, and to pursue his political enemies.

Now Trump is tying up loose ends by getting rid of his Director of National Intelligence, Dan Coates, and trying to replace him with a Trump loyalist and conspiracy monger, the aforementioned Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX). Trump’s nominee to lead America’s intelligence agencies has an unusually thin résumé …

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) is entirely unqualified and unfit to serve as Director of National Intelligence. Trump wants this conspiracy mongering Trump loyalist in this position for the Stalinist show trials of current and former intelligence community agents that he and his “fixer,” William “Coverup” Barr are planning for this fall, as Michael Tomasky warned. You Think It’s Bad Now? Wait for Next Year’s Show Trials

This is the stuff of authoritarian banana republics and dictatorships. If this is where Donald Trump and his “fixer” William Barr are taking this nation this fall, we have already crossed the Rubicon into authoritarianism, and our democracy is in grave peril.

The goal is to chill any intelligence efforts into ongoing Russian interference in the 2020 election, leaving our elections vulnerable to Russian attacks to “reelect” Trump.

Contact your senators and demand that they oppose the nomination of Rep. John Ratcliffe.

Rhode wraps it up.

… The bitter partisanship that Trump intentionally fuels is eroding a forty-year consensus in Washington regarding the need for apolitical intelligence. Fuelled by Trump, Republicans believe that intelligence agencies are plotting against the President; Democrats, in turn, are convinced the President is silencing intelligence chiefs who disagree with him.

Whether Ratcliffe becomes the director of National Intelligence now rests with the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee, which must confirm his nomination, once Trump formally submits it, before passing it on for a full Senate vote. The committee’s chairman, Richard Burr, of North Carolina, has done an admirable job of producing a bipartisan investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Burr, who is not running for reëlection, is one of a handful of Republican senators with the ability to defy Trump. He reportedly cautioned the White House that Ratcliffe was too political for such a powerful position. Trump named Ratcliffe anyway.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Trump's suppression of facts about climate change will shape the future

Not quite. The future is going to happen. But suppression of what we know about the past and the present will limit what we can do about the future.

"And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. ‘Who controls the past’ ran the Party slogan, ’controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.’” - George Orwell’s 1984.

A former analyst at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research tells a scary story of what Trump doesn’t want you to know - and how the administration suppresses facts in favor of Trump’s own fiction: The White House Blocked My Report on Climate Change and National Security Politics intruded on science and intelligence. That’s why I quit my job as an analyst for the State Department writes Rod Schoonover in the NY Times.

White House suppresses climate science

Ten years ago, I left my job as a tenured university professor to work as an intelligence analyst for the federal government, primarily in the State Department but with an intervening tour at the National Intelligence Council. My focus was on the impact of environmental and climate change on national security, a growing concern of the military and intelligence communities. It was important work. Two words that national security professionals abhor are uncertainty and surprise, and there’s no question that the changing climate promises ample amounts of both.

I always appreciated the apolitical nature of the work. Our job in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research was to generate intelligence analysis buttressed by the best information available, without regard to political considerations. And although I was uncomfortable with some policies of the Trump administration, no one had ever tried to influence my work or conclusions.

That changed last month, when the White House blocked the submission of my bureau’s written testimony on the national security implications of climate change to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The stated reason was that the scientific foundation of the analysis did not comport with the administration’s position on climate change.

After an extended exchange between officials at the White House and State Department, at the eleventh hour I was permitted to appear at the hearing and give a five-minute verbal summary of the 11-page testimony. However, Congress was deprived of the full analysis, including the scientific baseline from which it was drawn. Perhaps most important, this written testimony on a critical topic was never entered into the official record.

Trump does not believe climate change so WH makes the evidence go away

The bottom line of written testimony was this: “Climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security over the next 20 years.” In developing this assessment, I drew from peer-reviewed scientific studies and findings of the government’s own scientists. This conclusion was hardly new. The intelligence community has repeatedly warned of the dangers that climate change poses to national security. Earlier this year, for instance, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, warned in the annual “Worldwide Threat Assessment” that, “Global environmental and ecological degradation, as well as climate change, are likely to fuel competition for resources, economic distress, and social discontent through 2019 and beyond.” (On Sunday, President Trump announced that Mr. Coats would step down shortly, to be replaced by one of his biggest defenders, Representative John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican.)

In blocking the submission of the written testimony, the White House trampled not only on the scientific integrity of the assessment but on the analytic independence of an arm of the intelligence community. That’s why I recently resigned from the job I considered a sacred duty, and the institution I loved.

A scary future - regardless of what Trump wants you to believe

Decades of scientific measurements have established that global temperatures are increasing and ocean waters are acidifying. These changes produce shifts in a vast number of Earth system processes: in the atmosphere, ocean, freshwater, soil, ice masses, permafrost and organisms comprising the biosphere. Some effects are well known, like increased frequency and intensity of heat waves and droughts and rising sea levels. Others are less familiar, like decreasing oceanic oxygen levels and the redistribution of species.

These events do not arise in isolation but combine with existing social and political conditions and can disrupt societies and nations. They harm people directly or degrade the social, political, economic, agricultural, ecological or infrastructural systems that support them.

With these environmental changes we should expect disruptions to global water and food security, reduced economic security and weakened livelihoods, worsened human and animal health, and risks to the global supply chain on which the United States and its partners depend. Political instability, heightened tensions over resources, climate-linked humanitarian crises and adverse effects to militaries in some places are likely to increase. Migration will probably increase both within and between nations, with sociopolitical and resource implications already becoming clear.

So, just thinking about our own nation, climate change is a very real threat to our national security. Suppressing scientific facts will not change that. Schoonover concludes:

… the decision to block the written testimony is another example of a well-established pattern in the Trump administration of undercutting evidence that contradicts its policy positions.

Beyond obstructing science, this action also undermined the analytic independence of a major element of the intelligence community. When a White House can shape or suppress intelligence analysis that it deems out of line with its political messaging, then the intelligence community has no true analytic independence. I believe such acts weaken our nation.

Rod Schoonover was, until recently, a senior analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research at the State Department. He also worked as director of environment and natural resources at the National Intelligence Council and was a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

Our Roving Reporter, Sherry Moreau, called our attention to this report.

Let them eat cake

The Editorial Board of the New York Times exposes The Cruel Farce of Cutting Food Stamps. The Trump administration has decided to make a show of fiscal discipline by withholding food from hungry children.

Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources report a government employee remarking “Let them eat cake.”

Our government is supposed to look after the health and welfare of the nation. However, in the Trump era the government is more concerned with ferreting out low probability abuses than looking after the needs of poor children.

SMACK!

That was me whacking my head. Duh. Since when have the GOPlins done anything differently.

The Trump administration, which often talks about the importance of reducing regulation, has found at least one place where it would like to add red tape. The Agriculture Department wants to make it more difficult for poor children to get enough food.

The department is proposing to end programs in 40 states and the District of Columbia that make it easier for low-income families to sign up for food stamps. The stated rationale is that some people who are getting help do not need it. But the evidence suggests that problem is quite small, while the proposed solution is likely to keep millions of Americans who do need help from getting it.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program helped 33.5 million people in the average month over the last year — mostly families with children, older Americans and people with disabilities — to buy a limited range of groceries from a list of supervised retailers. In place of the original coupons, beneficiaries now get an average of $127 loaded on a special debit card.

The program is enormously successful in mitigating poverty. Studies of Americans born in the 1960s, when the program was implemented nationally, show that children in families that received benefits went on to lead healthier and more productive lives.

[Big snip]

… the administration says the government can save about $2 billion a year by denying benefits to 3.1 million people who would not meet the old standards. By the same logic, the government could save $60 billion a year by suspending the entire program. But those savings will not come from denying food stamps to millionaires. The vast majority of the government’s money is given to Americans who are hungry, so they may eat.

The proposal once again highlights the gap between Mr. Trump’s rhetorical promises to help lower-income American families, and the reality of his policies, which have systematically made life more difficult for those very families. The administration has slashed taxes on affluent Americans and significantly increased total federal spending — on Thursday, it announced plans to give another $16 billion to farmers hurt by Mr. Trump’s trade policies — even as it seeks to make a show of fiscal discipline at the expense of children.

Congress should move to codify the current food stamp rules, which have been embraced by red and blue states alike, to protect millions of Americans from this act of theatrical cruelty.

But they won’t.

Monday, July 29, 2019

GOPiglets gorge themselves on trillion dollar debt and deficits. That and other horror stories in the Illustrated Gnus.

Mueller speaks in code

Here are some of the themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Illustrated Gnus (inspired by cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona. Many focused on the Mueller hearing …

  • In order to circumvent the Bar imposed by the Barr, Mueller spoke in code.
  • The hearing was not politics, it was theology. Congress it needs an exorcist more than a prosecutor.
  • Mueller: “The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming!” McConnell: “No they’re not, no they’re not.”
  • McConnell blocks election security bills. Republicans welcome the Russian Internet Research Agency as election monitors.
  • Speaking of that agency: Our task was to set Americans against their own government’: New details emerge about Russia’s trolling operation. That was known in 2017, so why are the Republicans obstructing justice in 2019?
  • Scriber’s Usually Unreliable Sources report that “Moscow Mitch” McConnell invited Putin to join the Senate Republican Caucus, reasoning that Putin might be a Caucasian.
  • Trump’s reasoning: re-election means no prison.
  • The “Send her back” mantra refers to Lady Liberty - “Make America Freight Again.”
  • Republican hogs dine at the public trough: Trillion dollar deficits are just OK with the GOPiglets.
  • Trump made a SNAP decision: cut food stamps for the poor.

Parting thoughts:

  • If Trump hates America and Americans so much, why doesn’t HE leave?
  • If he had a therapist the therapist would advise “Love it or leave it.”
  • When he does leave, Scriber nominates a destination: Russia.
  • Did you really think the Brits bred someone like Boris Johnson? Hah! That’s Trump splitting his time between White House and Downing Street.

Trump launches racist attack on Baltimore - ''rat infested mess.' Baltimore Sun editorial board tags Trump as the rat - and explains why.

Saturday, July 27th, in the wee hours of the morning, Donald Trump tweeted an attack on Rep. Elijah Cummings.

“Cumming District is a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess. If he spent more time in Baltimore, maybe he could help clean up this very dangerous & filthy place.” Scriber: I guess he meant Rep. Elijah Cummings but proved once again his illiteracy.

I think he may have been doing some psychological projecting about himself and the White House. I’ll get back to that in a little while.

The Editorial Board of the Baltimore Sun penned a scathing rebuttal to that Trump trash, Better to have a few rats than to be one. Here it is.

In case anyone missed it, the president of the United States had some choice words to describe Maryland’s 7th congressional district on Saturday morning. Here are the key phrases: “no human being would want to live there,” it is a “very dangerous & filthy place,” “Worst in the USA” and, our personal favorite: It is a “rat and rodent infested mess.” He wasn’t really speaking of the 7th as a whole. He failed to mention Ellicott City, for example, or Baldwin or Monkton or Prettyboy, all of which are contained in the sprawling yet oddly-shaped district that runs from western Howard County to southern Harford County. No, Donald Trump’s wrath was directed at Baltimore and specifically at Rep. Elijah Cummings, the 68-year-old son of a former South Carolina sharecropper who has represented the district in the U.S. House of Representatives since 1996.

It’s not hard to see what’s going on here. The congressman has been a thorn in this president’s side, and Mr. Trump sees attacking African American members of Congress as good politics, as it both warms the cockles of the white supremacists who love him and causes so many of the thoughtful people who don’t to scream. President Trump bad-mouthed Baltimore in order to make a point that the border camps are “clean, efficient & well run,“ which, of course, they are not — unless you are fine with all the overcrowding, squalor, cages and deprivation to be found in what the Department of Homeland Security’s own inspector-general recently called “a ticking time bomb.”

In pointing to the 7th, the president wasn’t hoping his supporters would recognize landmarks like Johns Hopkins Hospital, perhaps the nation’s leading medical center. He wasn’t conjuring images of the U.S. Social Security Administration, where they write the checks that so many retired and disabled Americans depend upon. It wasn’t about the beauty of the Inner Harbor or the proud history of Fort McHenry. And it surely wasn’t about the economic standing of a district where the median income is actually above the national average. No, he was returning to an old standby of attacking an African American lawmaker from a majority black district on the most emotional and bigoted of arguments. It was only surprising that there wasn’t room for a few classic phrases like “you people” or “welfare queens” or “crime-ridden ghettos” or a suggestion that the congressman “go back” to where he came from.

This is a president who will happily debase himself at the slightest provocation. And given Mr. Cummings’ criticisms of U.S. border policy, the various investigations he has launched as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, his willingness to call Mr. Trump a racist for his recent attacks on the freshmen congresswomen, and the fact that “Fox & Friends” had recently aired a segment critical of the city, slamming Baltimore must have been irresistible in a Pavlovian way. Fox News rang the bell, the president salivated and his thumbs moved across his cell phone into action.

As heartening as it has been to witness public figures rise to Charm City’s defense on Saturday, from native daughter House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, we would above all remind Mr. Trump that the 7th District, Baltimore included, is part of the United States that he is supposedly governing. The White House has far more power to effect change in this city, for good or ill, than any single member of Congress including Mr. Cummings. If there are problems here, rodents included, they are as much his responsibility as anyone’s, perhaps more because he holds the most powerful office in the land.

Finally, while we would not sink to name-calling in the Trumpian manner — or ruefully point out that he failed to spell the congressman’s name correctly (it’s Cummings, not Cumming) — we would tell the most dishonest man to ever occupy the Oval Office, the mocker of war heroes, the gleeful grabber of women’s private parts, the serial bankrupter of businesses, the useful idiot of Vladimir Putin and the guy who insisted there are “good people” among murderous neo-Nazis that he’s still not fooling most Americans into believing he’s even slightly competent in his current post. Or that he possesses a scintilla of integrity. Better to have some vermin living in your neighborhood than to be one.

Unprecedented.

rat infested housing development

New Yorker satirist Andy Borowitz points to another “Government Housing Structure Infested with Criminals and Rats.”

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—A government-subsidized housing structure has fallen into a dangerous state and has become thoroughly infested with criminals and rats, a leading congressman warned on Saturday.

The building has become “the territory of vicious gangsters who roam freely and consider themselves above the law,” Representative Elijah Cummings, a Democrat of Maryland, said.

The congressman added that notorious gang members took over the housing facility in early 2017 and have “spread terror and despair” there ever since.

“People are scared to be there,” Cummings said. “Hundreds have fled.”

He said that the horrific conditions within the housing complex are one of the nation’s worst-kept secrets. “Many of the people who have fled over the past two years have written books about it,” he said. “But the criminals continue to run wild.”

The congressman said that he was speaking out for the benefit of the residents in his Baltimore, Maryland, district. “I am alarmed that the nation’s worst breeding ground for crime is less than fifty miles from Baltimore,” he said.

Here are examples of more commentary on Tump’s trashing his own city.

From Scriber: As you probably know by now, I have sought to explain Trump and his mis-administration using a simple formula: X/AntiX. If you would destroy agency X, elect/appoint AntiX as its leader. As far as I am concerned, we have enough evidence that the formula applies here and now. Agent AntiX, aka Individual–1, is on a mission to “poison our democracy.” And I might add, to destroy our society. The questions remain. Who has bought Trump? To what end?

We are African Americans, we are patriots, and we refuse to sit idly by.

As 149 African Americans who served in the last administration, we witnessed firsthand the relentless attacks on the legitimacy of President Barack Obama and his family from our front-row seats to America’s first black presidency. Witnessing racism surge in our country, both during and after Obama’s service and ours, has been a shattering reality, to say the least. But it has also provided jet-fuel for our activism, especially in moments such as these.

Our love of country lives in [these]our] demands, and our commitment to use our voices and our energy to build a more perfect union. We refuse to sit idly by as racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia are wielded by the president and any elected official complicit in the poisoning of our democracy. We call on local, state and congressional officials, as well as presidential candidates to articulate their policies and strategies for moving us forward as a strong democracy, through a racial-equity lens that prioritizes people over profit. We will continue to support candidates for local, state and federal office who add more diverse representation to the dialogue and those who understand the importance of such diversity when policymaking here in our country and around the world. We ask all Americans to be a good neighbor by demonstrating anti-racist, environmentally friendly, and inclusive behavior toward everyone in your everyday interactions.

Expect to hear more from us. We plan to leave this country better than we found it. This is our home.

Barack Obama shares op-ed criticizing President Trump’s ‘poisoning of our democracy.’.

Former president Barack Obama, who doesn’t often comment on current politics, on Saturday seemed to endorse an op-ed written by 149 African Americans who served in his administration that called out President Trump for recent comments degrading four congresswomen of color.

“I’ve always been proud of what this team accomplished during my administration. But more than what we did, I’m proud of how they’re continuing to fight for an America that’s better,” Obama tweeted with a link to the op-ed, which was published Friday evening in The Washington Post.

Even Michelle Obama, who also shies away from Trump-era outrage, made her disdain for Trump’s comments known.

"What truly makes our country great is its diversity,” the former first lady tweeted, an apparent reference to Trump’s campaign slogan. “I’ve seen that beauty in so many ways over the years. Whether we are born here or seek refuge here, there’s a place for us all. We must remember it’s not my America or your America. It’s our America.”

Would that be true.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The surreality of a man without pity as president

Trump at desk

I was reminded of the 1961 movie “Town Without Pity” and the Gene Pitney song of the same name. It ends with this line: “It isn’t very pretty what a town without pity can do.”

Would make a minor change to create a second subtitle: “It isn’t very pretty what a man without pity can do.”

Roving Reporter Sherry Moreau calls our attention to NY Times Columnist Roger Cohen’s essay on Trump’s Inhumanity Before a Victim of Rape. In his boundless self-absorption, this president is capable of anything.

… I cannot forget Trump’s recent treatment of Nadia Murad, a Yazidi woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for her campaign to end mass rape in war. The Islamic State, or ISIS, forced Murad into sexual slavery when it overran Yazidi villages in northern Iraq in 2014. Murad lost her mother and six brothers, slaughtered by ISIS.

She now lives in Germany, and has been unable to return home, a point she made in her July 17 White House meeting with Trump. “We cannot go back if we cannot protect our dignity, our family,” she said.

Allow me to render the scene in the present tense. Trump sits there at his desk, an uncomprehending, unsympathetic, uninterested cardboard dummy. He looks straight ahead for much of the time, not at her, his chin jutting in his best effort at a Mussolini pose. He cannot heave his bulk from the chair for this brave young woman. He cannot look at her.

And when he does, he registers no emotion and his vocalizations are surreal.

Every now and again, in a disdainful manner, he swivels his head toward her and other survivors of religious persecution. When Murad says, “They killed my mom, my six brothers,” Trump responds: “Where are they now?”

Where are they now???

“They are in the mass graves in Sinjar,” Murad says. She is poised and courageous throughout in her effort to communicate her story in the face of Trump’s complete, blank indifference.

Why this extraordinary attitude from Trump? Well, at a guess, Murad is a woman, and she is brown, and he is incapable of empathy, and the Trump administration recently watered down a United Nations Security Council resolution on protecting victims of sexual violence in conflict.

At the mention of Sinjar, Trump’s unbelievable response is, “I know the area very well, you’re talking about. It’s tough.”

Let’s play how-well-does-President-Trump-know-Sinjar? It’s a wildly implausible game.

Toward the end of the exchange, Trump asks Murad about her Nobel Prize. “That’s incredible,” he says. “They gave it to you for what reason?”

“For what reason?” Murad asks, suppressing with difficulty her incredulity that nobody has briefed the president. Nobody can brief this president. It’s pointless. He knows everything. “I made it clear to everyone that ISIS raped thousands of Yazidi women,” she says.

“Oh really?” says Trump. “Is that right?”

Yes, that’s right. One reason this exchange marked me is that I found myself in 2015 in a Yazidi refugee camp in southeastern Turkey interviewing a survivor named Anter Halef. In a corner sat his 16-year-old daughter, Feryal. She sobbed uncontrollably. I had seldom seen such grief etched on a young face. Life had been ripped from her before she began to live. There was no road back for her. Her eyes were empty vessels left so by rape.

I have watched the Murad-Trump exchange several times. It is scary. This president is inhuman. Something is missing. In his boundless self-absorption, he is capable of anything.

I am grateful to Brian Stelter of CNN for recalling this month the words of Edward R. Murrow in 1954 in response to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s attempt to provoke public frenzy at supposed Communist infiltration of American life. “We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home,” Murrow says.

Of McCarthy, Murrow observes: “He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully. Cassius was right. ‘The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.’”

And then: “Good night and good luck.”

We’ll need it.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Trump addresses young conservatives in front of fake presidential seal

Fake seal

Works for me. After all, he’s a fake president.

Trump Spoke in Front of a Parody Presidential Seal Altered to Mock Him reports the New York Magazine’s Intelligencer.

When President Trump appeared before an eager crowd of young conservatives at Turning Point USA’s student summit this week, he stood proudly in front of a fake presidential seal that was altered to mock his alleged ties to Russia and his golfing habit.

The eagle on the fake seal has two heads, rather than one, a clear reference to Russia’s coat of arms, the Washington Post points out. In the real presidential seal, the eagle holds 13 arrows in its left talon, signifying the first 13 states. But in the fake one, it holds 13 golf clubs, signifying Trump’s golf obsession.

And the other talon holds a wad of cash signifying Trump’s obsession with money, I guess.

The banner above the eagle is also altered on the fake seal. Rather than “E pluribus unum,” the motto of the United states, it says “45 es un titere,” Spanish for “45 is a puppet.” …

The altered seal appears to have come from an online retailer called “OneTermDonnie,” the Post reports, but it’s not clear how it ended up behind Trump Tuesday. Neither the White House nor TPUSA knew how it got there, they told the paper.

Update: CNN reported Thursday afternoon that the TPUSA aide was fired for the mistake. A source within the organization told CNN that there was “zero malicious intent” and the mistake was the result of a hasty Google search.

However, CBS reports:

The logo’s designer, One Term Donnie, took credit for the work displayed behind Mr. Trump at the event. The page expressed gratitude over the use of the fake presidential seal: “Thank you to whoever the glorious bastard was that put it up behind him. You are either a world class troll or a colossal idiot.”

For more on the creator of OneTermDonnie and the fake seal see the Washington Post report, Meet the man who created the fake presidential seal — a former Republican fed up with Trump .

Here’s the link to the OneTermDonnie web site should you wish to have your very own presidential seal T-shirt.

Friday, July 26, 2019

What is rotten in Kentucky exposes American elections to Russian interference in 2020

Here are some significant digits for you.

50: The number of states targeted by Russia for interference in the 2016 election.

4: The number of election security bills blocked by Moscow Mitch McConnell and his GOPlins in the U.S. Senate.

You gotta scratch your head and wonder how the Republicans reconcile the magnitude of Russian interference with their anti-American, anti-democratic adverse actions. Well, read on …

‘They’re Doing It as We Sit Here’. The NY Times Editorial Board reviews an “urgent” call from the Special Counsel: Bob Mueller made clear the threat to American democracy is urgent. The politicians had other things on their minds.

Russian interference in our 2016 election was far worse than originally thought. The NY Times reports that Russia Targeted Elections Systems in All 50 States.

In spite of Mueller’s dire warning, REPUBLICANS BLOCK FOURTH ELECTION SECURITY BILL DESPITE MUELLER’S WARNING RUSSIA IS INTERFERING ‘AS WE SIT HERE’ reports Newsweek.

… Senate Republicans have blocked four pieces of legislation that sought to bolster the security of U.S. elections since the former special counsel’s daylong congressional testimony, the latest of which came on Thursday when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, blocked two unanimous consent votes.

“The Republican leader has already indicated his intention to bury this bill in the legislative graveyard,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, on the floor just prior to McConnell’s block. Schumer was one of two Democrats who tried to force a vote on one of the bills. “That’s a disgrace.”

The measure Schumer attempted to force a vote on, known as Securing America’s Federal Elections Act and in which was passed by the House last month, would have provided $600 million for states to strengthen election security, given states $175 million biannually for election infrastructure, required post-election audits and more safeguards in electronic voting machines, such as federal elections backing up their electronic voting machine tallies with paper ballots. GOP Representative Brian Mast was the lone House Republican to vote for it.

Why? “McConnell said his opposition arose from his belief the legislation was ”highly partisan“ and came from the ”same folks who hyped up a conspiracy theory“ about Trump-Russia collusion.”

What the hell? His “belief”? This weak response is like trying to get jello to stick to the wall.

McConnell, of course, offers no alternative bills that would strengthen our election security. None at all.

Charles Pierce (Esquire) and our own AZ Blue Meanie (Blog for Arizona) provide scathing commentary on the Republicans’ anti-security actions. Some of that is quoted below.

To understand any of this, you gotta understand that Mitch McConnell Does Not Give a Damn About the Future of This Country writes Pierce.

Of course, on Wednesday, before god, the world, and every cable network in the known universe, Robert Mueller testified before two committees of the House of Representatives. In his afternoon session with the House Intelligence Committee, Mueller sounded the alarm about foreign ratfcking of American elections—both the foreign ratfcking of the 2016 elections, and the ongoing ratfcking that is out there, ratfcking the 2020 election already. The Republican members of both committees demonstrated that they are perfectly fine with the situation. Not long after Mueller was finished, at the behest of Mitch McConnell, the Republicans in the Senate demonstrated that they’re perfectly content with foreign ratfcking, too. From The Hill:

Democrats tried to get consent to pass two bills that would require campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission about foreign offers of assistance, as well as a bill to let the Senate Sergeant at Arms offer voluntary cyber assistance for personal devices and accounts of senators and staff. But Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) blocked each of the bills. She didn’t give reason for her objections, or say if she was objecting on behalf of herself or the Senate GOP caucus. A spokesman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Hyde-Smith, last seen doing a little Confederate cosplay, isn’t bright enough to order breakfast by herself, so there’s little question that she stepped in here to do McConnell’s bidding any more than there’s a question that McConnell was doing the White House’s bidding.

But election interference bills face an uphill climb in the Senate, where Republicans aren’t expected to move legislation through the Rules Committee, the panel with primary jurisdiction, and have warned about attempts to “federalize” elections. Democrats cited Mueller as they tried to get consent on Wednesday evening to pass their bills. “Mr. Mueller’s testimony should serve as a warning to every member of this body about what could happen in 2020, literally in our next elections,” said Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), the vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He added that “unfortunately, in the nearly three years since we uncovered Russia’s attack on our democracy, this body has not held a single vote on stand-alone legislation to protect our elections.”

Quite simply, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, Majority Leader of the United States Senate, doesn’t give a damn about the future of America, and very little of a damn about the majority of Americans, even the Americans coughing up their lungs in his own state. On Thursday, in his opening remarks, McConnell talked about how the new budget deal is beefing up American military might. This is what he said:

So, Madam President, every member of this body knows the threats we face are serious and getting more serious. The resurgence of great power competition with nations like Russia and China, the destabilization influence of state-sponsored terror and regional aggression from bad actors such as Iran, and the testing of historic a lines—alliances. Amidst the growing international chaos, the pre-eminent addition of the U.S. government is to provide for the common defense.

He didn’t immediately burst into flames. There is no god.

But as always, dig deeper and follow the money.

AZ Blue Meanie weighs in as Russian asset Mitch McConnell blocks every election security bill in the Senate. So what hook has been planted by Russia? The Blue Meanie quotes Joan McCarter at Daily Kos:

… At the Louisville Courier Journal, Joseph Gerth is not too excited at the prospect that “by the middle of the year, we’ll be in business with Oleg Deripaska, a buddy of Vladimir Putin.” Kentucky is looking for $200 million from the Russian to invest in a $1.7 billion aluminum plant there. He goes on to describe Deripaska’s “deep ties to Russian organized crime,” and the allegations of Deripaska’s violent, ruthless, criminal past in Russia.

And you all remember Deripaska—he’s good buddies and a former employer of Donald Trump’s first campaign manager, Paul Manafort. The Trump/Manafort/Russia and specifically Deripaska (friend of Putin!) connection is deep and complicated and at the heart of the NO COLLUSION collusion that helped land Trump in the White House.

Once again, all of this brings up one key question: how deep into Russia is McConnell? What does he owe Putin? He helped Russia get Trump into the White House by refusing to let the American government notify the public about and help states arm against Russian incursion in the 2016 election. Now he’s looking to Russia to help his own re-election prospects and stranglehold on the Senate, with a big assist from Bevin and Paul.

Something is really rotten in the state of Kentucky.

The Blue Meanie continues:

Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) has suggested that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wasn’t putting election security legislation up for a vote because Republicans benefited from Russian interference in the 2016 election. “There are two possibilities,” Durbin said. “He really doesn’t believe it, he doesn’t think the Russians were involved in 2016. He ignores the Mueller report and our intelligence agencies or in the alternative feels the Russians were on the side of the Republicans in 2016 and just might be again in 2020.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has accused Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of “aiding and abetting” Russian interference in US elections by failing to address election security concerns, despite warnings from the intelligence community that Russia may once again attempt to interfere in the 2020 campaign. “Mitch McConnell is aiding and abetting it by refusing to do anything.”

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) said he thinks McConnell does not want to make elections more secure. “The only logical conclusion is that Senator McConnell wants American elections to be vulnerable to hackers and foreign interference,” Wyden said. Mitch McConnell takes checks from voting machine lobbyists — even as he blocks election security bills. “It is unconscionable for Republicans to stick their heads in the sand and do nothing after what happened in 2016. If Congress doesn’t act, it’s only a matter of time before hackers successfully interfere again.”

Was it just naked partisan self-interest that “The Enemy of The People,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, enabled Russian interference in the 2016 election because it benefitted Republicans? McConnell was asked in 2016 by top intelligence officials to join in bipartisan condemnation of Russian interference on Trump’s behalf, and refused, claiming he would denounce any public condemnation of it as partisan politics. He has blocked every election security bill since the 2016 election in the Senate, leaving America vulnerable to further Russian interference in our elections.

Or have the Russians developed another asset in the Republican Party, in addition to Donald Trump, by dumping millions of dollars into Kentucky to help McConnell get reelected? Is Mitch McConnell betraying his country for thirty pieces of silver?

Your Scriber thinks the answer is fairly obvious. Remember the Scriber’s X/AntiX formula? For a given entity X, if you want to destroy it elect/appoint as its leader someone who is AntiX. I originally applied it to explain Trump’s cabinet picks. Now, apparently, it extends to the United States Senate, formerly known “as the world’s greatest deliberative body”. That completes the spread of corrupt intent, I fear, throughout our government.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

The Intergenerational Spread of the Cult of Trump

Trump Thrills Audience of Aspiring Fascists at Turning Point USA’s Teen Student Action Summit. And the teeny Trumpies responded in kind. Our Roving Reporter Sherry Moreau found this one written by Rafi Schwartz at splinternews.com.

A rambling, pumped-up Donald Trump appeared at Turning Point USA’s Teen Student Action Summit on Tuesday, delivering a breathless ode to himself before a rapt audience of red-hatted proto-fascists.

They don’t have brown shirts and arm bands, but the red MAGA hats serve the same purpose.

After a bizarre, nearly 10-minute-long intro video that boasted of Trump’s Major League Baseball prospects and his popularity in high school, the president kicked things off by urging the crowd to “have some fun” before immediately launching into a renewed attack on Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, whom he called a “total lunatic” and “not a sane person.”

The room full of impressionable teenagers roared their approval.

Well, what do you expect when Ma and Pa watch Fox News 24 by 7.

Trump briefly veered from his racist attacks on the Squad—which included bizarrely claiming he simply doesn’t have the time to say Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s full name—to praise certified wanker Boris Johnson, whom he proudly dubbed “Britain Trump.”

Trump also made time to praise former Miss Michigan Kathy Zhu, who was forced to relinquish her title after a series of her racist tweets were made public earlier this week.

As Trump rattled off his greatest hits (NATO bad! Immigrants bad! Media bad!), the enthusiastic crowd broke into chants of “one squad under god”—a painful line crafted by the White House amid the blowback to the president’s sustained attacks.

Amid cheers of “four more years,” Trump returned to his attacks on Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley, repeating the lies that they’ve called Jews “evil” and said America and its people are “garbage.”

In winding down, Trump insisted “there’s greatness in this room,” prompting a new round of cheers from the crowd.

It’s hard to say what was scarier about this latest bout of presidential fascism-flirting: the deep mental imbalance on plain display or the fact that a room full of teenagers loved every moment of it.

And that’s one way by which The Cult of Trump Will Outlast Him - an intergenerational spread.

7 takeaways from 7 hours of Mueller's testimony. What's next for America.

What are the take-ways from the Mueller hearing? Why was that show so alarming? And what’s next for America?

The take-aways

For those of you who didn’t watch the Mueller hearings (and for those of you who got bored and tuned out), the NY Times offers up What We Learned From Mueller’s 7 Hours on Capitol Hill. Here are the headers and a few snippets.

Mr. Mueller batted down President Trump’s claims about his report and threw a few barbs.

The most helpful moment to Democrats may have come as Mr. Mueller faced his first questions, from Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. It is a sequence that is likely to play out on television and in political ads for months to come.

“Director Mueller, the president has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him. But that is not what your report said, is it?” Mr. Nadler asked.

“Right, that is not what the report said,” Mr. Mueller replied.

The exchange went on in that fashion, with Mr. Mueller shooting down Mr. Trump’s claims.

Time and again, Mr. Mueller defied Democrats looking for a flashy new moment.

Republicans tried to sow doubts, but Mr. Mueller frustrated them too.

Whither impeachment? Mueller did not help advocates much.

… some [Representatives] sensed new openness by Speaker Nancy Pelosi Wednesday evening to pursuing such a case. But with a six-week August recess looming and the views of most Americans fixed on what is now a two-year-old story line, a lasting shift in public opinion appears unlikely.

Mr. Mueller appeared a little shaky at the witness table.

Scriber is more forgiving. The 450+ page report was the product of (at least) several staffers, I think. Cramming all that into one head is daunting.

… during the afternoon hearing with the Intelligence Committee. Mr. Mueller appeared more at ease and more willingly strayed from his written report.

The Justice Department’s opinion that bars charging a president brought confusion.

Mr. Mueller offered a defense of his investigation, belatedly.

… a retort ready for Republicans who accused him of filling his office with partisan Democrats who were out to tank Mr. Trump.

“We strove to hire those individuals that could do the job,” Mr. Mueller, a Republican, said. “I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years, and in those 25 years, I have not had occasion once to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.”

But Republican questioners made integrity an antiquated concept …

… which is my take on New Yorker’s John Cassidy’s view of Why the Mueller Hearings Were So Alarming. Here is some of Cassidy’s column.

For the past two and a half years of Donald Trump’s Presidency, I have consoled myself with the argument that, despite all the chaos and narcissism and racial incitement and norm-shattering, the American system of government is holding itself together. When Trump attempted to introduce a ban on Muslims entering the country and sought to add a citizenship question to the census, the courts restrained him. When he railed at nato and loyal allies like Germany’s Angela Merkel, other members of his Administration issued quiet reassurances that it was just bluster. When the American people had the chance to issue a verdict on Trump’s first two years in office, they turned the House of Representatives over to the opposition party.

All of this was reassuring. But, while watching what happened on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, when Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, testified before two House committees, I struggled to contain a rising sense of dread about where the country is heading. With Republicans united behind the President, Democrats uncertain about how to proceed, and Mueller reluctant to the last to come straight out and say that the President committed impeachable offenses, it looks like Trump’s blitzkrieg tactics of demonizing anyone who challenges him, terrorizing potential dissidents on his own side, and relentlessly spouting propaganda over social media may have worked. If so, he will have recorded a historic victory over the bedrock American principles of congressional oversight and equality before the law.

The morning session was largely devoted to Volume 2 of Mueller’s report, in which he relates ten instances of Trump seeking to interfere with the Russia investigation. Sitting before them, the G.O.P. members of the House Judiciary Committee had a seventy-four-year-old registered Republican and decorated hero of the Vietnam War, who subsequently spent decades as a public prosecutor, was appointed to the position of F.B.I. director by George W. Bush, in 2001, and served twelve years in that post. Yet some of the Republican members of the Committee treated their distinguished witness with thinly disguised contempt.

[Condensing:] Louie Gohmert, of Texas did some “scaremongering”, Matt Gaetz, of Florida “sneered”, “Ohio’s Jim Jordan threw his arms in the air and mocked Mueller”, John Ratcliffe, another Texan, asked why Mueller bothered to write his report at all, and Wisconsin’s Jim Sensenbrenner went further, questioning whether Mueller should have even carried out the investigation, which he described as “fishing.”

Yet none of these Republicans questioned any of the factual accounts of Trump’s behavior contained in Mueller’s report, which included attempting to fire Mueller, and, when that effort failed, trying to get the Attorney General to limit the special counsel’s remit. Rather than trying to refute Mueller’s findings, the Republicans sought to switch attention to the origins of the Russia investigation, which is, of course, precisely what Trump has been doing for the past two years.

The wanton disrespect that these elected Republicans showed Mueller was perhaps the most alarming testament yet to Trump’s total conquest of the Party. In today’s G.O.P., as in Stalin’s Russia, evidently, decades of loyal public service count for nothing when the leader and his henchmen decide someone represents a threat and the apparatchiks have been ordered to take that person down. …

Despite Mueller’s reticence, the Democrats succeeded in countering the White House’s messaging, and showed that the report provides ample legal justification for opening an impeachment inquiry. In his opening statement, Mueller undermined months of White House obfuscation, saying, “We did not address collusion, which is not a legal term.” And, during his initial exchange with Nadler, the former special counsel completed the demolition job by stating unequivocally that his report hadn’t exonerated Trump on the obstruction question.

… the overriding impression that Mueller left was that the President knowingly attempted to obstruct his investigation, and that such attempts can be criminal even if they don’t succeed. In the afternoon session, he also left hanging the question of whether Trump made false statements to the investigators, affirming “generally” that the President’s written answers to his questions weren’t always truthful.

The tragedy is that this might not matter. Even as Mueller was still testifying, some media commentary was intimating that his appearance wouldn’t change anything. …

It is now up to the House Democrats. Leaving a meeting of her caucus on Wednesday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, “The American people now realize more fully the crimes that have been committed against our Constitution.” But, in a subsequent press conference, she indicated that a move toward impeachment wasn’t imminent. “We still have outstanding matters in the courts,” she said.

After the hearings it will get worse for America …

… because, in Trumplandia, it always does.

Matt Lewis writing in The Daily Beast thinks that The Cult of Trump Will Outlast Him. If you think that after four—or, ahem, eight—years of a guy who so captured the party it can just go back to being what it was… think again. Pining for the previous Grand Old Party of our fathers is an example of that wishful thinking.

Nobody serious thinks we’re all going to wake up after Donald Trump and have things go back to the way they were before he descended that escalator. To paraphrase Rick Pitino, Ronald Reagan ain’t walking through that door.

One question lingers: Can Trumpism survive without Trump? (Assuming he ever leaves or doesn’t install Ivanka as a puppet leader.)

Trump is, after all, a cult of personality. Aside from the economic protectionism and racially inflammatory rhetoric, his agenda tends to be capricious, ad hoc, and often incoherent. …

“So how might this play out?” asks Lewis. He offers three scenarios.

One scenario ends with a party that is led by someone like Mike Pence or Nikki Haley. Although both have, to some degree or another, bowed to Trumpism (Pence much more so than Haley), both had successful political careers and fairly coherent conservative worldviews that long preceded Donald Trump. It stands to reason that, given the autonomy granted to the party’s top of the ticket, they might revert back to some of their pre-Trump beliefs.

…. [A] reimagined party wouldn’t completely reject Trumpism, but would instead introduce a kinder, gentler version that could be tolerable and (possibly) even salutary.

Unfortunately, the window for returning to a pre-Trump conservatism is dwindling. That’s because of the other, increasingly likely, scenarios.

A second (and very real) scenario has Trump winning reelection. If you don’t think this is likely, consider that his approval rating just reached a record high, and that the Democrats and the media seem to keep taking his bait. Trump wants to make the election about the Squad, a maneuver that could make it harder for Nancy Pelosi to govern, and for Joe Biden (Trump’s most difficult potential foe) to win the Democratic nomination.

It’s hard to imagine the GOP reverting to its pre-Trump platform after two winning elections on Trumpism. At some point, you’ll have an entire generation of Republican politicians, commentators, thinkers, activists, and voters who came of age in the Trump era. They will be committed to sustaining the current paradigm. If we are not there already, we are on the verge of Trumpism being fully ensconced as the GOP’s new normal.

That’s because, whether he wins or loses, Trump has already hung around long enough now for an intellectual movement—the product of nationalistic ideologues and ambitious entrepreneurs—to have grown up underneath him.

A third scenario is that Trump will be succeeded by someone who is actually committed to a coherent form of Trumpism—that there will, in fact, be Trumpism after Trump.

The reason for this is that there is demand for it. There is a very large base of Republican voters who simply prefer Trumpism. As I wrote in an otherwise forgettable 2015 column, “there is a huge underserved constituency in the GOP—and that constituency is what might best be termed populist conservatives. These folks tend to be white and working-class and who feel they’ve been left behind in America.”

There is no doubt that Donald Trump has transformed American politics and the Republican Party.

I would prefer to extirpate every last vestige of Donald Trump, but that is not possible. This is his party now. The GOP will surely remain more populist and more nationalistic …

The question is not whether Trump’s legacy will endure, but… how much.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

How far the Republican Party of Trump has fallen

The G.O.P. Is Now a Personality Cult writes Nicholas Kristof in the NY Times. As such, he says, The party no longer stands for much of anything. (With thanks to our Roving Reporter, Sherry Moreau.)

Trump’s 2016 slogan was MAGA - Make America Great Again. Millions of Americans bought that line and voted for him. But then Trump pivoted and did something entirely different. He transformed the GOP into a cult. It is no longer the political party of our fathers that valued family, fiscal restraint, and national security. Kristof expands on each of those themes showing how far Trump has dragged down the GOP. Those millions who voted for him, you see, are perfectly happy to enthrall themselves to Trump as monarch thus betraying the values once embraced by the Republican Party.

Snippets follow.

The tragedy of today’s Republican Party lies partly in how far it has tumbled from its heights.

This is the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt. It is the party that built interstate highways, championed family planning, founded the Environmental Protection Agency, opened relations with China, confronted the Soviet Union and managed the collapse of Communism.

It is the party that under Ronald Reagan welcomed refugees. It is the party of men who exemplified decency like George H.W. Bush and adherence to a moral compass like John McCain.

At a rally in 2008, McCain corrected a questioner who called Barack Obama untrustworthy and an “Arab.” “No, ma’am,” McCain told the crowd. “He’s a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues.”

Today that Grand Old Party has devolved into a personality cult surrounding a racist demagogue who incites a mob to chant about a Somali-American member of Congress: “Send her back!”

A mindless chant reveled in by said racist demagogue. The chanters either don’t know (or worse don’t care) that their target is a duly elected congresswoman who gained citizenship long ago. And her three fellow congresswomen, also of color, were born here in the US of A. And what do other nominal Republicans have to say about this racism? Not very damn much.

Elected Republican officials — with a very few brave exceptions, like Representative Will Hurd of Texas — protest the label “racist,” but not the racism. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell even says that President Trump is “on to something.”

Yes, Trump is on to something: He has seized on the ugly nativist streak that runs through the anti-Catholic riots of 1844, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the internment of Japanese-Americans in 1942. Most men grow after becoming president; Trump has not only shrunk but has also miniaturized party elders with him.

A recent analysis in The Times by Sahil Chinoy found that the Republican Party is far to the right of mainstream conservative parties in Britain, Canada and Germany, and to the right even of groups like the National Rally (formerly the National Front) of France. On the international spectrum, the G.O.P. is not a center-right party but an extremist force.

Think of how the Republican Party used to define itself: pro-family, tough on fiscal policy and strong on national security.

On family policy, Republicans tore children from immigrant parents at the border and are now trying to rip apart health insurance for 21 million Americans. … The Republicans sued to end the health insurance law because of a revulsion for Obama, and they are incoherent about the consequences. …

On fiscal policy, Republicans disgraced themselves in 2009 during the Great Recession when not a single G.O.P. member of the House of Representatives backed a desperately needed fiscal stimulus. … Then under Trump, those same Republicans approved a tax break that was far costlier, with the benefits disproportionately going to corporations and zillionaires. …

On national security, Republican firmness toward Russia disintegrated the moment it was needed, when Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. The Obama administration shared intelligence about Russian interference with 12 congressional leaders in September 2016, seeking a bipartisan warning (including those running elections around the country) about Russia’s actions. Republicans led by McConnell blocked any serious response, thus enabling Russia’s assault on American democracy. Meanwhile, we have a president who vigorously defends Russian President Vladimir Putin and jokes with him about getting “rid” of journalists. In polls, Republicans are more than twice as likely to approve of Putin (25 percent) as of Nancy Pelosi (9 percent).

Folks, we need a center-right political party in this country. Yet today’s Republican Party isn’t the steadying force of the past but is rather a blood-and-soil movement that stands for nothing larger than one bombastic hothead.

That’s why the 2020 election will matter so much. One of America’s great political parties has lost its compass and its concern for the issues that once defined it. Only if it is walloped at the ballot box will it, perhaps, wake up and rebuild itself to become again the principled conservative party that America needs.

Yes, we need to make America great again but the only place to start is to dump Trump in 2020.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Illustrated Gnus for a Terrible Tuesday

From hell
  • Paul Ryan finally gets a spine. It’s on his copy of “American Carnage.”
  • You thought “send her back” referred to AOC, right? Wrong. In Trumpworld, the chant is directed at Lady Liberty.

Instead of listing the other themes, schemes, memes, and falemes in this edition of the Illustrated Gnus (inspired by cartoons from AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona), I am going to tally the topics for you.

  • 52 were about Trump
  • 10 were about the GOP
  • 6 were about the Eric Garner strangulation case
  • 3 were about ICE
  • 3 were about other topics
  • 2 were about the negative effects of the Trump tax cut

That is representative of what is going on in the national news media - and in the blogosphere to which SkyIslandScriber belongs. We are giving Trump free PR at the expense of other issues and individuals. I am going to rethink what I do here.

The case for Al Franken - when the U. S. Senate said no to due process

This morning the Daily Star carried two stories, one on line, about the forced resignation of Senator Al Franken in 2017. The headlines tell only a small part of the story. Franken says he ‘absolutely’ regrets resigning from Senate claiming that the sexual misconduct allegations were false. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand counters Female senators unfairly blamed for Franken exit. The story is deeper and more nuanced. I went beyond the headlines in order to understand allegations, why they were made, and what the outcome was. This is a long post but the original sources are far longer.

The short version of the story is provided by Aaron Blake of the Washington Post: Al Franken gets the defense he never offered himself.

The New Yorker published an extensive article [a week ago] Monday about the sexual misconduct allegations that forced Al Franken’s resignation from the Senate in 2017. And, given Franken’s expedited, semi-voluntary ouster, at which point the details of the accusations became less pressing, the article has provided an opportunity for a debate that was never really had in full, with the added benefit of two years of festering resentment from his most devoted supporters.

It also provides the defense of Franken that he, to his detriment, never really gave himself.

For those who need a refresher, around Thanksgiving 2017, model and broadcaster Leeann Tweeden went public with an allegation that Franken forcibly kissed her while rehearsing a sketch on a USO tour in 2006. She also provided a picture showing Franken mock-groping her while she slept on a military plane. Soon, seven more women — some of them granted anonymity — came forward with allegations of varying degrees of inappropriate sexual conduct and contact by Franken.

Jane Mayer’s piece [excerpted below] focuses extensively on Tweeden’s account. It pokes holes in some of the contentions she made in her initial version of events, including that Franken told her he had written the sketch as a pretext to kiss her (he had performed almost the same sketch on previous USO tours with other actresses). She also said that she felt he had intended for the photograph to intimidate and humiliate her once she returned home and saw it (others present dispute this). It also points rather suggestively in the direction of the role of politics in Tweeden’s accusation, probing Tweeden’s friendship with Fox News host Sean Hannity and the conservative bent of the radio station at which she was working, which published her allegation.

Jane Mayer, writing in the New Yorker, investigates The Case of Al Franken in which she takes “A close look at the accusations against the former senator.”

I’me going to cherry pick some passages to reinforce some impressions formed after I read Mayer’s report. One is that there was an astounding absence of any semblance of due process - for then Sen. Al Franken. This seems to me to have been a rush to judgment in the absence of any serious investigation. In addition, politics both left and right played a big role in the spread of biased information. On the left, the Senate Dems appeared to want to avoid the appearance of defending alleged inappropriate sexual advances in the age of #MeToo. One way of looking at it, is that Franken was railroaded out of the Senate to preserve the Senate Dems’ support for #MeToo. On the right Tweeden was working at a conservative radio show and enjoyed a close association with Fox News’ Sean Hannity - who appears to have contributed to the spread of Tweeden’s account in the media with no balance in the reporting at all. Had the Senate investigated the matter, they would have revealed that much of the behaviors of both Franken and Tweeden occurred in in the context of a ribald comedy skit presented in a USO show to troops in the field. Tweeden took Franken’s skit and turned it against him. None of that was considered in the short time between Tweeden’s complaint and Franken’s resignation. In the end I cannot help believing that conservative forces scored a big one by getting rid of a rising Democratic star in the U. S. Senate - and that a lot of people were duped into going along with it.

Franken’s fall was stunningly swift: he resigned only three weeks after Leeann Tweeden, a conservative talk-radio host, accused him of having forced an unwanted kiss on her during a 2006 U.S.O. tour. Seven more women followed with accusations against Franken; all of them centered on inappropriate touches or kisses. Half the accusers’ names have still not become public. Although both Franken and Tweeden called for an independent investigation into her charges, none took place. This reticence reflects the cultural moment: in an era when women’s accusations of sexual discrimination and harassment are finally being taken seriously, after years of belittlement and dismissal, some see it as offensive to subject accusers to scrutiny. “Believe Women” has become a credo of the #MeToo movement.

One of Tweeden’s charges was that Franken wrote the skit just so he could kiss her. Lots of evidence against that charge was uncovered by Mayer.

… Two actresses who had performed the same role as Tweeden on earlier U.S.O. tours with him, Karri Turner and Traylor Portman, immediately recognized that Tweeden was wrong to say that Franken had written the part in order to kiss her. Both women told me that they fully supported the #MeToo movement and could speak only to their own experiences. But Turner confirmed that she had acted in the same skit in 2003. Video footage of her performing it, which can be seen online, shows that the script was altered for Tweeden only by cutting references to “JAG,” a TV show in which Turner starred. In a statement, Turner said that “no woman should have to deal with any type of harassment, ever!” But on her two U.S.O. tours with Franken, she said, “there was nothing inappropriate toward me,” adding, “I only experienced a person that was eager to make soldiers laugh.”

It was “surreal,” Franken told me, that Tweeden had publicly said of him, “I think he wrote that sketch just to kiss me”; her language was essentially borrowed from his skit. Moreover, her fighting him off and expressing anger had also been scripted by him. But it seemed impossible to relay such nuances to the press. Explaining that her accusations appropriated jokes from comic routines that they’d performed together would be as dizzying as describing an Escher drawing.

Tweeden participated in other ribald U.S.O. skits. In one routine, she tells the audience that, as a morale booster, she has agreed to have sex with a soldier whose name Franken will pull from a box, explaining, “These are extraordinary circumstances.” The gag is that every name she picks is Franken’s, because he’s stuffed the raffle box. In a 2005 U.S.O. show with Robin Williams, Tweeden jumped into his arms, wrapped a leg around his waist, and spanked his bottom as he suggestively waved a plastic water bottle in front of his fly.

Many people who worked in comedy with Franken defended his behavior more strongly than he did himself. Jane Curtin, who regards him as one of the few non-sexist men she worked with at “S.N.L.,” said, “They were doing a U.S.O. tour. They’re notoriously burlesque. The photo was funny because she’s wearing a flak jacket, and he’s looking straight at the camera and pretending he’s trying to fondle her breasts. But the humor is he can’t get to them—if a bullet can’t get them, Al can’t get them.” James Downey said, “Much of what Al does when goofing around involves adopting the persona of a douche bag. When I saw the photo, I knew exactly what he was doing. The joke was about him. He was doing ‘an asshole.’ ” Christine Zander, who wrote for “S.N.L.” between 1987 and 1993, said, “It was a mockery of someone acting in bad taste,” adding, “It’s so absurd she turned something that was written—these were trunk pieces, old sketches—into something improvised just for her.” Zander went on, “It’s tragic. All the women who know him from ‘S.N.L.’ and in New York and L.A.”—thirty-six in all—“signed a petition, but it wasn’t enough.” She added, “It makes you feel terrible and depressed, especially when there are people running the country who need to be charged.”

So Franken is no serial abuser. Even this one incident charged by Tweeden is open to innocent interpretation. So why did Tweeden make her charges?

A big part of Franken’s political problem was the way the story broke. KABC-AM released Tweeden’s material on its Web site, giving it the look of a proper news story. In reality, the station, which is owned by Cumulus Media, was a struggling conservative talk-radio station whose survival plan was to become the most pro-Trump station in Los Angeles. Three top staffers there had been meeting secretly for weeks, after hours, with Tweeden to prepare her statement, but it hadn’t been vetted with even the most cursory fact-checking. Nobody contacted Franken until after the story had been posted online. The station gave Franken less advance warning than it gave the Drudge Report, which it tipped off the previous day. After posting the story, Tweeden embarked on a media tour, starting with a live press conference and proceeding to interviews with CNN’s Jake Tapper (who had been alerted the previous day), Sean Hannity, and the cast of “The View.”

McIntyre, Tweeden’s former co-host at the station, told me that he had “bluntly” lobbied to give Franken more time to respond but was overruled by Drew Hayes, the station’s operations director, and by Nathan Baker, the news director, both of whom feared that the story would leak. McIntyre and Baker confirmed to me that nobody fact-checked Tweeden’s account. They evidently didn’t ask for the names of the people on the U.S.O. tour whom Tweeden said she had confided in at the time; in fact, they made no effort to reach anyone who’d been on the trip. They didn’t check the date of the photograph, or look at online videos showing other actresses performing the same role on earlier tours. They didn’t realize that although Tweeden claimed she never let Franken get near her face after the first rehearsal, there were numerous images of her performing the kiss scene with Franken afterward. Nor did they review the script or the photographs showing Tweeden laughing onstage as Franken struck the same “breast exam” pose.

Did Fox News use Tweeden’s story as a trap for Franken? Maybe.

There was a history of deep animosity between Fox News’ conservative hosts and Franken. Fox sued Franken over his 2003 best-seller, “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” which relentlessly disparages the network and its big star at the time, Bill O’Reilly. It includes a chapter mocking Hannity as, among other things, “an angry, Irish Ape-man.” Franken writes that, after having a greenroom shouting match with Hannity about Rush Limbaugh, in 1996, he “had never in my life hated a person more.” Fox dropped the suit, but O’Reilly reportedly threatened vengeance. When Andrea Mackris later sued O’Reilly for sexually harassing her while she was a producer at Fox News, she revealed that, in 2004, O’Reilly had told her, “If you cross Fox News Channel, it’s not just me, it’s Roger Ailes”—at the time the head of the network—“who will go after you… . Ailes operates behind the scenes, strategizes and makes things happen so that one day BAM! The person gets what’s coming to them but never sees it coming. Look at Al Franken, one day he’s going to get a knock on his door and life as he’s known it will change forever. That day will happen, trust me.” When Tweeden accused Franken, one of his wife’s first thoughts was of O’Reilly’s prediction.

Several far-right news sites appear to have known about Tweeden’s story shortly before it broke. In Southern California, a gossip Web site, Crazy Days and Nights, was contacted by an anonymous tipster who predicted that Franken was about to get caught in a sex scandal. There was a link to an online message board where someone calling himself Sam Spade was claiming that Franken had “groped” his aunt on a New York City subway in the nineteen-seventies. (Asked about this, Franken joked, “Ah, yes, Aunt Gertrude—I remember her well.”) Archives show that “Sam Spade” separately posted a message saying that he “hoped Al Franken would die a slow painful death.”

At 1 a.m. on November 16th, Roger Stone, the notorious right-wing operative, announced, on Twitter, “It’s Al Franken’s ‘time in the barrel.’ Franken next in long list of Democrats to be accused of ‘grabby’ behavior.” After Tweeden’s story was posted, Alex Jones, the extremist radio host, boasted on his show that Stone had told him, in advance, “Get ready. Franken’s next.” Stone told me that an executive at Fox who was friendly with Tweeden had tipped him off.

Sean Hannity exulted when the news broke. Tweeden called in to his radio show live, and Hannity described her as “a longtime friend.” Hannity, who, when Ailes died, celebrated him as one of America’s “great patriotic warriors,” pronounced the Franken photograph “disgusting”—and declared that Franken had been accused of “sexual molestation.” Trump joined the fray on Twitter, insinuating that the photograph documented an assault in progress: “Where do his hands go in pictures 2, 3, 4, 5, & 6?”

All this, and other allegations, prompted some senators to demand action against Franken.

On December 1, 2017, seven female Democratic senators—Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Claire McCaskill, Mazie Hirono, Patty Murray, Maggie Hassan, and Catherine Cortez Masto—met with Chuck Schumer to tell him that most of them were on the verge of demanding Franken’s resignation. At least one of them had already drafted such a statement, and the group’s resolve hardened further when some of its members learned of an impending Politico story that contained a seventh allegation, by a former Senate staff member. The accuser, whose name is being withheld at her request, was known to some of the seven female senators. The woman said that, in 2006, when Franken was still a comedian, he had made her uneasy by looking as if he planned to kiss her. The senator she had worked for hadn’t known of the allegation at the time, but vouched for her credibility.

“… made her uneasy by looking as if …” Some of these senators, Harris in particular, are the toughest inquisitors on the planet. And this is the evidence they used?

Minutes after Politico posted the story, Senator Gillibrand’s chief of staff called Franken’s to say that Gillibrand was going to demand his resignation. Franken was stung by Gillibrand’s failure to call him personally. They had been friends and squash partners. In a later call, Gillibrand’s chief of staff offered to have Gillibrand speak with Franken, but by that time Franken was frantically conferring with his staff and his family. Franken’s office proposed that Franken’s daughter speak with Gillibrand instead, but Gillibrand declined.

Gillibrand then went on Facebook and posted her demand that Franken resign: “Enough is enough. The women who have come forward are brave and I believe them. While it’s true that his behavior is not the same as the criminal conduct alleged against Roy Moore, or Harvey Weinstein, or President Trump, it is still unquestionably wrong, and should not be tolerated.”

Minutes later, at a previously scheduled press conference, Gillibrand added insult to injury: she reiterated her call for Franken to resign while also trumpeting her sponsorship of a new bill that banned mandatory arbitration of sexual-harassment claims. She didn’t mention that Franken had originated the legislation—and had given it to Gillibrand to sponsor, out of concern that it might be imperilled by his scandal.

… The Rhode Island senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a friend of Franken’s, recalls being astonished that there had been no emergency meeting of the Democratic caucus. “A reasonably organized group of our caucus decided to do this without giving their own colleagues a heads-up,” he said. “This was about demanding that a member of our own caucus resign from the Senate. It was a big deal.” From that point on, he said, “it was like a slow-rolling stampede through the day, waiting to see who would bolt next, with no meeting, no hearing, no process.”

Franken asked to meet with Schumer, who suggested talking at his apartment in downtown D.C., in order to avoid the press. “It was like a scene out of a movie,” Franken recalled. Schumer sat on the edge of his bed while Franken and his wife, who had come to lend moral support, pleaded for more time. According to Franken, Schumer told him to quit by 5 p.m.; otherwise, he would instruct the entire Democratic caucus to demand Franken’s resignation. Schumer’s spokesperson denied that Schumer had threatened to organize the rest of the caucus against Franken. But he confirmed that Schumer told Franken that he needed to announce his resignation by five o’clock. Schumer also said that if Franken stayed he could be censured and stripped of committee assignments.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Franken told me. “I asked him for due process and he said no.”

The next day, Franken gave a short resignation speech. Gillibrand and other Senate colleagues flocked to hug him afterward. But Franken told me, “I’m angry at my colleagues who did this. I think they were just trying to get past one bad news cycle.” For months, he ignored phone calls and cancelled dates with friends. “It got pretty dark,” he said. “I became clinically depressed. I wasn’t a hundred per cent cognitively. I needed medication.”

The lawyer Debra Katz, who has represented Christine Blasey Ford and other sexual-harassment victims, remains troubled by Franken’s case. She contends, “The allegations levelled against Senator Franken did not warrant his forced expulsion from the Senate, particularly given the context in which most of the behavior occurred, which was in his capacity as a comedian.” She adds, “All offensive behavior should be addressed, but not all offensive behavior warrants the most severe sanction.” Katz sees Franken as a cautionary tale for the #MeToo movement. “To treat all allegations the same is not only inappropriate,” she warns. “It feeds into a backlash narrative that men are vulnerable to even frivolous allegations by women.”

Fine. But consider that the U. S. Senate treated Franken more poorly than when they questioned Brett Kavanaugh. Sure, investigations take time and may prove uncomfortable to all those involved. But the facts uncovered by Mayer needed to come out before punishment, not after. At the very least, Franken was convicted in spite of those facts raising reasonable doubt. Franken deserved due process but the senate, fronted by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, pronounced an end to Franken’s career and said “no.”