Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Making of the Trump Regime, Part 2 - Transfer of Power to the Party in Power

Andrew Sullivan, writing in New York Magazine’s Intelligencer, explains why Trump’s Presidency Isn’t a Dark Comedy — It’s an Absurd Tragedy.

Ouch. I plead guilty to blogging, by text and illustration, about the buffoon now in the WH. I’ve engaged in a little sub rosa snickering about the peccadillos of the Mad King Donald. Here is what’s wrong with that lackadaisical approach. Day after day the true nature of the man has become less like Elmer Fudd in Looney Tunes and more like some vampire in the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The idea that Donald J. Trump is a president best defined by his weakness has always carried a kind of knowing, world-weary authority. It’s basically the Washington Republican response when you’re freaking out about Trump’s incessant power grabs. Calm down, they tell us; he’s not really effective; he’s a shiny object to keep non-college-educated whites in the GOP’s grip; we’re still having elections; he’s only behaving like presidents before Watergate; the economy is fine; he’s more in touch with America than the rest of you. And so on.

I Sullivan … admire the sangfroid of some non-hysterics. In an age of high emotionality, the calm-down chorus has managed to summon up an air of coolness, detachment, moderation. To take one of the more persuasive advocates of this basic position: New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. He argued a while back that the best way to see the Trump administration was more as LBJ than Mussolini. This week, he described the Trump era as a “black comedy” — something unmistakably dark but ultimately unserious. On February 1, Ross made the broader case that Trump is “a reckless and distracted figure, a serial squanderer of opportunities, who barely won the presidency and whose coalition is united only in partisan solidarity and fear of liberalism. He may not be removable by the impeachment process, but is not a king; he is a widely hated, legislatively constrained president facing a difficult re-election … A failed impeachment doesn’t give him new powers or new popularity.”

And that’s where I Sullivan get off the calm-down bus. The way Trump has been operating since he was acquitted by the Senate suggests to me that he is quite obviously seeking and practicing new powers, as he has been since he was sworn in; and that he has been rewarded, chillingly, with new popularity despite or because of it. He has brazenly pardoned a whole slew of his political allies and personal friends, initiated a purge of anyone in government who exposed malfeasance, fired an acting director of National Intelligence because an underling warned of Russian interference in the 2020 election, and kept suggesting to a judge that if she returned a harsh sentence for one of his goons, Roger Stone, he would almost certainly commute it or pardon Stone entirely. (Since Judge Amy Berman Jackson’s moderate sentence on Thursday, Trump has refused to take a pardon off the table.)

And to make sure we fully understand and witness what he’s doing, he has also declared himself as “I guess, the chief law enforcement officer” of the United States, and made a series of very public assertions that he can do anything he wants in the criminal-justice sphere. For all this, he is at 49 percent high in the Gallup poll, at a yearslong peak of 44.2 percent in the FiveThirtyEight poll of polls and 46 percent in RealClearPolitics’ average.

… What Trump is doing is openly mocking constitutional constraints on the presidency even as he abuses his office — and has prompted only indifference among Republicans and exhaustion among Democrats.

Look at the precedents that have already been set: A president can now ignore Congress’ power of the purse, by redirecting funds from Congress’ priorities to his own (as in the wall); he can invent a “national emergency” out of nothing … he can broadly refuse to cooperate with any legitimate congressional inquiries … obstruct justice, and intimidate witnesses with impunity; he can slander judges … He can wage war unilaterally and instantly, without any congressional approval, while lying about the reason … and denying the consequences …

Are we supposed to believe these precedents will not be cited and deployed by every wannabe strongman president in the future? Are we supposed to regard these massive holes below the waterline of the ship of state as no big deal? And with these precedents in his first term, are we supposed to regard what could Trump get away with in a second term as a form of black comedy? I’m sorry but I don’t get the joke.

… our current president is also threatening the integrity of our elections by his indifference toward foreign influence, his refusal to commit to obeying an election result in advance, his grotesque past claims of voter fraud, and his toying with a third or fourth term. Last year, Trump tweeted a GIF that showed him winning elections in 2024, 2028, and on and on. And it was one thing to swallow all this gamesmanship and trolling from a rogue candidate in 2016 — but from a sitting president heading into an election year? And then we have a genuine potential nightmare: If the election is close, can we be sure that the president will accept the result, and act in the interests of the country, rather than himself?

With Trump, for the first time in the history of the presidency, the answer is no. If you have followed this man’s business career, or witnessed the last three and a half years, you will notice that Trump never concedes anything. So why do we assume he would concede an election? And who would make him? And when you examine the nature of the party he has now remade in his image, and observe its evolution in recent decades, you see that the GOP’s core belief seems to have become that the other party is inherently illegitimate, and must be crushed by any means to hand. Which means to say that the GOP is a party now dedicated to the maintenance of its own power before any other principle. That was the core meaning of Trump’s nomination. It means that we have no idea if we’ll see a normal transfer of power this fall if the president loses.

… confronted with this reality, it is staggering to me that anyone can say we should chill. The nature of Trump’s instinctual tyranny is that it never stops by itself. And, like any psychological disorder, it never rests. It has an energy all its own. Each new beachhead of power is simply a means to acquire more of it in an ever-more ambitious and dynamic form. This is not a comedy; it’s a tragedy we want to believe is a comedy. Because the alternative is too nightmarish.

Look, people. All of the above is a strong case for impeachment and removal from office. That already has been taken away leaving removal via the 2020 election. But what if Trump decrees that the election is invalid? And refuses to leave office? Do we have any protection short of a 2024 election? And what then?

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Dems might have to learn to 'love the one you're with'

John Cassidy (New Yorker) reports that Bernie Sanders scores an impressive victory in Nevada.

Sanders’s win in Nevada on Saturday was so large and comprehensive that it raised the question of when, rather than whether, some of his rivals will drop out.

Shortly after 7 p.m. E.S.T., news outlets projected Sanders as the winner in Nevada. The early returns from the caucus precincts showed him getting more than a third of the first preferences, and, after the reallocation of second preferences, more than forty per cent of the vote—while most of his rivals struggled to reach the fifteen-per-cent threshold that they had to pass to get any delegates at all. If this pattern held through the final returns, Sanders would be allocated the vast majority of the state’s thirty-six pledged delegates.

As the race moves on to South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states, there are big questions about the viability of all of the moderate candidates. Biden’s camp claimed a second-place finish in Nevada, but the results were not yet final, and Biden performed woefully among voters under forty-five. Tom Steyer, who spent heavily on advertising in the state, ran well behind in virtually every category. Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren all did very badly with minority voters, according to the entrance poll. Among Latino voters, Klobuchar got just four per cent, Warren seven per cent, and Buttigieg nine per cent. Among African-American voters, who made up roughly ten per cent of the voters, Klobuchar got the support of just three per cent and Buttigieg got two per cent.

With numbers like these, you would think there has to be a reckoning among the candidates who are now chasing Sanders. On Saturday night, there was no indication of any candidates dropping out—yet.

Obviously, as an Elizabeth Warren supporter I am not pleased. But I am reminded of the 60’s song by Stephen Sills.

Sills sings
if you can’t be with the one you love
then love the one you’re with

There is nothing - no credibility, no integrity - left in the Trump administration but the triumph of evil

William H. McRaven, a retired Navy admiral, was commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command from 2011 to 2014. He oversaw the 2011 Navy SEAL raid in Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden.

He writes in the Washington Post If good men like Joe Maguire can’t speak the truth, we should be deeply afraid. (Here is is in full with additional commentary from the Post.

Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman and philosopher, once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Over the course of the past three years, I have watched good men and women, friends of mine, come and go in the Trump administration — all trying to do something — all trying to do their best. Jim Mattis, John Kelly, H.R. McMaster, Sue Gordon, Dan Coats and, now, Joe Maguire, who until this week was the acting director of national intelligence.

I have known Joe for more than 40 years. There is no better officer, no better man and no greater patriot. He served for 36 years as a Navy SEAL. In 2004, he was promoted to the rank of rear admiral and was chosen to command all of Naval Special Warfare, including the SEALs. Those were dark days for the SEALs. Our combat losses from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were the highest in our history, and Joe and his wife, Kathy, attended every SEAL funeral, providing comfort and solace to the families of the fallen.

But it didn’t stop there. Not a day went by that the Maguires didn’t reach out to some Gold Star family, some wounded SEAL, some struggling warrior. Every loss was personal, every family precious. When Joe retired in 2010, he tried the corporate world. But his passion for the Special Operations soldiers was so deep that he left a lucrative job and took the position as the president of the Special Operations Warrior Foundation, a charity that pays for educating the children of fallen warriors.

In 2018, Joe was asked to be the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, a job he knew well from his last assignment as a vice admiral. He accepted, but within months of his arrival came the announcement of Coats’s departure as director of national intelligence. Maguire didn’t seek to fill the job; he was asked to do it by the president. At first he declined, suggesting that Sue Gordon, Coats’s deputy, would be better suited for the job.

But the president chose Maguire. And, like most of these good men and women, he came in with the intent to do his very best, to follow the rules, to follow the law and to follow what was morally right. Within a few weeks of taking the assignment, he found himself embroiled in the Ukraine whistleblower case. Joe told the White House that, if asked, he would testify, and he would tell the truth. He did. In short order, he earned the respect of the entire intelligence community. They knew a good man was at the helm. A man they could count on, a man who would back them, a man whose integrity was more important than his future employment.

But, of course, in this administration, good men and women don’t last long. Joe was dismissed for doing his job: overseeing the dissemination of intelligence to elected officials who needed that information to do their jobs.

As Americans, we should be frightened — deeply afraid for the future of the nation. When good men and women can’t speak the truth, when facts are inconvenient, when integrity and character no longer matter, when presidential ego and self-preservation are more important than national security — then there is nothing left to stop the triumph of evil.

So who did Trump put in McGuire’s place?

In The Post’s View: Trump puts an unqualified loyalist in charge of national intelligence.

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S campaign to purge the government of anyone not blindly loyal to him continued Wednesday with the appointment of Richard Grenell as acting director of national intelligence. Mr. Grenell, who currently serves as ambassador to Germany, is manifestly unqualified for the job, even in an acting capacity. He has no experience in intelligence or in managing large organizations — like the 17 agencies that will now report to him.

Mr. Grenell has nevertheless won the president’s favor in a familiar way: by loudly praising him and his agenda on Fox News programs and social media. Probably, he has convinced Mr. Trump he can be counted on to put the president’s personal and political interests above those of national security — something the two previous DNIs would not reliably do.

He will reportedly retain his post as ambassador even while serving as acting DNI, something that will probably disappoint the Germans. U.S. intelligence professionals already struggling to preserve the vital work of providing accurate information to government decision-makers will be further demoralized. Mr. Grenell tweeted Thursday that he would not be formally nominated for the DNI position; that is not surprising, since he barely obtained Senate confirmation for the Berlin post and would likely face still greater opposition to becoming the nation’s intelligence chief.

Mr. Grenell’s tweet said a permanent DNI would be nominated “sometime soon.” Mr. Trump nevertheless may well leave his minion in place for months. The president has developed a penchant for placing acting officials in high positions; by doing so, he dodges the need for Senate approval and reduces the clout and independence of department heads. Mr. Grenell could remain in command of the intelligence community through most of this year’s presidential campaign. Will he stand up against interference by Russia or other hostile powers? Not, we suspect, unless Mr. Trump tells him to do so.

Post columnist Jennifer Rubin reminds us of what happens When competence is not the goal.

… Democratic presidential contenders advocating for a policy revolution or big, structural change are increasingly out of touch. We have no capacity, even if it were desirable, to launch major initiatives or fundamentally change entire sectors of our economy with a government that is discredited, hollowed out, incompetent and corrupt. The next president, as unsexy as it sounds, must be a competent and ethically pristine figure in order to repair our government. Candidates who have no conception of the task ahead and no interest in the hard work of running government are unsuited to the challenge we now face. Candidates whose purpose is confrontation and revolution lack the good sense and skill set to restore functional democracy.

Corruption, cruelty and incompetence define authoritarian states precisely because everything revolves around elevation of the leader and destruction of critics. Democrats must recognize and be able to explain that. The task is not revolution, but fumigation and toxic cleanup.

It is certain that our 2020 election is being hacked as I write this. But because Trump will not countenance independence and competence by the DNI, the nation and those responsible for oversight will be denied information needed to to their jobs of protecting us and our democratic institutions.

McRaven has given us reasons to fear. “As Americans, we should be frightened — deeply afraid for the future of the nation.”

Coronavirus update - CDC prepares for 'likely' spread in US

USA TODAY reports that CDC is preparing for the ‘likely’ spread of coronavirus in the US, officials say.

The CDC reported that at least 35 people in the United States are infected with the virus. Of those, 14 were travelers who fell ill after returning from a trip abroad, while 21 were were people “repatriated” by the State Department.

Health experts sounded the alarm Friday over the worldwide threat of the coronavirus, with officials warning of its “likely” community spread in the United States and the World Health Organization cautioning that “the window of opportunity is narrowing” for containing the outbreak worldwide.

The COVID–19 coronavirus, which erupted in China in December, has killed at least 2,360 people and sickened at least 77,900 worldwide, the majority of cases in mainland China.

Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters Friday that U.S. health officials are preparing for the coronavirus to become a pandemic.

“We’re not seeing community spread here in the United States, yet, but it’s very possible, even likely, that it may eventually happen,” she said. “Our goal continues to be slowing the introduction of the virus into the U.S. This buys us more time to prepare communities for more cases and possibly sustained spread.”

She said the CDC is working with state and local health departments “to ready our public health workforce to respond to local cases.” These measures include collaboration with supply chain partners, hospitals, pharmacies and manufacturers to determine what medical supplies are needed.

She said the “day may come” here where we have to shut down schools and businesses like China has done.

ABJ sentences RS saying 'the truth still exists, the truth still matters'

Look Out, America, ABJ Is the New RBG writes Molly Jong-Fast (Daily Beast Editor-At-Large). “The truth still matters.” With those words, a brave judge sent away a man who’s deserved it for years—and reminded us of what this country can be again.

"The truth still exists; the truth still matters,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson said Thursday at the sentencing of the president’s favorite dirty trickster, Roger Stone. It may have seemed like an obvious statement, but as Trumpworld continues its assault on the rule of law, things like the truth mattering seem slightly obscured by the current political climate of relentless lying. Judge ABJ continued, “Roger Stone’s insistence that it doesn’t, his belligerence, his pride in his own lies are a threat to our most fundamental institutions, to the foundations of our democracy.”

The foundation of our democracy has been feeling a little shaky after all the Republican senators (with the exception of Mitt Romney) were derelict in their duty of holding the president accountable, after John Bolton was more committed to book sales than the truth, and as the president runs his own separate media ecosystem that takes his lies as gospel. It’s hard to have any faith in anything that’s going on in Washington, D.C., these days. But then along comes Judge Amy Berman Jackson, emerging like a phoenix from the ashes of the Mueller investigation.

Despite personal attacks in the social media by Stone and Trump …

… the 65-year-old, Harvard-educated judge has not been deterred, and at the sentencing hearing she got down to the heart of the matter, which is simply that the cult of personality that surrounds Trump shouldn’t matter more than the truth. “The defendant lied about a matter of great national and international significance,” she said. “This is not campaign hijinks. This is not just Roger being Roger.”

The truth has had a very hard time of it lately. The president is not a fan. As of January, The Washington Post had him at 16,241 misleading statements. Bill Barr seems more and more like Rudy Giuliani, just another one of Trump’s “free lawyers.” Often, it feels like his administration is at war with the truth, the president’s army of propagandists seems relentless. And just when it looks darkest, we have the young RBG, ABJ, to remind us that “the truth still matters.”

It’s a beautiful and weirdly tragic moment, watching ABJ beat back against the current of Trumpism. ABJ reminds us that some day the truth will matter once again, that we as a people are better than the childish rhetoric and grotesque name-calling that is Trumpism.

Some day America will once again be a shining city on the hill, or at least a normal place, and not a partisan nightmare ruled by a moron. And when it returns to its once former normalcy, it will be because of judges like ABJ and not criminals like Roger Stone.

Science shorts - Elephants mourn and dogs love

How elephants respond to death

The Washington Post reports research on mourning by elephants: An elephant’s story does not end when it dies. That’s a bit of an inferential leap on my part, but read the story and judge for yourself.

In Kenya, there’s a spot on the banks of the Ewaso Ng’iro River where elephants like to congregate. Tall acacia trees provide shade for naps, and doum palms supply date-like fruits that the animals scarf up by the trunk-full. It was in this place that Victoria, a 55-year-old matriarch well-known to scientists, drew her last breaths in June 2013.

But that was not the end of Victoria’s story.

Several elephants huddled around the body, recalled ecologist Shifra Goldenberg, who was observing the animals with colleagues that day. She noticed that Malasso, a 14-year-old bull, was one of the last to leave. Victoria was his mother.

The scientists do not conclude from these accounts that elephants mourn, an activity that is often attributed to the species. But their response has a common thread, the authors say. When an elephant falls, the loss is acknowledged and investigated by other elephants, even those unrelated to the deceased. Death means something to elephants, in other words — possibly something emotional.

Your dog loves you

The science newsletter phys.org reports on What makes dogs so special? Science says love.

The idea that animals can experience love was once anathema to the psychologists who studied them, seen as a case of putting sentimentality before scientific rigor.

But a new book argues that, when it comes to dogs, the word is necessary to understanding what has made the relationship between humans and our best friends one of the most significant interspecies partnerships in history.

Clive Wynne, founder the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University, makes the case in “Dog is Love: Why and How Your Dog Loves You.”

Friday, February 21, 2020

The math says that Bernie is the likely Dem candidate. But there are some things that could reverse that - if they get done yesterday.

The delegate math now favors Bernie Sanders reports John Cassidy at The New Yorker. Here is some of it.

The most significant development in the Democratic primary over the past few days wasn’t Wednesday night’s slugfest of a debate in Las Vegas, entertaining as that was for anybody not in Michael Bloomberg’s camp. It was the publication of three separate opinion polls that showed Bernie Sanders with a substantial lead over the other candidates in California, which votes on Super Tuesday, March 3rd, now less than two weeks away.

"Since the contests in Iowa and New Hampshire primaries … Sanders has opened up a large lead over the rest of the field across Super Tuesday states,” Mitch Stewart and Dan Kanninen, two staffers on the Bloomberg campaign, wrote in a controversial campaign memo that was leaked just before Wednesday’s debate. “As the race stands today, Sanders is poised to leave Super Tuesday with an over–400 delegate lead versus his next closest competitor a likely insurmountable advantage,” the memo warned.

The other campaigns rightly slammed the leaking of this document as a brazen effort to put pressure on Biden, Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar—Bloomberg’s rivals in the moderate lane—to leave the race. After Bloomberg’s pitiful performance in the debate, it is perhaps he who should be considering an early exit. But the delegate math can’t be swept aside. The independent Web site FiveThirtyEight—whose forecasting model for the primary takes into account the latest polls and the method of allocating delegates, as well as other factors—also shows Sanders taking a lead of more than three hundred delegates over his nearest rival by the end of Super Tuesday.

To be sure, this analysis is based on recent trends continuing, which may not happen. A strong showing for Biden in Nevada, followed by a big victory in South Carolina, could alter the dynamic, as could a sizable bounce for Warren, after her strong performance in Wednesday’s debate. Even absent some major new development, Sanders is far from assured of getting a majority of the pledged delegates at the end of the process. Unless his vote share increases substantially from where it currently is in the polls, Sanders achieving such a decisive result seems like a stretch. Right now, though, the senator appears to have a very good chance of having a plurality of delegates going into the Milwaukee convention.

I, your Scriber, don’t regard myself as one of the ABOTS (Any Body Other Than Sanders) but (#1) I favor Warren, and (#2) I really do worry that Sanders will lose to Trump. (Socialism, socialism, solcialism ad nauseam.)

If you share my misgivings (or even not), try tuning into this from Charlie Sykes’ the morning Bulwark email.

It’s later than you think, writes Tim Miller in this morning’s Bulwark. “Barring a drastic change in the race,,” he writes, “Bernie Sanders is going to be the presumptive Democratic nominee 11 days from now.”

“Eleven days.”

Some of us have seen this happen before. Miller lived it from inside…. So, helpfully, he offers “The 5 Lessons from 2016 Democrats Need to Understand If They Want to Stop Bernie.” Miller provides “an emergency guide to what I learned during the invasion of 2016.”

History is repeating itself. Democrats can learn how to save their party from seeing how the Republicans lost theirs ” writes Miller.

For starters, consider that the other candidates have been busy sticking it to each other. Miller provides a piece of history from the 2016 race.

Everyone else [other than Jeb Bush] went to pains not to target Trump and instead aim their fire at the guys in second, third, fourth, and fifth places. Remember the Christie/Rubio murder-suicide? You would think the non-Bernie Democratic campaigns would’ve learned that shivving one another only helps the frontrunner, not the guy or gal holding the shank.

And yet for two straight debates the non-Bernies repeated the same exact Christie/Rubio nightmare scenario. First in New Hampshire, the field focused on Mayor Pete rather than Bernie. (Bernie’s campaign admitted to NBC’s Shaq Brewster that it was that debate which stunted Buttigieg’s momentum and probably cost him the win.) On Wednesday night in Nevada, they did the same damn thing, with Warren disemboweling Mayor Mike and Pete and Amy continuing their tiff.

Remember this? NBC reported that Bloomberg to fund sizable campaign effort through November even if he loses Democratic nomination. Exclusive: The former New York City mayor plans to continue paying hundreds of staffers and funding his digital operation to defeat Trump even if he’s not the nominee.

So, on the money matter, Mayor Mike, shut up and put up. Back to Miller …

Bloomberg has spent $230 million and counting on TV and digital ads in the Super Tuesday states—all to bootstrap his own campaign. (I went in depth on the problem with his game theory and how it might be helping Sanders here.)

If Mike’s goal is to actually beat Bernie—and not just finish Super Tuesday with a gentleman’s 18 percent and embark on a long, losing slog in the hopes something crazy happens—then his paid media needs to shift to targeting Bernie immediately.

Let me emphasize this: Immediately, today, five minutes ago, right the fork NOW.

If Bloomberg embarks on a high-volume ad campaign aimed at Bernie it might have the effect of capping or peeling off enough of Bernie’s support before Super Tuesday to push the decisive window further out than just 11 days from now.

Which could, in turn, give the Democratic elites time to use their leverage and the other candidates to redirect their attacks.

Miller also points to another lesson from 2016: That “wait and see” approach became “it’s too late to do anything” really forking fast! So Establishment Figures Who Can Make A Difference Can’t Afford To Wait.

So let’s take a look at 2020 and which Democratic figures are on the sidelines: the Obamas, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Beto O’Rourke, Jimmy Carter, and Al Gore.

Basically every major Democrat who a normal primary voter would know and whose endorsement could command a news cycle is sitting around to see how things shake out.

And I promise you that every one of them who is right now weighing when to put their thumb on the scale will quickly decide after Super Tuesday that they don’t want to be fighting a lonely battle against an inevitable Bernie.

Some of these individuals could shake up the race. Imagine the consolidation pressure if an Obama or Clinton came out for Pete or Joe or Amy in the way Ted Kennedy did for Obama in 2008. That would be the type of event that could legitimately change the balance of the race. If it happened soon.

Check out Miller’s essay for other lessons from 2016. And see the Friday Blog for Arizona post from the AZ Blue Meanie for Some thoughts about ‘fight night’ in Las Vegas.

Tick tock.