Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Trump's Bonfire of Vulgarities

When we ponder why (and who) Trump’s base sticks with him, the answer is really pretty simple. Money and whiteness. Trump has both and therefore can be forgiven anything and everything.

Our Roving Reporter Sherry highlights an expanded explanation by NY Times Columnist Charles M. Blow: Trumpism’s Infinite Vulgarities. Republicans have come to accept what they once professed to abhor.

Following are excerpts.

The terrains of acceptability and respectability have shifted under the American conservative.

That which was once forbidden is now embraced. That which they once condemned they cheer. Conservatism has been unveiled in all its craven glory. No longer is it shrouded behind morality, small government, traditional values and spending concerns.

President Trump is the new doctrine, and Republicans bought it. There is no amount of cruelty or crudeness he can display that Republicans won’t cheer and defend. His corruption has become theirs.

And, it is possible that Trump is growing bolder in his coarseness, and it is revealed that there is precious little that will shake loose his base and its blind devotion to him.

Last week, Trump went on more profanity-laced tirades. At a campaign rally in Minnesota, Trump said of Joe Biden: “He was only a good vice president because he understood how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass.”

… whether Trump is conscious of it or not, whether it was intentional or not. The insult invokes a fear and disdain that white racists have had throughout American history: The subjugation of the white man to the black one.

Sarah Palin made a whole campaign out of saying that Obama “pals around with terrorists,” while Trump quite literally cozies up to murderous dictators and brags about the love letters he exchanges with one.

Republicans see nothing wrong here. Trump is a rich white man defending white supremacy and white nationalism. For him, the rules are different. For him, certain dispensations must be given.

The way that the Religious Right has bent and distorted biblical doctrine to support this vulgar man is absolutely obscene. It makes a mockery of their faith and their supposed philosophies.

The moment that Trump insisted on separating immigrant children from their families, locking those children in cages and arguing in court against having to provide soap and toothbrushes to those children, or against turning off the lights so that they could sleep, should have been the red line to any true Christian — or for any human being with a shred of compassion, regardless of faith. But it wasn’t. So, now I no longer know what to call these people.

Righteousness simply can’t be this transactional and situational. What is the point of your books of rules if you will gladly oblige a man who flouts them? Either morality has meaning or it doesn’t.

Last night's debate - attacks against Warren and figuring out Tulsi Gabbard

Political writer for the NY Times Lisa Lerer provides a sample of exchanges in last night’s Democratic Presidential debate (in this morning’s email). The barbs were mainly directed at Elizabeth Warren (marking her, I guess, as a (if not the) front runner.

Here is a sample.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., who took some of the most aggressive shots at Ms. Warren, probed how she would pay for her health care plan and whether it would involve raising taxes on middle-class families — a question she continued to dodge last night.

“Your signature, senator, is to have a plan for everything, except this,” said Mr. Buttigieg, after calling her “evasive.”

One of the most striking moments came when Mr. Biden tried to take some credit for the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of Ms. Warren’s signature achievements.

"I went on the floor and got you votes” in Congress, he said, forcefully repeating himself three times.

Ms. Warren responded, “I am deeply grateful to President Obama, who fought so hard to make sure that agency was passed into law,” making no mention of Mr. Biden or his work.

“You did a hell of a job in your job,” he shot back.

Ms. Warren, seeming slightly taken aback by Mr. Biden’s biting tone (or perhaps looking to troll him), offered a quiet “thank you.”

The exchange marked a notable reversal in the race: In past debates, it was Mr. Biden who found himself fending off a series of attacks from opponents trying to weaken his commanding position in the race. With his numbers sliding and the latest financial reports showing that he trails several rivals in campaign cash, Ms. Warren now faces her turn in the spotlight.

On Tuesday night, she held her own through the incoming fire, trying to turn the attacks back on her critics by casting them as lacking in political vision and ambition.

And by refusing to answer whether her health care plan would raise taxes on the middle class, she avoided creating a sound bite that her aides worry could be easily used against her in the primary — or the general election.

But here is the really interesting stuff.

Even Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii tried to get in a jab or two, demanding to be shown Ms. Warren’s qualifications to be commander in chief.

Ms. Warren ignored the request.

So what’s up with Gabbard?

And this little newsletter writer [Lerer] even had her own turn in the political limelight. In Ms. Gabbard’s effort to invigorate her campaign and qualify for the November debate, she called a piece I wrote over the weekend — detailing her support from white nationalists, Russians and the alt-right — “completely despicable.” Want to know what all the fuss was about? Check it out here.

Below are excerpts from Lerer’s expose on Gabbard What, Exactly, Is Tulsi Gabbard Up To? As she injects chaos into the 2020 Democratic primary by accusing her own party of “rigging” the election, an array of alt-right internet stars, white nationalists and Russians have praised her.

Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, is impressed with her political talent. Richard B. Spencer, the white nationalist leader, says he could vote for her. Former Representative Ron Paul praises her “libertarian instincts,” while Franklin Graham, the influential evangelist, finds her “refreshing.”

And far-right conspiracy theorists like Mike Cernovich see a certain MAGA sais quoi.

Then there is 4chan, the notoriously toxic online message board, where some right-wing trolls and anti-Semites fawn over Ms. Gabbard, calling her “Mommy” and praising her willingness to criticize Israel. In April, the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website, took credit for Ms. Gabbard’s qualification for the first two Democratic primary debates.

… her frequent appearances on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show have buoyed her support in right-wing circles.

… Democrats are on high alert about foreign interference in the next election and the D.N.C. is well aware of the frequent mentions of Ms. Gabbard in the Russian state news media.

An independent analysis of the Russian news media found that RT, the Kremlin-backed news agency, mentioned Ms. Gabbard frequently for a candidate polling in single digits, according to data collected by the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a group that seeks to track and expose efforts by authoritarian regimes to undermine democratic elections.

"This whole thing the Democratic Party has done by putting forward this false idea that there was collusion between Russia and Trump has hurt our relations in a huge way with the Russians,” Mr. Graham said. “I can’t speak for Tulsi, but I think she feels kind of the same way on some of these things.”

In the three years since, Ms. Gabbard has criticized Israel for its reaction to protests, met with Mr. Assad and made several statements defending his regime.

“To have a moral woman like Tulsi who is a military hero suddenly sit with a man who did that was inexplicable,” Rabbi Boteach said. “I don’t understand it until today. I can’t figure her out.”

Let me help the Rabbi “figure her out.”

“She’s got a good energy, a good vibe. You feel like this is just a serious person,” Mr. Cernovich said. “She seems very Trumpian.”

I am reminded of the British linguist J. R. Firth who famously wrote “You shall know a word by the company it keeps.” So it is in politics. To paraphrase: You shall know a candidate by the company she keeps.

Treacherous Trump throws Kurds under the tanks, and Russia fills the void

The saying, usually, is throw someone under the bus. But in Syria, they throw someone under the Turkish tanks.

Writing at The Bulwark, in Conning the Con Man Shay Khatiri explains how Donald Trump got rolled by Turkey. And he doesn’t even know it. Excerpts follow.

Last Wednesday, the president of the United States set a new standard for America’s allies: What did you do for us at Normandy? Because Kurds did nothing, they have been given genocide in return for their help fighting the Islamic State.

It’s a nonsense standard, of course. Everyone knows that. For instance: Why are we providing Israel any support in the face of Iranian and terrorist existential threats? Where were the Jews when we needed them in the War of 1812?

Why did the president make this decision? Perhaps the readout (which is not a transcript, stop calling it a transcript!) from his phone call with the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is a good guide: If you sing the American president’s praise and give him something that benefits him personally (and not the United States), then he will give you what you want.

… He gave Turkey’s strongman a giant gift. What did he get in return?

The short answer is simple: “He got nothing.”

Well, that’s not entirely true. He got a vacuum that Russia is reported to be filling. More on that below.

What I’m trying to say here is that the President of the United States, the person on whom the world order relies, the most important person on earth, is an impulsive idiot. He made a foreign policy decision about “the Kurds” without knowing anything about them. He provided a defense for his decision that is simultaneously historically inaccurate and irrelevant. He made this decision as his own Department of Defense recently warned that the Islamic State was a threat to reorganize. He made it with no plans of what to do with the thousands of Islamic State prisoners on the ground. He did it to end an “endless war” that, as of last month, has claimed the lives of seven American combatants—one, potentially, killed by Turkish forces. Every single one of them is a loss. But still. The truth is that America was accomplishing a significant foreign policy goal with only 2,500 troops committed (down to 1,000 before the recent developments), mostly special forces, and minimal losses. If you are against hegemonic interventions, then this operation was almost the definition of how to maximize the return on a small investment.

Trump did all of this against the advice of his own advisers. And he did it because an anti-American Islamist thug of a leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was nice to him on the phone.

Here’s the truth: There is no “endless war” in Syria. As far as the American involvement goes, there is in fact no war in Syria. What there is, is a U.S. president who is a catalyst for American decline.

And this decline is going to place us in real jeopardy and invite real conflict.

Decline brings weakness, and weakness is a provocation. Eventually, Americans are going to be given the bill for this president’s astonishing weakness.

Russia is ready to play a role in that. The NY Times reports that Russia Troops Patrol Between Turkish and Syrian Forces, Filling an American Void. The announcement signaled that Russia is moving to fill a security vacuum left by the U.S. withdrawal and illustrates the loss of American influence in the war.

The Americans had until Monday maintained two military bases in the area, and Russia’s announcement signaled that Moscow, the Syrian government’s most important ally, was moving to fill a security void left by the withdrawal of both the American military and its partners in their effort to destroy the Islamic State and its Syrian base.

Videos circulating on social media appeared to show a Russian-speaking man filming himself walking around a recently evacuated United States military base in northern Syria, punctuating the message that the Russians were now in charge.

President Trump decided last week to abruptly yank American forces from a Kurdish enclave of northern Syria, ending a longstanding alliance with Syrian Kurdish fighters regarded by Turkey as terrorists. Turkey’s military then invaded, driving tens of thousands of civilians from their homes and forcing the Syrian Kurdish fighters to align themselves with the Syrian military in a stunning switch of allegiances for survival.

The Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement that its military police, which had already established a presence in other parts of Syria, were patrolling along a line of contact separating Syrian and Turkish forces, who have been racing to control large parts of northern Syria since the Turkish invasion began last Wednesday.

The Russians were patrolling near the strategically important city of Manbij, vacated by the Americans and Syrian Kurds and now occupied Syrian government troops. The statement also said Russian troops were coordinating “with the Turkish side.”

Russia and Turkey will soon be the only foreign armies in the area.

Mr. Trump’s decision to withdraw from northern Syria drew global condemnation, left Kurdish fighters feeling betrayed, and raised the possibility that the president had made a strategic blunder that would open a volatile new chapter in the war. Experts on the region warned that the withdrawal of American troops would embolden Russia, Iran and the Islamic State.

The misery continues: “As of Tuesday, fighting in Ras al-Ain and other areas of northern Syria has forced at least 160,000 people from their homes, according to United Nations estimates. The Kurdish authorities put the figure at 270,000.”

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Conservative views of America's shameful rertreat. The tale of the whupped puppy.

Once upon a time there was a lovable puppy. His master was not so lovable. In fact, the mean master repeatedly threatened to whip our lovable puppy. The local chapter of Animal Love League was asked to intervene once it became known that the mean master actually had an assortment of whips and chains. The League declined after the mean master said he would not whip our puppy very much. After the mean master started whipping our lovable puppy, the League said they warned the mean master. The mean master continued to whip our puppy. Once other mean masters understood that the League was impotent, they too started whipping our puppy. “Let the puppy protect itself” said the leader of the League. It was bound to get worse, much worse for our puppy.

Are you happy, Trumpublicans?

Max Boot, conservative columnist at the Washington Post tells this story a bit differently starting with the question: Are you happy now, Trump supporters?

President Trump isn’t the first American leader to turn his back on foreign friends who were counting on U.S. assistance: President Dwight D. Eisenhower did it in Hungary in 1956; President John F. Kennedy in Cuba in 1961; and President Gerald Ford in South Vietnam in 1975. But no previous chief executive has ever sold out the United States’ allies as nonchalantly and unnecessarily as Trump has done with the Syrian Kurds.

At least with Eisenhower, Kennedy and Ford, there was a good reason they failed to come to the aid of freedom fighters: Doing so would have embroiled the United States in costly conflicts. Trump and his apologists would like to pretend that’s also the case today — that Trump pulled U.S. troops out of northern Syria to avoid a war with Turkey. But there is scant chance that Turkish troops would have invaded northern Syria if U.S. troops were standing in the way. That is why President Recep Tayyip Erdogan asked Trump to move the U.S. forces — and Trump, for reasons that remain mysterious, obliged. (Trump himself admitted in 2015 that “I have a little conflict of interest” because of two Trump Towers in Istanbul.)

The consequences of the American pullout are proving to be every bit as catastrophic as most observers — and Trump’s own aides — had feared. On “Face the Nation” on Sunday, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said that ever since coming to office about two months ago, he had been urging the Turks not to invade Syria. “We cited all the reasons that are now playing out,” he said. “The biggest being the likely release of ISIS fighters from these camps and prisons, not just that we see a humanitarian crisis emerging.”

If Esper cited those reasons to the Turks, he surely cited them to Trump as well. But the president wasn’t listening, as usual. Now Kurds are being slaughtered, and Islamic State detainees are escaping. With chaos all around, Trump had no choice on Sunday but to order most U.S. troops to scuttle out of Syria in a humiliating defeat. Our forces are leaving so fast they could not take with them, as planned, some 60 “high value” Islamic State detainees — i.e., some of the worst terrorists on the planet.

The Kurds, in turn, had no choice but to invite Syrian regime forces to come to their rescue, thereby handing a massive win not only to Bashar al-Assad but also to his backers in Moscow and Tehran. The one part of Syria that had been under the control of secular moderates — the Kurds are more progressive on women’s rights than anyone in the region aside from the Israelis — is now being divided between the brutal forces of Assad and Erdogan.

After the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the Bay of Pigs invasion of 1961 and the fall of South Vietnam in 1975, the presidents at the time made somber statements to explain why they did not intervene militarily and to remonstrate over the losses suffered by freedom fighters. …

Trump did not express any such concern for the Kurds who have been fighting at America’s side against the Islamic State. Instead he took a break from golf to tweet: “Do you remember two years ago when Iraq was going to fight the Kurds in a different part of Syria. Many people wanted us to fight with the Kurds against Iraq, who we just fought for. I said no, and the Kurds left the fight, twice. Now the same thing is happening with Turkey…… The Kurds and Turkey have been fighting for many years. Turkey considers the PKK the worst terrorists of all. Others may want to come in and fight for one side or the other. Let them! We are monitoring the situation closely. Endless Wars!”

That Trump thinks that Iraqi troops fought Kurds in Syria — rather than around the Iraqi city of Kirkuk — shows how little he knows about this region. That he is inviting one and all to fight the Kurds (“Let them!”) shows how little he cares about American security, American honor or American allies. That he is now maligning his victims by claiming with no evidence that the Kurds are deliberately releasing Islamic State prisoners to force U.S. intervention shows how cruel and dishonest he is.

The Republican members of Congress who are apoplectic (“Shameful disaster unfolding in Syria,” tweeted Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming) have no one to blame but themselves. They are the ones who continue to support a president who has been unabashed in his love of dictators, his disdain for human rights and his willingness to betray anyone or anything to advance his own interests.

Most of the time, the costs of the Trump presidency are inchoate — laws are broken, norms transgressed. But when it came to immigrant children in cages or Kurds in the line of fire, the costs are all too human and horrifying. Are you happy now, Trump supporters? Is all this worth a corporate tax cut?

Is Trump worth the shame of seeing America as a whupped puppy in full retreat with its tail between its legs?

OMG - not five more years!

Charlie Sykes delivers “Quick Hits” in The Bulwark weekly email.

Brett McGurk tweeted
@brett_mcgurk
Only four days into Turkish attack and one week after POTUS-Erdogan call:

  • UN: 130k displaced (likely to 3x)
  • ISIS terrorists escaping (caught after years of painstaking effort)
  • Syrians executed on roadways by Turkish-backed opposition forces
  • Main US supply lines cut..

There are obvious winners here: ISIS, Assad, and Russia. The losers? The Kurds, Syrian Christians, the US… and our role in the world. As correspondent Rukmini Callimachi (who has been covering ISIS for years), wrote over the weekend: “You know that game kids play on the beach? The one where they spend all day building an elaborate sand castle only to then stomp it to the ground? That’s our ISIS strategy. While the group was not defeated, we had made significant gains. 1000s were detained. Not after today.”

All of this was completely predictable.

On Meet the Press yesterday [Sunday], former sec Def James Mattis put it this way: “We may want a war over; we may even declare it over. You can pull your troops out as President Obama learned the hard way out of Iraq, but the ‘enemy gets the vote,’ we say in the military. And in this case, if we don’t keep the pressure on, then ISIS will resurge. It’s absolutely a given that they will come back.”…

Exit take: As the Russians and Assad rush in to fill the vacuum created by our departure.. expect almost everything about this story to get worse.

Sykes observes “Republicans continue to express varying degrees to outrage over the Trump’s betrayal of our Kurdish allies.. anxiety about his penchant for making policy by whim… and his ongoing appeasement of authoritarian monsters.” And then poses a question for Republicans: “this also seems to be a good time for Republicans to seriously ask themselves: do they really want another five years of this?”

Monday, October 14, 2019

Trump OK's Turkish invasion. Kurds feel betrayed. Green Berets feel ashamed. ISIS rejoices, benefits from Trump decision.

Pullback Leaves Green Berets Feeling ‘Ashamed,’ and Kurdish Allies Describing ‘Betrayal’. The title does not completely describe the consequences of our great leader’s decision to abandon our Kurdish allies in the fight against ISIS.

… with the White House revoking protection for these Kurdish fighters, some of the Special Forces officers who battled alongside the Kurds say they feel deep remorse at orders to abandon their allies.

"They trusted us and we broke that trust,” one Army officer who has worked alongside the Kurds in northern Syria said last week in a telephone interview. “It’s a stain on the American conscience.”

"I’m ashamed,” said another officer who had also served in northern Syria. Both officers spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid reprisals from their chains of command.

And the response from the Kurds themselves was just as stark. “The worst thing in military logic and comrades in the trench is betrayal,” said Shervan Darwish, an official allied with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The next flurry of orders from Washington, as some troops had feared, will pull American troops out of northern Syria altogether. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said on Sunday that President Trump had ordered the roughly 1,000 American troops in the country’s northeast to conduct a “deliberate withdrawal” out of the country in the coming days and weeks.

The defense secretary’s statement came after comments on Friday pushing back on complaints that the United States was betraying allies in Syria — “We have not abandoned the Kurds” — even as he acknowledged that his Turkish counterpart had ignored his plea to stop the offensive.

"It would seem at this particular point, we’ve made it very, very hard for them to have a partnership relationship with us because of this recent policy decision,” General Votel said. [Votel is “a former head of the military’s Central Command.”]

This might be why.

Kurd's sacrafice
A cemetery for Kurdish troops who fought against the Islamic State in Kobani, Syria. “When they mourn, we mourn with them,” said Gen. Joseph L. Votel, a former head of the military’s Central Command.

And here is one of the consequences of the decision made by our great leader, using his “great and unmatched wisdom”.

Abandoned by U.S. in Syria, Kurds Find New Ally in American Foe. Under fire by Turkish forces, the militia that battled ISIS threw in its lot with Syria’s Russian-backed government.

And here is another.

Turkey’s invasion upended a fragile peace in northeastern Syria and risks enabling a resurgence of the Islamic State, which no longer controls territory in Syria but still has sleeper cells and supporters.

Since the Turkish incursion began on Wednesday, ISIS has claimed responsibility for at least two attacks in Syria: One car bomb in the northern city of Qamishli and another on an international military base outside Hasaka, a regional capital further to the south.

Mr. Trump has said repeatedly that the United States has taken the worst ISIS detainees out of Syria to ensure they would not escape. But in fact the American military took custody of only two British detainees, half of a cell dubbed the Beatles that tortured and killed Western hostages, American officials said.

The fighting has raised concerns that jihadists [11,000 in all] detained in the battle to defeat ISIS could escape, facilitating the reconstitution of the Islamic State. Five captives escaped during a Turkish bombardment on a Kurdish-run prison in Qamishli on Friday, Kurdish officials said.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

The absolute right of kings absolutely corrupts this presidency

Dana Milbank (Washington Post) makes the case for Donald Trump, absolutely corrupted.

President Trump has proved to the 21st century that Lord Acton’s 19th-century maxim still holds: Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Trump began staking his title to absolute power in his first weeks in office. “The whole world will soon see, as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned,” White House adviser Stephen Miller announced.

When I first heard/saw Miller’s remark on a morning news show I dismissed him as a blusterous bullsh!tter. I shouldn’t have. Subsequent actions by the absolutely corrupt president proved me wrong. As Milbank wrote about Miller, “He wasn’t kidding.”

Consider the list of “absolute right” claims by Trump.

  • Trump soon stated that “I have the absolute right” to fire FBI Director James Comey.
  • He subsequently proclaimed the “absolute right” to provide Russia with an ally’s highly classified intelligence;
  • the “absolute right” to pardon himself;
  • the “absolute right” to shut down the southern border;
  • the “absolute right” to fire special counsel Robert Mueller;
  • the “absolute right” to sign an executive order removing the Constitution’s birthright-citizenship provision;
  • the “absolute right” to contrive a national emergency to deny Congress the power of the purse;
  • the “absolute right” to order U.S. businesses out of China;
  • the “absolute right” to release apparent spy-satellite imagery of Iran; and, most recently,
  • the “absolute right” to ask other countries to furnish evidence that Joe Biden is corrupt.

And on top of all that:

  • Kellyanne Conway asserted Trump’s “absolute right” to give his son-in-law a security clearance over security professionals’ objections.
  • White House counsel Pat Cipollone said current and former White House officials are “absolutely immune” from testifying before Congress.
  • As others have noted, Trump has repeatedly said the Constitution’s Article II empowers him “to do whatever I want” and bestows on him “all of these rights at a level nobody has ever seen before.”

Now Trump is exercising his “absolute right” to do things that most sensible folks are finding appalling. Among them is the absolute right over life and death.

Without troubling himself to engage in the usual consultations with lawmakers, allies and military leaders, he ordered a pullout of U.S. troops from northern Syria, setting off a Turkish invasion as well as fears of a massacre of our Kurdish allies and religious minorities (including some 50,000 Christians) and of a revival of the Islamic State. He did it at the request of the repressive leader of Turkey, where Trump has boasted of his extensive business interests.

Now that is “absolutely corrupted.” You would think that will dislodge Trump’s supporters, like the evangelical right.

Belatedly, the Syrian situation led some of Trump’s biggest champions to recognize something has gone awry. “The president of the United States is in danger of losing the mandate of heaven if he permits this to happen,” Pat Robertson warned on his Christian Broadcasting Network.

Calling all right-wing Christians: Trump lost the “mandate of heaven” with the exposure of the Hollywood Access tapes and the hush money he paid to porn star Stormy Daniels. You just chose to look the other way. See what turning the other cheek got you.

Maybe the Kurdish tragedy will finally make more principled evangelicals rethink their Faustian bargain. Maybe they, and other Trump backers, will begin to see that absolute power, though tempting when wielded for things they like, becomes alarming when used against their wishes.

The test for these and other Trumpublicans is coming in November 2020, sooner if articles of impeachment go to the Senate. Milbank reminds us that “The highest moral obligation for all who favor a democratic future is to stop an absolutely corrupted man.”

Friday, October 11, 2019

Republicans sell their souls to the idol of the Offal Office

[Scriber’s Note]: I’ve added another blog to my repertoire. I explain at the end of this post.

The NY Times reports that At Minneapolis Rally, an Angry Trump Reserves Sharpest Attack for Biden. The audience mob lapped it up with enthusiasm fueled by Trump’s cruel and crude remarks.

MINNEAPOLIS — A fired-up President Trump lashed out against Democrats at a combative campaign rally on Thursday night, deriding them as “very sick and deranged people” who were only investigating him for abuse of power in order to “erase your vote.”

Facing impeachment in the House, Mr. Trump took his case to his core supporters, arguing that Democrats were trying to overturn the 2016 election because they knew they could not beat him in 2020. He singled out former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as nothing but a toady for President Barack Obama.

“He was only a good vice president because he knew how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass,” Mr. Trump said, a line that drew huge roars of approval from the crowd.

Let’s stop there. (You can read more from the target post if you wish to endure Trump at his crudest.)

Here is another instance of Trump’s serial sexual abuses via 538’s significant digits email. Is this going to draw huge roars of approval from the crowd?

43 new accusations
Two dozen women have already publicly accused President Trump of inappropriate behavior, but a new book details 43 new allegations, including more than two dozen cases of “unwanted sexual contact.” The book is “All The President’s Women: Donald Trump and the Making of a Predator” by journalists Monique El-Faizy and Barry Levine, and draws upon more than 100 interviews to illustrate the president’s relationship with women across different periods of his life. Assistant Esquire editor Adrienne Westenfeld writes, “What emerges from the authors’ reporting is a portrait of a serial predator who hides behind wealth and institutional power to frequently harass and abuse women.” [Esquire]

Michael Gerson (Washington Post via the Daily Star) exposes Trumpublican lack of principle in Trump’s supporters are complicit in the moral decay of politics. I’ve tried to capture the essence in a few excerpts.

Trump is effectively setting a new standard of political morality and requiring his supporters to defend it. He is asking elected Republicans in particular to agree with his claim that a practice uniformly viewed as corruption in the past is actually an example of fighting corruption. That is the little thing, the small thing, which Trump demands of his followers: To call hot, cold. To call black, white. To call wrong, right.

Philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre’s idea of “incommensurability” strikes me as relevant here. If all moral claims are merely “emotive” — statements about ourselves rather than the nature of reality — then there is no way to argue between them. The statement that “stealing is wrong” can be debated. The statement “I feel that stealing is wrong” is not subject to rational dispute. Someone else could simply assert, “I feel that stealing is right,” and the argument would be at a stalemate.

Republicans are being called to follow their leader down a relativist rabbit hole. Trump is not only asking them to accept his arguments on policy matters like building a wall or provoking a trade war. To be loyal foot soldiers, they must affirm that morality means what Trump says it means — even when it violates their clearest instincts. They know, deep down, that if a Democratic president had asked France or China for help in destroying a prominent Republican rival, they would be in a fever pitch of outrage. But, in the Trump era, this isn’t supposed to matter anymore. Consistency means nothing. Principle means nothing. Character means nothing. It only matters who wins.

So we are left with positions that can’t be reconciled. Trump honestly seems to have no moral objection to what he did. His opponents are left sputtering: But this has always been seen as serious corruption! The president simply doesn’t care. And, if his GOP supporters remain loyal, they will be further implicated in the moral decay of American politics.

Writing in The Bulwark, Robert Tracinski asks of Dear Republicans, Is This the Idol to Whom You Have Sold Your Souls?.

In the past few weeks, Donald Trump has gone from saying that no, he didn’t collude with a foreign dictatorship to interfere with the U.S. election, to doing it on live TV, asking the government of China to investigate Joe Biden and his son, for no clear reason.

Exactly two prominent Republicans denounced this: Ben Sasse and Mitt Romney. Marco Rubio took the brave course of pretending it didn’t happen, dismissing it as “not a real request.” Other Republicans, and much of the conservative rank and file, made a seamless move from declaring that Trump never did it to affirming that of course he did it. And it was good.

All of this has me wondering: Is this the idol to whom conservatives have decided to sell their souls?

The big thing we’ve discovered over the past four years is the number of people for whom the actual content of ideas and policy is largely irrelevant, compared to the pure tribal satisfaction of venting their hatred for the “elites” and the “mainstream media.” The source of Donald Trump’s bizarre allure among conservatives is the constant, unrelenting intensity with which he allows them to indulge in this—a form of tribal hatred that is all the purer precisely because it has been freed from any pretense of having to be loyal to abstract principles.

In short, conservatives have sold their souls for the sheer pleasure of partisan hatred. And it’s not going to be easy to break this spell.

For the last few years, outside observers have believed, time and again, that surely the latest revelation will be so blatant that conservatives will have to draw back from their support of Trump.

Well, that’s not how it works when you have sold your soul. Once people are corrupted and drawn in, there is a kind of sunk-cost fallacy that pulls them farther down. Having already compromised their principles to go along with Trumpism, they need to keep on justifying their original investment by minimizing or making excuses for every new awful thing he does.

They have to keep on justifying Trump, because otherwise they would have to face up to the reality of how foolish and venal they have been all along.

… spare a moment to contemplate the fate of Lindsey Graham, the senator from South Carolina who first resisted Trump, then reluctantly supported him, then became a reliable Trump sycophant.

One of the central issues of Graham’s long political career is that he is a foreign policy hawk, advocating that America be active and vigilant in the fights against tyranny and radical Islam. Now observe Graham’s reaction when, late Sunday night, Trump decided to sell out our best allies in the Middle East, the Kurds—the people who stood and fought effectively against the Islamic State when nobody else was doing it, and who are now about to be attacked by the Turkish dictatorship with Trump’s go-ahead. Where does this leave Senator Graham? Completely on the sidelines:

I don’t know all the details regarding President Trump’s decision in northern Syria. In process of setting up phone call with Secretary Pompeo. If press reports are accurate this is a disaster in the making.

There is nothing more pathetic than being a senator whose signature issue is foreign policy—and having to confess publicly that you were left out of the loop and you’re begging for a meeting just to figure out what the hell is going on. But why should Trump have consulted Graham? He’d already sold his soul. He’d already indicated that he will back Trump no matter what, so why should Trump bother to inform him about future compromises that will be required?

This is where everyone will end up, eventually.

Conservatives have been drawn from small compromises to bigger and bigger ones, from venial sins to mortal ones. There is no bottom to it.

That is the inevitable logic of selling your soul.


I ran across a conservative blog, The Bulwark. I know it’s conservative, if for no other reason, than by noting its founders: Charlie Sykes and Bill Kristol. Yesterday and again today I’ve featured a post to that blog that maps nicely onto my view of politics in the age of Trump. I am not delusional - there are many issues covered in that blog that will cause me to take exception. I know the prospect of Elizabeth Warren as president, for example, is a source of joy for me and a source of horror to conservatives. I won’t hesitate to take issue with the Bulwarkians when appropriate. But reading conservative posts in that blog might get me off the civil discourse hook as I steadfastly refuse to watch Faux News.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The first 'Nobody would ever do that' quiz features the Trumpkins ...

Here’s Scriber’s first “Nobody would ever do that” quiz featuring the Trumpkins aka Trump’s kids.

Which of these two stories is more likely to be true? (Hint: only one is.)

No peeking at the answer until you write down your answer and your reasoning. The quiz starts now.

Story #1

Donald Trump Jr. plans to speak at the University of Florida [this last] Thursday, and the fact that he will be paid with school funds has sparked protests among students.

Trump Jr. has been invited to campus by the college’s student government, along with his girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle — a senior advisor for the President’s 2020 reelection campaign and former Fox News personality. Steve Orlando, spokesperson for the University of Florida, tells TIME says there is no specific topic Trump Jr. is expected to speak on but notes that it “can’t be a campaign appearance,” which is banned under the University of Florida’s student government regulations on money used for speakers. He adds that there will be increased security at the event and local, state and federal law enforcement will be present.

The duo will be paid $50,000 according to Orlando.

The event is funded by money from an activity and services fee, which is mandatory for students attending classes on the campus. And students say they are not happy about their money being used to fund an event they say “disrespects various communities on campus, misuses student fees and poses a safety risk for marginalized groups.”

Just cancelling the event is not enough for protestors, who are also demanding an apology from organizers of the event for “causing undue stress to the student body and allowing student fees to subsidize a partisan political campaign,” according to a press release they issued.

"They look forward to the opportunity to engage in meaningful and thoughtful dialogue with everyone in attendance about the importance of freedom, capitalism and our Constitutional rights,” the [university] spokesperson said.

Story #2

In what insiders are calling an audacious move to get his older brother cut out of their father’s will, Eric Trump has accused Donald Trump, Jr., of being the whistle-blower.

According to White House sources, Eric marched into the Oval Office on Wednesday morning and announced to his father, “You can stop wondering who this quote-unquote whistle-blower is. It’s Don.”

Reportedly, no sooner had the young Trump made the startling accusation than Don, Jr., himself burst into the room, turning the tables on his sibling by claiming that Eric, and not he, was the actual whistle-blower.

Within seconds, the Trump brothers were viciously wrestling on the Oval Office carpet, while their father looked on, seemingly pleased by the spectacle.

Later in the day, the White House press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, issued a statement in the hopes of defusing this latest controversy. “A forensic analysis of the whistle-blower’s complaint reveals that it was written entirely in complete sentences, thus eliminating both Trump boys as its author,” she said.

Find out the answer after the break.

Regarding stonewalling Congress, Trump and his lawyers are just making sh!t up.

OK, so that’s not really news. From the last fact-checking count, we know that Trump does that - make sh!t up - most hours of most days (12,019 lies in 928 days as of this last August). But his lawyers are resorting to made-up legal arguments to defend him.

For example, consider the recent letter sent from Trump’s lawyer to the Speaker and chairs of three House committees. Via the Washington Post, in part it reads:

"As you know, you have designed and implemented your [impeachment] inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process. For example, you have denied the President the right to cross-examine witnesses, to call witnesses, to receive transcripts of testimony, to have access to evidence, to have counsel present, and many other basic rights guaranteed to all Americans.”
— White House counsel Pat Cipollone, in a letter to House Democratic leaders, Oct. 8, 2019

On Twitter, Renato Mariotti writes that “It is signed by an attorney but it is no sense a legal document. It’s a political document and the arguments in it are not legal reasons that would excuse failure to comply with the inquiry.” Jamal Greene responded: I believe the technical legal term is “argle bargle.” h/t Justice Scalia

Salvador Rizzo at the Washington Post Fact Checker explains why the Trump defenders’ misleading claims about the House impeachment inquiry are legal argle bargle.

President Trump’s lawyers and allies say House Democrats are running roughshod over his right to defend himself from impeachment.

As talking points go, this one is constitutionally illiterate.

Defendants in court have the right to legal counsel and to call witnesses. They have the right to examine the evidence against them and confront their accusers.

Impeachment in Congress is a different animal. The common analogy is that the House acts as a prosecutor filing charges, and then the Senate holds a trial.

That’s the process laid out in the Constitution, and the process House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democrats have followed thus far. If the House voted to impeach Trump, he would have the opportunity to mount a defense in a Senate trial, as President Bill Clinton did in 1999 after his impeachment.

The short of it is that Cipollone’s claims fail the Pinocchio Test.

It is grossly misleading to say Trump is unable to call or cross-examine witnesses, or have counsel present, in the House impeachment inquiry. The Constitution says the Senate holds impeachment trials. The House, on the other hand, acts as the prosecutor. The founders thought about it, and that’s how they split their roles.

Especially bonkers is Giuliani’s comparison to the Salem witch trials and McCarthyism. But it should not go unnoticed that the White House counsel’s letter, though more sober in tone, makes the unfounded claim that House Democrats are violating Trump’s “constitutionally mandated due process” rights. The Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that impeachment proceedings are different from those in the criminal justice system and that judges could not referee impeachment questions.

These claims are worth Four Pinocchios.

Philip Rotner writing at The Bulwark provides additional evidence on why Trump and Cipollone’s Made-Up Defense of Stonewalling Is a Fraud.

Donald Trump’s sweeping attempt to prevent witnesses from testifying before the House committees conducting impeachment inquiries is an act of lawlessness. Full stop.

In theory, there’s nothing wrong about a president pushing back against congressional encroachments into legitimately perceived executive authority.

But there’s a difference between protecting executive turf and stonewalling.

And Trump has crossed that line, by a mile.

… Cipollone is entitled to his political opinions. But this isn’t about political opinions. It’s about the law. His legal argument, such as it is, has two prongs:

(1) The inquiry is “constitutionally invalid” because the full House hasn’t voted to authorize it; and
(2) The inquiry violates Trump’s due process rights to cross-examine witnesses, call witnesses, and present evidence.

This “constitutional-validity” argument is simply made up.

There is nothing whatsoever in the U.S. Constitution requiring the full House to vote on an impeachment inquiry (as opposed to passing articles of impeachment), and Cipollone doesn’t cite a single provision of the Constitution—or even a single statute, or court decision, or even a dodgy law-review article in support of his proposition.

The due process argument is just as bad.

Cipollone understandably cites no authority of any kind in support of an argument that the target of an impeachment investigation has due process rights to call and cross-examine witnesses or present evidence during the investigation phase of the inquiry (as opposed, of course, to the trial phase, should the inquiry ever reach that point).

The failure to cite any authority requiring such rights is not a matter of negligence on Cipollone’s part. He doesn’t cite any such authority because there is none.

The very idea that targets have a right to fully participate in investigations of their own misconduct is laughable. Such rights are unheard of — whether the investigation is conducted by Congress, regulatory agencies, or law enforcement. Indeed, in many cases, the targets of law enforcement investigations don’t know that an investigation is being conducted, much less have an opportunity to participate in it.

It is difficult to believe that Cipollone’s legal arguments are being made in good faith. They are not debatable, or matters of interpretation. They are just wrong. A first-year law student would know better than to cite either of the cases Cipollone cites in support of an argument that a president has a constitutional right to participate in impeachment proceedings while they are still in the investigation/inquiry phase.

Trump’s order preventing witnesses from testifying before Congress has no legal justification. It is stonewalling and obstruction, pure and simple.

Congress should treat it as such.

Now I know that Trump keeps his own counsel, such as it is being devoid of expertise and evidence. But he might want to consider this advice: hire a first-year law student.

Trump's 'great and unmatched wisdom' might lead to a massacre of the Kurds

Judd Legum in this morning’s subscribers post at popular.info updates us on what Trump has said and done regarding Turkey’s incursion into Syria.

After functionally giving Turkey the go-ahead to invade Kurdish controlled territory inside of Syria, Trump broadcast mixed messages.

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off-limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”

But in spite of that bit of megalomania, Trump took no action against Turkey but instead denigrated our ally in the war on ISIS.

Kurdish forces … asked for U.S. assistance to create a no-fly zone to reduce the carnage. Trump reportedly refused. In remarks on Wednesday afternoon, Trump dismissed the alliance between the United States and Kurdish forces.

Trump on the Kurds: “They didn’t help us in the Second World War, they didn’t help us with Normandy.” He says they’re only interested in fighting for “their land.” He adds, “With all of that being said, we like the Kurds.”

Goes to show ya: you don’t want to be liked by the U. S.

Trump’s mysterious motivations

The question is: Why? Why would Trump sell out a close U.S. ally to make Erdogan happy? What, exactly, is he getting in return?

The answer might have less to do with U.S. policy than Trump’s private businesses.

Trump has maintained ownership of his wide-ranging business operations as president. This was an unprecedented and unconstitutional decision that created a host of conflicts-of-interest. Among them is Trump Towers, Istanbul.

Trump’s property in Turkey opened seven years ago and “Erdogan, then the country’s prime minister, attended the grand opening of the twin skyscraper project.” Ivanka Trump “praised him for doing so.”

Trump has earned “earned between $100,001 and $1 million from the Istanbul project in the past year.” Meanwhile, “Turkish officials, including the trade minister, the defense minister and the ambassador to the United States, have made 14 separate visits to Trump’s hotel a few blocks from the White House since his inauguration.”

Trump's Turkish caper proves U. S. to be a dangerous ally

Not just unreliable but downright dangerous. With friends like these …

Background: NY Times reports Turkey Launches Offensive Against U.S.-Backed Syrian Militia.

Turkey launched a ground and air assault on Wednesday against a Syrian militia that has been a crucial American ally in the fight against ISIS, days after President Trump agreed to let the operation proceed.

As Turkish warplanes bombed Syrian towns and troops crossed the border, the chaos in Washington continued, with President Trump issuing seemingly contradictory policy statements in the face of strident opposition from his Republican allies in Congress.

Mr. Trump acquiesced to the Turkish operation in a call with Turkey’s president on Sunday, agreeing to move American troops out of Turkey’s way despite opposition from his own State Department and military.

On Wednesday, hours after the operation began, he condemned it, calling it “a bad idea.”

By that time, Turkish fighter jets were streaking through the sky over Syrian towns, while artillery shells boomed overhead. Traffic was jammed with terrified civilians fleeing south in trucks piled high with possessions and children.

Fact #1: Kurds were valuable allies in war against ISIS.

A military coalition led by the United States teamed up with a Kurdish militia beginning in 2015 to fight Islamic State extremists who had seized a territory that was the size of Britain and spanned the Syrian-Iraqi border. That militia grew into the Syrian Democratic Forces, which led the fight against the Islamic State in Syria and eventually took control of the areas it liberated.

Fact #2: American military provides support to Turkish attack on the Kurds.

The United States military, which had been working with the Syrian Democratic Forces to fight remnants of the Islamic State in Syria, has cut off all support to the militia, two American military officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential military assessments.

The officials said the United States was not providing support to Turkey either, but for the last few weeks, as Turkish military officials planned the assault, they received American surveillance video and information from reconnaissance aircraft. The information may have helped them track Kurdish positions.

One official said that United States warplanes and surveillance aircraft remained in the area to defend the remaining American ground forces in northeast Syria, but said they would not contest Turkish warplanes attacking Kurdish positions.

Trump’s acquiescence triggered another humanitarian crisis. Thursday morning news reports that Kurd civilians are running to escape the Turkish invasion but they have nowhere to go. Is this ethnic cleansing unfolding?

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Trump going public does not make his corruption right

In one of this last Sunday morning’s news programs, South Carolina Republican voters were interviewed about their views of the case for impeachment. I was shocked by one voter’s opinion: that Trump’s asking for foreign assistance with his re-election campaign was OK so long as he was public about it. There are two things here that should cause bipartisan concern.

One is that it is plainly unconstitutional. From Article I Section 9 of the Constitution: “No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” Congress has not granted its consent and my guess is that they are not about to do something to put our national well-being in the hands of a foreign State - such as Ukraine or China.

The second issue is the deeply flawed logic. Trump is on record for claiming he could “stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody” and not “lose any voters.” Does Trump’s going public mean that his shooting somebody is OK?

Trump is trying to make “corruption” a new normal and thereby excusing his own nefarious acts. That bugs me. Here is one reason why.

I served in the U. S. Army for three and a half years (1963–1966) including two tours in the Far East. I would have recited this Oath of Enlistment.

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.” (Title 10, US Code; Act of 5 May 1960 replacing the wording first adopted in 1789, with amendment effective 5 October 1962).

Today I could not honestly take that oath. You see, in the age of Trump “support and defend the Constitution” is fundamentally at odds with “obey the orders of the President.” Whoever holds public office cannot in good conscience support the Constitution and defend the President. The evidence of his corruption is just too broad and deep. Trump’s acceptance of emoluments originating both here at home and abroad is unconstitutional. His pathological lying (12,000 and counting) makes any of his orders immediately suspect.

It’s time to revisit an anthem from another time of crisis for our nation. Stephen Sills (then of Buffalo Springfield) penned these lyrics (with a change from me in italics):

There’s something happening here
What it is is perfectly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it’s time we stop, children, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down

Income injustice by the numbers

Time magazine reports that U.S. Income Inequality Reached Its Highest Level in Over 50 Years, Census Finds.

The gap between the haves and have-nots in the United States grew last year to its highest level in more than 50 years of tracking income inequality, according to Census Bureau figures.

Income inequality in the United States expanded from 2017 to 2018, with several heartland states among the leaders of the increase, even though several wealthy coastal states still had the most inequality overall, according to figures released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The nation’s Gini Index, which measures income inequality, has been rising steadily over the past five decades.

The Gini Index grew from 0.482 in 2017 to 0.485 last year, according to the bureau’s 1-year American Community Survey data. The Gini Index is on a scale of 0 to 1; a score of “0” indicates perfect equality, while a score of “1” indicates perfect inequality, where one household has all the income.

We are in the middle being neither perfectly equal nor perfectly unequal; relatively few U. S. households have most of the income.

According to the GINI index (World Bank estimate) - Country Ranking we are in another middle. We rank 59th among 158 countries and are sandwiched between Uganda and Haiti.

Another marker of extreme economic injustice in the U. S. is the differing tax rates between the haves and have nots. David Leonhardt (NY Times) reports that The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You.

Almost a decade ago, Warren Buffett made a claim that would become famous. He said that he paid a lower tax rate than his secretary, thanks to the many loopholes and deductions that benefit the wealthy.

His claim sparked a debate about the fairness of the tax system. In the end, the expert consensus was that, whatever Buffett’s specific situation, most wealthy Americans did not actually pay a lower tax rate than the middle class. “Is it the norm?” the fact-checking outfit Politifact asked. “No.”

Time for an update: It’s the norm now.

For the first time on record, the 400 wealthiest Americans last year paid a lower total tax rate — spanning federal, state and local taxes — than any other income group, according to newly released data.

That’s a sharp change from the 1950s and 1960s, when the wealthy paid vastly higher tax rates than the middle class or poor.

Since then, taxes that hit the wealthiest the hardest — like the estate tax and corporate tax — have plummeted, while tax avoidance has become more common.

President Trump’s 2017 tax cut, which was largely a handout to the rich, plays a role, too. It helped push the tax rate on the 400 wealthiest households below the rates for almost everyone else.

The data here come from the most important book on government policy that I’ve read in a long time — called “The Triumph of Injustice,” to be released next week. The authors are Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, both professors at the University of California, Berkeley, who have done pathbreaking work on taxes. Saez has won the award that goes to the top academic economist under age 40, and Zucman was recently profiled on the cover of Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine as “the wealth detective.”

They have constructed a historical database that tracks the tax payments of households at different points along the income spectrum going back to 1913, when the federal income tax began. The story they tell is maddening — and yet ultimately energizing.

By the middle of the 20th century, the high-tax advocates had prevailed. The United States had arguably the world’s most progressive tax code, with a top income-tax rate of 91 percent and a corporate tax rate above 50 percent.

But the second half of the 20th century was mostly a victory for the low-tax side. Companies found ways to take more deductions and dodge taxes. Politicians cut every tax that fell heavily on the wealthy: high-end income taxes, investment taxes, the estate tax and the corporate tax. The justification for doing so was usually that the economy as a whole would benefit.

The justification turned out to be wrong. The wealthy, and only the wealthy, have done fantastically well over the last several decades. G.D.P. growth has been disappointing, and middle-class income growth even worse.

The American economy just doesn’t function very well when tax rates on the rich are low and inequality is sky high. It was true in the lead-up to the Great Depression, and it’s been true recently. Which means that raising high-end taxes isn’t about punishing the rich (who, by the way, will still be rich). It’s about creating an economy that works better for the vast majority of Americans.

And let us be clear. The trend toward greater and greater inequality has been nearly perfectly linear over the last 50 years - regardless of which political party was in control of Congress or the White House.

As part of their proposed tax policies:

… Saez and Zucman sketch out a modern progressive tax code. The overall tax rate on the richest 1 percent would roughly double, to about 60 percent. The tax increases would bring in about $750 billion a year, or 4 percent of G.D.P., enough to pay for universal pre-K, an infrastructure program, medical research, clean energy and more. Those are the kinds of policies that do lift economic growth.

… Saez and Zucman also favor a wealth tax; Elizabeth Warren’s version is based on their work. And they call for the creation of a Public Protection Bureau, to help the I.R.S. crack down on tax dodging.

So a way forward is clear. The question remains: do we have the will to take it or do we let the 400 rule?

Sunday, October 6, 2019

NY Magazine's Rachel Maddow story - chasing facts for a 'clear vision of the world'

Rachel Maddow is the subject of The New York Magazine feature by Amanda Hess. This Is the Moment Rachel Maddow Has Been Waiting For. How the MSNBC host staked her show on Trump — and won the largest and most obsessive audience of her career.

It’s a very good read about how Rachel got her show and who she is.

Your scriber thinks this is the most descriptive claim: “For her fans, what Maddow provides is the rush of chasing facts until a clear vision of the world comes into focus.”

That’s why I am a Rachel junkie.

The Unfit Presidency, Part 2 - Criminality, Contradictions, and Corrupt Conspirators

pres·i·den·cy
/ˈprez(ə)dənsē/
noun
the period of a president’s office.

I use the term “presidency” in this larger sense encompassing this particular President (Trump) but also the historical events and persons during that period. Much of the story of the Trump presidency is less about the man and more about those who support him and do his bidding. Collectively they define The Unfit Presidency.

High crimes

The HuffPost Politics reports: “Ellen Weintraub, chair of the Federal Election Commission, was moved once again to remind political candidates that asking for help from foreign governments is illegal, minutes after President Donald Trump publicly did just that.” (Oct. 4, 2019, email)

More details are reported in FEC Chair, Again: Soliciting Foreign Election Help Is Illegal: President Trump publicly called on Ukraine and China to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Speaking to reporters outside the White House on Thursday morning, the president urged the governments of Ukraine and China to investigate his Democratic rival Joe Biden.

"Is this thing on?” Weintraub wrote as she retweeted a message she first posted in June, this time adding a microphone emoji.

“Let me make something 100% clear to the American public and anyone running for public office. It is illegal for any person to solicit, accept, or receive anything of value from a foreign national in connection with a U.S. election,” the chair’s original message read.

"This is not a novel concept,” the original post continued. “Electoral intervention from foreign governments has been considered unacceptable since the beginnings of our nation. Our Founding Fathers … knew that when foreign governments seek to influence American politics, it is always to advance their own interests, not America’s.”

Weintraub was prompted to post that reminder in June after Trump told ABC News that he would consider accepting information on a political rival from a foreign national and dismissed the idea that such an act would constitute foreign interference in a U.S. election. The Mueller report, released earlier in the year, outlined Russian interference in the 2016 election along with 10 instances in which Trump may have sought to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation.

Now, the president has apparently become bolder than ever.

Despite White House officials’ alleged efforts to cover up a July conversation between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky ― in which the U.S. leader asked his Ukrainian counterpart to dig up dirt on Biden ― Trump solicited help from another foreign country before news cameras on Thursday.

He did so even as the House is conducting an impeachment inquiry centered on Trump’s conversation with Zelensky, which came to light in a whistleblower complaint.

“China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump said.

The president is thought to view Biden as his chief rival in the 2020 election.

Contradictions and the Cult of Personality

Jonah Goldberg (Daily Star) explains how Trump’s defenders have adopted a doctrine of infallibility.

… where Trump’s cult of personality comes in. For several years there’s been a kind of competition on the right to come up with a coherent intellectual or ideological framework to support Trump’s presidency. Every single one that comes out of the clouds of theory to get close to the reality on the ground has crashed. He’s a nationalist who puts America first but says we’ll await Saudi Arabia’s say-so on a military strike against Iran. He says he wants free trade but also thinks tariffs are good.

Just this week, the same people who insisted that Trump would never collude with a foreign nation for his political interest are now defending collusion with a foreign nation for his political interest. The people who turn crimson with rage when you point out Trump’s decades of corrupt business practices now insist his only interest in the Bidens is his concern about corruption. They say it’s outrageous that Biden’s son sat on the board of a Ukrainian company when Biden was vice president, but they also say it’s fine to have a daughter and son-in-law duo running vast swaths of foreign and domestic policy while also making a fortune from their business interests around the world. Enemies are sinful or decadent when they lie or cheat on their wives, but who are you to judge Comrade Trump?

There’s no halfway defensible ideological, intellectual or moral standard that Trump doesn’t violate, often routinely. A cult of personality that replies “Trump’s right” or “his enemies are worse” before the question is even asked is the only place to hide.

A doctrine of infallibility is the only defense of this deeply fallible man.

Corrupt Conspirators

We have arrived at that moment in our history which our Founding Fathers most feared writes the AZ Blue Meanie at Blog for Arizona.

I have said before and I cannot emphasize enough that the Party of Trump is a criminal enterprise led by a third-rate mafia “Don” Trump. They are all accomplices, co-conspirators and accessories to his criminality and corruption. There is not a patriot among them. They put fealty to their “Dear Leader” above all else, including loyalty to their country and our national security, and their oaths of office to defend the Constitution.

[Making everyone dirty] is Trump’s insurance policy against impeachment. He has an authoritarian political party that puts party loyalty and GOP tribalism above all else: loyalty to country, their oaths of office to defend the Constitution, and openness to conspiring with foreign adversaries to remain in power. The Party of Trump is not going to vote to impeach and remove the Trump administration for its openly admitted crimes and make House Speaker Nancy Pelosi acting president.

The Blue Meanie cites Michel Sozan (americanprogress.org): “President Trump’s solicitation of the Ukrainian president to interfere in the U.S. political process for Trump’s benefit violates the Constitution and federal law—not to mention the public trust. If they were here to see Trump’s deeply corrupt actions, the founders undoubtedly would vote to impeach him and remove him from office.”

But the Founding Fathers did not foresee for the rise of political parties, and the possibility of the complete and total corruption of one the nation’s major political parties in support of its titular leader, the president. The entire constitutional system of checks and balances designed by the Founding Fathers breaks down and fails to protect the citizenry when one of the nation’s major political parties is so thoroughly corrupted that it openly disregards the Constitution and the nations laws, and abdicates its constitutional responsibilities, all in order to defend a president of their party they know to be corrupt and openly engaging in criminal behavior, with foreign adversaries no less.

Any Republican who continues to support Donald Trump at this point is a coconspirator at worst, and an accessory who is aiding and abetting the Trump administration’s crimes at best. They are all equally culpable at law. They are condoning and normalizing criminality in the pursuit of maintaining power. They are turning the United States into a criminally corrupt kleptocracy just as surely as Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

The Unfit Presidency, Part 1.

Sometimes we encounter an essay that increases our understanding of our world by exposing connections that we had not imagined. This is such a document connecting history, politics, and clinical psychology.

George Conway III provides extensive evidence in The Atlantic that Trump is Unfit for Office.
Donald Trump’s narcissism makes it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires.

Here’s what to expect.

  • Conway describes what the founders desired in a president and what they wished to avoid.
  • He provides, in narrative form, a compendium of Trump’s behaviors, both verbal and nonverbal, that bear on the question of fitness.
  • These behaviors are consistent with diagnoses of narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. Observations from public media agree with these possible clinical diagnoses.
  • Finally, Conway considers what remedies might be applied to remove Trump from office.

Below I provide excerpts consistent with the above points.

… Simply put, Trump’s ingrained and extreme behavioral characteristics make it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires. To see why first requires a look at what the Constitution demands of a president, and then an examination of how Trump’s behavioral characteristics preclude his ability to fulfill those demands.

Though the Constitution’s drafters could hardly have foreseen how the system would evolve, they certainly knew the kind of person they wanted it to produce. “The process of election affords a moral certainty,” Hamilton wrote, “that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.” “Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity,” might suffice for someone to be elected to the governorship of a state, but not the presidency. Election would “require other talents, and a different kind of merit,” to gain “the esteem and confidence of the whole Union,” or enough of it to win the presidency. As a result, there would be “a constant probability of seeing the station filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.” This was the Framers’ goal in designing the system that would make “the choice of the person to whom so important a trust was to be confided.”

More than a diagnosis, what truly matters, … is the president’s behavioral characteristics and personality traits. And understanding how people behave and think is not the sole province of professionals; we all do it every day, with family members, co-workers, and others. Nevertheless, how the mental-health community goes about categorizing those characteristics and traits can provide helpful guidance to laypeople by structuring our thinking about them.

And that’s where the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders comes into play. The DSM, now in its fifth edition, “contains descriptions, symptoms, and other criteria for diagnosing mental disorders,” and serves as the country’s “authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.” What’s useful for nonprofessionals is that, for the most part, it’s written in plain English, and its criteria consist largely of observable behaviors—words and actions.

One scholarly paper has suggested that accounts of a person’s behavior from laypeople who observe him might be more accurate than information from a clinical interview, and that this is especially true when considering two personality disorders in particular—what the DSM calls narcissistic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. These two disorders just happen to be the ones that have most commonly been ascribed to Trump by mental-health professionals over the past four years. Of these two disorders, the more commonly discussed when it comes to Trump is narcissistic personality disorder, or NPD—pathological narcissism. It’s also more important in considering Trump’s fitness for office, because it touches directly upon whether Trump has the capacity to put anyone’s interests—including the country’s and the Constitution’s—above his own.

… from the perspective of the public at large, the debate over whether Trump meets the clinical diagnostic criteria for NPD—or whether psychiatrists can and should answer that question without directly examining him—is beside the point. The goal of a diagnosis is to help a clinician guide treatment. The question facing the public is very different: Does the president of the United States exhibit a consistent pattern of behavior that suggests he is incapable of properly discharging the duties of his office?

… In a nutshell, while carrying out his official duties, a president has to put the country, not himself, first; he must faithfully follow and enforce the law; and he must act with the utmost care in doing all that.

… The president’s exceptional narcissism is his defining characteristic—and understanding that is crucial to evaluating his fitness for office.

The DSM–5 describes its conception of pathological narcissism this way: “The essential feature of narcissistic personality disorder is a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy that begins by early adulthood and is present in a variety of contexts.” The manual sets out nine diagnostic criteria that are indicative of the disorder, but only five of the nine need be present for a diagnosis of NPD to be made. Here are the nine:

  1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements).
  2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.
  3. Believes that he or she is “special” and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people (or institutions).
  4. Requires excessive admiration.
  5. Has a sense of entitlement (i.e., unreasonable expectations of especially favorable treatment or automatic compliance with his or her expectations).
  6. Is interpersonally exploitative (i.e., takes advantage of others to achieve his or her own ends)
  7. Lacks empathy: is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings or needs of others.
  8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her.
  9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes.

You might wish test your own knowledge of what Trump has (and has not) done that might square with this list. “That’s Trump, to a T.” is how Conway thinks of the first three criteria. He goes on to expand on each with instances from Trump’s behaviors and claims.

Narcissism resides in each of us. But Trump’s NPD is off scale.

Experts haven’t suggested that Trump is psychotic, but many have contended that his narcissism and sociopathy are so inordinate that he fits the bill for “malignant narcissism.” Malignant narcissism isn’t recognized as an official diagnosis; it’s a descriptive term coined by the psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, and expanded upon by another psychoanalyst, Otto Kernberg, to refer to an extreme mix of narcissism and sociopathy, with a degree of paranoia and sadism mixed in. One psychoanalyst explains that “the malignant narcissist is pathologically grandiose, lacking in conscience and behavioural regulation with characteristic demonstrations of joyful cruelty and sadism.” In the view of some in the mental-health community, such as John Gartner, Trump “exhibits all four” components of malignant narcissism: “narcissism, paranoia, antisocial personality and sadism.”

Just as scary are signs of cognitive decline.

Mental-health professionals have raised a variety of other concerns about Trump’s mental state; the last worth specifically mentioning here is the possibility that, apart from any personality disorder, he may be suffering cognitive decline. This is a serious matter: Trump seems to be continually slurring words, and recently misread teleprompters to say that the Continental Army secured airports during the American Revolutionary War, and to say that the shooting in Dayton had occurred in Toledo. His overall level of articulateness today doesn’t come close to what he exhibits in decades-old television clips. But that could be caused by ordinary age-related decline, stress, or other factors; to know whether something else is going on, according to experts, would require a full neuropsychological work-up, of the kind that Trump hasn’t yet had and, one supposes, isn’t about to agree to.

To sum up:

… His “mental state,” according to Justin A. Frank, a former clinical professor of psychiatry and physician who wrote a book about Trump’s psychology, “include[s] so many psychic afflictions” that a “working knowledge of psychiatric disorders is essential to understanding Trump.” Indeed, as [John] Gartner puts it: “There are a lot of things wrong with him—and, together, they are a scary witch’s brew.”

What constitutional mechanisms exist for dealing with a president who cannot or does not comply with his duties, and how should they take the president’s mental and behavioral characteristics into account? One mechanism discussed with great frequency during the past three years, including within the Trump administration, is Section 4 of the Twenty-Fifth Amendment. That provision allows the vice president to become “Acting President” when the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” But it doesn’t define what such an inability entails; essentially, it lets the vice president and the Cabinet, the president himself, and ultimately two-thirds of both houses of Congress decide.

That’s a high bar.

… so it turns out that impeachment is a more practical mechanism for addressing the fact that Trump’s narcissism and sociopathy render him unable to comply with the obligations of his office. It’s also an appropriate mechanism, because the constitutional magic words (other than Treason and Bribery) that form the basis of an impeachment charge—high Crimes and Misdemeanors, found in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution—mean something other than, and more than, offenses in the criminal-statute books. High Crimes and Misdemeanors is a legal term of art, one that historically referred to breaches of duties—fiduciary duties—by public officeholders. In other words, the question of what constitutes an impeachable offense for a president coincides precisely with whether the president can execute his office in the faithful manner that the Constitution requires.

… now that the House of Representatives has embarked on an impeachment inquiry, one of the most important judgments it must make is whether any identified breaches of duty are likely to be repeated. And if a Senate trial comes to pass, that issue would become central as well to the decision to remove the president from office. That’s when Trump’s behavioral and psychological characteristics should—must—come into play. From the evidence, it appears that he simply can’t stop himself from putting his own interests above the nation’s. Any serious impeachment proceedings should consider not only the evidence and the substance of all impeachable offenses, but also the psychological factors that may be relevant to the motivations underlying those offenses. Congress should make extensive use of experts—psychologists and psychiatrists. Is Trump so narcissistic that he can’t help but use his office for his own personal ends? Is he so sociopathic that he can’t be trusted to follow, let alone faithfully execute, the law?

Congress should consider all this because that’s what the question of impeachment demands. But there’s another reason as well. The people have a right to know, and a need to see. Many people have watched all of Trump’s behavior, and they’ve drawn the obvious conclusion. They know something’s wrong, just as football fans knew that the downed quarterback had shattered his leg. Others have changed the channel, or looked away, or chosen to deny what they’ve seen. But if Congress does its job and presents the evidence, those who are in denial won’t be able to ignore the problem any longer. Not only because of the evidence itself, but because Donald Trump will respond in pathological ways—and in doing so, he’ll prove the points against him in ways almost no one will be able to ignore.

Friday, October 4, 2019

The coming Trump Slump and other Trumpublican Travesties

Paul Krugman predicts Here Comes the Trump Slump, And he has only himself to blame.

But you know he will blame someone else - like maybe Hillary’s emails?

When he isn’t raving about how the deep state is conspiring against him, Donald Trump loves to boast about the economy, claiming to have achieved unprecedented things. As it happens, none of his claims are true. While both G.D.P. and employment have registered solid growth, the Trump economy simply seems to have continued a long expansion that began under Barack Obama. In fact, someone who looked only at the past 10 years of data would never guess that an election had taken place.

But now it’s starting to look as if Trump really will achieve something unique: He may well be the first president of modern times to preside over a slump that can be directly attributed to his own policies, rather than bad luck.

… what will come next? Trump being Trump, it’s a good bet that he’ll soon be denouncing troubling economic data as fake news; I wouldn’t be surprised to see political pressure on the statistical agencies to report better numbers. Hey, if it can happen to the National Weather Service, why not the Bureau of Economic Analysis (which reports, by the way, to Wilbur Ross)?

… The scary thing is that around 35 percent of Americans will probably believe whatever excuses Trump comes up with. But that won’t be enough to save him.

Well before the 2016 election, Trump’s blustering bullshit created my impression of him as an ignorant lout. Not only does he not understand economics, but he doesn’t know much about the workings of our democracy over which he presides. (Shudder!) Consider, for instance, his latest claim about impeachment being a coup. Here is what I found on the web.

impeachmentcoup
im-peech-muh ntkoo dey-tahz; French koo dey-ta
nounnoun, plural coups d'é·tat
(in Congress or a state legislature) the presentation of formal charges against a public official by the lower house, trial to be before the upper house.a sudden and decisive action in politics, especially one resulting in a change of government illegally or by force

So, you see, impeachment starts with an inquiry, not force, and it is legal and mandated by our constitution.

At Splinternews.com, Jack Crosbie takes issue with Trump in Impeachment is Not a Coup.

After more than two years of blatant corruption and self-dealing and inhumane policy in office, President Donald Trump currently faces a serious, organized impeachment inquiry. The impeachment process, set in motion by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on September 24, is a legal means outlined in Constitution for removing a president who’s committed “high crimes.”

Can’t believe we have to say this, but: What is happening is not a coup!

Donald J. Trump
@realDonaldTrump
Oct 1, 2019
As I learn more and more each day, I am coming to the conclusion that what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP, intended to take away the Power of the.People, their VOTE, their Freedoms, their Second Amendment, Religion, Military, Border Wall, and their God-given rights as a Citizen of The United States of America!

Trump has been pretty quick to cry “coup” throughout his tenure as president, previously using the word to declare the (also legal!) special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election illegitimate. His other favorite term is “witch hunt,” but his use of “coup” is a bit more troubling, as the word usually denotes a process that is, uh, not exactly peaceful. The definition of coup d’ètat isn’t formally set in international law, but it’s typically understood to mean a violent overthrow of an existing ruler by illegal means. What’s happening here is not that!

So Trump’s use of the word to describe the constitutional process is troubling, seeing as our system of government was specifically structured around peaceful transfers of power (between land-owning white people, but still).

And it’s clear we’re going to see this line of attack deployed a lot more. After Trump’s coup chat last night, Fox & Friends picked up the rhetoric this morning:

Bobby Lewis
@revrrlewis
Fox & Friends jokes about being “the world’s most powerful TV show, according to people who write stuff sometimes” as they lead into a report on Trump “accusing the left of staging – get this – a coup!”

What goes relatively unsaid in all of this as well is that the impeachment inquiry is a long ways off from removing Trump from office. If things go well, it could help Democrats in a general election, but even if it succeeds, actually removing a president from power takes a formal trial and then two-thirds of the Senate voting to convict, which seems…less-than-probable given the current makeup of the Senate. An actual coup, on the other hand—far less red tape. Food for thought!

In yesterday morning’s Daily Star, Bloomberg News author James Gibney thinks we should Forget the ‘deep state,’ what Trump hates is the state itself.

President Trump’s suggestion last week that the Ukraine whistleblower and his sources were no better than spies, and hinting at treason and the death penalty, has been variously described as despicable, terrible, un-American and reprehensible. I am here to tell you that it was actually worse than that.

Trump delivered his remarks before the United States Mission to the United Nations, a branch of the bureaucracy already under assault from his political appointees. The president might like to complain about the “deep state,” but what Trump really doesn’t like is the state itself — the idea of a nonpartisan, professional civil service responsible for executing policies and following procedure regardless of who is in office.

The U.S. Mission to the U.N. works in tandem with the State Department’s Bureau of International Organization Affairs, which was just the subject of a withering report by the department’s inspector general. It found evidence of harassment of career employees judged “disloyal” based on their perceived political views, retaliation for refusing to accede to conflicts of interest, and numerous other instances of disrespectful and hostile treatment. The bureau’s politically appointed leaders ignored or deflected protests, in one case telling an employee that complaints were pointless because the Trump administration “has my back.” This climate of fear and mismanagement helped to drive away 50 out of the bureau’s 300 U.S. employees.

Trump’s remarks last week were short on gratitude and long on attacks on the press, Democrats, former Vice President Joe Biden and the whistleblower report. (As someone who used to draft speeches for embassy pep rallies for a U.S. president and secretary of state, I can tell you that Trump’s was not standard fare.) And given what the mission and bureau’s staff have already endured, his closing message was undoubtedly crystal clear: If you speak out against this administration, you will pay a huge price.

Sadly, many State Department officials are already conditioned by training and temperament not to rock the boat. During my foreign service orientation back in the 20th century, my class dutifully sat through a television documentary about an officer whose aggressive human-rights reporting derailed his career. The message was clear, despite the department’s clumsy attempt to show us that it did, in fact, tolerate dissent: a visit from two senior officers with tales of how they bucked the system and prevailed. Unfortunately, neither was still with the service — a detail that did not go unnoticed by me or my classmates. Turns out it takes real guts to be a whistleblower.

That’s exactly the kind of courage that this administration doesn’t want to cultivate — notwithstanding Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s empty pledges to restore “swagger” to his department. (Just ask the recalled U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, now cooling her heels in a fellowship despite a stellar career.) Trump himself has said that he prefers an administration filled with acting officials because they’re easier to push around. Next best, apparently, is an empty chair — witness this administration’s remarkable number of them. Rather than a fully staffed, well-resourced corps of civil servants sworn to uphold the Constitution, he wants a tiny band of loyalists bound by omertà.

President Teddy Roosevelt once described an efficient and professional civil service as a “powerful implement with which to work for the moral regeneration of our public life.” Trump, sadly, seems intent on degrading the quality of America’s civil service — and using it for the opposite purpose.

President Roosevelt might be shedding tears. Not only is Trump ruining the diplomatic corps but he’s dismantling parts of the government charged recommending policies based on scientific research. Miranda Green, reports in The Hill, via Reader Supported News: White House Eliminates Advisory Boards for Marine Life, Invasive Species.

The discontinuation the committees as well as the end of the work of the various scientists and academics on them comes as the Trump administration has called for cutting at least one-third of all advisory panels. …

So, as I’ve written before, Trump can be understood with a simple formula: X/AntiX. If you would destroy an entity X (in this case the government), pick a leader who is AntiX. Then sit back and watch the carnage. As Rick Wilson put it, Trump Is Going to Burn Down Everything and Everyone, and Republicans, That Means You. That press conference was terrifying. And congressional Republicans should be more afraid than anyone. Trump’s going down and taking them with him.