Thursday Reads: Net Neutrality, Sandy Hook Anniversary, and Trump’s Megalomania

MA Sen. Ed Markey speaks at net neutrality rally outside FCC headquarters this morning.

Good Morning!!

Today the FCC will vote to kill net neutrality rules. That should set off a number of lawsuits and protests. The Commission meeting is happening right now.

NBC News: Net neutrality: FCC to vote on rules that will shape future of the internet.

Your future internet experience now rests in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission, which is expected to vote on Thursday to end rules requiring internet service providers to treat all traffic as equal.

The five members are expected to vote 3-2 along party lines to scrap Obama-era net neutrality rules, returning to a “light touch”approach and ending what Chairman Ajit Pai has called the federal government’s “micromanaging” of the internet.

“Prior to 2015, before these regulations were imposed, we had a free and open internet,” Pai told NBC News. “That is the future as well under a light touch, market-based approach. Consumers benefit, entrepreneurs benefit. Everybody in the internet economy is better off with a market based approach.”

The end of net neutrality rules will mark a huge victory for the big internet service providers. Depending on how they decide to act, the vote could have massive implications for the way you use the internet.

Gizmodo: Ajit Pai Thinks You’re Stupid Enough to Buy This Crap [Update: One of the 7 Things Is Dancing With a Pizzagater]

On Thursday, the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission and its chairman, Verizon BFF Ajit Pai, will hold a vote on whether to repeal Barack Obama-era net neutrality rules. If passed, the FCC would allow ISPs to begin setting up a tiered internet designed to suck as much money from customers’ pockets as possible while screwing with their ability to access competitors’ content, or really anything that might suck up amounts of bandwidth inconvenient for their profit margins.

The plan is immensely unpopular, even with Republicans. This type of situation would typically call for a charm offensive, though Pai has apparently decided to resort to his time-honored tactic of being incredibly condescending instead. In a video with the conservative site Daily Caller’s Benny Johnson—the dude who got fired from BuzzFeed for plagiarizing Yahoo Answers—Pai urged the country to understand that even if he succeeds in his plan to let ISPs strangle the rest of the internet to death, they’ll let us continue to take selfies and other stupid bullshit.

Gif source: Daily Caller

“There’s been quite a bit of conversation about my plan to restore Internet freedom,” Pai says in the cringe-inducing clip. “Here are just a few of the things you will still be able to do on the Internet after these Obama-era regulations are repealed.”

Pai then pantomimed things users will supposedly still be able to do, like being able to “gram your food,” “post photos of cute animals, like puppies,” “shop for all your Christmas presents online,” “binge watch your favorite shows,” and “stay part of your favorite fan community.”

“You can still drive memes right into the ground,” Pai added before breaking into a literal Harlem Shake segment. Astute viewers may remember that this was an intolerable meme from all the way back in 2013 which has not grown any less intolerable in the intervening four years.

Please click on the link to read the rest and watch the clips.

The LA Times editorializes: The FCC sacrifices the free and open Internet on the altar of deregulation.

In defending his proposed rollback of federal net neutrality rules, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has repeatedly said that he’s merely trying to return to the “light touch” regulation that helped make the internet what it is today.

That’s transparently false, and Pai knows it. The deregulation of AT&T, Comcast and other broadband providers that Pai and the commission’s other Republican appointees are expected to approve Thursday is a dramatic abdication of authority that could usher in an ugly new era for individuals and companies that offer content and services online, and for the people who rely on them.

It’s hard to know at this point how altered the internet will be after the dominant local providers of high-speed internet access services are freed to meddle with the traffic on their networks. But merely giving them that freedom could discourage innovation and investment online by creating potential new obstacles to start-ups and others that would compete with deep-pocketed sites and services….

The obvious problem there is that broadband providers could pick winners and losers online and stay out of trouble for it simply by disclosing that they are, in fact, prioritizing traffic for any online site or service that can afford the fee. No deception and no unfairness, but no neutrality, either. There’s also a realistic fear that broadband providers would favor their own sites and services because some are doing it already — for example, AT&T effectively exempts video streams from its DirecTV subsidiary from its wireless data caps.

Read the rest at the LA Times.

Today is also the fifth anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre.

David Frum at The Atlantic on Oct. 3, 2017: Mass Shootings Don’t Lead to Inaction—They Lead to Loosening Gun Restrictions.

“After Newtown, nothing changed, so don’t expect anything to change after Las Vegas.”

How often have you heard that said? Yet it’s not true. The five years since a gunman killed 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, have seen one of the most intense bursts of gun legislation in U.S. history—almost all of it intended to ensure that more guns can be carried into more places.

In the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, gun-rights activists assertively carried openly displayed weapons into more and more places. Many national chain stores banned weapons, but at least one—Starbucks—did not. In August 2013, gun-rights activists declared a “Starbucks Appreciation Day.” They made a special point that day of carrying weapons in Starbucks outlets nationwide, including the Starbucks in Newtown itself. (The store closed for the day to avert the demonstration.)

Since Newtown, more than two dozen states have expanded the right to carry into previously unknown places: bars, churches, schools, college campuses, and so on. The most ambitious of these laws was adopted in Georgia in April 2014. Among other provisions, it allowed guns to be carried into airports right up to the federal TSA checkpoint.

Read more at the link.

The Washington Post has an important investigative article today on the consequences of Trump’s refusal to acknowledge that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and continues to interfere in our politics: Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked.

In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

“This was part of the normalization process,” one participant said. “There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president.”

It didn’t work. To this day, Trump stubbornly refuses to accept reality.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account….

U.S. officials said that a stream of intelligence from sources inside the Russian government indicates that Putin and his lieutenants regard the 2016 “active measures” campaign — as the Russians describe such covert propaganda operations — as a resounding, if incomplete, success….

…overall, U.S. officials said, the Kremlin believes it got a staggering return on an operation that by some estimates cost less than $500,000 to execute and was organized around two main objectives — destabilizing U.S. democracy and preventing Hillary Clinton, who is despised by Putin, from reaching the White House.

This is horrifying:

U.S. officials declined to discuss whether the stream of recent intelligence on Russia has been shared with Trump. Current and former officials said that his daily intelligence update — known as the president’s daily brief, or PDB — is often structured to avoid upsetting him.

Russia-related intelligence that might draw Trump’s ire is in some cases included only in the written assessment and not raised orally, said a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter. In other cases, Trump’s main briefer — a veteran CIA analyst — adjusts the order of his presentation and text, aiming to soften the impact.

“If you talk about Russia, meddling, interference — that takes the PDB off the rails,” said a second former senior U.S. intelligence official.

I’ve quoted quite a bit, but it’s long piece. Please go read the whole thing at the WaPo.

Finally, a reaction from Greg Sargent: This new report confirms that Trump’s megalomania threatens our democracy.

We already know that President Trump’s narcissism and megalomania threaten our democracy in multiple ways. His intolerance of critical media scrutiny fuels his systematic campaign to delegitimize the free press. His inability to acknowledge that his own conduct led directly to the special counsel’s Russia probe fuels a deep grievance and rage over it, making it more likely that he can be goaded into trying to close the investigation down.

Now a blockbuster new Post report shows how these traits are coming together to expose our democracy to danger on another front. Just before Trump was sworn in as president, the report says, his advisers urged him to publicly acknowledge U.S. intelligence findings that Russia tried to sabotage our democracy. But Trump “became agitated,” the report notes. “He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.” [….]

As I’ve argued, we have done a poor job of accurately capturing the true nature of Trump’s position on Russian interference. It isn’t simply that Trump denies his campaign colluded with that interference. Rather, it’s that this interference never happened at allirrespective of whether any collusion with it took place. (We now know that collusion did happen; at this point the question is how serious the misconduct was.)

Though Trump has at times acknowledged that such sabotage did take place, he has mostly refused to do so. This has long appeared to reflect an inability to view discussion of Russian interference as about anythThing other than himself. To acknowledge Russian meddling can only be an acknowledgement that his victory may have reflected unsavory external factors along with his blinding greatness, and thus may have been in some sense tainted, and since in Trump’s mind that cannot be true, it also cannot be true that Russia meddled at all.

Those are the top stories today, IMHO; but there’s plenty more happening. What stories are you following?

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Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!!

Trump began the day with another Twitter meltdown, attacking the Special Counsel’s investigation and then railing against Kirsten Gillibrand and Hillary Clinton.

Gillibrand “would do anything for” campaign contributions? Referring to Hillary as “Crooked,” and what’s the meaning of “USED?”

Senator Gillibrand responded:

About 90 minutes later, Trump tweeted his usual lying attack on Doug Jones and once again endorsed a man who sexually abused young women and wants to return the U.S. to the days of slavery.

This is how degraded the U.S. presidency is in 2017.

I first saw Trump’s tweets when I turned on MSNBC at about 8:30. It amazed to see Mika Brzezinski’s response. She even told men on the panel to stop interrupting her, and interrupted Joe Scarborough. Watch her rants at MSNBC. (You have to sit through remarks from other people on the panel to get all of what Mika had to say).

Tonight we’ll find out whether Mitch McConnell is going to have to deal with Roy Moore representing Alabama in the U.S. Senate. Some Republicans must be hoping that somehow Democrat Doug Jones can win. No one really knows what is going to happen. The polls are all over the place. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight: What The Hell Is Happening With These Alabama Polls?

What we’re seeing in Alabama goes beyond the usual warnings about minding the margin of error, however. There’s a massive spread in results from poll to poll — with surveys on Monday morning showing everything from a 9-point lead for Moore to a 10-point advantage for Democrat Doug Jones — and they reflect two highly different approaches to polling.

Most polls of the state have been made using automated scripts (these are sometimes also called IVR or “robopolls”). These polls have generally shown Moore ahead and closing strongly toward the end of the campaign, such as the Emerson College poll on Monday that showed Moore leading by 9 points. Recent automated polls from Trafalgar GroupJMC Analytics and PollingGravis Marketing and Strategy Research have also shown Moore with the lead.

But when traditional, live-caller polls have weighed in — although these polls have been few and far between — they’ve shown a much different result. A Monmouth University survey released on Monday showed a tied race. Fox News’s final poll of the race, also released on Monday, showed Jones ahead by 10 percentage points. An earlier Fox News survey also had Jones comfortably ahead, while a Washington Post poll from late November had Jones up 3 points at a time when most other polls showed the race swinging back to Moore. And a poll conducted for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in mid-November — possibly released to the public in an effort to get Moore to withdraw from the race — also showed Jones well ahead.1

These differences are significant, according to Silver, because automated polls cannot call cell phones and may have less representative samples because so many people just hang up on them.

Last night a heartbroken Alabama father spoke outside Roy Moore’s final rally before the election. The Washington Post reports:

Perhaps it was the man’s strong but plain-spoken rebuke outside a Roy Moore rally on the campaign’s final night, condemning the Republican candidate’s past comments lambasting homosexuality.

Perhaps it was the admission of the man, a peanut farmer, that he too, had harbored some of the same anti-gay feelings.

Perhaps it was his sign, a photograph of his daughter, a lesbian who, he said, had killed herself when she was 23.

Whatever it was, the two-minute video of Nathan Mathis struck a nerve, traveling far and wide as a sort of emotional coda to a wrenching U.S. Senate race in Alabama that has captivated the country.

And here’s an energized Doug Jones voter speaking this morning:

Interesting tweets this morning from former Alabama U.S. Attorney Joyce Alene:

Here’s the link Alene responded to:

A couple of weird things happened during Moore’s closing argument.

New York Magazine: Roy Moore’s Wife: We’re Not Anti-Semitic, ‘One of Our Attorneys Is a Jew’

Roy Moore’s stance on Jewish people probably isn’t at the top of anyone’s list of reasons not to vote for the Alabama Senate candidate. Yet on the eve of Tuesday’s election, his wife, Kayla Moore, attempted to shoot down one of the lesser-known allegations against her husband.

“Fake news would tell you that we don’t care for Jews,” Kayla Moore said Monday night while introducing her husband at a rally in Midland City, Alabama.

“I tell you all this because I’ve seen it all, so I just want to set the record straight while they’re here,” she said, gesturing to members of the media.

“One of our attorneys is a Jew,” she continued, pausing for cheers and laughter from the crowd.

“We have very close friends that are Jewish, and rabbis, we also do fellowship with them.”

Um . . . okay . . .

Another speaker “joked” about how he and Roy Moore “accidentally” ended up in a brothel full of underage girls in Vietnam. Think Progress:

One of the introductory speakers was Bill Staehle, who said he served with Moore in Vietnam. Staehle told the story of a night he spent with Moore and a third man, who he did not name. According to Staehle, it was the third man’s last night in Vietnam and the man invited them to a “private club” in the city to celebrate with “a couple of beers.”

Moore and Staehle agreed. According to Staehle, they didn’t expect there was anything untoward going on at the “private club” because “there were legitimate private clubs” in Vietnam. The third man drove them to the club in his Jeep.

Staehle said that, when he and Moore arrived, they soon realized the man had taken them to a brothel. The third man, Staehle suggested, essentially tricked them. “I could tell you what I saw but I don’t want to,” Staehle said mischievously.

“There were certainly pretty girls. And they were girls. They were young. Some were very young,” Staehle acknowledged. But according to Staehle, Moore was shocked by what he saw. “We shouldn’t be here, I’m leaving,” Moore said, according to Staehle.

They asked the third man to leave with them but he didn’t want to. So Staehle and Moore took his Jeep and left him there all night with sex workers, who they agreed were underage. The man returned to base the next morning on the back of a motorcycle, Staehle said with a grin.

Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan must be so proud.

 

Meanwhile, back in Washington DC, the “president’s” men are plotting against Robert Mueller.

Mike Allen at Axios: Trump lawyers want second special counsel appointed now.

President Trump’s legal team believes Attorney General Jeff Session’s Justice Department and the FBI — more than special counsel Robert Mueller himself — are to blame for what they see as a witch hunt.

The result: They want an additional special counsel named to investigate the investigators.

Trump officials outlined their new line of thinking to me last night.

— The new demand was prompted by a Fox News article last evening by James Rosen and Jake Gibson: “A senior Justice Department official [Bruce Ohr] demoted last week for concealing his meetings with the men behind the anti-Trump ‘dossier’ had even closer ties to Fusion GPS, the firm responsible for the incendiary document, than have been disclosed: … The official’s wife [Nellie Ohr] worked for Fusion GPS during the 2016 election.”

— Jay Sekulow, a member of the President’s legal team, tells me: “The Department of Justice and FBI cannot ignore the multiple problems that have been created by these obvious conflicts of interests. These new revelations require the appointment of a Special Counsel to investigate.”

More at the link.

At The Daily Beast, Michael Tomasky asks: Will the Senate Still Protect Robert Mueller From Donald Trump’s Ax?

Remember the first round of gossip about whether President Trump would fire special prosecutor Robert Mueller, back during the summer? Republican senators were quick to say what a grave error this would be. Susan Collins said in June it would be “an extraordinarily unwise move” back. In July, Lindsey Graham said that “any effort to go after Mueller could be the beginning of the end of the Trump presidency unless Mueller did something wrong.”

Most of them chimed in along similar lines. Consequently we were all assured: Yes, maybe they’ve been in the tank for Trump up to now, but surely they would never tolerate that. That is the moment when they’d say enough.

Well. We may find out about that very soon.

People keep saying “we’re close to a crisis.” No we’re not. We’re in it. We have a president who already obstructed justice on national television…..

A former national security adviser copped a felony plea. Three former campaign officials are under indictment. This has never happened in the first year of a modern presidency. Probably any presidency. And that’s just the legal stuff. Then there are all the lies. Obama spied on Trump (this one still has legs among the creatures of the black-ops lagoons of the far right). Trump has no Russia ties. Hillary sold our plutonium to Putin.

And finally, there’s the madness, which is slightly different from lies. The current madness is that Russia is great and can do no wrong, while the FBI is suddenly a subversive and un-American organization. And Robert Mueller is a partisan, pro-Clinton, Never-Trump pawn of the liberal order….

We have never been here. Richard Nixon and his henchmen subverted the law. They did not attempt to subvert reality itself. Nixon did not go around saying that in fact it was George McGovern who belonged in prison. A news network did not exist to scream on a daily basis that McGovern should face indictment, peddling false “scandals” about him. In the summer and fall of 1973, before Nixon ordered the firing of Archibald Cox, influential congressional Republicans and prominent former congressional Republicans did not go around saying that there wasn’t one honest investigator on Cox’s staff or that Cox was corrupt.

Please read the rest at the link.

That’s all I have for you today. What stories are you following?

 


Lazy Saturday Reads

Mostly empty area for Trump speech in Pensacola, FL last night

Good Afternoon!!

The snow has finally begun falling here, and now they say it will continue all night and into tomorrow. We expect around 6-8 inches. That still may not be as bad as what happened down where JJ lives in Georgia and other parts of the South. The LA Times reports: Snowmen in Alabama? Sledding in Mississippi? From Texas to Georgia, snow blankets the South.

Snow blanketed a vast swath of the Deep South on Friday, triggering a flurry of winter weather warnings that closed businesses and schools, canceled hundreds of flights and caused traffic gridlock. It also unleashed a flurry of snowman construction and sledding in places more accustomed to sunshine than snow.

The storm dropped a rare coating of snow as far south as Brownsville, Texas — near the border of Mexico — up through southern Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and the southern Appalachians.

“This is an unusual event — to see snow falling this early in the season all the way from Texas and the Gulf Coast region to Georgia,” said Laura Pagano, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Atlanta/Peachtree City office. “It has happened before, but not often.”

More than 200,000 customers across the region lost power as snow downed branches and power lines.

People walk along Shiloh Road in Kennesaw after a snowstorm hit metro Atlanta and North Georgia.

Since I can’t go out, I plan to escape into a good book. I finished reading Luke Harding’s excellent Collusion: Secret Meetings, Dirty Money, and How Russia Helped Donald Trump Win, and I’ve begun reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser.

Fraser is a brilliant writer, and so far the book is fascinating. She adds context to the sentimental version of Wilder’s life portrayed in the “Little House” books. Of course in many ways it’s a tragic story of the horrendous treatment of Native Americans as well as the hardships suffered by poor people like the Ingalls family who were lured west by promised of free or cheap land. Anyway, I’m glad to have a good book to help me escape from our dreadful current reality.

As the mainstream media continues to demonstrate the tremendous progress the Mueller investigation has been making, the Trump state media made up of Fox News, Breitbart, and other right wing outlets has turned up the heat with their fake news.

Please read this excellent piece by Jonathan Chait: The Mueller Investigation Is in Mortal Danger. Chait opens by describing the process by which the GOP first claims to be shocked by bad behavior (e.g. the Access Hollywood tape), but within begins denying and finally excusing that same behavior. We’ve seen this again and again, and now it’s happening with Roy Moore. Here’s the gist of Chait’s argument:

The next step in the sequence is almost insultingly obvious. Trump is preparing to shut down Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian intervention in the 2016 election.

The administration and its allied media organs, especially those owned by Rupert Murdoch, have spent months floating a series of rationales, of varying degrees of implausibility, for why a deeply respected Republican law-enforcement veteran is disqualified to lead the inquiry: He is friends with James Comey, who is biased because Trump fired him; Comey is biased because he pursued leads turned up in Christopher Steele’s investigation, which was financed by Democrats; Mueller has failed to investigate Hillary Clinton’s marginal-to-nonexistent role in a uranium sale.

Peter Strzok

The newest pseudo-scandal fixates on the role of Peter Strzok, an FBI official who helped tweak the language Comey employed in his statement condemning Clinton’s email carelessness and has also worked for Mueller.

His alleged crime is a series of text messages criticizing Trump. Mueller removed Strzok from his team, but that is not enough for Trump’s supporters, who are seizing on Strzok’s role as a pretext to discredit and remove Mueller, too. The notion that a law-enforcement official should be disqualified for privately expressing partisan views is a novel one, and certainly did not trouble Republicans last year, when Rudy Giuliani was boasting on television about his network of friendly agents. Yet in the conservative media, Mueller and Comey have assumed fiendish personae of almost Clintonian proportions.

It’s happening, folks. Yesterday we learned that Hope Hicks was interviewed by Mueller’s team all day Thursday and Friday. Hicks knows everything that has happened. There is no way Trump is going to sit still while she either tells the truth or may get caught in a lie and have to cooperate with Mueller. The investigation is getting closer and closer to Trump and his family.

The New York Times: F.B.I. Warned Hope Hicks About Emails From Russian Operatives.

F.B.I. officials warned one of President Trump’s top advisers, Hope Hicks, earlier this year about repeated attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with her during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the events.

The Russian outreach efforts show that, even after American intelligence agencies publicly accused Moscow of trying to influence the outcome of last year’s presidential election, Russian operatives were undaunted in their efforts to establish contacts with Mr. Trump’s advisers….

Hope Hicks with Trump and Kushner

After he took office, senior F.B.I. counterintelligence agents met with Ms. Hicks in the White House Situation Room at least twice, gave her the names of the Russians who had contacted her, and said that they were not who they claimed to be. The F.B.I. was concerned that the emails to Ms. Hicks may have been part of a Russian intelligence operation, and they urged Ms. Hicks to be cautious.

The meetings with Ms. Hicks, what the F.B.I. calls a “defensive briefing,” went beyond the standard security advice that senior White House officials routinely receive upon taking office. Defensive briefings are intended to warn government officials about specific concerns or risks.

Meanwhile, as Dakinikat wrote yesterday, the Justice Department has announced “investigations” into fake scandals like Planned Parenthood supposedly selling fetal body parts and the Uranium One non-scandal. And the GOP Congress is going to turn the sexual harassment scandal into a Democratic problem. The Democrats pushed Al Franken out without due process for minor accusations that may have been orchestrated, and now more Democrats are going to be revealed as abusers so the public will forget about Trump and Moore.

Roll Call: Exclusive: Taxpayers Paid $220K to Settle Case Involving Rep. Alcee Hastings.

The Treasury Department paid $220,000 in a previously undisclosed agreement to settle a lawsuit alleging sexual harassment that involved Florida Democrat Alcee L. Hastings, according to documents obtained by Roll Call.

Alcee Hastings

Winsome Packer, a former staff member of a congressional commission that promotes international human rights, said in documents that the congressman touched her, made unwanted sexual advances, and threatened her job. At the time, Hastings was the chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, where Packer worked.

Hastings has called Packer’s charges “ludicrous” and in documents said he never sexually harassed her.

“Until this evening, I had not seen the settlement agreement between the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) and Ms. Packer,” the congressman said in a statement Friday night. “This matter was handled solely by the Senate Chief Counsel for Employment. At no time was I consulted, nor did I know until after the fact that such a settlement was made.”

Hastings said that the lawsuit that Packer filed against him and an investigation by the House Ethics Committee were ultimately dismissed.

“I am outraged that any taxpayer dollars were needlessly paid to Ms. Packer,” he said.

Will another member of the Black Caucus be forced out now?

Sarah Kendzior issued a stark waning this morning in response to this tweet:

Here’s a Trump scandal; will it gain any traction? The New York Times: Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears National Monument.

A uranium company launched a concerted lobbying campaign to scale back Bears Ears National Monument, saying such action would give it easier access to the area’s uranium deposits and help it operate a nearby processing mill, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Ryan Zinke

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and top Utah Republicans have said repeatedly that questions of mining or drilling played no role in President Trump’s announcement Monday that he was cutting the site by more than 1.1 million acres, or 85 percent. Trump also signed a proclamation nearly halving the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is also in southern Utah and has significant coal deposits.

“This is not about energy,” Zinke told reporters Tuesday. “There is no mine within Bears Ears.”

But the nation’s sole uranium processing mill sits directly next to the boundaries that President Barack Obama designated a year ago when he established Bears Ears. The documents show that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, urged the Trump administration to limit the monument to the smallest size needed to protect key objects and areas, such as archeological sites, to make it easier to access the radioactive ore.

In a May 25 letter to the Interior Department, Chief Operating Officer Mark Chalmers wrote that the 1.35 million-acre expanse Obama created “could affect existing and future mill operations.” He later noted, “There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the [original boundaries] that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future.”

There is soooo much news today. I’ll have to add some links in the comment thread, but I’ll end this post with the latest NYT gossipy insider report on Trump’s defensive maneuvers: Inside Trumps Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation.

Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to “Fox & Friends” for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day.

Energized, infuriated — often a gumbo of both — Mr. Trump grabs his iPhone. Sometimes he tweets while propped on his pillow, according to aides. Other times he tweets from the den next door, watching another television. Less frequently, he makes his way up the hall to the ornate Treaty Room, sometimes dressed for the day, sometimes still in bedclothes, where he begins his official and unofficial calls.

As he ends his first year in office, Mr. Trump is redefining what it means to be president. He sees the highest office in the land much as he did the night of his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton — as a prize he must fight to protect every waking moment, and Twitter is his Excalibur. Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress.

For other presidents, every day is a test of how to lead a country, not just a faction, balancing competing interests. For Mr. Trump, every day is an hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation. He still relitigates last year’s election, convinced that the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russia’s interference is a plot to delegitimize him. Color-coded maps highlighting the counties he won were hung on the White House walls.

Read more about the madman in the White House at the NYT link.

What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: Al Franken Steps Down from the Senate

Good Morning!!

This morning Al Franken announced that he will be resigning from the Senate “in the coming weeks.” He suggested that the ethics committee investigation would continue. He said that he is not admitting to every allegation that has been made against him, but he feels that he cannot both fight for his good name and fully serve the people of Minnesota. He noted that

“I am aware of the irony that I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has preyed on underage girls is running for the Senate with the full support of his party.”

Franken several times quoted his mentor, the late Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. He said he will continue to be a political activist and fight for what he believes in. Here is the full speech.

I am truly sad to see Franken go, but I was very impressed with his speech. A number of writers are claiming that by taking the high ground in this case, Democrats will have an advantage over republicans in upcoming elections–especiall the one in Alabama on Dec. 12. I’m not convinced of that. The media always gives Republicans the benefit of doubt while punishing Democrats no matter what they do. I hope I’m proven wrong.

Here are four points of view on the Franken situation.

Amanda Marcotte at Salon: Al Franken must go: It’s the right way to help women and protect Democrats.

As sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat from Minnesota, consumed Thursday’s news cycle — pushing far more serious allegations against Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore out of the headlines — many people started to smell Republican skulduggery.

Before the allegations became public, notorious dirty trickster Roger Stone sent out a tweet saying, “Franken next in long list of Democrats to be accused of ‘grabby’ behavior.” Franken’s accuser, a radio host named Leeann Tweeden, is a conservative who been a frequent guest commentator on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show. Tweeden hit the interview circuit in a polished manner that felt more like a promotional tour for a book or a movie, rather than the raw and amateurish interviews you usually get with women bringing forward these kinds of accusations.

If there weren’t photographic evidence to back Tweeden’s claims, it would be easy to dismiss this whole thing as a stunt designed to distract the media from allegations against Moore and to give cover to Republicans who want to continue supporting him. Now any Republican who is asked about Moore can simply deflect the question by invoking Franken and suggesting that both sides do it. Donald  Trump, in particular, is a fan of this what-about-ism technique, which is also favored by Vladimir Putin. Unfortunately, it’s extremely effective.

This is one of those rare situations where two apparently contradictory things could be true. This may well be a Stone-style political stunt and Tweeden may be telling the truth about Al Franken’s sleazy behavior. That’s why I haven’t wavered in my belief that the right move, both morally and politically, is for Franken to resign his Senate seat immediately and for Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton to replace him with one of the many fine progressive politicians from his state, such as Rep. Keith Ellison or state Attorney General Lori Swanson.

More on Marcotte’s reasoning:

But Franken has basically admitted the photo of him “jokingly” groping Tweeden while she was asleep on an airplane is real. In that light, his best move is to take one for the team and resign. Finding gainful employment, somewhere in the crossover zone between politics and entertainment, should not be a problem.

Leeann Tweeden

If this is a political stunt, then the people behind it surely want Franken to stay. Tweeden made a big public show of forgiving Franken and asking him to remain in the Senate. That could be sincere, or it could be that Tweeden and her friends in conservative media believe that Republicans will reap maximum benefit from Franken staying put.

If so, it’s hard to deny that they’re being crafty. Every day Franken remains in the Senate as a visible symbol of liberal hypocrisy, Republicans get a free pass to grope, harass and abuse women. Any effort by journalists or Democrats to hold them accountable will be met with, “What about him?” Even misogynist legislation, which Republicans love more than dogs love their owners, will prosper under the Al Franken shield. If Sen. Kristen Gillibrand tries to pass more anti-rape legislation, too bad! Why? Al Franken!

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate: The Uneven Playing Field.

Al Franken, many argue, should now resign. He should resign immediately because there are credible accusers (another emerged Wednesday), and because the behavior alleged is sufficiently abhorrent that there is simply no basis to defend him. In this parade of unilateral disarmament, Trump stays, Conyers goes, Moore stays, Franken goes.

Is this the principled solution? By every metric I can think of, it’s correct. But it’s also wrong. It’s wrong because we no longer inhabit a closed ethical system, in which morality and norm preservation are their own rewards. We live in a broken and corroded system in which unilateral disarmament is going to destroy the very things we want to preserve.

To see the double standard in action, watch Mike Huckabee making the case that Roy Moore should be welcomed into the Senate because Franken has stayed. Then keep watching and realize that in the next breath, he adds that Moore has “denied the charges against him vehemently and categorically” so they must be false. Franken and Conyers are deployed by the right to say Moore should stay, and then they are dismissed as suckers for crediting their accusers.

Sexual predation is bad and grotesque and disqualifying for national office and positions of power. Stipulated. Victim-shaming and claiming that “the people should decide” is contemptible avoidance of responsibility. But the question that remains is whether the analysis stops right there. I, too, would like to live in a world where the debate begins and ends with that proposition. But I don’t think any of us live in that world anymore. And this may not be the moment in which to try to resurrect it.

A bit more:

When Al Franken, who has been a champion for women’s rights in his tenure in the Senate, leaves, what rushes in to fill the space may well be a true feminist. But it may also be another Roy Moore. And there is something deeply naïve, in a game of asymmetrical warfare, and in a moment of unparalleled public misogyny, in assuming that the feminist gets the seat before it happens.

This isn’t a call to become tolerant of awful behavior. It is a call for understanding that Democrats honored the blue slip, and Republicans didn’t. Democrats had hearings over the Affordable Care Act; Republicans had none over the tax bill. Democrats decry predators in the media; Republicans give them their own networks. And what do Democrats have to show for it? There is something almost eerily self-regarding in the notion that the only thing that matters is what Democrats do, without considering what the systemic consequences are for everyone.

I hope you’ll take the time to read both of those excellent articles

Here’s another opinion from MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle. Raw Story: Stephanie Ruhle explains why booting Franken could lead to Trump’s impeachment.

“We can talk all day long about how unpopular President Trump is, he is a political svengali,” Ruhle said. “An unpopular, completely unqualified, morally reprehensible person became president of the United States. I cannot believe — lightning’s going to strike me, I’m saying this — I want to share what Laura Ingraham had to say.”

The Fox News host claimed Democrats had “come down with a sudden case of feverish morality,” and she insisted the calls for Franken to step down were nothing but a “political calculation.”

“It sets the precedent for the Democrats to try to drive Roy Moore from office should he win the Alabama Senate (seat), and, two, this is the next step in the quest to impeach President Trump,” Ingraham said on her own program….

Stephanie Ruhle“I feel like lightning is going to strike me,” Ruhle said. “Does Laura Ingraham have a point here? Democrats are going — Al Franken could be the sacrificial lamb and say, look at the moral high ground we found.”

She said that could give Republicans an opening to turn the discussion back to Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct, but she and her guests agreed there were too many current examples of GOP wrongdoers to ignore.

“Is this not the year of the ultimate age of hypocrisy?” Ruhle said. “For Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, to come out and call for Al Franken to resign, does Lisa Murkowski not remember that her, our president of the United States, Donald Trump, who she stands behind, has more accusers than Al Franken and have accused him of worse. How does Lisa Murkowski stand up and say I think Al Franken need to step down and stand silent when it comes to our president, our Republican president?”

Finally, at Bloomberg, Johnathan Bernstein explores the notion that Democrats wanted to get rid of Franken because it’s politically expedient.

There’s one theory floating around that Franken’s fate was sealed not because of what Democrats believed about his actions but for pure electoral self-interest. Getting Franken and disgraced Representative John Conyers out of the way supposedly allows them to campaign against Roy Moore and, presumably, Donald Trump without being called out as hypocrites. For what it’s worth, I doubt that was the reasoning involved here, in part because I think it’s foolish. It’s hard to imagine any voter in Alabama who would have voted for Moore without the revelations about his behavior who then pulls back from supporting Democrat Doug Jones because Democrats weren’t tough enough on Franken. And it’s not as if Democrats haven’t blasted Moore over the last two weeks.

So why did Democrats act? Largely because women and men who care deeply about these issues are important players within the Democratic coalition. That means a lot of Democratic party actors were going to push the party to take a hard line, and others who perhaps care less about the issue nevertheless value their alliance with those who do. That’s how parties (and democracy) work.

That said: Yes, it’s an easier call for Democrats because if Franken resigns, the governor of Minnesota, a Democrat, will name his replacement, although it will mean a special election in November 2018 to serve out the last two years of Franken’s term. The same was true for Conyers, who represented a safe Democratic House seat. Republicans in Alabama really do not have any good choice in that Senate race. It’s easy for Democrats to say that everyone should be against a candidate with strong evidence of sexual assault and chasing after teenagers against him, but it’s not wrong for Republicans to care about losing a vote in the Senate. I’m not saying Republicans should back Moore — just that it’s a legitimately awful decision for them.

Bernstein brings up another interesting question involving sexual harassment and political expediency:

One interesting question is what will happen to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who had serious accusations of sexual harassment lodged against him during his confirmation process. Republicans at this point defend him against their political interests; if he were to retire from the court, Trump would be able to nominate a much younger replacement who is at least as reliable a vote for Republican priorities. Of course, Thomas is far more insulated from calls for resignation than Franken or any other politician is, so even if Republicans want him to leave, there’s no guarantee they’ll get their way. But it will certainly be interesting to see how that one develops.

There is much more news out there to discuss in the comment thread, but this is certainly the most important story of today. It is also an important day in history, Pearl Harbor Day.

So . . . what stories are you following?


Tuesday Reads: Too Much News!

Good Morning!!

Today is another day when there is so much news that my head is spinning. Even though so much is happening, I’m going to focus on Trump Russia news. I’ll add more news links in the comment thread.

Breaking last night:

Robert Mueller’s team withdrew their support for a bail agreement that had been reached with Paul Manafort:

Federal prosecutors asserted Monday that a longtime associate of Paul Manafort, the former chairman of President Trump’s campaign, has been “assessed to have ties” to Russian intelligence — the first time the special counsel has alleged a Trump official had such contacts.

The statement came as prosecutors working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III withdrew their support for a joint bail deal filed last week that would have released Manafort from home detention and GPS monitoring while he awaits trial on charges including money laundering and fraud.

In the four-page filing Monday, prosecutor Andrew Weissmann urged the judge to reject the bail deal, arguing that Manafort and a Russian colleague have been secretly ghostwriting an English-language editorial that appeared to defend Manafort’s work advising a ­Russia-friendly political party in Ukraine.

They said Manafort worked on the draft as recently as last week with “a long-time Russian colleague . . . who is currently based in Russia and assessed to have ties to a Russian intelligence service.” They indicated they would file further supporting evidence under seal….

The Russian colleague was not identified in court papers. However, Manafort has had a long-standing Russian employee named Konstantin Kilimnik who ran Manafort’s office in Kiev during the 10 years he did consulting work there.

You can read the full court filing here.

K.T. McFarland, who worked closely with Michael Flynn during the Trump transition and became his deputy national security adviser may have lied during her confirmation hearing. The New York Times: McFarland’s Testimony About Russia Contacts Is Questioned.

A leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee questioned on Monday whether a high-ranking official in Donald J. Trump’s transition team had been deceptive over the summer about her knowledge of discussions between Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser, and a former Russian ambassador.

K. T. McFarland served on the presidential transition team before becoming the White House deputy national security adviser. In July, she was questioned in writing by Senator Cory Booker, Democrat of New Jersey, on whether she had ever spoken to Mr. Flynn about his contacts with Sergey I. Kislyak, who was then the Russian ambassador to Washington, before Mr. Trump took office.

“I am not aware of any of the issues or events described above,” Ms. McFarland wrote in response, sidestepping a direct answer to the question.

An email exchange obtained by The New York Times indicates that Ms. McFarland was aware at the time of a crucial Dec. 29 phone call between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kislyak that was intercepted by American intelligence. During that call, Mr. Flynn urged Moscow to respond cautiously to sanctions just imposed by the Obama administration for Russia’s interference in the presidential election.

Read more at the NYT.

NPR: 2016 RNC Delegate: Trump Directed Change To Party Platform On Ukraine Support.

Diana Denman, a Republican delegate who supported arming U.S. allies in Ukraine, has told people that Trump aide J.D. Gordon said at the Republican Convention in 2016 that Trump directed him to support weakening that position in the official platform….

Denman is scheduled to meet this week with the House and Senate Intelligence committees to discuss what she saw, said two sources familiar with the briefings.

Investigators in Congress and elsewhere want to ask the San Antonio-area woman about how her proposal supporting Ukraine changed in the course of last year’s convention….

The revision to Denman’s proposed amendment to the Republican platform scaled back the party’s position on pro-Western elements in Ukraine — from supporting supplying weapons for fighters there to a more general assistance.

The issue is of interest to investigators in Congress and the team working for Justice Department special counsel Robert Mueller because the idea of arming Ukrainians in the fight against pro-Russian separatist forces was staunchly opposed by the Russian government — and, it seems, the Trump campaign as well.

The fallout from Trump’s weekend tweet about Michael Flynn continues. The Washington Post: Trump lawyer says president knew Flynn had given FBI the same account he gave to vice president.

President Trump’s personal lawyer said Sunday that the president knew in late January that then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had probably given FBI agents the same inaccurate account he provided to Vice President Pence about a call with the Russian ambassador.

Trump lawyer John Dowd said the information was passed to Trump by White House counsel Donald McGahn, who had been warned about Flynn’s statement to the vice president by a senior Justice Department official. The vice president said publicly at the time that Flynn had told him he had not discussed sanctions with the Russian diplomat — a statement disproved by a U.S. intelligence intercept of a phone call between Flynn and then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Trump was aware of the issue a couple of weeks before a conversation with then-FBI Director James B. Comey in which Comey said the president asked him if he could be lenient while investigating Flynn, whom Trump had just fired for misleading Pence about the nature of his conversations with the Russian.

According to notes kept by Comey, Trump asked if he could see “his way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Trump fired Comey in May.

In a pre-dawn tweet Sunday, Trump issued a fresh rebuttal to Comey, writing: “I never asked Comey to stop investigating Flynn. Just more Fake News covering another Comey lie!” The tweet was part of a running commentary from Trump that began Saturday, a day after Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and indicated he would cooperate with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Now Dowd is trying to argue that the president cannot commit obstruction of justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer of the government. I don’t think that will fly, since both Nixon and Bill Clinton were charged with obstruction in impeachment hearings.

Breaking this morning:

Bloomberg: Mueller Subpoenas Trump Deutsche Bank Records.

Mueller issued a subpoena to Germany’s largest lender several weeks ago, forcing the bank to submit documents on its relationship with Trump and his family, according to a person briefed on the matter, who asked not to be identified because the action has not been announced.

“Deutsche Bank always cooperates with investigating authorities in all countries,” the lender said in a statement to Bloomberg Tuesday, declining to provide additional information.

Deutsche Bank for months has rebuffed calls by Democratic lawmakers to provide more transparency over the roughly $300 million Trump owed to the bank for his real estate dealings prior to becoming president. Representative Maxine Waters of California and other Democrats have asked whether the bank’s loans to Trump, made years before he ran for president, were in any way connected to Russia. The bank previously rejected those demands, saying sharing client data would be illegal unless it received a formal request to do so. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.

The Guardian: Trump’s personal banking information handed over to Robert Mueller.

Donald Trump’s banking information has formally been turned over to Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor who is investigating whether the president’s campaign conspired with the Kremlin during the 2016 presidential election.

Deutsche Bank, the German bank that serves as Trump’s biggest lender, was forced to submit documents about its client relationship with the president and some of his family members, who are also Deutsche clients, after Mueller issued the bank with a subpoena for information, according to multiple media reports. The news was first reported by Handelsblatt, the German newspaper.

The revelation makes it clear that Mueller and his team are investigating the president’s finances. Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, is also a client….

Legal experts who are following the investigation said it showed Mueller was “following the money” in his search for possible links between the presidential campaign and the Kremlin.

It also indicated that any investigation into Trump personally may not be limited to the question of whether or not the president sought to obstruct justice when he fired the former FBI chief James Comey.

Instead, said Ryan Goodman, a New York law professor and former Pentagon counsel, it showed that Mueller was possibly examining whether the president could be compromised by Russian interests.

Jared Kushner is also involved with Deutsche Bank, and he apparently “forgot” to report a huge loan he got from them shortly before the election. Vox: Mueller appears to be looking deep into Trump’s finances.

The real estate company owned by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and top White House adviser, finalized a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank one month before election day as part of a refinancing package for one of Kushner’s company’s properties in Times Square.

The bank has also been linked to criminal activity. In January 2017, Deutsche Bank received $630 million in penalties because it was involved in a $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme that involved the bank’s Moscow, New York, and London branches, CNN reports.

One last scary story:

It’s from The Intercept, but it was also covered by Buzzfeed recently.

The Intercept: Trump White House Weighing Plan for Private Spies to Counter “Deep State” Enemies.

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION is considering a set of proposals developed by Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a retired CIA officer — with assistance from Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal — to provide CIA Director Mike Pompeo and the White House with a global, private spy network that would circumvent official U.S. intelligence agencies, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials and others familiar with the proposals. The sources say the plans have been pitched to the White House as a means of countering “deep state” enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine Trump’s presidency.

The creation of such a program raises the possibility that the effort would be used to create an intelligence apparatus to justify the Trump administration’s political agenda.

“Pompeo can’t trust the CIA bureaucracy, so we need to create this thing that reports just directly to him,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official with firsthand knowledge of the proposals, in describing White House discussions. “It is a direct-action arm, totally off the books,” this person said, meaning the intelligence collected would not be shared with the rest of the CIA or the larger intelligence community. “The whole point is this is supposed to report to the president and Pompeo directly.”

Oliver North, who appears frequently on Trump’s favorite TV network, Fox News, was enlisted to help sell the effort to the administration. He was the “ideological leader” brought in to lend credibility, said the former senior intelligence official.

Some of the individuals involved with the proposals secretly met with major Trump donors asking them to help finance operations before any official contracts were signed.

The proposals would utilize an army of spies with no official cover in several countries deemed “denied areas” for current American intelligence personnel, including North Korea and Iran. The White House has also considered creating a new global rendition unit meant to capture terrorist suspects around the world, as well as a propaganda campaign in the Middle East and Europe to combat Islamic extremism and Iran.

This is another boondoggle proposed by a company located in Whitefish, Montana. Read the rest at the link.

What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: “A Historic Tax Heist” — NYT Editorial Board

Good Morning!!

Republicans are celebrating their tax cut “victory” this morning, but the fight isn’t over yet. The bill still has to be reconciled with the House version and then voted on again by the House and Senate. I have to admit I’m pretty depressed about it, so this post will largely be a link dump.

The Week: The GOP’s massive tax overhaul is a monstrosity.

In a truly wild and dizzying Friday night and Saturday morning in Washington, Senate Republicans committed collective political suicide by passing a deeply detested tax bill they were still writingseemingly moments before they jammed it through on a party-line vote with no hearings and no meaningful input from a public that hasn’t even seen the text of the legislation.

As dawn broke Friday over the undrained swamp, it looked like the tax legislation was still in trouble, with Republican senators Bob Corker (Tenn.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), and Susan Collins (Maine) all wavering. ­­­And as of Friday night, the text of this bill, which will restructure the entire American tax system and its economy, had not yet been released to the public, leaving Democratic senators and outside analysts guessing as to which radioactive provisions would be in it, which would be left out, and exactly where various tax levels would be set. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) tweeted a photo Friday evening of amendments that would be voted on shortly and that she had to obtain from lobbyists rather than her colleagues across the aisle. The absurdity was almost unspeakable.

As the day wound down, Senate holdouts, especially those who were lionized by the left as principled heroes during July’s failed ObamaCare vote, had fallen in line and said they would vote to slash taxes on corporations, trustafarians, and hedge fund managers while raising them on poor, working class, and middle class Americans. Together these titans of high-minded values said they were ok with their colleagues’ plan to peel a bunch of hundred dollar bills off of America’s dwindling wad of national cash and stuff them directly into the pockets of their billionaire bankrollers.

Tom Toles Editorial Cartoon

Regular order? On Wednesday, John McCain (R-Ariz.) announced he was fine sending this diabolical, 479-page Dybbuk through the Senate even though no one in the chamber had time to read it even once. Democratic pleas to at least postpone the vote until Monday so that our national leaders might actually skim the legislation were ignored. Protecting Medicaid for vulnerable Alaskans? When it came time to screw the poor, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was totally cool with it as long as she could trash the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with oil drilling in return. Collins, who was wavering Thursday, voted for the bill in the end, all but giving the finger to the Mainers who gave her those airport standing ovations after she stopped TrumpCare. Flake got on board when the White House made some meaningless promise to him that he would be part of any “conversation” about a DACA resolution later this year. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) was the only final holdout.

At the end of the day, Republicans revealed that their entire caucus is bereft of dignity, shame, honor, and any commitment to a single thing any of them have ever said in public about how laws should be made in the United States.

Read it and weep.

Mother Jones: Senate Passes Sweeping Tax Bill That Overwhelmingly Benefits the Wealthiest Americans.

There were a smattering of last-minute changes tucked into the nearly 500-page bill, but the core of it is quite simple: a permanent tax cut for corporations combined with much smaller, and temporary, benefits for everyone else. Over the next decade, the $1.4 trillion tax cut would disproportionately reward the wealthiest Americans while piling on the national debt—which in turn will likely be used by Republicans as a justification for cutting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Before the individual cuts expire in 2026—ending the bill’s most charitable years—the top 1 percent would receive slightly more of the tax cut than the bottom 60 percent of Americans combined. Without the individual tax cut, the top 1 percent would get start getting 61 percent of the benefits. And at that point, the vast majority of middle-class taxpayers would receive essentially nothing, or end up paying higher taxes….

Republicans say they’ll eventually extend those individual cuts. But there is good reason to doubt that. The United States will be facing unprecedented debt levels when it comes time to renew the cuts. The annual deficit would be $1.4 trillion in 2025, up from about $700 billion today. The Senate bill asks Americans to trust that a future Congress, comprised of different members, will continue to ignore deficits.

Supposedly the bill includes a lot of completely nonsensical policy changes, including defining life as beginning at conception. We already know that the bill basically repeals Obamacare and throws 13 million people off health insurance. It also cuts Medicare, and the Republicans will use the inevitable budget deficits to push for cuts in Social Security and more cuts in Medicare and Medicaid.

The Washington Post: GOP eyes post-tax-cut changes to welfare, Medicare and Social Security.

High-ranking Republicans are hinting that, after their tax overhaul, the party intends to look at cutting spending on welfare, entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, and other parts of the social safety net.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said recently that he wants Republicans to focus in 2018 on reducing spending on government programs. Last month, President Trump said welfare reform will “take place right after taxes, very soon, very shortly after taxes.”

As Republicans advocate spending cuts, they have frequently cited a need to reduce the national deficit while growing the economy.

“You also have to bring spending under control. And not discretionary spending. That isn’t the driver of our debt. The driver of our debt is the structure of Social Security and Medicare for future beneficiaries,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said this week.While whipping votes for a GOP tax bill on Thursday, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) attacked “liberal programs” for the poor and said Congress needed to stop wasting Americans’ money.

“We’re spending ourselves into bankruptcy,” Hatch said. “Now, let’s just be honest about it: We’re in trouble. This country is in deep debt. You don’t help the poor by not solving the problems of debt, and you don’t help the poor by continually pushing more and more liberal programs through.”

Hatch and his buddies want to “help” the poor and elderly by letting them die in the streets. Or maybe they’d decide that the right to life ends at birth.

The latest CBO score was released just before the vote, and it predicts the same results as the previous one. The Hill reports: CBO: Senate tax bill increases deficit by $1.4 trillion.

The Senate GOP tax plan will increase the deficit by more than $1.4 trillion over a decade, according to a new analysis by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

The CBO score comes as senators are already voting on amendments to the legislation and are expected to pass the bill in the early morning hours of Saturday.

The legislation, according to CBO, would have the largest deficits between the 2019 fiscal year and the 2022 fiscal year.

The finding comes as GOP senators have largely ignored warnings that their tax plan would increase the deficit. Republicans argue that economic growth will more than make up for any increases to the national debt.

It could be a lot worse than that. What domestic or foreign students will be able to earn doctorates in the U.S. if they have to pay taxes on the tuition that Universities waive in return for grad student labor? Corporations will continue ship jobs overseas and channel their profits to their shareholders. This bill is likely to throw our economy into another tailspin. I’ll leave it up to Dakinikat to discuss that.

The Washington Post lists some of the disagreements between the House and Senate versions of the bill that will have to be resolved: Here are 7 differences Republicans must resolve between their tax bills. They include the ACA individual mandate, the estate tax, the expiration of individual tax cuts, the child tax credit, the mortgage interest deduction, the new tax brackets, and the timing of the corporate tax cuts. Of course it’s possible Ryan could decide to try to get the House to pass the Senate version as is. We’ll have to wait and see.

The New York Times Editorial Board: A Historic Tax Heist.

With barely a vote to spare early Saturday morning, the Senate passed a tax bill confirming that the Republican leaders’ primary goal is to enrich the country’s elite at the expense of everybody else, including future generations who will end up bearing the cost. The approval of this looting of the public purse by corporations and the wealthy makes it a near certainty that President Trump will sign this or a similar bill into law in the coming days.

The bill is expected to add more than $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade, a debt that will be paid by the poor and middle class in future tax increases and spending cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other government programs. Its modest tax cuts for the middle class disappear after eight years. And up to 13 million people stand to lose their health insurance because the bill makes a big change to the Affordable Care Act.

Yet Republicans somehow found a way to give a giant and permanent tax cut to corporations like Apple, General Electric and Goldman Sachs, saving those businesses tens of billions of dollars.

Because the Senate was rewriting its bill till the last minute, only the dealmakers themselves knew what the chamber voted on. There will, no doubt, be many unpleasant surprises as both houses work to pass final legislation for President Trump to sign.

Read the rest at the link. I’m sure more details about the tax scam will come out over the weekend. Meanwhile, if you live in a red state, please let your Senators and Representatives know how enraged you are.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: America’s Ongoing Crisis Has Reached Emergency Levels

Good Morning!!

The media is finally waking up to the fact that the “president” of the U.S. is not just a pathological liar, not just a sociopath and a malignant narcissist–he is actually suffering from a serious thought disorder with delusions.

Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: New Reports Suggest Trump Might Not Be a Liar at All, But Truly Delusional.

The Washington Post and New York Times have accounts from insiders suggesting Trump habitually insists upon the impossible in private. He does not merely tell lies in order to gull the public or to manipulate allies. He tells lies in private that he has no reason to tell. He still questions the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birthplace, despite the birth certificate. He insists voter fraud may have denied him a popular-vote triumph. He tells people Robert Mueller will wrap up his investigation, with a total vindication of the president, by the end of the year.

He questions whether the Access Hollywood tape, on which he was recorded boasting of sexual assault, is even him. (Both the Post and the Times report Trump repeatedly has denied the validity of the tape in private, “stunning his advisers,” as the Times puts it.)

It is of course entirely possible that Trump is lying to everybody, including his own staff. But the lies in these articles do not always fit into any pattern of rational self-aggrandizement. Trump tells senators or his aides the Access Hollywood tape is not him, but they don’t believe him. He has no reason to bring up the birther fabrication in private.

His apparent belief that Mueller will complete his sprawling investigation by the end of the year is not only pointless but self-defeating — rather than prepare allies for a long defense, he is preparing them for a fantastical scenario. (It is also further evidence that, when Mueller fails to vindicate him by the new year, Trump will lash out wildly, firing him, Jeff Sessions, or others.)

If Trump actually has the ability to convince himself of his own lies, it would suggest a possibility far more dangerous than even his critics have previously assumed. He might be in the grip of a mental-health issue, or at least one more serious than mere sociopathy. And the mutterings that he might need to be removed from office through the 25th Amendment could grow more serious than many of us have expected.

Gee, no kidding. It was obvious during the campaign that Trump was nuts, to use a technical term. Now people in the media are waking up to the reality of the situation when it may well be too late. BTW, a person can be a liar and delusional at the same time.

Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker at The Washington Post: Trump veers past guardrails, feeling impervious to the uproar he causes.

President Trump this week disseminated on social media three inflammatory and unverified ­anti-Muslim videos, took glee in the firing of a news anchor for sexual harassment allegations despite facing more than a dozen of his own accusers and used a ceremony honoring Navajo war heroes to malign a senator with a derogatory nickname, “Pocahontas.”

Again and again, Trump veered far past the guardrails of presidential behavior. But despite the now-routine condemnations, the president is acting emboldened, as if he were impervious to the uproar he causes.

If there are consequences for his actions, Trump does not seem to feel their burden personally. The Republican tax bill appears on track for passage, putting the president on the cusp of his first major legislative achievement. Trump himself remains the ­highest-profile man accused of sexual improprieties to keep his job with no repercussions.

Trump has internalized the belief that he can largely operate with impunity, people close to him said. His political base cheers him on. Fellow Republican leaders largely stand by him. His staff scrambles to explain away his misbehavior — or even to laugh it off. And the White House disciplinarian, chief of staff John F. Kelly, has said it is not his job to control the president.

Rucker and Parker quote from Trump’s speech in Missouri last night:

In Missouri, he was talking about taxes, but he might as well been describing his mind-set.

“Hey, look, I’m president,” Trump said. “I don’t care. I don’t care anymore.”

 

The Hill: Scarborough: Trump allies told me he has dementia.

MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough said on Thursday that people close to President Trump told him during the campaign that Trump has “early stages of dementia.”

During MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Scarborough said Trump is “completely detached from reality.”

“You have somebody inside the White House that the New York Daily News says is mentally unfit,” Scarborough said.

“That people close to him say is mentally unfit, that people close to him during the campaign told me had early stages of dementia.”

Scarborough said the country is closer to war on the Korean Peninsula than most Americans know.

“We heard this months ago, that we are going to have a ground war in Korea, they believe that inside the White House for a very long time,” Scarborough said.

“If this is not what the 25th Amendment was drafted for,” he added, referring to the amendment that covers presidential succession and the response to a president with disabilities.

Hey Joe, why didn’t you say this during the campaign??

Last night during his speech in Missouri, Trump gave a clear demonstration of how jumbled his thought process is. Someone put the words “rocket fuel” on the teleprompter and he veered off into an attack on Kim Jong Un.

 

The Hill: ‘Art of the Deal’ co-author: Trump ‘losing his grip on reality.’

“But what it means in simple terms is he’s losing his grip on reality,” Schwartz told MSNBC’s “The Beat with Ari Melber” when asked about Trump’s reported suggestion that the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape may not be real.

“His reality testing is really poor and I believe that’s exactly what’s going on,” Schwartz added.

Schwartz described “a dramatic change” in Trump from when he co-authored the book with him to how the president speaks now.

“He is more limited in his vocabulary. He is further from as I say- this connection to what is factual and real. He is more impulsive. He is more reactive. This is a guy in deep trouble,” said Schwartz.

He also said that many employees at the White House are “hostages to a cult leader.”

“When you watch Sarah Huckabee Sanders right now, you really feel as if you’re watching somebody who is being brainwashed, or has been brainwashed,” Schwartz said, referencing the White House press secretary.

Mike Allen at Axios: The White House expects Trump to get even more outrageous.

What we’re hearing: Officials tell us Trump seems more self-assured, more prone to confidently indulging wild conspiracies and fantasies, more quick-triggered to fight than he was during the Wild West of the first 100 days in office.

   .  Imagine Trump if he signs a huge tax cut into law, which seems likely, amid soaring stocks and rising economic growth.
  .  Imagine if Roy Moore wins in Alabama, which seems likely, too. It surely won’t humble Trump — or hem him in.
  .  He’s like the Incredible Hulk, after the media and Mueller made him mad.

I could go on and on posting articles from members of the media who are finally waking up to reality, but is it too late?

Even Ezra Klein is writing about impeachment: The case for normalizing impeachment.

In recent months, I have grown obsessed with a seemingly simple question: Does the American political system have a remedy if we elect the wrong person to be president? There are clear answers if we elect a criminal, or if the president falls into a coma. But what if we just make a hiring mistake, as companies do all the time? What if we elect someone who proves himself or herself unfit for office — impulsive, conspiratorial, undisciplined, destructive, cruel?

Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans are in thrall to the cult of “tax cuts” that will remake the entire U.S. economy and way of life. Unfortunately John McCain just announced that he’s voting for tax scam. It looks like we’re completely screwed.

Marco Rubio, quoted at Financial Advisor: Rubio: Offset Tax Cuts By Reducing Social Security, Medicare Benefits.

Tax reform is only one piece of the overall puzzle needed to revitalize the American economy, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) told a group of Washington, D.C., lobbyists and policy analysts this morning at a Politico Playbook Interview sponsored by the Financial Services Roundtable. The other part? Reduce the deficit and offset the cost of the reform, which the Congressional Budget Office estimates at $1.3 trillion.

“I analyze this very differently than most,” Rubio told the crowd. “Many argue that you can’t cut taxes because it will drive up the deficit. But we have to do two things. We have to generate economic growth which generates revenue, while reducing spending. That will mean instituting structural changes to Social Security and Medicare for the future,” the senator said.

If lawmakers can act strategically sooner rather than later to come up with some combination of reforms to reduce benefits and raise retirement age, the pain of change and reduced benefits will be greatly mitigated, said the lawmaker who ran for president in 2016 and is once again sounding presidential.

Oh really?

“We don’t need to reduce benefits on current retirees or even near-term retirees, but we can make changes for future generations such as mine, and do so in a way that people can prepare for, so the changes will barely be felt,” Rubio said.

As much as 23 percent of Social Security benefits and 14 percent of Medicaid benefits could disappear by 2034 unless Congress acts, according to a the most recent report from trustees. Without a political fix, future retirees could experience a 23 percent reduction in benefits or a 20 percent increase in payroll taxes to fund the shortfalls, the trustee analysis found.

“Tax reform is the economic component of this equation,” said Rubio, who expressed doubts that there will be a government shutdown. “When more people are working, there are more taxpayers and more revenue, but that alone won’t be enough. You are still going to have a debt problem in the absence of spending cuts.”

The New York Times: It Started as a Tax Cut. Now It Could Change American Life.

The tax plan has been marketed by President Trump and Republican leaders as a straightforward if enormous rebate for the masses, a $1.5 trillion package of cuts to spur hiring and economic growth. But as the bill has been rushed through Congress with scant debate, its far broader ramifications have come into focus, revealing a catchall legislative creation that could reshape major areas of American life, from education to health care.

Some of this re-engineering is straight out of the traditional Republican playbook. Corporate taxes, along with those on wealthy Americans, would be slashed on the presumption that when people in penthouses get relief, the benefits flow down to basement tenements.

Some measures are barely connected to the realm of taxation, such as the lifting of a 1954 ban on political activism by churches and the conferring of a new legal right for fetuses in the House bill — both on the wish list of the evangelical right.

With a potentially far-reaching dimension, elements in both the House and Senate bills could constrain the ability of states and local governments to levy their own taxes, pressuring them to limit spending on health care, education, public transportation and social services. In their longstanding battle to shrink government, Republicans have found in the tax bill a vehicle to broaden the fight beyond Washington.

The result is a behemoth piece of legislation that could widen American economic inequality while diminishing the power of local communities to marshal relief for vulnerable people — especially in high-tax states like California and New York, which, not coincidentally, tend to vote Democratic.

Click on the link to read the rest.

They are doing this without any real analysis of what the disastrous effects will be. The New York Times again: Ahead of Vote, Promised Treasury Analysis of Tax Bill Proves Elusive.

In pitching the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul, Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, has said repeatedly that the plan will pay for itself through a surge of economic growth and that over 100 people in Treasury are “working around the clock on running scenarios for us.”

Mr. Mnuchin has promised that Treasury will release its analysis in full. Yet, just one day before the full Senate prepares to vote on a sweeping tax rewrite, the administration has yet to produce the type of economic analysis that it is citing as a reason to pass the tax cut.

Those inside Treasury’s Office of Tax Policy, which Mr. Mnuchin has credited with running the models, say they have been largely shut out of the process and are not working on the type of detailed analysis that he has mentioned. An economist at the Office of Tax Analysis, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to jeopardize his job, said Treasury had not released a “dynamic” analysis showing that the tax plan would be paid for with economic growth because one did not exist.

Instead of conducting full analyses of tax proposals, staff members have been running numbers on individual provisions or policy ideas, like lowering the tax rate on so-called pass-through businesses and figuring out how many family farms would benefit from the repeal of the estate tax. Activity has picked up more recently as Treasury has sought to provide technical assistance to the Joint Committee on Taxation and the Congressional Budget Office for their estimates.

There is simply no analysis that could make this bill look like anything but a giant monstrosity designed to take money from the middle and working classes and had it over to a few rich people like Donald Trump and his pals.

Finally, from the NYT Editorial Board: The Senate Is Rushing to Pass Its Tax Bill Because It Stinks.

The Senate tax bill, a 515-page mammoth, was introduced just last week, and the chamber could vote on it as soon as Thursday. This is not how lawmakers are supposed to pass enormous pieces of legislation. It took several years to put together the last serious tax bill, passed in 1986. Congress and the Reagan administration worked across party lines, produced numerous drafts, held many hearings and struck countless compromises. This time it’s not about true reform but about speed and bowling over the opposition in hopes of claiming a partisan victory. The country ought to be dismayed by the way senators like Bob Corker, Susan Collins and Ron Johnson appear to be backing away from their principled objections based on half-measures promised by President Trump and the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, that will not address its big flaws.

This rush to the Senate floor has been orchestrated by Mr. McConnell, following the same playbook he used in the failed effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. The longer people have to study the details, the less likely the bill is to pass. People should know by now about the big stuff: the giant permanent corporate tax-rate cut, the small and temporary tax cuts for the middle class, the repeal of the A.C.A.’s individual mandate and the $1.4 trillion added to the federal deficit over 10 years. But other provisions are not as well understood and deserve to be called ou

Please go read the whole thing.

I really worked myself into a frenzy today just reading these articles. I’m going to have to relax for awhile and take some deep breaths. What stories are you following today?