Friday Reads: Living under a Mean Spirit

Good Afternoon!

We live in a country where Mean Spiritedness is now rewarded, held up, elected, and on display.  We’ve all known coarse, crude, uncouth people. Never have so many of them held public office. They are full of pride about what they consider their Christianity, their whiteness. their lack of manners, and their obvious failure to learn anything about the world, culture, and science around them.

One of our major parties is now not only one of greed but of meanness and stupidity. Kremlin Caligula represents that ethos in spades. I’ve always voted independently no matter which party had its name on my voter registration. I cannot imagine ever voting for another Republican in my lifetime because any cog in that wheel is a cog in a wheel that rolls over our humanity.

I’ve chosen to decorate my post today with Hopi Kachina Clowns or Koshare . The Koshare depict unacceptable behavior and teach values in the lore of Pueblo culture.  We could use a few good Koshare wandering around the halls of Congress and the grounds of the White House.

A rich white man who body slammed a Jewish Journalist for asking him a question is now head to the House of Representatives and was placed there by the mean spirits of Montana. He won a mostly narrow victory given the unbearable redness of Montana, but it was a victory nonetheless. This is horrifying. The usual suspects in the right wing press and in congress are blaming the victim and presenting the bully as some kind of hero.  I am appalled. The following words are from from Brian Beutler writing for The Republic.

Republican Greg Gianforte defeated Democrat Rob Quist in a special election Thursday for Montana’s lone congressional seat, a six-point victory that should horrify you because he won with the full support of the GOP after body-slamming and punching an American reporter—and many of our political institutions, especially the media, are too paralyzed to impose a meaningful consequence on him or his enablers.

Gianforte, a true coward, didn’t admit any wrongdoing until his victory speech, at which point the risks of playacting decency pertained to his criminal case—the police have charged him with assault—rather than the election. “When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” Gianforte said. “That’s the Montana way.” I suspect some Montanans would object to the notion that you only apologize once it’s politically safe to do so.

For it was already beyond dispute on Wednesday night, thanks to audio of the attackand a witness account from a Fox News reporter, that Gianforte had attacked the Guardian’s Ben Jacobs. That’s when the process of public accountability began. In a healthier political culture, the condemnation would have been nearly unanimous, and the context of the incident would not have been a matter of controversy. What we witnessed instead was a political media—confronted with a one-sided assault on its most basic freedom—rendered by its own constructs largely incapable of identifying the threat with any precision.

Before he became president of the United States, Donald Trump toured the country encouraging violence against protesters and whipping up animosity toward the press. Earlier this month, Trump’s Health and Human Services secretary, Tom Price, sicced police on a reporter who was trying to ask him a question in the West Virginia state capitol on account of the fact that he didn’t recognize the reporter as an attendee of a press conference, then praised the police for their diligence. Last week, the FCC’s security detail manhandled a tech reporter at the National Press Club.

Republicans know in theory how to get their hackles up over political violence directed at reporters, because in January 2010, when an aide to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley pushed a conservative reporter (then helped him up, and apologized for his behavior) Republicans tried to end his career in public service.

Their tacit acceptance of a culture of antagonism and violence directed at the press suggests at least that the party’s values have changed.

The win wasn’t as imposing as it could’ve been.  This is the one bit of goodness.  It also may have been mostly locked in by early and mail in voting.  However, the state of Montana is sending a man who just was charged with assault and the assault was on a reporter doing his job. This is not how it’s supposed to work in a democracy.  This is from Matt Yglesias writing for Vox.

Greg Gianforte’s 7 percentage point win in the Montana special election keeps a seat in Republican hands but fundamentally represents bad news for the GOP. The basic issue, as David Wasserman breaks down for the Cook Political Report, is that for prognostication purposes you don’t only want to know who wins or loses a special election — you want to know the margin.

 Montana is considerably redder than the average congressional district. According to Wasserman’s calculations, in an election where Democrats got 50 percent of the two-party vote nationwide, you’d expect them to get just 39 percent in Montana. Quist scored 44 percent, and with the Libertarian pulling in 6 percent, his share of the two-party vote is more like 46.

Things aren’t as simple as saying that Rob Quist outperformed the 39 percent benchmark and therefore Democrats are on track to win — geography means Republicans can hold their majority with less than 50 percent of the vote. But the GOP underperformed badly in Montana, after a similar underperformance in the special election for Kansas’s Fourth Congressional District.

There are 120 Republican-held House seats that are more GOP-friendly than Montana’s at-large district. If Republicans are winning in places like Montana by just 7 percentage points, then they are in extreme peril of losing their House majority in November 2018.

Republican leaders have taken their party on a risky course, and they ought to strongly consider turning the ship around.

b1342f80e689b237b2b1077e22c72da3The Guardian–home of the assaulted Reporter Ben Jacobs–calls the new Congressman a ‘fresh liability’ for the equally mean spirited Paul Ryan.  I can’t imagine them doing anything given what kids of crooks they’ve got wandering the White House. They only care about delivering tax cuts and ending everything but the military.

As it is, the party will now have to decide whether to embrace, accommodate or ostracise a man who made himself the personification of Trump’s media-baiting, violence-inciting campaign rhetoric. The legal saga will put a dark cloud over him and his movements on Capitol Hill are likely to receive outsized and negative coverage. In short, he is a liability adding to Ryan’s already considerable burden.

“This is going to be another of those moral tests for the Republican party,” said Charlie Sykes, a conservative author and commentator. “It should be an easy one for them to say there is no place for violence against reporters.”

In normal politics, Skyes added, the incident would have been universally condemned. But, since the ascent of Trump, the compass has moved. “It’s hard to overstate the cynicism we’ve seen from Republicans in Washington who will stop at nothing when votes are involved. How far down the road are Republicanswilling to go?”

On Thursday, Ryan said that what occurred was “wrong and should not happen”and Gianforte should apologise. But he stopped short of calling for Gianforte to quit the race. The questions will keep coming, however, when Gianforte takes his seat in the House.

Meanwhile, Kremlin Caligula displayed bad form when pushing his way to the front of the NATO summit. He shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro to get to the head of the pack like a grade school bully.

Video of the incident spread on social networks in multiple languages.

“It seems Donald Trump did not want that anyone overshadows his presence at the summit,” said the Montenegro newspaper Vijesti.

Other Balkan websites ran headlines such as “America First” and “Where do you think you are going?”

Markovic himself, however, shrugged off the slight.

“It didn’t really register. I just saw reactions about it on social networks. It is simply a harmless situation,” he told reporters after the summit.

Instead of being insulted, he took the opportunity to thank Trump for supporting Montenegro’s membership in NATO. The small former Yugoslav republic is slated to become NATO’s 29th member next month.

His speech elicited laughs, eyerolls, and mumbles.  WAPO labels Trump’s behavior a national embarrassment.  The uncouth idiot from Queens has done us no favors with our friends while spilling beyond top secret information to international Thugs and Bullies.

After Trump called NATO obsolete (then proceeded to walk that back), Europe was looking for public support of Article 5, which affirms that NATO members will come to the mutual defense of any member that is under attack. But alas, Trump could not even bring himself to utter explicitly that the U.S. supports Article 5 in his remarks at Brussels, which every single U.S. president has done since Harry Truman in 1949. If NATO allies were nervous about the United States’ commitment to Europe’s security before, they must be fuming now. The NATO summit comes as reports surface that British police are withholding intelligence from the United States after leaks to U.S. media about the Manchester bombing investigation, and weeks after Trump revealed highly classified information to the Russiansabout operations against the Islamic State. For all of Trump’s fire and fury about the United States getting the raw end of the deal from NATO, from an optics standpoint, it is the United States that is looking like the irresponsible partner.

Perhaps in Trump’s eyes, the Saudis threw a much better shindig — spending $68 million to host Trump. Well, really, it was a $110 billion dollar fete, considering the price tag for the historic weapons deal that the United States signed with Saudi Arabia. Trump appeared to be much more friendly and relaxed among Saudi Arabian and other Gulf leaders than with our European allies. Obviously, Trump was bedazzled by the kingdom’s hospitality, but none of the Saudi opulence and money can whitewash Saudi Arabia’s terrible record of fueling Wahhabi terrorism, carrying out record numbers of public beheadings, contributing to famine in Yemen, and withholding many basic rights for Saudi women and girls. Days after one of the worst terrorist attacks in British history,  Trump is visibly more comfortable praising autocrats and extremist governments who help to fuel violence and conflict. That should be a slap in the face to our liberal allies in Europe.

The US Ambassador to the UN under George W Bush–as were many former ambassadors–were horrified by the speech and behavior.

President Donald Trump‘s first trip to a NATO summit Thursday did not sit well with former ambassadors to the alliance.

“I do think Trump’s visit to NATO was the least effective of any American president since 1949,” Nicholas Burns, who served as ambassador to the 28-member defense alliance under President George W. Bush, tweeted Friday. NATO came into existence in 1949.

In Brussels, Trump admonished members of the alliance for not paying their “fair share” for defense. The president failed to publicly endorse “Article 5,” the NATO mutual assistance clause that he was widely expected to back publicly for the first time.

Donald Rumsfeld thought the entire speech was just terrific which speaks volumes to any one with extensive knowledge of his history and your basic war criminal.  Former Speaker John Boehner called him a “disaster”. But it was today’s  Hillary Clinton who gave good shade to President Swiss Cheese for Brains in ways that only she could do.  She gave her Alma Mater Wellesley’s commencement Address.  You may watch the full address below.

She was talking to the graduates about their future. But she was focused just as much on her own past, and the hardest, fullest case against Trump she’s made since last November.

“In the years to come, there will be trolls galore, online and in person,” she said, urging the graduates not to let themselves get beaten down. “They may even call you ‘a nasty woman.'”

Back when she was getting her diploma in 1969, Clinton said, “we were furious about the past presidential election of a man whose presidency would eventually end in disgrace with his impeachment for obstruction of justice,” pausing to soak up the cheers and applause from a crowd who knew exactly what she was talking about, and approved.

Just in case anyone missed the point, she leaned in a little further, reminding students and attendees of the private women’s liberal arts school in Massachusetts that Richard Nixon had gone down “after firing the person running the investigation into him at the Department of Justice.”

“But here’s what I want you to know. We got through that tumultuous time, and once again we began to thrive as our society changed laws and opened the circle of opportunity and rights wider and wider for more Americans,” Clinton said.

Clinton has been struggling non-stop over the last six months with her loss, but she’s also been struggling with her public role. People close to her, many of whom share her insistence that a race she ran well was stolen out from under her by Russian involvement and by a surprise October letter from that same now-fired FBI director, are frustrated that she hasn’t been more in demand for a central role in the Trump resistance.

 

My most favorite headline today comes from The Dallas News:  ‘Trump’s budget shows his top priority is refusing to deal with reality’ written by Kevin Williamson.

President Donald Trump has produced a very silly budget proposal. Thankfully, presidential budget proposals have all the effect of a mouse passing gas in a hurricane — Congress, not the president, actually appropriates funds and writes the tax code.Presidential budget proposals are not received as actual fiscal blueprints but as statements of priorities, and so we must conclude that Trump’s top priority is refusing to deal with reality.

Here’s the situation: About 80 percent of federal spending is consumed by five things: 1. National defense; 2. Social Security; 3. Medicare; 4. Medicaid and other related health-care benefits; 5. Interest on the debt. Trump wants to increase spending on defense by about 10 percent while shielding Social Security and Medicare from cuts. Short of a default, he doesn’t have any choice but to pay the interest on the debt. So that leaves things pretty tight.

On top of that, he wants to pass what he boasts is one of the largest tax cuts in history. And balance the budget. Naturally, the White House budget monkeys are messing with the numbers a little bit. It’s the return of the Naïve Supply-Sider.

Williamson does a great job explaining what us economists have found out and think about that. This is good because I get very tired of having to give and write that explanation many times a year.  Let me also tell you that this guy writes for The National Review so Republicans don’t have to get their prunes from me or any other person that generally votes democratic.

The problem with this simplistic analysis is that it credits 100 percent of economic growth to tax cuts, when in fact economic growth is the result of many factors. The U.S. economy has experienced periods of strong growth with much higher tax rates, as it did in the 1950s and 1960s. The meaningful comparison is not between what tax revenue was before the tax cuts and what it was after the tax cuts, but between what it was after the tax cuts and what it would have been without the cuts. Which, unfortunately, is a counterfactual.

Economists who have looked at the issue have found evidence of growth effects and sometimes evidence of very strong growth effects. What they have not found is evidence of growth effects amounting to 100 percent of forgone revenue, i.e. the holy grail of “self-financing tax cuts.” The Trump budget proposal includes tax cuts that not only are self-financing but doubly self-financing. These tax cuts would, if we are to take him at his word (and that is impossible to do) not only pay for themselves but generate enough new revenue to balance the budget 10 years down the road.

You can bet that free lunch will turn out to be expensive.

Koshare_kachina_19th_centMy big problem is the use of that word ‘free lunch’.  The folks that really need food won’t get it.  The ‘free lunch’ will go to the rest of the Caligulas resident in our country.  So, there’s the greed and the stupidity and the mean rolled up in one huge gesture.  Meanwhile, the FBI is now very out front that it’s going after Jared Kushner.  I’ll give this last bit to Charles Pierce of Esquire infamy.

In their infinite wisdom, enough of the American people got together and decided to put a manifestly unqualified and manifestly unfit New York real estate sub-tycoon in charge of the executive branch of the national government. He has proceeded to do business there in the same shadowy fashion in which he’s done business everywhere else. He’s kept everything within the family, even if the family members are no more qualified to do the work than he is. Either he never knew that you can’t run a democratic republic that way, or he didn’t care. Either everything is a surprise to this crowd, or they think that the institutions of government are just another great, fertile field of grift to be plundered.

In any case, at the end of the day, it’s all going to be about money. Jared Kushner is just the most recent clue in a completely bogus treasure map.

So, follow the money and send in the clowns. The oldies are still the goodies.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: Positively Nixonian

Happy Mother’s Day Weekend Sky Dancers!

As usual, we have no respite from the news and it looks like we get to kick Dick Nixon’s dead body some.  Every where you turn you hear the word “Nixonian”.  BB managed to find a lot of Trump/Nixon mash ups in political cartoons.  I thought it completely symbolic to see a picture of Kremlin Caligula with Kissinger in the White House this week.  I was just wondering if Kissinger was asked once more to pray.  I actually bought and read Woodward and Bernstein’s ‘The Final Days’ just to read that entire scene.  It still sits on my book shelf like a monument to the death of my belief in American Exceptionalism.

I probably could imagine a similar conversation taking place between Bannon and President Swiss Cheese for Brains. (My apologies for the ‘k” word,)  The cut away would probably be to discuss the escalation in Syria/Afghanistan instead.

APRIL 22, 1973: THE PRESIDENT, H.R. “BOB” HALDEMAN, AND HENRY KISSINGER, 9:50–10:50 A.M., OVAL OFFICE.
PRESIDENT NIXON: Where is…where is that kike, Kissinger?

KISSINGER: I’m right here, Mr. President.

PRESIDENT NIXON: Oh…uh, Henry, good, I’m glad you’re here…I want you to get down on your knees, Henry, and pray for me…I’m up shit creek without a paddle. I’ve got the damn Jew press on me like a “kick me” sign taped to my ass.

KISSINGER: Of course, Mr. President.

HALDEMAN: You can kneel over here, Henry.

PRESIDENT NIXON: Never mind that…just get me some support from those sons-of-bitches in the cabinet. Tell them I’ve got stuff on them…pictures.

KISSINGER: But, Mr. President, you have these things?

PRESIDENT NIXON: We’ve got tons of stuff…tons…

KISSINGER: All right, Mr. President, but it would help me if I could…see the pictures.

HALDEMAN: We’ll get some for you, Henry.

KISSINGER: Good. Now, sir, I want to discuss the latest operation in Camb—(cuts off)

Well, some folks just have a lot of nerve and they think we’re such fools. They just want to be on the side that’s winning.

So, it will get worse if the Ryan/Trump economic plan gets passed.  We know this.  It’s nice to hear it from an esteemed Nobel prize winning economist though.  Can we stop pretending the people that voted him found him the source of relief for economic distress? They’re about to get a shitload of it.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s economic policies risk creating growth that mostly benefits the rich and aggravates income inequality in the United States, Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton said.

Trump was swept to power on promises of help for poorer Americans but Deaton said his proposals to roll back regulations on finance and industry and cut healthcare benefits would mostly help corporate groups with political influence.

Trump’s plans to cut taxes and raise trade barriers, if enacted, might give a short-term income boost to some workers but would not deliver the long-term growth that is essential for mitigating the effects of inequality, he said in an interview.

“I don’t think any of it is good” for addressing income inequality, said Deaton, a Princeton University professor, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2015 for his work on poverty, welfare and consumption.

He was speaking on Friday after addressing a meeting in Italy of finance ministers and central bankers from rich nations at which inequality topped the official agenda.

The political shocks in 2016 of Trump’s U.S. presidential election victory and Britain’s Brexit vote have been linked to widespread dissatisfaction with stagnant living standards for many workers, forcing policymakers in many countries to grapple with ways to narrow the gap between the rich and poor.

Income inequality has grown sharply in the United States over recent decades and the World Bank says that at a global level the gap has widened too since the 1990s, despite progress recently in some countries.

The Trump administration says it will lift U.S. economic growth to more than 3 percent a year and bring more manufacturing jobs back to U.S. shores, helping workers.

But many economists say growth like that will be hard to achieve with employment already high and the baby boom generation retiring in large numbers too.

Deaton said restoring stronger economic growth, preferably through encouraging more innovation, would help reduce the anger among many people who feel they have been left behind.

“A rising inequality that probably wouldn’t have bothered people before does become really salient and troublesome to them (during periods of low growth). It poisons politics too because when there are no spoils to hand out it becomes a very sharp conflict,” he said.

Deaton said he did not think inequality was inherently bad as long as everyone felt some benefit from growth.

“But I do care about people getting rich at public expense,” he said, referring to political lobbying by business groups.

So onto the the criminal and traitorous group known as the Trump family syndicate and friends connected to all things Russian. The Senate is starting to follow the money and the bodies.

This robust compliance was not happening at the Taj Mahal. The Treasury Department found that the casino didn’t monitor or report suspicious activity. About half the time that Treasury investigators identified suspect behavior, the Taj Mahal had not reported it to authorities. “Like all casinos in this country, Trump Taj Mahal has a duty to help protect our financial system from being exploited by criminals, terrorists, and other bad actors,” Jennifer Shasky Calvery, the FinCEN director, said in a statement at the time of the settlement. “Far from meeting these expectations, poor compliance practices, over many years, left the casino and our financial system unacceptably exposed.”

The Trump Organization is not known for its careful due diligence. As I wrote in the magazine earlier this year, Ivanka Trump oversaw a residence and hotel project in Azerbaijan. The project was run in partnership with the family of one of that country’s leading oligarchs, and while there is no proof that the Trumps were themselves involved in money laundering, the project had many of the hallmarks of such an operation. There was no public accounting of the hundreds of millions of dollars that flowed through the project to countries around the world, millions of dollars were paid in cash, and the Azerbaijani developers were believed to be partners, at the same time, with a company that appears to be a front for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which is known as one of the world’s leading practitioners of money laundering. Trump’s Azerbaijani partners are known to have close ties to Russia, as do his partners in other projects in Georgia, Canada, Panama, and other nations.

A former high-ranking official at the Treasury Department explained to me that FinCEN could have collected what are known as Suspicious Activity Reports from banks, casinos, and other places, about transactions involving any Trump projects. These reports could be used to create a detailed map of relationships and money flows involving the Trump Organization.

The Senate committee headed by Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, and Warner has been ratcheting up the pressure on Trump’s associates in the course of investigating Russian meddling in the Presidential campaign. On Thursday, the committee sent a subpoena to Michael Flynn, the short-lived national-security adviser, demanding documents that he didn’t turn over voluntarily. By asking the Treasury Department for more details about Trump and his associates, the Senate Intelligence Committee seems to be signalling a widening of its interest from the narrow question of collusion between Russia and members of Trump’s campaign staff. (My calls to Warner’s office about this weren’t answered.) If the committee does begin to seriously consider the Trump Organization’s business practices and any connections those show to figures in Russia and other sensitive countries, it would suggest what prosecutors call a “target rich” environment. Rather than focussing on a handful of recent arrivals to Trump’s inner circle—Mike Flynn and Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser—it could open up his core circle of children and longtime associates.

The WSJ is on the forefront of this story and the Manafort probe.   It’s nice to know that even papers known to be ‘captured’ by an agenda can still do straight up news.

The Justice Department last month requested banking records of Paul Manafort as part of a widening of probes related to President Donald Trump’s former campaign associates and whether they colluded with Russia in interfering with the 2016 election, according to people familiar with the matter.

In mid-April, federal investigators requested Mr. Manafort’s banking records from Citizens Financial Group Inc., the people said.

It isn’t clear whether Citizens is the only bank that received such a request or whether it came in the form of a subpoena. Federal law generally requires that a bank receive a subpoena to turn over customer records, lawyers not connected to the investigation said.

Citizens gave Mr. Manafort a $2.7 million loan last year to refinance debt on a Manhattan condominium and borrow additional cash, New York City real-estate records show. The Wall Street Journal couldn’t ascertain if the Justice Department request is related to that transaction or whether the bank has turned over Mr. Manafort’s records.

I think the WSJ is getting less strict on its paywall practices for these items because you can go read the rest of it.

Comey to Trump:

Go ‘way from my window
Leave at your own chosen speed
I’m not the one you want, babe
I’m not the one you need
You say you’re lookin’ for someone
Who’s never weak but always strong
To protect you an’ defend you
Whether you are right or wrong
Someone to open each and every door
But it ain’t me, babe
No, no, no, it ain’t me babe
It ain’t me you’re lookin’ for, babe

The FBI is not happy with the President and what he did to Director Comey. They’ve evidently not signed on to participate in some twisted version of The Apprentice.  Trump has made quite a few institutional enemies from Park Rangers to the scientists in the EPA and HHS. The weirdish thing about all this is that he’s just made an enemy of the one institution he could ill afford to put off and was most likely to support his thuggish brand of justice.

Clearly, Comey underestimated Trump’s impatience—as well as the president’s pathological inability to allow anyone to question the legitimacy of his election, let alone keep pressing the investigations into the Trump campaign’s possible ties with Russia. Comey is now puttering in his yard in Northern Virginia. But the political and legal whirlwind that his firing has set in motion is just beginning to spin, with the White House and the F.B.I. subject to the greatest damage. Even pro-Trump agents are horrified and furious at how Comey was treated. “It shows us, the career people who care only about justice, that there is no justice at the top,” one agent says.

There were agents who found Comey priggish; within the bureau’s New York office, there was a faction that thought he’d soft-peddled the investigation of the Clinton Foundation. But those complaints have now been dwarfed by shock and revulsion at how Comey was fired—and how it reflects on them. “The statements from the White House that he’d lost the faith of the rank and file—they’re making that up,” says Jeff Ringel, a 21-year F.B.I. veteran who retired in May 2016 and is now director of the Soufan Group. “Agents may not have agreed with everything he did. I was one of the people who thought the director shouldn’t have stepped up and made those public statements about Hillary Clinton. But Director Comey was one of the last honest brokers in D.C. Agents are pissed off at the way he was fired, the total disrespect with which it was handled. It was a slap in the face to the F.B.I., to everybody in the F.B.I. The director being treated terribly, being called incompetent, is a signal that Trump has disdain for the bureau.”

Oops. Yet we still have slutty Republicans bending over backwards for the mad king.

Elected Republican officials are publicly defending Trump but privately are dumbfounded, disgusted and demoralized by this turn of events.

We haven’t had a single conversation with a top Republican that doesn’t reflect this. The worries are manifold

  • This kills momentum on legislating, and unifies Democrats in opposition to everything they want to do.
  • This makes it easier for Democrats to recruit quality candidates and raise money for the off-year elections.
  • It sours swing voters.
  • It puts them on the defensive at home. They want to talk tax reform and deregulation — not secret tapes and Russian intrigue.
  • But mainly it reinforces their greatest fear: Trump will never change. They keep praying he’ll discipline himself enough to get some big things done. Yet they brace for more of this.

And of course, Trump voters could care less. The most immoral of them is the Evangelical base.  At least the NAZIs are upfront about being deplorable.

But just like with the “Access Hollywood” tape, the vast majority of Republicans — and especially the Trump base — seem unfazed. For all the media/Democrat/Twitter histrionics, consider:

  • The Gallup daily tracking poll shows Trump’s approval has held steady (40% the day of the firing, 41% two days later).
  • Polls show two countries: In NBC News/Survey Monkey, 79% of Rs thought Trump acted appropriately, and 13% of Dems.
  • Most elected Republicans are backing Trump or staying silent. AP reports that at the Republican National Committee’s spring meeting out in Coronado, Calif., party leaders defended the president’s actions and insisted that they would have little political impact.
  • The Comey topic is hot in traditional media, but cold on Facebook: Seven other events of the Trump presidency trended harder.

Be smart: Don’t underestimate how much wiggle room Trump bought himself with his voters and conservatives by putting Gorsuch on the Supreme Court, enforcing the red line in Syria, and muscling a partial repeal of Obamacare through the House. He has a long leash with Trump Country.

So, like many folks my age, my head is spinning because we’ve seen this before. The only difference is that Nixon never basically admitted to a journalist that he obstructed justice. But then, Nixon did not have Swiss Cheese for brains.

One of my favorites quotes today comes from Watergate’s John Dean. “President Trump is an ‘authoritarian klutz’ — just like Nixon.”

In an interview with New York Magazine‘s The Daily Intelligencer, John Dean, the former advisor to President Richard Nixon whose call-recording testimony made the Watergate case, told reporter Olivia Nuzzi that both Nixon and President Donald Trump share alarming tendencies.

“I think they’re both authoritarian personalities,” Dean told The Daily Intelligencer. “We only know of Nixon’s full personality because of his taping system. But Trump just doesn’t try to hide anything, he’s just out there.”

Dean also said that both Trump and Nixon are “klutzy” when it comes to electronics, and that Trump’s apparently Luddite approach to technology may have made any recordings he’d made as apparent as Nixon’s were to Dean.

“I’m told he’s not very mechanical. He’s kind of like Nixon in that regard,” Dean said. “In other words, he’d have trouble surreptitiously recording somebody, you know, starting the machine, if it wasn’t going and what have you.”

On comparisons between Trump’s surprise firing of former FBI Director James Comey and Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre”, Dean told Nuzzi that there are some parallels, but they aren’t exact.

“There were some echoes, but not much more. Echoes being the brutal way it was handled, and so unnecessary,” Dean said. “But not quite the same stage, where Comey wasn’t defying Trump, whereas Archibald Cox clearly was, and both of them had the power to do what they did, but it wasn’t very wise to do.”

In the fallout from firing former FBI James Comey, Trump may have implicated himself in his own conversation-recording scheme. Trump also allegedly has a history of recording phone calls.

So, we’re once again about to see how well the checks and balances work. We seem reliant on the Senate and is there a Sam Ervin out there? It’s hard to see that Ervin’s neighboring state of South Carolina’s Lady Lindsey will go for the truth the way Ervin did. I remember coming home from high school with my hippy jeans, my books overflowing in my boy scout back pack, and undoing the tie backs that kept those jeans from getting caught in my 12 speed’s derailleur to my mother with the TV blaring. She never watched daytime TV because it was banal game shows and soaps. But there she was–frequently with our cleaning lady of like 15+ years–watching from the door way. Mildred–the big German woman who my mother called a good ol’ gal–was usually shaking her head like she’d seen the Third Reich all over again.  The networks had interrupted everything once again to show case Sam Ervin and his Watergate hearings. It seems like a galaxy far far away to me but yet every time I turn on the TV news, it comes back to me.

More extraordinary than Ervin’s sense of humor is his uncompromising belief in the Constitution as a basis of government. A “strict constructionist,” presumably after Mr. Nixon’s heart, he has phrased his passionate Constitutionalism in resounding measures that owe much to Shakespeare and the Bible, but surely as much to the great jurists of Anglo-American common law.

“I don’t think we have any such thing as royalty or nobility that exempts them,” says Ervin of the White House, and one realizes how much the issues of the American Revolution are living ones to him and not eighth-grade clichés. He has been a consistent and eloquent enemy of such ominous inspirations as no-knock laws and military surveillance of civilians.

Ervin is a States’ Rights man on Constitutional grounds. Ironically, he is vilified by rightists who just a year ago were complacent “strict constructionists”: Jim Fuller of the Charlotte (N.C.) Observer reports his newspaper gets calls at all hours of the day and night, some from as far away as Houston, demanding that “that fat, senile old man” lay off the President. “The most common threat,” Fuller says, “is castration.” Ervin doesn’t look worried.

Maybe you’ll remember reading or hearing these words in that ol’ Southern Good Ol’ boy drawl.

We are beginning these hearings today in an atmosphere of utmost gravity. The questions, that have been raised in the wake of the June 17th break-in, strike at the very undergirding of our democracy. If the many allegations made to this date are true, then the burglars who broke into the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate were in effect breaking into the home of every citizen of the United States.

If these allegations prove to be true, what they were seeking to steal was not the jewels, money or other property of American citizens, but something much more valuable—their most precious heritage, the right to vote in a free election. Since that day, a mood of incredulity has prevailed among our populace, and it is the constitutional duty of this committee to allay the fears being expressed by the citizenry, and to establish the factual bases upon which these fears have been founded.

The Founding Fathers, having participated in the struggle against arbitrary power, comprehended some eternal truths respecting men and government. They knew that those who are entrusted with power are susceptible to the disease of tyrants, which George Washington rightly described as “love of power and the proneness to abuse it.” For that reason, they realized that the power of public officers should be defined by laws which they, as well as the people, are obligated to obey.

The Constitution, later adopted amendments and, more specifically, statutory law provide that the electoral processes shall be conducted by the people, outside the confines of the formal branches of government, and through a political process that must operate under the strictures of law and ethical guidelines, but independent of the overwhelming power of the government itself. Only then can we be sure that each electoral process cannot be made to serve as the mere handmaiden of a particular Administration in power.

The accusations that have been leveled and the evidence of wrongdoing that has surfaced has cast a black cloud of distrust over our entire society. Our citizens do not know whom to believe, and many of them have concluded that all the processes of government have become so compromised that honest governance has been rendered impossible. We believe that the health, if not the survival, of our social structure and of our form of government requires the most candid and public investigation of all the evidence…. As the elected representatives of the people, we would be derelict in our duty to them if we failed to pursue our mission expeditiously, fully, and with the utmost fairness. The nation and history itself are watching us. We cannot fail our mission.

Preach it sir!  Here’s to a system that values truth, justice and the rule of law.  May it totally crush this Administration under the heels of history.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday: All the News that’s $hit to print about all the SWAMP things in the West Wing

Well, these posts take longer to compile every day because we live in a 30 second news cycle brought on by a bunch of bigoted white yahoos that had to vote for one very sick mind. This is what bedlam looks like

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

It’s really difficult to know exactly where to start.  There are so many scandals at the moment that it’s mind boggling.  But, I have to start some where and I’m going to emphasize what I’ve known since the tender age of about 25.  You don’t get to be a CEO by any real standard of normal achievement. You’re generally not smart. You pay people like me to be your brains. You’re not all that comfortable with people outside of your own little circle of influence–read CULT–which generally means you drag family and seriously out-of-their depth frat brothers or high school friends with you to high paid places. You expect to be treated like a god and you self-deal like a Persian brothel owner. What you excel at is velvet schmoozing other idiots like you and sending money to the right people.

With that, we move to the topic of Rex Tillerson.  Our Secretary of State is so out of his depth, league, expertise, etc. that he’s cowering in his office and demanding no one give him eye contact.  Whoever said people that are just in it for a buck can aspire to anything else is just plan full of shit.  A rare CEO actually has some kind of conscience.  They are few and far between.  They can’t have them or they couldn’t do what they do which is basically rape, pillage, and steal for money and make sure they get more than a fair share of it.  But ask me how I really feel some day.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson takes a private elevator to his palatial office on the seventh floor of the State Department building, where sightings of him are rare on the floors below.

On many days, he blocks out several hours on his schedule as “reading time,” when he is cloistered in his office poring over the memos he prefers ahead of in-person meetings.

Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.

On his first three foreign trips, Tillerson skipped visits with State Department employees and their families, embassy stops that were standard morale-boosters under other secretaries of state.

Eight weeks into his tenure as President Trump’s top diplomat, the former ExxonMobil chief executive is isolated, walled off from the State Department’s corps of bureaucrats in Washington and around the world. His distant management style has created growing bewilderment among foreign officials who are struggling to understand where the United States stands on key issues. It has sown mistrust among career employees at State, who swap paranoid stories about Tillerson that often turn out to be untrue. And it threatens to undermine the power and reach of the State Department, which has been targeted for a 30 percent funding cut in Trump’s budget.

Many have expressed alarm that Tillerson has not fought harder for the agency he now leads.

Rep. Eliot L. Engel (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said Tillerson called him after the proposed cuts were announced. Engel said Tillerson seemed to share Engel’s concern that the cuts are “draconian” and counterproductive. But Engel said Tillerson seemed to signal his acquiescence when he called them “a glide path to what was about to happen.”

“I’m chagrined by what’s happening, or not happening,” Engel said.

“When you put it all together, it certainly seems they’re trying to downsize the State Department and make it irrelevant. I’m at a loss for words. Why would Tillerson take the job if he was not going to defend his agency?”

It’s easy.  The  CEOS are where ever they are to strip everything down to the bare bones and take the plunders. They can do so–like murderous socipaths–with no thought to all the people whose lives they ruin.  That’s why they do not deserve the pubic trust, welfare, and assets.  This Hill piece finds the most shocking bit in the WAPO piece I cited above.  Yes. it’s repeated THREE times for effect.  Let it settle in.  Do not look Rex Tillerson in the Eye. Th next question begs to be asked “Or WHAT?”.

 Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has remained relatively removed from President Trump’s administration and his own department, a new report by The Washington Post says, adding that many diplomats have yet to meet him and some have been told to avoid eye contact.
The Post report reads:
Most of his interactions are with an insular circle of political aides who are new to the State Department. Many career diplomats say they still have not met him, and some have been instructed not to speak to him directly — or even make eye contact.
Tillerson has kept a low profile since the inauguration. He has made very few remarks to the press and opted not to travel with a press pool.
Earlier this month, Tillerson stood by his decision not to allow reporters to travel with him on his trip to Asia, calling himself “not a big media press access person.”
Erin McPike of the right-leaning Independent Journal Review — the only reporter selected by State to travel with Tillerson — pressed the diplomat about his decision in an interview.
McPike noted China restricts press access and asked whether he’s concerned about the message he’s sending.
Tillerson claimed the decision not to allow more reporters had to do with a desire to save money, saying the plane “flies faster, allows me to be more efficient” with fewer people on it.

Has any one ever stopped to define ‘efficiency’ in terms of successful diplomacy?  I guess not.

BB shared this link yesterday.  It explains exactly how awful Jared Kushner is on every level of what you need to manage anything at all.  He’s also way out of his league.

But I worked for Kushner for 18 months as he tried to infuse a much smaller institution than the U.S. government with cost-cutting impulses from the commercial real estate world. And my experience doesn’t bode well for the Office of American Innovation. Not everything that works in the private sector is transferrable to the public sector — and even if it were, Kushner isn’t the best person to transfer it.

Then there’s Carl Icahn who demonstrates a new level of corruption equal to only Kremlin Caligula himself.  I haven’t cited D-Day for awhile since he writes for The Intercept but I will for a change.  There’s all kinds of nastiness surround former TWA CEO Carl Icahn.  Rachel Maddow calls it “quite blatant corruption”.

WATCHDOG GROUP PUBLIC Citizen asked Congress on Wednesday to investigate whether billionaire investor and unofficial Trump administration adviser Carl Icahn has engaged in illegal, unregistered lobbying in conjunction with his public bid to change an ethanol rule that would save one of his affiliated businesses $200 million annually.

Icahn raised eyebrows last week for getting the Renewable Fuels Association to reverse its position on a key proposal that would benefit him personally. The association, which lobbies for ethanol producers, agreed to a proposal to shift the responsibility for ensuring that gasoline contains a minimum volume of renewable fuels — from oil refiners to gasoline wholesalers. Icahn is the majority shareholder in CVR Energy, a refiner that cannot blend ethanol on its own, and which therefore must buy over $200 million in “renewable fuel credits” each year to follow the law. By shifting the responsibility to wholesalers, CVR would no longer have to make that purchase.

Trump tapped Icahn as his deregulatory czar in December. But as an unofficial adviser to the Trump administration, Icahn was able to maintain his prodigious financial holdings. The renewable fuels proposal struck many as an example of Icahn self-dealing — recommending changes in regulation that benefit him financially.

Now, Public Citizen is accusing Icahn and CVR of violating the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995. Any nongovernmental entity that crosses certain thresholds must register all lobbying activities with the government. Congress oversees compliance with this law.

Since the Trump administration insists that Icahn is a private citizen who receives no compensation as a government official, he would fall into the category of needing to register any lobbying work, according to a complaint sent to the clerk of the House and secretary of the Senate. Public Citizen argues that Icahn’s formal proposal to change the renewable fuel standard regulation, along with his reported assistance in vetting candidates for the Environmental Protection Agency, comprises lobbying activity.

“It is not lobbying to advise a candidate, but once Trump became president, Trump then became a covered official subject to the lobbying disclosure law,” energy program director Tyson Slocum wrote in the letter. “All of this has occurred with no record of any [Lobbying Disclosure Act] filings by or on behalf of Mr. Icahn, Icahn Enterprises or CVR Energy.”

In other words, either Icahn is a Trump administration official, and therefore profiting from his government service, or a private citizen, and therefore lobbying.

Failure to comply with the Lobbying Disclosure Act “may be subject to a civil fine of not more than $200,000,” according to the law’s text. And if an individual “knowingly and corruptly” fails to comply, they face a federal prison sentence of up to five years.


Matt Yglesias calls him  a “conflict-of-interest disaster’.  Oy.just.Oy.  

Five paragraphs into the Wall Street Journal’s article about how Carl Icahn, a legendary investor worth about $20 billion, will serve as a special advisor to Donald Trump on regulatory matters, things get interesting.

“The position isn’t an official government job,” the Journal reports. “Mr. Icahn won’t get paid and won’t have to give up his current business dealings.”

Of course, even if Icahn did get paid, the salary would be peanuts compared with his net worth. More to the point, the monetary value of getting to influence federal regulatory policy when you already have $20 billion in outstanding investments is enormous.

 Back in August, for example, Icahn was complaining to the media about a particular obscure Environmental Protection Agency rule that was hurting a refining company he owns.
And that brings us to what T-Russia signed this week that made Mr. Icahn so happy that he’s been increasing his investments prior to its signing.  Gee.  I wonder what kind of insider information led to that.

Since Carl Icahn, the billionaire investor, was named by President Trump as a special adviser on regulatory matters, he has been busy working behind the scenes to try to revamp an obscure Environmental Protection Agency rule that governs the way corn-based ethanol is mixed into gasoline nationwide.

It is a campaign that fits into the charge Mr. Trump gave Mr. Icahn, to help the nation “break free of excessive regulation.” But there is an additional detail that is raising eyebrows in Washington: Mr. Icahn is a majority investor in CVR Energy, an oil refiner based in Sugar Land, Tex., that would have saved $205.9 million last year had the regulatory fix he is pushing been in place.

How’s this for savvy investing?  “Carl Icahn’s shares in CVR Energy have doubled since Trump won the election”.  Not so savvy you say?   Probably because, gee guess what happened with those regulations?  Rachel Maddow covered the “menu of scandal” of the T-Rump administration and it is so surreal.  I wanted to overwhelm you today with it because it’s almost so much you want to become desensitized.  This cannot become the new normal.  It cannot.

The Scott Pruitt stuff is so blatantly awful that the Bar of Oklahoma seeks to disbar him. Yet, he still seems to be serving safely in the T-Rump cabinet as yup, the guy in charge of the EPA.  And he single handedly took a deadly pesticide off a ban list just because … oh, nothing to do with its neurotoxicity.

Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced late Wednesday that a widely used pesticide will remain available to farmers, despite agency scientists recommending last year that it be banned due to neurotoxicity risks to farm workers and children, it is important to know that as a worker you have rights, I totally suggest to check out workers comp attorneys idaho if you need legal representation.

The pesticide, chlorpyrifos, made by Dow Chemical, is used on tens of thousands of farms in the country to protect dozens of different crops from a variety of insects. However, decades of research following its 1965 debut has found that the pesticide can harm the human respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Animal and human studies have linked exposure to declines in learning and memory. When chlorpyrifos was commonly used in household bug sprays, babies exposed prenatally via cord blood showed structural abnormalities in brain regions linked to attention, memory, language, and impulse control.

Then there’s VIP Pence who refuses to be alone in a room with any woman and who is likely to go down with the Trumptanic.  This is Maddow again.

Mike Pence had been the head of the Trump transition. As such, he would have been intimately involved with the selection and vetting process for a job as important as national security adviser. Nevertheless, Vice President Mike Pence has professed absolute ignorance of any of the scandals of any of the foreign payments, contacts and all the rest of it surrounding Mike Flynn. Pence was the leader of the transition. As leader of the transition, he was notified in writing by members of Congress about Flynn’s apparent financial ties to the government of Turkey. The transition was also apparently notified twice by Flynn’s own lawyers about his financial relationship with the government of Turkey, but nevertheless, Vice President Mike Pence says he has no idea about any of that.

….

Vice President Mike Pence claims he had absolutely no idea about that despite him being notified about on the record multiple times and it being a matter of considerable public discussion. Mike Pence’s role in the Mike Flynn scandal is flashing like a red beacon for anyone who sees him as the normal Republican in this setting.

 Oh, and the not dining alone with women thing is illegal.  Why woudn’t it be unless you’re a Taliban and prefer your women buried in burkas as property and you forcibly instituted a theocracy in your country?

“I don’t work with women. If they’re attractive, I’m too tempted. And if they’re not attractive, what’s the point?”

A male partner at a law firm casually made this pronouncement one day at lunch, hardly looking up from his plate. Everyone laughed and went back to eating — in the rough-and-tumble world of DC law, it wasn’t even the most obnoxious thing said that day. But this is no laughing matter for the women whose career opportunities are impeded by men who cavalierly dismiss half of the labor force and insist that they’ve behaved honorably by doing so.

This issue was thrust into the news this week when the Washington Post ran a piece on Karen Pence, the wife of our current vice president, and reminded readers of something Mike Pence said in 2002: He does not eat alone with a woman or attend an event where alcohol is being served unless his wife is present. The Twittersphere lit up like a Christmas tree with jokes and rants about Pence’s wife-rule. It’s not clear whether Pence still adheres to this practice, but there are men who do.

As the Atlantic observes, such arrangements are especially common within marriages between religious conservatives of various stripes. (It need not be only men who follow such strictures, but the emphasis is often on male temptation.) On Capitol Hill, where long days and late nights away from the family are part of the job, some Congressmen will not travel alone in a car with a female staffer, the National Journal has reported. Some politicians set gender-neutral rules that have a side effect of keeping them from being alone with women — such as excluding any staff from the office before 7 am or after 7 pm — but others clearly apply special rules to women.

To be sure, a politician’s declining to dine alone with a woman does not fall in the same category as a law partner refusing to work with women (or at least musing about refusing to work with women). Nonetheless, the practice described by Pence in that 2002 interview is clearly illegal when practiced by a boss in an employment setting, and deeply damaging to women’s employment opportunities.

Title VII, which governs workplace discrimination, does not allow employers to treat people differently on the basis of certain protected characteristics, one of which is sex. This means that an employer cannot set the terms and conditions of employment differently for one gender than for the other. This includes any aspect of the relationship between employer and employees — extending to benefits like equal access to the employer.

Why earth are we fighting ISIS if we accept this kind of behavior from our own elected officials?  What’s the difference between this and a Taliban?  Oh, and Mike Pence was the tie breaking vote on a law designed to let states defund Planned Parenthood.

The bill erases a regulation imposed by former President Barack Obama that lets states deny family planning funds to an organization only if it is incapable of providing those services.

Meanwhile, we will no longer be learning if T-Rump deploys troops to Iraq or Syria after the second military inquiry is now scheduled to determine how our military told over 200 innocent civilians in Mosul to stay in their homes to be safe just before we bombed them to death.

Even as the U.S. military takes on a greater role in the warfare in Iraq and Syria, the Trump administration has stopped disclosing significant information about the size and nature of the U.S. commitment, including the number of U.S. troops deployed in either country.

Earlier this month, the Pentagon quietly dispatched 400 Marines to northern Syria to operate artillery in support of Syrian militias that are cooperating in the fight against Islamic State, according to U.S. officials. That was the first use of U.S. Marines in that country since its long civil war began.

In Iraq, nearly 300 Army paratroopers were deployed recently to help the Iraqi military in their six-month assault on the city of Mosul, according to U.S. officials.

Neither of those deployments was announced once they had been made, a departure from the practice of the Obama administration, which announced nearly all conventional force deployments.

Here’s the link to the deadly Mosul strikes.

So, the big news of the day is that the Senate Intell Com has said no to the offer of testimony for immunity by Mike Flynn.

My biggest question is can our country survive anymore #MAGA or T-Rump style winning? Michael Gerson has an Op Ed up at WAPO about the failing Trump presidency and the free fall that characterizes the Republican Party.  Basically, these are the Swamp things that have set the nation on fire while having eliminated the Fire Fighters.

Republicans got an administration that is incompetent. The White House policy process has been erratic and disorganized. It has failed to provide expert analysis or assistance to Congress and did little to effectively advocate the president’s policy in ways that could have united the party.

Republicans got an administration that is morally small. Trump’s proposed budget would require massive cuts in disease research, global development and agricultural programs — just as a famine gathers a hideous strength. The proposed budget practices random acts of gratuitous cruelty.

This is a pretty bad combination: empty, easily distracted, vindictive, shallow, impatient, incompetent and morally small. This is not the profile of a governing party.

Some Republicans choose to comfort themselves by repeating the mantra: “Gorsuch, Gorsuch, Gorsuch.” But that does nothing to change Trump’s stunningly high disapproval ratings. Or the stunning rebuke by the FBI director concerning his claim of being wiretapped by President Barack Obama. Or the stunning rejection of his central campaign promise by elements of his own party. Or his stunning ignorance of the basics of policy and leadership.

 What we have here is a stunning set of enablers that will basically bring the country down as long as they can push their ChristoFascist and kleptocratic, science denying agenda of hate through.  Their black, crusted over souls have been sold for a SCOTUS appointment and the denial of reproductive health care to women, the maintenance of a racist police state and justice system, and bigoted hate-filled interpretation of the rantings of an angry Iron Age Sky Fairy.

Somebody better save this country before there is nothing left of it to save.

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Tuesday Reads

AP photo of Assassination of russian ambassador in Turkey

AP photo of Assassination of russian ambassador in Turkey

So . . . It’s Tuesday

As usual these days, the news is not good. tRump will be POTUS in one month, and it’s very hard to imagine how our country survives as a democratic republic. All I can do is cling to hope that something will prevent this monster from becoming Hitler 2.0. It also looks like instability is going to keep rising around the world, and that too is a reaction to tRump–either directly or indirectly.

I’m also dealing with my housing situation and I’m basically paralyzed with fear and anxiety. I can’t recall the last time I felt so overwhelmed. It was probably back when I was at the worst of my drinking. I’m trying my best to focus on one day at a time, but it’s not easy.  I am going to move into the apartment I told you about, but the money I will have to live on is going to be more limited than it was for me where I am now. I’m feeling a lot of shame about being so poor. But I really have no choice about doing this. I will have to be very careful about what I spend on food. I’m feeling so emotional right now; I keep crying out of the blue. I guess it is the shock of having to move after all these years and not really knowing how I’m going to manage it.

Anyway, sorry to burden you all with my problems. Since I already shared what is happening, I felt I had to provide an update. I hope in time, I’ll be feeling a lot better about all this. This will be mostly a link dump, because I have to go sign my lease and deal with other stuff today.

The events that took place yesterday in Turkey and Germany are incredibly disturbing, because we will have an insane POTUS dealing with these kinds of attacks. And that follows on the incident with China a few days ago which was very likely a response to tRump’s foolish phone call with Taiwan and his ridiculous twitter comments. Here’s the latest.

The Washington Post: An assassination and a gunman’s final words put Turkey on edge.

A team of Russian detectives arrived in Turkey on Tuesday to join the investigation into the slaying of Moscow’s ambassador by a Turkish police officer — an act portrayed by both countries as an effort to rupture a rapprochement between the two regional powers backing opposite sides in Syria’s civil war.

The attack Monday also touched off sweeps across Turkey as authorities hunted for clues in the life of the 22-year-old gunman, who decried the violence in Syria after pumping several bullets into the ambassador at a photo exhibit.

Russia is a key ally of Syria’s government while Turkey has been a stalwart backer of rebel factions, although both nations have worked together on a plan to evacuate civilians and opposition fighters from their last enclave in the embattled Syrian city of Aleppo.

Officer Mevlut Mert Altintas gunned down Ambassador Andrei Karlov as the diplomat spoke before an exhibition of Russian photos at an art gallery in the Turkish capital of Ankara.

After killing the ambassador, Altintas, an officer with the riot police, denounced Russia’s role in the Syrian war, screaming: “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!” He was later killed in a gun battle with the police.

Truck plows into crowded Christmas market in Berlin

Truck plows into crowded Christmas market in Berlin

NBC News: Berlin Truck Attack: Pakistan Migrant Is Christmas Market Suspect.

BERLIN — A migrant from Pakistan was identified Tuesday as a suspect in a truck attack on a crowded Christmas market in Germany’s capital, but police said it was still unclear if he was the main perpetrator.

The man was arrested not far from the scene of Monday night’s carnage, which left 12 people dead and wounded nearly 50 others.

He entered the country last year and had applied for asylum, Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere said, adding that other people may be involved.

The suspect in custody has denied responsibility.

Berlin police chief Klaus Kandt told reporters: “We are not sure if the suspect in custody is the right man … in fact, in my view it is still not certain whether he really was the driver.”

A temporary accommodation center for migrants was raided overnight by special operations police, but no further arrests were made.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has faced political pressure over open-arms policy for refugees, earlier said it would be “hard for us all to bear” if the perpetrator “was someone who sought protection and asylum.”

Of course tRump will see this as ammunition for his war against immigrants.

On the corruption front, tRump’s conflicts of interest get worse and more frightening by the day.

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Think Progress: Under political pressure, Kuwait cancels major event at Four Seasons, switches to Trump’s D.C. hotel.

The Embassy of Kuwait allegedly cancelled a contract with a Washington, D.C. hotel days after the presidential election, citing political pressure to hold its National Day celebration at the Trump International Hotel instead.

A source tells ThinkProgress that the Kuwaiti embassy, which has regularly held the event at the Four Seasons in Georgetown, abruptly canceled its reservation after members of the Trump Organization pressured the ambassador to hold the event at the hotel owned by the president-elect. The source, who has direct knowledge of the arrangements between the hotels and the embassy, spoke to ThinkProgress on the condition of anonymity because the individual was not authorized to speak publicly. ThinkProgress was also able to review documentary evidence confirming the source’s account.

In the early fall, the Kuwaiti Embassy signed a contract with the Four Seasons. But after the election, members of the Trump Organization contacted the Ambassador of Kuwait, Salem Al-Sabah, and encouraged him to move his event to Trump’s D.C. hotel, the source said.

Kuwait has now signed a contract with the Trump International Hotel, the source said, adding that a representative with the embassy described the decision as political. Invitations to the event are typically sent out in January….

The apparent move by the Kuwaiti Embassy appears to be an effort to gain favor with president-elect through his business entanglements, and it appears to show Trump’s company leveraging his position as president-elect to extract payments from a foreign government. The latter, according to top legal experts, would be unconstitutional and could ultimately constitute an impeachable offense.

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NPR Morning Edition: Trump’s Doral Golf Course Highlights His Conflicts Of Interest.

President-elect Donald Trump has financial stakes in hundreds of companies. But one line of business is particularly important to him: golf courses.

He owns more than a dozen courses, which provide the Trump Organization with major streams of revenue and bolster his “luxury” brand image.

But they also created conflicts of interest. As president, he will be able to steer environmental and labor policies that could boost the income from his golf courses.

Take Trump National Doral. It’s a huge luxury resort near Miami, and it provides a good example of how Trump’s role as president and as businessman will come into conflict….

But at Doral, and for clubs and golf courses around the country, new labor regulations promoted by the Obama administration are having an impact on how they do business. And many course owners aren’t happy.

Brad Steele explains why. He’s the general counsel with the National Club Association, a trade group that represents country clubs and golf courses. Steele says the recession was tough on golf courses, and the recovery hasn’t been easy. “The last eight years have been relatively difficult for… the private club industry,” he says.

Among the labor rules Steele and his members are most concerned about is one that greatly expands the number of workers eligible for overtime pay. It’s been criticized by business groups and Republicans in Congress, and was recently put on hold by a federal judge.

It’s a rule that Steele thinks will be targeted by the new administration. “We are excited that now there’ll be an administration that starts to look a little more … critically at the impact that these kinds of things can have on business,” he says.

Read the rest at the link.

And then there are the gobsmacking cabinet appointments.

mike-mulvaney-ap-640x480

Catherine Rampell at The Washington Post: Trump’s OMB pick seems poised to ignite a worldwide financial crisis.

Over the weekend, President-elect Donald Trump tapped Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) to be his director of the Office of Management and Budget. This Cabinet-level post is responsible for producing the federal budget, overseeing and evaluating executive branch agencies and otherwise advising the president on fiscal matters. It’s a position with tremendous, far-reaching power, even if the public doesn’t pay much attention to it.

Which is why it’s so concerning that Trump chose Mulvaney, who seems poised to help Trump ignite another worldwide financial crisis.

Mulvaney was first elected to Congress in 2010 as part of the anti-government, tea party wave. A founding member of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, he is among Congress’s most committed fiscal hawks. He has repeatedly voted against his own party’s budget proposals because they were insufficiently conservative.

All this will presumably put him at odds with Trump’s plans to balloon federal deficits through a $7 trillion cut in individual and corporate income taxes, another half-trillion in infrastructure subsidies and other major spending expansions.

It’s unclear how Trump’s fiscally profligate platform meshes with Mulvaney’s preference for penny-pinching. He might push back on Trump’s most expensive ideas. Maybe he’ll employ accounting gimmicks and magic asterisks to force Trump’s numbers to add up. Trump’s campaign advisers have already been doing this, disingenuously claiming that his policies will pay for themselves through unrealistic economic growth.

Or maybe Mulvaney’s job will simply be to convince the rest of the Freedom Caucus to stay mum when deficits explode.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

More news, links only:

Mother Jones: Trump’s Budget Director Pick Spoke at a John Birch Society Event.

Politico: Gingrich: Congress should change ethics laws for Trump.

The Hill: Gingrich suggests Trump pardon advisers who break the law.

Media Matters: Alex Jones Warns Trump That The CIA Is Trying To “Assassinate” The President-Elect.

Talking Points Memo: GOP Rep’s Vision Of Post-ACA World: You Wait To Treat Your Kid’s Broken Arm.

Center for Public Integrity: Donald Trump’s sons behind nonprofit selling access to president-elect.

Haaretz: With Donald Trump, Netanyahu Sees Opportunity for ‘Historic Changes’ for Israel.

What stories are you following today?


Lazy Saturday Reads: #tRump – Bull in a China Shop

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Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening with my brother’s family–they invited me for a birthday dinner and family movie. Unsurprisingly, while I wasn’t paying attention for a few hours the president-elect did massive damage to U.S. foreign policy, overturning decades-long policies on China. And it appears this wasn’t about policy but about enriching the #tRump family business.

Ann Gearan at The Washington Post: Trump speaks with Taiwanese president, a major break with decades of U.S. policy on China

President-elect Donald Trump spoke Friday with Taiwan’s president, a major departure from decades of U.S. policy in Asia and a breach of diplomatic protocol with ramifications for the incoming president’s relations with China.

The call is the first known contact between a U.S. president or president-elect with a Taiwanese leader since before the United States broke diplomatic relations with the island in 1979. China considers Taiwan a province, and news of the official outreach by Trump is likely to infuriate the regional military and economic power.

The exchange is one of a string of unorthodox conversations with foreign leaders that Trump has held since his election. It comes at a particularly tense time between China and Taiwan, which earlier this year elected a president, ­­­Tsai Ing-wen, who has not endorsed the notion of a unified China. Her election angered Beijing to the point of cutting off all official communication with the island government.

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It is not clear whether Trump intends a more formal shift in U.S. relations with Taiwan or China. On the call, Trump and Tsai congratulated each other on winning their elections, a statement from Trump’s transition office said….

A statement from the Taiwanese president’s office said the call lasted more than 10 minutes and included discussion of economic development and national security, and about “strengthening bilateral relations.”

Trump claimed the call was initiated by Taiwan’s president, but that was a lie, NBC News reports:

BEIJING — A phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwan’s leader that risks damaging relations between the U.S. and China was pre-arranged, a top Taiwanese official told NBC News on Saturday.

Trump — who lambasted China throughout the election campaign and promised to slap 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods — tweeted that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had called him.

“Maintaining good relations with the United States is as important as maintaining good relations across the Taiwan Strait,” Taiwanese presidential spokesman Alex Huang told NBC News. “Both are in line with Taiwan’s national interest.”

He added that the call had not been a surprise.

Apparently the call was carefully planned and scheduled by Trump staffers. It was also reported that bomb-thrower John Bolton was seen at Trump tower yesterday. Could he have helped instigate this?

After the media reported foreign policy experts’ heads exploding, Trump defensively tweeted again.

China was apparently on the phone with the White House right after the news broke, and they have now filed a complaint with the U.S. about this breach of diplomacy. The Guardian:

China has lodged “solemn representations” with the US over a call between the president-elect, Donald Trump, and Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen.

Trump looked to have sparked a potentially damaging diplomatic row with Beijing on Friday after speaking to the Taiwanese president on the telephone….

The US closed its embassy in Taiwan – a democratically ruled island which Beijing regards as a breakaway province – in the late 1970s after the historic rapprochement between Beijing and Washington that stemmed from Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China.

Since then the US has adhered to the “One China” principle, which officially considers the independently governed island to be part of the same single Chinese nation as the mainland.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said in a statement on Saturday: “It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory. The government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing China.”

Geng added: “This is a fact that is generally recognised by the international community.”

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#tRrump is a real bull in a china shop, so to speak. But what was his real goal in talking to Taiwan? Think Progress: Trump’s unusual phone call is great for his business, dangerous for America.

Trump is mixing his business with the presidency. Today was a stark illustration that the combination is extremely dangerous — to Americans and the world.

The Financial Times, citing three sources, reports that Trump called Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan, on Friday. The call is a symbolic breach of the United States’ “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the only government and which has been in place since 1972.

The call will antagonize China and risks “opening up a major diplomatic dispute with China before he has even been inaugurated.”

The incident is raising eyebrows because the Trump Organization, in which Trump plans to maintain ownership as president, is actively seeking new business opportunities in Taiwan. The Shanghaiist reported on the Trump Organization’s interest last month:

A representative from the Trump Organization paid a visit to Taoyuan in September, expressing interest in the city’s Aerotropolis, a large-scale urban development project aimed at capitalizing on Taoyuan’s status as a transport hub for East Asia, Taiwan News reports.With the review process for the Aerotropolis still underway, Taoyuan’s mayor referred to the subject of the meeting as mere investment speculation. Other reports indicate that Eric Trump, the president-elect’s second son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, will be coming to Taoyuan later this year to discuss the potential business opportunity.

#tRump is trying to turn our country into a wholly owned subsidiary of the #tRump organization.

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In just the past couple of days, Trump has bumbled through bizarre phone calls with Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte. Do you supposed #tRump even knows that China, Pakistan and sworn enemy India have nukes?

The Atlantic: Lessons From Trump’s ‘Fantastic’ Phone Call to Pakistan.

This week, the U.S. president-elect spoke with the Pakistani prime minister and, according to the Pakistani government’s account of the conversation, delivered the following message: Everything is awesome. It was, arguably, the most surprising presidential phone call since George H.W. Bush got pranked by that pretend Iranian president.

Pakistan, Donald Trump reportedly told Nawaz Sharif, is a “fantastic” country full of “fantastic” people that he “would love” to visit as president. Sharif was described as “terrific.” Pakistanis “are one of the most intelligent people,” Trump allegedly added. “I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.” ….

Like their problems with India?

It’s unclear how accurate the Pakistani government’s record of the discussion is, though the language does have a Trumpian ring to it (Trump’s transition team released a much more subdued summary of the call). But what’s surprising about the account is how disconnected it is from the current state of affairs. Everything is not awesome in U.S.-Pakistan relations. The two countries are the bitterest of friends. They have long clashed over the haven that terrorist groups have found in Pakistan and over U.S. efforts, including drone strikes and the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, to kill those terrorists. Pakistan, a nation with a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, is the archenemy of India, another nuclear-armed state and a critical U.S. ally. U.S. officials see Pakistan—with its weak political institutions and suspected government support for militant groups in Afghanistan and the contested territory of Kashmir—as an alarming source of regional instability. The suspicion is mutual: Just a fifth of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the United States. Trump himself has argued that Pakistan “is probably the most dangerous” country in the world, and that India needs to serve as “the check” to it.

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The reports also provoked a caustic response from the Indian government, which opposes U.S. mediation in its border dispute with Pakistan. “We look forward to the president-elect helping Pakistan address the most outstanding of its outstanding issues: terrorism,” a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs said. And, ultimately, they forced Pakistani officials to backpedal after initially publicizing the conversation. “Our relationship with the United States is not about personalities—it is about institutions,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified. In other words, a brief, breezy conversation had real reverberations on the subcontinent.One lesson of the phone call is that words matter, especially in international relations where information is patchy, things get lost in translation, rhetoric is often interpreted as policy, and a government’s credibility is only as good as its word. (Think of all the people in the United States puzzling over what policies Trump will pursue as president; now imagine trying to do that from Islamabad or New Delhi.)

 

And now Pakistan is sending an envoy to meet with the #tRump bumblers. The Indian Express reports:

Pakistan has decided to send an envoy to the US to hold meetings with Donald Trump’s transition team, two days after a “productive” telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the President-elect. Pakistani Prime Minister’s special assistant for foreign affairs Tariq Fatemi will visit the US this weekend to meet officials of the Trump transition team.

Fatemi’s meeting with officials of Trump transition team was confirmed by Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US. “Besides meeting members of the transition team, Fatemi will meet officials of the outgoing Obama administration,” said Jilani.

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Huffington Post: Donald Trump Praises Philippines Deadly Drug War And Invites Leader To White House.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump praised Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte for his war on drugs that has left thousands dead, Duterte said on Saturday after the two held a phone conversation in which Trump also invited Duterte the White House.

“He was quite sensitive also to our worry about drugs. And he wishes me well … in my campaign and he said that … we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Duterte said in a statement. Duterte has conducted a severe crackdown on drugs in the country, where police and vigilante groups have killed thousands.

Trump’s brief chat with the firebrand Philippine president follows a period of uncertainty about one of Washington’s most important Asian alliances, stoked by Duterte’s hostility towards President Barack Obama and repeated threats to sever decades-old defense ties.

The call lasted just over seven minutes, Duterte’s special advisor, Christopher Go, said in a text message to media, which gave few details. Trump’s transition team had no immediate comment.

So #tRump is on the record supporting mass murder now. Awesome.

Two more links to check out:

The New York Times: How Trump’s Calls to World Leaders Are Upsetting Decades of Diplomacy.

The Washington Post: Donald Trump keeps confirming fears about his diplomatic skills.

Isn’t there anyone who can do something about this monster before he destroys our country and/or blows up the world? We are so screwed.

What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: What Do We Do Now?

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Good Afternoon!!

I’m feeling even more confused than ever today. I hope I can think clearly enough to get some kind of post up. I can’t say I’m surprised, but it appears that Congressional Democrats have decided to try to “work with” incoming POTUS Trump.

NYT: Senate Democrats’ Surprising Strategy: Trying to Align With Trump.

Congressional Democrats, divided and struggling for a path from the electoral wilderness, are constructing an agenda to align with many proposals of President-elect Donald J. Trump that put him at odds with his own party.

On infrastructure spending, child tax credits, paid maternity leave and dismantling trade agreements, Democrats are looking for ways they can work with Mr. Trump and force Republican leaders to choose between their new president and their small-government, free-market principles. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, elected Wednesday as the new Democratic minority leader, has spoken with Mr. Trump several times, and Democrats in coming weeks plan to announce populist economic and ethics initiatives they think Mr. Trump might like.

Democrats, who lost the White House and made only nominal gains in the House and Senate, face a profound decision after last week’s stunning defeat: Make common cause where they can with Mr. Trump to try to win back the white, working-class voters he took from them, or resist at every turn, trying to rally their disparate coalition in hopes that discontent with an ineffectual new president will benefit them in 2018.

Mr. Trump campaigned on some issues that Democrats have long championed and Republicans resisted: spending more on roads, bridges and rail, punishing American companies that move jobs overseas, ending a lucrative tax break for hedge fund and private equity titans, and making paid maternity leave mandatory.

Some Democrats are even co-opting Mr. Trump’s language from the campaign. “Every single person in our caucus agrees the system is rigged,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan.

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That’s just great. Trump’s infrastructure plan is nothing but an attempt to enrich himself with government funds, Ivanka Trump’s child care proposal will benefit only the wealthiest families who itemize their taxes, and Trump’s plan to install tariffs on foreign imports would bankrupt all of us. Not to mention the fact that Trump is reportedly considering a “Muslim registry” and quickly deporting or “incarcerating” up to 3 million immigrants.

And this garbage about winning back the white working class is hopeless and sickening. Without the support of people of color, the Democratic Party is history. The white working class men who supported Trump want to hold onto their white privilege a lot more than they worry about economic inequality. But the media and quite a few Democrats are focused on regaining the Reagan Democrats.

Joshua Holland at Rolling Stone: Stop Obsessing Over White Working-Class Voters.

Amid a spate of brutal hate crimes against people of color – with Muslim women shedding their hijabs to avoid random attacks, and the word “nigger” making an ugly resurgence in our discourse – the political press appears to have coalesced around the idea that we really need to understand the pain felt by the white people who elected Donald Trump.

It’s clear that white working-class voters in the Rust Belt provided Trump with a razor-thin margin of victory in the Electoral College, despite losing the popular vote by historic margins. The data show that Trump won a number of Midwestern counties with lots of blue-collar whites that went for Obama in 2012, in some cases by large margins.

But how we interpret that data has important ramifications for how the Democratic Party moves forward. If, as a New York Timesheadline blares, Trump’s win was in large part a result of non-college educated white voters who supported Obama in 2012 defecting to the Republicans – perhaps for good – then the logical conclusion is that Democrats have to reach out to this group specifically or face the prospect of future losses. And that means speaking not only to their economic anxiety, but also appealing to their cultural and social grievances. It might mean, for example, moderating the party’s support for gun safety measures, which are an important wedge issue for many rural white people in those key states Trump flipped. The last time the party decided to chase blue-collar “Reagan Democrats,” it resulted in Bill Clinton’s push for welfare reform.

If, on the other hand, Trump energized just enough Republican-leaners who stayed home in 2012, and Hillary Clinton failed to turn out just enough Democratic partisans, then we can attribute this disaster to factors that aren’t specific to this group. It may be that she was an unpopular candidate who faced a perfect storm of media coverage tainted by a tendency toward false equivalence, hackers releasing her campaign’s internal emails, a clumsy intervention by FBI Director James Comey and latent misogyny – all of that while running against a celebrity who dominated nearly every news cycle. If that’s the case, then the solution, whatever it is, should be the same for blue-collar white Democrats as it is for Democrats in general – running a better candidate who’s more focused on a progressive economic agenda, for instance – and we shouldn’t indulge in a lot of handwringing over this one group of white people.

Based on what we now know, there’s good reason to believe this last analysis is the correct one.

Please go read the rest.

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It seems to me that a better project for Congressional Democats would be to investigate the Russian influence on our election and on the man who will be POTUS. There are a few who are interested in doing that.

David Corn at Mother Jones: Senior House Democrat Calls for Congressional Probe of Russian Meddling in 2016 Election.

On Tuesday, the chief of the National Security Agency, Admiral Michael Rogers, said a “nation-state”—meaning Russia—had intervened in the 2016 elections “to achieve a specific effect.” He was referring to the hacking of Democratic targets and the release of the stolen information via WikiLeaks. And on Wednesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) called for a congressional investigation of Russian meddling in the campaign. On Thursday, the call for a Capitol Hill inquiry gathered momentum, with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House government oversight committee, publicly urging the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), to launch such a probe.

In a letter sent to Chaffetz and released publicly, Cummings noted that he and Chaffetz had discussed opening such an investigation on Wednesday and that Chaffetz had told him he was “open to considering such an investigation” but wanted Cummings to “show the evidence” that Russia had tried to influence the election. Cummings did so in this letter, citing Rogers’ statement. Cummings also pointed to a statement issued on October 7 by the Office of Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security, which said, “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from US persons and institutions, including from US political organizations. The recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow—the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europe and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.”

Read the full letter at Mother Jones.

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CNN: GOP senator: Investigate Russia.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and one of the chamber’s most experienced foreign policy hands, said the attempt by a foreign country to interfere with the US voting process needs better understanding and a vigorous response.

“Assuming for a moment that we do believe that the Russian government was controlling outside organizations that hacked into our election, they should be punished,” Graham told reporters Tuesday. Referring to Russian President Vladimir Putin, Graham added that, “Putin should be punished.”

Graham, who wants the hearings to examine all Russia’s “misadventures throughout the world,” has the support of colleagues on both sides of the aisle. As other Republicans issued warnings about Russian activities, the hearings could become a source of tension between the GOP and the new President.

“You could see, going forward, a Congress that’s really at loggerheads with the White House on policy toward Russia,” said Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University.

More at the link.

The biggest piece of news this morning IMO is that DNI James Clapper has announced his resignation. He’s not going work with Trump on the transition.

We’ll have to wait to see why Clapper resigned, but I have to wonder if it has anything to do with the apparent war between the FBI and the Intelligence community that has been the backdrop to this election. Once he out of the government, Clapper would have more ability to speak out publicly (or leak privately) about what has been going on behind the scenes.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll just give you two more links to check out.

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Joshua Foust: This Is Not Normal.

About the nicest thing you can say about President Trump’s incoming administration is that it is without precedent. But there is another way of looking at it: it is not normal.

Normal, you might argue, is a bad thing when people are hurting. In fact, there is enough polling about why people voted for Trump to suggest that a vague “need for change” was a powerful motivator. Though opinions about what needed to change varied widely — from economic issues to vague fears of a wrong direction to naked white supremacy — the fact is enough Americans did not want a “third term” for Obama and voted the Democrats out of power. (That many did so apparently uncaring about the consequences for minorities is its own, separate discussion.) ….

“Normal,” as a concept, matters. The old adage that it is just the setting on a dryer is not just wrong but misleading. When something is abnormal it is important to understand why. If a person is not normal they could be brilliant or they could be sick, and knowing the difference is the distance between life and death. In politics, too, there is normal and there is abnormal. An insurgent candidate swinging a party or the country right or left is normal — Marco Rubio winning the GOP nomination and the general election would have been normal, for example. But Donald Trump is not normal. In fact, the things he represents, the decisions he has made and is continuing to make, and the entourage he has surrounded himself with, are not normal. They are so abnormal that they look like the opening stages of authoritarianism — something those of us steeped in the study of authoritarian countries recognize like a flashing light at a railroad crossing.

The one thing authoritarians want you to do is to accept that their conduct is normal, even when it is not. They do not want you to yearn for a freer, less oppressive and less corrupt time, and they do not want you to think it odd when, say, a government agency is purged or a bunch of protesters are arrested and vanish into the prisons without ever seeing trial. They want you to think it is normal when the President is openly selling your interests out to a foreign power, or when he is using the levers of government to materially enrich and empower his family. The presumption of normality during abnormal times is one of the most powerful weapons the authoritarian has, and that is why it is so important to recognize how profoundly abnormal Donald J. Trump will be as president. So I assembled a list.

Please go to the link and read the list ASAP.

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Matthew Yglesias’s hair is on fire: We have 100 days to stop Donald Trump from systemically corrupting our institutions.

The country has entered a dangerous period. The president-elect is the least qualified man to ever hold high office. He also operated the least transparent campaign of the modern era. He gave succor and voice to bigoted elements on a scale not seen in two generations. He openly praised dictators — not as allies but as dictators — and threatened to use the powers of his office to discipline the media.

He also has a long history of corrupt behavior, and his business holdings pose staggering conflicts of interest that are exacerbated by his lack of financial disclosure. But while most journalists and members of the opposition party think they understand the threat of Trump-era corruption, they are in fact drastically underestimating it. When we talk about corruption in the modern United States, we have in mind what Andrei Shleifer and Robert Vishny define as “the sale by government officials of government property for personal gain.”

This is the classic worry about campaign contributions or revolving doors — the fear that wealthy interests can give money to public officials and in exchange receive favorable treatment from the political system. But in a classic essay on “The Concept of Systemic Corruption in American History,” the economist John Joseph Wallis reminds us that in the Revolutionary Era and during the founding of the republic, Americans worried about something different. Not the venal corruption we are accustomed to thinking about, but what he calls systemic corruption. He writes that 18th-century thinkers “worried much more that the king and his ministers were manipulating grants of economic privileges to secure political support for a corrupt and unconstitutional usurpation of government powers.”

We are used to corruption in which the rich buy political favor. What we need to learn to fear is corruption in which political favor becomes the primary driver of economic success….

This is how Vladimir Putin governs Russia, and how the Mubarak/Sisi regime rules Egypt. To be a successful businessman in a systemically corrupt regime and to be a close supporter of the regime are one and the same thing.

Those who support the regime will receive favorable treatment from regulators, and those who oppose it will not. Because businesses do business with each other, the network becomes self-reinforcing. Regime-friendly banks receive a light regulatory touch while their rivals are crushed. In exchange, they offer friendly lending terms to regime-friendly businesses while choking capital to rivals. Such a system, once in place, is extremely difficult to dislodge precisely because, unlike a fascist or communist regime, it is glued together by no ideology beyond basic human greed, insecurity, and love of family.

All is not lost, but the situation is genuinely quite grave. As attention focuses on transition gossip and congressional machinations, it’s important not to let our eyes off the ball. It is entirely possible that eight years from now we’ll be looking at an entrenched kleptocracy preparing to install a chosen successor whose only real mission is to preserve the web of parasitical oligarchy that has replaced the federal government as we know it. One can, of course, always hope that the worst does not come to pass. But hope is not a plan. And while the impulse to “wait and see” what really happens is understandable, the cold, hard reality is that the most crucial decisions will be the early ones.

I’ve quoted more than I should, but this is vitally important. Now please head on over to Vox and read the rest.

Post your thoughts and links in the comment thread. I’ll be adding more too. Take care Sky Dancers.


Monday Reads

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Good Morning!!

 

Things are not going well in Iraq, to put it mildly. John Kerry arrived in Iraq this morning and is currently meeting with Iraqi leaders, according to CNN: John Kerry holds talks in Iraq as more cities fall to ISIS militants.

Baghdad, Iraq (CNN) — As radical Sunni militants snatch city after city in their march toward Baghdad, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Iraq on Monday during the country’s tensest time since the U.S. withdrawal of troops in 2011.

Kerry is meeting with Iraqi leaders. He met Monday with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, the man who some observers say needs to step down.

With al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government losing more ground to militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, Kerry has implored the leader to rise above “sectarian motivations” to become more inclusive and make the government more representative of Iraq’s population.

“I’m here to convey to you President Obama’s and the American people’s commitment to help Iraq,” Kerry said when greeting Iraq’s speaker of parliament, Osama al-Nujayfi. “The principal concern is the integrity of the country, its borders, its sovereignty,” he said. ISIS “is a threat to all of us.”

Kerry will also meet with Iraq’s foreign minister as well as Shiite and Sunni leaders.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet at the Prime Minister's Office in Baghdad. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and US Secretary of State John Kerry meet at the Prime Minister’s Office in Baghdad. Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

The discussions with the Maliki government are not likely to be particularly congenial. According to NPR:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Baghdad on Monday to personally urge the Shiite-led government to give more power to political opponents before a Sunni insurgency seizes more control across the country and sweeps away hopes for lasting peace.

The meeting scheduled between Kerry and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki was not expected to be friendly, given that officials in Washington have floated suggestions that the Iraqi premier should resign as a necessary first step toward quelling the vicious uprising. Nor will it likely bring any immediate, tangible results, as al-Maliki has shown no sign of leaving and Iraqi officials have long listened to — but ultimately ignored — U.S. advice to avoid appearing controlled by the decade-old specter of an American occupation in Baghdad.

Still, having suffered together through more than eight years of war — which killed nearly 4,500 American troops and more than 100,000 Iraqis — the two wary allies are unwilling to turn away from the very real prospect of the Mideast nation falling into a fresh bout of sectarian strife.

“This is a critical moment where, together, we must urge Iraq’s leaders to rise above sectarian motivations and form a government that is united in its determination to meet the needs and speak to the demands of all of their people,” Kerry said a day earlier in Cairo. He was there in part to meet with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to and discuss a regional solution to end the bloodshed by the insurgent Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL.

Good luck with that. I wish Hillary were still in charge at State.

From Jay Solomon at The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Faces Opposing Regional Interests in Bid to Blunt Insurgency in Iraq.

AMMAN, Jordan—As the Obama administration’s top diplomat arrived in the Middle East to gather support to blunt a Sunni insurgency in Iraq, the U.S. was colliding with the region’s ethnic, tribal and sectarian divisions.

Deep gaps between U.S. and Arab views over the crisis have grown more obvious in recent days, say American and regional officials, hampering Washington’s response to the onslaught by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, or ISIS, which this month seized control of territories straddling Iraq and Syria.

The task gained new urgency on Sunday when ISIS swept through new Iraq towns and overran two border crossings with Jordan and Syria, blocking the Iraqi government’s access to its western frontier, security officials said.

President Barack Obama raised the stakes on Sunday, telling CBS News that ISIS threatens American interests if it turns to global terrorism, two days after he announced plans to send U.S. military advisers and supplies to Iraq and called for a new, more inclusive government in Baghdad.

The crisis in Iraq has exposed contradictions in traditional Mideast alliances, in some ways placing the U.S. alongside its sworn enemy, Shiite-ruled Iran, in a joint effort to halt ISIS, while in other ways putting Washington at odds with longtime Sunni allies in the Persian Gulf, who want to weaken Iran’s sway over Iraq.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei in 2009

Meanwhile, yesterday, according to Reuters:

Iran’s supreme leader accused the United States on Sunday of trying to retake control of Iraq by exploiting sectarian rivalries, as Sunni insurgents drove towards Baghdad from new strongholds along the Syrian border.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s condemnation of U.S. action came three days after President Barack Obama offered to send 300 military advisers to help the Iraqi government. Khamenei may want to block any U.S. choice of a new prime minister after grumbling in Washington about Shi’ite premier Nuri al-Maliki.

The supreme leader did not mention the Iranian president’s recent suggestion of cooperation with Shi’ite Tehran’s old U.S. adversary in defense of their mutual ally in Baghdad.

On Sunday, militants overran a second frontier post on the Syrian border, extending two weeks of swift territorial gains as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) pursues the goal of its own power base, a “caliphate” straddling both countries that has raised alarm across the Middle East and in the West.

“We are strongly opposed to U.S. and other intervention in Iraq,” IRNA news agency quoted Khamenei as saying. “We don’t approve of it as we believe the Iraqi government, nation and religious authorities are capable of ending the sedition.”

Will we ever be rid of these insane wars started by Dick Cheney and his puppet George W. Bush? At least Bush has the decency to keep quiet, but Cheney just won’t shut up even though he has no answers for the current crisis. From Raw Story: Dick Cheney doesn’t ‘intend any disrespect’ by suggesting Obama ‘guilty of treason’

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday insisted that he did not “intend any disrespect” when he suggested that President Barack Obama was guilty of treason by trying to undermine the United States before leaving office.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week, Cheney — and his daughter Liz — said that the president was “determined to leave office ensuring he has taken America down a notch.”

He went on to suggest that Obama was a “fool” if he intended to work with Iran to prevent violence in Iraq.

“In this op-ed, you suggest the president is a fool,” ABC’s Jonathan Karl pointed out during a Sunday interview with Cheney. “That is the word you used, ‘only a fool would take the approach he’s taking in Iraq right now.’”

“It almost seems like you’re accusing the president of treason, that he’s intentionally bringing America ‘down a notch,’” Karl noted.

Cheney did not deny that he had accused the commander-in-chief of the United States of treason, but he insisted that he had not just called Obama a “fool” over the violence in Iraq.

“It referred to the fact that we’ve left a big vacuum in the Middle East by our withdrawal from Iraq with a no stay-behind agreement,” the former vice president said. “By the commitment that he made just a few weeks ago, that we are going to completely withdraw from Afghanistan with a no stay-behind agreement.”

See also, Dick Cheney’s amazing chutzpah on Iraq, by Paul Waldman (CNN)

Cheney needs to STFU and go on a hunting trip or something. Maybe he could take Tony Scalia with him.

 

In other news . . .

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Right wing nut and birther Ed Klein has a new Hillary hate book out, and the New York Post has been publishing laughable excerpts. The trouble is, the wingnuts will believe the lies and the media won’t counter them. Be sure to read what Joseph Cannon has to say about the De-KLEIN of journalism.

Why does anyone still print or read right-wing pseudojournalist Edward Klein?

A while back, this fictioneer published a book alleging a lesbian relationship between Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin — a work which one critic called “the sleaziest, most derivative, most despicable political biography ever.” Klein’s revelations always come from anonymous “informants” — one of whom, I’ve heard, is Slender Man.

Klein has a new book out and the NY Post is pushing it, even though the folks running the NY Post must know that they’re peddling garbage….

Anyone who takes this nonsense seriously must also believe that wrestling is real. Nevertheless, the right-wing propagandists are pretending to accept Klein’s work at face value. (See also here, especially the telling piece of “Hildebeest” research.)

This is a horrible story from the AP via Fox News: Researchers discover mass graves with bodies of immigrants in South Texas cemetery.

Volunteer researchers have uncovered mass graves in a South Texas cemetery that they believe contain the bodies of immigrants who died crossing into the U.S. illegally, according to published reports Saturday.

The discovery at Sacred Heart Burial Park in Falfurrias came in the last two weeks, as Baylor University anthropologist Lori Baker and Krista Latham, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Indianapolis, and their students worked as part of a multi-year effort to identify immigrants who’ve died in the area near the U.S.-Mexico border.

Teams unearthed remains in trash bags, shopping bags, body bags or without a container at all, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times (http://bit.ly/1qqH7CZ ). In one burial, bones of three bodies were inside one body bag. In another, at least five people in body bags and smaller plastic bags were piled on top of each other. Skulls also were found in biohazard bags placed between coffins.

They exhumed 110 unidentified people from the cemetery in 2013. This summer, researchers have performed 52 exhumations, but because some remains were stored together, further study will be needed to determine exactly how many bodies have been recovered, Baker said.

These people just suddenly dropped dead as they crossed the border? Apparently this is the work of a local funeral home, Funeraria del Angel Howard-Williams, which the state has been paying $450 each to deal with bodies of immigrants that have been discovered all over Texas. The funeral home has been paid for this service for at least 16 and as long as 22 years! Were there any autopsies? Did anyone determine whether any of these deaths were homicides?

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We haven’t heard much about Bowe Bergdhal lately. Via The Boston Globe, the AP reports this morning that he has been “Shifted to Outpatient Care.”

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been a prisoner of war in Afghanistan for five years, has been shifted to outpatient care at a Texas military base, the U.S. Army said in a statement Sunday.

Bergdahl, 28, had been receiving inpatient treatment at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston. He is now receiving outpatient care on the base in San Antonio, according to the statement. The Army said his ‘‘reintegration process’’ is proceeding with exposure to more people and a gradual increase in social interaction.

He arrived at the Texas medical center on June 13 after nearly two weeks recuperating at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. Army officials said then that Bergdahl was in stable condition and was working daily with health care providers to regain a sense of normalcy and move forward with his life.

The Army statement Sunday said Bergdahl is receiving counseling from ‘‘Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape’’ psychologists’’ to ‘‘continue to ensure he progresses to the point where he can return to duty.’’

The Army said specifics of Bergdahl’s location would not be made public.

That’s it for me for today, except that I’ve become a World cup fan and I might even watch some of the games the US team isn’t participating in. Ralph’s enthusiasm has sucked me in!

What stories are you following today? Please let us know in the comment thread.