Lazy Caturday Reads

Pierre Bonnard and his cat

Artist Pierre Bonnard and his cat

Happy Caturday!!

Today’s top story is the Democrats’ historic climate/health-care/tax bill.

The bill can be passed through reconciliation, after the Senate parliamentarian approved most of the bill’s provisions. One portion of the Medicare drug portion of the bill was disallowed.

The Guardian: Senate Democrats given green light to vote on $430bn climate and tax bill.

US Senate Democrats on Saturday were set to push ahead on a bill that would address key elements of President Joe Biden’s agenda, tackling climate change, lowering the cost of energy and senior citizens’ drugs and forcing the wealthy to pay more taxes.

A Senate rulemaker determined that the lion’s share of the $430bn bill could be passed with only a simple majority, bypassing a filibuster rule requiring 60 votes in the 100-seat chamber to advance most legislation and enabling Democrats to pass it over Republican objections, majority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement….

“Democrats have received extremely good news,” Schumer said in the statement. “Medicare will finally be allowed to negotiate drug prices … This is a major victory for the American people.“ [….]

There are three main parts to the bill: a 15% minimum tax on corporations, tougher IRS enforcement and a new excise tax on stock buybacks. The legislation has $430 billion in new spending along with raising more than $740 billion in new revenues.

Beside billions of dollars to encourage the production and purchase of more electric vehicles and foster clean energy, the bill would set $4 billion in new federal drought relief funds. The latter is a move that could help the re-election campaigns of Democratic Senators Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Mark Kelly in Arizona….

One provision cut from the bill would have forced drug companies to refund money to both government and private health plans if drug prices rise more quickly than inflation. The Senate arbiter, known as the parliamentarian, ruled that measure could not apply to private industry.

Frida Kahlo's cat feeling shunned as she cuddles a monkey

Frida Kahlo’s cat feeling shunned as she cuddles a monkey

Before they can vote on the bill, Democrats will have to endure a “vote-a-rama,” in which Republicans will try to weaken the bill with votes on proposed amendments. They may also face a fight with good old Bernie Sanders.

USA Today: Senate preps for grueling weekend ‘vote-a-rama’ as Democrats push sweeping climate, health care bill.

In a vote-a-rama, senators can offer up an unlimited amount of amendments to a bill but the process is expedited.

There is only one minute allocated for debate, equally divided between both sides. Then, senators are given 10 minutes to vote. This process repeats for every single amendment.

In a vote-a-rama, senators can offer up an unlimited amount of amendments to a bill but the process is expedited.

There is only one minute allocated for debate, equally divided between both sides. Then, senators are given 10 minutes to vote. This process repeats for every single amendment.

The last time the Senate held a vote-a-rama was when it adopted a budget resolution for fiscal year 2022 last August. Senators offered up 43 amendments for a vote, leading to a session that lasted around 14 hours.  

What’s the point of this nonsense?

Most amendments are expected to come from Republicans, who are furious over the deal which was negotiated without their input.

Republican-proposed amendments are expected to fail. But the vote-a-rama will allow Republicans to make Democrats vote on tough issues that could be used for ads on the campaign trail this fall.

The deal also incited the anger of some on the left, who have criticized the bill’s investment in new fossil fuel development – likely due to the importance natural gas and coal are to the economy of Manchin’s home state.

Progressive Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on the Senate floor Wednesday,urged lawmakers “to do everything possible to take on the greed of the fossil fuel industry,” and promised to offer an amendment nixing fossil fuel investments in the bill.

Sanders’ amendment is expected to fail as the bill is contingent on Manchin’s support.

Senate rules are truly insane.

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White with her kitten in 1944

Photographer Margaret Bourke-White with her kitten in 1944

John Nichols at The Nation: Schumer’s Inflation Reduction Act Includes a Smart Tax on Corporations.

The Inflation Reduction Act that is poised for votes in the US Senate is far from perfect. A scaled-down version of the ambitious plans that President Joe Biden and Senate Budget Committee chair Bernie Sanders framed last summer as the “Build Back Better” agenda, it’s the latest step in the series of compromises that’s been referred to as “Build Back Smaller.”

Yet the $740 billion budget reconciliation package  worked out by Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has ambitions that ought not be underestimated—especially as it arrives at a point when many Democrats had given up hope on getting another omnibus bill enacted before the November midterm elections. As it stands now, according to Politico, the measure “would spend $369 billion on energy and climate change, extend Obamacare subsidies through 2024, direct Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs and send an estimated $300 billion to deficit reduction. It would be funded, in part, by a 15 percent corporate minimum tax on big companies and increased IRS enforcement.”

And it looks as if it will include a 1 percent excise tax on stock buybacks, which is actually a very big deal. The tax, which would raise $73 billion for climate and health care initiatives, cracks down on some of the ugliest abuses by multinational corporations.

Read all the details at The Nation.

Also in the news: the fight for women’s personhood as Republicans try to turn women into broodmares.

The Washington Post: Indiana passes near-total abortion ban, the first state to do so post-Roe.

Indiana became the first state in the country after the fall of Roe v. Wade to pass sweeping limits on abortion access, after Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) signed into law Friday a bill that constitutes a near-total ban 0n the procedure.

The Republican-dominated state Senate approved the legislation 28-19 on Friday in a vote that came just hours after it passed Indiana’s lower chamber. The bill, which will go into effect Sept. 15, allows abortion only in cases of rape, incest, lethal fetal abnormality or when the procedure is necessary to prevent severe health risks or death.

Paul Klee with cat Bimbo

Paul Klee with his cat Bimbo

Supporters of abortion rights crowded into the corridors of the Indiana Statehouse throughout the day as lawmakers cast their votes, some holding signs that read “You can only ban safe abortions” and “Abortion is health care.” Moments after the vote, some protesters hugged and others stood stunned before the crowd broke out into chants of “We will not stop.”c

In a statement released after signing the bill, Holcomb said he had “stated clearly” following the overturn of Roe that he would be willing to support antiabortion legislation. He also highlighted the “carefully negotiated” exceptions in the law, which he said address “some of the unthinkable circumstances a woman or unborn child might face.”

Note he said “some of.” There are bound to be many “unthinkable circumstances” that Indiana state legislators are ignorant about.

The vote followed days of testimony from citizens and a debate that grew heated at times. “Sir, I am not a murderer,” state Rep. Renee Pack (D) said in the chamber after state Rep. John Jacob (R), a staunch abortion opponent who wanted exceptions for rape removed, described the procedure as murder.

Abortion rights organizations quickly rebuked Friday’s decision. Alexis McGill Johnson, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said the vote “was cruel and will prove devastating for pregnant people and their families in Indiana and across the whole region.” “Hoosiers didn’t want this,” Johnson said.

In a statement, antiabortion group Indiana Right to Life opposed the exceptions and said the new law did not go far enough in cutting abortion access.

Dana Goldstein at The New York Times writes about what some anti-abortion fanatics are offering as a cruel “solution” to unwanted pregnancies: Drop Box for Babies: Conservatives Promote a Way to Give Up Newborns Anonymously.

The Safe Haven Baby Box at a firehouse in Carmel, Ind., looked like a library book drop. It had been available for three years for anyone who wanted to surrender a baby anonymously.

Ai Weiwei with Lai Lai — one of his 40 cats

Ai Weiwei with Lai Lai — one of his 40 cats

No one had ever used it, though, until early April. When its alarm went off, Victor Andres, a firefighter, opened the box and found, to his disbelief, a newborn boy wrapped in towels.

The discovery made the local TV news, which praised the courage of the mother, calling it “a time for celebration.” Later that month, Mr. Andres pulled another newborn, a girl, from the box. In May, a third baby appeared. By summer, three more infants were left at baby box locations throughout the state.

The baby boxes are part of the safe haven movement, which has long been closely tied to anti-abortion activism. Safe havens offer desperate mothers a way to surrender their newborns anonymously for adoption, and, advocates say, avoid hurting, abandoning or even killing them. The havens can be boxes, which allow parents to avoid speaking to anyone or even being seen when surrendering their babies. More traditionally, the havens are locations such as hospitals and fire stations, where staff members are trained to accept a face-to-face handoff from a parent in crisis.

So a child will never know who her parents are unless they can find a way to locate them through on-line DNA matching.

But for many experts in adoption and women’s health, safe havens are hardly a panacea.

To them, a safe haven surrender is a sign that a woman fell through the cracks of existing systems. They may have concealed their pregnancies and given birth without prenatal care, or they may suffer from domestic violence, drug addiction, homelessness or mental illness.

The adoptions themselves could also be problematic, with women potentially unaware that they are terminating parental rights, and children left with little information about their origins.

Read more at the NYT.

From the great Jane Mayer at The New Yorker: State Legislatures Are Torching Democracy.

As the Supreme Court anticipated when it overturned Roe v. Wade, the battle over abortion rights is now being waged state by state. Nowhere is the fight more intense than in Ohio, which has long been considered a national bellwether. The state helped secure the Presidential victories of Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, then went for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020. Its residents tend to be politically moderate, and polls consistently show that a majority of Ohio voters support legal access to abortion, particularly for victims of rape and incest. Yet, as the recent ordeal of a pregnant ten-year-old rape victim has illustrated, Ohio’s state legislature has become radically out of synch with its constituents. In June, the state’s General Assembly instituted an abortion ban so extreme that the girl was forced to travel to Indiana to terminate her pregnancy. In early July, Dr. Caitlin Bernard, the Indiana obstetrician who treated the child, told me that she had a message for Ohio’s legislature: “This is your fault!”

Gustav Klimt with his cat Katz

Gustav Klimt with his cat Katz

Longtime Ohio politicians have been shocked by the state’s transformation into a center of extremist legislation, not just on abortion but on such divisive issues as guns and transgender rights. Ted Strickland, a Democrat who served as governor between 2007 and 2011, told me, “The legislature is as barbaric, primitive, and Neanderthal as any in the country. It’s really troubling.” When he was governor, he recalled, the two parties worked reasonably well together, but politics in Ohio “has changed.” The story is similar in several other states with reputations for being moderate, such as Wisconsin and Pennsylvania: their legislatures have also begun proposing laws so far to the right that they could never be passed in the U.S. Congress.

Ohio’s law prohibits abortion after six weeks—or even earlier, if doctors can detect fetal cardiac activity—unless the mother is at risk of death or serious permanent injury. Dr. Bernard noted that the bill’s opponents had warned about the proposed restrictions’ potential effect on underage rape victims. “It was literally a hypothetical that was discussed,” she told me. Indeed, at a hearing on April 27th, a Democrat in the Ohio House, Richard Brown, declared that if a thirteen-year-old girl “was raped by a serial rapist . . . this bill would require this thirteen-year-old to carry this felon’s fetus.”

It’s a long read, so please check it out at The New Yorker if you’re interested.

Alex Jones is screwed and I couldn’t be happier.

The Washington Post: Alex Jones ordered to pay $45.2 million more in punitive damages to Sandy Hook parents.

A Texas jury has determined Infowars host Alex Jones must pay the parents of a Sandy Hook school shooting victim $45.2 million in punitive damages. The Friday decision comes a day after the same jury awarded the plaintiffs $4.1 million in compensatory damages, culminating the final phase of a defamation case first brought in 2018 over Jones’s repeated false claims that the deadliest elementary school shooting in U.S. history was a hoax.

Jones was not in court as the jury read the unanimous verdict.

The damages phase of the trial that ended Friday marks the first time Jones, an influential purveyor of far-right conspiracy theories, has faced financial repercussions in court for the outlandish lies he told via his Infowars broadcast about the shooting. Since the early days that followed the 2012 shooting that killed 26 people, including 20 young children, Jones said on his program that “no one died” at Sandy Hook and that the attack was a ruse “staged” by gun-control advocates to manufacture anti-gun sentiment.

In the case brought by Neil Heslin and Scarlett Lewis, the parents of 6-year-old Jesse Lewis, the damages hint at what Jones could face in the months ahead in his additional Sandy Hook defamation cases in Texas and Connecticut.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Suzanne Valadon with her cat

Suzanne Valadon with her cat

Shannon Bond at NPR: How Alex Jones helped mainstream conspiracy theories become part of American life.

Name a traumatic news event in recent decades, and it’s almost certain Alex Jones has claimed it didn’t happen — or not the way you think it did.

The Boston Marathon bombing in 2013? Staged by the FBI.

The shooting of Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords in 2011? A government mind control operation.

The September 11th terrorist attacks? An inside job.

All lies.

The conspiracy theorist and radio host was confronted with his track record of fabulism this week in an Austin, Texas, courtroom. He was on trial to determine how much he should pay for defaming the parents of a first grader killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, after years of falsely claiming that no children died and the families were “crisis actors” in a “giant hoax” designed to take away guns….

Jones got his start in public access broadcasting in Austin, Texas, in the 1990s. From his early days on air, he spouted conspiracy theories about the siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

When his wild claims got him fired from a local radio station, he founded Infowars in 1999 and started broadcasting over the internet and in radio syndication.

After the September 11th attacks, Jones surged to fame as a “truther,” claiming the Bush administration was behind the tragedy.

As his audience grew, Jones popularized a vocabulary for pernicious doubt: not just that officials and media are hiding the truth, but that tragic events are being engineered for nefarious purposes.

“He’s at least a catalyst of those prevailing narratives that follow almost every newsworthy tragedy, whether it’s a mass shooting or otherwise,” said Sara Aniano, a disinformation researcher at the Anti-Defamation League.

Read more or listen at NPR.

That’s it for me today. I hope you’re all having a great weekend!


Tuesday Reads: Goodbye and Good Riddance!

Good Afternoon!!

Our long national nightmare is almost over. Tomorrow morning Trump will leave the White House for the last time with the blood of 400,000 dead Americans on his hands.

Trump’s horrific “legacy” includes his “Muslim ban,” the separation of thousands of immigrant children from their parents, his effort to build a ridiculous wall on the Southern border, the violation of long-held government norms, his active promotion of racism, sexism, and xenophobia, his corrupt use of his office to enrich himself, his efforts to weaken NATO and our most important foreign alliances while expressing support for foreign dictators, his multiple attempts to interfere with the 2020 election, and most recently his active promotion of an attempted coup to overthrow the election results and stay on as a dictator.

For an expert take on the Trump legacy, check out this BBC article: US historians on what Donald Trump’s legacy will be.

Stephen Collinson at CNN: Trump’s legacy will take years to purge from the American psyche.

After four exhausting years of raging tweets, lies, “fire and fury” rants and orders for far-right extremists to “stand back and stand by,” it’s almost over.

Donald Trump’s presidency is ending in a riot of division, discord and disgrace that encapsulates the pandemonium of his single term that culminated in him inciting an insurrection against Congress and a legacy that will take years to purge from the American psyche.

Trump is expected to unfurl a new list of pardons, including for white-collar criminals and celebrity rappers, in his last full day in office Tuesday that is likely to reflect the self-dealing contempt for justice that was a dominant theme of his tumultuous term. And there are sure to be more political traps for Joe Biden’s incoming administration on his way out the door.

20210111edstc-aThe very experience of being alive in America will change at noon on Wednesday when the mandate expires of the loudest, most disruptive and erratic commander in chief in history — who forced himself into every corner of life on his social media feed and constant craving for the spotlight.

Millions of Americans who viewed the twice-impeached Trump’s assaults on decency and the rule of law with shame and alarm will finally be able to breathe easily again, liberated from his strongman’s shadow. Biden will be a President who seeks to unify an internally estranged nation in contrast to Trump’s obsession with ripping at its social, racial and cultural fault lines to cement his power. Trump’s cynical weaponizing of race reemerged on Monday when his White House chose the national holiday honoring Martin Luther King Jr. to issue a commission report that minimizes slavery and insults the modern civil rights movement.

But this is only one view of Trump. The 74 million Americans who voted to reward him with a second term saw him as a leader who voiced their anger at political, business and media elites. Trump channeled their belief that an increasingly diverse and socially liberal nation threatened their values, religion, gun rights and cultural heritage. His exit could trigger volatile political forces among a community that will mourn his White House. The continued devotion of Trump’s loyal base voters means that while Biden can wipe out many of the outgoing President’s policy wins, removing his influence from politics may well be impossible.

There can be little doubt that Trump is by far the worst president in U.S. history. Tim Naftali at The Atlantic: The Worst President in History. Three particular failures secure Trump’s status as the worst chief executive ever to hold the office.

President Donald Trump has long exulted in superlatives. The first. The best. The most. The greatest. “No president has ever done what I’ve done,” he boasts. “No president has ever even come close,” he says. But as his four years in office draw to an end, there’s only one title to which he can lay claim: Donald Trump is the worst president America has ever had.

In December 2019, he became the third president to be impeached. Last week, Trump entered a category all his own, becoming the first president to be impeached twice. But impeachment, which depends in part on the makeup of Congress, is not the most objective standard. What does being the worst president actually mean? And is there even any value, at the bitter end of a bad presidency, in spending energy on judging a pageant of failed presidencies?

lk011521daprIt is helpful to think of the responsibilities of a president in terms of the two elements of the oath of office set forth in the Constitution. In the first part, presidents swear to “faithfully execute the Office of the President of the United States.” This is a pledge to properly perform the three jobs the presidency combines into one: head of state, head of government, and commander in chief. In the second part, they promise to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

Trump was a serial violator of his oath—as evidenced by his continual use of his office for personal financial gain—but focusing on three crucial ways in which he betrayed it helps clarify his singular historical status. First, he failed to put the national-security interests of the United States ahead of his own political needs. Second, in the face of a devastating pandemic, he was grossly derelict, unable or unwilling to marshal the requisite resources to save lives while actively encouraging public behavior that spread the disease. And third, held to account by voters for his failures, he refused to concede defeat and instead instigated an insurrection, stirring a mob that stormed the Capitol.

Read the rest at The Atlantic.

Trump has also perverted the presidential pardon process, and he is expected spend today issuing as many as 100, largely corrupt pardons. That link is to the NYT story that details many of the planned pardons. This is from Vanity Fair: Trump’s Last Power Grab Will Involve Around 100 Pardons in Massive “Influence Peddling” Operation.

Tuesday’s list, which was reportedly finalized during a White House meeting on Sunday, will likely be the final pardoning spree of Trump’s tenure and is not expected to include the president himself; advisers have urged Trump not to issue a self-pardon because it would imply guilt, CNN reports. Advisers close to the president have apparently also encouraged him not to grant clemency to anyone involved in the insurrection, a move Senator Lindsey Graham, a longtime loyalist, warned against during a Fox News interview Sunday, saying he thinks pardoning Capitol rioters “would destroy” Trump. Instead, allies expect Trump to grant clemency to those who could benefit him after leaving office. “Everything is a transaction. He likes pardons because it is unilateral. And he likes doing favors for people he thinks will owe him,” one source told CNN.

Criminals have been clamoring at Trump’s heels to achieve exactly this result, one well-connected lobbyists helped facilitate—some for a hefty price. Trump associates have apparently tried to monetize their access to the outgoing administration by selling pardons, or the hope of them, to convicted felons seeking clemency, with some allies bringing in tens of thousands of dollars to promote their clients’ position to the White House in recent weeks, the New York Times reported Sunday. The lucrative pardon lobbying reportedly ramped up as Trump’s chances of overturning the election became more and more distant, and people seeking pardons or commutations turned to fixers advertising their clout within the administration for last-minute reprieves. Since November, at least 10 convicted criminals have retained lobbyists whose described services include “pardon,” “commutation,” or “clemency,” according to Axios.

lk011421daprTrump’s final insult is his refusal to participate in the passing of power to his successor. That said, most of us are glad he won’t be there to ruin the day for the Biden and Harris families. Kate Bennett at CNN: Trumps’ snub of Bidens historic in its magnitude

The dissolving of one of America’s most enduring transfer-of-power rituals — the outgoing president welcoming the incoming president on the steps of the North Portico, and then riding with them to the United States Capitol — is just one of the snubs the Trumps are perpetrating as they leave Washington.

Instead of a president and first lady, the Bidens will be greeted by the White House chief usher Timothy Harleth, according to a source familiar with the day’s events and planning. Harleth, a 2017 Trump hire from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, will likely not stay on in the Biden administration, the source said, noting the role of chief usher in all probability will be filled by someone more familiar with the incoming president and first lady.

The afternoon of Inauguration Day, then-President Biden will participate in a ceremonial wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, joined by former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. It is during these hours the bulk of the Bidens’ personal effects will be moved into the White House and unpacked, according to another source with knowledge of executive residence practices.

By that time, all Trump paraphernalia will be gone, and a thorough top-to-bottom cleaning of the entire White House campus will have been completed. Deeper cleaning protocols were arranged via the White House with outside contractors, on top of regular cleaning done by staff, including specialized attention to rugs, carpets, curtains and surfaces, to tackle any possibility of lingering germs, of the Covid-19 sort or otherwise.

“Moving furniture and vacuuming, cleaning baseboards, vacuuming drapes, wiping down shades, cleaning chandeliers, washing windows, high dusting,” are areas all covered during the traditional move-in of a new president and his family, according to the residence source. “That cleaning will start as soon as Donald Trump and Melania Trump depart.”

2_HU-showtime-Band_-JKnight__Today, the Senate is holding hearings on some of Biden’s cabinet appointments. Axios has a list of the hearings scheduled for today:

Jan. 19:

  • 10 am: Alejandro Mayorkas, nominee for secretary of homeland security nominee, before the Senate Homeland Committee.
  • 10 am: Avril Haines, nominee for director of national intelligence, before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
  • 10 am: Janet Yellen, nominee for treasury secretary, before the Senate Finance Committee.
  • 2 pm: Antony Blinken, nominee for secretary of state, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
  • 3 pm: Retired Gen. Lloyd Austin, nominee for defense secretary, before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Washington Post on Janet Yellen’s appearance: Janet Yellen urges lawmakers to ‘act big’ on economic stimulus relief at Senate confirmation hearing.

Janet Yellen, President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee for treasury secretary, urged lawmakers Tuesday to “act big” on economic relief for the coronavirus pandemic as she appeared before a Senate committee for her confirmation hearing.

“I think there is a consensus now: Without further action, we risk a longer, more painful recession now — and long-term scarring of the economy later,” Yellen said in written testimony submitted to the Senate Finance Committee ahead of the hearing.

She faced immediate pushback from Finance Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who used his opening statement to slam the Biden relief plan as a “laundry list of liberal structural economic reforms” that would not be appropriate to enact.

Yellen, 74, spent years as a professor before entering politics as head of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers in the late 1990s. She chaired the Federal Reserve from 2014 to 2018, playing a key role in the economic recovery from the Great Recession with a studied approach that helped push down the unemployment rate over time. President Trump broke with tradition when he opted not to reappoint her to the top Fed job.

I’m still bracing for Trump to pull something in his remaining hours, but it’s such a relieve to know that we’ll soon be rid of him and his trailer trash family. It will be wonderful to have a normal person in the White House again. 


Tuesday Reads: Enemies of the People (Trump, Barr, and the NYT)

Good Morning!!

The New York Times has really bitten the dust this time. Yesterday they announced they will no longer run any political cartoons. Not only are NYT editors terrified of offending Trump and his base, but also they clearly have no sense of humor.

Chapette reacted to his firing at his personal website: The end of political cartoons at The New York Times.

All my professional life, I have been driven by the conviction that the unique freedom of political cartooning entails a great sense of responsibility.

In 20-plus years of delivering a twice-weekly cartoon for the International Herald Tribune first, and then The New York Times, and after receiving three OPC awards in that category, I thought the case for political cartoons had been made (in a newspaper that was notoriously reluctant to the form in past history.) But something happened. In April 2019, a Netanyahu caricature from syndication reprinted in the international editions triggered widespread outrage, a Times apology and the termination of syndicated cartoons. Last week, my employers told me they’ll be ending in-house political cartoons as well by July. I’m putting down my pen, with a sigh: that’s a lot of years of work undone by a single cartoon – not even mine – that should never have run in the best newspaper of the world.

I’m afraid this is not just about cartoons, but about journalism and opinion in general. We are in a world where moralistic mobs gather on social media and rise like a storm, falling upon newsrooms in an overwhelming blow. This requires immediate counter-measures by publishers, leaving no room for ponderation or meaningful discussions. Twitter is a place for furor, not debate. The most outraged voices tend to define the conversation, and the angry crowd follows in.

Cartoon by Chappette

In 1995, at twenty-something, I moved to New York with a crazy dream: I would convince the New York Times to have political cartoons. An art director told me: “We never had political cartoons and we will never have any.“ But I was stubborn. For years, I did illustrations for NYT Opinion and the Book Review, then I persuaded the Paris-based International Herald Tribune (a NYT-Washington Post joint venture) to hire an in-house editorial cartoonist. By 2013, when the NYT had fully incorporated the IHT, there I was: featured on the NYT website, on its social media and in its international print editions. In 2018, we started translating my cartoons on the NYT Chinese and Spanish websites. The U.S. paper edition remained the last frontier. Gone out the door, I had come back through the window. And proven that art director wrong: The New York Times did have in-house political cartoons. For a while in history, they dared.

Along with The Economist, featuring the excellent Kal, The New York Times was one of the last venues for international political cartooning – for a U.S. newspaper aiming to have a meaningful impact worldwide, it made sense. Cartoons can jump over borders. Who will show the emperor Erdogan that he has no clothes, when Turkish cartoonists can’t do it ? – one of them, our friend Musa Kart, is now in jail. Cartoonists from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Russia were forced into exile. Over the last years, some of the very best cartoonists in the U.S., like Nick Anderson and Rob Rogers, lost their positions because their publishers found their work too critical of Trump. Maybe we should start worrying. And pushing back. Political cartoons were born with democracy. And they are challenged when freedom is.

I agree that this isn’t just about cartoons. Trump is succeeding in his war against the press, and the editors of the New York Times are helping him. Twitter commentary from two cartoonists:

Thread from Pat Bagley. More tweets on Twitter

Continuing on the subject of press freedom, CNN’s Jim Acosta has a book out: The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America. Sam Donaldson reviewed the book at CNN:

Reading Jim Acosta’s new book “Enemy of the People” is like watching a train wreck in progress, with passengers bracing for the inevitable crash.

Friends and critics agree we have never seen a president like Donald J. Trump, whose disdain, even contempt and apparent hatred for many members of the press is almost daily on display.
Acosta cites instance after instance when this President and many of his staff show that they are bent on interfering with the ability of reporters to bring the public an accurate account of the administration’s stewardship.

For most of his adult life, President Trump courted the press, lived for its attention, even for a time pretended he was someone else when calling reporters to sing Trump’s praises. Whether now he truly believes that the mainstream press, as he says, reports “fake” news and is the “enemy of the American people,” or that such language is simply part of a tactic meant to stoke the anger of his “base” while escaping an objective accounting of his actions doesn’t matter. The effect is to undermine the credibility of the media, leaving him free to pursue policies that harm us at home and abroad….

History shows that tyrants and would-be tyrants always attempt to destroy a free press. And that is why the First Amendment to our Constitution specifically forbids government from interfering with the work of the press.

Read the rest at CNN. I don’t know if I’ll read Acosta’s book, but what Donaldson has to say is vitally important.

I’m feeling so discouraged about the Democratic primary. There are far too many candidates and the ones leading the pack are pathetic. Biden, Buttigieg and Sanders? Please. At this point, I think Trump will win a second term unless his dementia gets so bad the press finally has to begin writing about it.

Eugene Robinson writes at The Washington Post: We don’t need 23 presidential candidates. There’s another important role to fill.

Dear Democratic presidential candidates: I know all 23 of you want to run against President Trump, but only one will get that opportunity. If you truly believe your own righteous rhetoric, some of you ought to be spending your time and energy in another vital pursuit — winning control of the Senate.

I’m talking to you, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, who would have a good chance of beating incumbent Republican Cory Gardner. I’m talking to you, Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, who could knock off GOP incumbent Steve Daines. I’m even talking to you, Beto O’Rourke, who would have a better chance than any other Texas Democrat against veteran Republican John Cornyn.

And I’m talking to you, too, Stacey Abrams of Georgia, even though you haven’t jumped in. You came within a whisker of being elected governor, and you have a national profile that would bring in a tsunami of campaign funds. You could beat Republican David Perdue — and acquire real power to translate your stirring eloquence into concrete action.

I agree that we absolutely need Senate candidates, but the even greater problem is the candidates that are topping the polls. Biden, Sanders, and even Warren are too old. Biden and Sanders have far too many negatives in their past histories. Buttigieg is too inexperienced, and can you really imagine him beating Trump? More from Robinson on the importance of winning the Senate:

As the Republican Party has long understood, it’s all about power. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could not care less about lofty words and high ideals. Coldly and methodically, he has used his power to block widely supported progressive measures such as gun control, to enact a trickle-down economic agenda that favors the wealthy and to pack the federal bench with right-wing judges whom we’ll be stuck with for decades.

We all remember how McConnell refused even to schedule hearings for President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, ostensibly because the vacancy occurred during an election year. Were you surprised when he said recently that if a seat were to come open in 2020, he would hasten to confirm a replacement? I wasn’t. That’s how McConnell rolls. He exercises his power to its full extent and is not bothered by what you or I or anyone else might think. Charges of hypocrisy do not trouble his sweet slumber.

McConnell is not going to be reasoned, harangued or shamed into behaving differently. The only way to stop him is to take his power away, and the only way to do that is for Democrats to win the Senate.

Another danger we face is Cover-Up General Barr’s hostile takeover of the Justice Department. NBC News reports: New details of Barr’s far-reaching probe into ‘spying’ on Trump 2016 campaign.

The Justice Department on Monday offered new insight into what it called a “broad” and “multifaceted” review of the origins of the Russia investigation, and sought to assure lawmakers that the probe ordered by President Donald Trump would work to protect sensitive intelligence at the heart of it.

In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said the investigation — referred to throughout as a “review” — would evaluate whether the counterintelligence investigation launched in 2016 into potential contacts between foreign entities and individuals associated with Donald Trump’s campaign “complied with applicable policies and laws.”

“There remain open questions relating to the origins of this counterintelligence investigation and the U.S. and foreign intelligence activities that took place prior to and during that investigation. The purpose of the Review is to more fully understand the efficacy and propriety of those steps and to answer, to the satisfaction of the Attorney General, those open questions,” Boyd wrote.

DOJ announced in May that Attorney Gen. William Barr had assigned John Durham, the U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, to oversee a review long called for by Trump into whether the Russia probe, launched in the heat of the presidential campaign, was influenced by politics and whether established protocols were followed involving the surveillance of Trump campaign officials.

A counterpoint from former CIA Chief of Station John Sipher at The Washington Post: Trump’s conspiracy theories about intelligence will make the CIA’s job harder.

President Trump’s attempts to craft a public narrative that a government conspiracy was aimed at his presidential campaign moved off Twitter and into the real world of official documents last month. Trump issued a directive assigning Attorney General William P. Barr to probe the origins of the Russia investigation, giving Barr the authority to declassify secret intelligence. As the president stated, “We’re exposing everything.”

The order directly undercuts Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who is responsible for both protecting and potentially releasing intelligence. And it suggests that Trump is still disputing the fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

The president hardly needs to create a public furor to determine what the intelligence community knew about Russian interference, when they knew it or how they learned it. The CIA would gladly provide detailed briefings to him, the attorney general or anyone Trump might request one for. There are well-established means of sharing information within the executive branch. If the president wants to see the specific intelligence, he can.

But that’s not what Trump wants, is it?

But a private inquiry would not provide Trump with the political weapon of a public scapegoat. If he’s looking to discredit the intelligence behind the unanimous assessment by U.S. agencies in 2016 — since affirmed by the Mueller report, numerous indictments and no shortage of public evidence — he seems to want someone to blame. The recent directive hints at Trump’s eagerness to find a CIA version of his favorite targets at the FBI: James B. Comey, Peter Strzok, Bruce Ohr, Andrew McCabe or Robert S. Mueller III’s “angry Democrats.”

Creating a boogeyman inside the CIA is probably an effective tool if Trump’s goal is to persuade voters that he faced a “coup” and that the Russian attack was a “hoax,” as he has claimed. The necessary secrecy of the CIA’s activities makes it easy to spin a conspiracy and scare the public. A weaponized charge can appear simple and compelling, while the CIA’s ability to respond is limited; the issues involved are complicated and hard to explain in the length of a tweet. It is not hard to whip up fear and assume the worst of a powerful and shadowy secret agency if the most powerful man in the world is willing to deceive the public in the process.

That’s it for me today. What stories have you been following?


Thursday Reads: The “President” is Mentally Incompetent

Good Morning!!

Breaking stories this morning:’

— First, Rep. Deven Nunes is “temporarily stepping aside” from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to the AP. Details to come. According to MSNBC, Trump himself wanted this to happen because he’s “concerned about his dropping poll numbers.” We’ll learn more as the day goes on, but it seems more likely that this decision probably comes from Prince Jared.

Nunes released a statement saying that left-wing groups had made baseless charges against him to the ethics committee, and he’s made this decision even though the complaints are politically-motivated. Democratic ranking member gave a brief statement in which he said he appreciates Nunes’ decision and looks forward to working with Rep. Conaway (R-Texas) who will now lead the investigation.

— Second, Paul Ryan held a press conference this morning to pretend that Trump-Ryancare is still alive. Supposedly the House is reaching consensus around a high risk pool–something that would never work to lower premiums for everyone. They’re all going home for Easter break soon, so we’ll see what happens when they come back. IMHO, this is just a face-saving effort by Ryan.

The Dallas News has a “developing” story on Conaway taking over: Texas’ Conaway takes over Russia meddling probe, as embattled Intel chairman steps down.

WASHINGTON — Texas Rep. Mike Conaway is taking the helm of the House-led probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, after embattled Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes agreed to step aside Thursday.

Conaway, a Midland Republican, is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and a member of the Intelligence Committee. He chaired the Ethics Committee several years ago — considered one of the more thankless tasks in Congress, given its role in policing and occasionally punishing colleagues.

He’s one of the few CPAs in Congress. Before his election in 2004, one of his clients was the oil firm owned by future president George W. Bush.

Also happening today:

President Xi Jinping of China

NBC News: Trump and China President Xi Jinping to Meet, ‘Set a Framework’ for Relations.

As Donald Trump gets set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a tête-à-tête at the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Thursday, experts say it’s time for the U.S. leader to let his past hostile comments about the Asian powerhouse fade with the Florida sunset.

Trump must start building a solid personal relationship with his counterpart and open a starter dialogue on a number of sensitive issues between the two nations, analysts add.

“Well, it’s going to be very interesting, nobody really knows, we have not been treated fairly on trade, no presidents taken care of that the way they should have, and we have a big problem on North Korea, so we’re going to see what happens,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday about his upcoming meeting with Xi.

“I’ll tell you we’ll be in there pitching, and I think we’re going to do very well” Trump added.

While the Chinese are strategic and conservative in their policy and diplomacy maneuvers, Trump has earned his reputation as brash and somewhat unpredictable, often venting governing frustrations on Twitter in 140 characters or less.

“[The Chinese] know that you cannot conduct foreign policy by Twitter, by tweeting, and brashness,” former Ambassador to China Max Baucus told NBC News.

I’m sure the Chinese know that all they have to do is say nice things about Trump and he’ll give away the store. He’s going to get played. I just hope it won’t be too damaging.

Mitch McConnell is determined to get Neil Gorsuch through the Senate despite a Democratic filibuster, and it looks like  he will exercise the so-called “nuclear option.” The sad fact that Gorsuch is obviously guilty of plagiarism doesn’t seem to matter to Republicans.

Now I want to move on to what I  believe is the most important story for the U.S. and the world right now.

After yesterday, I’m convinced that nothing that happens in the news is more important than the fact that the man who is pretending to be “president” is not only completely unqualified but also mentally unfit. There is something seriously wrong with Trump’s cognitive processes, and whether it’s dementia, drugs, or simple stupidity, we’re all in deep trouble.

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman

Did you read the transcript of the interview Trump gave to The New York Times yesterday? I want to quote two sections of it here. During a discussion of the Gorsuch nomination, Trump claimed that Democrats have told him privately that they really don’t object that much to the pick, and here is his example:

TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”

HABERMAN: Really.

TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”

[Laughter.]

TRUMP: But I said, and I liked him, but I said that was really nice. He said, in a group of people, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.” And then I watched him on television and I said, “Is that the same man that said that to me?”

Did Trump somehow confuse Elijah Cummings with some other black man? WTF is he talking about, why don’t these reporters press him on it? This “interview” could easily pass as an evaluation of a mental patient by two psychiatrists. Here’s another section in which Trump claims that the story of Susan Rice’s unmasking of U.S. persons when she was Obama’s National Security Adviser is “a massive story.”

I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it’s a massive, massive story. All over the world, I mean other than The New York Times.

HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.

TRUMP: Huh?

HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.

TRUMP: Yeah, it’s a bigger story than you know. I think —

HABERMAN: You mean there’s more information that we’re not aware of?

TRUMP: I think that it’s going to be the biggest story.

New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush

THRUSH: Why? What do you think —

TRUMP: Take a look at what’s happening. I mean, first of all her performance was horrible yesterday on television even though she was interviewed by Hillary Clinton’s P.R. person, Andrea Mitchell [the NBC News journalist]. Course you’ve been accused of that also.

HABERMAN: Mostly by you, though.

TRUMP: No, no, no. Mostly by a lot of people. So you know, we’ll see what happens, but it looks like it’s breaking into a massive story.

THRUSH: What do you think are — what other shoes are there to drop on this?

HABERMAN: Yeah, what else could we learn on this?

TRUMP: I think you’re going to see a lot. I think you’ll see a lot.

HABERMAN: In terms of what she did and in terms of [unintelligible]?

TRUMP: I think in terms of what other people have done also.

HABERMAN: Really?

TRUMP: I think it’s one of the biggest stories. The Russia story is a total hoax. There has been absolutely nothing coming out of that. But what, you know, what various things led into it was the story that we’re talking about, the Susan Rice. What’s happened is terrible. I’ve never seen people so indignant, including many Democrats who are friends of mine. I’ve never seen them acting this way. Because that’s really an affront on them, you know, they are talking about civil liberties. It’s such an affront, what took place.

THRUSH: What other people do you think will get ensnared in this? Can you give us a sense? How far this might extend

HABERMAN: From the previous administration.

TRUMP: I think from the previous administration.

THRUSH: How far up do you think this goes? Chief of staff?

TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but —

THRUSH: President?

TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but you know who. You know what was going on. You probably know better than anybody. I mean, I frankly think The Times is missing a big thing by not writing it because you’re missing out on the biggest story there is.

Why are these NYT reporters (Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush) patronizing Trump like this? I guess they are drawing him out to demonstrate that he’s a simpleton, but shouldn’t this be treated as a national emergency? The “president” is not well. No wonder there are always multiple “minders” in the room when he’s speaks publicly. Why are so many people pretending that this is somehow normal? We are facing multiple foreign crises right now and we have an incompetent “president” whose 36-year-old son-in-law appears to be running the government.

Yesterday’s Trump press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan was just as embarrassing. Trump spouted a lot of stream-of-conscientious nonsense about how disturbed he was by the chemical attack in Syria and that he had changed his point of view, and reporters pretended he had actually said something meaningful. Here’s the NYT story, for example. Yet Trump said nothing to explain what his policy was previously or what he had changed it to. He even went through that song-and-dance about how he won’t tell anyone ahead of time about what he’ll do “militarily.” This man is nuts, and the press should start saying so.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is every bit as incompetent as the “president.” Tillerson made a statement a couple of days ago that basically gave Asad permission to do whatever he wanted to the Syrian people. Business Insider reports:

Tillerson told reporters while he was in Turkey last week that the “longer-term status of President [Bashar] Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

The remark signaled a shift in the US’s official position toward the Syrian strongman. Though they were criticized for failing to act against Assad, President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry had long called for Assad to step down in a monitored transition of power.

The US’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, took an even stronger position than Tillerson, telling reporters that the administration’s “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

Haley’s comments stood in stark contrast to those of the previous UN ambassador, Samantha Power, who directly confronted Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies during a UN Security Council meeting in December with a fierce address.

“Three member states of the UN contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you,” Power said at the time. “You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?”

And of course there’s the growing threat from North Korea, which Tillerson also likely aggravated. The Week: Rex Tillerson says the U.S. has ‘spoken enough about North Korea,’ won’t comment on latest missile launch.

Not long after the news broke that North Korea launched a missile into the Sea of Japan, Tillerson released a brief statement Tuesday night confirming the launch of “yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile,” adding two very terse sentences: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” If you seek words of comfort in these uncertain times or angry declarations and threats of retaliation, Tillerson made it clear you had better look elsewhere.

If this is the secretary of state’s way of hinting he wants out of the job, Tillerson should know by now that all he needs to do is tag Jared Kushner, say, “You’re it,” and call it a day. Catherine Garcia

Here’s Charles M. Blow: Creeping Toward Crisis.

I am racked with anxiety that our buffoonish “president” — who sounds so internationally unsophisticated and who is still operating under a cloud of illegitimacy — is beginning to face his first real foreign crises.

What worries me most is that he seems to have no coherent plan, at least not one that he is willing or able to communicate. “I don’t show my hand” isn’t a strategy to conceal a plan as much as one to conceal the absence of a plan.

His statements are all bluster and bungling and bosh. Our commander in chief is not in full command of his emotions or facts or geopolitics.

We may sometimes think that the absurdity of Trump’s endless stream of contradictions and lies ends at the nation’s borders, but it doesn’t. The world is watching, and the world is full of dangerous men who see killing as a means of maintaining and exerting power. They see in Trump a novice and know-nothing, and they will surely test his resolve.

Trump has exposed himself to the world as an imbecile and burned through American credibility with his incessant lying. Even many of our allies seem confused and worried about where we stand and how we plan to proceed.

Trump is full of pride, obsessed with strongman personas, and absent of historical and geopolitical perspective. This is the worst possible situation. The man who could bring us into military engagement is woefully deficient in intellectual engagement.

Please go read the rest at the NYT.

It will clearly be another busy and chaotic day in politics. What stories are you following?

More information here: https://www.mddwi.com/


Tuesday Reads

Good Afternoon!!

As usual these days, I don’t know where to begin. We are living through something so strange and unprecedented that I just find myself shaking my head at each new revelation. Once again, I’m going to illustrate this post with baby animal pics, just because.

One crazy-making thing for me is the fact that the Senate is currently grilling a candidate for the Supreme Court who has been nominated by a man who may have committed treason. Neil Gorsuch should not be approved until the investigation of Trump’s involvement with Russia’s interference in the election is complete. I’m actually having difficulty watching the Gorsuch hearing. The word I think of when I look at and listen to him is “oily.” I hope some of you are following the questioning and can share your impressions.

I did watch the entire “Comey hearing” yesterday, and I’m still processing the latest revelations. I expect the press will be on this now and news outlets will compete to give us new information on a daily basis. We may have to function during political chaos for months and years to come. I can only hope the Republicans begin to develop spines as the 2018 election gets closer.

While the House Intelligence Committee testimony by FBI Director James Comey and NSA Director Mike Rogers was still going on, White House spokesman Sean Spicer bizarrely continued to defend Trump’s accusation that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. He also claimed that Michael Flynn was only “volunteer” for the Trump campaign and that Paul Manafort had only a “limited role.”

Vanity Fair on the press briefing yesterday:

During the campaign, Flynn was a top adviser and, at one point, was vetted to become Trump’s running mate. He later accepted a job as national security adviser, one of the most important roles in the West Wing, before resigning 24 days into the new administration, after it was revealed that he had not been entirely forthcoming about his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“General Flynn was a volunteer of the campaign,” Spicer said on Monday, brushing off concerns that Flynn had been a high-level Trump campaign adviser with any degree of influence while maintaining ties to Russia.

On Manafort, CNN reports:

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer incorrectly diminished the role of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, remarks made at the same time as a House Intelligence Committee hearing investigated whether campaign aides colluded with Russia during last year’s presidential race.Spicer, pressed on a number of Trump associates’ connections to Russian operatives, claimed Manafort played a “limited role (in the campaign) for a very limited amount of time.”

Manafort was hired by the Trump campaign in March 2016 to lead the delegate operation on the floor of the Republican National Committee in Cleveland.

Manafort was promoted in May to campaign chairman and chief strategist. And when campaign manager Corey Lewandowski was fired in June, Manafort — who butted heads with Lewandowski — was widely seen as the campaign’s top official.

Manafort is largely credited with securing Trump the Republican nomination, through a mix of deep ties in the Republican establishment and tireless organizing to win the Republican delegate fight which almost derailed Trump one year ago.

I wonder why the White House is so desperate to disown Manafort, who is a close friend of Trump buddy Roger Stone and has lived in Trump Tower since for more than a decade? The Washington Post may have provided a partial answer this morning: New documents show Trump aide laundered payments from party with Moscow ties, lawmaker alleges.

A Ukrainian lawmaker released new financial documents Tuesday allegedly showing that a former campaign chairman for President Trump laundered payments from the party of a disgraced ex-leader of Ukraine using offshore accounts in Belize and Kyrgyzstan.

The new documents, if legitimate, stem from business ties between the Trump aide, Paul Manafort, and the party of former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who enjoyed Moscow’s backing while he was in power. He has been in hiding in Russia since being overthrown by pro-Western protesters in 2014, and is wanted in Ukraine on corruption charges.

The latest documents were released just hours after the House Intelligence Committee questioned FBI Director James B. Comey about possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The hearing that also touched on Manafort’s work for Yanukovych’s party in Ukraine.

Comey declined to say whether the FBI is coordinating with Ukraine on an investigation of the alleged payments to Manafort.

More details at the link.

Another Russia fan who is still in the Trump administration is good old Rex Tillerson. Have you hear about the recent changes to his travel schedule? This seems odd after what we heard at the Intel Committee hearing yesterday.

NBC News: Rex Tillerson to Skip Key NATO Summit, Plans to Travel to Russia.

America’s smaller European allies have expressed concern about President Donald Trump’s mixed signals on whether he would protect them against Russia.

The uncertainty threatened to deepen late Monday when U.S. officials said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson planned to skip what would have been his first official meeting with NATO in April.

However, Tillerson will travel later in the month to a series of unspecified meetings in Russia, a State Department spokesman confirmed to NBC News.

Whoa! Skipping the NATO meeting and heading to Moscow? I’m speechless.

Here’s an interesting opinion piece by Walter Shapiro at Roll Call: James Comey and the Art of the Shiv.

Before Comey returned to his offstage role, he dropped enough bombshells to solidify his reputation as the most significant FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover. Joined by his crusty sidekick, Adm. Michael Rogers, who heads the National Security Agency, Comey gave an artful lesson in how to stick a shiv into a sitting president without ever raising his voice or making a specific accusation.

Early in the hearing, Comey shredded Trump’s cockamamie Twitter claim that Barack Obama had wiretapped him before the election. As Comey solemnly stated, “I have no information that supports those tweets and we have looked carefully inside the FBI.”

Comey had arrived at the hearing with his own smoking gun that he brandished at the beginning of his opening statement — official confirmation that the FBI is investigating “any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russian efforts.”

Comey’s offensive against the White House even extended to refuting a presidential tweet about the ongoing hearing. Connecticut Democratic Rep. Jim Himes asked Comey to respond to a Trump tweet claiming, “The NSA and FBI tell Congress that Russia did not influence the electoral process.” Comey dismissed Trump’s fanciful version of the truth by saying, “It wasn’t certainly our intention to say that today.”

Shapiro thinks Comey’s “role in upending” Hillary Clinton gives him credibility against Trump. I’m not so sure. Still, the piece is worth a read.

This morning Trump went to Capitol Hill in person and tried to convince hostile House Republicans to vote for his disastrous health care bill. If this is how he negotiates deals, it’s surprised he didn’t have more than 6 bankruptcies.

The Washington Post: Trump to GOP critics of health care bill: ‘I’m gonna come after you.’

Assuring Republicans they would gain seats if they passed the bill, the president told Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, to stand up and take some advice.

“I’m gonna come after you, but I know I won’t have to, because I know you’ll vote ‘yes,’” said the president, according to several Republican lawmakers who attended the meeting. “Honestly, a loss is not acceptable, folks.”

But after the meeting, Meadows told reporters that the president had not made the sale, that the call-out was good-natured, and that conservative hold-outs would continue pressing for a tougher bill.

“I’m still a ‘no,’” he said. “I’ve had no indication that any of my Freedom Caucus colleagues have switched their votes.”

House Republicans made some changes to the bill yesterday, but according to Ezra Klein: The new Republican health care bill doesn’t fix the old bill’s problems.

There are three problems you could have imagined the manager’s amendment to the American Health Care Act trying to fix:

  1. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the AHCA will lead 24 million more Americans to go uninsured, push millions more into the kind of super-high-deductible care Republicans criticized in the Affordable Care Act, and all that will happen while the richest Americans get hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts. Voters — including the downscale rural whites who propelled Donald Trump into the presidency — aren’t going to like any of that.
  2. Virtually every health policy analyst from every side of the aisle thinks the AHCA is poorly constructed and will lead to consequences even its drafters didn’t intend. Avik Roy argues there are huge implicit tax increases for the poor who get jobs that lift them out of Medicaid’s ranks. Bob Laszewski thinks the plan will drive healthy people out of the insurance markets, creating even worse premium increases than we’re seeing under Obamacare. Implementing this bill, as drafted, would be a disaster.
  3. As written, the AHCA is unlikely to pass the House, and so GOP leadership needs to give House conservatives more reasons to vote for the bill, even if those reasons leave the legislation less likely to succeed in the Senate. For this bill to fail in the House would embarrass Speaker Paul Ryan and President Trump.

Of the three problems in the AHCA, the third is by far the least serious — but it’s the only one the manager’s amendment even attempts to solve. These aren’t changes that address the core problems the GOP health care bill will create for voters, insurers, or states; instead, it’s legislation that tries to solve some of the problems the bill creates for conservative legislators. It might yet fall short on even that count.

This is a trap for Republicans. Both the process and the substance of the American Health Care Act have revealed a political party that has lost sight of the fact that the true test of legislation isn’t whether it passes, but whether it works.

One more from Mother Jones on the Trump kleptocracy:

The Trump Organization Says It’s Vetting Deals for Conflicts—But Refuses to Say How.

The week after Donald Trump’s inauguration, as questions swirled about the ethics ramifications of his refusal to divest from his business holdings, the Trump Organization announced that it had created a system for vetting new deals that could benefit the president. The company said it had tapped George Sorial, a Trump Organization executive, to be chief compliance counsel and Bobby Burchfield, a Washington-based corporate lawyer, to serve as an outside ethics adviser who would scrutinize new Trump company transactions for potential conflicts of interest. Trump’s private lawyer, Sheri Dillon, had pledged in early January that Trump would “build in protections” to assure Americans that his actions as president “are for their benefit and not to support his financial interests.” But two months into Trump’s presidency, there are serious questions about the rigor and transparency of the Trump Organization’s vetting process.

The first deal completed after Trump’s swearing-in suggested the vetting procedures are weak. This transaction, as Mother Jones reported, was the sale of a $15.8 million condo to a Chinese American businesswoman who peddles access to Chinese elites and who has ties to a front group established by China’s military intelligence apparatus. Angela Chen’s connections to Chinese officials and military intelligence evidently weren’t a cause for concern to the Trump Organization. The condo sale went through on February 21, with Chen apparently paying the $15.8 million in cash—roughly $2 million more than a unit one floor below. (Chen had lived in the same Trump-owned Park Avenue building in a smaller apartment for years. Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump lived in the same building before their move to Washington.) Contacted by Mother Jones earlier this month, Burchfield, the Trump Organization’s outside ethics adviser, declined to comment on the sale or how it was vetted.

Robert Weissman, president of the good-government group Public Citizen, says the Chen deal raises questions about whether any real vetting happened. “Here, where we actually need extreme vetting, it appears to be absent,” he says. “It’s absolutely unclear if Burchfield or anybody else is doing anything pursuant to what they alleged they would do. And if they are, we don’t know what it is. But we should not presume it’s happening.”

On Thursday, Burchfield, a veteran corporate litigator who specializes in political law and largely represents Republican clients, declined to comment regarding the vetting process for new Trump deals. He would not talk about any transactions approved or denied since he began advising the Trump Organization. At Trump’s January 11 press conference, Dillon promised that the outside ethics adviser would provide “written approval” of any new deal, ostensibly explaining why a transaction does not pose a conflict for the president. Burchfield has not publicly disclosed details about the written approval process.

Read more details at Mother Jones.

What stories are you following today?