Saturday, March 17, 2018

McCabe Move Part Of Strategy

Chris Hayes tweets "My prediction is that the McCabe firing, like the Comey firing, will end up backfiring."

It might. I was never convinced Trump would (successfully) lean on Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, but I've never been slick enough to be elected President of the United States of America. Donald Trump has.

Donald Trump has made several moves, let alone issued numerous tweets, which probably are tactically bizarre. When he recently announced steel and aluminum tariffs, several GOP members of Congress were very skeptical, even Senate Finance Commmittee chairperson Orrin Hatch, who argued "Tariffs on steel and aluminum are a tax hike the American people don’t need and can’t afford." That should count as impassioned condemnation from a guy who has said Trump is "the best President I've served 'under' (including) Lincoln, Reagan, and James K. Polk." (Orrin Hatch is quite old.)

The President already has walked back a portion of that plan. Similarly, he has suggested capital punishment for drug dealers, not ony an excessively punitive but borderline bizarre idea that will not come to fruition.

But the push for a protectionist trade policy and killing criminals is part of a larger Trumpian strategy for 2020.  The popularity of tariffs nationwide is questionable, but it is likely the idea has gained him net support in Wisonsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Like the death penalty, it sends the message that Donald Trump is a no-nonsense, authentic guy who will stand up for the average person, whether beleagured manufacturing workers or voters he has convinced street crime has exploded out of control in cities.

Fun fact: The "Don't Mess with Texas" slogan was created by an ad agency, working under contract from state government in Austin, to mobilize support of the public to change its habits to reverse the epidemic of litter spiraling out of control in the state. Nonetheless, it quickly became a go-to line for pundits, politicians, and others, unaware of its origin, to demonstrate their swagger.

Tariffs and drug crime are not at the top of President Trump's consciousness. Neither is Andrew McCabe, no matter how vindictive Grump is.  But they are part of an overall strategy. And now we have a dismissal which may in and of itself- as Hayes expects- be a bad tactic, but part of a clever strategy.  Politico reports

But McCabe sees bigger forces at work in the Justice Department inspector general’s inquiry — which he views as part of a broader campaign to impugn him for his role in handling the FBI’s Russia investigation and his ties to special counsel Robert Mueller.

“Look, it’s personally devastating. It’s so tough on my family,” he told POLITICO during a wide-ranging interview conducted earlier this month, before his firing.

“But at some point, this has to be seen in the larger context,” said McCabe, 49, who says he has voted for every Republican presidential nominee until he sat out the 2016 contest entirely. “And I firmly believe that this is an ongoing effort to undermine my credibility because of the work that I did on the Russia case, because of the investigations that I oversaw and impacted that target this administration.”

“They have every reason to believe that I could end up being a significant witness in whatever the special counsel comes up with, and so they are trying to create this counter-narrative that I am not someone who can be believed or trusted,” McCabe added. “And as someone who has been believed and trusted by really good people for 21 years, it’s just infuriating to me.”

"Trying to create this counter-narrative that I am not someone who can be believed or trusted” is the primary purpose- but only part of the President's motivation.

In getting rid (he hopes) of McCabe, Trump once again has said "you're fired." Typically, he has had others, usually the Chief of Staff (his bodyguard in the case of James Comey) do the actual dirty deed.

But Donald J. Trump rose to national prominence in large measure because of his willingness- even delight- in firing people on "The Apprentice." Many people confused the program with real life, and many people, prone to live their lives vicariously through other people, envy and admire individuals able to snap their fingers and magically get rid of undesirables.

The McCabe move was part of the the Trump strategy- for defeating Mueller and for currying favor with voters. It's Donald Trump, Tough Guy, an image as divorced from reality as Donald Trump, Patriot.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Cannot Ignore The Culture War

Steve M. demolishes the major points of David Brooks' op-ed in The New York Times, in which the veteran columnist warns that progressives may drive the Democratic Party to "become the mirror image of your opponent,"   Donald J. Trump. Brooks celebrates the victory of House Democratic candidate Conor Lamb because he is, in Brooks' view, centrist and highly moral.  He also argues

There’ll be a tendency this year to nationalize each of the congressional races, to focus on Trump and not the country’s actual problems, to push the tribal hot buttons that excite the passionate Resistance in the great culture war.

Oddly, Brooks differentiates between focusing on Trump and focusing on "the country's actual problems."

But President Trump is exacerbating those actual problems, in some case having little to do with his personal immorality, prompting resistance without pushing those tribal hot buttons Brooks denigrates. One method is through packing the federal judiciary with judges who threaten what Nan Aron of the Alliance for Justice notes is the "legal and social progress of decades" gained over decades for women, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities. Further, they are likely to erode "critical protections' won in the courts "for the health and safety of the public and the environment."

Among the "woefully unfit appointees," Aron recognizes, of President Trump are

John Bush, confirmed this year to a seat on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, who blogged anonymously for years, spreading racist birther theories about President Obama and mean-spirited attacks against Obama, LGBTQ rights, and an assortment of people and positions he disliked.

A nominee in North Carolina, Thomas Farr, appears to have misled the Senate Judiciary Committee about his role as a lawyer for Jesse Helms’s Senate campaign, in one of the sleaziest voter-suppression scams ever perpetrated: a mass mailing of postcards to African-American voters warning that they might not be legally registered to vote and could be prosecuted for voter fraud. His nomination remains on track.

In a climate in which harassment of women in the workplace is in the national spotlight, Don Willett, just confirmed to the 5th Circuit, harbors attitudes that cause deep concern.

While working in Texas state government, he aggressively belittled problems faced by working women, ridiculing “talk of ‘glass ceilings’” and dismissing concerns regarding “sexual discrimination/harassment.”

Willett carried his hostility to the Texas Supreme Court, where, as a justice, he ruled to weaken laws that protect women against discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.

It’s not just the quality of nominees that has suffered. This administration and GOP-led Senate have taken a wrecking ball to norms that governed the nomination process for decades.

Bipartisan consultation with nominees’ home-state senators is dead. The hundred-year-old “blue-slip” tradition, giving home-state senators the go-ahead for nominations to proceed, was just junked.

Likewise, the ratings produced by the American Bar Association no longer count: this administration pushed four nominees rated “Not Qualified” by ABA evaluators. In past administrations, such ratings would typically force a candidate out of the running; not today, when the administration and its allies exclusively seek party loyalists, preferably in early middle age, who will sit on the bench for decades.

The man who became President is one to whom Brooks believes Democrats should turn- if not a blind eye- a sight-impaired eye- launched his dramatically successful campaign with

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems.…They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.

Arguably, his campaign became even more hateful and bigoted, less truthful, and more focused on generating fear and anger. It is Trump, first as candidate, then as President, who has brought the cultural war to the fore, not the least by nominating only those judges approved by the right-wing Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society. Elizabeth Warren understands

the importnace of having a Democratic Party that stands for something- a Democratic Party that isn't just willing to take on a fight when it comes to- a Democratic Party that picks fights, a Democratic Party that makes people across the country say "I want to get out there and vote."

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Bipartisan Approval For Financial Disaster

In a brilliant, July 2016 article, Alex Nichols wrote about a celebrated musical "The most obvious historical aberration is the portrayal of Washington and Jefferson as black men, a somewhat audacious choice given that both men are strongly associated with owning, and in the case of the latter, raping and impregnating slaves."

The New York Times observed "Conservatives were particularly smitten" over Hamilton, and Rupert Murdoch labeled it "historically accurate," somehow appropriate for the guy who ultimately presides over the fanciful editorial page of The Wall Street Journal.

Naturally, then-President Obama also gushed, remarking "I'm pretty sure this is the only thing that Dick Cheney and I have agreed on-during my entire political career." Nichols added  "That is, of course, false. Other points of agreement include drone strikes, Guantanamo, the NSA, and mass deportation."

Fortunately, President Obama was a little less favorably disposed than Bush-Cheney toward the financial institutions which disrupted, and nearly destroyed, the world economy in the latter stage of the previous administration. Though only one Wall Street executive went to prison, Obama did sign into law in July 2010 Dodd-Frank, which, the New York Times explained at the time

subjects more financial companies to federal oversight and regulates many derivatives contracts while creating a consumer protection regulator and a panel to detect risks to the financial system.

A number of the details have been left for regulators to work out, inevitably setting off complicated tangles down the road that could last for years.

But “because of this law, the American people will never again be asked to foot the bill for Wall Street’s mistakes,” Mr. Obama said before signing the legislation. “There will be no more taxpayer-funded bailouts. Period.”

Not so fast, big guy. There may be more "taxpayer-funded bailouts" In part for the same reason there was widespread acclaim for Hamilton:  the spirit of bipartisanship.

On Wednesday, the Senate passed by  67-31 the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, presumably named because it will reduce government oversight on banks with assets of up to $250 billion and provide comfort and relief to billionaire bank executives, referred to here as "consumers."

Earlier this month, the Boston Globe had pointed out that critics of  the legislation- the opening salvo of the Masters of  the Universe in overturning Dodd-Frank- "say that threshold is too  high, since the  failure of two or three of those mid-sized banks would be the equivalent of one big bank failing."
The Globe writes that one change "would empower big banks to secure more favorable treatment fromthe government" because it would require "the Federal Reserve to tailor regulations on the biggest banks individually for  each firm rather than aplying the same rules across the board."  Warren maintains it "may be the single most dangerous provision in the entire bill" and would result in "systematic weakening of  the  rules for all the big banks"

But as with Hamilton, there was bipartisan comity, with16 Democrats joining all 50 Republicans in voting for passage.  Senate Banking committee member and Democrat Joe Donnelly of Indiana commented "This legislative package is an example of what we can achieve by working together and shows Democrats and Republicans can break the gridlock. I’m proud my bill passed the Senate" and "look forward to the passage of my bill in the House, so that it can head to the president’s desk.” But Charlie Pierce recalls

All of those “compromises” of the early- and mid-19th century did nothing but delay the inevitable cataclysm over slavery. Support for Jim Crow often was “bipartisan,” as was the foreign adventurism that overthrew governments in places like Iran and Guatemala and that reached its bloody apex in Vietnam. The panic that produced the Patriot Act after the 9/11 attacks was bipartisan, as was the support for the war in Iraq for which that panic was exploited by a bunch of think-tank cowboys. More to the point, a lot of the measures that led to the financial collapse that led to the regulations now under assault were quite bipartisan. To say something is to be praised simply because it is something that “got done” in our “polarized age” is a simpleton’s view of politics.

Once the bill is approved by the House, President Trump will take a break from assailing members of Congress as "a low-IQ individual" or "a total phony" and sign the bill, citing it as an example of how he can get everyone to work together. And as one, the "liberal media" will join other opinion-makers in standing and applauding.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2018

It's Who He Is

It happened to President Trump's chief economic adviser, Gary Cohn, who with others

tried to talk Trump off the ledge. At one point, aides were sure Trump would make the announcement. Then they said he wouldn’t. Finally, sitting alongside steel executives, he did.

But Cohn quit his job after"iIn a meeting with steel industry executives, Trump announced plans for a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports."

He double-crossed Cohn and his allies by implying one thing when he spoke to them, then doing another.

Something similar happened to those bold students, fighting for an issue larger than themselves, and all persons interested in gun safety when, as Kevin Drum pointed out 

The White House on Sunday vowed to help provide “rigorous firearms training” to some schoolteachers and formally endorsed a bill to tighten the federal background checks system, but it backed off President Trump’s earlier call to raise the minimum age to purchase some guns to 21 years old from 18 years old.

….The Trump plan does not include substantial changes to gun laws….Rather, the president is establishing a Federal Commission on School Safety, to be chaired by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

….The White House plan released Sunday does not address the minimum age for gun purchases. Pressed by reporters about the apparent backtracking, a senior administration official said the age issue was “a state-based discussion right now” and would be explored by DeVos’s commission.

Joe Manchin hails from probably the most culturally conservative state in the Union and Toomey from one in which the opening day of hunting season is a holiday in many counties. However, they had sponsored a bill, which ultimately failed to pass, to extend background checks to firearms purchased at  gun shows and on the Internet. Yet, Trump accused them- "you're afraid of the NRA, right"- of being intimidated by the National Rifle Association. The following day, he held a "surprise late-night meeting" with the organization, which presumably told him something like "sit down and shut up." The President promptly complied.

Drum remarked "Who could have guessed that Trump would cave in to the NRA after all his tough talk? That is, other than everyone?" He came cheap- bought in less than 48 hours.

Trump caved, not only because the organization is one of his bankers, but because it's what he does. And now he has done it  to the first Secretary of State named (presumably) after a dinosaur, who

learned he was fired Tuesday only from a tweet by his boss, President Donald Trump, NBC News reported, citing State Department officials.

And to add insult to injury, Tillerson was basically an afterthought in that tweet, which first introduced Trump's new chosen top diplomat, CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

Cowards generally have others do their dirty work for them, and Donald J. Trump is no exception:

NBC News reported that White House chief of staff John Kelly spoke with Tillerson by phone on Friday and told him that Trump intended to ask Tillerson to "step aside," according to two sources familiar with the situation.

On MSNBC's Deadline White House (with Nicolle Wallace), Jeremy Bash responded

The President did this via Twitter. He did this in a very cowardly way. He did this in a way only a small man would do, someone who doesn't actually want to deal with the consequences of telling someone that their employment arrangement is not working out and I wonder what signal it sends to our adversaries that the President is so petrified, to actually fire someone in person.

(Obviously, he meant not to fire someone in person.)

Tariffs, guns, Tillerson. Donald Trump has no backbone. File it along with racial bigot, misognynist, narcissist. Coward. And as for the reason Secretary of State Tillerson was fired:

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Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Father Figure

Vox's Emily Stewart reports

China has approved a plan to abolish presidential term limits, opening the door for President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely.

China’s National People’s Congress, the country’s national legislative body, voted on Sunday to change the country’s constitution to allow Xi to remain in power beyond his scheduled 2023 departure. In February, the Chinese Communist Party proposed the change; Sunday’s vote was largely considered a rubber-stamp exercise. Out of 2,964 votes, only two delegates voted against the constitutional change, while three abstained. The alteration removes phrasing that says China’s president and vice president “shall serve no more than two consecutive terms.”

This would be the nation which has been referred euphemistically to as "China" since it enacted market reforms and began to embrace the profit motive, which some in this country have sold as synonymous with "freedom." Now none dare recognize it as "Communist China" or even "mainland China."

And of course that makes Xi Jinping one of the favorites of President Trump, who

raised eyebrows earlier this month at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser when he praised President Xi’s power grab and suggested he might not mind trying it himself. “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great,” Trump said. “And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday.”

At a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday, Trump brought up the matter again — and media reports of it — and noted his remarks were made in jest. “But I’m joking. And they knew I was joking, everybody in the room was laughing, everybody’s having a great time. I’m joking about being president for life,” he said.

If Trump didn’t have such a habit of admiring dictators and strongmen — including on Saturday, where he publicly admired China and Singapore for executing drug dealers — it might make the public a little less wary about his jokes.

Many a true word is spoken in jest.  Moreover, a preference for authoritarianism is not the only think Trump has in common with Xi Jinping.  In 2014, a successful effort was launched to rebrand the latter as "Xi Dada," which translates as Uncle Xi or Big Daddy Xi.

Although the name has since been dropped, China scholar David Shambaugh at the time stated "I thought the Chinese system had moved beyond one-man rule and personality cults."

Evidently not- but "Big Daddy" has a parallel in American politics.

Interviewed on 60 Minutes in January, 2015,  Donald Trump, aiming to reassure voters that rescinding the Affordable Care Act wouldn't leave people without health care coverage, claimed "I am going to take care of everybody,. I don't care if it costs me votes or not. Everybody's going to be taken care of much better than they're taken care of now."

As a declared candidate a year earlier, Trump tweeted 'I will take care of the veterans who have served this country so bravely."

When last September President Trump revealed the Administration would phase out President Obama's DACA regulations, he declared Dreamers "are here illegally. They shouldn’t be very worried. I do have a big heart. We’re going to take care of everybody."

This is an essential part of the Trump strategy- portraying himself as such a big, strong leader that he will "take care of" people and be a comforting presence. He is the "Big Daddy" Xi Jinping once was... before Xi Jinping established the one-man rule which was not generally expected.

We now know what the Chinese leader had in mind.  So does (if re-elected) Donald Trump. He has told us.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Policies, Indeed

Appearing with "sleepy eyes" Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet The Press, Treasury Secretary Steve Munuchin was not pleased that the NBC host wanted to talk about President Grump's speech in Pennsylvania the night before.  Mnuchin pled "again don't take these campaign rallies and focus them on that's what it is, okay."

After Todd asked whether the media should "stop covering the rallies," Mnuchin whined

No, you’re putting words in my mouth. I wasn’t in any way saying you should dismiss that whatsoever. And you should obviously carry them. Because these are important moments for the president. And this is news. What I’m trying to say is, I’m focused on the policies. And the policies have created results. We’ve had more results in the last year on both foreign policy and domestic matters. So what we should be focused on and what I came to talk about were the president’s policies.

"You should obviously carry them," stated Mnuchin, who also claimed Trump was "using these vulgarities in the context of a campaign rally and obviously there were a lot of funny moments on, on, on that rally."

The jokes from the veteran of the comedy clubs of Queens, NY and New York City, NY, now appearing for a four-year (or less) engagement in Washington, DC included the "son of a bitch" Chuck Todd and the black congresswoman who is "a low-IQ individual." 

Trump's shtick was "hilarious," as Todd pointed out. Still, members of the Administration (such as the Treasury Secretary) and Trump surrogates have been promoting the notion that Trump's domestic, especially economic, policies have been an unmitigated success. Both Democrats and Republicans, unlike Newsweek's Michelle Goodkind, presumably have missed this one:

In all, 15 miners died since President Donald Trump took office in 2017—up from eight in all of 2016.This is the dirty secret of Trump’s much-touted effort to help the coal industry. The president has been quick to celebrate the 771 net workers that were hired in 2017, but the administration's push to support the dirtiest of fossil fuels has been accompanied by a surge in deaths of the workers who procure it. 

The 2017 death toll was the highest since 2014—when there were roughly 60,000 more miners at work in America.Mining advocates put some of the blame on the president, whose support for mine owners has led to relaxed safety enforcement, scores of inexperienced new miners and inconsistent commitment to training programs and courses. 

In the meantime,  Republicans in the House want to cut mine safety budgets further, and Trump, who says he supports coal miners, has been silent on a Senate bill that would shore up miners' pensions.“When you look at the Trump administration policies and his ratcheting back of regulations...this administration has no moral compass about ethics,” said Joe Main, who ran the Mine Safety and Health Administration under President Barack Obama. “Companies now think we have a less aggressive sheriff in town.”

Grasping the larger issues at stake, the  reporter continues

Trump’s support for coal is part of a larger economic vision of deregulation—one that he says is responsible for the stock market’s recent boom and higher gross domestic product.

“The stock market is way up [because] we took off restrictions and we took off regulations,” he said on January 16.

But for coal miners, those restrictions and regulations can be the difference between life and death.  

Munuchin and Co. should be so happy that the scandals of this Administration obscure the President's  disastrous policies. If there is a party in opposition to the GOP, it has to block the agenda of deregulation and destruction, and it's not putting up much of a fight so far.

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Sunday, March 11, 2018

Drug Dealers

In a campaign stop, poorly disguised as one on behalf of Pennsylvania GOP House candidate Rick Saccone, President Trump did what he did best- ridicule. Business Insider reports

Trump was particularly energetic in attacking the media, leveling a profane taunt toward NBC's Chuck Todd, whom the president has nicknamed "Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd."

"He is a sleeping son of a bitch, I'll tell you," Trump said Saturday.

He went after CNN, too, for its coverage of his recent decision to accept a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Trump called the network "fake as hell CNN. The worst. So fake."

Trump also railed against top Democrats rumored to be considering a presidential bid in 2020. He suggested that the media would be disappointed with a Democratic victory, as Trump's presidency has been a boon for television ratings.

"Could you imagine covering Bernie? Or Pocahontas?" he said, using a derogatory nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. "How about that? Can you imagine having to cover Elizabeth Warren for four years?"

Trump also slammed House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and attacked Rep. Maxine Waters as "a very low-IQ individual," but said he'd be delighted if Oprah Winfrey ran against him so he could defeat her.

Besides going nearly full-bigot, the evangelicals' favorite American addressed the drug crisis when he

praised other countries for imposing the death penalty or life in prison for drug dealers, saying the United States should consider similar penalties.

"I think it's a discussion we have to start thinking about. I don't know if we're ready -- I don't know if this country's ready for it," Trump said.

He said those convicted of killing just one person in shootings and stabbings at times face the death penalty or life in prison without parole. But, he said, someone can "kill 5,000 people with drugs because you're smuggling them in and you're making a lot of money and people are dying," and go without serious punishment.

This isn't the first time President Grump has had this brainstorm (video below from 3/1/18). Newsweek tells us

“Some countries have a very tough penalty, the ultimate penalty, and they have much less of a drug problem than we do,” Trump said during an appearance at a White House summit on opioids last week.

Singapore officials have reportedly briefed White House officials on their country's drugs offense punishment laws. 

Trump has previously expressed admiration for Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial crackdown on drugs dealers, which human rights groups say has led to thousands of extrajudicial killings by security services and police.

Shortly after taking office, Trump reportedly praised Duterte in a phone call for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” 

This strategy would be among those few instances in which a more aggressive federal government would do more harm than good. Successful litigation against Purdue Pharma and other powerful drug dealers, the manufacturers of opiates, would be more effective (let alone more humane) than life sentences or execution of drug dealers.  Fortunately, as with most of Donald Trump's ludicrous ideas, this one is unlikely to be implemented by the federal government or the states. That is assuming, of course, that Mr. Trump is not rewarded with a second term.

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McCabe Move Part Of Strategy

Chris Hayes tweets "My prediction is that the McCabe firing, like the Comey firing, will end up backfiring." It might. I ...