Friday, March 31, 2017

A Passel Of Moderates

This is not a post extolling the virtues of Planned Parenthood. It is not about breast exams, HIV testing, cervical cancer screening, sex education, thyroid, diabetes, or high blood pressure screening, and other popular services it provides. It is not about the critical impact of Planned Parenthood in lowering unwanted pregnancies, even among teens, and incidence of HIV. It is not about how only 3% of its services are in providing abortions.

Rather, it pertains to a claim made by Digby in her piece appearing today, March 31, 2017. She writes

On “MTP Daily,” Michael Needham of Heritage Action called the health care bill a disaster, saying, “This is a great opportunity to take a pause and get the policy right and that is what the House Freedom Caucus is doing. Talk about grown-ups, they’re the one who are saying, ‘We want to get the policy right, we’re willing to negotiate,’ and it’s the moderates who say they literally won’t pick up the phone if they call.”

First of all, can we dispense with the idea that any Republican who isn’t a member of the Freedom Caucus is a “moderate”? I’m not sure any House Republicans can be called moderate, but if there are some they represent a very small faction. They’re conservatives. The Freedom Caucus is extremist or, if you want to be polite about it, ultraconservative. The rest are conservatives.

Digby's post did not specifically refer to how

The Senate voted Thursday to let states block federal family planning money from going to Planned Parenthood affiliates and other abortion providers. 

Senators approved the Republican legislation 51-50. Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote after two GOP senators, Maine’s Susan Collins and Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski, voted with Democrats against the measure.

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

Senate approval means the measure will be headed to President Trump, who was expected to sign it. The House voted its consent last month.

In related news, a Quinnipiac University Poll released January 27, 2017 found

In a question with no mention of abortion, American voters oppose 62 - 31 percent cutting off federal funding to Planned Parenthood. 

After respondents are asked, "If you knew that federal government funding to Planned Parenthood was being used only for non-abortion health issues such as breast cancer screening, would you still favor cutting off funding to Planned Parenthood," the result is 12 percent in favor of cutting funding and 80 percent opposed to a funding cut. 

There are undoubtedly more Americans who realize Planned Parenthood refers for, and sometimes provides, abortions than realize that (extreme circumstances excepted), no federal funding is permitted for abortions (chart below from Planned Parenthood of Michigan via Vox).  Unless people are aware of the latter retriction, it is difficult to determine the breadth and  depth of support for the organiztion.

But, okay: we'll fight with one hand tied behind our back and ignore the 80% to 12%. Even with some people believing Planned Parenthood gets federal funds for providing abortions, twice as many respondents opposed cutting off funding than supported eliminating funding..

Yet, Considering the House and the Senate, 280 members of Congress (plus VP Pence) voted against Planned  Parenthood.  In the House, six Republicans voted against the bill (and one as "present"). In all, eight Republicans voted in favor of the organization.

The congressional vote was a vote for extremism and was opposed by two GOP Senators and less than 3% of its House caucus. Digby was wrong, unreasonable and intolerant when she suggested no House Republican can be considered moderate. Almost 3% can.

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Thursday, March 30, 2017

If Only I Could Have Posted This On St. Patrick's Day

He talks! He has a squeaky clean image! He leads!

Meat Loaf was wrong when he sang "two out of three ain't bad" because two out of three can be very bad.

Lawrence O'Donnell appears to have been the first person (and confident he was) to have noticed that Devin Nunes dropped the name of Paul Ryan when he gave an impromptu news conference on the White House lawn after the committee chairperson dropped by to give to the President, a possible target of the investigation his committeee was to hold, intelligence he would offer no one else. On March 22 O'Donnell explained (best to start at approximately 4:48 of video below)

Donald Trump is the second person that Devin Nunes gave that information to 
today. The first was Paul Ryan, his boss in the House of Representatives.
And Paul Ryan then told Chairman Nunes to bring it to the president. To 
completely bypass his committee, to completely ignore the tradition and 
practice of sharing that with the Ranking Member of his committee, Adam 

Just run it right down to the White House. And so Paul Ryan left Devin 
Nunes wide open to accusations that he was running down to the White House 
to offer some political protection for the damage his committee did to the 
president on Monday.

O'Donnell returned to the topic Monday, observing "And as more inexplicable than him running first to the Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, which is the single most under reported stop on Devin Nunes` tour that day on his way to the White House." Doggedly, he wouldn't let go of Ryan, on Tuesday remarking

He is afraid to talk about Devin Nunes. Afraid. He would 
rather talk about the most colossal legislative failure any speaker of the 
House has ever had, his first big bill as speaker.

The Trump-Ryan healthcare bill. That healthcare bill is the single, 
biggest, public professional embarrassment in Paul Ryan`s life.

And he would rather talk about that now and has said more publicly about 
that than he has said about Devin Nunes and that scandal.

And the reason Paul Ryan is afraid of talking about Devin Nunes is because 
the way-over-his-head chairman put Paul Ryan dead center in this scandal on 
the first day when he told reporters something none of them have noticed 
that first stop that he made before going to see the president at the White 
House, was Paul Ryan`s office.

The MSNBC anchorperson added "And I don`t know what I have to do to get any reporters to notice this, including the ones who were standing there in the White House driveway and
heard him saying that."

Finally, someone else did, and it took another O'Donnell for it  to happen. In an interview conducted with Ryan Wednesday but telecast Thursday on "CBS This Morning,"  Norah (unrelated) O'Donnell

 asked him what he knew about Nunes’ source and what other evidence he’s seen.
“You were among the first that [Nunes] briefed. What did he tell you?” O’Donnell asked.

“He had told me that — like, a whistleblower-type person had given him some information that was new that spoke to the last administration and part of this investigation,” Ryan said. “He briefs me about it, didn’t know the content of it, only knew the nature of it and that he was going to brief others.”

“Did you ask to see the documents yourself?” O’Donnell asked.

“He didn’t have the documents, so I didn’t,” Ryan responded.

“Did you encourage him to then go tell the president about it?”

“No, but I told him to just add it to his investigation,” Ryan said.

“So you at no time said, ‘Whatever you find out, you should probably go tell President Trump about it?’” 

“Oh — he was gonna brief everybody. He — I already knew he was going to go and brief. So the — what Chairman Nunes said is he just came into possession of new information that he thought was valuable to this investigation, and that he was going to go and inform people about it,” Ryan said.

“But he hasn’t. I mean, he hasn’t even informed the Republican committee,” O’Donnell said.

“Yeah, I have seen the actual documents. I don’t know that he’s been in possession of them yet. Let me say this: It’s very important that we allow and encourage whistleblowers to talk to Congress,” Ryan said.

You probably caught Nunes was going to go inform people about it. .  Reliable sources have confirmed that Representative Nunes did not cathch the plate number of that bus Speaker Ryan sent to run over him.

Norah, evidently in some sort of "O'Donnell tradition," wouldn't let it drop:

“Can you just help me understand that, though? Because if it’s a whistleblower, why wouldn’t that information then be shared with the Democrats on the committee, and even the other Republicans who haven’t seen it?” O’Donnell asked.

“I don’t know the answer to that question, you’d have to ask that person. I don’t even know who this is,” Ryan said.

“I mean, you’re a member of the Gang of Eight. You can see the most classified intelligence that our government has, right? You could request this information,” O’Donnell said.

“Yeah, we want this information to be provided to Congress and we’re waiting for it to be provided to Congress,” Ryan said.

The speaker also said he has no knowledge of whether President Trump is under investigation for ties to Russia.

"We're waiting for it to be provided to Congress", saith the guy who was allegedly assured that Nunes "was going to go and inform people about it."  If up to him, he'd wait forever. The Speaker made Nunes and can break him because he appoints committee chairpersons and can replace them.If he wasn't informed, he chose not to be informed.

Therefore,  notwithstanding (Lawrence) O'Donnell harping on an issue when no one cared about it and (Norah) O'Donnell interrogating Ryan about it, we still don't know what the Speaker was told by chairperson Nunes. He may have been selling him out or buying time for both of them.  Either way, however, as Lawrence O. noted on Tuesday

That`s why Paul Ryan is not ordering Devin Nunes to recuse himself because
Paul Ryan is in this thing as deep as Devin Nunes is. And if Devin Nunes
can lose his chairmanship over it, then Paul Ryan can lose his speakership
over it.

While precious little is known, two things are clear: Paul Ryan is Speaker of the House, but no leader. And there is something about an O'Donnell.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

No, Sir, I Won't

First Lady Nancy Reagan's advice in the drug war applies to dealing with Donald Trump: just say no.

Three days before the demise of the GOP's health care plan, President Trump had members of the Freedom Caucus  over to the White House for a little cajoling and arm-twisting. He promised to campaign for any of them who voted for the bill. And Chris Collins, the first member of Congress to endorse Trump for the GOP presidential nomination, commented afterward "the president is very adroit at putting somebody on the spot and he did that today with Mark Meadows."

Or maybe not, because

when he rose to address the GOP conference, the president made it clear there would be no further modifications, and said he expected Republicans to rally around Ryan's bill.

Then Trump made a mistake. After singling out Meadows and asking him to stand up in front of his colleagues, Trump joked that he might "come after" the Freedom Caucus boss if he didn't vote yes, and then added, with a more serious tone: "I think Mark Meadows will get on board."

Representative Meadows didn't get on board and the measure had to be pulled by Speaker Ryan, either at the initiative of the President or with his consent.

Then it was Sally Yates' turn.  The Assistant Attorney General was scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee this week about the connection between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The Justice Department wrote Yates' attorney, David A. O'Neill, on March 24 "such communications are likely covered by the presidential communications privilege and possibly the deliberative process privilege. The President owns these privileges."

Own? It sounds like this is one of Donald Trump's properties he intends to run into the ground or one of his ex-wives (or girlfriends).  O'Neill was having none of it, responding that his client intends "to provide information" to the committee about "Russian cyber activities directed against the U.S. election, potential links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns, the U.S. government's response to these Russian active measures and related leaks of classified information."

Trump's Justice Department could have claimed executive privilege in court, thereby at least delaying the testimony.  But the DOJ instead issued a statement: " The Department of Justice specifically told her that it would not stop her and to suggest otherwise is completely irresponsible." Spicer later remarked "we have no problem with her testifying, plain and simple."

Donald Trump folded, in what may have been rare common sense from the Administration.  More likely than judiciousness, however, is an inability to respond in kind when challenged. When the emperor is confronted, we find he has no clothes. Heading into a fight over Judge Gorsuch, infrastructure, health care (again) or anything else, it's something the Democratic Party ought to consider.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

When A Stopped Clock Is Right

As a former head of the Club for Growth, Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey has precious few good ideas. But if a stopped clock can be right twice a day, Senator Toomey can be right once in his career, and he is. And if I recognize Toomey's good idea, I can quote from the conservative Weekly Standard, which writes

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned states and localities that claim to be sanctuary cities and refuse to comply with federal immigration laws that they risk being deemed ineligible to receive money from the central government.

“Today, I’m urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws, including 8 U.S.C. Section 1373. Moreover, the Department of Justice will require that jurisdictions seeking or applying for Department of Justice grants to certify compliance with 1373 as a condition of receiving those awards,” Sessions said.

He then pointed out that according to a report released by Homeland Security, in just one week, “there were more than 200 instances of jurisdictions refusing to honor ICE detainer requests with respect to individuals charged or convicted of a serious crime.”

“The charges and convictions against these aliens included drug-trafficking, hit-and-run, rape, sex offenses against a child, and even murder. Such policies cannot continue. They make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the streets,” Sessions said.

The Attorney General's policy less extreme than that of the President, who has ordered withheld any federal grants from a jurisdiction considered by the Department of Homeland Security to be a "sanctuary city" (whatever that might be).  Still, the reaction was heated. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti proclaimed "L.A.'s values are not for sale" while the state's Senate leader called it "race-based scapegoating."  Seattle's mayor termed the Administration's policy "bigotry" and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel labeled it "unconstitutional."

The perspective of these critics and of the Administration is overly simplistic (although, given there is no legal definition of "sanctuary city," it may be unconstitutional).  The Morning Call in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania reminds us

In 2014 the county declared it would no longer hold inmates past their county release dates even if asked to do so by ICE. It enacted the policy as part of a $95,000 settlement of a federal lawsuit filed by Ernesto Gallarza, a man the county kept in prison over a weekend at the agency's request, only to learn later that ICE had the wrong guy.

Gallarza's case was bolstered by a 2014 federal court decision. The court determined that immigration detainers like the one issued by ICE after Gallarza was arrested in a 2008 drug raid are the only requests local jurisdictions like Lehigh County can be held liable for honoring.

The three-judge panel held that federal code establishes an immigration detainer as a "request" rather than a requirement, a (barely) plausible, yet disturbing, interpretation which discourages law enforcement agencies from cooperation (9/11, anybody?).  Therefore

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., who said he supports Trump's executive order as a good first step, said Wednesday in a statement that local officials need to be protected from being sued simply for cooperating with federal immigration authorities. He has introduced legislation that would put the federal government, not local officials, on the hook for errors in the issuance of detainers.

"We need legislation to ensure local police are not subject to lawsuits for good-faith efforts to cooperate with federal law enforcement to remove dangerous criminals and terrorists from our streets," Toomey said.

In the same statement, he said only Congress has the authority to withhold millions of dollars in federal grants that would hold jurisdictions' feet to the fire, so there is some question about what money the Trump administration could order to be withheld.

AG Sessions referred to the horrid case of Francisco Sanchez, a convicted felon who murdered a young woman after "Customs Enforcement officers had filed a detainer requesting..." The distinction between a "request," as an immigration detainer is now oddly considered, and a legally-binding directive turns out to be critical.

Nonetheless, it is truly remarkable that if a suspect detained by a local jurisdiction in response to a request by a federal law enforcement agency is found to have been wrongly held, the municipality, county, and/or state can be held liable.    The federal government issued the "request" (!) pursuant to federal policy, made the mistake, and should alone be held responsible.

If you're a Pennsylvania resident, there are plenty of reasons to vote against Patrick Toomey, who is not up for re-election until 2022. However, this obvious notion of holding the government of the United States of America accountable is assuredly not one of them.

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Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Greatest Dealmaker Ever

When you are bankrolled by Robert Mercer and daughter Rebekah and your former chairman is a close presidential adviser, the pieces you publish are significant.  And when the report pertains to Donald Trump's favorite female talk-show host, we should take notice that

During her opening statement on Fox News Channel’s “Justice,” host Jeanine Pirro ripped House Speaker Paul Ryan, calling for him to step down after his healthcare bill to replace Obamacare failed miserably.

“Paul Ryan needs to step down as speaker of the house,” Pirro began. “The reason? He failed to deliver the votes on his healthcare bill, the one trumpeted to repeal and replace Obamacare, the one that he had seven years to work on, the one he had under lock and key in the basement of Congress, the one that had to be pulled to prevent the embarrassment of not having enough votes to pass.”

Later, Pirro said, “I want to be clear, this is not on President Trump. No one expected a business man to completely understand the nuances, the complicated ins and outs of Washington and its legislative process. How would he know which individuals upon which he would be able to rely?”

Paul Ryan will not be replaced any time soon, in part because he owns with the President the failure to overturn the Affordable Care Act.  Fortunately for people who rely on such frivolities as hospitalization, maternity care, and laboratory services, Trump hasn't learned how to steer legislation.

Trump, who has told us "I comprehend.... better, I think, than almost  anybody," works alone. Rim Alberta of Politico writes 

For starters, Trump kept the GOP health care bill at arm's length for more than a week, offering a smattering of favorable remarks but failing to embrace it in convincing fashion. Ryan's rivals on Capitol Hill got the message: The president was lukewarm about the legislation. According to interviews with officials in all three camps—the White House, the Republican leadership and the Freedom Caucus—conservatives saw a schism between Trump and Ryan, and seized on the perceived opening.

Someone should have told Trump that the good-cop, bad-cop routine works only if both teammates know the game is being played. Instead

Early last week, during a budgetary meeting at the White House, the two leaders of the Freedom Caucus—chairman Mark Meadows and former chairman Jim Jordan—kept diverting the discussion to health care, much to the annoyance of Budget Committee chairwoman Diane Black. When the meeting broke, Meadows and Jordan swiftly sought an audience with the president to discuss Ryan's bill. Trump granted them the meeting, during which the conservatives complained that Ryan was presenting them with a "binary choice"—either vote for the bill that had been introduced, or vote to preserve Obamacare—that was doing the president a disservice. Trump replied that he was open to negotiation and new ideas, and Meadows and Jordan left the White House thinking they had a powerful ally. Ryan’s team was less than thrilled at the narrative of a good cop, bad cop routine.

If the other team believes it is getting played, it's not likely to end well for you.  Compounding the error by publicly embarrassing a potential ally- especially someone with clout- is a classic mistake of the haughty, so it's not surprising that

After singling out Meadows and asking him to stand up in front of his colleagues, Trump joked that he might "come after" the Freedom Caucus boss if he didn't vote yes, and then added, with a more serious tone: "I think Mark Meadows will get on board."

He may have thought a humiliated Meadows would "get on board," but he almost asked him not to, given that Meadows

has been determined to please both the White House and his conservatives colleagues on the Hill. Upon assuming the chairmanship of the Freedom Caucus earlier this year, Meadows was viewed suspiciously by some of his members who worried that the North Carolina congressman is too cozy with Trump and would hesitate to defy him. Meadows campaigned extensively with Trump last fall and struck up a relationship with White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who communicates with him almost daily by text. Meadows knew the health care fight would be viewed as a test of his independence from Trump, and the moment the president called him out, he was boxed in.

Trump may not sincerely be displeased with Ryan. If he is, and somehow is able to effect his removal from the position of Speaker, it will be both a loss to the GOP and (not coincidentally) a boon to the country.  It probably is a more patriotic move than we have any right to expect Donald Trump to make.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Presidential Pledge To Make America Worse

Jim Harbaugh, head football coach for the University of Michigan Wolverines, also is associated withf the Legal Services Council, which provides legal aid in civil cases to poor people. He recently tweeted “I hope reports that White House trying to defund Legal Services Corp aren't true. LSC is CRUCIAL to making justice system fair. #LSCmatters."

Interviewed recently for Politico Magazine, Harbaugh (brother of John) denied that his involvement is either political or as a football coach, instead insisting "I'm saying this as an American. I'm for America first."  He wasn't even aware that "America First" is frequentlycited by Donald Trump.

Harbaugh may be excused because the term was dragged is not original to the real estate tycoon turned politician, but was introduced into the lexicon by William Randolph Hearst.  Before the USA entered World War I, the publichsing magnate argued

[K]eep every dollar and every man and every weapon and all our supplies and stores AT HOME, for the defense of our own land, our own people, our own freedom, until that defense has been made ABSOLUTELY secure. After that we can think of other nations’ troubles. But till then, America first!

In the runup to the second world war, "America first" was popularized by isolationist, anti-Semite, amateur eugenicist and famous aviator Charles Lindbergh.  The term had meaning- however noxious- for Lindbergh, unlike for Donald Trump.

It does not apply to the domestic steel required for U.S. pipelines, which does not include those already under construction, which conveniently include Keystone XL. It does not apply to the Donald J. Trump Collection of shirts, suits, ties, and accessories, some of them made in mainland China.  Nor does it apply to Trump son Eric, whose Trump Winery in Virginia is eager to import workers from abroad through the H-2A visa program.  And all that is apart from the undeniable Trump-Russia connection and the possible Trump-Kremlin connection.

And it is dramatically inapplicable to health care reform.   After defeat of the GOP's Let Them Die bill, the President, who is doing his best to undermine the Affordable Care Act, stated

I've been saying for the last year-and-a-half that the best thing we can do politically speaking is let Obamacare explode. It is exploding right now. Many states have big problems, almost all states have big problems...

Now the Democrats own Obamacare 100 per cent. They own it. It's exploding now and it's going to be a very bad year. There are going to be explosive premium increases.

It's going to get worse, more people will suffer, and ain't it great! The strategy of the "America First" pol now is transparent.  "Make America Great Again" turns into "Make America Even Worse,"as Trump undermines the ACA.  Striving to make of Obamacare a failure, people will, he calculates, beg for his right-wing agenda.   It's the same Trump as "We’re gonna win so much, you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, “Please, please. It’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore. Mr. President, it’s too much.” And I’ll say, “No, it isn’t!”  (It's also part of the classic GOP strategy of running government so poorly that voters turn to the anti-government party.)

So Jim Harbaugh- like many Americans- is not fully and consciously aware of Donald Trump's "America First" slogan. But he'd remember it if, to capture its essence, "first" were replaced with "last."

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Friday, March 24, 2017

With All Due Apologies, He Must Be Rebuked

These guys can't be let off the hook.

Politico claims

House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes apologized to members of his panel Thursday for not informing Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat, before going public with allegations that Trump transition messages were inadvertently intercepted by U.S. intelligence agencies.

A committee aide said Nunes (R-Calif.) apologized "for not sharing information about the documents he saw with the minority before going public” and that “he pledged to work with them on this issue.”

Reuters believes

The Republican head of the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee apologized on Thursday for the way he handled sensitive allegations about U.S. spy agency surveillance of President Donald Trump's team.

Representative Devin Nunes was criticized by colleagues on Wednesday for calling a news conference to announce that the communications of members of the team that ran Trump's transition to the presidency were swept up in incidental surveillance targeting foreigners...

A Republican intelligence committee aide said on Thursday that Nunes had apologized to Democrats on the panel.

"Yes, he apologized to the minority on the committee today for going public and to the (White House) with his announcement yesterday before sharing the information with the minority. He pledged to work with them on this issue and share information with them about it," the aide told Reuters.

CBS News maintains

The chairman of the House Intelligence committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), apologized to committee Democrats in a meeting on Thursday morning according to Congressional Democrat on the panel. 

Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) told reporters waiting outside of the meeting that Nunes apologized to the ranking Democrat, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), during the meeting. A senior Republican committee staffer confirmed that account and said that Nunes pledged to work more with committee Democrats.

And while referring to Politico, News Corp's New York Post claimed

The House Intelligence chairman has apologized to his members for not informing them of new information about government surveillance of President Trump and his campaign team before sharing it with the press and the president.

Specifically, Devin Nunes apologized for going public before telling the top Democrat on the committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

"Specifically,"  he did not. Yet even Mother Jones' David Corn comments "On Thursday morning, at a private committee meeting, he apologized to his colleagues." However, the sentient, Corn adds "but, according to a committee source, Nunes would not say what he thought he had done wrong or explain his actions."

Nunes would not say what he thought he had done wrong or explain his actions.  Here, I must interject with my own "apology": I'm sorry if anyone has taken offense at anything I may have written here.

Similarly sentient, two Washington Post reporters wrote Nunes "made his apology" but added

Nunes’s apology was “generic,” Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the Intelligence Committee, said on CNN, adding that it was “not clear” precisely which actions his apology covered.

Not surprisingly, the broadcast media was worse, in most instances lazily accepting the meme that committee chairman Nunes had "apologized" or issued "an apology."

Not at all.  Representative Speier not only referred to Nunes' remarks as "generic" but realizes "he just apologized- he didn't specify what his apology was about."

That, as the gentle and diplomatic lady from California seems to understand, is no apology at all. This failure to understand that an apology must include an actual statement of regret for having erred extended even to Lawrence O'Donnell, who stated Thursday night "Chairman Devin Nunes apologized to the committee for delivering intelligence information directly to the President in the White House."

And that is remarkable, O'Donnell recognizing- as seen in the video below- that the biggest villain in the drama occasioned by Devin Nunes' reprehensible behavior is the Speaker of the House, the big fake, Paul Davis Ryan, who approved the congressman's action.  "You got to stick by the judgements you make," Nunes says, in defense of his action.    His decision cannot be tolerated and he can be removed only by the Speaker from the chairmanship, and demanding no less of Paul Ryan is an act of capitulation.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Party Politics

Ohio's Mike Turner enunciated clearly the Republican attitude toward the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 election cycle when he said (transcript here)

And Mr. Comey, by your announcement today, I mean, there is now a cloud that undermines our system. There is a cloud that where we're sitting with Mr. Clapper who was obviously in a very important position to know, who stated to us that there is no evidence of conclusion, and you will not give us evidence or -- or -- or give us any -- any substantive evaluation of it. We now sit with this cloud...

If that wasn't clear enough, committee chairperson Devin Nunes wrapped up the hearing by urging the FBI director to give whatever evidence he has to "myself and  (ranking committee member) Mr. Schiff because you know, there is a big gray cloud that you have put over people who have very important work to do to lead this country."

Simple translation: Stop doing whatever you're doing, unless it's to tip an election from the Democrat to the Republican. "If Nunes would consider country before party," Dana Milbank realizes, "he’d recognize that the cloud isn’t over Trump’s White House; it’s over all of us."

But this is an affliction common in the Nunes-Turner party.  It was only nine or ten months ago that Donald Trump, in the view of Speaker Paul Ryan, had made "the textbook definition of a racist comment."  He went on to endorse Trump and now "came here (to Capitol Hill) and knocked the ball out of the park, he knocked the cover off the ball."

That is peanuts, though, compared to congressional Republicans denying a hearing to Judge Merrick Garland and Monday forming a human chain of bodies across a "human red carpet" for Neil Gorsuch to glide upon in the House Intelligence Committee hearing room.

Additionally, there is an international flavor to the choice of Republicans to put party over country. Politico Magazine reports that, led by Republican Chris Smith of New Jersey (co-chairperson of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus) and Utah Senator Mike Lee,  several

conservative lawmakers have signed on to a volley of letters accusing (George) Soros of using his philanthropic spending to project his liberal sensibilities onto European politics. As Lee and other senators put it in a March 14 letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Soros’s Open Society Foundations are trying “to push a progressive agenda and invigorate the political left”....

The particular focus of the letters from Lee, Smith and their cohort is spending by Soros’s foundations in Macedonia, a former socialist republic in the throes of a two-year political crisis, and to a lesser extent in its neighbor to the west Albania. In the former Communist country, which has struggled with allegations of corruption, one letter expressed concerns that “Soros-backed organizations” are pushing reforms “ultimately aimed to give the Prime Minister and left-of-center government full control over judiciary power.”

The letters, which ask the State Department and the Government Accountability Office for information about U.S. foreign aid funding for Soros groups in the Balkans, came after lobbying from the right-wing party clinging to power in Macedonia, VMRO-DPMNE.

A career foreign service officer pushed back against the accusation and

said his role in the country, which has involved helping to mediate Macedonia’s political crisis, was neither unusual nor biased.

“We were invited and welcomed by the parties to [mediate],” Baily said in an interview with POLITICO. “Political crises have usually been resolved with a fairly significant involvement from Europe and the United States.”

According to the State Department, USAID provided just three grants to Foundation Open Society-Macedonia over the past 15 years, primarily for education initiatives involving the country’s ethnic Roma population. “Funding for Foundation Open Society-Macedonia for the Civil Society Project represents just 8 percent of our total assistance over the past five years,” said USAID Mission Director for Macedonia Jim Stein. “There’s a lot of exaggeration and distortion in that document.”

Nineteen-term congressman Smith is no useful idiot but is fully aware of the implications of his actions, and very likely that

Soros, who survived the Nazi occupation of his native Hungary and fled after World War II when it was under Soviet control, has been long a bĂȘte noir of the Kremlin, which sees his funding for civil society groups in former Soviet satellite states as part of a plot to install pro-Western governments.

For years, those complaints had generally fallen on deaf ears in Washington.

While Republicans have long regarded Soros as a mortal enemy when it comes to domestic politics (where he has spent tens of millions of dollars backing Democratic candidates and liberal causes), their politics were more aligned on the international stage. Soros’s efforts to boost democracy and root out corruption in former Eastern Bloc countries dovetailed with traditional Republican foreign policy objectives.

But things may have started changing after Donald Trump’s stunning victory in a presidential campaign during which he emphasized nationalist themes. Politicians with nationalist constituencies in several former Eastern Bloc states have become increasingly aggressive in seeking international support for their crusade against Soros, and they seem to have found at least some takers in the GOP.

Politico adds

Russia is trying to exploit the crisis in Macedonia to sow distrust of the U.S. and pull the right-wing party into its orbit, regional analysts say. And the Republican lawmakers’ concern — that the U.S. is, in the words of Lee’s letter to Tillerson, “fomenting political unrest, disrespecting national sovereignty and civil society” — handed Moscow a major propaganda coup, they warn.

It may be that these Republicans are not pandering to Kremlin, but are interested only in obstructing boogeyman George Soros and whatever he sets out to do.   Still, when coupled with the GOP approach to the FBI/Russian investigation and the Garland/Gorsuch power play, a very ugly picture emerges.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Redemption To Come, Maybe

Not only Donald Trump but Wilbur, also, may be in more trouble than we thought.

Not Wilbur the architect seen above, of course, because he died last year at the age of 96.  Instead, Wilbur Ross' days may be numbered.  Bob Cesca noticed this curious exchange a couple of days ago on Fox News Sunday:

Chris Wallace: Is [there] any surveillance of people in Trump World, or do we think there was surveillance of other people like [Russian] Ambassador Kislyak, and that these folks who were talking with him were incidentally swept up in the conversation in the intercepts?

Nunes: Well, if you look at the folks that are working at the White House, uh, today that are involved in the Trump — in the Trump administration, I don’t think there’s any but one there that’s under any type of investigation or surveillance activities at all.

As Cesca notes, the target is not General Flynn, who no longer is in the Administration, and is not likely Rex Tillerson, despite his business interests in Russia. It more likely is

Wilbur Ross, Trump’s 89-year-old newly confirmed secretary of commerce. We know that Ross was previously the vice chairman and 1.6-percent shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus, a sleazy money laundering outfit used by Russian oligarchs to funnel untold billions in cash. One of those oligarchs who washed his fortune through the Bank of Cyprus is Dmitry Rybolovlev, the “King of Fertilizer” in Russia, who also happened to purchase a ridiculously expensive property in Florida from Trump at a massive $60 million profit for the current president — in fact, it was the most expensive single home sale in the history of the United States.

"This was lost in Monday's headlines," Cesca noted.  Nearly everything would be lost in the news that, as reported in Wired

FBI Director Comey stated for the first time that the agency he leads is investigating Russia-Trump ties. “I’ve been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI as part of our counterintelligence mission is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the United States’ 2016 presidential election,” Comey told the House committee. “That includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts.”

But the significance of even that was downplayed, for

The timing of the investigation no doubt raise the hackles of Democrats, given that while the FBI kept the Trump campaign investigation secret for months, it made repeated public statements about an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server—including a letter Comey himself wrote to Congress about the investigation a week before election day.

James Comey will conduct a fair and thorough investigation and plumb to the depths any possible violation, pundits seem to believe.   Left unsaid is that Donald Trump- who as President can fire the FBI director- owes James Comey.  If Trump has any concept of loyalty, he'll allow almost anything to come out of Comey's FBI because it's likely without Comey's unprofessional, even reprehensible, handling of the Clinton  investigation, Donald Trump would be back in Manhattan today scamming everyone he could.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

More Than A Misunderstanding

"This article is kind of crazy," remarks a Slate commenter. He/she continues "While the author's arguments are all reasonable, what she's suggesting is that someone with Gorsuch's views, essentially, should be blackballed from the Supreme Court."

Not "blackballed," only viewed realistically.

In June, 2013 Judge Neil Gorsuch of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit issied a concurring opinion supporting Hobby Lobby in a case pertaining to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Free Exercise Clause (video below from 6/23).   Dahlia Lithwick cogently explains

It’s not just the great deference Gorsuch shows religious adherents that is worrisome. He also believes that the views of religious adherents are beyond factual debate. Again in the Hobby Lobby case, he wrote that companies must pay for “drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg.” That claim is simply false, even with regard to Plan B. It is a religious conclusion, not a medical or legal one. Whether that view is his or he simply declines to probe whether the religious conclusion is accurate, the effect is the same: He has written into a legal opinion a religious “fact” not supported by medical science. 

Far from being narrow-minded, Lithwick is being generous, for Judge Gorsuch had written

All of us face the problem of complicity. All of us must answer for ourselves whether and to what degree we are willing to be involved in the wrongdoing of others. For some, religion provides an essential source of guidance both about what constitutes wrongful conduct and the degree to which those who assist others in committing wrongful conduct themselves bear moral culpability. The Green family members are among those who seek guidance from their faith on these questions. Understanding that is the key to understanding this case. 

As the Greens explain their complaint, the ACA’s mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong. No one before us disputes that the mandate compels Hobby Lobby and Mardel to underwrite payments for drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg. No one disputes that the Greens’ religion teaches them that the use of such drugs or devices is gravely wrong.

"No one disputes" the claim that contraceptive drugs and devices destroy a fertilized human egg, claims Neil Gorsuch. That destructive impact is either his own view or one which he blithely accepts out of naivete or convenience. The Judge is either grossly ignorant or grossly negligent given that, as this pro-reproductive rights site argues

Implantation is what sets in motion all the signs that pregnancy has begun. On this one point, science, medicine and the law agree: implantation is the moment at which pregnancy starts. The only dissenting group is the pro-life movement, which dismisses this definition. It, instead, would like pregnancy to start at the unknowable moment the sperm fertilizes an egg. Once sperm meets egg, any effort to prevent the egg from implanting in the womb is considered an abortion by the pro-life movement. This is one of the arguments they offer up as justification for the campaigns to keep women from using birth control. Their claim is that most birth control methods prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, which to them, though not to science, is an abortion. But even that is not true. There is no evidence that birth control methods actually do what pro-life groups claim.

"No one disputes" now appears to be Gorsuch Shorthand for "most dispute."   But this is not an issue of abortion, nor even entirely of reproductive rights. It suggests that a prospective Supreme Court Justice fails to respect the concept of the wall of separation between church and state.   Lithwick concludes

Gorsuch’s defenders point to the fact that he has been an equal-opportunity defender of religious liberties, including in cases that involve plaintiffs from minority faiths. And this is precisely the point. Gorsuch’s own faith is not at issue here. At a Supreme Court confirmation hearing, we should not be talking about the beliefs a nominee may hold in his heart. Instead, we need to focus on whether his accommodation of the beliefs of others overmasters not just scientific fact and neutral civil rights laws, but also the interests and values of people of different faiths and those who reject religion altogether.

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Sunday, March 19, 2017

China Not Impressed

He has to be kidding.

Not Jacob Shapiro, director of analysis at Geopolitical Futures, who remarked on February 15 "there's enough inconsistencies in this report that it makes me raise an eyebrow."  During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to get tough on mainland China by declaring it a currency manipulator and imposing a 40 per cent tariff on goods it exports to this country. Therefore, Shapiro was referring to a report in The Wall Street Journal that, according to CNBC

the White House is instead considering a proposal that would change what it means to be a currency manipulator. The new definition, as reported by the Journal, would make it possible for Trump to avoid singling out — and angering — a country whose economy is fundamentally intertwined with the United States.

"It shows that either Trump can't label China a currency manipulator, or doesn't want to," said Jacob Shapiro, director of analysis at Geopolitical Futures, an online publication that analyzes and forecasts the course of global events.

Shapiro's eyebrows are very perceptive. The failure of the President to take action against Big China, however, may not be hard to understand, for a few weeks later we read the President has been

granted preliminary approval for 38 new Trump trademarks, paving the way for Donald Trump and his family to potentially develop a host of branded businesses from hotels to insurance to bodyguard and escort services, public documents show. 

Trump’s lawyers in China applied for the marks in April 2016, as Trump railed against China at campaign rallies, accusing it of currency manipulation and stealing US jobs. Critics maintain that Trump’s swelling portfolio of China trademarks raises serious conflict of interest questions.

Like father, like son (in-law). New York Magazine reports

A Beijing-based investment firm with close ties to the Chinese government is giving a “sweetheart deal” to the real-estate company owned by Jared Kushner’s family for a stake in the firm’s flagship property at 666 Fifth Ave., Bloomberg reported Monday.

The $4 billion deal calls for Kushner Companies, where Trump’s son-in-law and adviser was CEO until January, to receive $400 million in cash and have its mortgage in the mixed-use building slashed by about 80 percent.

The transaction’s critics tell Bloomberg that the terms of the deal are “unusually favorable.” The concern, as explained by Larry Noble of the Campaign Legal Center, is that Anbang Insurance Group is trying to curry favor with Kushner and, by extension, President Trump.

A Kushner Companies spokesman told Bloomberg that there’s no worry over conflict of interest because Jared sold his ownership in 666 Fifth Ave. to family members. But as Noble, who calls this a “sweetheart deal,” told Bloomberg, “A classic way you influence people is by financially helping their family.”

Matthew Sanderson, a D.C. lawyer and Republican, told the Times earlier this year that there’s nothing legally improper about the deal but it has the “strong appearance that a foreign entity is using Mr. Kushner’s business to try to influence U.S. policy.”

Early on St. Patrick's Day, President Trump tweeted "North Korea is behaving very badly. They have been 'playing' the United States for years. China has done little to help."

It would be more understandable if he were joking, about China and about Pyongyang needing a time-out.  While claiming the USA has been played by North Korea, the President seems unaware that China, having bestowed its beneficence upon the Trump family, would hold the cards in whatever poker game it wants to play with the USA. Viewing his country as primarily an investment vehicle, Trump is having trouble adjusting to the idea that he's no longer an owner or corporate CEO.

Donald Trump is proceeding rationally to maximize his family's weath, even to the extent of indirectly dealing with a foreign intelligence group.  Given his interests, when at a press conference he declares "we're a very powerful company- country," his only mistake is in the correction.

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Trust Or Accuse

Early on St. Patrick's Day (and not "St. Patty's Day;" Patrick was a man), Charlie Pierce would write (asterisk his)

This is an administration that is putting the country (and the world) in a very difficult position. The only people in it that seem to know what they're doing are the ones that have been put in place to demolish things on purpose. The rest of them demolish things by accident.

Angela Merkel dropped by on Friday to chat with the president*. Run for your life, Angela. We'll get back to you when and if things settle down.

If this seemed a little alarmist, it turned out to be unrealistically reassuring, for

Near the end of his meticulously formal, utterly impersonal news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Trump finally sought a sliver of common ground with his guest: They both, he said, had been wiretapped by former President Barack Obama.

Ms. Merkel did a barely perceptible double take, busying herself by shuffling her notes. She smiled thinly and said nothing, as if she had resolved not to get drawn into Mr. Trump’s political dramas.

It was like that throughout Mr. Trump’s first meeting with Ms. Merkel on Friday, an awkward encounter that was the most closely watched of his young presidency and took on an outsize symbolism: the great disrupter confronts the last defender of the liberal world order.

Worlds apart in style and policy, Mr. Trump and Ms. Merkel made a show of working together, as they stood side by side in the East Room of the White House. But they could not disguise the gulf that separates them on trade, immigration and a host of other thorny issues.

I don't believe Angela Merkel would be pleased at being associated with anything "liberal," but as the the de facto leader of the Free World by default, a little discomfort must be tolerated.

The Obama Administration never admitted that the C.I.A. had spied- probably without the President's approval- on the German Chancellor, but when the report of the wiretap appeared in October 2015, Merkel responded "We need trust,... Spying among friends is never acceptable...."

"As far as wiretapping," Trump quipped at the news conference, "I guess by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps." And now the leader of the Free World has been reminded of an unpleasant incident she and Obama probably had agreed to put behind them.

Imagine if a best friend reminded your Facebook contacts that your previous best friend had once enjoyed a torrid love affair with your wife. No one had admitted anything, life had gone on calmly, and now he reignites the issue. Patience, Madame Chancellor.

Trump's smart-ass comment may not have been his worst wiretapping remark. The President did not retract his claim of collusion between the United Kingdom and President Obama, nor did he deftly bat away the question. Rather

President Donald Trump defiantly refused to back down Friday from his explosive claim that Barack Obama wiretapped his phones, and sidestepped any blame for the White House decision to highlight an unverified report that Britain helped carry out the alleged surveillance.

Evidently, the British are not amused, though whether any less pleased than Merkel with the man who occupies the seat once most responsible for upholding the trans-Atlantic alliance is questionable. "Trust needs to be rebuilt," remarked Merkel upon hearing of the alleged wiretapping a year ago October. Publicly charging an ex-President with spying on one ally, and trying to implicate another ally in in another episode was not a good start.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

Food Insecurity. And Privatization.

The  budget proposal from the Trump Administration has generated considerable and justified opposition, even outrage, because of the evidently harsh and heartless reductions to worthwhile programs. Elimination of Meals on Wheels, which is funded by the Community Development Block Grant program, has been a particular flash point. Wiping out the Appalachian Regional Commission is particularly ironic, given Trump's overwhelming support among down-market whites in that area. And ripping out the heart of  programs which aid people while jacking up the Pentagon only makes it more obscene.

But other cuts are even more insidious because of what they portend. President Trump

is proposing to shift oversight of the U.S. air traffic control from the federal government to an independent group, according to budget documents released on Thursday.

Trump, who called the U.S. air traffic control system "obsolete" in a meeting with airline executives last month, is proposing $16.2 billion for the Department of Transportation's discretionary budget for fiscal year 2018, a reduction of 13 percent.

Some Transportation Department budget items are paid through the highway gas tax fund.
The document says Trump's plan "initiates a multi-year reauthorization proposal to shift the air traffic control function of the Federal Aviation Administration to an independent, non-governmental organization."

Charlie Pierce notes that this privatization scheme constitutes

finishing the work that Reagan started in 1981, and adapting the system to a philosophy that has worked so very well in the prison system and in education. Speaking of which, the Department of Education is taking a 13.5 percent cut, but there's going to be $1.4 billion shifted over into various charter and voucher schemes that have proven worthless in practice, but that warm the heart of Betsy DeVos, our anti-public-education Secretary of Education. Pell Grants also take a whack.

Privatization of essential functions has reared its ugly, inefficent head in education, prisons, and now- if the GOP gets its way- the skies may become as dangerous as, well, our water.   Donald Cohen, founder and executive director of In the Public Interest, writes that the Pittsburgh

water utility was laying off employees in an effort to cut costs. By the end of the year, half of the staff responsible for testing water throughout the 100,000-customer system was let go. The cuts would prove to be catastrophic. Six months later, lead levels in tap water in thousands of homes soared. The professor who had helped expose Flint, Michigan’s lead crisis took notice, “The levels in Pittsburgh are comparable to those reported in Flint.”

The cities also share something else, involvement by the same for-profit water corporation. Pittsburgh’s layoffs happened under the watch of French corporation Veolia, who was hired to help the city’s utility save money. Veolia also oversaw a change to a cheaper chemical additive that likely caused the eventual spike in lead levels. In Flint, Veolia served a similar consulting role and failed to detect high levels of lead in the city’s water, deeming it safe. 

"High levels of lead exposure," Kevin Drum noted in February of 2016, "are associated with aggressivity, impulsivity, ADHD, and lower IQ." Two months later, researchers published a paper demonstrating that homicide rates in American cities from 1921 through 1936 closely correlated with the likelihood that the jurisdiction had installed lead water pipes in the late 19th century.  As Drum (crediting graphic below to researcher Rick Nevin) already had summarized

We now have studies at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level. Groups of children have been followed from the womb to adulthood, and higher childhood blood lead levels are consistently associated with higher adult arrest rates for violent crimes. All of these studies tell the same story: Gasoline lead is responsible for a good share of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

Crime rates fell a couple of decades after lead was taken out of gasoline (especially in the big cities, which had the highest concntration of automobiles) and will rise after lead is reintroduced as a short-term cost-cutting measure in cities whose water systems have been conquered by privatization.

In a similar manner, airplane accidents have dropped dramatically over the decades, a trend likely to be reversed if the transportation scheme, a solution in search of a problem, in this budget is adopted.  It is not, of course, the only problem with this horrendous budget but demonstrates one of the prime objectives of this President and his Party, one which sacrifices  American citizens for the profits of the well-heeled.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Somehow, Still Naive

On February 27, The Hill reports

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) offered a resolution that would have directed the House to request 10 years of Trump’s tax returns, have the House Ways and Means Committee review them in a closed session and then vote to send the information in the returns to the full House.

Every Republican voted against the measure, save Walter Jones of North Carolina and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who voted "present."  House Minority Leader Pelosi thereupon responded

 “Our security and our democracy have been endangered by Russia’s clear influence on the Trump Administration. The American people deserve the truth about Russia’s personal, political and financial grip on President Trump.  If there’s nothing there, then what are Republicans afraid of?"

Putting party over country is nothing new for congressional Republicans. The Affordable Care Act, similar to the health care reform first proposed by the Heritage Foundation and enacted by Governor Romney in Massachusetts, garnered zero (0) GOP votes in the House of Representatives and the Senate.   In the following seven years of the Obama presidency, congressional Republicans voted over 60 times to gut Obamacare.

Now that the GOP is in complete control of two branches of the American government and aim to overturn the Affordable Care Act, Speaker Ryan has led the chant heard around the Capital: Obamacare is in a "death spiral," a phrase he dishonestly used three times in an interview yesterday afternoon with CNN's Jake Tapper.

It's not in any death spiral but thanks to Republicans, it may soon be.   Moments after taking office, President issued an executive order recommending government departments "waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of provisions" of the Affordable Care Act.

Rumor has it that Vice President Joe Biden was present at both the creation of the Affordable Care Act and efforts by the Obama Administration to preserve and protect it against a Republican Party striving to return more Americans to the vagaries of insurance companies and others.

He was there in body and spirit, but his memory is short. The Huffington Post notes

Former Vice President Joe Biden has received three separate awards for his bipartisanship and civility in the past year, — one each from the Bipartisan Policy Center, the University of Notre Dame and Allegheny College. 

It’s not that he doesn’t appreciate the accolades. He just finds them a bit odd. 

“I thought that’s what we’re supposed to be,” Biden said during a speech Wednesday at Research!America’s 21st annual Advocacy Awards.

“The idea that Notre Dame would say, ‘Joe Biden and John Boehner, they actually get along so we should give them an award?’” Biden continued, referring to the Republican former House speaker. “There’s something really wrong with what we’ve allowed to have happen here.” 

There is no "we," Joe.  The President who in his inaugural address two months ago declared "When America is united, America is totally unstoppable" on Wednesday held a rally in which he

railed against a judge's order blocking his immigration restrictions on Wednesday, saying the ruling made America "look weak" — and drew chants from supporters of "lock her up!" when he attacked his defeated rival.

Campaigning in Tennessee more than four months after winning the presidency, Trump continued to attack Hillary Clinton. While reading a legal code that the president said backed his authority to enact the travel ban, Trump interrupted himself to say that "fortunately" the former secretary of state was not in the White House.

"The law and Constitution give the president the power to suspend immigration when he deems - or she, or she. Fortunately, it will not be Hillary," he said.

The set-up had its desired effect as

Chants of "Lock her up!" reverberated through the auditorium at the mention of Clinton. Trump walked from the podium and surveyed the crowd as they continued to chant — something that became a hallmark of his campaign

When ex-President Obama gives an adoring crowd the "thumbs-up" signal as it yells "Lock him (Trump) up" former Vice President Biden can plausibly denounce "what we've allowed to happen here."  Not before.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Be Not Distracted

Slate's television critic, Willa Paskin, was not impressed with what clearly was hype (admittedly, itself a hyped term) coming from Rachel Maddow's Twitter feed and MSNBC before Maddow revealed two pages of one of Donald Trump's income tax return on Tuesday evening.  Paskin observed

As the show went on, it became clear that Maddow knew she didn't quite have the scoop that had been promised. “What would we have to see, what would we hope to get in mail,” she asked Johnston, “if we were going to get to the real meat of Donald Trump’s foreign ties?”—i.e., what would be more meaningful than the tax form that we have? Speaking to Chris Hayes and Johnston, she said, “The story here to me is, a) we have obtained this [tax form], b) that this stuff is obtainable.” “BREAKING: Trump’s tax returns theoretically obtainable. Tonight, 9 p.m. ET. MSNBC. (Seriously)” does make for a less rousing tweet.

Acknowledging that "whatever information they happen to contain," the tax returns "constitute a major scoop," Paskin nonetheless adds

Maddow’s social media team ensured the highest possible ratings for that scoop. But if ever a story should have been delivered in a stentorian, fuddy-duddy, nonpartisan manner, this was it. In positioning it as a grand revelation, a vital step in comprehending Trump’s corruption, MSNBC created an exceedingly cynical spectacle. By playing into the network’s loyal liberal audience’s fantasy that there exists a Trump silver bullet, it instead delivered Trump a positive news cycle—the guy pays taxes! Who knew!—amidst the debacle of the American Health Care Act, along with more evidence that the media is aligned against him. 

Also maintaining the tax returns constituted a feint, Joe Scarborough tweeted "the Trump camp released one positive tax retun to distract from Russia hearings and the Trumpcare meltdown. That's painfully obvious." He followed a few minutes later with "this one tax return is not bad for him because he cherry picked one return from over a decade ago and had it leaked to the press."

While at first glance the Paskin and the Scarborough analyses closely track with one another, there is a significant- albeit not glaring- difference. Scarborough cites "one tax return (which) is not bad for him," which dates to more than a decade ago. However Paskin, perhaps fantasizing about sheep, argues Maddow was "playing into the network's loyal liberal audience's fantasy that there exists a Trump silver bullet."

There are two problems with this. There is no consensus among those reality-based liberals that there is a "silver bullet" because we recognize the possibility of several bullets. Additionally, without the tax returns, no one knows whether there is any bullet at all, and it is unclear whether Trump's returns are being audited.   We do know, however, that every President and every GOP nominee since Richard M. Nixon had released his income tax returns. (The sole exception, Gerald Ford released summary data about his returns from 1966 through 1974.)

But not this President.  Certainly, Donald Trump is hiding one thing and/or another, whether something as minor as giving little to charity or something criminal and endangering national security.

Charlie Pierce, recounting the events that preceded and followed edited transcripts released by President Nixon as a distraction, explains

If the Trump administration did arrange the leak of these documents, what they're doing can be seen as the equivalent of Nixon's release of the edited transcripts—the revelation of something bad to prevent to revelation of something worse.

It is up to the country to decide whether that ploy will work. If you're "distracted" by this, it's not because the White House wants you to be, it's because you decided to be.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Question Of Whose Ox Is Gored

If you could ask President Donald Trump one question, what would it be?

DailyKos contributor SemDem notes that Trump is "obsessed with conspiracy theories," did not as President-elect mention the Sandy Hook terrorist attack on its fourth anniversary, and dismissed the open letter of the daughter of a Sandy Hook victim in which the President-elect was asked to denounce the rampage and false-flag conspiratorialist Alex Jones.  SemDem would ask "Do you believe the Sandy Hook massacre was a hoax?"

That's a very good effort at an event past, but there should be also be one pertaining to a possible future event.  Blue Nation Review's Melissa McEwan explains

Trump overtly talks and talks and talks about himself – and when he talks about other people, he’s still talking about himself. It’s just that he’s projecting his own flaws and failures onto them.

When he calls Hillary a “bigot,” he is really talking about himself. When he says that Hillary gives speeches that are devoid of policy, he is really talking about himself. When he accuses her of asserting that she has claimed to be able to solve systemic injustice, he is projecting onto her the claims he’s made.

From the man whose modus operandi is frightening people and primary goal to accumulate as much profit as possible leveraging his public office, there was this classic tweet in August: "Just watched recap of #CrookedHillary's speech. Very short and lies. She is the one fear-mongering!"

So consider that the President accused Barack Obama of ordering a wiretap on Trump Tower when on March 4 he tweeted "Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!"; "Is it legal for a sitting President to be "wire tapping" a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!"; "I'd bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!"; "How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!"

The following Monday, March 6, 2017, Chris Matthews charged Trump with failing to consider "the fact that evidence might be relevant when you're accusing an American President of a felony- a felony."  Shepard Smith, the most reasonable voice Fox News anchorperson, questioned whether the President had "tweeted it out — accused the former president of felonious activity, accused him of a crime with zero evidence."  Even a lawyer, whom one could expect would carefully choose his words, wrote that Mr. Obama has "been described as 'livid' over the accusation that he committed a felony."

But President Trump did not use the word "felony" and should not be accused of claiming the former President committed a "felony." Rather, Trump alleged that Obama had done something which most experts would consider a felony.

The distinction is not mere semantics. After Trump was asked in a New York Times interview on November 22, 2016 about his business conflicts, Maggie Haberman tweeted that Trump responded "the law's totally on my side, the president-elect can't have a conflict of interest."

Trump's response neatly combines his corrupt intentions, ignorance about the law, and arrogance toward his prerogatives as president.  He may not be aware that the sort of action of which he accuses Barack Obama probably would constitute felonius behavior.  If he is, it is unlikely that he would find it beyond his purview.

Trump may have had no contact with Russians, believes his contact(s) was insignificant, or has convinced himself that the significant contact was immaterial.  In any of those cases, it could be expected that he would regard any intrusion on his privacy as an outrage. That does not mean that he would onsider it illegal or even improper if he himself would order without cause a tap of a citizen.

He might need to convince himself that his action was necessitated for national security or public safety. Or he may simply believe that when he does anything "the law's totally on my side."Either way, President Trump should be asked "Do you believe you would as a President ever be justified in ordering the wiretapping of an American citizen?"

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The husband-wife (or, rather, wife-husband) duo of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and Martha-Ann Alito nee Bomgardner flew an upside do...