Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Crooked Baby

In a battle- rather, a minor skirmish among apparent allies- there are slightly competing explanations for President Trump's cave-in to the Saudis over the apparent murder of Jamal Khashoggi:

I think we must add the adjective "Saudi-enriched" https://t.co/hgFMNwqXMZ

— Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson) October 14, 2018

The law of parsimony, or at least Will Bunch, suggests that Abramson is correct. Bunch links us to an article he wrote five months ago in which he explained

Trump stunned his own foreign policy team— including then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis — when he tweeted that Qatar is a sponsor of terrorism and seemingly endorsed an economic and political blockage of the tiny, oil-rich nation organized and led by two powerful neighbors, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, or UAE.

A few months later, people who suspect the worst about Trump and his minions learned a possible motive that was almost too cynical to comprehend. Not long before Team Trump switched gears on Qatar, key officials from the emirate had met with Charles Kushner — father of Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared, who's in charge of Trump's Middle East portfolio — to discuss a massive Qatar-funded bailout of 666 Fifth Ave., the debt-laden Manhattan skyscraper that was threatening to sink the Kushner family real estate empire. But the Qataris rejected the deal — just weeks before the policy about-face. Whatever actually happened, the appearance was simply awful.

It also seems not to have been the full story. This weekend, the New York Times published a stunning report about a plan floated by a longtime emissary for the Saudis and the UAE in early August 2016, when Trump had just grabbed the GOP nomination but faced an uphill campaign against Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump Jr., aide Stephen Miller and Erik Prince, founder of the notorious mercenary outfit once know as Blackwater, listened intently as the emissary offered Team Trump millions of dollars in assistance, including a covert social-media campaign, to help Trump win that would be run by a former Israeli spy who specializes in psychological warfare, or psywar.

And then there is this:
Well, o.k. However, in the interview conducted on Thursday (broadcast on Sunday) by CBS' Lesley Stahl, the President was asked why he says he "fell in love" with Kim Jong-un, Trump replied. "Sure. I know all these things. I mean- I'm not a baby."

Asked what his "biggest surprise" has been as president, Trump responded. "Okay. So I always used to say the toughest people are Manhattan real estate guys and blah, blah. Now I say they're babies."  To a follow-up question, he remarked "They're babies, the political people."Asked whether like his wife he distrusts some people in the White House, Trump replied "I think I'm guarded anyway. But I'm not saying I trust everybody in the White House. I'm not a baby. It's a tough business."

I'm not a baby... Now i say they're babies.... They're babies, the political people.... I'm not a baby.

If Donald J. Trump is not a baby, he is something very close.  Though holding few if any cards in any confrontation, Riyadh threatened to retaliate against the USA if it responds to Khashoggi's murder.  The President, going beyond the Kingdom's suggestion that it may have been a kidnapping attempt that got out of hand, then suggested the possibility of "rogue killers."

A bully, Trump is a guy who is easily rolled. And that makes it difficult, despite the considerable evidence that Donald Trump is selling out to the Saudis for his family's financial gain, to discount an additional motivation. He is a baby who is letting pipsqueaks threaten the USA. This is not only an extremely greedy individual, but one who asserted "you're fired" enough that it was long before the realization sank in that the baby himself very easily intimidated.

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Monday, October 15, 2018

Civility Politics

Let us now praise the ever-hopeful and idealistic Michelle Obama.

While campaigning for a Virginia state House candidate, former Attorney General Eric Holder said

They have used the power that they have gotten for all the wrong things. They want to keep themselves in power. They want to cater to the special interests. It is time for us as Democrats to be as tough as they are, to be as dedicated as they are, to be as committed as they are.

Michelle always says- Michelle Obama, I love her, you know she and my wife, like really tight, which really scares me and Barack but Michelle says "when they go low, we go high." No, no.

When they go low, we kick them. That's what, that's what this new Democratic Party is about. We're proud of hell to be Democrats. We're willing to fight for the ideals of the Democratic Party. We;re proud our our history, we're proud of our present and we're proud of the future that we can create for this country and we're not in this just to make a statement. We're in this to win, alright?

To her credit, Michelle Obama responded. To her discredit, she was wrong when she stated

Fear is not — it's not a proper motivator. Hope wins out. And if you think about how you want your kids to be raised, how you want them to think about life & their opportunities, do you want them afraid of their neighbors?”

Hope worked for Senator Obama in the fall of 2008. By the fall of 2012, the bloom was off the rose, Obama's margin over the GOP opponent declined, and only Chief Justice John Roberts' vote to uphold the the President's Affordable Care Act saved the nation from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan. In July of 2016, 62%-70% of Americans were "dissatisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time."

Still, President Obama- as is his style- went high and, running for a third Obama term, Hillary Clinton did, also, Unfortunately, her (ultimately winning) opponent did not:

“One of the candidates, as you recall, was predicting that the election was going to be ‘rigged’ in some way,” said Jeh Johnson, the former secretary, referring to President Trump’s unsubstantiated accusation before Election Day. “We were concerned that by making the statement we might, in and of itself, be challenging the integrity of the election process itself.”

Mr. Johnson’s testimony, before the House Intelligence Committee, provided a fresh insight into how the Obama administration tried to balance politically explosive information with the public’s need to know.

Ian Bremmer recalls

The U.S. government under Obama knew what the Russians were doing. Obama was warned repeatedly by Eastern European governments that Russia was meddling in their own elections. And while Latvian elections don’t exactly rank high on the list of an American president’s priorities, the White House could have guessed what the Russians were gearing up to do — and should have sent them a forceful message to knock it off. Obama apparently issued a direct warning to Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met in person in September 2016, but it came too late and had little effect.

So give Michelle Obama some credit. It's not all of us who can convince themselves that the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter bunny exist, and that the American people are yearning for happy talk from politicians.  With any luck, however, she will convince few other Democrats and Eric Holder's clear notion of reality will prevail.

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Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Nation Of People

Since the Obama Administration, a few voices on the right lamented the apparent erosion of the concept of the USA as a nation of laws and not of men.

The Hoover Institution was exorcised because the Justice Department did not always choose to enforce in court a law the Administration found unconstitutional. The conservative Washington Examiner denounced regulators and "bureaucrats" in the Obama Administration for regulation of the environment and financial services sector. More recently, a writer on the right-of -center website website American Greatness criticized the effort to block President Trump's travel ban(s) as an illegal encroachment upon the power of the Executive Branch. 

Whatever the merits of these arguments, there was relatively little danger (and more likely, benefit) in letting the Defense of Marriage Act die, defending the American people against environmental degradation or Wall Street excesses, or ensuring that individuals were not barred from the USA because of their religion.

Not so this, however. Will Bunch explains

on Aug. 6, when Rosie O'Donnell and some other Broadway performers Amtraked their way down to the White House gates for a rousing night of anti-Trump show tunes. O'Donnell, longtime bĂȘte noire of the 45th president, led the troupe in "America the Beautiful" and told the assembled mass to "stand up against treason, and stop fascism before it takes over the United States."

The very next day, Aug. 7, the Trump administration's National Park Service promulgated rules that threaten protests like the nightly White House demonstrations — as well as any other would-be spontaneous large D.C. protests. The rules would restrict gatherings that now take place on a 25-foot-wide sidewalk in front of the White House to just a 5-foot sliver, severely limiting crowds. The NPS also threatens to hit political protesters on the National Mall with large security and cleanup fees that historically have been waived for such gatherings, and it wants to make it easier to reject a spontaneous protest of the type that might occur, say, if Trump fires special counsel Robert Mueller.

Nation of laws, indeed. This rule contradicts the First Amendment- but only the spirit, not the letter, of the law. The law- in this case the United States Constitution- seems like it will be little impediment to shutting down a protest called if the President ramps up obstruction of justice to the nth degree.

Moreover, there probably would be no investigation of possible conspiracy of the Trump campaign with the Russian government had President Trump not committed an uncharacteristic tactical error.  Recall that 

In  May 2017, Trump fired Comey, and said a day later that Russia was on his mind when he made the decision. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was overseeing the Russia probe a the time because Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from any investigations involving the Trump campaign. (Sessions' recusal decision came amid public pressure over his failure to disclose that he met with the Russian ambassador during the Trump campaign.)

Six days later, on May 17, 2017, Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel.

In ways not anticipated, and now not admitted. by the right, the bromide that the USA is "a nation of laws, not of men," turns out to be a crock. This is a nation of men (or people), not of laws- and at present, both the Executive and Legislative branches of the federal government are under control of men to whom you should not entrust an ice cream parlor, let alone the US government.

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Saturday, October 13, 2018

A Problem Not Going Away

There is a lot to unpack here- so as Chris Cuomo would say, "let's get after it."

On Friday night's Real Time, Bill Maher (beginning at 17:14 of the videobelow) hearkened back to his ABC program "Politically Incorrect" and argued

Political correctness- I believed it would destroy us then and I believe that now. I think people vote not so much on policy anymore. I don't think they follow it closely. I think they vote on who's strong. They know Trump's an idiot but he looks strong- and political correctness, weak. 80% in this new Atlantic story that published this poll, 80% of Americans see political correctness as a problem and I think it's our problem.

I don't know why more mainstream liberals don't denounce the political correctness that they must know in private conversations is insane.

While Maher contends that individuals don't vote on policy anymore, they actually do- indirectly. The political parties are a proxy for ideology, and voting on a partisan basis is routine.

Nonetheless, Maher realizes that voters recognize considerable political correctness, are drawn to candidates who appear "strong," and that Democrats appear weak as they pander to political correctness. (Trump: "President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today..")

Maher states (most) "mainstream liberals don't denounce the political correctness that they must know in private conversations is insane." However, it is not only "mainstream liberals" who avoid criticizing political correctness. It is also the far left of the party- and the centrists in the party. (An elected official must secure and maintain his/her base.)

There are several reasons for this. One is a failure- even by the uniquely politically incorrect and bold Maher himself- to acknowledge the role that discomfort with minorities plays in revulsion at political correctness.. (This is not Maher's motivation, but few people exorcised by "political correctness' give $1,000,000 donations to Democratic causes.)

Those minorities, depending upon the individual and the circumstance, may include blacks, Latinos, immigrants, gays, and women.  Opposition to these groups helped prompt Richard Nixon's "Southern Strategy," and has only increased through the decades.  With the decline of organized labor, these demographic groups have become the cornerstone of the Democratic Party, which has engendered opposition from other Americans.

Few people on the right or in the mainstream media will admit it, of course. It is so gauche to acknowledge not only bigotry but even discomfort with the aspiration of ethnic, gender, or sexual minorities. (Even Trump won't admit that he resents any minorities.) But it is there, nonetheless, often exploited by the GOP subtly, and by Donald Trump, crudely.

It is additionally difficult to combat the perception of being "politically correct" because it has become a catchall among many conservatives for what they oppose, and what they oppose is the Democratic Party and the left which dominates it, not the Republican Party. It typically goes unnoticed that Republicans also are politically correct, in the Trump era convinced they are victims, as Rebecca Traister points out (starting at 18:40). The Trump Administration itself is far fromimmune:

President Donald Trump’s aides are urging him to replace departing U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley with another woman, hoping the move would help shore up support among female voters before the midterms, three people familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

Trump aides are fleshing out a list of women as possible candidates with experience in the foreign policy arena after top pick Dina Powell, a Goldman Sachs executive and Trump administration alumna, withdrew her name from contention, citing her desire to remain close to her young children, according to two people familiar with Powell’s decision.

The number of males being considered to replace Mrs. Haley: zero (0).

That will not be cited as an example of political correctness for a few reasons, however. In the public's mind, only Democrats and liberals can be "politically correct."  Further, the Administration is limiting its search to women not because of ideology or commitment to pluralism, but because of political expedience. In a bizarre twist, that probably makes the "no men need apply" approach less vulnerable to charges of p.c.

Moreover, there is no one to call the GOP out on it. Republicans won't do so because they won't seriously question anything Trump. Democrats won't do it because it would cause friction with their base.

And so Maher is correct: it a problem and it is the Democratic Party's problem. And it is a problem with a solution presently beyond our grasp.

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Friday, October 12, 2018

Hitmen Denounced

I come to praise Jorge Mario Bergoglio, not to bury him. (That will come later.)

In September, 2014, then-National Review columnist  Kevin Williamson tweeted "yes, I believe that the law should treat abortion like any other homicide" and "I have hanging more in mind" for women who undergo the procedure. In April 2018  a podcast from that period came to light, in which Williamson referred to the Twitter exchange by asserting "And someone challenged me on my views on abortion, saying, “If you really thought it was a crime you would support things like life in prison, no parole, for treating it as a homicide.” And I do support that, in fact, as I wrote, what I had in mind was hanging."

Williamson was fired from The Atlantic but he evidently has a very influential ally.  In his weekly address to the assembled throng in St. Peter's Square, on October 10 Pope Francis stated

Today’s catechesis is dedicated to the Fifth Commandment: You shall not kill. The fifth Commandment is do not kill. We are now in the second part of the Decalogue, which concerns relations with one’s neighbour. And this Commandment, with its concise and categorical formulation, stands as a wall of defense of the basic value in human relations. And what is the basic value in human relations? The value of life.[1]Therefore, do not kill....

A contradictory approach also permits the suppression of human life in the maternal womb in the name of safeguarding other rights. But how can an act that suppresses innocent and defenseless budding human life be therapeutic, civil or simply human? I ask you: it is right to do away with a human life to solve a problem? Is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem? One cannot do this, it is not right to do away with a human being, albeit small, to solve a problem. It is like hiring a hitman to solve a problem.

Is it right to hire a hitman to solve a problem?.... It is like hiring a hitman to solve a problem.

By that, the Pope has rendered his judgement: consummating an abortion, the woman who is, or was, pregnant has hired a hitman to do the job.

The implication of this is clear. The woman is- as a hitman typically is in a contract killing- at least as guilty as the individual who actually has performed the act. If abortion is prohibited (an eventuality made more likely by the ascension of Bart O'Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court), the woman would be- in Pope Francis' reasoning- subject to severe punishment.

The obvious solution, of course, is not to put additional restrictions on a woman's reproductive freedom.  It will not be avoided, however, and the upcoming, intensified assault on reproductive freedom will test the courage of conservative legislators, who doubtless recognize that holding a woman responsible for an illegal abortion ("murder") is politically perilous. We'll then be able to determine if they are outraged by the act of abortion or instead by the fear that extending to women freedom in this realm would enable them to exercise greater economic and political power.

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Thursday, October 11, 2018

APB Issued For Barack H. Obama

If you just landed here from Mars- or from North Korea, where information about planet Earth is equally available- you would assume that President Trump is resolving innumerable problems left him by President Obama. In his campaign event- uh, er, appearance- with Nikki Haley on Tuesday, we learned that as of January 19, 2017

- Iran "looked like a real problem. It was a question of when they would take over the Middle East."

- The federal government was hostage to a "ridiculous deal that they made" with Iran.

-  The USA had with North Korea "a deal that — it was something that was — it was a devastating — potentially devastating problem. And now, the relationships are very good."

-  The world was not respecting the USA, yet now now "the world is really respecting the United States again, much more so they have — than they have in many, many decades. We are respected again, that I can tell you. Very much respected again."

- The USA had no friends in the United Nations but now "votes that we would normally get no votes, we’re getting very strong votes now."

- The federal government was unable to get hostages back but now "we got our hostages back. And I didn’t pay $1.8 billion, like the previous administration. We got — I paid nothing."

In Trump's telling, the Obama Administration paid $1.8 billion to Iran and didn't get hostages back, had brought America to the brink of a major war with North Korea, was getting routed in the United Nations, and was little respected across the globe.

The United States of America was a basket case when Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017, in the President's telling.  President Obama's foreign policy was a failure on Iran, China, North Korea, and in the United Nations.  War- maybe worse- was averted only because President Obama gave way to President Trump nearly two years ago, and America is sailing again.

That is fiction, of course. However, it is the narrative of a master communicator and actor (not in that order) occupying the White House. And the narrative is likely to take hold in the absence of an effective rebuttal.

Former Secretary of State Kerry, amidst criticism from the GOP, is speaking, boldly.  However, former President Obama has been relatively (though not totally) quiet, and has been completely so since Trump slammed him in the event held with Ambassador Haley. 

This does not prove that President Obama's foreign policy was the abject failure that President Trump paints it as (video from 10/17).  Nevertheless, if the individual most responsible for the nation's foreign policy from 2001 through 2008 does not poke holes in Donald Trump's argument, it's only fair that independent-minded people (and someone in from Mars) would come to believe that it was a disaster.

That's probably not good for President Obama's legacy. However, it is definitely very good for Donald Trump and the Republican Party he now owns.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Nurturing Nikki Haley

Michael Wolff would have been right- if only he had left out the word "private."

In a piece favorable to our UN ambassador, in January Politico's Eliana Johnson wrote

Nikki Haley became a trusted member of Donald Trump’s inner circle over the past year, but she's recently refamiliarized herself with a downside of professional success: rumors of an affair, this time with the president of the United States.

Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations calls the chatter “highly offensive” and “disgusting,” the result of what happens far too often to strong women.

The online speculation was instigated by “Fire and Fury” author Michael Wolff, who dropped hints on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” last week when he said he was “absolutely sure” Trump is having an affair — just not sure enough to write about it in his book. Wolff went on to say that discriminating readers would be able to determine the president's paramour by giving his book a close reading: “Now that I've told you, when you hit that paragraph, you're gonna say, 'Bingo.'”

Readers quickly homed in on a single sentence in the runaway best-seller, which has been criticized for everything from sloppy copy editing to gross factual inaccuracies. Wolff writes, “The president had been spending a notable amount of private time with Haley on Air Force One and was seen to be grooming her for a national political future.”

Believing both Hope Hicks and Kirstjen Nielsen were more plausible, I never believed that Wolff was referring to Haley. Nor did the author ever confirm that the paragraph Johnson cited was the one he was referring to.

But it's unnecessary to read between the lines to recognize that everyone and his uncle believe that the President was intentionally or at least inadvertently "grooming her for a national political future."

In just one of the bouquets thrown Haley's way in Tuesday's announcement that the UN Ambassador would be leaving her post, President Trump stated

I can speak for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — he thinks the world of Nikki. And so we’re all — we’re all happy for you, in one way, but we hate to — you’ll — hopefully, you’ll be coming back at some point.

But I just wanted to let you know — so at the end of the year, Nikki will be leaving. And we’ll be in constant touch, I know that. Whenever you have any ideas, you’re going to call me —

Lauded as having "been fantastic," Haley returned the favor, pledging to campaign in 2020 for the president who

proved that — whether it was with the chemical weapons in Syria; whether it’s with NATO — saying that other countries have to pay their share; I mean, whether it’s the trade deals, which has been amazing. They get that the President means business, and they follow through with that.


And I do want to say that it’s not just the President I want to thank. The family in general — the First Lady has been nothing but very, very kind to me.

I can’t say enough good things about Jared and Ivanka. Jared is such a hidden genius that no one understands. I mean, to re-do the NAFTA deal the way he did. What I’ve done working with him on the Middle East Peace Plan — it is so unbelievably well done.

Moreover, everyone seems to agree that she will have to be resisted being crowned President of the USA once Trump leaves the scene. Reuters' Ginger Gibson breathlessly captures the prevailing mood as she exults

Those who know Haley from her days as a popular governor of South Carolina believe she is in an enviable position.

“What she’s done as U.N, ambassador has not only raised her own profile, which was already high, but she also raised the profile of the job and she’s left some big shoes to fill,” said Rob Godfrey, a former political aide in South Carolina.

Haley has received high marks for her U.N. job performance. An April poll by Quinnipiac University found that 63 percent of voters approved of Haley, including 55 percent of Democrats....

Haley, who had scant experience in diplomacy before taking the U.N. job, now emerges as a dream candidate, one who figured out how to work with the voluble Trump without upstaging him, but would also buck her boss on issues that mattered to her.

Were she Catholic and male, she'd have to resist being elected Pope.Foreign policy expert Peter Feaver gushes

Instead, if we must look for political positioning instead of merely celebrating that someone answered the call to national service and then served honorably and ably, consider this: As governor of South Carolina, Haley more than checked the box of executive experience and political campaign chops. As ambassador to the United Nations, she more than checked the box of foreign-policy experience. What she lacks for an arduous run for president in 2024 is the kind of independent wealth that many successful party nominees have enjoyed. She now has plenty of time to check that box, too.

William Kristol has even suggested naively that Haley has 2020 potential, tweeting" Macron resigned from Cabinet in 2016. Elected president a year later. Will be two years for Nikki." (Kristol paved the way for an Obama victory in 2008 by pushing Sarah Palin on John McCain. He likes public officials who quit mid-term.)

Michael Wolff probably should have stated "we should not be assuming it is Haley who has had an affair with Donald Trump." Still, it appears he understood what few others did at the time, now that Nikki Haley has been allowed to leave on her own terms with praise and plaudits beyond what the President would offer anyone not named Trump and under age 45.

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Submitting to Authoritarianism

On October 3, Politico Magazine published by Matthew Miller a brilliant, nearly unique diagnosis and prognosis. The former Director of the Office of Public Affairs at the State Department wrote

As the FBI prepares to conclude its review of the sexual assault allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, it seems clear that its investigation has been cursory at best. According to NBC News, more than 40 potential sources have yet to be contacted by the FBI, including Kavanaugh’s original accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. A number of people with information relevant to the investigation have complained that even after calling the bureau’s field offices or national tip line in good faith, the bureau has not followed up with them.

Miller explained that

the FBI possesses a number of tools to shape its outcome if it feels it is being unfairly restricted. For example, the bureau could formally notify the White House in writing that it believes further witness interviews are necessary to obtain a complete picture—an act of bureaucratic pressure that would be difficult to ignore, especially if Wray shared that conclusion with key senators. It could compile every allegation and lead it has obtained through its tip line and field offices in its final report, even those the bureau has been blocked from investigating. Finally, it could do what it does best when it feels unfairly jammed by other government agencies: leak aggressively to the media.

It was clear, as Miller wrote, that the FBI would be doing nothing of the sort but "Democrats have largely failed to criticize the FBI for its role in the investigation, and have at times gone out of their way to praise its professionalism."

Offering a few suggestions, Miller argues "It’s time for Democrats to realize that the rules have changed" and that Democrats need "to fight fire with fire.... putting federal law enforcement on notice that both parties are watching its decisions."

A State Department veteran, Miller is too diplomatic to state bluntly that the FBI director has been placed squarely in President Donald Trump's pocket.

And it may not be only the FBI.  All eight of Bart O'Kavanaugh's new colleagues were present when on Monday evening President Trump staged a magnificent photo-op, swearing-in to the Supreme Court a judge who already had been sworn in.

They heard the President lie: "And with that, I must state that you, sir, under historic scrutiny, were proven innocent. Thank you. You were.”  (No Trump appearance, planned or impromptu, is complete with at least one lie.)

Visually tossing aside the concept of separation of powers, Justices Steven Breyer, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor,  and leftist icon "RBG" all appeared at a political rally disguised as a legitimate observance. 

Surely understanding the difference between a trial and a congressional hearing, they heard the President state  “What happened to the Kavanaugh family violates every notion of fairness, decency and due process. Our country, a man or woman must always be presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”

They surely recall that Donald Trump called for the execution of five teenagers upon their arrest in New York City in 1989- and that they eventually were determined to be innocent, prompting Trump to attack the judicial system. They understood the significance that the accused were all black or hispanic, and that- as subsequent years have confirmed- Trump did, too.

As Supreme Court Justices, the eight jurists are immune to condemnation, tweets, or threats from President Trump- or anyone. But for some reason they were there, adding legitimacy to Donald Trump's ongoing presidential campaign for 2020.

But they were there, however reluctantly, just as the FBI submitted to the political interests of President Trump, whether willingly or intimidated.

The co-opting of American institutions is dangerous enough in this term.  It suggests, moreover, that a defeat of Donald Trump in November, 2020 might not mean that he will not still be President Trump on January 21, 2021.

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Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Supporting President Trump

Q.: What do all these headlines have in common?

CNN: Trump apologizes to Kavanaugh for sexual misconduct allegations during confirmation;
TIME: President Trump apologizes to Kavanaugh, says judge was 'proven innocent';
NBC News: Trump apologizes to Kavnaguh on 'behalf of ournation,' says judge 'roven innocent';
Fox News: President Trump apologizes to Brett Kavanaugh and his family at cremonial swearing-in as Supreme Court Justice;
Bloomberg: Trump apologizes to Kavanaugh and declares him 'proven innocent';
Politico:  Trump uses swearing-in ceremony to apologize to Kavanaugh;
Associated Press: Trump apologizes to Brett Kavanaugh 'on behalf of our nation' during ceremonial TV event;
New York Times (AP article): Trump apologizes to Kavanaugh during swearing-in ceremony.

A.: They all state that President Trump apologized to Brett Kavanaugh.... and they're all inaccurate.

(O.K., "Tiger Beat on the Potomac," Politico, doesn't count.)

Let Merriam-Webster explain that an "Apology usually applies to an expression of regret for a mistake or wrong with implied admission of guilt or fault and with or without reference to mitigating or extenuating circumstances."

President Trump did not admit guilt or fault. He couldn't have because he certainly was not responsible for the nominee having been criticized- or as he puts it, "tortured."  Kavanaugh was tortured by Democratic senators, over whom he has little control and no responsibility.

Donald Trump has apologized only once, and that was for the words on the Access Hollywood tape, an admission of a mistake he has since retracted at least twice by suggesting at least twice that the tape was "fake" or "doctored."

No one would deny that an apology is a good thing, and Trump benefits by headlines characterizing an attack on Democrats as an "apology." But an individual can apologize only for what he is directly, or at least in large measure, responsible. (That would include a minor child or possibly an employee for whom one is largely accountable.)  If your immediate neighbor slugs his neighbor on the other side, you can express regret to the second neighbor but you cannot apologize on behalf of the other, for you are not responsible for his behavior.

Members of the media probably are unaware that they are running interference for President Trump. They usually provide some context in the body of an article, invariably read predominantly by partisans, individuals who already have formed opinions of the President. Many, perhaps most, people read only the headline and even when they go further, may remember only the headline.

Reporters and editors may not like the President and if they have any sense- given Trump's continuing attack upon them- do not. However, headlines, as well as the photo-ops the President stages, give a favorable impression of him. 

It is, presumably, inadvertent. Nevertheless, the media has consistently promoted the Trump presidency, allowing themselves to be manipulated by a President whose frequent rallies demonstrate that every day is a campaign for him.

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Monday, October 08, 2018

Do The Right Thing

One of the Washington Post's columnists in September 2017 wrote a piece entitled "Saudi Arabia wasn't always this repressive. Now it's unbearable" and announced that he was leaving the country. In an editorial Thursday, the Post noted

he entered the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul on Tuesday to take care of what should have been routine paperwork. Saudi Arabia says he then left. His fiancee, waiting for him, says he did not, and he cannot be found. Turkey says it has seen no sign that he left the building. Mr. Khashoggi, a contributor to The Post’s Global Opinions section, appears to have disappeared, and we are worried.

Mr. Khashoggi is not just any commentator. Over a long career, he has had close contact with Saudi royalty and knows more than most about how they think and function. His criticism, voiced over the past year, most surely rankles Mohammed bin Salman, who was elevated to crown prince last year and has carried out a wide-ranging campaign to silence dissent while trying to modernize the kingdom. Among those in his prisons for political speech are clerics, bloggers, journalists and activists. He imprisoned women who agitated for the right to drive, a right that was granted even as they were punished.

Turkish officials now are claiming that while in the embassy, Kashoggi was murdered and his body dismembered and removed in boxes. Amnesty International termed the possibility

an abysmal new low. Such an assassination within the grounds of the consulate, which is territory under Saudi Arabian jurisdiction, would amount to an extrajudicial execution. This case sends a shockwave among Saudi Arabian human rights defenders and dissidents everywhere, eroding any notion of seeking safe haven abroad.

Robin Wright explained

When we spoke last November, Khashoggi compared the Saudi monarchy to the Iranian theocracy. “M.B.S. is now becoming the supreme leader,” he said, a reference to Iran’s top authority, who has veto power over every branch of the government. Since his father became king, in 2015, M.B.S. has consolidated his hold on the five major sectors of power, serving as minister of defense, head of a new economic council, and chief of the royal court. “He is very autocratic and totally illiberal,” Khashoggi told me in August. “I worked for the government for four or five years. I never thought I’d be arrested, but then I thought I might. That’s why I left.” Khashoggi’s status became ever more precarious as his critiques of the monarchy sharpened in recent months.

As of Monday morning, the report is not confirmed. However, if it is, the way forward should be obvious. President Trump has

expanded US military assistance to his Saudi and UAE allies – in ways that are prolonging the Yemen war and increasing civilian suffering. Soon after Trump took office in early 2017, his administration reversed a decision by former president Barack Obama to suspend the sale of over $500m in laser-guided bombs and other munitions to the Saudi military, over concerns about civilian deaths in Yemen. The US Senate narrowly approved that sale, in a vote of 53 to 47, almost handing Trump an embarrassing defeat.

In late 2017, after the Houthis fired ballistic missiles at several Saudi cities, the Pentagon secretly sent US special forces to the Saudi-Yemen border, to help the Saudi military locate and destroy Houthi missile sites. While US troops did not cross into Yemen to directly fight Yemen’s rebels, the clandestine mission escalated US participation in a war that has dragged on since Saudi Arabia and its allies began bombing the Houthis in March 2015.

The war has killed at least 10,000 Yemenis and left more than 22 million people –three-quarters of Yemen’s population – in need of humanitarian aid. At least 8 million Yemenis are on the brink of famine, and 1 million are infected with cholera.

This war has been a humanitarian disaster, one that President Obama never should have gotten the USA involved in it. President Trump should not have made a bad situation much, more worse, as is his wont.

In times past, suspicion abounded that the US government was cozy with Riyadh because as the world's largest exporter of petroleum, it had an outsize influence on OPEC and thus the worldwide price of oil. However, the USA is now awash in oil, many advanced nations have made major, successful investments in renewable energy, and playing nice with the kingdom is no longer necessary.

Last week, President Trump actually said something constructive (though a little naive) about Saudi Arabia when he stated

We protect Saudi Arabia. Would you say they're rich? And I love the king, King Salman, but I said "King, we're protecting you. You might not be there for two weeks without us. You have to pay for your military."

If it is determined the Saudis likely murdered Jamal Kashoggi, it will be time for Trump to put up or shut up.  That's a slender reed to hold on to, but with Donald Trump finalizing control of his party and extending control over the entire nation, it is at present the best hope.

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Saturday, October 06, 2018

Very Effective Myth

As someone who believed Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton would square off in the 2008 presidential primary, I recognize- at least in hindsight- a bad prediction when I see one.

A couple of hours after Senator Susan Collins delivered her stunningly disingenuous or remarkably naive speech endorsing Brett Kavanaugh, Slate's legal editor, Mark Joseph Stern, demolished her argument. However, when Kavanaugh buddy Ed Whelan speculated that Dr. Ford's allegation of attempted rape was all a matter of mistaken identity, Stern wrote

If the people who helped construct and hype this notion really thought it would work, then this nomination is in on the verge of collapse. Whelan’s theory is astonishingly desperate, an outlandish and potentially defamatory Hail Mary that no rational person would find persuasive. His willingness to humiliate himself and destroy his reputation in a calamitously misguided effort to push Kavanaugh over the finish line speaks volumes. Hard as it may be to believe, this is apparently the best they’ve got.

The best thev've got (or the grammatically correct "the best they have") has proven to be quite enough. Several Republicans picked up on it and as Chris Hayes would tweet, "the Ed Whelan theory (or some version of it) has basically become the default consensus of the GOP." An hour or so later, Whelan's theory reached its apogee in Senator Collins' speech endorsing Kavanaugh when, in high hypocrisy, she stated

Mr. President, I listened carefully to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony before the Judiciary Committee. I found her testimony to be sincere, painful, and compelling. I believe that she is a survivor of a sexual assault and that this trauma has upended her life. Nevertheless, the four witnesses she named could not corroborate any of the events of that evening gathering where she says the assault occurred; none of the individuals Professor Ford says were at the party has any recollection at all of that night.

Those four do not include Mark Judge, the individual identified by Dr. Ford as having participated in the (alleged) attempted rape. Nor did any state that the assault did not happen.

Republicans don't expect quite to co-opt #MeToo. But they do want to defuse the movement. They can't do that by charging that the woman- any woman- is lying or that a devastating incident never happened. So they claim they believe the "testimony" is "sincere, painful, and compelling." But, poor dear, she doesn't realize it was some other guy who did it to her.

It is a disingenuous, dishonest, even sexist, argument. Women are separated from their own agency. They do not have the capacity of lying, which normal, autonomous beings are able to do. They are mistaken or deluded.

They care so much for Christine Blasey Ford. Collins added "Watching her, Mr. President, I could not help but feel that some people who wanted to engineer the defeat of this nomination cared little, if at all, for her well-being.". Then she announced she will vote to put onto the Supreme Court for life the man whom the poor dear credibly maintains attempted to rape her. Forty-eight of her GOP colleagues, given cover by the Whelan theory, will do so, too,

Ed Whelan was ridiculed in some quarters when he floated his theory. But truth be damned, so Republican senators unwrapped this present, applied more discreet, tasteful gift wrap, then re-gifted it.

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Friday, October 05, 2018

His Pledge Of Allegiance Is Not To The Stars And Stripes

"Young Ben Sasse," as Charlie Pierce calls him, tearfully took to the Senate floor Sunday night and declared

I’m here to talk about the false choice that is being repeated hour after hour after hour on television that this confirmation vote about one vacant seat on the Supreme Court, in that vote we are somehow going to be making a giant binary choice about the much broader issue of whether we do or do not care about women. That is simply not true...

I urged the president to nominate a woman. Part of my argument then was that the very important #MeToo movement was also very new and that this Senate is not at all well prepared to handle allegations of sexual harassment and assault that might have come forward.

Unimpressed, Pierce notes that President Trump

nominated Brett Kavanaugh anyway, and I will bet a shiny buffalo nickel that Young Ben Sasse's cautious prudence will force him to vote for the president*'s nominee, but that he will feel really, really conflicted about it. He might even take a few seconds to think about his vote, but only if he has to stifle a sneeze. And thus will end the Sorrowful Mysteries of Young Ben Sasse in this matter. Is this sufficiently nauseating for us yet? Given the choice between Young Ben Sasse and his cautious prudence and Mitch McConnell's outright cynicism and bulldozer politics, I'll take the latter every time, because at the very least it is free from what Mr. Lincoln once called "the base alloy of hypocrisy."

However, as extraordinarily hypocritical as Nebraska Senator Sasse-who nearly always votes with the President- is, no one has seriously questioned his patriotism. Presumably, he is a true believer in the conservative cause who is on Team Russia only by default, having signed on to the Republican Party long ago. By contrast, we know about McConnell from former CIA director John Brennan and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. When the latter's Facts and Fears: Hard Truths From A Life In Intelligence was published in May, an NPR reviewer explained

Back in 2016, Clapper and the spy bosses took their case to the White House. President Barack Obama was convinced but said he didn't want to make a strong public condemnation that would make it appear he was using his administration to help Clinton against Trump, who was benefiting from all the agitation.

So Obama confronted Russian President Vladimir Putin personally — to no effect — and asked White House chief of staff Denis McDonough to approach the Republican leaders of Congress and ask them to sign a joint statement condemning the foreign interference. They said no, Clapper writes.

"House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said they would not support a bipartisan statement that might hurt their nominee for president," Clapper writes. "I was disappointed but not surprised. It seemed they had decided by then that they didn't care who their nominee was, how he got elected or what effects having a foreign power influence our election would have on the nation, as long as they won."

Now Washington Post reporter Greg Miller (video, though, from 6/17) has released The Apprentice and in an interview on CNN stated

... before the election happened, as you said, the CIA has learned that Putin is overseeing this operation, they're trying to elect Donald Trump. Brennan sets in motion a series of private briefings of all congressional leaders. It's really unusual, a moment in our history. He's trying to get their attention, trying to grab them by their collar.  He's meeting with McConnell, is basically telling him "you're telling us that Russia is trying to elect Trump. If you try to come forward with this, I'm not going to sign on to any kind of public statement that would condemn Russian interference but I will condemn you and the Obama Administration for trying to mess up this election."

No one can say with certainty why Mitch McConnell was trying to keep information from the American people. It may be because he wanted to be Majority Leader especially with a GOP president, or simple partisanship, or because he believed he could finagle a largely no-show job for his wife if Donald Trump became president. Whatever his motivation, Mitch McConnell has become an effective team captain working under the President as head coach of Team Russia.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Words of Little Significance

The Washington Post's Julie Zauzmer writes

The debate gripping the country, about whether Brett M. Kavanaugh should have a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, is at its heart a question of morality. Or rather, perhaps, many questions of morality: How should we as a nation treat women who tell us they have been sexually assaulted? How do we choose whom to believe when two people have different accounts? How should we weigh a person’s past when we consider his future? What behavior disqualifies a person for a high honor? What do we do when our ethics and our politics collide?

The questions call for not just senators and commentators to answer. These questions are also for the clergy.

Below, you’ll find a selection of excerpts from sermons preached this past weekend, in the days after Kavanaugh testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee and after his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, told the committee and the nation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school. The next day, two women confronted Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) in an elevator, before he requested a new FBI background check on Kavanaugh. Across the country, pastors and priests and rabbis grappled in front of their congregations with the topics of sexual violence, public leadership, honesty and justice.

The excerpts are from five Protestant ministers, one each from the Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church, and Congregational Church (sibling to UCC); an Eastern Orthodox (in this case, Greek) Church priest; and one rabbi.

Five of the members of the clergy were generally, vaguel supportive of the Ford perspective and two of the Kavanaugh perspective. However- at least in the portions provided- only two mentioned either "Ford" or "Kavanaugh."

The Kavanaugh hearing presented two diametrically opposed pictures of what occurred in Montgomery County one evening 36 years ago. The woman said that she was sexually assaulted in a case of attempted rape. The man said: no way, no how, nothing like she described occurred.

But you will read nothing of that in the (admittedly abridged) portions of the sermons.  Even one of the two who mentioned the nearly unmentionable names states "I’m not here to tell you what I believe. I think I’m here to ask you to be open to listening."

People should not be patronized. We have been listening. Tens of millions of people watched at least part of these hearings. Many of us followed the controversy over highly inappropriate, consensual oral sex practiced by President Clinton. Some of us are old enough to catch on television the (Clarence) Thomas-(Anita) Hill hearing. Over the last few decades and especially over the past twelve months, people have been listening to allegations of sexual assault and coming to their own conclusions.

And there is a sizeable number of Americans who have already come to the conclusion which five of those seven religious leaders would not be happy about. In Mississippi on Tuesday

Trump imitated Ford during her testimony before the crowd, mocking her for not knowing the answer to questions such as how she got to the party.

“'I had one beer.' Well do you think it was… 'Nope. It was one beer.' Oh good. How did you get home? 'I don’t remember.' How did you get there? 'I don’t remember.' Where is the place? 'I don’t remember.' How many years ago was it? 'I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.'"

The crowd began to cheer and laugh, as the President continued imitating Ford recounting the night she says she was nearly raped.

"What neighborhood was it in? 'I don’t know.' Where’s the house? 'I don’t know. Upstairs. Downstairs. I don’t know. But I had one beer that’s the only thing I remember,'" Trump continued.

"These questions," reporter Zausner remarked "call for not just senators and commentators to answer. These questions are also for the clergy." At present, the primary, dominant, and most consequential question is whether Brett Kavanaugh has demonstrated the integrity necessary for a lifetime appointment to the United States Supreme Court. On this matter, the men and women quoted chose to punt.

One of the Ten Commandments reads "thou shall not bear false witness."  One of the two individuals involved in this drama is lying. If ministers, priests and rabbis are unwilling to remind their congregations of this and identify the fabricator, they are not questions they are able to answer or even address.

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Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Sorry Impulse

Beto O'Rourke has apologized.

Did the Democratic candidate to unseat Senator Ted Cruz sexually assault a woman? Has he used the "n-word?"Did he call his opponent a "Nazi" or rashly, inaccurately, and offensively referred to abortion as a "holocaust?" (No, that would be a few right-wingers.)

R-E-L-A-X. It's far less serious than the latter two, and not in the same universe as the first. Instead, Politico reports

In 1991, the 19-year-old O’Rourke reviewed the Broadway musical “The Will Rogers Follies” for the Columbia Daily Spectator, the university’s student newspaper. Writing under the byline Robert O’Rourke, he panned the performance as “one of the most glaring examples of the sickening excesses and moral degradations of our culture.”

He went on to bemoan the bevy of “perma-smile actresses whose only qualifications seem to be their phenomenally large breasts and tight buttocks.”

The review in the Oct. 10, 1991, edition of the Spectator, which according to an archive search was the only article he wrote for the newspaper, offers another glimpse of the former life of the Texas Senate candidate, who has given Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) an unexpectedly serious reelection challenge. It also shows how drastically the sensitivities surrounding descriptions of women have changed over the past three decades: While it’s unclear whether O’Rourke was criticizing the musical’s use of scantily-clad women for effect or commenting on their bodies himself, his prose, in hindsight, is jarring either way.

No, it's not jarring and no, it's not unclear.

O'Rourke is being criticized for being sexist or misogynistic or insensitive for pointing out that a for-profit cultural event (which became highly successful) was itself misogynistic and/or insensitive.

But the candidate belongs to the Democratic Party. And so while a nominee for the United States Supreme Court very likely perjures himself about attempting to rape a female and about nearly everything else, O'Rourke sends to Politico a statement reading in part "I am ashamed of what I wrote and I apologize. There is no excuse for making disrespectful and demeaning comments about women."

There is not, and there might be cause for apology if he had in fact made a disrespectful or demeaning comment about women.

O'Rourke deserves credit for not issuing a fau-apology along the lines of "I apologize if anything I said may have been hurtful to someone." But the apology culture has taken hold with Democrats- apologize first, think second, attack never. Politico added "The column was flagged to POLITICO by a person who opposes O’Rourke’s Senate campaign."

Hardly newsworthy, this is a case of a media outlet being used by a political campaign.  O'Rourke would have been better off noting that this was a smear performed by a political operative doing Ted Cruz's dirty work for him.  And if that would have entailed a swipe at the mainstream media, all the better. It may be what much of the public has been waiting for a Democrat to do for some time.

Monday, October 01, 2018

One Very Loyal Prosecutor

Deputy County Attorney Rachel Mitchell is not stupid. Naive, weak, and ineffective, maybe; but stupid- absolutely not.

CNN reports that in a five-page memorandum, addressed to "All Republican Senators," dated September 30

Rachel Mitchell says a "reasonable prosecutor" would not bring a case against Brett Kavanaugh based on Christine Blasey Ford's sexual assault allegation given the evidence presented to the Judiciary Committee

"In the legal context, here is my bottom line: A 'he said, she said' case is incredibly difficult to prove. But this case is even weaker than that," she wrote. "Dr. Ford identified other witnesses to the event, and those witnesses either refuted her allegations or failed to corroborate them. For the reasons discussed below, I do not think that a reasonable prosecutor would bring this case based on the evidence before the Committee. Nor do I believe that this evidence is sufficient to satisfy the preponderance-of-the-evidence standard."

Mitchell's opinion was based on the evidence before the Committee.  She was permitted to question the accused for a total of fifteen (15) minutes (worse, in five-minute increments), which would be considered less than even a cursory interview of a suspect charged with attempted rape. Additionally, a letter addressed to all Republican senators is a tell; she was hired by and for the GOP senators on the committee and expected to conclude what they themselves already had concluded.

The Deputy County Attorney from Maricopa County, Arizona has a superior, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery who early Saturday morning offered his view of Thursday's hearing:

These guys don't even pretend to be objective, do they? (They don't have to be.) The only mystery in these events is why Ms. Mitchell waited a couple of days to attempt to legitimize her boss'  childish tweet.

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Crooked Baby

In a battle- rather, a minor skirmish among apparent allies - there are slightly competing explanations for President Trump's ca...