Thursday, May 31, 2018

Lie Of The Day

And so begins a regular series, "Trump Lie of the Day," understanding "lie" to be a falsehood the individual probably suspects or knows is not accurate. We begin with....

NBC's Lester Holt (5/11/17)- but also The New York Times (5/19/17):

President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Days without a lie: 0

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When Friends Are Enemies

"The World As It Is," a memoir by longtime Obama adviser Benjamin Rhodes, will be published next week by Random House. New York Times reporter Peter Baker writes

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany told Mr. Obama that she felt more obliged to run for another term because of Mr. Trump’s election to defend the liberal international order. When they parted for the final time, Ms. Merkel had a single tear in her eye. “She’s all alone,” Mr. Obama noted.

The good news is that Ms. Merkel, as much as anyone now the leader of the free world, is no longer all alone. The bad news is that hernation, as well as other allies of the USA, is being targeted by President Donald J. Trump.  The Hill reports

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced that the U.S. would levy steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU, Canada and Mexico — a move that puts an end to the temporary exemptions the three trading allies received after Trump made the initial tariffs announcement in March.

Trump is using a U.S. law called Section 232 that allows tariffs to be imposed for national security purposes. Thursday's decision will lead to tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum.

“We look forward to continued negotiations with Canada and Mexico on one hand and with the European Commission on the other hand as there are other issues we need to get resolved,” Ross said Thursday.

Bloomberg termed it "a move immediately condemned by America’s closest allies," who are likely to retaliate, whether by imposing import duties upon goods from the USA or continuing to press a case at the World Trade Organization against against US import restrictions.

In The New York Times, we read

The Aluminum Association, which represents most of the aluminum producers in the United States, said on Thursday that it was “disappointed” by the announcement. Heidi Brock, the association’s president, said the move would do little to address the larger issue of overcapacity in China “while potentially alienating allies and disrupting supply chains that more than 97 percent of U.S. aluminum industry jobs rely upon."

It's little surprise it doesn't address the problem of Chica, which has begun to pressure international airlines to identify Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau as part of mainland China rather than as the independent territories they are.  In the manner of the exquisitely sensitive Donald Trump, Beijing has warned foreign airlines to respect “territorial integrity and sovereignty, its laws and the feelings of the Chinese people."  Instead, while China is treated with kid gloves by the American president

The European Union and Canada have objected strongly to the use of the national security argument, citing their close alliance and defense agreements with the United States. On Wednesday, Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign minister called the idea that metal imports from her country would threaten American national security “frankly absurd.”

Of course it is. But the Trump Administration, committed tosaving jobs in China, is less about national security than about punishing our allies. Trump can do it, so he'll do it.

"This is dumb," GOP senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska explains, "Europe, Canada, and Mexico are not China, and you don't treat allies the same way you treat opponents." First, however, someone has to convince the President that China is an opponent and Mexico, Canada, and the European Union are allies.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

That Other Roseanne Barr Thing

It was a disgusting, reprehensible, bigoted tweet by Roseanne Barr.

Of course, I am talking about

Lest you be appalled at such seemingly tasteless sarcasm, consider that several hours after ABC cancelled Roseanne following the star's vile remark about Valerie Jarrett, the Independent of the UK wrote "Ms Barr’s comments appeared to be a continuation of a conspiracy theory that has circulated for years. Shortly after Ms Barr’s racist and antisemitic tweetstorm, ABC announced it would be cancelling her sitcom, which was one of the highest-rated new shows of the season."

Uh, no. The network made its announcement only after Roseanne Barr made the comment about President Obama's closest adviser and was a response to it.  CNN has an informative rundown of the timeline pertaining to Barr's tweets, the response among her colleagues and other individuals, and of the network. The most telling, however, was from ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey: "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show."

Note the singular "twitter statement," and give ABC credit for the honesty expressed in its specificity.  Barr's remark about Jarrett was abhorrent and repugnant, as well as meeting the dictionary definition of "racism" in claiming the inherent racial inferiority of blacks. It is debatable, though, whether it was completely inconsistent with the network's values, given that ABC undoubtedly knew of Barr's history of despicable comments.

Cancellation of the program was blamed on the one tweet also by the Associated Press, which noted "ABC cancelled its reboot of 'Roseanne' on Tuesday following star Roseanne Barr's racist tweet that referred to former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett as a product of the Muslim Brotherhood and the 'Planet of the Apes.'"

Cable news networks also focused on Barr's tweet about Jarrett, as her allegation about Soros gets swept into the dustbin of history.  That allegation is all the more significant because it is grossly inaccurate and  arguably anti-Semitic, and conspiracy theories involving Soros are a favorite of the right-wing.

The campaign against George Soros is is not technically racist, an important factor. But Soros is a much more significant individual than is Jarrett, a state of affairs not lost upon conservatives, though conveniently ignored by the media and disregarded by the American Broadcasting Company. 

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Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Mean Media

Interviewed by MSNBC's Ayman Mohyeldin Tuesday, conservative radio talk show host and once-weekly MSNBC host Hugh Hewitt defended President Trump's Memorial Day tweet touting his own (alleged) accomplishments.

 "I think it is ordinary and routine," Hewitt contended, "for almost everyone to tweet about Memorial Day and how he honor the fallen, but also to tweet about other things."

Given that most Americans don't even tweet, that is obviously a lie. Inasmuch as Presidents don't extol their own virtues on Memorial Day, it is appallingly dishonest.

But much more dangerous is Hewitt's claim (beginning at 2:07 of the video below)

Not just this base, Ayman, I think 90% of America sighs at the obsession of the media finding something to criticize the President about, as opposed to, for example, finding something to compliment him about. And I don't think this tweet makes a difference....

They're just so mean to Donald Trump. On Tuesday, The New York Times reported

Ivanka Trump's brand continues to win foreign trademarks in China and the Philippines, adding to questions about conflicts of interest at the White House, The Associated Press has found.

On Sunday, China granted the first daughter's company final approval for its 13th trademark in the last three months, trademark office records show. Over the same period, the Chinese government has granted Ivanka Trump's company provisional approval for another eight trademarks, which can be finalized if no objections are raised during a three-month comment period.

Taken together, the trademarks could allow her brand to market a lifetime's worth of products in China, from baby blankets to coffins, and a host of things in between, including perfume, makeup, bowls, mirrors, furniture, books, coffee, chocolate and honey. Ivanka Trump stepped back from management of her brand and placed its assets in a family-run trust, but she continues to profit from the business.

"Ivanka Trump's refusal to divest from her business is especially troubling as the Ivanka brand continues to expand its business in foreign countries," Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in an email Monday. "It raises significant questions about corruption, as it invites the possibility that she could be benefiting financially from her position and her father's presidency or that she could be influenced in her policy work by countries' treatment of her business."

The Associated Press suggested it was "adding to questions about conflicts of interest at the White House," a polite way of saying "shaping America's foreign policy to serve the family's business interests." Its article appeared in The Philadelphia Inquirer, serving the nation's fourth largest media market, on page 9 and was benignly titled "China OKs Ivanaka trademarks." Three days earlier the Associated Press had found

The Trump administration has reached a deal that will put Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE back in business by rolling back severe sanctions put in place last month by the Commerce Department, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The move to settle with the Chinese company removes a major barrier to U.S.-China trade talks as Beijing opposed a penalty that would have shuttered the firm by prohibiting U.S. suppliers from doing business with ZTE for seven years....

News of a deal brought quick condemnation from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Many on Capitol Hill view the action as a sign of weakness against China, especially as the administration tries to take Beijing to task over policies it says have robbed U.S. companies of sensitive technology.

“Yes they have a deal in mind. It is a great deal... for #ZTE & China,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tweeted. “#China crushes U.S. companies with no mercy & they use these telecomm companies to spy & steal from us. Many hoped this time would be different. Now congress will need to act."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the deal as reported “would be helping make China great again.“

Well, now, that is the point, isn't it?

Still, Hewitt believes (or pretends to believe) that the media is anti-Trump.  He won't acknowledge that it matters little what individual reporters think of the President but rather how their articles are written and the prominence given them by editors.  So we have an appropriately sarcastic Janet Johnson tweeting

I’m sure if Hillary Clinton promised to bail out a sanctioned, spying Chinese telecom, and then Chelsea immediately got a coveted trademark agreement from China, @nytimes would bury it on B3.

There are several possible explanations for this pro-Trump bias in what is ironically labeled the "liberal media." One one can be found- twice- in the video here.  Hewitt (beginning at 1:37) states "so I'm not going to escalate into anti-Trump rhetoric over this, it is kind of common for him." Matt Lewis (beginning at :51) had remarked

it's classic Trump It's how he has behaved all of his public life. He's always been kind of a self-promoting narcissist and this is how he's treating  Memorial Day, too. At this point it's not as much a surprise in presidential behavior so it's hard to get a rise out of me.

As a Trump apologist, Hewitt is happily excusing the President while Lewis is lamenting the President's boorish behavior. However, they both are inadvertently explaining why Donald Trump gets more favorable press than he's due or otherwise would objectively receive: he does this stuff all the time. He gets a pass because he is consistently repugnant.

It's a pattern.  It's not the product of a slip of the tongue or of a bad day but of a really bad guy. And it's how the President can sell off American foreign policy to the highest bidder with the media barely noticing.

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We've Seen Nothing Yet

As author of TrumpNation and Bloomberg News columnist, Timothy O'Brien knows a lot about Donald Trump. Last Tuesday, he summarized Donald Trump's career- discriminating against blacks in rental properties, driving casinos into bankruptcy, laundering money, committing fraud, cavorting with the mob. Most recently, with Representative Devin Nunes and the cross-dressing Rudy Giuliani, he has been actively undermining faith of the American people in the Justice Department.

But two days later, O'Brien explained that the President has not been undermining only the Justice Department:

Attacks on the Judiciary, federal law enforcement, and the media are more obvious, in part because they are covered more fully. However, Politico has reported

President Donald Trump on Friday issued a series of executive orders to weaken the influence of government unions and make it easier for agencies to fire civil servants.

The orders will standardize agency rules to make it easier and quicker to remove poorly performing employees. They also direct federal agencies to renegotiate their labor contracts and cap the amount of paid time that workers can take off to conduct union-related business.

But we learn that this is not only a standard Trump attack on the middle class because

The largest federal employee union condemned Friday’s orders.

“This is more than union busting — it’s democracy busting,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “This administration seems hellbent on replacing a civil service that works for all taxpayers with a political service that serves at its whim.”

In addition to hemming in union power, the executive orders could be abused to reduce accountability or punish whistleblowers, said Nick Schwellenbach, director of investigations at the nonprofit Project on Government Oversight.

“Weakening civil service protection laws would make the government less effective and put us all at risk, “ he said. “It would impede Congress’s ability to conduct oversight of the executive branch: Congress’s best sources of information are the employees inside agencies, and without robust protections and due process, more sources will remain silent.”

If you go to an accommodating ice cream parlor and ask about a certain flavor, you'll be offered a taste of it.  Curious about a style of beer at a brewpub, you may be offered a sample. In each category O'Brien cites, President Trump is giving us a mere taste or sample of what would come after January, 2021.  

In 1974, Randy Bachman wrote as a joke a song which somehow became Bachman-Turner Overdrive's #1 hit.  The message is completely unrelated. Nonetheless, accidentally and absent our notice, its title would become the operating principle of the 45th President of the USA.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

On Memorial Day

A very famous politician in Washington, D.C. has tweeted

Today we honor the Americans who sacrificed everything to secure the blessings of liberty. Family and friends to some, heroes to all - who lived, fought and died for the safety and future of a great and good nation. God bless them and grant them perpetual peace.

Unfortunately, that was not President Trump but rather Senator John McCain, who became a hero and lived to hear Donald Trump denigrate his sacrifice, and whose presidential ambitions were torpedoed by Hurricane Palin.  Instead, for Memorial Day we hear from the 45th President

Wishing a "happy" day may not be appropriate for an occasion in which we collectively honor individuals who have been killed. Chris Cillizza goes deeper, explaining Trump is the "me" President, not the "we" President, with a" tweet (which) seems reflective of a broader belief that has animated every moment of Trump's campaign and presidency: This is about him. Period."

But Trump's economic message may also hit a bad note because

As Americans head out for traditional Memorial Day weekend road trips, they’ll confront gas prices of nearly $3 a gallon, the highest since 2014 and a 25 percent spike since last year.

The increased cost of fuel is already wiping out a big chunk of the benefit Americans received from the GOP tax cuts. And things could get worse as summer approaches following the administration’s standoff with Iran and a move by oil-producing nations to tighten supplies.

The result: The economic and political benefits Trump and the GOP hoped to reap from cutting tax rates could be swamped by higher pump prices that Americans face every time they hit the road.

Oil prices and rise and fall, though the recent increase can be attributed to the President because of his decision to end the nuclear deal with Iran.  However, there are long-term fundamentals which spell trouble for the middle- and working classes instrumental in Trump's election victory. Axios reports that at a recent conference at the Dallas Fed

Troy Taylor, CEO of the Coke franchise for Florida, said he is currently adding employees with the idea of later reducing the staff over time "as we invest in automation." Those being hired: technically-skilled people. "It's highly technical just being a driver," he said.

The moderator asked the panel whether there would be broad-based wage gains again. "It's just not going to happen," Taylor said. The gains would go mostly to technically-skilled employees, he said. As for a general raise? "Absolutely not in my business," he said.
John Stephens, chief financial officer at AT&T, said 20% of the company's employees are call-center workers. He said he doesn't need that many. In addition, he added, "I don't need that many guys to install coaxial cables. In the past year, the response of many Republicans, asked about Trump's boorish and dangerous statements and actions, has been "but the economy..." 

In the past year, the response of many Republicans, asked about Trump's repulsive and dangerous statements and actions, has been "but the economy..."

Democrats running for office need an answer to that, an answer that goes beyond collusion, cronyism, and corruption.  If Democrats look carefully, it should become clear that Donald Trump's Memorial Day message may turn out to be more than narcissistic and unpatriotic.

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Sunday, May 27, 2018

"Liar" May Be Preferable

If you read The New York Times or watch CNN, you know Maggie Haberman, about whom Rachael Combe of  Elle Magazine once wrote

Many of the juiciest Trump pieces have been broken by her: That story about him spending his evenings alone in a bathrobe, watching cable news? Haberman reported and wrote it with her frequent collaborator, Glenn Thrush. The time Trump called the Times to blame the collapse of the Obamacare repeal on the Democrats? It was Haberman he dialed. When he accused former national security adviser Susan Rice of committing crimes, and defended Fox News' Bill O'Reilly against the sexual harassment claims that would soon end his career at the network? Haberman and Thrush again, with their colleague Matthew Rosenberg. And since President Trump fired FBI director James Comey, Haberman has been on the frontlines of the nonstop news bombshells that have been lobbed, bylining or credited with a reporting assist on around two dozen stories in two weeks. They range from an extraordinarily intimate account of a "sour and dark" Trump berating his staff as "incompetent" to the revelation that Trump called Comey "a nutjob" in an Oval Office meeting with the Russians the day after his dismissal, telling them that Comey's ouster had relieved the pressure of the investigation into possible collusion between Russia and his campaign.

And that was written a full twelve months ago, after which time Haberman's visibility has only grown.  Her reputation could not possibly improve because she was described by Combe as a great mom, by colleague Glenn Thrush as one of the greatest people to ever do this job, giving a maximum effort," and by another individual as God-like:  "It's like she's in the building, but she's not even in the city. You don't even know where she is—she could be anywhere. Like, floating in the sky."

Inarguably extremely hard-working and well-connected, Maggie Haberman also is a sucker. On Sunday morning Haberman reached into the bag of pop psychology explanations and came up with

The reporter is not absolved of naivete by the naivete of her sources, in this case "anyone who has worked for him." Those unnamed sources may be telling the truth as they see it- but most likely they also are being manipulated.

In response to Haberman, Malcolm Nance:

Nance recognizes that Haberman is trying to have it both ways.  She won't concede that he regularly, strategically, lies- knowingly and deliberately uttering falsehoods.

There are only three possibilities. Trump may be neurologically impaired, as some people have suggested, but which hasn't been investigated, thus yielding little evidence.

He may be lying, or he may be extraordinarily ignorant, to a degree unprecedented in any President or to anyone most of us know.

Included among Trump's greatest hits are 

Haberman is not accusing Donald Trump of knowing less than a fifth grader or of having dementia. If she- or others- were, they would have to acknowledge that he is not fit to be President of the United States of America. Instead, we're to believe that Trump is no less benign than a salesman doing his job, convincing himself that his product is superior to the one offered by his competitors. It's no accident that Haberman has gotten the best access to President Trump.

In 1990, Vanity Fair's Marie Brenner revealed that one of Trump's lawyers had told her "Donald is a believer in the big-lie theory. If you say something again and again, people will believe you."  It appears that Haberman believes Trump often is not lying precisely because he so often asserts things that are demonstrably untrue.

Donald Trump's presidency, like his campaign, is one big con. If Ms. Haberman wishes to deny that, she must acknowledge (as Nance argues) that the President represents an imminent danger to the survival of the American republic and to the entire world.

On Memorial Day, we remember those who gave their lives not for flag and anthem, but for the country and its values.

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Now Or Never

Put up or shut up.

That was Donald Trump's message to NFL players on September 22, 2017 when he responded to prayers who knelt while the national anthem was played (while concessions continued patriotically to sell food and beer). He declared  "Wouldn't you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, you'd say, 'Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He's fired."  He also predicted "for a week, (that owner would) be the most popular person in this country."

Alas- this being Donald Trump's first term- he cannot fire players. But he can get owners to follow his advice, or at least his cue, as they did when

On Wednesday, NFL owners made it clear they’d taken enough heat. The league voted in a new anthem policy, which requires players and league personnel on the sidelines to stand. Anyone who doesn’t wish to stand has the option of remaining in the locker room during the anthem, but if someone takes the field and protests, the league will fine that player’s team an undisclosed amount. Teams also have been given the option of enacting their own additional anthem policies, and can issue fines to players.

Recognizing the owners and the commissioner were following his lead, the President on Thursday morning told his besties on "Fox and Friends"

"Well, I think that's good, I don't think people should be staying in locker rooms, but still I think it's good. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem or you shouldn't be playing, you shouldn't be there. Maybe you shouldn't be in the country. You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, and the NFL owners did the right thing if that's what they've done.

Vice President Pence also realized what was at stake when he tweeted one word: "winning."

A New York civil rights activist tweeted "Telling black NFL players to leave the country. Calling undocumented immigrants 'animals.' Banning Muslims from the US. Attacking Chicago for gun violence. He knows that fear and division feeds his base of white voters."

"Perception is reality," some say. Perception is not reality- but in some cases, is almost as important.  There never has been a black NFL owner, though one is Pakistani-American and one co-owner is Korean-American, which is to say: none is black.  Meanwhile, most NFL players are black, most protesting NFL players are black, and they and supportive white players are trying to draw attention to injustice- especially racial disparity- in law enforcement and criminal justice. 

Those facts escape no one's attention.It turns out that Donald Trump's "no need to apply" applies not only to immigrants from Mexico and refugees from Guatemala, but also to strong black men performing for our entertainment.  

Yet, this is part of a culture war that goes beyond race.  If you don't "stand proudly for the national anthem" then "maybe you shouldn't be in the country," Trump proposes. It is a nod toward the Vietnam War-era slogan of "love it or leave it" (The first song below is from 1965; the second, and much better, is from 1970, before the artist underwent an epiphany.)

That was back when black people worked exclusively for white people and expected to shut up, sit down and never, ever complain. Trump knows it. Pence knows it. The NFL knows it. They've challenged the players, who are the best in the world at what they do,and are not replaceable, lest league revenues collapse as fans (even conservative ones) ignore a third-rate product.

The white men in charge have thrown down the gauntlet upon the players and the NFL Players Association. The employees and the union are expected to buckle to President Trump as the league has. The challenge to the players is clear and they hold the cards. It's time for them to put up or shut up.

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Played For Fools

Early on Tuesday the Boston Globe's Annie Linskey revealed that the President's

staff has become so adept at replicating Trump’s tone that people who follow his feed closely say it is getting harder to discern which tweets were actually crafted by Trump sitting in his bathrobe and watching “Fox & Friends” and which were concocted by his communications team.

Those familiar with the process wouldn’t fess up to which tweets were staff-written. But an algorithm crafted by a writer at The Atlantic to determine real versus staff-written tweets suggested several were not written by the president, despite the unusual use of the language....

While staff members do consciously use poor grammar, they do not intentionally misspell words or names, one person familiar with the process explained.

“Tweets that are proposed are in his voice,” said one of the people. “You want to do it in a way that fits his style.”

In response, Charlie Pierce on Tuesday afternoon wrote

Here’s the thing, Embattled White Working Class Voters. By and large, the people you’re taught to hate have your interests somewhat at heart when they get into government. Forget what kind of coffee they drink, movies they watch, or leafy greens they gobble down with their tofuburgers. Forget all you’ve been told about coastal elites and their condescension. Stop falling for this hooey.

The president* and the people around him think you’re all sub-literate morons to whom broken gorilla English will appeal. They think you love him for his misplaced commas, dangling modifiers, and weird CapiTalization FeTish. They think you will identify with a high-end Manhattan con-man because he talks like you do, and they think you talk like you took an ESL class on Neptune. They think your very real economic anxiety is best expressed in language one small step above grunts, groans, and banging on rocks with heavy sticks.

Was Pierce prescient? Psychic? Or was he simply eloquently observing the obvious? It must have been one, because later that afternoon we learned (at 21:09 of video below)

CBS News’ Lesley Stahl shared a revealing conversation she had with Trump shortly before his first post-election interview on “60 Minutes” back in November 2016.

Stahl, who was speaking at the Deadline Club Awards in Manhattan, told the audience that she and a colleague had met with the then-President-elect at Trump Tower in order to prepare for the interview. At one point Trump started ranting against the press, and Stahl said she took the opportunity to ask him what the point of his attacks were.

“Why do you keep hammering at this?” she recounted to PBS’ Judy Woodruff.

According to Stahl, who was paraphrasing, Trump replied, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
According to Stahl, who was paraphrasing, Trump replied, “You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”

Suckers. That's what Pierce calls the President's followers, who fall for his every utterance, oblivious to the reality that Trump's every grunt and groan derives from faith- the faith that his supporters are easy marks.

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Hollow Words

Arizona senator Jeff Flake gave the commencement address Wednesday to Harvard Law School graduates.  It was nearly as good as it could have been from a Republican. It also was grotesquely inadequate, like giving 25 cents to a homeless woman who needs $3.25 for the bus. Flake explained

How did we arrive at a moment of such peril, wherein a president of the United States publicly threatens— on Fox & Friends, historians will note — to interfere in the administration of justice, and seems to think that the office confers on him the ability to decide who and what gets investigated, and who and what does not? And just this week, the President — offering an outlandish rationale, ordered an investigation into the investigation of the Russian attack on our electoral process — not to defend the country against further attacks, mind you, but to defend himself. Obviously, ordering investigations is not a legitimate use of presidential power.

That was arguably the best. He said also "I am not so sure that there is much distilled wisdom to be imparted from Washington these days, given what has lately become the tawdriness of my profession."  Similarly, "Article I branch of government, the Congress (that’s me), is utterly supine in the face of the moral vandalism that flows from the White House daily."

The problem is not Congress or Washington. It is the Republicans in Washington, worshiping Reagan, Trump, and the Holy.... really, only Reagan and Trump, god-like figures never to be questioned. Flake did acknowledge "Republican" once, as in "I am a conservative Republican, a throwback from the days when those words actually meant something, before the collapse of our politics into the rank tribalism we currently endure. That was an important concession, then ruined by

My sounding this alarm against a government that was elected under the Republican banner and that calls itself conservative makes me no less Republican or conservative. And opposing this president and much of what he stands for is not an act of apostasy — it is, rather, an act of fidelity.

Flake has demonstrated his fidelity to the Republican banner and conservatism. However, he has not done so by "sounding this alarm" but by failing to question the legislative initiatives or priorities of the GOP president, hence enabling the latter's authoritarian tendencies, expressed in temperament, statements, and policies. A solid vote for Republican extremism, the Arizona senator nonetheless declares

But I have long believed that the only lasting solutions to the problems before us must involve both sides. Lawmaking should never be an exercise in revenge, because vengeful people are myopic, self-interested, and not fit to lead....

The greatness of our system is that it is designed to be difficult, in order to force compromise. 

As supporters of President Trump, the Republican Party has come down with a severe case of pneumonia. But it was on the verge of pneumonia, with a very bad case of bronchitis, before Donald Trump was elected. It was already contagious but got worse when a Supreme Court seat 

was stolen from Barack Obama, a twice-elected president who fulfilled his constitutional duty more than nine months ago by nominating Merrick Garland, a highly qualified and widely respected federal appellate judge.

It was stolen by top Senate Republicans, who broke with longstanding tradition and refused to consider any nominee Mr. Obama might send them, because they wanted to preserve the court’s conservative majority. The main perpetrators of the theft were Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, and Charles Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. But virtually all Republican senators were accomplices; only two supported holding hearings.

Jeff Flake's response to this was to keep his mouth shut about Merrick Garland, then vote to confirm Neal Gorsuch.

Senator Flake's response to an aspiring autocrat has been to vote with him, thereby reinforcing the egomaniac's sense of superiority and dominance. It is also to give a speech including some 166 sentences without even once mentioning the word Trump.

Avoiding assessment of blame, Flake assured the graduates "Our leadership is not good, but it probably can’t get much worse."  He knows better. It can, and it will.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Bad Sign

Thirteen months ago, Business Insider's Josh Barro criticized liberals for defending former President Obama's decision to accept a $400,000 speaking fee from investment bank Cantor Fitzgerald. Evidently, it was even worse, given that we soon afterward learned that the 44th President had already been paid $800,000 for having delivered speeches to two other Wall Street firms. 

Still, Barack Obama is no longer in public office and since Hillary Clinton, running for a third Obama term, was defeated in a stunning upset, Democratic losses in backlash to his presidency are diminishing. Consequently, as Barro noted

The concern is not that Obama receiving such a fee will influence Obama's future policy decisions about Wall Street (he won't make any) but that if he goes around collecting such fees, he will make voters more wary of the intentions of future center-left politicians who run in his mold, as happened with Blair. Bernie Sanders' strong appeal in the 2016 primaries, which wasn't limited to far-left voters, shows that many voters are concerned about such matters.

Evidently not enough voters, or  at least not enough voters for Democratic members of Congress to stand firm against Wall Street donors.  Barro's employer reported Tuesday

The House finalized on Tuesday the largest package of Wall Street banking reforms since the financial crisis, rolling back regulations on financial firms, from community banks to credit-reporting agencies.

The legislation — most commonly referred to as the Crapo bill after its author, the Senate banking committee chair Mike Crapo — is the result of more than a year of negotiations among House Republicans, Senate Republicans, and a group of Senate Democrats that support the measure.
The bill passed by a vote of 258 to 159 and will head to President Donald Trump's desk for his signature. He is expected to sign the legislation.
Of course, the bill will be signed by The Great Populist as he continues to kick to the curb his working-class supporters- even if they're not black or Hispanic- in favor of corporate America. Charlie Pierce notes the measure is one
which very likely will neither grow the economy nor protect consumers, but which will offer most of America’s biggest financial institutions relief from the regulations put in place so that those institutions would have a harder time lighting the world on fire next time. This comes at a time when the banking industry is so terribly burdened by regulations that it’s making record profits—and that is small banks as well as the large ones.

The legislation not only passed the House with 33 Democrats in support but with the support of 17 Democrats in the US Senate, including seven from states won by Hillary Clinton. 
These included the two female Senators from New Hampshire,  Shaheen and Hassan. Three other Democratic women, Heitkamp of North Dakota, McCaskill of Missouri, and Stabenow of Michigan, voted aye. They are up for re-election in states won by Trump, as are Indiana's Donnelly, West Virginia's Manchin, Florida's Nelson, and Montana's  Tester, all men who voted in favor of the measure.
Three Democrats facing re-election,  Casey of Pennsylvania, Brown of Ohio, and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, voted against the bill. 
Seven to three.  Of ten Democrats in Trump states trying to win re-election to the Senate thisfall, seven voted in favor of loosening regulations on Wall Street, helping to (as Pierce puts it) "free up the Masters of the Universe to do some more damage, for which we once again will have the choice of bailing them out or buying cornflakes with beads and trinkets."
Josh Barro may have been right when he maintained in April 2016 that voters are "concerned about such matters" as the intentions of center-left politicians who "run in the mold" of Barack ObamaHowever, there clearly also are Democratic members of Congress in competitive states  (Florida, Michigan) and Republican states (North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Montana) who believe otherwise. And of course, Republicans  voted nearly in lockstep, with only one (Rep. Jones of North Carolina) voting against this thing.
Or maybe they're simply selling out for donations from Wall Street. In either case, it's telling, as it is that five female Democratic senators voted to please the financial services community. It's fewer than the number of Democratic women- twelve- who voted nay, but it does suggest that even with the growing number of women who will enter Congress next year, utopia is not upon us.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2018

When "I Am The Law"

Bill Maher's Politically Incorrect was cancelled by ABC in 2001 because its host was, well, politically incorrect, recognizing that the 9/11/01 hijackers were surely not cowardly when they carried out their evil deed which they knew would result in their death.

There is nothing more certain about Maher- other than he won't next week declare his faith in the Trinity- than that he will be politically incorrect.

And he was last Friday when he began his "new rules" comments with "of all the fairy tales we've told ourselves here in America, the one we most need to get rid of is that no one is above the law." "When you don't have to follow the orders of law enforcement- as Trump clearly doesn't- you are above the law," Maher noted.

President Trump believes he is above the law because he believes the President is the law. Maher understands "if your obedience to the law is strictly voluntary or you are compelled by shame, of which he has none, you are above the law." If a particular President can choose to be above the law, the Presidency is above the law.

And once someone is above the law, this is not the "nation of laws" the USA has promoted itself as but a nation of men (and women).  We got an indication of that as on Sunday we learned

 We got a further indication of that Monday when

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders issued a statement indicating that while Trump may not have gone as far as he could have – agreeing to fold his demand into an existing probe – Rosenstein and the others had acceded at least in part to Trump's order, something some critics were calling inappropriate interference.
"Based on the meeting with the President, the Department of Justice has asked the Inspector General to expand its current investigation to include any irregularities with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s or the Department of Justice’s tactics concerning the Trump Campaign. It was also agreed that White House Chief of Staff Kelly will immediately set up a meeting with the FBI, DOJ, and DNI together with Congressional Leaders to review highly classified and other information they have requested," Sanders said in the statement.
Maher believes President Trump will refuse the interview with Special Counsel Meller, who will obtain a subpoena, to which Trump will reply "go fish." (Even HBO has its language standards.) Then even if the Supreme Court tells him to honor the subpoena, Trump will still refuse while attacking the Court "just like he did the FBI and the Justice Department. The Supreme Court will be the new 'deep state' enemy and their rulings will be 'fake news.'"  Trump will refuse to leave the Oval Office and there will be no way to drag him out.
Given at least that a subpoena actually would be for an appearance before a grand jury, this analysis is slightly simplistic and similar to the CliffsNotes version of how the investigation might proceed. However, it is more than conjecture when a president adheres to no principle other than that the Venn diagram of the national interest and his family's financial interest are identical. 
Bill Maher's forecast is less than convincing, but far more than plausible. It signifies, therefore, that in this nation which pundits, politicians, and lawyers of all strips proudly proclaim "a nation of laws," the most powerful individual is not subject to the same law as are its 300 million-plus residents.

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Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Butchers Of Beijing, Dear To Trump's Heart

Chinese telecommunications equipment manufacturer ZTE violated USA sanctions against Iran and North Korea and is suspected of enabling its phones to help Beijing spy on Americans. Consequently, Director of National Security Dan Coats recommended Americans refrain from using the phones and on May 2 the Pentagon, according to Vox, announced "it will ban the sale of ZTE and Huawei phones from military bases because it regards the products as insecure due to the companies’ relationship to the Chinese government."

The Commerce Department announced sanctions. However, when ZTE announced it would shut down its entire smartphone business, President Trump asserted that he was concerned about the loss of Chinese jobs and had ordered the Commerce Department to help ZTE "to get back into business, fast."

That same week "a state-owned Chinese business came through with hundreds of millions of dollars in loans, some of which will go to facilitate the construction of Trump-branded properties in Indonesia." So on Wednesday, former ethics chief Walter Shaub, who knows a not-coincidence when he sees one, asked what appeared to be a good question:

It's an even better question now that on Sunday, Treasury Department secretary Steve Mnuchin stated that

the Trump administration will hold off from imposing tariffs on China as leaders from both nations try to hammer out agreements on trade.

The administration had earlier threatened $50 billion to $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods as a way to deter the theft of U.S. intellectual property and forced transfers of technology.

One year ago the Associated Press reported

Since last spring, Chinese authorities in the heavily Muslim region of Xinjiang have ensnared tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of Muslim Chinese — and even foreign citizens — in mass internment camps. This detention campaign has swept across Xinjiang, a territory half the area of India, leading to what a U.S. commission on China last month said is "the largest mass incarceration of a minority population in the world today"....

The detention program is a hallmark of China's emboldened state security apparatus under the deeply nationalistic, hard-line rule of President Xi Jinping. It is partly rooted in the ancient Chinese belief in transformation through education — taken once before to terrifying extremes during the mass thought reform campaigns of Mao Zedong, the Chinese leader sometimes channeled by Xi.

A few months later, President Trump would recognize Xi's successful power grab and declare "he's now president for life. President for life. And he's great."

Gone, though, are the days when presidential candidate Donald J. Trump would charge China with "ripping us off, folks" and being involved in a "rape of (our) country." Additionally, it was "caught cheating in the Olympics. That's the Chinese M.O. - Lie, Cheat & Steal in all international dealings."

We are to believe that understanding of China is no longer operative. But Donald J.Trump, the expert in rape and cheating, is still here. And it's not too late (without tongue in cheek) to ask him: "are cheating and rape bad things- or good things?"

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Indecent. Intolerant. Inane. Incendiary. Not Racist.

This is journalism.  CNN's Eric Levenson, Paul P. Murphy and Gianluca Mezzofiore report

The man who berated employees and customers for speaking Spanish in a New York City cafe has a history of aggressively confronting strangers on their identity.

Aaron Schlossberg, an attorney in New York, was identified as the man in a Fresh Kitchen in Manhattan who angrily told employees and customers to speak English because "This is America!"

"If they have the balls to come here and live off my money, I pay for their welfare," he says, incorrectly asserting that undocumented immigrants are eligible for federal public benefits. "I pay for their ability to be here. The least they can do ... is speak English."

They referred to Schlossberg's history of aggressively confronting strangers on their identity" and afterward provided context to the charge.  The following, however, is- as the British call it- "rubbish" as Sarah K. Burris of Raw Story writes

The New York attorney who has become known as “Racist lawyer bro” has now been kicked out of his law office by his landlord the New York Daily News reported Thursday. Earlier in the day, he had simply been prevented from entering.

Aaron Schlossberg went on a racist rant in a coffee shop against Latino employees speaking Spanish to other Spanish-speaking customers. The incident was filmed on cell phone cameras as the man threatened to call ICE on the workers, assuming they were undocumented.

Since the video has gone viral, Schlossberg has been mocked and stalked by reporters. Protests took place outside of his office with tacos and a mariachi band. Reporters have been waiting with cameras. Not a welcoming crowd to others sharing the building of Schlossberg’s law office.

“We have terminated his services agreement with us,” said Hayim Grant, the president of Corporate Suites. He also said that he was “completely shocked” by the clip of Schlossberg’s racist rant.

Schlossberg wasn't concerned that the individuals were undocumented. He ignorantly assumed they were illegal immigrants. She may consider them "undocumented"- surely she does- but to him they are "illegal."

But that's not the primary problem. In the space of four paragraphs there are three references to "racist."  In the following, and last, three paragraphs there is one refernce to "racist."

Raw Story, with an unapologetically leftist slant, does not pretend to be The New York Times, CNN, or even the Fresno Bee. Expressing an opinion- or as in this case, assuming- that the rant in question is "racist" is therefore legitimate.

But her opinion is wrong.  Hispanic- or the similar, but different, Latino- is not a race.

This is not a technicality nor even a argument in favor of the contemporary (and somewhat accurate) perspective that race is not a valid construct. It is merely that Hispanics/Latinos are not all of the same color. Raul A. Reyes in the Huffington Post explains

The U.S. Census Bureau defines Hispanic/Latino as referring to “a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race.”

They key words here are regardless of race. In fact, Hispanics can be white, black, Asian, or multiracial. That’s because the term “Hispanic,” like “Latino,” refers to an ethnicity, not a race. And a majority of Hispanics actually self-identify as white. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 53 percent of Hispanics chose “white “ as their race, while 36 percent chose “some other race.”

Journalists, bloggers, New York City lawyers, anyone with an opinion owe something to the truth.  Those CNN journalists, who point out that illegal immigrants are ineligible for most federal public benefits, understand that. Beyond even the hate and bigotry, Aaron Scholossberg does not (or pretends not to).  We shouldn't follow his example.

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Saturday, May 19, 2018


Neal Katyal is a registered Democrat who was co-counsel to Al Gore in Bush v. Gore and Principal Deputy Solicitor General of the United States under President Barack Obama. However, he evidently actively and enthusiastically supported the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court without indicating that he had active cases pending before the Court.

He has an impressive resume, however, and while serving in the Clinton-era Justice Department in 1999 was the lead author of the rules governing the Special Counsel. Therefore, his opinion is worth considering in light of the claim on Wednesday's "Fox and Friends" by Rudy Giuliani that the latter had spoken to Robert Mueller and

I asked him specifically if they realized or acknowledged they didn’t have the power to indict bother under the justice department memo which gives them their power in essence, confines their power, and under the constitution. And he said we’ll – he wouldn’t answer. And one of his assistants said they acknowledged they had to be bound by justice department policies. And then the next day or the day after they clarified it for Jay Sekulow who was with me at the meeting that they didn’t have the power to indict and that what they’d eventually do is write a memorandum and give it to the deputy attorney general, [Rod] Rosenstein.

On Thursday evening, Katyal told host Ari Melber of MSNBC's "The Beat"

.... a lot of these scholarships and opinions or waiting to say a sitting President can`t be indicted were before the Paula Jones case. And the Supreme Court in Paula Jones case and vowing (ph) Bill Clinton said, you know, the American principle is no one is above the law.

And you know, that was a civil case. And what goes for a civil case, II suspect there will be a pretty good argument, goes even stronger for a criminal case. That a President shouldn`t be able to commit crimes and act with impunity. And there`s a second real problem here. Becausse the whole idea behind, you can`t indict a sitting President, a large part of it comes from the fact that indictments are distracting to the President who is very busy. And you got to carry out their official duties.

You know, courts operate in the real world. And you know, they know for example, that Donald Trump has golfed 53 days out of his 482 days in office, which more than one in ten days. So it`s a little hard to make the kind of distraction arguments that are at the core of Presidents can`t be indicted opinions when you`re talking about this President.

While that makes sense to a layperson, Katyal's remarks on The Beat (video below) on February 20 went more directly to the substance of the law.

Melber noted the opinion issued on October 16, 2000 by the Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice that "the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would be unconstitutional."  Nonetheless, Katyal stated "the regulations also say that the Special Counsel can seek a departure from the established DOJ policies with the permission of the Acting Attorney General."

Presumably, then, if Mueller wants to pursue an indictment, he can do so with approval of the individual in the Justice Department in charge of the probe. That currently is Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, although only because Attorney General Sessions has recused himself from the case.  It is conceivable that Sessions would "unrecuse" (apologies to English teachers everywhere) himself or that Trump would fire him, in which case he'd probably be replaced by someone who would do the President's bidding.

Additionally, the modern corollary to Mr. Dooley's "the Supreme Court follows the election returns" (bad prediction here) might be "in partisan matters especially, the Supreme Court rules according to political party" and the current Court, on which there are five Republicans, might be tempted to rule in favor of Team Russia. Many TV lawyers and journalists, superficially considering only the 2001 opinion, have assumed that a sitting President cannot be indicted.

Yet, most evidence suggests that there is no constitutional barrier to indicting a sitting President. The dirty little secret is that an indictment always can be obtained, even of a ham sandwich, in this case with the approval of Mueller's superior.  And now that Katyal has weighed in, we know the individual who might know the rules better than anyone believes that an Indictment can be legally, constitutionally obtained and should withstand judicial scrutiny.

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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...