Monday, July 16, 2018


"Art of the Deal" co-author Tony Schwartz, who turned against Trump well before the 2016 election, was asked Sunday how he could have so erroneously predicted that Trump would succumb within a year of becoming president and resign. He stated  “You’re right, I completely missed it. I think I underestimated the enormous attachment he would have to being in that office. I think he likes meeting all of these people and he particularly likes dominating these people.”

One of those people is NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, whom Greg Sargent reports on Thursday

was talking about how NATO members had agreed to boost their contributions to NATO defense costs, as insisted upon by Trump, who claims the United States is getting ripped off. But then Trump demanded Stoltenberg give him credit for it...

After Stoltenberg noted that NATO members had boosted their spending recently, Trump asked: “Why was that?” Stoltenberg took Trump’s cue and said it was “because of your leadership.” Trump then gestured to the press and said, “They won’t write that.” Stoltenberg then supplied Trump with the additional praise he wanted, even claiming that “your message is having an impact.” It was after Stoltenberg extolled the virtues of our alliance that Trump launched into the diatribe about Russia, Germany and energy — and again claimed the United States is being treated unfairly.

What’s remarkable here is Stoltenberg’s active effort to get Trump to take credit for getting his own way at NATO. European officials badly want Trump to do this, because they are hoping it will mollify him. The Post reports that diplomats are worried that Trump’s commitment to the organization might weaken to a crisis point, which would “send the alliance into a tailspin, damaging security by opening the question of whether NATO’s most powerful member is still willing to defend its allies if one were attacked.” On top of that, they fear this will play into the hands of Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump is also set to meet.

And so, to avert this crisis, European officials “would love nothing more than for Trump to take a victory lap and claim credit for them boosting their defense spending,” Jonathan Swan recently reported.

Stop prostrating yourself, Jen.  Donald Trump subsists on being the alpha dog or, as Schwartz observed, "dominating" people.  Capitulation to an authoritarian typically will boomerang. Yglesias adds

The trouble is that Trump won’t even acknowledge what our allies are actually doing in this regard. He keeps claiming that other NATO countries have fallen short of their defense budget commitment, but this is false: In fact, this target is a future one that NATO members agreed upon.

In that context, this exchange with Stoltenberg underscores the point. Stoltenberg gave Trump a big moment for domestic consumption, particularly for his base: The power of Trump’s “America First” message is forcing the Euro-weenie elites to stop fleecing the U.S. and pony up! They’re not laughing at us anymore, dammit! America is respected again! Or as one administration official recently described the Trump Doctrine: “We’re America, b—h!”

Yet the takeaway from the episode has to be that Trump is far from satisfied. But what would satisfy him?

Even granting him Venezuela probably wouldn't mollify him- not even if it were the Sudentenland. That didn't work previously and probably wouldn't now, either.

Share |

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Colorblind Police Violence

Black Lives Matter: relax.  President Trump: celebrate.

The introductory page of the website of Black Lives Matter reads

The Black Lives Matter Global Network is a chapter-based, member-led organization whose mission is to build local power and to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes....

We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.

We are working for a world where Black lives are no longer systematically targeted for demise.

It's a call to end discrimination, and police violence against, blacks. All others take a number. It's very simple.

So, too, was President Trump when on July 28, 2017 he recommended police brutality to a group of law enforcement officers in Suffolk County, Long Island, NY:

Like when you guys put somebody in the car and you’re protecting their head, you know, the way you put their hand over? Like, don’t hit their head and they’ve just killed somebody—don’t hit their head. I said, you can take the hand away, O.K.?

Trump excels in pandering to a crowd or an individual, but in July 2016 he similarly had tweeted "shooting deaths of police officers up 78% this year. We must restore law and order and protect our great law enforcement officers."

Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter agree on one thing: if brutality is directed against someone not black, it's of little concern (and in Trump's view, unimportant no matter the victim's race). (For an unscientific, possibly staged yet somewhat humorous experiment, see video below.) So you may not have heard

State police went grossly overboard in their pursuit of a marijuana suspect whose body was found under a bulldozer that authorities used to search for him in thick brush, a pot advocacy group said Thursday.

Officials with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws blasted state police for calling in a helicopter and commandeering a Pennsylvania Game Commission bulldozer as they tracked Gregory Longenecker, 51, who'd fled law enforcement on state game lands about 10 miles from his hometown of Reading.

Police said they found 10 marijuana plants at the scene.

"We simply cannot understand how a man is dead over an investigation involving 10 cannabis plants," said Patrick Nightingale, executive director of NORML's Pittsburgh chapter and a former Allegheny County prosecutor. "The whole investigation was ridiculous. I've seen law enforcement take down major heroin traffickers that haven't engaged in this level of aggression."

A man can be killed over an investigation involving 10 cannabis plants because it is now three days later and there has been relatively little coverage by the media. 

We know law enforcement thus far is not covering the matter up because

A state police internal investigation is underway. The unidentified trooper who rode the bulldozer has been placed on administrative duty pending the outcome, said a state police spokesman, Cpl. Adam Reed, who declined further comment.

The chase developed Monday morning after a game commission worker who had been clearing brush spotted a parked car he thought looked suspicious and called local police, who, in turn, contacted state police.

One suspect was arrested by the Bernville police chief, but Longenecker eluded capture.

A state police helicopter spotted him in the underbrush, and the game commission worker, with a trooper aboard, used the bulldozer to blaze a trail in pursuit. The chopper lost sight of him, and the trooper told the worker to stop the machine, according to a state police account. That's when they spotted his body.

This is no minor issue. There is racial bias in law enforcement, about which our President is completely unconcerned and Black Lives Matter is obsessed. There also is overzealous policing which- separated from race- garners little concern.

The executive director of the Lehigh Valley chapter of NORML maintained

"I doubt they were even planning to sell this on the street. If you're a consumer of marijuana, 10 plants is nothing. Ten plants isn't even going to get you through the year." It is, however, enough to get you killed and earn the silence of Black Lives Matter and of the President of the United States of America.

Share |

Saturday, July 14, 2018

When Two Wrongs Would Have Made A Right

Plagued by an unusual degree of probity, Peter Strzok made a very serious mistake, one which probably will harm this nation for years, if not decades, to come.

 That wasn't in Thursday's nine-hour marathon in front of the House Oversight Committee, nor was it in texting a colleague and girlfriend nasty things about the corrupt businessman who would become President of the United States of America. Following the hearing, NBC News reported- nine paragraphs into its article-

Strzok noted that he was one of a very small number of people with knowledge of the fact that the FBI had launched a counterintelligence investigation involving the Trump campaign.

“This information had the potential to derail, and quite possibly, defeat Mr. Trump. But the thought of exposing that information never crossed my mind,” he said.

If it didn't, it should have.  Strzok had the opportunity to blow the whistle on Donald Trump's campaign, to remind the American people that Hillary Clinton wasn't the only major presidential candidate being investigated.

But he didn't. He says he didn't think of doing it, but that probably is a case of modesty, and not one of false modesty or humblebrag.  More likely he did not want to go down the Comey road, violating Justice Department guidelines by informing Congress eleven days before the 2016 presidential election that the inquiry into Hillary Clinton emails was being re-opened.

Two wrongs don't make a right, according to folk wisdom. However, in this case, balance would have been more appropriate than adhering strictly to rules violated by FBI director Comey- not once, but twice.

While announcing there was insufficient cause for criminal charges, James Comey handed Donald Trump a potent campaign issue by judging Hillary Clinton "extremely careless" in her handling of emails. Four months later, he gave the Republican another gift when he advised that a batch of  H. Clinton emails- later found to be ones previously reviewed- had been found on the laptop of Anthony Weiner, husband of Clinton aide Huma Abedin.

Bypassing CNN's Jim Acosta in favor of taking a question from Fox News' John Roberts at a news conference with UK Prime Minister Teresa May on Friday, President Trump remarked “CNN’s fake news, I don’t take questions from CNN. CNN is fake news, I don’t take questions from CNN."

Roberts later issued a statement defending former colleague Kristen Welker of NBC News, as well as CNN against the "blanket condemnation of the network as 'fake news."  However, that was not before Jake Tapper, noting "other networks came to the defense of Fox News WH correspondents during the Obama years," cogently observed “Lesson for the kids out there: no one should ever try to do the right thing with the expectation it will ever be reciprocated.”

It is a lesson FBI agent Peter Strzok, armed with information which probably would have sunk the Trump campaign in a very close campaign, never learned.  Otherwise, we may have been spared election of a far-right, demagogic nationalist determined to tear apart both the nation and the Atlantic Alliance. Ironically, we then would have been spared the rantings and ravings of jackals determined to convince voters (against all evidence) that Strzok actually was trying to impede the election of their hero, Donald J. Trump. 

Guided by remarkable professionalism and integrity in 2016, Peter Strzok's decision not to violate standard procedure may have devastating repercussions for the nation and the world. Or as Jake Tapper surely understands, no good deed goes unpunished.

Share |

Friday, July 13, 2018

Peter Strzok's Day

Had the roughly 22 GOP members of the House Committee onOversight and Government Reform each brought into their hearing with Peter Strozk a glove, they would have left with those 22.

No one laid a glove on him.  Strzok calmly and confidently batted away questions and comments from Team Russia as the congressmen vainly attempted to prove that the FBI agent had acted in a biased manner in the investigation headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Most telling was the response (beginning at approximately 12:52, quoted portion at 13:10, below) to chairperson Trey Gowdy, who had angrily charged that Strzok had been removed from the investigation because of "bias." Strzok maintained that instead it was because of the perception of bias in his text messages to girlfriend and fellow agent Lisa Page. He eloquently described the texts as

in response to a series of events which included then-candidate Trump insulting the immigrant family of a fallen war hero and my presumption based on that horrible, disgusting behavior that the American population would not elect someone demonstrating that behavior to be President of the United States. It was in no way, unequivocally, any suggestion that me, the FBI, would take any action whatsoever to improperly impact the electoral process for any candidate. So I take great offense and I take great disagreement to your assertion of what that was or wasn't....


Strzok continued the beat-down for a few seconds but most of the damage was done. He not only defended the honor of a family whose son sacrificed his life in war but also gave voice to what many of us expected of the upcoming presidential election- that the American public was sufficiently wise not to elect someone so crude, rude, and unpatriotic.

We were wrong.  

Somewhat, too, wre Democrats on the committee Thursday.  Much of their defense of the witness was on target and they constantly called out the Republicans for conducting a hearing intended to give as much cover to Donald Trump as impossible.

Still, they were a little over-the-top in their praise of Strzok, the FBI, and law enforcement generally. As Chris Hayes pointed out last night *beginning at approximately 12:20, below), what Strzok and Page did is what investigatory agencies do. They bad-mouth the individuals they are investigating; often and sometimes vociferously. They might have elicited that admission from the witness had they asked him why he was comfortable with the virulently anti-Trump text messages he sent.

Surely Republicans are aware that biased remarks are routinely made privately (or semi-privately) during the the course of an inquiry. As they make them, professionals proceed in a vigorous and unbiased manner to perform their jobs as expected. Democrats may assume that this is widely understood among voters- but there are many who are unaware because it is not a factor in their line of work.

It is likely that Strzok would have refused to answer one or two queries in this line of questioning. Nevertheless, he should have been asked why he was comfortable sending those messages when he could have expressed the sentiments over the phone or in-person, thereby avoiding the possibility of anything being placed on the public record.  If he had conceded such conversations were common, it would have been revelatory; had he cited departmental instructions not to respond, that would have been intriguing, if not itself revelatory.

Of course, little of this matters, especially because Thursday's hearing has been thrown off the figurative front page by the indictment of twelve Russian military intelligence officers for allegedly hacking the computer systems and email of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Democratic National Committee.  Nonetheless, it was heartening to see Peter Strzok, with a minor assist from the Democratic minority, for at least one day own congressional Republicans.

Share |

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Rhyming with a Tiny, Brittle Witch

I'm Shocked! Shocked to find out that the swagger is gone when he's face-to-face with an adversary. On Tuesday The Washington Post reported

The U.S. president began a remarkable day of transatlantic diplomacy by attacking Germany as “captive to Russia,” later called on NATO countries to double their previous commitment to defense spending and then effectively renounced the gathering altogether.

“He could declare victory . . . and ride off in a blaze of glory as leader of the West,” said Alexander Vershbow, a former U.S. ambassador to NATO and to Russia who met with officials on the sidelines of Wednesday’s summit. “But he’s rubbing salt in the wounds.”

Behind closed doors, Trump was cordial and even magnanimous at times with his European counterparts, according to officials who interacted with him. And at dinner, where the leaders mingled as an acrobatic dancer performed, floating in the air, Trump said it was “a very good day at NATO.”

Publicly, however, Trump bristled and bickered, interrupted and impeded — making clear to the world he is impatient and annoyed with an alliance that he says takes advantage of the United States.

“Everything in the room was fine,” Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, said in an interview. But outside the room, she said, Trump was less productive, with his “outspoken rhetoric.”

Publicly, however, Trump bristled and bickered, interrupted and impeded — making clear to the world he is impatient and annoyed with an alliance that he says takes advantage of the United States.

“Everything in the room was fine,” Dalia Grybauskaite, the president of Lithuania, said in an interview. But outside the room, she said, Trump was less productive, with his “outspoken rhetoric.”

During a closed-door working session of all the leaders, Trump was relatively reserved, according to attendees. He repeated the same arguments he made earlier in public that NATO member states needed to up their defense spending and that Germany is too dependent on Russia for natural gas. But he also stressed the common security threats all NATO allies face, according to a senior diplomat who was in the meeting.

This is Donald J. Trump.  Lacking an inner core of belief, he's all bluff and bluster in public while unable to confront anyone directly. Think of it as "The Apprentice" turned upside-down.  Gabriel Sherman reveals that former Fox News vice-president Bill Shine, who has become White House deputy chief of staff for communications, has rapidly become a favorite of the President. There now is

intensified speculation in the West Wing that the president’s long-suffering chief of staff and nemesis, John Kelly, will soon be departing. Kelly opposed the hiring of Shine and has seen his role continue to be diminished, sources said, sometimes in humiliating ways. “They’ve basically stopped telling Kelly when meetings are. People leave him off the calendar,” one administration official told me. “When he finds out, he storms into the room and is like, ‘What’s going on?’” A Republican close to the White House told me that Trump hopes Shine’s expanding role will encourage Kelly to quit. “Trump is too chickenshit to fire Kelly himself,” the source said. The strategy is reminiscent of the president’s decision to hire Anthony Scaramucci as communications director in July 2017 to drive out then-chief of staff Reince Priebus. “This is a more subtle version of Scaramucci,” an outside adviser to the White House told me.

This isn't the first time there has been a big rift, widely reported, between  John Kelly and the President, and not the first time that the firing of Kelly has appeared to be right around the corner.  But Trump hasn't fired the former general for three reasons: 1) Kelly is a former general; 2) Trump can't fire anyone directly; and 3) Trump can't fire anyone directly.

Donald Trump is a windbag. The entire premise of The Apprentice was stagecraft.  John Kelly, who reportedly is unsatisfied with a continental breakfast, may leave the White House, possibly soon.  His job appears to be excruciating and his ticket has been punched for a lucrative, post-White House career on cable or broadcast television news, a conservative think tank, or wherever a reliable conservative is needed.

Nonetheless, he won't be fired, any more than Trump will go toe-to-toe with Angela Merkel and tell her what he really thinks about her and Germany. Back in a more hopeful time, 36 months ago, Bill Maher already had Donald Trump pegged:

Share |

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Selective Outrage

After White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was booted from Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia, Representative Maxine Waters stated in part at a Los Angeles rally  “If you see anybody from that Cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd and you push back on them and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere."

Besides the predictable over-reaction and incitement to violence by the President of the USA

“The people who claim tolerance seem to be the most intolerant in this process,” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during a Fox News interview, adding, “We need civility in this country, but the idea that you’re asking people to go forward, that becomes very dangerous and it becomes a risk inside our country as well.”

House Majority Leader Paul Ryan has also asked Waters to apologize for the remarks, and said that there’s just “no place for that in our public discourse,” even as he skirted critiquing Rep. Steve King for his promotion of a neo-Nazi.

It was, well, uncivil and intolerant and it does little good to point out that many individuals on the right, most of them not coincidentally supporters of Donald Trump, are far more brazen, to wit:

The lack of "civility" conservatives discovered when Mrs. Sanders was denied dinner at the restaurant of her choice took a violent turn when 91-year-old Rodolfo Rodriguez, a Mexican citizen in Willowbrook, Los Angeles County to visit relatives

was walking to a nearby park on Wednesday when he passed a woman and a little girl. Without warning, the woman assaulted him, he said, hitting him with a concrete block and enlisting a group of men to join in beating him.

"I didn't even bump into her kid," Rodriguez said. "I just passed her and she pushed me and she hit me until she was done."

Police are looking for "a female suspect and three to four male suspects" in the assault, the LA County Sheriff's Department said in a statement Monday night.

Authorities don't know at this time if any weapons were used or what the motive might have been, the statement said.

"We are concerned, especially with the type of crime they committed," Sheriff's Deputy D'Angelo Robinson told CNN affiliate KTLA. "There was what appears to be a 4-year-old child there who witnessed the entire thing. We can't have these kind of people like that out in the streets."

Misbel Borjas was driving by when she saw the woman hitting Rodriguez repeatedly in the head with a concrete block, she said.

"I heard her saying, go back to your country, go back to Mexico," she told CNN by phone. "When I tried to videotape her with my cell phone, she threw that same concrete block, tried to hit my car."

An elderly man is attacked allegedly because he is Mexican and the calls for "civility" are ... absent. Still, there will probably be little impact, with only Mr. Rodriguez and members of his family affected. Not so in one state, where according to Rewire. News

Planned Parenthood is closing its clinic in Fort Wayne, Indiana, because of a coordinated intimidation and harassment campaign by anti-choice activists.

The closure of the reproductive health-care clinic comes amid a massive surge in violent actions against abortion providers. There were three times as many incidents of trespassing, obstruction, and blockades of abortion clinics in 2017 than in the previous year, according to a report by the National Abortion Federation (NAF).

Christie Gillespie, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK), said in a statement Monday that Fort Wayne patients and providers have been subjected to harassment and attacks from those who oppose abortion rights.

“I am putting Allen County Right to Life, and all anti-women’s groups, on notice: You have intimidated and harassed us for the last time in this community,” Gillespie said. “We will be back, stronger than ever before. Because our supporters know that we provide lifesaving, high quality health care to the thousands of Hoosiers in the Fort Wayne community. No matter what.”

Maybe, and hopefully, but the outrage about the lack of "civility" demonstrated by forced-birth fanatics toward a clinic in Indiana is unsurprising. This sort of thing has been going on a long time amid little anger or attention, despite its enormous impact upon women. 

In the interests of full disclosure, note that

Cathie Humbarger, executive director of Allen County Right to Life, denied the allegations made by PPINK, and said the group does not “practice or condone intimidation,” reported the Associated Press.

If Humbarger's denial is valid, the campaign probably is not organized by a group but is merely the product of less-organized thugs of the forced-birth movement. Generally the most civil of Americans, Midwesterners describe the targeting of individuals and their families for violence as "not how decent, compassionate people behave." Rewire adds

Gillespie said in a press conference that the anti-choice activists harassed local businesses to ensure they didn’t partner with the clinic. “This harassment goes well beyond the ritual protesting. It includes publicly sharing personal information, including home addresses of staff,” she said.

“This is not how decent, compassionate people behave,” she added.

Ironically, "Anti-choice activists targeted the clinic with protests even though the Fort Wayne facility did not provide abortion care." Intimidating innocent persons for evidently political reasons to compel a change in behavior once was called "terrorism." Evidently, when the target is reproductive freedom, that label would be an affront to "civility."

Share |

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The Con Game Begins

You can be forgiven if, watching the judge's speech last night, you imagined President Trump's nominee to replace Anthony Kennedy as wearing a t-shirt reading "I'm Brett Kavanaugh. Friends call me Panda Bear."

Judge Kavanaugh gave a shout-out to blacks, remarking “My mom was a teacher." (No man has a "mother" anymore; it's always "mom" because I'm an aw-shucks kind of guy.) He added "In the 1960s and 70s, she taught history at two largely African American public high schools in Washington, D.C. — McKinley Tech and H.D. Woodson. Her example taught me the importance of equality for all Americans.”

Well, except if those Americans want to vote. Ari Berman points out

As a judge on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, Kavanaugh voted in 2012 to uphold a South Carolina voter ID law that the Obama administration said would disenfranchise tens of thousands of minority citizens. The Justice Department blocked the law, which required government-issued photo identification to vote, in late 2011 for violating the Voting Rights Act.....

South Carolina didn’t present any cases of voter fraud to justify its law, but Kavanaugh wrote that such laws were constitutional despite an absence of evidence of fraud.

Of course he did. But Kavanaugh's pander was most in display when he directed his comments to the pivotal, female senators from Maine and from Alaska. Following his reference to mom the teacher, according to the Washington Post's Aaron Blake

The nominee's introductory speech was remarkably political. Over and over again, Kavanaugh returned to the women in his life and the diversity of those around him. It was almost as if he was campaigning for a Democratic nomination in some random House district.

He continued: “One of the few women prosecutors at that time, she overcame barriers and became a trial judge. The president introduced me tonight as Judge Kavanaugh. But to me that title will always belong to my mom.”

And: “My law clerks come from diverse backgrounds and points of view. I am proud that a majority of my law clerks have been women.”

At other times, Kavanaugh slipped in anecdotes about coaching his daughters in basketball — and even attending this year's women's Final Four. “Our favorite memory was going to the historic Notre Dame-UConn women’s basketball game at this year’s Final Four. Unforgettable.”

Blake observed also

The nominee's introductory speech was remarkably political. Over and over again, Kavanaugh returned to the women in his life and the diversity of those around him. It was almost as if he was campaigning for a Democratic nomination in some random House district.

Message: I love all the women I have ever known, and not in a way that would embarrass Mike Pence.  The only exception, unsurprisingly, would come when they want to make their own decisions about something important such as, oh, about having children. "The Cut" notes

Just last year, he infamously ruled against an undocumented teenager in a detention facility who had petitioned for the right to access an abortion. At one point during the hearing, Kavanaugh suggested that allowing the young woman go through with the procedure would make the government “complicit” in something that is morally objectionable. In addition, in 2015, he argued in a dissent that Barack Obama’s contraception mandate infringed on the rights of religious organizations.

According to Kavanaugh himself, he is a humble religious boy, lover of both the fair sex and of the poor, who "forty years ago" was "an altar boy for Father John" and who now "help(s) him serve meals to the homeless at Catholic Charities." He has "two spirited daughters, Margaret and Liza. Margaret loves sports, and she loves to read. Liza loves sports, and she loves to talk." He boldly proclaimed that Mrs. Kavanaugh "has been a great wife and inspiring mom. I thank God every day for my family."

In a win-win, he got to hint that he is a great basketball coach while simultaneously joking about the ludicrous comparison of himself and the greatest of all college basketball coaches:

I have tried to create bonds with my daughters like my dad created with me. For the past seven years, I have coached my daughters’ basketball teams. The girls on the team call me Coach K.

I am proud of our Blessed Sacrament team that just won the city championship.

This guy's humblebrag is truly spectacular, and he won't be easy to defeat. Yet, he has a long paper trail and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who knows a thing or two about confirming Supreme Court judges, reportedly urged President Trump not to nominate Kavanaugh. If Senate Democrats can squeeze from him a moment of sincerity- a daunting task- his approval will be in serious jeopardy.

Share |

Monday, July 09, 2018

Lie Of The Day (July 5, 2018, July 9, 2018)

Labeling Trump's rallies a "conundrum," Will Bunch surveys responses to one of his tweets and concludes

The consensus feedback here seems right on the money. 1) Don't air unfiltered propaganda on live TV 2) Fact-check the hell out his lies (he's been average about 30 a rally) afterwards.

That is probably an exaggeration because much of what Trump says, though almost all of it dishonest, is merely distorted or dishonest. Further, a great deal of it is demagoguery, some of it intended to provoke violence, which merely takes on the appearance of a lie.

A prime example of the latter is the President's remark at his rally in Montana on Thursday evening, when he remarked "They are so dishonest. Fake news. They're fake news media."  To Chris Cillizza, who identified the eleven "most dangerous lines" of the rally, "one might think that in the wake of such violence committed against reporters, the President of the United States might be more mindful of savaging the media to a crowd of his supporters. "

That is probably not technically a lie, being instead an effort to destroy the credibility of the free press, as well as to provoke a violent reaction by his supporters, which then can be used to chip away at constitutional freedoms. We've seen this playbook before, though with a different target.

But Trump cannot avoid constant lying, not because of a psychological or mental aberration, but because his knows his acolytes will believe anything he says and, as Bunch implied, the news media is insufficiently prone to "fact-check the hell out of his lies."

And so, as Cillizza pointed out, Trump in Montana claimed "But we signed a wonderful paper saying they're going to denuclearize their whole thing. It's going to all happen."

"It's all going to happen" is a prediction which the President may believe. However, he does not believe "we signed a wonderful paper saying they're going to denuclearize their whole thing."

The agreement may have been transcribed on the heaviest, whitest, hence most desirable and "wonderful" paper. Nevertheless, it did not say the North Koreans are "going to denuclearize their whole thing."

We might have known that upon learning from satellite images that Pyongyang is completing construction of a "key ballistic missile manufacturing site" whose "one function" is "pumping out parts for their missile program."

A few days earlier, we had read that North Korean officials "are exploring ways to deceive Washington about the number of nuclear warheads and missiles, and the types and numbers of facilities they have."

But this intelligence wasn't necessary to determine that President Trump was flat-out lying upon claiming the North Koreans "signed a wonderful paper saying they're going to denuclearize their whole thing."

The joint statement issued by the two leaders following completion of their summit on June 12, 2018 (local time) included four points. Three of them did not directly pertain to denuclearization. The other, #3, was "reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."

You may have noticed the distinction between "commits to work toward" and "going to." Donald Trump, with an IQ exceeding 60, certainly did.

And he continues to understand even as today, June 9, he has tweeted

He has again lied, claiming  "we agreed to the denuclearization of North Korea." He will not admit failure, incomplete success, or even progress in working toward a goal. He will not admit to being less than the best, the smartest and above all, the strongest, thus demonstrating he is the weakest of them all.  He remains as Bill Maher has described (at 2:32) him:

Share |

Saturday, July 07, 2018

Stay Out Of That Car

As the US Senate debated restricting the right of President Trump to impose tariffs on the basis of "national security," one of the Democratic Party's best senators, running for re-election in a major steel-producing state, argued "Why would any colleagues vote to let China off the hook?"

If only China were the sole target of the President's actions, the President's trade policies might be beneficial. But as David Frum tweeted prior to the Trump-Kim summit, "even if he's offering to take you to church, you don't get in a car with a drunken driver."

While conceding "of course, it could all change quickly with a Trump tweet or remark," the Washington Post's Heather Long on May 31 noted

The president has threatened tariffs on an additional $50 billion in Chinese goods later this month, but he has often changed his mind, putting tariffs on hold or scaling them back before they go into effect. Right now, Canada and the E.U. are taking a bigger blow. (The E.U. and other allies would also bear the brunt of Trump's proposed tariffs on autos).

One suspects- as Trump himself would put it- "people are saying that the President is imposing tariffs specifically because it would harm other countries."  Everything to him is a zero-sum game; to the extent another nation is harmed, the USA will be helped. However, Paul Krugman explains

Trump’s tariffs are badly designed even from the point of view of someone who shares his crude mercantilist view of trade. In fact, the structure of his tariffs so far is designed to inflict maximum damage on the U.S. economy, for minimal gain. Foreign retaliation, by contrast, is far more sophisticated: unlike Trump, the Chinese and other targets of his trade wrath seem to have a clear idea of what they’re trying to accomplish.

The key point is that the Navarro/Trump view, aside from its fixation on trade balances, also seems to imagine that the world still looks the way it did in the 1960s, when trade was overwhelmingly in final goods like wheat and cars. In that world, putting a tariff on imported cars would cause consumers to switch to domestic cars, adding auto industry jobs, end of story (except for the foreign retaliation.)

Noting "almost none of the Trump tariffs are on intermediate goods," Krugman adds

In the modern world economy, however, a large part of trade is in intermediate goods – not cars but car parts. Put a tariff on car parts, and even the first-round effect on jobs is uncertain: maybe domestic parts producers will add workers, but you’ve raised costs and reduced competitiveness for downstream producers, who will shrink their operations.

So in today’s world, smart trade warriors – if such people exist – would focus their tariffs on final goods, so as to avoid raising costs for downstream producers of domestic goods.

"As a lifelong salesman, he (Trump) has a huckster's knack for selling a feeling," in this case the notion that America the Great is being taken advantage of.   Dean Baker suggests a more practical and pecuniary motive:

When countries impose tariffs or other import restrictions they usually allow for some exemptions in special cases. One of the reasons that economists generally are opposed to tariffs is that these exemptions create enormous opportunities for corruption.

Imagine that someone importing $50 million in steel faced a 25 percent tariff. She would save $12.5 million if she could get an exemption. Many business people would be happy to share a portion, perhaps a very substantial proportion, of this $12.5 million in savings with the politician(s) who made it possible. This could mean campaign contributions, sweetheart contracts with their businesses, or even outright cash payments.

It is very plausible that the Trump family and/or others in his administration, who have shown an open contempt for ethics norms, plan to profit personally from granting these tariff exemptions. It would have been worth mentioning this possibility in this piece.

Personal or family business is often at the bottom of Trump's decisions.  And so the tariffs are not being placed across-the-board on imports from mainland China. Excluded are toys and..... apparel, including Ivanka Trump's clothing line.

The nation's economy might have benefited had the USA collaborated with the European Union and Canada and thereby isolated the Chinese. However, that was unlikely as long as Trump was denouncing NATO and Canada in his quest to break up the trans-Atlantic alliance.  If you believe (as I do) that fair trade is a more worthy goal than fair trade, recall the second part of Frum's admonition,to exercise caution "when President Trump appears to act in ways you believe you approve."

Share |

Friday, July 06, 2018

Abortion/Immigration Politics

Slate's William Saletan is wrong, in the short term, when in the wake of the retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy he argues

Another justice, likewise suspected of pro-life sympathies, will take his place. Pundits and pro-choice activists are sounding the alarm that Roe will fall and half the states will ban abortion. It could happen. But it’s much more likely that these warnings, like those of nearly 30 years ago, don’t signal the end of the legal right to abortion. They signal the beginning of its revival.

Opponents of Kennedy's replacement need the vote of not only Maine senator Susan Collins, but also of all Democrats, including center-right senators Heitkamp, Donnelly, and Manchin, each of them from states easily won by Donald Trump.

The latter three are unlikely to vote en masse against the President's choice unless Collins does also, thus allowing them to claim some sort of bipartisan opposition to the nominee.  And the Maine senator simply will not take such a principled stand, as Saletan's colleagues Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern maintain.

However, Saletan's notion that there will be a shift toward the pro-choice position once it is clear that the right to an abortion has receded is more credible because "the laws of abortion politics bend." He explains

Most Americans are conflicted about abortion. They don’t like it, but they also don’t like the idea of banning it. In normal elections, these people focus on other issues. But when the court gets close to dismantling Roe, and when lawmakers start to look serious about banning abortion, ambivalent voters wake up. They start to notice, with concern, which candidates are pro-life. Some pro-life politicians end up losing their elections. Others hide or flee. The predicted frenzy of abortion bans turns into a frenzy of retreat.

I wrote a whole book about this, but I’ll boil it down here. The GOP faces three problems: a polling problem, a voting problem, and a politician problem.

The polling problem is that abortion is both a moral and a legal question. Lots of people who think abortion is wrong don’t like the idea of politicians, as a matter of law, telling women and families what to do. When Roe looks secure, these folks see the issue in terms of their moral qualms. But when Roe is in danger, they start to think more skeptically about whether the government should be involved.

The shift in views is compounded by a shift in intensity. Pro-choicers outnumber pro-lifers. But pro-lifers are more dedicated, and this gives them an advantage. In exit polls, when you zero in on the people who say abortion was their top voting issue, they’re more likely to be pro-life than pro-choice. That pro-life advantage diminishes, however, as the issue’s salience rises and the pool of abortion-driven voters increases. An influx of pro-choicers dilutes and eventually exceeds the pro-life faction. You can see this in presidential exit polls from 1984 to 2000. The larger the percentage of people who cast their ballots based on abortion, the smaller the pro-life advantage.

This is how pro-lifers undo themselves. When they accumulate enough justices to threaten Roe, they scare pro-choicers into voting on the issue. It’s no accident that in 1990, for the first time, the number of pro-choicers who made voting decisions based on abortion exceeded the number of pro-lifers who did so.

Together, the polling shift and the voting shift trigger a third problem: battlefield desertions. Some politicians who call themselves pro-life are willing to lose elections over the issue. But most are cowards. They don’t want the court to overturn Roe. They want to keep Roe as a punching bag and as a sandbag. Roe protects them from having to deliver on their promises to pro-life voters. It lets them fire up religious conservatives in elections without scaring suburbanites, libertarians, and younger voters who don’t want abortion to become illegal. When the court threatens Roe, this game unravels...

This probably will allow Democrats- gradually- to gain electoral parity with Republicans.

Alternatively and less likely, there will be one critical, dramatic election in which this plays out to the advantage of one Democrat. This is the principle by which Donald J. Trump got elected.

When- prior to 2015- immigration was only a minor issue nationally, it played to the advantage of Democrats.  Latinos and a few (very few) whites and blacks who took into account the different approach of the two parties toward immigration. Very few anti-immigration (or anti- illegal immigration) cared enough to bring the issue into focus.

But then someone got the strategically brilliant idea to bring anti-foreigner animus to the forefront, claiming Mexico was sending the USA rapists and individuals with "lots of problems," drugs, and crime.  When a large swath of the American people voted on the issue, they went with the right.

While mentioning Trump only once- and immigration not at all- Saletan is logically predicting the reverse with abortion.  When legal abortion becomes a paramount issue, either because it is threatened as Saletan expects or virtually eliminated as Lithwich/Stern believe, the issue will become salient with the left as well as the right.

That won't happen tomorrow, this year, or possibly even in time for its full impact by the 2020 election cycle.   It does not alleviate the need for Democrats, those enervated by support of  reproductive freedom or otherwise, to employ a vigorous inside-outside game to defeat President Trump's Supreme Court nominee.   But it does provide a little light at the end of a long and very dark tunnel.

Share |

Thursday, July 05, 2018

Nor Has He Ever Said Rigging Elections Is A Bad Thing

Lefty actor, producer, and director Rob Reiner urged people to vote to avoid "living under an autocratic regime" but could not possibly have believed the first sentence in Tuesday's tweet

The only two people who don’t believe that Vladimir Putin helped Donald Trump win the 2016 presidential election are Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. If you don’t like living under an autocratic regime, you have a chance to not let that happen. VOTE!!!

The timeline tells the tale. We know that

Hours after Donald Trump Jr confirmed a meeting with a Russian lawyer to discuss information on Hillary Clinton, his father promised to make a speech with new information about his former rival for the US presidency. 

“I think you’re going to find it very informative and very very interesting,” the US leader said, adding that it would likely take place next week. 

"We are going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons," he said.

His comments came after his son released emails relating to his previously undisclosed meeting last summer with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who has been linked to the Kremlin.

He said "I love it" to what he had been told was an attempt by the Russian government to undermine Hillary Clinton's presidential election campaign.

We know also that on the day he arranged the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, Donald

Trump Jr. placed two calls to blocked numbers. After the meeting ended without the promised dirt, Trump Jr. placed another call to a blocked number.

When asked if his father used a blocked number on any phone, Trump Jr. told the committee: “I don’t know.” Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, on the other hand, testified that Trump’s “primary residence has a blocked [phone] line.”

Asked directly if he had told his father about the meeting, Trump Jr. said, “I never discussed it with him at all.”

We know, additionally, that less was delivered at the meeting than expected because, based on testimony to, and documents released from, the Senate Judiciary Committee

“So I believe you have some information for us,” he said, directing his attention across a large conference table to the Russian lawyer who was there, he thought, to deliver incriminating information on Hillary Clinton.

But if Mr. Trump expected a campaign-changing bombshell, he was quickly disappointed. The disparaging information about Mrs. Clinton amounted to no more than allegations of fraud in Russia by several obscure Democratic donors. The Trump campaign officials reacted with dissatisfaction, not eagerness. Both sides left disappointed.

One witness testified that Donald Trump Jr. was "infuriated" that Veselnitskaya didn't have damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

After the meeting, a funny thing happened. It wasn't gut-wrenching funny, more like suspiciously funny. On June 13 the President conceded

that he had promised a major speech about Clinton, but instead said he would discuss her failings in depth another time.

"This was going to be a speech on Hillary Clinton and how bad a President, especially in these times of radical Islamic terrorism, she would be," Trump said. "There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss these important issues at a later time, and I will deliver that speech soon."

The loquacious Mr. Trump had suddenly turned reticent. That big, important speech was never given.

It's clear why it wasn't given.  The candidate's son thought he would "love" information one or two well-connected Russians would give him, but they were merely feeling him out. So two weeks later the father would issue to the Kremlin the plea "if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing" from his opponent's private email server.

Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump know better than almost anyone (in Putin's case, probably better than anyone) that the Russian president helped the con man from New York City win the 2016 presidential election.

Obviously, Reiner realizes that Trump and Putin are aware of Russia's intervention. Yet, many others misunderstand the President's recent statement to reporters aboard Air Force One that "We're going to talk about Ukraine, we're going to be talking about Syria. We'll be talking about elections ... we don't want anybody tampering with elections."

Critics are unconvinced- and concerned- that Trump will avoid those topics. However, they assume that is a bad thing, an illogical perspective given that Trump and Putin do realize the Kremlin helped the latter win the USA election. (That would mean the former. I think.)

And so there has been no response from the Administration in the four months since

Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the departing head of the National Security Agency and the military’s Cyber Command, said that he was using the authorities he had to combat the Russian attacks. But under questioning during testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, he acknowledged that the White House had not asked his agencies — the main American spy and defense arms charged with conducting cyberoperations — to find ways to counter Moscow, or granted them new authorities to do so.

“President Putin has clearly come to the conclusion that there’s little price to pay and that therefore ‘I can continue this activity,’” said Admiral Rogers, who is set to retire in April. “Clearly what we have done hasn’t been enough.”

Admiral Rogers’s testimony was the second time this month that a senior American intelligence official had said that Russia’s efforts to meddle in American elections did not end in 2016, and that the Trump administration had taken no extraordinary steps to stop them. He and other intelligence leaders warned two weeks ago on Capitol Hill that Russia was using a digital strategy to worsen political and social divisions in the United States, and all the intelligence chiefs said they had not been expressly asked by the White House to find a way to punish Russia for its efforts.

Of course they haven't, nor would it make any sense for Mr. Trump as the head of the Republican Party to discourage Russian meddling. It worked for him in 2016 and it's likely to work in his behalf as his Party attempts to maintain its congressional majority to obstruct the Mueller inquiry.

When Trump says "we don't want anybody tampering with elections," he may not be thinking American elections. Or perhaps he is- and is simply lying, which he does slightly more frequently than someone changes his/her underwear. In either case, if they discuss "elections," the President of the USA probably will say something like "well done, my good and faithful master."

Share |

Wednesday, July 04, 2018

America, The Frog

When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced that he was on his way out, Slate's legal guy, Mark Joseph Stern described why Roe v. Wade will be overturned without being overturned. He explains

in 1992, the Supreme Court—with Justice Anthony Kennedy’s vote—substantially watered down Roe’s promise in Planned Parenthood v. Casey. The Casey court found that while abortion does fall within the “liberty” protected by the Constitution, states may “enact persuasive measures which favor childbirth over abortion, even if those measures do not further a health interest.” Indeed, under Casey, a state can limit women’s access to abortion, so long as it does not place an “undue burden” on her ability to terminate a pregnancy.

The undue burden test proved infinitely malleable for decades, allowing states to impose draconian requirements on abortion clinics and patients. Legislators shuttered clinics across the country through so-called TRAP laws, forcing many women to travel hundreds of miles to obtain clinic-based abortion care. And even then, they might not be able to get it. States imposed days long waiting periods, as well as mandatory ultrasounds and counseling, during which a doctor could be compelled to tell a patient lies about the procedure. A majority of states have prohibited the use of public funds to finance abortions, and 11 restrict private insurance companies’ ability to cover the procedure. Many clinics simply cannot afford to comply with this onslaught of regulations. Today, there are seven states in which there is just one extant abortion provider....

Here is what will happen. A state will create some extreme obstacle to abortion access, like Arkansas’ effort to ban medical abortions. Advocates will sue, alleging that the law is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will take the case. And it will hold, by a 5–4 vote, that the law in question is not an “undue burden” under Casey.

Then the floodgates will open. Republican legislators will realize that the court’s conservative majority has given them the high sign: It will affirm the legality of any abortion restriction that comes before it. The court does not have to declare that it is overturning Roe and Casey in order to do so. It need only snip away at these precedents until nothing is left of them. And then, if the court so chooses, it can acknowledge what it has done and formally announce that there is no longer a constitutional right to abortion.

Anyone nominated by President Trump understands this. That is why it will be unnecessary for the nominee to thrust aside precedent, to advocate overturning Roe v. Wade- or even admitting that she believes it was wrongly decided.

It would also be periloux for the nominee to admit the latter, and probably suicidal to admit the former. One of the two presumptively swing GOP senators, Maine's Susan Collins, has stated "I would not support a nominee who demonstrated hostility to Roe v. Wade because that would mean to me that their judicial philosophy did not include a respect for established decisions, established law.”

The nominee will not demonstrate hostility to Roe v. Wade. Collins has already indicated that is her red line. Trump has gotten the message, telling Maria Bartiromo (at around 2:00 of the video below) abortion policies "could very well end up with (the) states at some point."  It's pretty striking," Chris Hayes tweets "how resolutely disciplined Trump has been on judges. No tweeting crazy stuff that poisons the well. Basically allows the largely outsourced process to run its course."  (When necessary, the mythical "out-of-control" Trump is nowhere to be found.)

The President gets a second individual on to the United States Supreme Court.  He declares victory. He may even get to gloat while we "win too much." Forced birth advocates will get their way as Roe v. Wade is effectively repealed, all the more satisfying for the mainstream right because it will be done piecemeal, state-by-state, avoiding the backlash from pro-choice Republicans wary of outright repeal.

It would be only fitting that if reproductive freedom is swept away, it is done in this manner. The forced birth movement is predicated on the fiction that where abortion is illegal, the doctor is culpable while the woman requesting the "murder" is a victim.  "The court does not have to declare that it is overturning Roe v. Casey," Stern maintains, "only snip away at these precedents until nothing is left of them." And so, like the boiling frog, freedom dies gradually, so as not to arouse outrage.

                                        HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY

Tuesday, July 03, 2018

Failed Strategy

Adoration among Democrats or liberals for an important couple has been a fixture of Democratic and liberal politics.

Sean Illing of Vox recently interviewed Roosevelt University political scientist Sean Illing, author of "It's Time to Fight Dirty," which urges Democrats to recognize that Republicans are fighting a procedural war rather than a policy war.

We cannot, Faris realizes, "restore order by respecting rules that are not respected by Republicans" and thus he recommends Democrats institute several changes, including: 1) breaking up California into six states, which he believes would yield 12 (rather than the current  two) Democratic senators; 2) granting statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, which he argues would result in four Democratic senators; 3) eliminating the filibuster, so progressive policy may be legislated; 4) packing the Court with additional (left-wing) Justices.

Evidently, Faris proposes additional moves in his book. Such procedural changes obviously would require a significant control by the Democratic Party, whether in the legislative branch or the executive (depending upon the particular measure).

The change in focus itself is arguably more important than his specific recommendations, of which I believe #1 and #2 are superior to #4, which I prefer to #2.

I haven't read Faris' book and thus am otherwise unfamiliar with his reasoning. But what I find most intriguing about the interview is omission of a critical name by both interviewer and interviewee, although the latter maintains that Democrats must fight dirty as do Republicans.

That name is Obama- and not primarily Barack, whose addition to the discussion might have sidetracked it.

It was convention time on July 25, 2016 when Michelle Obama declared "How we explain that when someone is cruel or acts like a bully, you don’t stoop to their level. No, our motto is, when they go low, we go high."

Cheers, applause!

The following day, Steve Benen wrote "no speaker in Philadelphia offered a more powerful indictment against Trump than the First Lady."

In October, Mrs. Obama delivered what a headline writer referred to as "Michelle Obama's powerful New Hampshire speech" which included

Now, we need to recover from our shock and depression and do what women have always done in this country. We need you to roll up your sleeves. We need to get to work. Because remember this: When they go low, we go …

Audience: High!

Yes, we do.

Following that speech, the Atlantic's Adrienne LaFrance gushed "The speech has been called “remarkable,”powerful,” “desperately needed,” and possibly disastrous for Trump" and noted

It has become an unofficial anthem for the Clinton campaign: “When they go low, we go high.” The applause line originated with Michelle Obama, in the remarks she gave at the Democratic National Convention in July. Since then, Clinton has frequently invoked the phrase on the trail.

The irony, of course, is that "going low" in the campaign delivered the presidency to a crude and rude habitual liar while "going high" brought an unexpected and devastating defeat to Mrs. Obama's own party.

We should have learned during the previous eight years that when one side fights dirty, the other side will lose playing by the Marquess of Queensbury rules. The election provided confirmation. The last 18 months have provided further confirmation.

With an upcoming controversy over a Supreme Court confirmation, the Democratic Party has been provided another opportunity to wise up and invoke the Faris doctrine rather than the Obama doctrine.  Activists could, for example, promote a third party candidacy in the Senate campaigns in West Virginia, Indiana, and North Dakota, where center-right Democratic incumbents have taken Democratic voters for granted.

Opponents obviously must be bold and wise however they fight the Trump appointment to the Supreme court.. But for now, it is as clear as it is unacknowledged: Michelle Obama's strategy leads only to defeat and despair.

Share |


"Art of the Deal" co-author Tony Schwartz, who turned against Trump well before the 2016 election, was asked Sunday how he c...