Friday, November 30, 2018

Disclosure Not A Sure Thing

Read enough tweets, and you will find a few truly hilarious, such as
 How did they think this was not coming out? There are approximately 86 reasons, but here are a few:

- Trump could have avoided telling Lester Holt on May 11, 2017 "And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said: 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should've won,'" Two days later, DAG Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to be Special Prosecutor.

- Attorney General Jeff Sessions might not have recused himself from the Special Counsel's probe. Of course, it would have been clearly unethical had he not done so. However, if he hadn't, the President would have backed him and there is no statute which would have demanded Sessions' removal.

- The President could have effected the dismissal of the Special Counsel early (or at any time) in the probe. If he had done so before the indictments started coming, there would have been relatively little blowback. At that time, there would have been little hard evidence of wrongdoing and virtually no proof of anything. Even now, the investigation is being supervised by a Trump toady, about whom CNN explains

As acting attorney general, Whitaker will have say over key decisions, such as whether to subpoena the President, approve criminal charges of individuals and directions over the scope of the investigation as more information comes to light.

Whitaker will also decide if the final report prepared by Mueller should be made public as well as which portions to redact.

Even with the latest revelations, pundits argue (though exaggerate, given that most details are yet to be revealed) that getting 67 United States senators to vote in favor of removal of Donald Trump from the presidency is almost unimaginable. He could be impeached by the House- as was President Clinton, who went on to become the most popular politician in the USA for a period of time.

President Trump could be indicted, but most legal experts maintain that is highly unlikely given current Department of Justice guidelines.  He would be more likely prosecuted after leaving the presidency, though that might require obtaining an objective jury and would be a long-drawn out process.

-The President could have kept Cohen in the Trump orbit and not abandoned him because Cohen considered himself not only Trump's employer and fixer, but also a member of his family. Only after he realized the President was ditching him did "Cohen began sending up flares, signaling that he was considering cooperating with federal prosecutors and that his ultimate loyalty would be not to Trump, but to his "family and country." It took awhile for Cohen to prefer "being seen as a bad guy to maybe a guy that's trying to do the right thing."

About a month before Michael Cohen released his recording of a sensitive conversation he had with Donald Trump, the President's longtime attorney and adviser was agonizing over the silent treatment he was getting from his former boss.

"I don't understand why no one's calling me. I don't understand why no one's communicating with me," Cohen told Bo Dietl, a longtime friend and well-known private investigator who relayed the conversation to CNN.

Federal prosecutors were bearing down on him over his business dealings, some involving Trump, and Cohen was looking for a sign of reassurance from the President, a man he regarded more as family than as a boss.

"He was very taken aback that no one was communicating with him," Dietl said. "You're so close to somebody and all of a sudden they stop talking to you, you wonder what's happened."

- Donald Trump did not think he would win the presidential election and probably believed that if he did not, there would be little attention paid to his criminal syndicate.

And so there was much reason for Donald Trump to believe that his business and financial entanglements with Russian organized crime and the Kremlin (redundancy acknowledged) would not be discovered and that if they were, he could wiggle out of the controversy as he has every other. He remains President with a substantial base and a coterie of GOP senators worried that if Trump is indeed videotaped shooting someone on 5th Avenue, they would have to reconsider their support for him. Maybe.

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

"Treason Against The United States"

Politico reported Tuesday

Mary Kissel often took a dim view of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy. As a Wall Street Journal editorial writer, she tweeted about his “frightening ignorance,” criticized his approach on Syria and China, and said Vladimir Putin “scored a great propaganda victory” at the Helsinki summit in July.

And Trump swatted back. After Kissel said in a March 2016 appearance on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that Trump has “no principles, he has no policies,” the president counterpunched on Twitter. “Major loser!” then-candidate Trump wrote, adding that Kissel had “no clue!”

So of course Kissel is now part of the Trump Administration as

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s new senior adviser for policy and strategic messaging....

“Trump would lose his mind if he knew about this,” a former administration official who has witnessed Trump react to past criticism told POLITICO.

That's only because he loses his mind- or seems to- continually.

The day after this story appeared, Trump retweeted aphotoshopped image "which depicted targets of Trump attacks like former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Robert Mueller, Huma Abedin and James Comey overlaid with the text “Now that Russian collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?”

But the image included also Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. 

It is arguable whether the President of the USA can directly fire the Special Counsel, but inarguable that he can terminate him indirectly. Donald Trump's stooge, Acting Attorney General Matt Whittaker, would need little coaxing to ax the man conducting what his boss has claimed is a "witch hunt" that has "shattered so many innocent lives."

The President could fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein, understandably, initially incurred Trump's displeasure when it was revealed that the DAG had raised the possibility of invoking the 25th Amendment to get rid of the President. Wisely, Rosenstein denied the report.

And now President Trump has accused Rosenstein and Mueller of treason.

This is a serious charge, as those which are punishable by death generally are.Yet, as of late Thursday morning, alleged traitors Rod Rosenstein and Robert Mueller are still in their critical, prestigious jobs. Reporters need to ask Sarah H. Sanders and the President himself why individuals giving aid and comfort to enemies of the United States of America should remain in their positions, let alone not be charged with a felony.

We know why Trump has not dismissed Chief of Staff John Kelly when "his potential ouster has been the subject of numerous reportsin recent months." He would have to sack Kelly himself, and Trump is terrified of firing anyone. (Additionally, he may be concerned that Kelly would give him the Lewandowski treatment, which probably would result in a severely injured Donald Trump.)

Nonetheless, now the President has accused two high-ranking officials of treason. Were the media to pursue it, the Press Secretary (and others) might write it off as "hyperbole," a "joke,"  or merely passing on an entertaining tweet. Let them. Otherwise, Donald Trump again enjoys the privilege of denigrating the investigation into his high crimes and misdemeanors and riling up his base further without pushback.  And failing to push back against a guy who sees himself always as a "winner" and practically everyone else as a "loser" (below, in August 2015) gives him a big, undeserved, win.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

As If To Confirm The Stereotype Of Government Employees

Meghan McCain, noting the perils of government shutdowns, sensibly stated Wednesday on The View

I hate, maybe four degrees below terrorism, I hate government shutdowns because a) I think we're not electing these people to not work, number 1 on a very basic level; #2, it affects state parks, it affects military people getting aid.

Have you ever seen the picture of a little boy going to the Washington, D.C. zoo? He sees a panda and can't go in. There are ripple affects all the way around. Get in and do your job. If I'm having a bad day and disagree with you or something else happens, I come here, I'm still talking to you guys. Why do we have a different standard for the people in government?

O.K., Ms. McCain- I"ll bite. (Some say I already do.) Why do we have a different standard for government? We don't for the rank-and-file government employee- but some employees, admittedly, have a considerable sense of entitlement.

And we have one of them at nearly the highest level of government, immediately below that of the Chief Justice of the United Statesand of the President of the USA. In a puff piece, bordering on adoring, from Deadspin we learn that

over the weekend, Kavanaugh was indeed back at it during the 2018 Dick Brown Memorial Turkey Shootout, an annual basketball tournament for CYO squads held in Hyattsville, Md. Kavanaugh’s 12-and-under Blessed Sacrament squad, the defending champs, made it all the way back to the championship game this year.....

fans didn’t treat him any differently. (Tournament director Joe) Sego says “the bigger celebrity” at the event was Johnny Holliday, the locally legendary University of Maryland play-by-play announcer (who obsessives of the Beatles also known as the guy who in 1966 introduced the Fab Four at their final concert).

However, he is different, now an Associate Justice on the US Supreme Court, a job which appears less than taxing.  Huffington Post's Alanna Vagianos reminds us

One of the more cringeworthy points of Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings came when the judge openly worried that Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s sexual assault accusation would not only cost him his Supreme Court seat but also his passion for coaching youth basketball. Ford publicly accused Kavanuagh in September of sexually assaulting her when the two were at a high school party in the 1980s.

“I love coaching more than anything I’ve ever done in my whole life,” Kavanaugh said during the Senate hearings.

“But thanks to what some of you on this side of the committee have unleashed, I may never be able to coach again,” he added defensively, referring to the Democratic senators on the judiciary committee.

"I may never be able to coach again"  said the man who has miraculously retained, or regained, his lust for coaching young girls. Kavanaugh may still "love coaching more than anything I've ever done in my whole life, and won't allow a lifetime, tenured seat on the highest court in the most powerful nation ever to distract him from a mission to coach young girls.

After lying to the Senate Judiciary Committee and thecountry, Bart O'Kavanaugh now has a fine salary, extraordinary prestige, and the most secure employment in the country, However as one tweeter noted (before acknowledging "Christina" should have been "Christine") while linking to an article about Kavanaugh's second job

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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Walking Humbly With His God

James, likely either the (half-) brother or the cousin of Jesus Christ, once wrote "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up." Thus, on Thanksgiving President Trump said he was most thankful

For having a great family and for having made a tremendous difference in this country.  I’ve made a tremendous difference in the country.  This country is so much stronger now than it was when I took office, that you wouldn’t believe it.  And — I mean, you see it, but so much stronger that people can’t even believe it.  When I see foreign leaders, they say, “We cannot believe the difference in strength between the United States now and the United States two years ago.”  Made a lot of progress.

The President's evangelical supporters probably know that King Solomon maintained "when pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom."  They have read the words of Peter "finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble."

Nevertheless (perhaps not nevertheless, but because), white evangelical Protestants are arguably the most committed leg of Donald Trump's base.  Conventional wisdom has it that their loyalty is afforded the President because of his opposition to abortion rights and placement on the Supreme Court of two very conservative, anti-choice judges.

But that assumption may be in error. William Saletan notes that in a September 2018 survey undertaken for the Public Research Religion Institute, white evangelical Protestants ("WEP's") were

asked whether recent police shootings of black men were “isolated incidents” or “part of a broader pattern of how police treat African Americans.” Seventy-one percent of WEPs said such killings were isolated incidents, compared with 63 percent of white Catholics and 59 percent of white mainline Protestants. In the BGC survey, 59 percent of non-evangelical whites agreed with the statement, “I am disturbed by comments President Trump has made about minorities.” But a plurality of white evangelicals disagreed with it.

Trump’s connection with WEPs on racial issues goes deeper than indifference. It’s based on shared identity. In the words of Christian essayist Michael Gerson, evangelicals have degenerated into an “anxious minority,” defining themselves as “an interest group in need of protection and preferences.” Stetzer, based on his analysis of survey data, finds that race and ethnicity, not faith, are driving much of this process. Many white evangelicals see their religion not as a universal calling but as a heritage that sets them apart. They fear people of other creeds, colors, and languages.

Additionally, a poll conducted for the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College discovered that

when white evangelicals were asked to name all the factors that influenced their votes in 2016, fewer than half mentioned abortion or the Supreme Court. Their top issues were the economy, health care, national security, and immigration. The biggest gap between pro-Trump evangelicals and other evangelicals, when they were pressed to name the most important voting issue, was on immigration. That issue was more important to Trump supporters in the BGC survey, and it’s a big winner for Trump among WEPs in other polls. “White evangelicals overwhelmingly back more hardline positions on immigration, with three-fourths wanting a reduction in legal immigration,” BGC director) Stetzer reports.

Consequently, white evangelical Protestants may back Trump because many are conservative across-the-board. Alternatively, it is conceivable that once a politically conservative evangelical believes that a politician is strongly anti-abortion rights and wants to reshape the Court accordingly, he or she accepts blindly the politician's views on other issues.

Consequently, these individuals may willingly accept other traits, such as an egotism and narcissism as wide as the Garden of Eden, which are antithetical to biblical Christianity.  With Donald Trump's character fully and continually on display the past several years, white evangelical Protestants know what he is- and may view it less as a bug than as a favorable characteristic. They have forgotten- or chosen to disregard-  that pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.

Monday, November 26, 2018

I'm Not A Surgeon But I'll Repair Your Heart Valve

It's fair, and good, to invite on to the Sunday morning news shows individuals from all ends of the political spectrum. However, the journalists- or television personalities- moderating a discussion must have both a working knowledge of the topic they will be discussing a willingness to challenge blatant falsehoods.

Instead, when Meet the Press host Chuck Todd asked (at 39:07 of the first video below) about the Fourth National Climate Assessment, the work of 300 scientists and 13 federal agencies which the Trump Administration and its allies are undermining, he ignored obvious disinformation. Doris Keans Goodwin remarked, blandly though constructively, "if you can't look past yourself and the greater good and not the future, it's not leadership." Only slightly more controversially, Elise Jordan noted that the California fires "would, you hope, start to wake up Republican politicians."   

However Danielle Pletka of the AmericanEnterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank funded primarily by dark money, claimed

The problem for many is that they perceive this as an agenda that is much more about corporate and much more about law and much more about the kind of governance that America has and much less about climate. So from the standpoint of those who have doubts about this, and I don't think we can have any doubts that there is climate change, whether it's anthropogenic, I don't know, I'm not a scientist. I look at this as a citizen and I see it so I understand it. On the other hand, we need to also recognize that we just had two of the coldest years, the biggest drop in global temperatures that we've had since the 1980s, the biggest in the last 100 years. We don't talk about that because it's not part of the agenda....

We don't talk about it because it's not true.  Pletka's claim that "we just had two of the coldest years... since the 1980s" is a Trump-sized lie. In January NASA reported

Earth’s global surface temperatures in 2017 ranked as the second warmest since 1880, according to an analysis by NASA.

Continuing the planet's long-term warming trend, globally averaged temperatures in 2017 were 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.90 degrees Celsius) warmer than the 1951 to 1980 mean, according to scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) in New York. That is second only to global temperatures in 2016.

In a separate, independent analysis, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded that 2017 was the third-warmest year in their record. The minor difference in rankings is due to the different methods used by the two agencies to analyze global temperatures, although over the long-term the agencies’ records remain in strong agreement. Both analyses show that the five warmest years on record all have taken place since 2010.

Theoretically, a reversal may be taking place in 2018. Theoretically, but not actually, because as earlier this month NOAA found

October 2018 also marks the 42nd consecutive October and the 406th consecutive month with temperatures, at least nominally, above the 20th century average....

The year-to-date temperature across global land and ocean surfaces was 1.39 degrees above the 20th century average of 57.4 degrees Fahrenheit- the fourth highest for January-October in the 139-year record. The years 2014-2018 comprise the five warmest January-October periods on record, with 2016 the warmest such period at 1.76 degrees Fahrenheit above average.

Todd undoubtedly knew that Pletka was pulling thing(s) out of her posterior. The problem could be mitigated by more transparency than simply introducing such people as "Danielle Pletka of the American Enterprise Institute." Admittedly, that could prove awkward, unwieldy, or vulnerable to inaccuracy or bias.  

In the short term, in the matter of climate change, Dan Rather has the best recommendation:

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Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Apology That Never Was

It was an instant classic.

Admittedly, that's akin to "controlling their own destiny," a common sports remark. If one could control her own destiny, it wouldn't be destiny. And if it's instant, it's not a classic.

Still, Cindy Hyde-Smith pulled off a reasonable facsimile. Headline writers for PoliticoUSA Today, Reuters, TIME, and CBS News- which thought it an actual apology- were fooled, though NBC News was not.  The incumbent Mississippi senator, locked in a runoff campaign against Democrat Mike Espy, was viewed on Twitter gushing of a cattle rancher and supporter "if he invited me to a public hanging, I'd be in the front row."  She was asked at a debate

Senator Hyde-Smith, the video in which you referenced a public hanging has received criticism and attention. You have released a statement in which you say that any attempt to turn it into a negative connotation is ridiculous. What is the positive connotation and are you willing to explain or apologize tonight?

In what had all the elements of the quintessential non-apology, the incumbent responded

For anyone that was offended by my comments

This is a standard line in the fake apology with three dodges: "For anyone" is a refusal to acknowledge the specific individual(s) or group(s) she has insulted.  "By my comments" is avoiding acknowledging there was something specific that was inappropriate. (Being human, everyone has made appalling, unspecified, "comments" at one time.)  "Offended" is (though unrecognized) a de facto attack upon the subject of the remarks. It is not enough for a remark not to be "offensive." If it is insulting, that's bad enough.

There was no ill will, no intent, whatsoever in my statement.

An intent to insult is not a prerequisite for offending or insulting.

And you know in 20 years of service of being your state senator, your Commissioner of Agriculture, and your US Senator, I have worked with all Mississippians. It did not matter their skin color type, their age, or their income.  That's my record. There has never been anything, not one thing, in my background to ever indicate I had ill will toward anyone.

Well, not quite. In a piece featuring the Senator's hometown, Will Bunch slams "one of Hyde-Smith's first acts during her first term in the Mississippi Legislature in 2002, which was to unsuccessfully push a bill to rename Highway 51 running through Brookhaven as Jefferson Davis Highway, in honor of the slave-owning president of the Confederacy who had no specific tie to Brookhaven."

I've never been hurtful to anyone. I've always tried to be kind to everyone.

Never hurtful and always attempting to be kind, Cindy Hyde-Smith is unlike anyone who has ever lived, save for some guy who himself was hung two centuries-plus ago.

I also recognize that this comment was twisted and it was turned into a weapon to be used against me, a political weapon used for nothing but personal and political gain by my opponent.

As Espy noted, those "twisted" comments came directly out of her mouth.  The real sin, Hyde-Smith alleges, was not her comment but repetition of the comment as "a political weapon." Additionally, the "recognize" was a nice touch, suggesting that this is less an opinion than understanding what her wise constituents know.

That's the kind of politics Mississippians are sick and tired of.

If Mississippians are "sick and tired" (a phrase we voters are sick and tired of hearing from political candidates) of such racialized politics as Bunch describes, Phil Ochs may still be right about them. Hopefully not.

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Friday, November 23, 2018

Questionable Judgement, Terrible Timing

What's striking- or should be- is the timing as

Europe must get a handle on immigration to combat a growing threat from rightwing populists, Hillary Clinton has said, calling on the continent’s leaders to send out a stronger signal showing they are “not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support”.

 In an interview with the Guardian, the former Democratic presidential candidate praised the generosity shown by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, but suggested immigration was inflaming voters and contributed to the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

“I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said, speaking as part of a series of interviews with senior centrist political figures about the rise of populists, particularly on the right, in Europe and the Americas.

“I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message – ‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ – because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.”

Clinton’s remarks are likely to prove controversial across Europe....

 In other risky predictions, the New Orleans Saints will get into the NFL playoffs this year.

By sheer  and complete coincidence, an article appeared yesterday in Politico addressing a seemingly unrelated- yet actually related- issue. Noting the increasing support of evangelical Christians (I'm from Missouri on this) for criminal justice reform, Politico notes that the idea of reducing prison populations "gained prominence on the left, too. In 2015, former President Bill Clinton — whose policies led to the mass incarceration of drug offenders — called for a bipartisan fix to sentencing rules that swelled prison populations."

It has for years now been assumed wisdom on the left thatthe Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 was a disaster. That is a gross oversimplification because the primary problem with the legislation was its timing.

Coming at the tail end of public apprehension and revulsion with rising crime, especially of the violent type, the legislation was enacted in the tenth- and final- year of rising crime rates. The following year, as if by magic, crime began to decrease.

With a lag time to be expected, there is little chance that more than a small portion of that decline can be attributed to the legislation.  There are many reasons for the decline the past quarter century, probably only two of them (#1 and #2 here) directly aided by the law.

Enacted only after congressional and presidential resistance to punitive action could not withstand public pressure, the measure came about only after most of the intended benefit could be realized.

And so Hillary Clinton, wife of the president who signed an ill-timed crime-reduction bill, has issued a (arguably) prudent warning to European leaders- but at a curious moment in history given that, as The New York Times explains, in recent years

... centrist leaders have worked to make the continent less hospitable to unauthorized migrants; the number of new arrivals there has dropped to a fraction of what it was.

For instance, Ms. Merkel, the center-right German leader, and Frans Timmermanns, the center-left former Dutch foreign minister, led efforts to forge a counter-migration pact with Turkey in March 2016, promising the country billions of euros in aid for its help in stemming the migrant flow from Syria. Italy reached a similar deal with Libya. The deal was criticized by liberals, leftists and rights activists — but afterward, unauthorized migration to Europe plummeted by 90 percent.

“We must get the facts straight,” said Gerald Knaus, the architect of the controversial deal with Turkey. “Today in 2018, few irregular migrants reach the European Union.”

Knauss added "today in 2018, few irregular migrants reach the European Union," thus "just getting tough without any strategy does the work of the far right." As of four months ago, "the actual number of arriving migrants is back to its pre-2015 level, even as the politics of migration continue to shake the continent."

That probably applies also to the United States of America.  The authoritarian who openly admires totalitarian leaders worldwide has applauded Brexit; questioned Article V of the NATO treaty; pulled the USA out of the Paris global climate change treaty and the Iran nuclear deal to which Europe is committed; urged France to abandon the European Union; condemned the mayor of  London after a terrorist attack upon his city; threatened tariffs against European allies; cozied up to NATO's enemy, Russia; and tried to undermine June's G7 summit in Quebec. At some point, a pattern emerges.  

Crime legislation supported by Hillary Clinton and enacted by her husband may (or may not) have proven very wise if adopted the previous decade. Similarly, when Europe faced a crisis a few years ago brought on by oppressive regimes, war, and climate change, Mrs. Clinton's remarks criticizing the continent for its policy on refugee resettlement may have made a little sense.

Since then, the problem has been somewhat- however imperfectly- resolved.   The timing is especially inauspicious while the President of the USA exploits traditional American distrust of Europe in order to destroy the political, economic, and strategic ties among its member nations, and with the USA.

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Thursday, November 22, 2018

Less (Or More) Than It Appears

Charlie Sykes is energized, tweeting "it's on" following a tiff between President Trump and Chief Justice John Roberts on Friday. After an unfavorable court ruling on asylum applications, Trump startedit just before boarding Air Force One by stating

The 9th Circuit — we’re going to have to look at that.  Because every case, no matter where it is, they file it — practically, I mean practically — for all intents and purposes — they file it in what’s called the 9th Circuit.  This was an Obama judge.  And I’ll tell you what, it’s not going to happen like this anymore.

Chief Justice John Roberts responded

We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges. What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them.

 Then Trump countered with a pair of tweets:

Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have “Obama judges,” and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country. It would be great if the 9th Circuit was indeed an “independent judiciary,” but if it is why......

.....are so many opposing view (on Border and Safety) cases filed there, and why are a vast number of those cases overturned. Please study the numbers, they are shocking. We need protection and security - these rulings are making our country unsafe! Very dangerous and unwise!

An hour later, Trump added a third tweet criticizing the 9th Circuit.

Obviously, Trump  misrepresents- probably intentionally- the role of the Judiciary. Of course, judges have a different perspective than the cops. The latter group is charged with law enforcement, the former group with the rule of law. However, Trump understands that many, probably most, people don't fully grasp the concept of role.  Motivated by values, they take sides; in this case, anti-immigrant or pro-diversity, and if they are with Trump on immigration, they are with the border patrol and against the courts.

"Surely, comrades, you don't want Jones back?" Napoleon rhetorically asks the animals in George Orwell's Animal Farm.  The question itself reinforces the myth of the benevolence and altruism of the farm's new owners, as if they are much better than farmer Jones. If Trump implies that judges are Democratic stooges, voters may not notice that he has packed the courts with Republicans.   In August, Rolling Stone's Andy Kroll explained

As of this writing, Trump has put 26 new judges onto the appellate courts, more than any other chief executive at this point in the presidency. He has also nominated over 100 district-court judges and gotten 26 of those picks confirmed. These judges are overwhelmingly young, ideological and now set to serve lifetime appointments. And then, of course, there’s Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first pick for the Supreme Court, and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the president’s second Supreme Court nominee, who stands a strong chance of confirmation. “Whatever anyone wants to say about President Trump, he was very explicit about which judges he wanted, and he’s gone about appointing them,” says Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “He made a promise and they’re keeping it.

President Trump would like to undermine the Judiciary, but that would be more consequential if and when he is re-elected and thus able to put the country under his complete control. In the short term- his more pressing concern- he wants to strengthen support for his draconian anti-immigrant, anti-refugee policies. Additionally, he is trying to divert attention, to impede recognition that the courts are increasingly Republican, conservative, and crafted in his image. And there is no one better at diversion than Donald Trump.

Chief Justice Roberts, by contrast, is concerned only with preserving the integrity of the Court- especially his own, which (ironically) will be handing down decisions which in most cases will be favorable to the right and Donald Trump. Notwithstanding his protestation, he is aware that virtually every judge brings his or her opinions, values, or perspectives to the table. Not surprisingly, he is allowing the leader of his party, the President, to have the last word.

Consequently, it is not "on," notwithstanding Charlie Sykes' excitement.  Judges and border patrol agents are not antagonists, but rather address different aspects of  the same issue. Chief Justice Roberts may successfully defend the integrity of the court system he leads but Donald Trump is playing a different game with different rules. 

                                                  HAPPY THANKSGIVING

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Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Family Interest

Riyadh (probably) doesn't own President Trump- but it has taken a lease out on him. In March The Intercept reported

In late October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. “The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported at the time.

What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown. Kushner, through his attorney’s spokesperson, denies having done so....

One of the people MBS told about the discussion with Kushner was UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, according to a source who talks frequently to confidants of the Saudi and Emirati rulers. MBS bragged to the Emirati crown prince and others that Kushner was “in his pocket,” the source told The Intercept.

The spokesperson for Kushner attorney Abby Lowell denied the charge, but that was seven months before USA intelligence determined with "high probability" that Mohammed bin Salman, the son of Saudi King Salman, knew that his subjects had murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi. That was in turn a few weeks before the President would remark "maybe he did, maybe he didn't."

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince bin Salman, the de facto leader of the Kingdom. "A senior Saudi source," according to London-based online news outlet Middle East Eye, maintains Pompeo gave the pair a plan which includes "an option to pin the Saudi journalist’s murder on an innocent member of the ruling al-Saud family in order to insulate those at the very top." Although the person has not been selected yet, "Saudi leaders are reserving the use of that plan in case the pressure on bin Salman, also known as MBS, becomes too much."

Amid growing criticism and pressure to acknowledge the obvious, President Trump on Tuesday issued a statement defending the Saudi government. An assistant professor at the Ottawa University Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, Thomas Juneau, has thoroughly refuted Trump's claims that: Iran is responsible for a bloody proxy war in Yemen; Assad has killed millions of his own citizens; Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave; Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the US; $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from US companies; if we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries; King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder.

Otherwise, what Trump stated was largely accurate. (Otherwise, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?) President Trump has chosen Saudi national interest over USA national interest because Riyadh's national interest and the Trump family interest happily coincide. The executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which is involved in two lawsuits charging the President with violation of the Constitution's Emoluments Clausenotes Trump

and his businesses have continued to benefit substantially from Saudi customers, including the government of Saudi Arabia. Press reports have indicated that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has recently paid for rooms and meals at the Trump hotels in Washington and Chicago. In 2017, Saudi lobbyists spent $270,000 to reserve rooms at Trump’s hotel in Washington. The kingdom itself paid $4.5 million in 2001 to purchase a floor of Trump World Tower and continues to pay tens of thousands in annual common charges to Trump businesses for that property (the total of which could be up to $5.7 million since 2001, according to one estimate). In the past year, as bookings fell overall, Trump’s hotels in New York and Chicago reported a significant uptick in bookings from Saudi Arabia. And a major factor in a recent increase in revenue for the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Manhattan was that Saudis accompanying the crown prince during a recent visit stayed there, as The Washington Post has reported.

Trump said at a campaign rally in 2015 about Saudi Arabia: “I get along great with all of them. They buy apartments from me. They spend $40 million, $50 million. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much.”

What’s notable about that statement is not just the president’s description of his significant business ties to Saudi Arabia but his stark admission that he is inclined to look favorably on those who give him business.

The head of an organized crime cartel, Donald Trump' is the master of the shakedown. Thus the rationalization of his defense of Saudi Arabia was riddled with inaccuracies, which would have been more honest and simple if he had merely stated "they bought me off. So what are you going to do about it?"

                                                HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Washington And Ohio

Linking to a piece by Jonathan Swan of Axios, Jim Vandehei of Axios tweets "A source familiar with Trump's thinking said the president has privately used the word 'courage.' "Clearly what he likes about him is he's holding his ground, not running for the tall grass, the source said." In response, Charlie Pierce recognizes "the essential worthlessness of an entire news operation in a single tweet."

Courage hardly seems to be the quality Trump most treasures in his selection of an Assistant Attorney General, who previously had concluded the Special Counsel's probe is a "witch hunt." It's highly unlikely when according to The Washington Post

Trump has spoken privately about his fears over risks to his own life, according to a former senior White House official, who has discussed the issue with the president and spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about Trump’s concerns.

 “He’s never been interested in going,” the official said of Trump visiting troops in a combat zone, citing conversations with the president. “He’s afraid of those situations. He’s afraid people want to kill him.”

The President reportedly also doesn't want to associate himself with wars he views as failures.. However, given that he is a weak leader who is afraid of nothing more than he is of appearing weak, it has the ring of truth.

Courage never has been Trump's strong point, and it's a character flaw that seems to run strongly throughout his adopted party.  Florida senator MarcoRubio tweets

Max Boot responds "No political risk for supporting Adm McRaven as long as you don’t call out Trump by name for attacking another American hero." Rubio wasn't alone. Unsurprisingly, the Speaker of the House omits the name "Trump" in the statement "Speaker Ryan has traveled to Afghanistan multiple times, most recently in October, and has seen our military’s service and dedication firsthand. As the holidays approach, we are especially grateful for our troops’ sacrifice."

And then there is Ohio, in which media darling John Kasich, the United States Supreme Court be damned, in 2016 signed into law a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks. Now the GOP-controlled legislature, in its unrelenting effort to force birth upon unwilling participants, is hard at work trying to pass legislation further to abridge a woman's reproductive freedom.  The legislation would ban all abortions performed at any time unless, the Center for American Progress notes, they are "based on a surgical, chemical, or medical procedure to treat a disease”

CAP understandably is incensed because if the bill is enacted into law, the woman as well as the medical practitioner could be charged with a criminal offense up to and including murder.  Nonetheless, CAP notes

The bill includes a provision that says the pregnant person can avoid these consequences in criminal or civil court if they are willing to be part of a hearing, provide information to investigators, or make a report. But this does not apply to health care providers performing abortions.

Of course she can, and it doesn't. If the (formerly) pregnant individual were held as culpable as the practitioner for aborting a fetus (defined as an "unborn person") what the legislature classifies as murder, it would risk alienating the 50-55% of the voting public which is female, or at least the not-insignificant portion which is of child-bearing age. Their boyfriends or husbands might also be perturbed.

It is aimed by its proponents to force the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade, as is the slightly less draconian HB 258.  (Although he has remained agnostic on 565, incoming governor Mike DeWine has pledged to sign 258.)

Restriction of abortion rights is fertile ground for cowardice. Trump himself once told CNN’s Jake Tapper “I am pro-choice,” then on follow-up “I’m pro-life. I’m sorry.” He’s less forthright than when he admitted to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that a prohibition on abortion should require punishment for the woman as well as the practitioner. Still, the lack of courage puts him in the same league as GOP legislators in Columbus and in Washington, D.C., whatever Axios wants us to believe.

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Monday, November 19, 2018

Presidential Failure

Asked on the Overtime segment on Bill Maher's Real Time, "so, Van, Steve, do you think the media should change the way it covers President Trump, Van Jones responded

I think there's actually a lot of amazing good stuff that happens in the country we don't get a chance to talk about because he just wakes up in the morning, tweets out some crazy stuff. And most of us wake up in the morning, pick up our phone, and then freak out for the next eighteen hours and then go to bed. So I think if we could just give him a little less of the oxygen we give real people dong real stuff more time, it would be better.

That was on November 16, 2018.  Two days earlier, this is how Van Jones decided to "give him a little less of the oxygen":

Give the man his due. Bootlicking may be the only way Jones can relate to the President of the United States. During the main portion of "Real Time," Gary Kasparov stated

We have to also mention that Obama Administration knew about these attacks. Congressman Adam Schiff had been crying in September 2016 but everybody thought Hilllary would have won anyway so why should we interfere?

A reliable sycophant of the former President, Jones responded

No, that's not true. Obama wanted to move forward on a bi-partisan basis. He tried to reach out to Mitch McConnell and here' the deal: think about the instability that would have been created if Obama had gone out on his own....

Hey, listen, if you don't elect Trump; you wind up with an armed Tea Party response....

Jones' argument that the President of the USA failed to speak out, in support of the findings of the intelligence community of foreign interference in elections is a fairly eccentric one. Obama has not claimed that fear of blowback from far-right activists, many of whom never even acknowledged that he is not foreign-born, was a factor in his inaction, either because it is inaccurate or it would expose himself as a weak, indecisive leader afraid of his own shadow.

He did "reach out" to Speaker McConnell. Rebuffed, he kept his mouth shut, probably because he was intimidated by McConnell and figured Clinton's victory was likely, anyway.

The Obama administration feared that acknowledging Russian meddling in the 2016 election would reveal too much about intelligence gathering and be interpreted as “taking sides” in the race, the former secretary of homeland security said Wednesday.

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

One of the candidates, as you recall, was predicting that the election was going to be 'rigged' in some way. So as not to encourage the myth that the election was going to be rigged for the benefit of Obama's party, the President chose not to inform the American public that the election was being rigged on behalf of the other Party.

Johnson was asked by ranking committee member Adam Schiff  “Why wasn’t it more important to tell the American people the length and breadth of what the Russians were doing to interfere in an election than any risk that it might be seen as putting your hand on the scale? Didn’t the public have a compelling need to know?”

Johnson replied "We were very concerned that we not be perceived as taking sides in the election, injecting ourselves into a very heated campaign or taking steps to delegitimize the election process and undermine the integrity of the election process." It was a terrible lapse in judgement, an example of what Dan Savage has noted (in another context) is the notion "that Democrats must always set a good example for Republicans."

It should have been about the public's need to know, as Schiff pointed out, or as Kasparov recognizes, "defending government and the Constitution." Instead, it was about a President who was intimidated- by Mitch McConnell, Donald Trump, or both- who shut up when he should have stood up.

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Saturday, November 17, 2018

False Reality, False Hope

On Friday's episode of "The View," host Caryn Elaine Johnson, known professionally as Whoopi Goldberg, took exception to ridicule by Washington Examiner reporter Eddie Scarry of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Scarry had tweeted out a photograph of the incoming freshman member of Congress along with "Hill staffers sent me this pic of Ocasio-Cortez they took just now. I'll tell you something- that jacket and coat don't look like a girl who struggles."

Justifiably, the vice-hosts of The View also criticized  Scarry (who later deleted the tweet), though oddlynone pointed out that Ocasio-Cortez's outfit was professional and that she is no more a "girl" than, say, Matt Gaetz (R-Fl) is a "boy." 

That is a concept which probably escapes Goldberg, given that she condescendingly warned the reporter "hush, boy."

This incident, admittedly, is a trivial one. However, Goldberg made a much more serious error when- either ignorantly or disingenuously- she appeared to correct Sunny Hostin. The latter, while defending Ocasio-Cortez, had made the mistake of having prepared for the topic and stated

... and if you look at all of Congress, I mean, the Senate is filled with gazillionaires, the Representatives, the House, filled with gazillionaires. And do you know if you look, at all the money, working class people have never ever been able to- I found this stat, that no one from the working class has gotten into politics and gone on to become governor or Supreme Court Justice or the President. That is unbelievable- unbelievable.

Goldberg, undeterred by a panel member having done research, responded "Sonia Sotomayor was a working class woman. That's- that- they flash that stat."

Whether Hoskins' information applies to every Representative, Senator, President, and Supreme Court Justice, we'll never know. In a flash, Hostin remembered who the star is and quickly backtracked.

It's unfortunate that she did. Sotomayor was born into a working-class family but even before being becoming a United States Supreme Court Justice in 2009, was a huge professional success and had left those working-class roots behind.  After graduating from Yale Law School and passing the bar examination, Sotomayor worked in the NYC, NY district attorney's office and in 1984

entered private practice, making partner at the commercial litigation firm Pavia & Harcourt, where she specialized in intellectual property litigation. She moved from associate to partner at the firm in 1988. While she climbed the ladder there, Sotomayor also served on the board of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, the New York City Campaign Finance Board and the State of New York Mortgage Agency.

Sotomayor's pro bono work at these agencies caught the attention of Senators Ted Kennedy and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who were partially responsible for her appointment as U.S. District Court judge for the Southern District of New York City. President George H.W. Bush nominated her for the position in 1992, which was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on August 11, 1992. When she joined the court, she was its youngest judge. On her 43rd birthday, June 25, 1997, she was nominated for the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals by President Bill Clinton. She was confirmed by the Senate that October.

Sotomayor's current socio-economic status- and her professional status prior to being elevated to the Court- are typical of her colleagues. It is typical, also, of officials throughout the upper echelons of government, the point Hostins made amidst Goldberg's denial. The Washington Post noted in July

If the Senate approves Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, every justice sitting on the Supreme Court will have attended either Yale's or Harvard’s law school. (Ruth Bader Ginsburg started at Harvard and transferred to another Ivy, Columbia.)

“The elitism on the Supreme Court is worrying,” said Benjamin Barton, a law professor at University of Tennessee at Knoxville. “From the age of 18, these people have all essentially done the same thing, followed the same path, run in the same cloistered circles. That’s not healthy.”

In 2012, Barton published a comprehensive study on the personal backgrounds of Supreme Court justices. He found that the modern-era court presided over by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was in many ways the most elitist, homogenous group assembled since the court's inception.

While the current justices are far more diverse in gender and race than past decades, their educational and work backgrounds are almost uniform

Latina Sonia Sotomayor has a reasonably modest (though not poverty-stricken) background, her mother having been a nurse and her father a tool-and-die maker.  Whatever her background, she no longer is working-class. Most members of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, moreover, come from relatively privileged backgrounds. And now every member of the US Supreme Court sports a law degree from Harvard and Yale.

So Hostin's remarks did not originate from a mere "stat," notwithstanding Goldberg's misdirection. The federal government is filled with individuals from an elite background, and saturated with people who are wealthy or at least of a socio-economic class most Americans will never attain.

The implication of Goldberg's remark, whether born of ignorance or deception, reflects what many on the left- and especially Democratic politicians- fail to understand or willfully ignore.

Class counts, and too much. Against the odds, Sotomayor overcame the twin professional handicaps of ethnicity and gender. However, focusing exclusively on the advancement of women and ethnic minorities, and celebrating them, will blind us to the factor of class and reinforce the myth of unlimited mobility in American society- at least for white males.

Moreover, the American people will not be fooled. We know that the system, if not rigged, is  skewed obscenely toward the privileged, and that males and whites are not immune from this distortion.  And when loads of privileged elites- Whoopi Goldberg among them- imply that the path is clear for anyone to ascend to the highest ranks of government, a resentment builds that has unintended, dangerous consequences.

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Friday, November 16, 2018

A Trump Favorite

Maria Ricardel, forced out as deputy national security adviser by First Lady Melania Trump after a tiff about seating arrangements on a flight to Africa, reportedly has rejected an offer to become the  USA ambassador to Estonia. One journalist responded
There is serious competition, including but not limited to, Mexico, Germany, France, and our own USA for this honored position.  However, it soon may become clear what is President Trump's favorite nation and- in an upset- it's not Russia. The Washington Post reported Thursday

Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor released the findings of a long-awaited investigation of the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi on Thursday, saying that a team of Saudi agents dispatched to Istanbul with orders to bring him home alive had instead killed the journalist and dismembered his body.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince had no knowledge of the operation, Shaalan al-Shaalan, a spokesman for the prosecutor, said at a news conference in Riyadh, the Saudi capital.

This is- to use two abused and misused terms- unbelievable, or at least incredible.

There are numerous reasons President Trump likes the House of Saud, among which are that  Riyadh is investing billions of dollars in American companies. It supports Jared Kushner's push for a deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Saudi Arabia has agreed to buy tens of billions of dollars in armaments from the USA, all the better to continue its crusade against the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen. (Thirteen million Yemenis are now in danger of starvation there, but that's only gravy to Trump.) Additionally, it is a despotic, Wahabbist monarchy, pleasing to the USA's would-be imperial autocrat who himself derives his most fervent support at home from theocrats.  And it treats journalists, such as the late Mr. Khashoggi, very, very badly. So much so, in fact that NBC News notes

The White House is looking for ways to remove an enemy of Turkish President Recep Erdogan from the U.S. in order to placate Turkey over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to two senior U.S. officials and two other people briefed on the requests.

Trump administration officials last month asked federal law enforcement agencies to examine legal ways of removing exiled Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen in an attempt to persuade Erdogan to ease pressure on the Saudi government, the four sources said.

The effort includes directives to the Justice Department and FBI that officials reopen Turkey's case for his extradition, as well as a request to the Homeland Security Department for information about his legal status, the four people said.

They said the White House specifically wanted details about Gulen's residency status in the U.S. Gulen has a Green Card, according to two people familiar with the matter. He has been living in Pennsylvania since the late 1990s.

Therefore, we read, quite sensibly, from the deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post

This new Saudi account is completely implausible on its face. It contradicts numerous established facts about the case. Now we’ll see if the Trump administration gets behind it.

— Jackson Diehl (@JacksonDiehl) November 15, 2018

Evidently, the push to sacrifice Gulen to appease Erdogan and cut the Saudis a huge break has been stymied by bureaucrats. "Career officials at the agencies," Bloomberg reports, "pushed back on the White House requests" and a senior US official remarked "once they realized it was a serious request, the career guys were furious."

It's conceivable, therefore, that the White House won't support the Saudi account of Khashoggi's murder. There still are some career, non-political employees in the Trump Administration, people who put principle over politics and country over personal privilege. But there also is Donald Trump, and he's not any of that.

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This  is a reasonable question. If going to a predominantly Jewish neighborhood to harass and intimidate Jewish people at a synagogue is no...