Saturday, May 27, 2017

Friday, May 26, 2017

Muslim Ban Body Slam

To use a contemporaneous metaphor, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals grabbed Trump’s travel ban against six Muslim-majority countries by the neck and threw it to the ground.

The question for this Court, distilled to its essential form, is whether the Constitution, as the Supreme Court declared in Ex parte Milligan…remains “a law for rulers and people, equally in war and in peace.” And if so, whether it protects Plaintiffs’ right to challenge an Executive Order that in text speaks with vague words of national security, but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination. Surely the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment yet stands as an untiring sentinel for the protection of one of our most cherished founding principles—that government shall not establish any religious orthodoxy, or favor or disfavor one religion over another. Congress granted the President broad power to deny entry to aliens, but that power is not absolute. It cannot go unchecked when, as here, the President wields it through an executive edict that stands to cause irreparable harm to individuals across this nation. [Emphasis added.]

The context the Court refers to is the endless honking from Trump and his minions about banning all Muslims, starting in December 2015 and all the way through the election, so it’s a bit of a stretch for him and the DOJ to say it has nothing whatsoever to do with banning all Muslims and hiding behind that ever-popular boogedy-boogedy about “national security.”

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III says the next stop will be the Supreme Court.  They may be politicized in favor of the right-wing, but even they know religious bigotry when they see it.  One can only hope.

Blabbermouth Cont’d

I’m not a military strategist by any means — nor would I aspire to be one — but even I can figure out that one of the reasons the Navy has submarines is because they don’t want other people to know we have warships in certain places.  You can’t hide a battleship — they are a show of power — but a submarine is stealthy and contains the element of surprise.

So it’s probably not a good idea to tell other people where we have them, especially if you’re a narcissistic braggart with size issues and happen to have access to nuclear codes.  Via Buzzfeed:

Pentagon officials are in shock after the release of a transcript of a call between President Donald Trump and his Philippines counterpart revealed that the US military had moved two nuclear submarines towards North Korea.

“We never talk about subs!” three officials told BuzzFeed News, referring to the military’s belief that keeping submarines’ movements secret is key to their mission.

While the US military will frequently announce the deployment of aircraft carriers, it is far more careful when discussing the movement of nuclear submarines. Carriers are hard to miss, and that, in part, is a reason the US military deploys them. They are a physical show of force. Submarines are, at times, a furtive complement to the carriers, a hard-to-detect means of strategic deterrence.

According to the transcript, released Wednesday, Trump called Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte April 29, in part to discuss the rising threat from North Korea. During that call, while discussing ways to mitigate North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions, Trump said: “We have two submarines — the best in the world. We have two nuclear submarines — not that we want to use them at all. I’ve never seen anything like they are but we don’t have to use this, but [Kim] could be crazy, so we will see what happens.”

Not only that, he thinks Duterte is doing a bang-up job of running his country.

During the same call, Trump also called the North Korea leader a “madman with nuclear weapons” and celebrated Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” The Filipino leader has supported the alleged extrajudicial killing of 8,000 people since he took office in June, part of his purge to rid his nation of drugs. Duterte has bragged about committing murder himself, called former president Barack Obama a “son of a bitch” and once threatened to suspend the bilateral agreement between his nation and the United States that allows US troops to visit the Philippines.

“Keep up [the] good work, you are doing an amazing job,” Trump told Duterte during the call.

And then he turns around and lectures NATO, pissing off the European allies.

He’s not just an embarrassment at home; he’s sharing his idiocy with the world.  It’s a good thing we don’t have warp capability; he’d probably cozy up to the Romulans and admire the way they keep order.

Florida Getting In On The Action

The Russian meddling in elections didn’t just happen at the presidential level.  Welcome to Florida!

Via TPM:

A Republican political operative in Florida asked the alleged Russian hacker who broke into Democratic Party organizations’ servers at the height of the 2016 campaign to pass him stolen documents, according to a report Thursday by the Wall Street Journal.

In return, that operative received valuable Democratic voter-turnout analyses, which the newspaper found at least one GOP campaign consultant took advantage of the information. The hacker went on to flag that same data to Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of Donald Trump’s who briefly advised his presidential campaign, and who is currently under federal investigation for potential collusion with Russia.

The Wall Street Journal’s report presents the clearest allegations to date of collusion between people connected to Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Cybersecurity experts were sounding the alarm as early as last July that Guccifer 2.0, which had tapped into both the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic National Campaign Committee, was connected to the Russian military intelligence apparatus. However, in September, Florida GOP consultant Aaron Nevins wrote to Guccifer 2.0 to tell the hacker to “feel free to send any Florida based information,” according to the Journal.

As if Florida politics wasn’t riddled enough with weirdness; they would make a Chicago ward-heeler get out of the business.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

High-Speed Pileup

The travails of the Trump administration are starting to pick up speed and ferocity.

First up, it appears that the statement issued by then-FBI Director James Comey last July about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mail was in part prompted by a fake e-mail slipped into the mix by the Russians.

In the midst of the 2016 presidential primary season, the FBI received what was described as a Russian intelligence document claiming a tacit understanding between the Clinton campaign and the Justice Department over the inquiry into whether she intentionally revealed classified information through her use of a private email server.

The Russian document cited a supposed email describing how then-Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch had privately assured someone in the Clinton campaign that the email investigation would not push too deeply into the matter. If true, the revelation of such an understanding would have undermined the integrity of the FBI’s investigation.

Current and former officials have said that Comey relied on the document in making his July decision to announce on his own, without Justice Department involvement, that the investigation was over. That public announcement — in which he criticized Clinton and made extensive comments about the evidence — set in motion a chain of other FBI moves that Democrats now say helped Trump win the presidential election.

But according to the FBI’s own assessment, the document was bad intelligence — and according to people familiar with its contents, possibly even a fake sent to confuse the bureau. The Americans mentioned in the Russian document insist they do not know each other, do not speak to each other and never had any conversations remotely like the ones described in the document. Investigators have long doubted its veracity, and by August the FBI had concluded it was unreliable.

So the FBI was punked by the Russians.  That was all part of a larger plan.  As the New York Times reports, they were playing us like a Stradivarius.

American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election.

Anything else?  Well, let’s see what the Attorney General was up to…

Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to disclose meetings with Russian officials when he applied for security clearance because he was told not to do so by advisers and the F.B.I., a Justice Department spokesman said Wednesday.

Mr. Sessions met with Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, at least twice in 2016. But asked on an official government form to note any contact he or family members had with foreign governments or their representatives over the past seven years, Mr. Sessions did not include his encounters with Mr. Kislyak. It is a federal crime to make false statements or withhold relevant information on the background check form.

“As a United States senator, the attorney general met hundreds — if not thousands — of foreign dignitaries and their staff,” Ian Prior, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said in a statement. “The attorney general’s staff consulted with those familiar with the process, as well as the F.B.I. investigator handling the background check, and was instructed not to list meetings with foreign dignitaries and their staff connected with his Senate activities.”

Mr. Sessions filled out two such forms, Mr. Prior said, one last July, as he was first formally vetted by the Trump campaign, and one after the election in November.

The news, first reported by CNN, renewed questions about Mr. Sessions and the Russia issue. Mr. Sessions, who represented Alabama until his confirmation as the nation’s top law enforcement officer this year, was the first United States senator to endorse Mr. Trump, backing him in February 2016.

What I find most amazing is the speed at which all of this is happening.  It took over two years for Watergate to unravel, and back in those innocent times we thought that was pretty quick.  But this whole Trump administration experiment is running out faster than a mini-series on HBO (which I am sure is already being planned out).

CBO On Trumpcare: 23 Million More SOL

No wonder the Republicans in the House wanted to whoop Trumpcare 2.0 through and send it on to the Senate without waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to tally up the numbers.  They knew what was coming.

Health-care legislation adopted by House Republicans earlier this month would leave 23 million more Americans uninsured by 2026 than under current law, the Congressional Budget Office projected Wednesday — only a million fewer than the estimate for the House’s previous bill.

The nonpartisan agency’s finding, which drew immediate fire from Democrats, patient advocates, health industry officials and some business groups, is likely to complicate Republicans’ push to pass a companion bill in the Senate.

The new score, which reflects last-minute revisions that Republicans made to win over several conservative lawmakers and a handful of moderates, calculates that the American Health Care Act would reduce the federal deficit by $119 billion between 2017 and 2026. That represents a smaller reduction than the $150 billion CBO estimated in late March, largely because House leaders provided more money in their final bill to offset costs for consumers with expensive medical conditions and included language that could translate to greater federal spending on health insurance subsidies.

As GOP senators quickly distanced themselves from the updated numbers, what became apparent is the difficult balancing act congressional leaders face as they seek to rewrite large portions of the Affordable Care Act. Some senators are eager to soften portions of the House bill, including cuts to entitlement programs and provisions that would allow insurers in individual states to offer fewer benefits in their health plans or to charge consumers with costly medical conditions higher premiums.

To give you an idea of just how desperate the GOP is to try to foist this monstrous turd of a bill before the Democrats start running ads hanging the “23 MILLION” number around the neck of every member of Congress with an (R) after their name, they’ve got minions running ads on cable TV here in Florida telling voters to call Congress to support this bomb.

I will be interested — and more than just casually — to see how the Republicans in South Florida explain why it’s good that premiums for the low-income elderly will rise 800%.  No, that’s not a typo.  That’s an 8 followed by two zeros.

The DNC should send Paul Ryan and his gang of granny-starvers a dozen roses and a box of candy.

Someone’s Going To Emergency, Someone’s Going To Jail…

As the old saying goes, politics ain’t beanbag.  Now it’s more like WWE.

From the Guardian:

The Republican candidate for Montana’s congressional seat has been charged with misdemeanor assault after he is alleged to have slammed a Guardian reporter to the floor on the eve of the state’s special election, breaking his glasses and shouting, “Get the hell out of here.”

Ben Jacobs, a Guardian political reporter, was asking Greg Gianforte, a tech millionaire endorsed by Donald Trump, about the Republican healthcare plan when the candidate allegedly “body-slammed” the reporter.

“He took me to the ground,” Jacobs said by phone from the back of an ambulance. “I think he wailed on me once or twice … He got on me and I think he hit me … This is the strangest thing that has ever happened to me in reporting on politics.”

Fox News reporter Alicia Acuna, field producer Faith Mangan and photographer Keith Railey witnessed the incident, according to an account published by foxnews.com. After Jacobs asked Gianforte his question, Acuna wrote: “Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.

“Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the man, as he moved on top the reporter and began yelling something to the effect of ‘I’m sick and tired of this!’ … To be clear, at no point did any of us who witnessed this assault see Jacobs show any form of physical aggression toward Gianforte, who left the area after giving statements to local sheriff’s deputies.”

Jacobs subsequently reported the incident to the police. The Gallatin county sheriff’s office said on Wednesday night it had completed its investigation and that Gianforte had been issued with a charge of misdemeanour assault.

“Following multiple interviews and an investigation by the Gallatin county sheriff’s office it was determined there was probable cause to issue a citation to Greg Gianforte for misdemeanor assault,” sheriff Brian Gootkin said in a statement. “The nature of the injuries did not meet the statutory elements of felony assault. Greg Gianforte received a citation on Wednesday night and is scheduled to appear in Gallatin county justice court between now and June 7, 2017.”

A statement released from Gianforte’s campaign blamed Mr. Jacobs for letting his neck get in the way of the candidate’s grip.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Signs of Life

Like blades of grass emerging from under the crusty old snowfall in spring, Democrats are showing signs of life.

This is from Newsday out on Long Island:

Democrat Christine Pellegrino defeated Conservative Tom Gargiulo on Tuesday in the 9th Assembly District special election as the progressive and union-backed candidate pulled off an upset victory for the heavily Republican seat.

“This is a thunderbolt of resistance,” said Pellegrino, who becomes the first Democrat to hold the Assembly seat. “This is for all the supporters and voters who understand a strong progressive agenda is the way forward in New York.”

With all precincts reporting, Pellegrino won 58 percent of the vote to Gargiulo’s 42 percent, according to Suffolk and Nassau boards of election results posted Tuesday night.

The liberal wing of the Democratic Party and Working Families Party had invested heavily in the seat left vacant when Assemb. Joseph Saladino was appointed Oyster Bay supervisor. President Donald Trump had won the district with 60 percent of the vote.

In Georgia where they’re holding a run-off election to Congress to replace Tom Price on June 20, Democrat Jon Ossoff is up by seven points against Republican Karen Handel.

Now, to beat the metaphor to death, there could always come another freeze that kills off the early growth, but these are the elections that really matter in winning back the House and the Senate, proving that the late Tip O’Neill’s point about all politics being local is not just true but vital.

How do you think the hard-core GOP got to where they are?  They started small: county commissions, school boards, city councils, spreading their gospel of fear and loathing, capitalizing on anecdotal local issues — welfare queens!  back-alley abortions!  gays dancing! — and by the time the national Democrats even took notice, we had Ronald Reagan, Jerry Falwell, and gerrymandered districts that are so safe that they elect idiots like Steve King (R-IA) who sees drug smugglers with calves the size of cantaloupes behind the 7-11, Louis Gohmert (R-TX) casting asparagus, and Blake Farenthold (R-TX) who just acts goofy.

They’re the ones who helped hype the base for Trump and they’ll be the hardest to dislodge, but as we say at the meeting, one step at a time.

Sticks and Stones

The leader of the free world on the Manchester bomber:

Trump has called those behind the Manchester suicide bombing and other similar attacks “evil losers in life”.

“I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. I will call them losers,” he said in a speech during a visit to the Middle East.

And then he challenged them a race to the top of the monkey-bars.

Well, at least he didn’t call them “poopyheads.”  That would have been silly.

Short Takes

U.K. terror threat raised to “critical” following Manchester bombing.

Ex-C.I.A Director John Brennan said there is good reason to inquire into Trump/Russia connection.

Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenas more documents from Flynn.

Fox News retracts nut-job Clinton conspiracy story.

Trump budget breaks 7 campaign promises.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017