Friday, December 15, 2017

Off The Chart

All presidents lie, either by intent or overreach.  But this report from the New York Times moves Trump into uncharted territory.

After we published a list of President Trump’s lies this summer, we heard a common response from his supporters. They said, in effect: Yes, but if you made a similar list for previous presidents, it would be just as bad.

We’ve set out to make that list. Here, you will find our attempt at a comprehensive catalog of the falsehoods that Barack Obama told while he was president. (We also discuss George W. Bush below, although the lack of real-time fact-checking during his presidency made a comprehensive list impossible.)

We applied the same conservative standard to Obama and Trump, counting only demonstrably and substantially false statements. The result: Trump is unlike any other modern president. He seems virtually indifferent to reality, often saying whatever helps him make the case he’s trying to make.

In his first 10 months in office, he has told 103 separate untruths, many of them repeatedly. Obama told 18 over his entire eight-year tenure. That’s an average of about two a year for Obama and about 124 a year for Trump.

I fully expect the White House to come out with a statement claiming the story is all lies, which, in itself, will be another lie.

Happy Friday.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Definition of Insanity

As Einstein noted, it’s doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman analyze the Alabama senate race’s impact on Trump.

Trump does not readily admit defeat. Knocked to the mat in Alabama with the stunning loss of a Senate seat, he got right back up on Wednesday and defiantly claimed that he had known his candidate would lose all along. He may have been humbled by voters, but Mr. Trump does not exactly do humble.

Aides to the temperamental president reported being pleasantly surprised that he did not rage against the setback in private, as he is wont to do in moments of difficulty. But neither did he concede a mistake in backing the Republican candidate, Roy S. Moore, despite sexual misconduct allegations, attributing the loss to Mr. Moore and the national party establishment that abandoned him.

All but ignoring the political earthquake in Alabama in public appearances on Wednesday, Mr. Trump pushed forward with his drive for major tax cuts, giving little indication that he shared his party’s panic about potentially worse defeats to come in next year’s midterm congressional elections. While aides anticipate possible staff changes, Mr. Trump showed no signs of shifting from the strident, base-oriented politics that have animated his presidency.

In a way, it’s a good thing because he’s going to keep stepping on that rake and it’s going to keep whacking him in the face and he’s going to keep stepping on the rake and …

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

USA Today on Trump: “Unfit to clean toilets”

USA Today is not known as a left-leaning paper.  It’s closer to a fast-food version of journalism with short empty-calorie stories.  But it’s also one of the few national papers, like the Wall Street Journal, in distribution.  So when they tear the top off and go after Trump, that’s legit news.

With his latest tweet, clearly implying that a United States senator would trade sexual favors for campaign cash, President Trump has shown he is not fit for office. Rock bottom is no impediment for a president who can always find room for a new low.

[…]

A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush.

This isn’t about the policy differences we have with all presidents or our disappointment in some of their decisions. Obama and Bush both failed in many ways. They broke promises and told untruths, but the basic decency of each man was never in doubt.

Donald Trump, the man, on the other hand, is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed.

[…]

The nation doesn’t seek nor expect perfect presidents, and some have certainly been deeply flawed. But a president who shows such disrespect for the truth, for ethics, for the basic duties of the job and for decency toward others fails at the very essence of what has always made America great.

That’s going to leave a mark.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Turn It Off

When I was a kid back in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s, my mom would lament that I and my siblings spent so much time watching TV.  “It will rot your brain,” was a common admonishment.

This was in the time before cable — indeed, before we had color TV — and there were three networks; four if you include the CBC which came in across Lake Erie from Windsor, Ontario.  That was it.

Now we have hundreds of channels in living color and HD, not to mention the streaming services.  There’s a lot out there that won’t rot your brain.

But for some, it’s too late.  Exhibit A:

The Times reports that Trump begins each day around 5:30 a.m. by turning on CNN before quickly flipping to Fox News’s “Fox & Friends.” He occasionally watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because it works him up, Trump’s friends told the Times.

Trump’s favorite programs include “Fox & Friends” as well as Fox News primetime shows from Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro. Trump sometimes “hate-watches” CNN host Don Lemon, according to the report.

The Times also reports that the only people allowed to touch the remote control for the White House television are Trump and White House technical support staffers.

She’s waited over fifty years to hear it, but, Mom, you were right.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Thursday, November 30, 2017

This Is The Way The World Ends

The Washington Post on Trump’s creation of his own reality.

Trump has expressed certainty that the special-counsel probe into his campaign’s possible collusion with Russia will be finished by the end of the year, complete with an exoneration from Robert S. Mueller III, according to several friends who have spoken with him in recent days.

Trump has dismissed his historically low approval ratings as “fake” and boasted about what he calls the unprecedented achievements of his presidency, even while chatting behind the scenes, saying no president since Harry Truman has accomplished as much at this point.

Trump also has occasionally questioned whether the “Access Hollywood” video of him crowing about assaulting women was doctored or inauthentic, asking confidants whether they think the sexual braggart on tape sounds like him, according to two people who have heard him make the comments.

In all these instances, as well as other setbacks, Trump has sought to paint the rosiest possible picture of his presidency and his character — and has tried to will others to see it his way, like the big-promises salesman he once was.

Sometimes, as with his comments about the “Access Hollywood” tape, which were first reported by the New York Times, Trump simply rejects facts — and his own past admissions — as he spins a new narrative. His critics accuse him of creating an alternative reality, though people close to the president say he is simply a savvy marketer protecting his brand, as any businessman or politician would.

This practice, however, could prove problematic for a president of the United States whose careless tweets or misleading statements can send the globe reeling.

“He creates his own reality and lives in his own reality and tries to bend reality around himself and his own deep narcissistic needs,” said Peter Wehner, a veteran of three Republican administrations and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. “But, of course, in the end reality wins out, and trying to disfigure it or reinterpret it doesn’t work.”

The inevitable question is, “Then what?”  We already know that the Republicans in Congress will follow along with him because they’re worried about staying in office and defying Trump riles up the base back home.  They’re also afraid of being the target of a 2 a.m. tweet.

So we are left to remember the snatches of poetry from T.S. Eliot and The Hollow Men and wonder what our fate will be.

We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;

Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

[…]

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

Unless we do something.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

His Masters Voice

Via the New York Times we learn that Trump now says the “Access Hollywood” tape of him bragging about hitting on women (you realize I’m being polite here) is fake news.

Shortly after his victory last year, Donald J. Trump began revisiting one of his deepest public humiliations: the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape of him making vulgar comments about women.

Despite his public acknowledgment of the recording’s authenticity in the final days of the presidential campaign — and his hasty videotaped apology under pressure from his advisers — Mr. Trump as president-elect began raising the prospect with allies that it may not have been him on the tape after all.

Most of Mr. Trump’s aides ignored his changing story. But in January, shortly before his inauguration, Mr. Trump told a Republican senator that he wanted to investigate the recording that had him boasting about grabbing women’s genitals.

“We don’t think that was my voice,” Mr. Trump told the senator, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Since then, Mr. Trump has continued to suggest that the tape that nearly upended his campaign was not actually him, according to three people close to the president.

Yeah, now I wish I’d stayed in college an extra year so I could study psychology so I’d know what to call this beyond “delusional.”

The harsh reality of it is that for all intents and purposes, he probably is convinced that’s not himself on the tape.  And if that’s his reality, where does that leave us?

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Slurring Her Words

Via TPM, Sarah Huckabee Sanders doesn’t think calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” is a racial slur.

“She said it was a racial slur,” ABC News’ Jonathan Karl pressed. “What is your response to that?”

“I think that’s a ridiculous response.”

“Why is it appropriate for the President to use a racial slur in any context?” NBC’s Kristen Welker asked.

“I don’t believe that it is appropriate for him to make a racial slur,” Sanders said, “Or anybody else.”

“A lot of people feel as though this is a racial slur,” Welker said.

“Like I said, I don’t think that it is, and I don’t think that was — certainly not the President’s intent,” Sanders said.

So if I called Ms. Sanders a honky cracker, that’s not a racial slur?  Well, good to know.

Not that I would ever do it.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Reading

December To Remember — Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker on how this next month could make or break Trump’s presidency.

Donald Trump is unique among modern Presidents in that he has no significant legislative accomplishments to show for ten months after taking office. Year one is when Presidents usually make their mark, especially if they came into office with unified control of the government, as Trump and his party did. Presidents in the first year of their first term are often at the peak of their popularity, have the biggest margins in Congress, and are free from the scandals and intense partisanship that start to gather around them later and make governing ever more difficult. By the second year, a President’s legislative agenda becomes complicated by the hesitancy of members of Congress to take risky votes as midterm elections approach, particularly if a President is unpopular. The math is stark: on average, modern Presidents have historically lost thirty House seats and four Senate seats in their first midterm elections.

Trump is governing well below the optimal levels of recent successful first-year Presidents. In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s first year in office, Reagan was so personally popular that he was able to convince a Democratic-controlled Congress to pass a major tax cut. In 1993, Bill Clinton used a Democratic Congress to pass a major economic plan, the Family and Medical Leave Act, gun legislation, and NAFTA, though his signature health-care bill eventually failed. (The political cost was high: in midterm elections the following year, Clinton lost his Democratic Congress for the rest of his Presidency and was later engulfed in scandals that slowed his agenda.) In 2001, George W. Bush, who also started with a Congress controlled by his own party, passed a major tax cut and a significant rewrite of federal education policy, two pieces of legislation that came with significant support from Democrats. Barack Obama came into office, in 2009, with large Democratic majorities, high approval ratings, and a massive economic crisis, all of which he leveraged to pass the most ambitious first-year agenda of any President since Lyndon Johnson, including an enormous economic-stimulus package and major reforms of the financial regulatory system and health care. (The final version of Obamacare, after some drama, was actually signed into law in March of his second year.)

Trump’s first year has been different. He has a record low approval rating. He is mired in scandal. And he, so far, has no major legislative accomplishments. He looks like a President in his eighth year rather than one in his first. All of this makes December crucial for the White House.

From now until the New Year, Congress will be jammed with legislative activity that may make or break Trump’s first year in office. Most of the attention has focussed on Trump’s tax-cut legislation, which is deeply unpopular according to public-opinion polls but which Republicans believe is essential to pass in order for them to have something to show for the year. But there are many other politically consequential bills that must be passed in the weeks ahead. On December 8th, the money to fund the federal government runs out. Staff members for the four top Democratic and Republican leaders have been meeting with the White House for weeks to negotiate a deal. On Tuesday, these leaders—Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell, and Chuck Schumer—will meet with Trump at the White House about the issue.

Schumer and Pelosi have been maneuvering for this moment all year, and they have significant leverage. The Republican Party, despite unified control of Congress, does not have the votes to pass bills to fund the government in either the House, where many conservatives refuse to support annual appropriations bills, or the Senate, where they need sixty votes but have only fifty-two Republicans. For several years, a coalition of mostly Republican defense hawks, who want higher levels of Pentagon spending, and Democrats, who want higher levels of discretionary spending, have joined forces to provide the votes for the annual appropriations bills. Pelosi and Schumer will not deliver those Democratic votes without extracting a price from Trump and Republicans.

There are three major pieces of legislation that Democrats want: a bipartisan fix for Obamacare, a legislative fix for the Obama-era DACA program that Trump recently ended, and the extension of a popular health-care program for children—SCHIP—that recently expired.

Some liberal Democratic senators have said that they won’t vote to fund the government unless the DACA fix is included, though that is not yet a Party-wide position. As for the Obamacare fix, which is known as Alexander-Murray, after the two senators who negotiated it, the current version of the G.O.P. tax-cut bill includes a repeal of Obamacare’s individual mandate, which would hobble Obamacare rather than fix it. The politics for Trump are tricky. Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, a shaky vote on the tax bill, has hinted that she wants the bipartisan health-care legislation passed as the price for her vote on any tax bill that repeals the mandate. Schumer has said that passing a mandate repeal would blow up the Alexander-Murray Obamacare fix. In other words, Schumer is not going to help pass the health-care fix as a way to grease the skids for McConnell to secure Collins’s vote on tax cuts. Trump is likely going to have to give ground on one or more of these Democratic priorities.

“Any Republican senator who thinks they can pass the individual mandate [repeal] and then turn around and get Murray-Alexander passed is dead wrong,” Schumer said on November 15th, after McConnell added the Obamacare-mandate repeal to the Republican tax bill.

The last time Trump cut a deal with Schumer and Pelosi was in May, when the leftover spending bills from the previous year were negotiated and passed to keep the government operating through the end of the fiscal year. In fact, this was arguably the most significant piece of legislation of Trump’s first year, and it was widely considered to be an enormous success for the Democrats because it included high levels of discretionary spending opposed by Trump and no funding for the border wall that he requested. Trump was so angry about the coverage that he tweeted that perhaps there needed to be a government shutdown the next time the two sides entered spending negotiations. “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there!” Trump said in a series of tweets. “We either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good ‘shutdown’ .”

Tuesday’s meeting at the White House between Trump and congressional leaders from both parties is meant to avoid a December 8th government shutdown. How much Republicans are willing to give Democrats may depend on the status of the G.O.P. tax bill. There are at least half a dozen G.O.P. senators with serious policy concerns regarding the tax proposal. And there are three Republican senators—John McCain and Jeff Flake, of Arizona, and Bob Corker, of Tennessee—who dislike Trump so much that they may be looking for reasons to oppose any legislation that empowers his Presidency. Republicans already have a ready-made conservative reason: the proposed tax changes will increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion.

If the tax bill is cruising through the Senate—McConnell wants a vote next week—there may be less incentive for Republicans to risk a shutdown. But if it dies next week, or is delayed, Trump will be under intense pressure to avoid ending the year with no major legislative accomplishments—and the chaos of a government shutdown. In order to keep the government running, Trump would have to strike another deal with Pelosi and Schumer and sign a bipartisan spending deal that includes major Democratic priorities.

As a result, Trump would end his first year in office with no Republican legislative accomplishments and two deals with Pelosi and Schumer that boost the Democratic agenda. If that seems likely to happen, it would enrage conservatives and the Republican base. For Trump, December could be the month that makes or breaks his first year in office.

The Dangers Of Losing Net Neutrality — John Nichols in The Nation.

Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the Internet. It guarantees that speech is equal on the network of networks—whether the words come from Walmart, the corporate behemoth that identifies as the largest retailer in the world, or Walmart Watch, the movement that “seeks to hold Walmart fully accountable for its impact on communities, America’s workforce, the retail sector, the environment and the economy.”

Net-neutrality protections assure that the essential democratic discourse on the World Wide Web cannot be bartered off to the highest bidders of a billionaire class that dominates the political debate on so many other media platforms.

Citizens love net neutrality. “The overwhelming majority of people who wrote unique comments to the Federal Communications Commission want the FCC to keep its current net neutrality rules and classification of ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act,” Ars Technica reported in August. How overwhelming? “98.5% of unique net neutrality comments oppose Ajit Pai’s anti–Title II plan,” read the headline.

The media monopolists of the telecommunications industry hate net neutrality. They have worked for years to overturn guarantees of an open Internet because those guarantees get in their way of their profiteering. If net neutrality is eliminated, they will restructure how the Internet works, creating information superhighways for corporate and political elites and digital dirt roads for those who cannot afford the corporate tolls.

No one will be surprised to learn which side Donald Trump’s FCC has chosen.

FCC chair Ajit Pai, who does the bidding of the telecommunications conglomerates with the rigid determination and focus of the former Verizon lawyer that he is, has been racing to eliminate net neutrality. Pai plans to have the FCC vote on December 14 to overturn the safeguards that were put in place during the Obama administration. If Pai and the Trump-aligned majority on the five-member commission succeed in gutting the existing Open Internet Order, they will alter the future of communications in America.

That alteration would “rig the internet,” according to Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who say, “If [Pai] is successful, Chairman Pai will hand the keys to our open internet to major corporations to charge more for a tiered system where wealthy and powerful websites can pay to have their content delivered faster to consumers. This leaves smaller, independent websites with slower load times and consumers with obstructed access to the internet—a particularly harmful decision for communities of color, students, and online activists. This is an assault on the freedom of speech and therefore our democracy.”

“There can be no truly open internet without net neutrality,” says Copps. “To believe otherwise is to be captive to special interest power brokers or to an old and discredited ideology that thinks monopoly and not government oversight best serves the nation. In this case, I think it’s both. The FCC under Pai is handing over the internet to a few humongous gatekeepers who see the rest of us as products to be delivered to advertisers, not as citizens needing communications that serve democracy’s needs. By empowering ISPs to create fast lanes for the few and squelch alternative points of view, the Trump FCC fecklessly casts aside years of popular consensus that the public needs net neutrality. The tens of thousands of Americans I have talked with, both Republicans and Democrats, fully understand this need.”

Copps says: “This naked corporatism is Washington at its worst.”

It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the worst of the Trump agenda is on display in the attack on net neutrality. The stakes are that high.

It’s Still The Same Old Story — Noah Isenberg in Salon on why “Casablanca” is still revered 75 years later.

When a movie is still talked about three quarters of a century after its debut, revered in the kind of hushed tones normally reserved for discussing a nation’s most precious cultural treasures, people often want to know why. In the case of “Casablanca,” that holy grail of classical Hollywood that turns 75 on Sunday, there is no easy answer.

Sure, there are the iconic performances by Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains and company. There’s also the film’s auspicious timing, appearing as it did just weeks after General Patton’s troops deployed in Operation Torch declared victory in the North African city where it’s set. Then, too, there are its endlessly quoted lines (“Round up the usual suspects!”), crafted by screenwriters Julius and Philip Epstein, together with Howard Koch, and the many decades of packed revival screenings at repertory theaters and student film societies, not to mention innumerable television broadcasts and TCM airings.

While we may search in vain for a single reason that accounts for the magic of “Casablanca’s” enduring success, it can’t merely be considered “the happiest of happy accidents,” as critic Andrew Sarris once branded it. Even its theme song, “As Time Goes By,” — a Tin Pan Alley number from the 1930s written by Herman Hupfeld, which composer Max Steiner initially shunned — has in its lyrics a line that almost makes a deliberate claim on a deeper narrative foundation that is at once eternal, an ever-green of sorts: “It’s still the same old story.”

Perhaps this explains why screenwriters, novelists and composers still turn to “Casablanca” for source material. “We drink at the well of ‘Casablanca’ many times,” said television writer and producer Matt Selman, who’s had a hand in creating several of the episodes of “The Simpsons” that offer a satirical wink at the picture, in a phone interview with me in 2016. Today, it’s such an essential part of our cultural lexicon that you don’t even need to have seen the movie to recognize the references.

Last year alone brought us a pair of movies that paid homage to that most quoted of classics. In “La La Land,” a blustery love letter to old Hollywood, writer-director Damien Chazelle made a conscious decision not only to cast Emma Stone as an aspiring actress with an outsize Ingrid Bergman obsession, bedroom poster and all, but to have her work on the Warner Bros. lot at a café directly opposite of the set once used for Bogart and Bergman. There’s even the faint suggestion of a direct quote (“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world”), or perhaps more of a thought bubble, delivered by Ryan Gosling’s character, and a recognizable nod to the famous bittersweet ending.

Similarly, in his deeply personal, and comparatively underrated, “20th Century Women,” writer-director Mike Mills incorporated his own mother’s love of Bogart movies of the 1940s into the script. In the film’s opening scene, as the voice-over narration given by the family matriarch Dorothea Fields (Annette Bening) describes the various things that she introduces her son to, when she gets to movies, the camera cuts to an iconic still of Bogart and Bergman on the airport tarmac in their trench coats and snap brim hats. This sort of subtle touch confirms a statement made by Umberto Eco in the 1980s: “Casablanca” is not just one movie, it is “the movies.”

This same tendency to draw on “Casablanca,” and to weave strands of its celebrated story into a new plot, can be found in several highly successful recent novels as well. Adam Johnson’s Pulitzer prize-winning “Orphan Master’s Son,” published in 2012 and set in modern-day North Korea, involves a furtive viewing of the contraband DVD on a laptop in Pyongyang. Its story offers inspiration for a daring escape to America in the absence of letters of transit.

More recently, Amor Towles’ enormously popular novel, “A Gentleman in Moscow,” includes a pivotal late chapter in which the novel’s protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov, watches the movie with a former Red Army colonel. In addition to adding an extra layer of narrative complexity, the episode allows the novel’s protagonist — and, of course, readers along with him — to indulge in the film (“when the smoke from Rick’s cigarette dissolves into a montage of his days in Paris with Ilsa, the Count’s thoughts dissolved into a Parisian montage of his own”).

As Ingrid Bergman once observed of the film late in life: “I feel about ‘Casablanca’ that it has a life of its own. There is something mystical about it. It seems to have filled a need, a need that was there before the film.” Many decades later that need does not yet seem to have left us, and I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

Doonesbury — “It’s Hedley.”

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Report From The Playground

I spent a couple of years teaching middle school, which meant proctoring study halls and recess.  This sounds a lot like a return to those days.

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster mocked President Trump’s intelligence at a private dinner with a powerful tech CEO, according to five sources with knowledge of the conversation.

Over a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz — who has been mentioned as a candidate for several potential administration jobs — McMaster bluntly trashed his boss, said the sources, four of whom told BuzzFeed News they heard about the exchange directly from Catz. The top national security official dismissed the president variously as an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner,” the sources said.

A sixth source who was not familiar with the details of the dinner told BuzzFeed News that McMaster had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump’s intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.

Both Oracle and the Trump administration heatedly denied the comments that Catz later recounted.

You know that when someone “heatedly” denies something, you’re on to the truth.

But what I want to know is if Mr. McMaster thinks so little of the guy who hired him, why is he still working for him?  Does he think somehow he’s going to either change him, or is he doing it out of some sense of patriotism by keeping him from doing something really dangerous?  If so, the way to fix that is to shout it from the rooftops, not gossip at some private dinner, and, while you’re at it, call in reinforcements.  He’s not going to go easily.

Monday, November 20, 2017

We’ve Only Just Begun

Somehow the Trump folks think the Russia investigation is almost over.  People within the White House are going on TV and saying that Robert Mueller and his team will wrap it up “soon,” which to them means any time between next week and January.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and anyone who thinks a probe such as this will end soon is doing a lot of wishful thinking and doesn’t understand how federal investigations work.

Seth Abramson, a long-time criminal attorney, analyzes the facts via this Twitter feed.  The short version is that there are so many leads, threads, and people to interview that in terms of completion, they have only just begun.

But wait, there’s more.

Special CounselRobert Mueller‘s team investigating whether President Donald Trump sought to obstruct a federal inquiry into connections between his presidential campaign and Russian operatives has now directed the Justice Department to turn over a broad array of documents, ABC News has learned.

In particular, Mueller’s investigators are keen to obtain emails related to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the earlier decision of Attorney General Jeff Sessions to recuse himself from the entire matter, according to a source who has not seen the specific request but was told about it.

Issued within the past month, the directive marks the special counsel’s first records request to the Justice Department, and it means Mueller is now demanding documents from the department overseeing his investigation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein played key roles in Comey’s removal. And Sessions has since faced withering criticism from Trump over his recusal and Rosenstein’s subsequent appointment of Mueller.

Mueller’s investigators now seek not only communications between Justice Department officials themselves, but also any communications with White House counterparts, the source said. Before this request, investigators asked former senior Justice Department officials for information from their time at the department, ABC News was told.

The latest move suggests the Special Counsel is still actively digging into, among other matters, whether Trump or any other administration official improperly tried to influence an ongoing investigation.

So not only is the Mueller team looking into Russia’s role in the election and the Trump campaign’s involvement with their meddling, they are now looking into Trump’s attempt to kill the investigation itself, which could amount to federal charges of obstruction of justice.

A reminder for those of you too young to remember Watergate: That’s how they got Nixon.  It wasn’t the crimes themselves, but the attempt to cover up and kill the investigation.

HT to CLW.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Reading

We’re With Stupid — Timothy Egan in the New York Times.

It would be much easier to sleep at night if you could believe that we’re in such a mess of misinformation simply because Russian agents disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million people on Facebook.

The Russians also uploaded a thousand videos to YouTube and published more than 130,000 messages on Twitter about last year’s election. As recent congressional hearings showed, the arteries of our democracy were clogged with toxins from a hostile foreign power.

But the problem is not the Russians — it’s us. We’re getting played because too many Americans are ill equipped to perform the basic functions of citizenship. If the point of the Russian campaign, aided domestically by right-wing media, was to get people to think there is no such thing as knowable truth, the bad guys have won.

As we crossed the 300-day mark of Donald Trump’s presidency on Thursday, fact-checkers noted that he has made more than 1,600 false or misleading claims. Good God. At least five times a day, on average, this president says something that isn’t true.

We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. In a democracy, we the people are supposed to understand our role in this power-sharing thing.

Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a single branch of government. When NPR tweeted out sections of the Declaration of Independence last year, many people were outraged. They mistook Thomas Jefferson’s fighting words for anti-Trump propaganda.

Fake news is a real thing produced by active disseminators of falsehoods. Trump uses the term to describe anything he doesn’t like, a habit now picked up by political liars everywhere.

But Trump is a symptom; the breakdown in this democracy goes beyond the liar in chief. For that you have to blame all of us: we have allowed the educational system to become negligent in teaching the owner’s manual of citizenship.

Lost in the news grind over Roy Moore, the lawbreaking Senate candidate from Alabama, is how often he has tried to violate the Constitution. As a judge, he was removed from the bench — twice — for lawless acts that follow his theocratic view of governance.

Shariah law has been justifiably criticized as a dangerous injection of religion into the public space. Now imagine if a judge insisted on keeping a monument to the Quran in a state judicial building. Or that he said “homosexual conduct” should be illegal because his sacred book tells him so. That is exactly what Moore has done, though he substitutes the Bible for the Quran.

I don’t blame Moore. I blame his followers, and the press, which doesn’t seem to know that the First Amendment specifically aims to keep government from siding with one religion — the so-called establishment clause.

My colleagues at the opinion shop on Sunday used a full page to print the Bill of Rights, and urge President Trump to “Please Read the Constitution.” Yes, it’s come to this. On press freedom, due process, exercise of religion and other areas, Trump has repeatedly gone into Roy Moore territory — dismissing the principles he has sworn to uphold.

Suppose we treated citizenship like getting a driver’s license. People would have to pass a simple test on American values, history and geography before they were allowed to have a say in the system. We do that for immigrants, and 97 percent of them pass, according to one study.

Yet one in three Americans fail the immigrant citizenship test. This is not an elitist barrier. The test includes questions like, “What major event happened on 9/11?” and “What ocean is on the West Coast of the United States?”

One reason that public schools were established across the land was to produce an informed citizenry. And up until the 1960s, it was common for students to take three separate courses in civics and government before they got out of high school.

Now only a handful of states require proficiency in civics as a condition of high school graduation. Students are hungry, in this turbulent era, for discussion of politics and government. But the educators are failing them. Civics has fallen to the side, in part because of the standardized test mania.

A related concern is historical ignorance. By a 48 percent to 38 percent margin Americans think states’ rights, rather than slavery, caused the Civil War. So Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, can say something demonstrably false about the war, because most people are just as clueless as he is.

There’s hope — and there are many ways — to shed light on the cave of American democracy. More than a dozen states now require high school students to pass the immigrant citizenship test. We should also teach kids how to tell fake news from real, as some schools in Europe are doing.

But those initiatives will mean little if people still insist on believing what they want to believe, living in digital safe spaces closed off from anything that intrudes on their worldview.

A Test For Liberals — Amy Davidson Sorkin in The New Yorker.

At the press conference last week in which Beverly Young Nelson described how when she was a high-school student, in 1977, Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican nominee for the U.S. Senate, who was then a deputy district attorney, tried to physically force her to engage in oral sex with him, she also talked about her vote in last year’s election. “My husband and I supported Donald Trump for President,” Nelson said. “This has nothing whatsoever to do with the Republicans or the Democrats.” Yet Moore, and his campaign, wanted to make it exactly about that, even as other women came forward with charges against him. (As of last Friday, a total of nine had done so.) In a statement to the Washington Post, the campaign said, “If you are a liberal and hate Judge Moore, apparently he groped you. . . . If you are a conservative and love Judge Moore, you know these allegations are a political farce.”

From this perspective, the news, last Thursday, that Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, also had misconduct allegations against him looked to some like an opportunity to test a similar formulation. Leeann Tweeden, a radio host, said that in 2006, two years before Franken ran for office, she joined him on a U.S.O. tour to Afghanistan and Iraq, and he kissed her during a rehearsal, although she told him not to. He later posed for a photograph in which he appeared to grab her breasts while she was sleeping, wearing camouflage gear and a Kevlar helmet. If you are a liberal and love Al Franken, would you decide—indeed, know—that these allegations are a political farce? The answer, properly and unambiguously, is no.

A number of Franken’s Senate colleagues, including Amy Klobuchar, also of Minnesota, and Elizabeth Warren, of Massachusetts, condemned his acts. Franken, after a first, halting apology, offered a fuller one, in which he said that he was “disgusted” by his own behavior and that he will coöperate with an ethics-committee investigation into the allegations. The committee, though, hasn’t sanctioned anyone in years. Last week, several women lawmakers reported that sexual harassment on Capitol Hill is pervasive, and that, as Representative Jackie Speier, Democrat of California, put it, the system for dealing with it is “a joke.” During the past twenty years, Congress has paid out seventeen million dollars to settle claims of harassment and other forms of workplace discrimination, while keeping those payments secret. Speier also said that there were two cases involving current members of Congress.

In some ways, the Franken story is a small, sad proxy for his party’s Bill Clinton problem. Last week, as more sexual-harassment and assault charges came to light, some people started looking again at a rape allegation that Juanita Broaddrick brought against the former President. In 1978, Broaddrick, a nursing-home administrator, met Clinton, at that time the Arkansas attorney general, for a business meeting in her hotel room—to avoid the press, she thought—and there, she said, he attacked her. (A lawyer for Clinton has denied this.) A colleague says that she heard the story from Broaddrick immediately afterward, when she found her with torn panty hose and a swollen lip.

Broaddrick’s story came out, in 1999, largely thanks to Lisa Myers, of NBC News, after Clinton’s acquittal in his impeachment trial—a case that grew out of a sexual-harassment suit brought by Paula Jones—and the charge was left unresolved. Early in the impeachment imbroglio, Hillary Clinton had attributed her husband’s troubles to “a vast, right-wing conspiracy.” There was a well-funded conservative effort to target the President, but, in this instance, the charge feels too close to Moore’s assertion that liberals simply believe one thing, and conservatives another.

When Clinton ran for President in 2016, she may not have gauged how profoundly Bill Clinton’s record with women would hurt her. Just a month before the election, after the “Access Hollywood” video emerged, in which Trump bragged about grabbing women’s genitals, he brought Broaddrick and Jones to a Presidential debate. Clinton dismissed this as a stunt, meant to throw her off her game. But the key audience for it was purple-state women, particularly middle-aged or older working-class women, who might identify with Broaddrick, or be receptive, based on their own experience, to the contention that, as Trump put it, Hillary was Bill’s “enabler.” (Polls after the election showed that Clinton performed less well with those voters than her campaign had hoped.) For others, Clinton’s decision to make her husband an active part of her campaign—and the potential First Spouse—constrained it.

Many factors played into Clinton’s defeat, but at that juncture Bill cost her heavily, by keeping “Access Hollywood” from costing Trump the election. As hard as it is to hear, particularly given the historic nature of Clinton’s candidacy and her laudable record on everything from climate change to children’s health, her nomination compromised the Democratic Party. There were other choices, early on; perhaps one of the fourteen Democratic women in the Senate in 2015 might have emerged. Voters in Alabama, where Moore is on the ballot in December—and in Minnesota, where Al Franken is up for reëlection next year—might remember that they have choices, too.

President Trump, for his part, tweeted that the “Al Frankenstien picture is really bad,” adding, “And to think that just last week he was lecturing anyone who would listen about sexual harassment.” Some of that “lecturing” has been directed, with good cause, at Trump himself; he shouldn’t expect it to end. Efforts, like the President’s, to act as though one transgression can cancel out another suggest that the problem is just one of calculating how many Frankens add up to a Moore—how many charges of groping for one of attempted statutory rape. There is no abuse-indulgence account that each party can draw on, though.

That is also true in assessing their ideologies. The national Republican leadership has, to an extent, backed away from Moore—the Alabama state Party has not—but it had earlier supported him even though he said that he did not believe that Muslims ought to be seated in Congress or that gays and lesbians should have basic rights. That shows not only who Moore is but what the G.O.P. has become. Franken has worked hard for progressive causes in his political life. But, here, too, whatever points that earns him, or his colleagues, are not spendable in some market in women’s dignity. The Democratic Party is better than that.

The Simplest Way — John Nichols in The Nation.

Republicans elites feel so entitled to the Alabama Senate seat that Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III vacated to become Donald Trump’s attorney general that they are meticulously neglecting the easiest strategy for keeping Roy Moore out of the Senate.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has called on Moore, the scandal-plagued former judge who now faces multiple allegations that as a 30-something prosecutor he molested teenage girls, to quit the Alabama race. But Moore’s not quitting. In fact, he says McConnell should resign.

So DC Republicans are spinning complex scenarios for keeping Moore out of their caucus. The scenarios have grown increasingly arcane, and unworkable. But they keep coming.

There has been speculation that if Moore is elected in the December 12 special election, he could be seated and then expelled. But there’s no guarantee that it will happen. Expulsions are rare, and there’s a reason for that: A super-majority of senators—two-thirds of the chamber—is required to overturn an election result.

Then there are the proposed write-in campaigns: for Strange, for Sessions, for just about any Republican except Moore. But write-in victories are almost as rare as expulsions. And the wrong strategy for a write-in run could end up splitting the anti-Moore vote.

It’s likely that McConnell and his compatriots will proposing convoluted political “fixes.” But none of them will be certain, or in some cases even likely, to block the judge.

Moore faces a credible opponent in Democrat Doug Jones, a former US Attorney with a distinguished record of defending the rule of law and prosecuting the violent racists who were responsible for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church. He is running a strong campaign; indeed, some polls are now giving him the lead in this intense contest.

Jones has been endorsed by a number of grassroots Alabama Republicans; he is even running television ads featuring them.

There is a very long history in American politics of voters crossing partisan lines to reject candidates they object to—or to support candidates who impress them. The 1924 Democratic nominee for president, corporate lawyer John Davis, frequently endorsed Republicans who were running against Franklin Delano Roosevelt. There were “Democrats for Eisenhower” groups in the 1950s, “Republicans for Johnson” groups in 1964 and “Democrats for Nixon” groups in 1972. Bill Weld was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1990 because a lot of cross-over voters preferred his libertarian-leaning Republicanism to his Democratic opponent’s social conservatism. And Barack Obama ran in 2008 with a long list of endorsements from prominent Republicans and former Republicans.

There are contests where it is ethically necessary to put aside partisanship and back a candidate from another party. There are also times when it is politically practical to abandon your party line for one election.

The Alabama contest meets the ethical standard, and the practical standard. A few wise Republicans recognize this. Asked last week if he would support a Democratic candidate over Moore, Arizona Senator Jeff Flake replied: “If the choice is between Roy Moore and a Democrat — the Democrat, no doubt.”

Flake added: “I would literally — if I were in Alabama — I would run to the polling place to vote for the Democrat.”

The choice in Alabama, as its stands now, is between Republican Roy Moore and Democrat Doug Jones.

If Mitch McConnell and his Republican allies are serious about keeping a reprehensible Republican out of the Senate, they don’t need convoluted strategies. They need only to recognize the reality of their circumstance—and the logic of the electoral calculus that Jeff Flake had already explained.

Doonesbury — What it’s not.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

One Small Detail

Brett J. Talley, the lawyer who has never tried a case but somehow got a lifetime appointment to the federal judgeship, forgot to mention something during his vetting.

One of President Trump’s most controversial judicial nominees did not disclose on publicly available congressional documents that he is married to a senior lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office.

The nominee, Brett J. Talley, is awaiting a Senate confirmation vote that could come as early as Monday to become a federal district judge in Alabama. He is married to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II.

Mr. Talley was asked on his publicly released Senate questionnaire to identify family members and others who are “likely to present potential conflicts of interest.” He did not mention his wife.

District judges often provide the first ruling when laws are called into question, decisions that can put them at odds with the White House and its lawyers. Last month, for example, judges in Hawaii and Maryland temporarily blocked Mr. Trump’s travel ban.

Mr. Talley also did not mention his wife when he described his frequent contact with White House lawyers during the nomination process.

Democrats have strongly criticized the nomination of Mr. Talley, a 36-year-old who has never tried a case and who received a rare “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. His nomination advanced through the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday on a party-line vote.

In the real world, that’s a big oops.  In the Trump world, that’s a part of the deal.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Thursday, November 9, 2017

From The Dictator’s Handbook

The Justice Department’s scrutiny of the AT&T / Time Warner merger is taking on the tone of a vendetta.

Via TPM, the Financial Times is reporting that in order for the merger to go through, Time Warner has to divest itself of CNN.

The sale of CNN, which President Donald Trump has fiercely criticised as a broadcaster of “fake news”, is just one of the demands being made by the US antitrust authority in order to sign off on the deal, those involved in the talks said. But it could prove a stumbling block.

AT&T is opposed to selling the TV network and is preparing to take the Trump administration to court, arguing the deal with Time Warner does not pose any competition violations.

“It’s all about CNN,” said one person with direct knowledge of the talks between the company and the DOJ, adding that the regulator made it clear to AT&T that if it sold CNN the deal would go through.

CNN has been a favorite target of Trump and throughout his campaign and his time in office he’s complained about “fake news” because the network is reporting things he doesn’t like about his administration and the Russian investigation.

This is how dictators operate.  Lesson 1 is get control of the message and the messengers, and intimidate or eliminate those who don’t comply with your wishes.  Brand them as traitors and enemies of the state.  Trump’s already done that, and now he’s trying to interfere with one outlet’s business.  It wouldn’t surprise me if the DOJ made selling CNN to Fox a condition of the merger.  Those people know how to really report the news.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Winning Where It Really Matters

It is very good news that Ralph Northam won the Virginia governor’s race, showing that “Trumpism without Trump” — championing his issues without embracing the man — doesn’t sell.  But even more important in the long run is that the Democrats made huge gains in the Virginia House of Delegates, their version of the state legislature.

Unofficial returns showed Democrats unseating at least 11 Republicans and flipping three seats that had been occupied by GOP incumbents who didn’t seek reelection. Four other races were so close that they qualify for a recount, and results will determine control of the chamber. The results marked the most sweeping shift in control of the legislature since the Watergate era.

Republicans, who have controlled the chamber since 2000, went into Tuesday holding 66 of 100 seats.

Several winners made history in a year in which a record number of women ran and Democrats fielded the most candidates in recent memory.

One Democrat became Virginia’s first openly transgender person to win elective office, unseating an opponent of LGBT rights. The election signaled a major shift in the gender of a body long dominated by men: Of the 14 seats Democrats flipped, all were held by men and 10 were won by women. And two of those women, both from Prince William County, became the first Latinas elected to the General Assembly.

“This is an unbelievable night,” said House Minority Leader David J. Toscano (D-Charlottesville) in an interview an hour after polls closed. “There were districts we didn’t think we had much of a shot in.”

The final results may not be known for a while since a number of the races are still too close to call and will need recounts, but even if the Republicans hang on, this is a major shift at the state level.

That is where it really matters.  State legislatures are where voting district lines are drawn and where gerrymandering takes place, creating GOP strongholds when there are a majority of Democrats in the region.  Medicare expansion, school funding, and infrastructure spending is determined by the state, doling out federal dollars as they see fit.  Gun laws, restrictions on reproductive rights, and even rules on who can pee in certain places all come out of the state capitol.  (It’s especially glorious that the Republican who proposed Virginia’s anti-transgender bathroom bill was defeated by Danica Roem, the state’s — and the nation’s — first openly transgender candidate.  Karma, ya done good.)

So while it is important who wins the presidency and who’s running the House and Senate in Washington, it’s at the state and local elections where the real work — and influence — gets done.