Monday, September 25, 2017

Yet Another Shiny Object

I suppose if a dictator was threatening to blow up the West Coast, Congress was about to humiliate your plans to stomp on the legacy of your hated predecessor once again, three hurricanes in a row had devastated whole cities and wiped out the infrastructure and crops of a territory, and a special counsel was about to issue indictments for a former White House official, you’d be desperately looking for something to distract the attention of the media and start a Twitter storm.

So that’s what this is all about.

On three teams, nearly all the football players skipped the national anthem altogether. Dozens of others, from London to Los Angeles, knelt or locked arms on the sidelines, joined by several team owners in a league normally friendly to President Trump. Some of the sport’s biggest stars joined the kind of demonstration they have steadfastly avoided.

It was an unusual, sweeping wave of protest and defiance on the sidelines of the country’s most popular game, generated by Mr. Trump’s stream of calls to fire players who have declined to stand for the national anthem in order to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.

What had been a modest round of anthem demonstrations this season led by a handful of African-American players mushroomed and morphed into a nationwide, diverse rebuke to Mr. Trump, with even some of his staunchest supporters in the N.F.L., including several owners, joining in or condemning Mr. Trump for divisiveness.

So, yeah, dividing the country over how to listen to a song would the be way to go.

Lock Him Up?

Wasn’t that what Trump wanted to do to Hillary Clinton because she used a private e-mail account to conduct some of her official business?

So now what?

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has used a private email account to conduct and discuss official White House business dozens of times, his lawyer confirmed Sunday.

Kushner used the private account through his first nine months in government service, even as the president continued to criticize his opponent in the 2016 presidential election, Democrat Hillary Clinton, for her use of a private email account for government business. Kushner several times used his account to exchange news stories and minor reactions or updates with other administration officials.

So now nothing.  Trust me, the Republicans will dismiss this as either fake news or making a mountain out of a molehill, and it’s all perfectly innocent.  Which was what it was when it was all about her e-mails.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sunday Reading

Racial Demagoguery — David Remnick in The New Yorker on Trump’s attacks on black athletes.

Every day, and in countless and unexpected ways, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, finds new ways to divide and demoralize his country and undermine the national interest. On Thursday, he ranted from the lectern of the U.N. General Assembly about “Rocket Man” and the possibility of levelling North Korea. Now he has followed with an equally unhinged domestic performance at a rally, on Friday evening, in Huntsville, Alabama, where he set out to make African-American athletes the focus of national contempt.

In the midst of an eighty-minute speech intended to heighten the reëlection prospects of Senator Luther Johnson Strange III, Trump turned his attention to N.F.L. players, including the former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and asked a mainly white crowd if “people like yourselves” agreed with his anger at “those people,” players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racism.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these N.F.L. owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired!’ ” Trump continued. “You know, some owner is going to do that. He’s gonna say, ‘That guy disrespects our flag, he’s fired.’ And that owner, they don’t know it. They don’t know it. They’re friends of mine, many of them. They don’t know it. They’ll be the most popular person, for a week. They’ll be the most popular person in the country.”

“People like yourselves.” “Those people.” “Son of a bitch.” This was the same sort of racial signalling that followed the Fascist and white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. It is no longer a matter of “dog whistling.” This is a form of racial demagoguery broadcast at the volume of a klaxon. There is no need for Steve Bannon’s behind-the-scenes scriptwriting. Trump, who is desperate to distract his base from his myriad failures of policy, from health care to immigration, is perfectly capable of devising his racist rhetoric all on his own.

In these performances, Trump is making clear his moral priorities. He is infinitely more offended by the sight of a black ballplayer quietly, peacefully protesting racism in the United States than he is by racism itself. Which, at this point, should come as no surprise to any but the willfully obtuse. Trump, who began his real-estate career with a series of discriminatory housing deals in New York City, and his political career with a racist calumny against Barack Obama, has repeatedly defined his Presidency with a rhetoric that signals solidarity to resentful souls who see the Other as the singular cause of their troubles. Trump stokes a bilious disdain for every African-American who dares raise a voice to protest the injustices of this country.

And lest there be any doubt about his intentions or allegiances, Trump tweeted this afternoon, “If a player wants the privilege of making millions of dollars in the NFL, or other leagues, he or she should not be allowed to disrespect our Great American Flag (or Country) and should stand for the National Anthem. If not, YOU’RE FIRED. Find something else to do.”

In addition to urging the N.F.L.’s owners to fire any politically impertinent players, Trump also disinvited the N.B.A. champions, the Golden State Warriors, from visiting the White House after one of the team’s stars, Stephen Curry, voiced hesitation about meeting with the President.

Twitter was alight with players and others rushing to the support of those on the receiving end of Trump’s barbs.

“Going to the White House was a great honor until you showed up!” LeBron James said. Many professional athletes tweeted in the same spirit as James, and even the N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, who has hardly been stalwart in the interests of his players, issued a statement calling Trump’s comments “divisive” and showing an “unfortunate lack of respect” for the league and its players. Compared to the N.B.A. commissioner, Adam Silver, who has been consistently anti-racist and supportive of the players’ right to protest, Goodell is a distinctly corporate figure, whose instinct is nearly always to side with the owners. (At least six N.F.L. owners each contributed a million dollars, or more, to Trump’s Inauguration fund, including Woody Johnson, of the Jets, Robert Kraft, of the Patriots, and Daniel Snyder, of the Redskins.)

Trump has experience in professional sports––with boxing, as a casino operator; with football, as an owner. (And if professional wrestling counts, the man is practically a charter member of the W.W.F.) In the eighties, he was the owner of the New Jersey Generals, a team in the ill-fated United States Football League, which played its games in the spring. He was reportedly interested in buying the Buffalo Bills as recently as three years ago.

And yet his sympathy for the players is minimal. Not only does he try to isolate them as ungrateful anthem-defiling millionaires, he also could not care less about their health. No matter how many reports are issued making clear that the sport has left countless players suffering from all manner of neurological diseases, Trump is unimpressed. C.T.E. injuries in football seem to be no more a reality to him than climate change.

At a rally in Lakeville, Florida, during the Presidential campaign, Trump aroused the crowd by insisting that the N.F.L., which has hardly gone to great lengths to protect its players, was “ruining the game” by inflicting penalties on players who, say, hit the quarterback too late. “See, we don’t go by these new and very much softer N.F.L. rules. Concussion? Oh! Oh! ‘Got a little ding in the head—no, no, you can’t play for the rest of the season.’ Our people are tough.”

What Trump is up to with this assault on athletes, particularly prominent black ones, is obvious; it is part of his larger culture war. Divide. Inflame. Confuse. Divert. And rule. He doesn’t care to grapple with complexity of any kind, whether it’s about the environment, or foreign affairs, or race, or the fact that a great American sport may, by its very nature, be irredeemable. Rather than embody any degree of dignity, knowledge, or unifying embrace, Trump is a man of ugliness, and the damage he does, speech after speech, tweet after tweet, deepens like a coastal shelf. Every day, his Presidency takes a toll on our national fabric. How is it possible to argue with the sentiment behind LeBron James’s concise tweet at Trump: “U Bum”? It isn’t.

The Slow Road to Recovery for The Caribbean — Julie Bosman in the New York Times.

First the hurricanes came, bringing rain, winds and ruin to St. Martin, a tiny island in the Caribbean. Then, said Corby George, a 41-year-old taxi driver there, there was a rush of residents leaving the island, possibly never to return.

“Their jobs are no more,” he said.

Two ferocious hurricanes in less than two weeks caused widespread devastation in the Caribbean this month, leaving dozens dead, millions without power or drinking water and countless homes destroyed.

The storms also ripped through the tourism industry in a region unusually dependent on well-heeled visitors, where a thriving network of hotels, souvenir shops, taxis, charter fishing boats and restaurants powers local economies.

In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, cruise ports and airports throughout the Caribbean are closed, beachside bars are flooded and, on many islands, tourists are absent. And the risk of a far longer term ripple effect looms, threatening the region’s ability to rebuild: Without a steady influx of cash from tourists, businesses suffer, employers cut back and local residents lose jobs; workers on especially hurricane-stricken islands could move elsewhere for opportunity, denting the local economy further.

“Right now, the livelihood of tourism on a whole is in a coma,” said Jen Liebsack, 45, an events and sales manager at Zemi Beach House, a luxury hotel in Anguilla, a British overseas territory where about 90 percent of the electricity infrastructure was damaged and the hotel has canceled its bookings through the end of October.

Hillary Bonner, 36, a bartender on St. John on the United States Virgin Islands, said that most of her friends worked in boating or hospitality, and that nearly everything else was staked on the fates of those fields, too. “Without tourism, you don’t need 10 policemen, you need two,” said Ms. Bonner, who has been staying in New York, waiting to be allowed to return to the heavily battered island. “You don’t need three banks, you need one.”

In the Caribbean region, travel and tourism account for a higher share of the gross domestic product than they do in any other region of the world, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council, and officials say it is far too soon to know when the industry will fully recover.

At stake are some of the more than 2.3 million travel and tourism-related jobs in the region. According to the Caribbean Tourism Organization, almost 30 million tourists visited the area in 2016 and spent more than $35 billion. But as officials race to restore power and begin rebuilding basic services, the precise fallout to the tourism industry is uncertain.

Some islands, like St. Kitts, appeared to be barely touched; others, like Barbuda, part of the two-island state of Antigua and Barbuda, were nearly destroyed.

Maria Blackman, a spokeswoman for the Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority, said that many hotels were closed during the off-season in September anyway, a common time for annual renovations. The cruise ports and airport remain open.

“On Antigua, we opened back up pretty much the next day,” she said.

But in the United States Virgin Islands, the damage was so widespread that visitors were told to cancel any planned trips, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, the commissioner of tourism, said.

“We are encouraging travelers to postpone trips to the islands at this time and are sparing no effort to rebuild communities and restore essential services so we can welcome travelers back to our islands in the months ahead,” Ms. Nicholson-Doty said in an email.

For most British Virgin Islands, tourism workers — many of them expatriates from the Caribbean or other parts of the world — the only certainty now is uncertainty.

Trisha Paul, who works as a waitress at Treasure Isle Hotel in the capital of Road Town, said she was unsure what she would do to make a living until tourists return.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “Just waiting to get word from the boss as to what is going to happen now. But right now we don’t have any work for waitresses.”

A native of Grenada, she said she fell into the profession largely by chance when she moved to the B.V.I. last year after studying psychology in Cuba. Now she is considering returning home.

“But I’m kind of confused right now between two minds, waiting and watching,” she said. “The hurricane season is still on. I leave here and I go back home, the next hurricane could — bam!”

Robertico Croes, associate director of the Dick Pope Sr. Institute for Tourism Studies at the University of Central Florida, said he did not expect that the Caribbean, over all, would lose tourists. Visitors will simply visit those islands that were untouched by the hurricanes and steer clear of those that were damaged, he said.

“I don’t imagine St. John for the next couple of years would be able to do anything with regard to tourism,” he said, noting that the damage was particularly crippling there. “For Puerto Rico, it’s less severe.”

It does not appear that way to residents there, though. Before the hurricanes, which severely damaged the power grid across the entire island, Puerto Rico was already in deep financial distress, impoverished and debt-laden. The island carries $74 billion in debt and declared a form of bankruptcy in May. Its finances are being overseen by a federal control board.

Alfredo Gómez, 42, the longtime owner of El Farol, a food kiosk in the popular beachside area just east of San Juan’s airport, said he had seen slumps over the last 20 years. But he had not seen the roof of his place blow off. That, he said, had left him wondering this time whether it was even worth giving it another go.

“I was tempted to not even come back here to make repairs,” Mr. Gómez said from the rooftop of his restaurant. “What if nobody comes?”

The restaurant was open on Friday making fritters, mostly feeding the employees who had come to clean up. “Tell the people, the tourists, to keep supporting us like they always have,” he said. “All of this area — Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico — lives off tourism. We can try to survive with business from the locals, but it’s with tourists that we live.”

Clarisa Jimenez, the president and chief executive of the Puerto Rico Hotel and Tourism Association, was supposed to be preparing for her industry’s biggest event beginning on Tuesday, its splashy annual convention and gala at the InterContinental San Juan, a luxury resort on a white sand beach.

Instead, she was sifting through the wreckage of her office in San Juan.

“My office was destroyed — I’m surprised the phone rang,” she said on Friday, describing the broken windows, strewn papers and soggy floors around her. The convention was hastily postponed to December. “It’s hard to even guess when things will get back to normal. But tourism is one of the industries that we need to help us overcome.”

High Security — Josh Marshall wants to know why the head of the EPA needs so many bodyguards.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt now has an 18 person, 24/7 security detail. The effort has become so elaborate that the EPA has now had to take agents off actual EPA criminal investigations to focus on protecting Pruitt.

This is offensive and ridiculous.

We had a member of Congress almost murdered a couple of months ago in what was clearly an ideologically motivated attack. People are also very upset about the Trump administration’s atrocious environmental policies. Pruitt is arguably the face of that. There are also very rare but real instances of violence committed by environmental extremists. So I don’t dispute the need for some security. But absent some very clear evidence of a specific, credible and on-going threat, this big of a security effort can only be explained by an attempt to create the impression of a threat for political reasons or the desire to avoid ever coming into contact with peaceful protestors, something we’ve seen throughout the Trump administration.

The Department of Education is paying the US Marshals service $1 million a month to provide extensive security to Secretary Betsy Devos – a move that appears to stem from an aggressive protestor yelling at her earlier this year. According to The Washington Post, the Marshals Service is hiring nearly two dozen people to guard DeVos. In other words, it sounds comparable to Pruitt’s detail, though we don’t know specifics about whether it’s around the clock protection or just how many people guard her at any one time.

According to the Post, before DeVos, the last cabinet secretary to be protected by the Marshals Service was the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, commonly known as the drug czar (The drug czar no longer has cabinet rank). Federal judges and law enforcement officials facing direct and specific threats to their lives generally make due with far less security.

This is a delicate topic. We can’t know the particular threats these people face. Nor should we discount the fact that there is some real risk for prominent public officials during this fractious era in our politics. But given the Trump administration’s broader push to whip up fear of ‘left-wing violence’, the most plausible explanation for what seems like comical levels of security for relatively obscure cabinet secretaries seems to be what I described above: an effort to whip up fear of largely non-existent anti-Trump violence and to be spared the annoyance and mortification of coming into contact with peaceful protestors.

Doonesbury — Defining term.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Sense Of Duty

So, how’s the new job going, General Kelly?

Trump was in an especially ornery mood after staff members gently suggested he refrain from injecting politics into day-to-day issues of governing after last month’s raucous rally in Arizona, and he responded by lashing out at the most senior aide in his presence.

It happened to be his new chief of staff, John F. Kelly.

Mr. Kelly, the former Marine general brought in five weeks ago as the successor to Reince Priebus, reacted calmly, but he later told other White House staff members that he had never been spoken to like that during 35 years of serving his country. In the future, he said, he would not abide such treatment, according to three people familiar with the exchange.

While Mr. Kelly has quickly brought some order to a disorganized and demoralized staff, he is fully aware of the president’s volcanic resentment about being managed, according to a dozen people close to Mr. Trump, and has treaded gingerly through the minefield of Mr. Trump’s psyche. But the president has still bridled at what he perceives as being told what to do.

Like every other new sheriff in town Mr. Trump has hired to turn things around at the White House or in his presidential campaign, Mr. Kelly has gradually diminished in his appeal to his restless boss. What is different this time is that Mr. Trump, mired in self-destructive controversies and record-low approval ratings, needs Mr. Kelly more than Mr. Kelly needs him. Unlike many of the men and women eager to work for Mr. Trump over the years, the new chief of staff signed on reluctantly, more out of a sense of duty than a need for affirmation, personal enrichment or fame.

Far be it from me to tell someone else what their sense of duty should be or where their loyalties should lie, but the two times he took an oath of office — once as a soldier, the second as Chief of Staff — Gen. Kelly’s obligation was to his country, not to a person.  That and a sense of self-respect should weigh on his decision to come into work each day.

Of course, that’s assuming he has an honorable sense of duty.  After all, he did sign on for the job and knew full well who was asking him to do it, and he took it.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Sunday Reading

Waiting Our Turn — Charles P. Pierce on the aftermath of Harvey.

CORPUS CHRISTI—The hotel had closed in anticipation of the storm from out of the sea. The storm had shifted north far enough that the city got brushed, but not hammered, the way Rockport and Port Aransas did. The hotel is still closed. There’s a note on the door and the lobby is empty except for some pumps that never were used. People who have reservations pull up to the door. They read the note, and look through the dusty windows at all the strange devices littering the floor, and then they drive down the access road a little further to one of the other hotels that are still open.

There are plenty of rooms available, even though it’s a holiday weekend and the fleshpots of South Padre Island are just off the road. Up the coast, off Galveston, at night, you can see dozens of red lights out in the Gulf, tankers and freighters who are waiting to be cleared to come into the port, pausing out there like the tourists who roll up to the abandoned hotel. There’s an adrenaline feeling of unfulfilled dread. It’s not like waiting for the next shoe to drop. It’s more as though people are waiting for the previous shoe to rise again.

For a week now, we have been treated to wonderful images of people helping people. There is some great journalism being done on these stories, particularly by the television people. But there is a nagging sense of being anesthetized by all the great video of National Guardsmen carrying abandoned dogs, or dialysis patients being loaded onto helicopters, or the hundreds of boats plying what once were fashionable neighborhoods in Houston. Behind the scenes, there is serious politics being played and, while there’s nothing enobling about a lot of it, it would be perilous to allow the vast human tragedy of this place to obscure what is being done, because the politics really is the next shoe to drop.

[…]

On Friday, David Sirota and the people at International Business Times, in association with Newsweek, have been diving deeply into the politics that led directly to the explosion and fire at the now-iconic Arkema chemical complex near Houston. Almost simultaneously with the floods and the fires, a federal court gave a win to Donald Trump’s conception of an Environmental Protection Agency in its quest to keep companies like Arkema from having to tell the people who live near its plant from knowing much of anything about what goes on inside it.

Arkema is already benefiting from the rule’s delay: In a teleconference on the crisis Friday, the company refused to release a map of its facilities or an inventory of the potentially hazardous chemicals at the beleaguered plant, as would be required by the heightened safety standards. The company argued that disclosing such information to the public could put the company at risk of terrorism threats, the Houston Chronicle reported. Under both federal and state law, the firms can elect to disclose such information, or not to.

Less than four months ago, Arkema pressed the EPA to repeal the chemical plant safety rule, criticizing the rule’s provisions that require chemical companies to disclose more information to the public. In a May 15 letter to the EPA, Arkema’s legislative affairs director wrote that “new mandates that require the release to the public of facility-specific chemical information may create new security concerns if there are not sufficient safeguards to ensure that those requesting the information have a legitimate need for the information for the purposes of community emergency preparedness.”

Arkema had friends in Texas state government, too. From IBT:

The American Chemistry Council also lauded Texas Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton for co-authoring a letter slamming the chemical plant safety rule. The letter chastised the EPA for proposing to require chemical plants to more expansively disclose castatrophic releases of hazardous chemicals and berated regulators for requiring independent audits of facilities’ safety procedures. “To complicate matters further, EPA is demanding that the auditors have no relationship with the audited entity for three years prior to the audit and three years sullbsequent,” wrote Paxton and Louisiana Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry. “EPA is demanding that a professional engineer be part of the auditing team, that attorney client privilege cannot apply to the audits, and finding and reports be released to the public. It is difficult to fathom how this collection of burdensome, costly, bureaucratic regulatory requirements does anything to enhance accidental chemical release prevention…This unauthorized expansion of the program does not make facilities safer, but it does subject facilities to even more burdensome, duplicative and needless regulation.” Paxton received $106,000 from chemical industry donors during his 2014 run for attorney general.

This is how we got here. If we’re smart, we will learn from this and not do the same damn things allover again, but I think the odds are against that. Decades of propaganda pushing the message that government is some sort of alien entity—and that politics is its alien, beating heart—cannot be overcome that easily.

Katrina wasn’t enough to do it, so there’s no reason to expect that Harvey will be enough, either, not with virtually the entire Texas state government’s bone-deep commitment to that very message. The triumph of that message owes as much to its ability to create alienation and political apathy in the many as it does to its ability to create wealth for the very few.

We’ve forgotten what Pericles warned us about democracy when he looked around at the very first attempt at it. Just because you do not take an interest in politics, he warned, doesn’t mean politics doesn’t take an interest in you. We are those ships out in the dark now, waiting for somebody’s permission to come into port. Our politics, at the moment, is an empty hotel lobby with unused pumps.

The Missing Link — Josh Marshall on what Trump can’t do.

People with certain autism spectrum disorders have difficulty reading social cues which most people understand intuitively. Therapists have developed techniques which can help them learn through training what comes effortlessly to others. I can’t help thinking of this when I see President Trump touring Texas with his litany of jarring, tone-deaf or just plain weird comments. But the deficit in this case isn’t social cue cognition. It’s empathy.

There is, of course, a word for people who have an extreme inability to feel empathy: sociopath. It can also be certain diagnoses of what is called ‘malignant narcissism.’ But even that isn’t quite what gets my attention. Because many sociopaths are actually quite adept at demonstrations of empathy. They don’t feel it. But they can mimic the behavior. That’s what gets me. Trump can’t even pretend. Even your garden variety jerk politician can put on a show of hugs and supportive words. Trump can’t.

There are plenty of cases where Trump is cruel and awful. We’ve seen plenty of those. In those cases, his predatory, probably sociopathic nature is plainly evident. But everybody knows that during a natural disaster the President’s job is consoler-in-chief. You don’t have to be crazy cynical to realize that it’s often a chance for a chief executive to connect with people in a human way. It can gain them support. Trump also clearly realizes this and is actually trying. Maybe he doesn’t really care about supporting people. But he gets that he’s supposed to do this touring, hugging, saying the right thing thing. Since this was generally seen as a strong suit for President Obama, he probably wants to outdo Obama at it as well. But he can’t. He’s trying. But it is painfully obvious he doesn’t know how. It’s not just that he can’t outdo Obama. That’s no surprise. He can’t even go through the motions.

In addition to the basic body language he keeps saying things like “Have a Good Time!” to people stranded in a shelter. Or, ‘it’s going great‘ to people who’ve just lost everything. Or, look at this huge turnout to people who … well, you get the idea. When it comes to acting human or compassionate it’s like the part of his brain governing that species of behavior has been removed. It’s like watching a person who has profound social awkwardness in a meet and greet situation at a cocktail party. It’s painful. But again, with Trump it’s not social awkwardness. It’s a basic, seemingly fundamental inability not only to experience but even to fake the experience of empathy or human concern. That additional part is what is remarkable to me.

How Trump got this way I have no clue. But it’s the behavior of a very damaged or emotionally stunted person.

Let Them Stay — Noah Lanard in Mother Jones on Republicans who want to keep Dreamers in the country.  (How about paying them a living wage while you’re at it?)

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump will decide whether to keep in place Obama-era protections that allow nearly 800,000 undocumented young people, known as Dreamers, to work and study in the United States. As the controversial decision approaches, the policy—officially called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA—has received support from an unlikely group of people: prominent Republican politicians. They’re joined by Democrats, immigrant rights advocates, and the leaders of some of the country’s largest companies in calling on Trump to reject immigration hardliners’ demands to end the program.

DACA provides Dreamers with two-year, renewable permits that allow them to live the United States without being detained or deported. To qualify for the protection, Dreamers have to show, among other requirements, that they arrived in the United States before they turned 16 and have not committed serious crimes. The average Dreamer came to the United States at six years old and is now 25, according to a survey by University of California-San Diego professor Tom Wong.

Many Republicans have long argued that DACA, which is not a law but a 2012 executive action by President Barack Obama, is unconstitutional. During the campaign, Trump repeatedly criticized DACA, calling it one of Obama’s “illegal executive amnesties.” But Trump softened his position after winning the election. “The DACA situation is a very difficult thing for me, as I love these kids,” he said in February. In July, he repeated that it was a “very very hard” decision. Asked about the issue Friday, Trump said that “we love Dreamers”; he’s reportedly torn about whether to end DACA. Later on Friday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that a decision will be announced on Tuesday, ending weeks of speculation about when the decision would be made.

On Friday, House Speaker Paul Ryan became the most prominent Republican to pressure Trump not to end DACA, saying that the president should leave it up to Congress. “These are kids who know no other country, who were brought here by their parents and don’t know another home,” he said in a radio interview. “And so I really do believe there that there needs to be a legislative solution.” Ryan’s comments come one day after hundreds of CEOs and business leaders, including executives at Apple, Facebook, and General Motors, sent Trump an open letter calling on him to keep DACA in place.

Perhaps the most surprising statement in support of DACA has come from Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III, a Republican. In June, Slatery, along with nine other state attorneys general, threatened to challenge DACA in court if the Trump administration didn’t end the program by September 5, which is Tuesday. The White House announcement may be intended to meet the AGs’ deadline, but on Friday afternoon, Slatery announced that he’s changed his mind. “There is a human element to this…that is not lost on me and should not be ignored,” Slatery wrote in a letter addressed to Tennessee Republican Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker. “Many of the DACA recipients, some of whose records I reviewed, have outstanding accomplishments and laudable ambitions, which if achieved, will be of great benefit and service to our country. They have an appreciation for the opportunities afforded them by our country.”

Instead, Slatery suggested that Congress should consider a bipartisan bill introduced by Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) that would give Dreamers a path to citizenship. “It is my sincere hope,” Slatery wrote, “that the important issues raised by the States will be resolved by the people’s representatives in the halls of Congress, not in a courtroom.”

Doonesbury — More from the Twit.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

We All Agree On That

Glenn Thrush at the New York Times:

Hurricane Harvey was the rarest of disasters to strike during the Trump presidency — a maelstrom not of Mr. Trump’s making, and one that offers him an opportunity to recapture some of the unifying power of his office he has squandered in recent weeks.

As numerous other commentators have pointed out, Trump can’t “recapture” the “unifying power of his office” since he has never had it, exercised it, or shown the slightest interest in using it even if he was capable of it, which I and most of the people in this country with brain power above a goldfish are breathtakingly aware that he is not.

He proved that inability yesterday when he ventured down to Texas, didn’t go to Houston, didn’t mention the dead or injured, congratulated his FEMA director for getting on TV, and raved about the turnout.

In one respect, though, Trump has unified a lot of people: they all agree that he is a vulgar, shallow, self-aggrandizing narcissist.

He Thought He’d Pop In

Trump did a hi/bye in Texas.

It was a presidential trip to a deluged state where the president didn’t meet a single storm victim, see an inch of rain or get near a flooded street.

But the daylong visit, during which [Trump] spent far more time in the air than on the ground, gave the optics-obsessed president some of the visuals he wanted, as he checked in on the government apparatus working on relief efforts and was buoyed by a roaring crowd of locals.

And it showed that the president, who often obsesses about crowd size and fame while speaking in hyperbolic superlatives, would not drop those traits even amid hurricane cleanup. He praised his Federal Emergency Management Agency administrator, Brock Long, for becoming “famous” during his frequent TV appearances, talked repeatedly about the historic nature of the storm and marveled at adoring Texas residents who greeted him.

“What a crowd, what a turnout,” Trump said, wearing khakis and a storm jacket — an unusual look for him — while waving a Texas state flag before about 1,000 people gathered across a rural Texas highway.

The trip was a surreal presidential journey around the edge of a disaster zone in which the waters are still rising. The body of a Houston police officer who drowned trying to get to work was recovered while Trump was on the ground, and thousands continued to pile into shelters across the state, displaced from their homes for months.

Heckuvajob.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Taking Attendance

A little insight to what really matters to Trump:

Donald Trump was in a bad mood before he emerged for a confrontational speech in Arizona last week.

TV and social media coverage showed that the site of his campaign rally, the Phoenix Convention Center, was less than full. Backstage, waiting in a room with a television monitor, Trump was displeased, one person familiar with the incident said: TV optics and crowd sizes are extremely important to the president.

As his surrogates warmed up the audience, the expanse of shiny concrete eventually filled in with cheering Trump fans. But it was too late for a longtime Trump aide, George Gigicos, the former White House director of advance who had organized the event as a contractor to the Republican National Committee. Trump later had his top security aide, Keith Schiller, inform Gigicos that he’d never manage a Trump rally again, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Gigicos, one of the four longest-serving political aides to the president, declined to comment.

When the narcissist dictator (redundant) doesn’t get what he wants, it’s always someone else’s fault.  Always.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Sunday Reading

Child King — Peter Wehner in The New York Times.

REPUBLICAN lawmakers have seen the Trump disaster coming for a while now. They simply have no clue what to do about it.

A couple of months ago — before we learned that Donald Trump Jr. wanted to spend quality time with people he believed represented the Russian government, before the president publicly humiliated his attorney general and was abandoned by top business executives, before he claimed “some very fine people” were marching in Charlottesville, Va., alongside neo-Nazis and white supremacists — a Republican member of Congress I spoke with called the president a “child king,” a “self-pitying fool.”

Even then, the words that came to mind when some congressional Republicans described the president were “incompetent” and “unfit.” There were concerns about his emotional stability. “There’s now a realization this isn’t going to change,” one top Republican aide on Capitol Hill said. Yet there is the simultaneous realization, as a House member told me when talking about Republicans in their home districts, that “we’re never going to have a majority of people against him.”

Maybe, but for now this presents Republican members of Congress who are privately alarmed by Mr. Trump with a predicament. Regardless of what he does, a vast majority of his core supporters are sticking with him. A recent Monmouth University poll found that of the 41 percent of Americans who currently approve of the job he’s doing, 61 percent said they cannot see Mr. Trump doing anything that would make them disapprove of him. Mr. Trump was on to something when he said in January 2016, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

The political problem facing Republicans is that Mr. Trump’s presidency is a wreck. His agenda is dead in the water. A special counsel is overseeing an investigation of his campaign. The West Wing is dysfunctional. And President Trump is deeply unpopular with most Americans.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll illustrates the dilemma Republican politicians face. It found that 28 percent of polled voters say they approved of Mr. Trump’s response to Charlottesville. But among Republican voters, the figure was 62 percent, while 72 percent of conservative Republicans approved.

The more offensive Mr. Trump is to the rest of America, the more popular he becomes with his core supporters. One policy example: At a recent rally in Phoenix, the president said he was willing to shut down the government over the question of funding for a border wall, which most of his base favors but only about a third of all Americans want.

Much of this mess is of the Republican Party’s own making. Let’s not forget that Mr. Trump’s political rise began with his promulgation of the racist conspiracy theory that President Obama was not a natural-born American citizen. The Trump presidency is the result of years of destructive mental habits and moral decay. So there’s no easy solution for responsible Republicans. But there is a step they have to take.

They need to accept, finally, the reality — evident from the moment he declared his candidacy — that Mr. Trump is unfit to govern. He will prove unable to salvage his presidency. As the failures pile up, he’ll act in an even more erratic fashion.

The mental hurdle Republicans have to clear is that in important respects the interests of the Republican Party and those of Donald Trump no longer align. The party has to highlight ways in which it can separate itself from the president.

So far the response of many Republican leaders to Mr. Trump’s offenses has been silence or at most veiled, timid criticism. The effect is to rile up Trump supporters and Mr. Trump himself without rallying opposition to him. It’s the worst of all worlds.

What’s required now is a comprehensive, consistent case by Republican leaders at the state and national levels that signals their opposition to the moral ugliness and intellectual incoherence of Mr. Trump. Rather than standing by the president, they should consider themselves liberated and offer a constructive, humane and appealing alternative to him. They need to think in terms of a shadow government during the Trump era, with the elevation of alternative leaders on a range of matters.

This approach involves risk and may not work. It will certainly provoke an angry response from the Breitbart-alt-right-talk-radio part of the party. So be it. Republicans who don’t share Mr. Trump’s approach have to hope that his imploding presidency has created an opening to offer a profoundly different vision of America, one that is based on opportunity, openness, mobility and inclusion.

This requires a new intellectual infrastructure to address what may prove to be one of the largest economic disruptions in history. People in positions of influence need to make arguments on behalf of principles and ideas that have for too long gone undefended. They must appeal to moral idealism. And the party needs leaders who will fight with as much passionate intensity for their cause as Mr. Trump fights for his — which is simply himself. There’s no shortcut to forging a separate Republican identity during the Trump presidency. Half-measures and fainthearted opposition are certain to fail.

If Republicans need more encouragement to break with Mr. Trump, they might note that the president, who has no institutional or party loyalty, is positioning himself as a critic not just of Democrats but also of Republicans. During his rally in Arizona, he went out of his way to attack both of that state’s Republican senators, including one battling brain cancer. He followed that up with tweets attacking the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and other Republican lawmakers.

A confrontation is inevitable. The alternative is to continue to further tie the fate and the reputation of the Republican Party to a president who seems destined for epic failure and whose words stir the hearts of white supremacists.

We are well past the point where equivocations are defensible, and we’re nearly past the point where a moral reconstitution is possible. The damage Mr. Trump has inflicted on the Republican Party is already enormous. If the party doesn’t make a clean break with him, it will be generational.

Pardon This — Jonathan Blitzer in The New Yorker on how Arpaio’s pardon could energize Trump’s opposition.

When Lydia Guzman, an immigrants-rights advocate in Arizona, heard the news that Donald Trump pardoned Joe Arpaio, the former Maricopa County sheriff, last night, it felt to her like mourning the death of someone who’d long been ill. “I knew this was coming, yet I still wasn’t ready,” she told me.

When the fight against Arpaio began, a decade ago, Guzman was on the front lines. While Arpaio raided immigrant communities around Phoenix, arresting Latino residents en masse, she was one of dozens of community members who turned out with cameras and recorders to document what was happening. It took a few years for Guzman and other activists to gather evidence of the sheriff’s rampant racial profiling, and then several more for the courts to consider all the evidence. During that time, Guzman had to persuade Arpaio’s victims that sharing their stories was worth the trouble and the risk. “There were times when the community threw up its hands and said, ‘This is going nowhere,’ ” she told me. But last November, Arpaio was voted out of office, and then, earlier this summer, a court found him guilty of criminal contempt. Arpaio hadn’t just brutalized Latinos; he had flagrantly ignored a federal judge who’d ordered him to stop. The outcome was proof—belated but definitive—that the justice system could work. “Arpaio is no longer the sheriff, and his legacy is that he was a convicted criminal,” Guzman said. “Only criminals need pardons.”

That the pardon came from Trump—two weeks after backing white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia, and three days after staging a rally in Phoenix—only heightened the national stakes. “It’s a message to the country,” Carlos Garcia, the executive director of Puente, an Arizona-based human-rights organization, told me. “What Arpaio did—that’s coming to you, wherever you live.” Both Guzman and Garcia were angry but energized. “What we do now has to do with Trump,” Garcia said. Even before Arpaio was found to be in contempt of court, advocates and community members in Arizona beat him at the ballot box, which showed that Trump, too, could be defeated democratically. “When we started our fight against Arpaio he was the most popular official in Arizona. His approval rating was over seventy per cent,” Garcia said. “We took to the streets, took testimony, registered people to vote, and went to the courtroom. This is the fight we’ll bring to Trump.”

Puente was founded, in 2007, to fight Joe Arpaio. By then, he was nationally known for torturing inmates held at his jails, which he once described, boastfully, as “concentration camps.” But what ultimately mobilized the community against Arpaio was his decision to work formally and systematically with federal immigration authorities. The sheriff’s department began arresting Hispanic residents with little or no pretense at all, and if they happened to be undocumented Arpaio would turn them over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation. “Before then, no one really had an official agreement with ICE; there was no police agency handing people over,” Garcia said. “Arpaio used to set up a perimeter around immigrant communities, and send out hundreds of officers who would arrest and detain anyone they wanted.”

The Trump Administration has spent the last six months trying to force local law-enforcement agencies to collaborate with ICE as Arpaio did, and many police chiefs and sheriffs across the country have resisted. Threats by the Justice Department to withdraw federal funding haven’t seemed to dim their resolve. Preserving the community’s trust is simply too important for public safety, and if residents are scared that local police agencies are working as de-facto immigration agents, then crimes will go unreported and leads will dry up.

Arpaio’s twenty-four-year career in Maricopa County was as a direct affront to the immigrant community. He gloated over the fear he caused. More than a hundred inmates died in his jails, and there were countless lawsuits filed against him. When local journalists wrote critical articles, he had them arrested. At one point, he launched an immigration raid in the town of a rival police chief apparently just to spite him. “Arpaio knows how to move the needle when it comes to appealing to the base,” George Gascón, a former police chief in the neighboring town of Mesa, told a reporter in 2012. “What he did very artfully is piggy-back on this fear of illegal immigration that was becoming so prevalent in border states like Arizona.” He was, in effect, a populist rabble-rouser, with a badge.

“Pardoning him encourages every other police office and sheriff to racially profile and to abuse their power, and there’ll be no consequences,” Garcia said. “This is just like when Trump mocked the ‘Mexican judge.’ ” Garcia was referring to Gonzalo Curiel, an American-born federal judge in Indiana whom Trump accused of harboring biases against him because of Curiel’s ethnicity. “The same monster that Arpaio was, is what Trump is,” Garcia told me. “He feels that he is above the law and that he can do what he wants to get rid of our community.”

Karina Ruiz de Diaz, a thirty-three-year-old immigrant who was born in Mexico but grew up in the Phoenix area, said, “Trump wants all the immigrants to follow the law, but then he decides which laws apply.” Ruiz de Diaz stopped driving in 2010 because she was scared of being pulled over and deported. The state had just institutionalized Arpaio’s practices by passing a law that allowed local law-enforcement officers to ask for the citizenship status of anyone they arrested. (It was eventually blocked in federal court.)

Two years later, President Barack Obama issued an executive order called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which protected immigrants who had come to the U.S. as children, granting them a reprieve from deportation and enabling them to get driver’s licenses and work permits. Ruiz de Diaz is one of close to a million immigrants nationwide benefitting from DACA, which Trump is now threatening to end. In June, a group of Republican attorneys general from ten states said they’d sue the federal government to revoke the program if Trump didn’t act, and reports surfaced earlier this week suggesting that the President may dismantle the program himself.

“We have been fearless in the last few years, but pardoning Arpaio and cancelling DACA bring back the sentiment that we just don’t know what’s going to happen. Everything can be taken away from you—again,” Ruiz de Diaz said. Five years ago, she joined a group called the Arizona Dream Coalition, which defended the rights of young immigrants in the state. (Now she’s its president.) “Even though we’re full of fear, we’re just going to have to shake it up,” she said. “We’ve been fighting for so long, it’s the only option we have.”

Who Is That Guy? — Allegra Kirkland reports on the “Blacks for Trump” photobomber.

A familiar figure resurfaced at President Donald Trump’s campaign event in Phoenix, Arizona this week: Maurice Symonette, a.k.a. “Michael the Black Man,” could be seen on camera standing just behind the President, signature “Blacks for Trump” sign in hand.

Symonette captured the media’s attention during the 2016 presidential race after the Miami New Times noted that the frequent Trump rally attendee was a member of a defunct, violent black supremacist cult and had a checkered criminal history, including acquittal on two counts of conspiracy to commit murder. Although South Florida media have reported extensively on his ties to the Yahweh ben Yahweh cult and his promotion, via a radio show and multiple websites, of a bizarrely ahistorical and racialized worldview, Symonette always manages to land a prime spot behind Trump at the campaign events he attends.

When TPM first reached Symonette on Wednesday to ask how he snags such prominent seats at Trump rallies, he hung up after a few minutes, saying he was rushing over to an event Vice President Pence was holding with Venezuelan immigrants at a church in Miami’s Doral neighborhood.

Reached again on Friday, Symonette insisted in a meandering 30-minute phone call from the porch of his Miami home that he has no formal relationship with the Trump campaign. He said he uses his own funds to travel to campaign and administration events throughout the southeast.

“I just go on my own, that’s it,” Symonette said, adding that he knows plenty of people to “say hi to” but has no ongoing contact with any Trump staffers.

“I don’t know if they’re on the campaign,” he said of the individuals he greets at campaign events. “’Cause when I go there I make it my business to keep on business, cause what I’m really interested in doing is showing that the white man and the black man are in unity. Because the Bible says if we fight, God is going to kill everybody by fire.”

And the secret to snagging a spot so close to the President? Symonette said he simply arrives early.

“If you get there late you end up in the back, in the audience,” he said. “They’re used to seeing me so I just walk up to the front. And just walk in. I guess they’ve already vetted me or whatever they have to do and I just walk in, that’s it.”

TPM has made repeated efforts to contact multiple members of the Trump 2020 campaign by phone, email and Facebook messenger for comment on Symonette this week but received no response.

Symonette is no stranger to the President himself, though. At one October 2016 rally in Sanford, Florida, Trump took note of the supportive signs his fans were waving for the cameras.

“I love the signs behind me,” Trump yelled. “‘Blacks for Trump.’ I like those signs. ‘Blacks for Trump.’ You watch. You watch. Those signs are great!”

The signs Trump was referring to featured the URL of one of Symonette’s websites, Gods2.com, a poorly-formatted site full of screeds about a “race war” it says Hillary Clinton plans to carry out with the help of the Islamic State and MS-13 gang, and about how, as Symonette argued at length in conversation with TPM, Cherokee Indians bear responsibility for keeping black and white Americans down.

According to Symonette, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), Confederate Gen. Albert Pike, president of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, “almost all of the Confederate army,” the founders of the Ku Klux Klan, and segregationist former Birmingham, Alabama mayor Bull Connor have one thing in common: they were all “full-blooded Cherokees.”

He views Trump, on the other hand, as a “white gentile” who will impose taxes on the Cherokees and an “emancipator” who will provide economic liberation to blacks and to poor whites.

Symonette has long promoted these same fringey ideas on his radio show, YouTube channel and at tea party events. In 2012, he derailed a Rick Santorum campaign event where he was invited to give an introduction by calling Democrats “Nazis” and “slave masters” in disguise.

Born Maurice Woodside, Symonette, who took his father’s name as an adult, came to the Republican Party after years in the obscure Yahweh ben Yahweh cult, which had its headquarters in the gritty Miami neighborhood of Liberty City. As the Miami New Times has chronicled in rich detail, he was charged in 1990 with conspiracy to murder alongside Yahweh’s charismatic leader, Hulon Mitchell Jr., and other cult members. His brother testified that he stuck a sharpened stick into one victim’s eyeball; ultimately Symonette was acquitted. In separate cases, he was hit with charges for grand theft auto; trying to board a Delta flight with a gun; threatening a police officer; and driving a purportedly stolen car with a gun on the front seat, as the Miami New Times has reported.

Symonette brought up his rap sheet unprompted, proclaiming his innocence and lamenting that the press mentions those charges in stories about him.

“That’s why I agree with Trump,” he said of what he sees as unfair treatment by the media. “Because they’re doing him the way they do me.”

Now a singer and promoter, Symonette sees it as his duty to show the press that Trump, who won a meager 8 percent of the black vote, has African-American supporters.

“I sold a few things to get up there and I got up there,” he said of his attendance at the Phoenix rally. “That was a very important rally, that Trump be seen with his brothers, the black man of America.”

Symonette’s presence Tuesday gave the President cover in face of the heavy, sustained backlash he received for his delayed response to the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, remarks that Symonette characterized as “perfect.” He sees the other part of his mission as convincing black Americans that the President is on their side.

“I don’t care about who he is and what he’s about, I’m here because of his policies, that’s it,” Symonette said of the President’s promises to slash regulations and taxes. “Trump gives us liberty. That’s what I’m dealing with and the only thing I’m dealing with.”

As the call wrapped, Symonette offered a Trumpian plea not to write critical news about him.

“I know you’re gonna go write bad stuff about me,” Symonette said, “but remember: Yahweh loves you and so do I.”

Doonesbury — Four out of five doctors…

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Had It With You

Charles P. Pierce is done with Trump supporters.

A guy basically went mad, right there on the stage in front of you, and you cheered and booed right on cue because you’re sheep and because he directed his insanity at all the scapegoats that your favorite radio and TV personalities have been creating for you over the past three decades. Especially, I guess, people like me who practice the craft of journalism in a country that honors that craft in its most essential founding documents. The President of the United States came right up to the edge of inciting you to riot and you rode along with him. You’re on his team, by god.

Are you good people? I keep hearing that you are, but let’s go back to Tuesday night’s transcripts and see what we find.

One vote away. One vote away. We were one vote away. Think of it, seven years the Republicans — and again, you have some great senators, but we were one vote away from repealing it.

(CROWD CHANTING)

But, you know, they all said, Mr. President, your speech was so good last night, please, please, Mr. President don’t mention any names. So I won’t. I won’t. No I won’t vote — one vote away, I will not mention any names. Very presidential, isn’t’ it? Very presidential. And nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who’s weak on borders, weak on crime, so I won’t talk about him.

Right there, in the passive-aggressive fashion of the true moral coward, he made a bobo out of a former POW who currently is undergoing treatment for what is likely a terminal brain cancer. And you chanted and cheered. Do good people chant and cheer a rhetorical assault on a dying man of respect and honor?

I have no more patience, and I had very little to start with. I don’t care why you’re anxious. I don’t care for anybody’s interpretation of why you voted for this abomination of a politician, and why you cheer him now, because any explanation not rooted in the nastier bits of basic human spleen is worthless. I don’t want any politicians who seek to appeal to the more benign manifestations of your condition because there’s no way to separate those from all the rest of the hate and fear and stupidity. (And, for my colleagues in the Vance-Arnade-Zito school of Trump Whispering, here’s a hint: They hate you, too.) I don’t care why you sat out in a roasting pan since 5 a.m. Tuesday morning to whistle and cheer and stomp your feet for a scared, dangerous little man who tells you that your every bloody fantasy about your enemies is the height of patriotism. You are now the declared adversaries of what I do for a living, and your idol is a danger to the country and so are you. Own it. Deal with it. And, for the love of god, and for the sake of the rest of us who live in this country, do better at being citizens.

I get it why people are sticking with Trump.  For whatever reason, be it racist backlash against Barack Obama and his genteel and maddening way he put up with the vulgarities, never letting them get his goat, or the misogynistic madness against Hillary Clinton, or whether they truly fell for the balls, bullshit, and poppycock that Trump sold them on in the same way a late-night infomercial sells boner pills and teddy bears, and now they’re damned and ashamed to admit that they were snookered.  Or they’re genuine racists and sexists and have as low opinion of the rest of the country as Trump does; they’re even envious of his ability to acquire wealth, wives, and stiff hair.  But the show’s over, folks; not only has Elvis left the building, he keyed your cars on the way out.

Talking To A Wall

Help me out here.  Trump is threatening to “close down the government” if Congress refuses to fund the border wall.

But didn’t he promise that Mexico would pay for it?  So why is he yelling at the U.S. Congress?  Shouldn’t he be taking his message to the Cámara de Diputados in Mexico City?

Or was all this talk about the wall just a load of mierda de toros?

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Crazy From The Heat

Trump went to Phoenix in August where a cool day is when it’s not over 100F and delivered a stream-of-conscious rant about everything from the economy to how to wrap a bear for mailing (okay, I made up the part about the bear but it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility).

Josh Marshall summed it up.

There were a lot of random weird asides through the speech, some of which I flagged in real time. One example: In the course of defending himself on Charlottesville he gave a shout-out to CNN Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord who was recently fired for using a Nazi slogan in a Twitter fight. He had kinder and lengthier words for Lord than he did for Heather Heyer. He had kinder words for Kim Jung Un. Everyone said “you won’t bring [quarterly economic growth] up to 1%.” What?

Aside from the rambling weirdness, the big things are these. President Trump spent something like forty-five minutes in a wide-ranging primal scream about Charlottesville, ranting at the press, giving what might generously be called a deeply misleading and dishonest summary of what he actually said. It all amounted to one big attack on the press for supposedly lying about him.

There were some other points that were momentary and perhaps easy to miss but quite important.

1. Trump essentially promised he would pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a major sop to the anti-immigrant, white nationalist base.

2. Trump suggested he would probably end up withdrawing from NAFTA because negotiations will fail. That statement will have major repercussions.

3. Trump threatened to shut down the government to force Congress’s hand on getting his border wall.

4. While grandiosely not mentioning the names of Jeff Flake or John McCain, he nonetheless went after them and made his opposition to both quite clear. Presidents don’t generally attack members of their own party going into a midterm elections.

In other words, just another Trump speech full of sound and fury and Nuremberg-like exhortations to the minions.

By the way, Trump pardoning former Sheriff Joe Arpaio would be as much a slap in the face to the Latino community as a President George Wallace pardoning Bull Connor would have been to the African-Americans in Birmingham.

They Deserve Each Other

Not only is Trump giving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) a tough time at home, they just don’t like each other.

Via the New York Times:

The relationship between President Trump and Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, has disintegrated to the point that they have not spoken to each other in weeks, and Mr. McConnell has privately expressed uncertainty that Mr. Trump will be able to salvage his administration after a series of summer crises.

What was once an uneasy governing alliance has curdled into a feud of mutual resentment and sometimes outright hostility, complicated by the position of Mr. McConnell’s wife, Elaine L. Chao, in Mr. Trump’s cabinet, according to more than a dozen people briefed on their imperiled partnership. Angry phone calls and private badmouthing have devolved into open conflict, with the president threatening to oppose Republican senators who cross him, and Mr. McConnell mobilizing to their defense.

The rupture between Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell comes at a highly perilous moment for Republicans, who face a number of urgent deadlines when they return to Washington next month. Congress must approve new spending measures and raise the statutory limit on government borrowing within weeks of reconvening, and Republicans are hoping to push through an elaborate rewrite of the federal tax code. There is scant room for legislative error on any front.

[…]

In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, and berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

In offhand remarks, Mr. McConnell has expressed a sense of bewilderment about where Mr. Trump’s presidency may be headed, and has mused about whether Mr. Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s elections and beyond, according to people who have spoken to him directly.

This is karma with cheese.  McConnell spent the previous eight years plotting how to get rid of Barack Obama and put a Republican in the White House so he could have smooth sailing to screw over the country and bask in the sunshine like a turtle on a log.  So along comes Trump and his entourage of gators.  At least President Obama was polite.

As for Trump, he’s learning what every president finds out much to their chagrin: you can’t always get your way even when your party is in charge.

Would you like some popcorn to go along with that heaping helping of schadenfreude?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sunday Reading

Overwhelming the Hate — McKay Coppins in The Atlantic on how counter-protest shut down the Nazis in Boston.

WOBURN, Mass. — Kyle Chapman was sitting in a dimly lit Irish pub about 20 minutes outside of Boston, where Saturday afternoon’s so-called “Free Speech Rally” had just been shut down by tens of thousands of counter-protesters.“The white man is one of the most discriminated against people in this entire country right now,” he explained.

Chapman—a muscly right-wing organizer who went viral earlier this year after video footage showed him swinging a heavy wooden stick at liberal Berkley demonstrators—had been scheduled to speak at the rally on Boston Common. But organizers ended up pulling the plug early, he said, when the crowd of counter-protesters grew too large. After being escorted to safety by police, he and other attendees retired here to lick their (metaphorical) wounds.

“I was definitely concerned for my safety and the safety of the other attendees,” Chapman said. “The barricades [that police] set up were four-foot barricades and … there would have been no way to stop the alt-left domestic terrorists if they decided to attack us.”

There had, in fact, been a smattering of violent incidents in the midst of the sprawling protests outside the event—mostly egged on by the minority of “antifa” agitators in the crowd. Beyond that, police said the demonstrations were overwhelmingly peaceful: About 33 arrests had been made out of a crowd of 40,000. After last week’s white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia turned fatal, local police here had come prepared for the worst. But the scene in Boston was starkly different.People spread out blankets on the grass and munched on snacks, cheering on the upbeat counter-protesters—who, by some estimates, outnumbered the free speech rally-goers by more than a thousand to one—as they marched down Charles Street. Some dressed up for the occasion: A middle-aged guy with a man bun  sported a tank top with “Resistance” spelled out across his chest in glittery gold; a group of women wearing pointy black hats and matching veils silently roamed the Common carrying a sign announcing themselves as “Witches against white supremacy.” Protesters carried posters that read, “Not in my city,” and joined in periodic chants of, “Fuck the Nazis!”

As with most large political demonstrations, the scene took on an absurdist quality at times. At one point, Black Lives Matter activists lit a flag on fire, prompting a tattooed onlooker in a Red Sox cap to launch into a profanity-laced rant about the lack of patriotism on display. A heated argument followed between him and a few other bystanders, which went on for several minutes before someone pulled the tattooed ranter aside and asked, “You know that was a Confederate flag, right?”

“It was a Confederate?”“Yeah.”

He paused for a moment to process this information, and then smiled sheepishly. “Shhh,” he said, pressing a finger to his lips. He then returned to his argument.

Organizers were adamant in the days leading up to the Free Speech Rally that they were not supporting white nationalism, and disapproved of the beliefs that were showcased in Charlottesville. They said they would throw out anyone who showed up in neo-Nazi garb, or brought signs advocating for white supremacy.

At the same time, the small group that gathered on Boston Common clearly shared some ideological sympathies with the alt-right movement—a dynamic that could make it increasingly difficult to untangle the extremist racial elements from the broader American right.

Chapman, for example, told me he did not under any circumstances consider himself a white nationalist. “But I can tell you that there is a war against whites,” he said. “Whites are discriminated against en masse. I personally have been the victim of multiple hate crimes. As a people, we do have our own grievances, we do have our own story to tell.” Until it becomes safe to discuss that reality in mainstream political circles, he argued, victimized whites will continue to gravitate toward the alt-right.

Chapman says “free speech” is his primary concern, and added that it was the one reason libertarians like himself would come to the defense of Richard Spencer and his ilk. “I don’t really know them personally, and I don’t know if they’re bad people personally,” he said. But “they had the right to assemble and exercise their First Amendment rights in Charlottesville. And those rights were intentionally suppressed.”

Joe Biggs—a former InfoWars writer who was among the first proponents of the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that claimed a Clinton-linked pedophile ring was operating out of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria—was also among the scheduled speakers who didn’t get to deliver his remarks before the rally was shut down. He fumed that the mainstream media was to blame for perpetuating a false narrative that they were white supremacists. (“I think I’ve dated one white woman in my entire life,” he said in an attempt to demonstrate his lack of prejudice, noting noting that his wife is Guyanese.) But even if they were, he argued, the First Amendment would protect them. “Hate speech is allowed!” he said.

But Biggs’s free-speech zealotry wasn’t completely without limit. When I asked whether he considered Saturday’s massive gathering of counter-protesters a victory for free speech, he thought about it. He mused that if they were so offended by the rally, they could have just stayed away. And while he said he supported their right to stand outside and demonstrate their disapproval, the protesters had gone too far.

“When you sound like an angry, violent mob, you’ve lost the high ground,” he said, “and now you’re just scum.”

Saw It Coming — David Remnick in The New Yorker on Trump’s true allegiances.

Early last November, just before Election Day, Barack Obama was driven through the crisp late-night gloom of the outskirts of Charlotte, as he barnstormed North Carolina on behalf of Hillary Clinton. He was in no measure serene or confident. The polls, the “analytics,” remained in Clinton’s favor, yet Obama, with the unique vantage point of being the first African-American President, had watched as, night after night, immense crowds cheered and hooted for a demagogue who had launched a business career with blacks-need-not-apply housing developments in Queens and a political career with a racist conspiracy theory known as birtherism. During his speech in Charlotte that night, Obama warned that no one really changes in the Presidency; rather, the office “magnifies” who you already are. So if you “accept the support of Klan sympathizers before you’re President, or you’re kind of slow in disowning it, saying, ‘Well, I don’t know,’ then that’s how you’ll be as President.”

Donald Trump’s ascent was hardly the first sign that Americans had not uniformly regarded Obama’s election as an inspiring chapter in the country’s fitful progress toward equality. Newt Gingrich, the former Speaker of the House, had branded him the “food-stamp President.” In the right-wing and white-nationalist media, Obama was, variously, a socialist, a Muslim, the Antichrist, a “liberal fascist,” who was assembling his own Hitler Youth. A high-speed train from Las Vegas to Anaheim that was part of the economic-stimulus package was a secret effort to connect the brothels of Nevada to the innocents at Disneyland. He was, by nature, suspect. “You just look at the body language, and there’s something going on,” Trump said, last summer. In the meantime, beginning on the day of Obama’s first inaugural, the Secret Service fielded an unprecedented number of threats against the President’s person.

And so, speeding toward yet another airport last November, Obama seemed like a weary man who harbored a burning seed of apprehension. “We’ve seen this coming,” he said. “Donald Trump is not an outlier; he is a culmination, a logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party for the past ten, fifteen, twenty years. What surprised me was the degree to which those tactics and rhetoric completely jumped the rails.”

For half a century, in fact, the leaders of the G.O.P. have fanned the lingering embers of racial resentment in the United States. Through shrewd political calculation and rhetoric, from Richard Nixon’s “Southern strategy” to the latest charges of voter fraud in majority-African-American districts, doing so has paid off at the ballot box. “There were no governing principles,” Obama said. “There was no one to say, ‘No, this is going too far, this isn’t what we stand for.’ ”

Last week, the world witnessed Obama’s successor in the White House, unbound and unhinged, acting more or less as Obama had predicted. In 2015, a week after Trump had declared his candidacy, he spoke in favor of removing the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s capitol: “Put it in the museum and let it go.” But, last week, abandoning the customary dog whistle of previous Republican culture warriors, President Trump made plain his indulgent sympathy for neo-Nazis, Klan members, and unaffiliated white supremacists, who marched with torches, assault rifles, clubs, and racist and anti-Semitic slogans through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia. One participant even adopted an ISIS terror tactic, driving straight into a crowd of people peaceably demonstrating against the racists. Trump had declared an “America First” culture war in his Inaugural Address, and now—as his poll numbers dropped, as he lost again and again in the courts and in Congress, as the Mueller investigation delved into his miserable business history, as more and more aides leaked their dismay—he had cast his lot with the basest of his base. There were some “very fine people” among the white nationalists, he said, and their “culture” should not be threatened.

Who could have predicted it? Anyone, really. Two years ago, the Daily Stormer, the foremost neo-Nazi news site in the country, called on white men to “vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.” Trump never spurned this current of his support. He invited it, exploited it. With Stephen Bannon, white nationalism won prime real estate in the West Wing. Bannon wrote much of the inaugural speech, and was branded “The Great Manipulator” in a Time cover story that bruised the Presidential ego. But Bannon has been marginalized for months. Last Friday, in the wake of Charlottesville, Trump finally pushed him out. He is headed back to Breitbart News. But he was staff; his departure is hardly decisive. The culture of this White House was, and remains, Trump’s.

When Trump was elected, there were those who considered his history and insisted that this was a kind of national emergency, and that to normalize this Presidency was a dangerous illusion. At the same time, there were those who, in the spirit of patience and national comity, held that Trump was “our President,” and that “he must be given a chance.” Has he had enough of a chance yet? After his press conference in the lobby of Trump Tower last Tuesday, when he ignored the scripted attempts to regulate his impulses and revealed his true allegiances, there can be no doubt about who he is. This is the inescapable fact: on November 9th, the United States elected a dishonest, inept, unbalanced, and immoral human being as its President and Commander-in-Chief. Trump has daily proven unyielding to appeals of decency, unity, moderation, or fact. He is willing to imperil the civil peace and the social fabric of his country simply to satisfy his narcissism and to excite the worst inclinations of his core followers.

This latest outrage has disheartened Trump’s circle somewhat; business executives, generals and security officials, advisers, and even family members have semaphored their private despair. One of the more lasting images from Trump’s squalid appearance on Tuesday was that of his chief of staff, John Kelly, who stood listening to him with a hangdog look of shame. But Trump still retains the support of roughly a third of the country, and of the majority of the Republican electorate. The political figure Obama saw as a “logical conclusion of the rhetoric and tactics of the Republican Party” has not yet come unmoored from the Party’s base.

The most important resistance to Trump has to come from civil society, from institutions, and from individuals who, despite their differences, believe in constitutional norms and have a fundamental respect for the values of honesty, equality, and justice. The imperative is to find ways to counteract and diminish his malignant influence not only in the overtly political realm but also in the social and cultural one. To fail in that would allow the death rattle of an old racist order to take hold as a deafening revival.

Not Enough — Charles P. Pierce on Bannon’s exit.

Apparently, the NYT got the word that Steve Bannon will be leaving the White House to spend more time with his fellow gargoyles at Breitbart’s Mausoleum For The Otherwise Unemployable. This being Camp Runamuck, of course, the White House is saying the president* gave him the heave-ho, while Bannon says he quit a few weeks ago, and nobody knows anything about anything.

The president and senior White House officials were debating when and how to dismiss Mr. Bannon. The two administration officials cautioned that Mr. Trump is known to be averse to confrontation within his inner circle, and could decide to keep on Mr. Bannon for some time. As of Friday morning, the two men were still discussing Mr. Bannon’s future, the officials said. A person close to Mr. Bannon insisted the parting of ways was his idea, and that he had submitted his resignation to the president on Aug. 7, to be announced at the start of this week, but the move was delayed after the racial unrest in Charlottesville, Va.

While this is all entertaining as hell, and it is, and while it’s even more entertaining to speculate what vengeance Bannon and his army of angry gnomes could wreak on this presidency*, I am not going to be turning handsprings along the Charles over this development. First, it’s eight months overdue and both Stephen Miller and the ridiculous Dr. Sebastian Gorka, Ph.D. are still there. Second, I decline at the moment to believe that Bannon will be blocked entirely on the president*’s cell phone. And third, given that this is a president* who would require his paper boy to sign a non-disclosure agreement, I think it’s reasonable to speculate that Bannon’s silence will be handsomely remunerated. But there’s one more general reason that I am not popping corks over this.

Whatever else he was, Bannon was one of the few people in that operation who still at least was making mouth noises about economic populism after inauguration day. I have to think that the various corporate sublets in the Republican congressional leadership—Paul Ryan, chief among them—are looking at Bannon’s departure as an opportunity to lead a president* who knows nothing about anything right down the trail of corporate oligarchy. I’m glad he’s gone, but there’s still enough left to concern us all.

Doonesbury — Reality for sale.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Mythed Again

No, General Pershing did not dip 50 bullets in pig’s blood and shoot 49 Muslims and let the 50th go to spread the word to his cohorts.  It’s one of those internet myths spread by the likes of your crazy uncle who also believes that jet contrails are evil and that they faked the moon landing.  But Trump keeps telling the story as if it was true.

It would be a lot better if he was the myth; the scary story we tell around the campfire or the internet meme we spread to warn the nation about what could happen if we let a dangerous egomaniac loose upon the land.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Okay, GOP, Now What?

Now that we have Trump basically siding with the racists, white supremacists, anti-Semites, and the rest of the raggle-taggle collection of knuckle-draggers who long for the days of really being losers at Appomattox and Berlin, what about the rest of the party he’s the titular head of?

So far no major party figure has stood next to him to support him, but neither have they stood up and called him out other than to make the easy call that Nazis are bad people.  As Charlie Pierce notes:

The problem is that the only way all that works is if Republican officeholders en masse run away from the man as fast as these CEOs have. So far, we haven’t seen anywhere near enough of them doing that. There is a lot of bold talk deploring white supremacy, and the Klan, and white supremacy. That and six bucks will get you a latte.

[…]

Say his goddamn name. Don’t tell me how much you deplore racism in the abstract. That does not make me feel good as a citizen. Tell me you deplore racism in the specific human being who’s now president* of the United States. For anyone whose moral compass still points true north, that’s the proper response. Otherwise, shut up.

There are a couple of reasons why the party leaders won’t call him out.  First, the obvious: they don’t want to be the subject of a 3 A.M. tweetstorm and lose their seat on the couch at “Fox and Friends.”  While being the target of Trump’s wrath isn’t the shaming that it used to be, it’s still something you’d rather not have to put up with on your Facebook page.

But the second reason is that the Republicans still think they can rescue themselves and maintain their majority in the House and Senate going into the 2018 midterms.  No, really; somewhere they’re gaming it out that if they make a token condemnation of Trump and move on to the issues they think really matter such as wiping the record clean of anything Barack Obama said or did and rigging the districts so that every last white Christian male has a two-to-one advantage over the majority of minorities, they’ll stay in office and that clown down the street in the White House will be the target, not them.

So the GOP will now go about its business of dismantling the last eighty-plus years of progress in providing for the general welfare of the people, disenfranchising all but the nice white landowners and as a bonus giving them even more tax loopholes to jump through, all the while letting their whirling dervish spin himself into oblivion and possibly taking the rest of us with him.  It shows a complete lack of moral character to do it, which is why it comes so easy to them.

So, General Kelly, How’s It Going?

Via the Washington Post:

The uproar — which has consumed not only the White House but the Republican Party — left Kelly deeply frustrated and dismayed just over two weeks into his job, said people familiar with his thinking. The episode also underscored the difficult challenges that even a four-star general faces in instilling a sense of order around Trump, whose first instinct when cornered is to lash out, even self-destructively.

I have the feeling that Chief of Staff John Kelly is wondering if he could get back to the good old days of dodging bullets in a war zone.