Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Ta-Ta For The Tillerson

(Re: Post title — that’s the best I could do on short notice and “REXIT” was already taken by TPM.  Apologies to Cat Stevens.)

Via NBC:

Trump asked Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to step aside, the White House confirmed Tuesday, replacing him with CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

In a tweet, Trump thanked Tillerson for his service and said Pompeo “will do a fantastic job.”

It really doesn’t matter who Trump puts in there; he/she/it will be a figurehead.  Trump is in charge of everything; presumably Mr. Tillerson didn’t fully grasp that.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Self Governing

Trump’s seemingly off-the-cuff decision to meet Kim Jong-un proves that he truly does believe he can do it all by himself.  He alone can fix it.

That may sound good at a campaign rally, but that’s not how you run a country.  Or at least one that aspires to democracy and separation of powers, and when it comes to making snap decisions in a time of crisis — e.g. under attack — it doesn’t bode well for the outcome.  Even when he says he’s brought in “the best people,” he’s ignored their counsel and gone with the words of the nearest toady.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Why So Curious?

From the New York Times:

The special counsel in the Russia investigation has learned of two conversations in recent months in which President Trump asked key witnesses about matters they discussed with investigators, according to three people familiar with the encounters.

In one episode, the president told an aide that the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, should issue a statement denying a New York Times article in January. The article said Mr. McGahn told investigators that the president once asked him to fire the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Mr. McGahn never released a statement and later had to remind the president that he had indeed asked Mr. McGahn to see that Mr. Mueller was dismissed, the people said.

In the other episode, Mr. Trump asked his former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, how his interview had gone with the special counsel’s investigators and whether they had been “nice,” according to two people familiar with the discussion.

The episodes demonstrate that even as the special counsel investigation appears to be intensifying, the president has ignored his lawyers’ advice to avoid doing anything publicly or privately that could create the appearance of interfering with it.

The White House did not respond to several requests for comment. Mr. Priebus and Mr. McGahn declined to comment through their lawyer, William A. Burck.

Legal experts said Mr. Trump’s contact with the men most likely did not rise to the level of witness tampering. But witnesses and lawyers who learned about the conversations viewed them as potentially a problem and shared them with Mr. Mueller.

It may not rise to the legal definition of witness tampering, but it sure makes Trump sound like he is worried about what they told the special counsel, and not just to find out if they were “nice” to them.  That demonstrates, among other things, consciousness of guilt.

He knows Mueller is getting closer.  He’s freaking out.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Just Another Manic Monday

How was your day, Sam?

It began with a subpoena. It ended with a question about whether its recipient was drunk on live television.

That’s the New York Times’ summation of Sam Nunberg’s day.  The former Trump campaign adviser bounced around the cable and social media world yesterday, going from a “who’s he?” to “WTF?” in less time than it takes to write it up.

He indicated he did not know what the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, was seeking by ordering him to appear before the grand jury and to turn over a number of documents. There was no way to authenticate the subpoena; Mr. Mueller’s office declined to comment.

But Mr. Nunberg said he was unconcerned about the potential for being arrested. By midafternoon, he had been interviewed on MSNBC and CNN. Fox News soon joined in with coverage.

On air, Mr. Nunberg denigrated Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, as a “slob.” Twitter cataloged his insults, mesmerized by his repeat performances. One CNN host asked him if he had been drinking.

By evening, Mr. Nunberg told reporters he might comply with Mr. Mueller’s demand after all. Unless he doesn’t, of course.

And so it went with Mr. Nunberg, a protégé of the self-described dirty trickster Roger J. Stone Jr., who has been a focus of aspects of the various investigations into possible Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

This sounds like a pretty average Monday in Trumpland.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Trick Question

Booman asks a serious question here:

Let’s try to imagine, just for shits and giggles, what the right-wing response would have been if President Barack Obama had done these three things in one week:

1. Imposed tariffs on imported aluminum and steel without any consultation with Congress or allies.
2. Speaking to a bipartisan group of congressional leaders in the White House, recommended seizing people’s guns without worrying about due process.
3. Praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for consolidating his power and stated, “He’s now president for life. President for life. No, he’s great. And look, he was able to do that. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot some day.”

Now try to imagine that 30 members of Obama’s administration lost their temporary security clearance during this same week, and one of them was Michelle’s brother who was so flat broke that he was begging Qataris, Emiratis, Turks, Russians, and Chinese to give him a billion or so dollars.

I’m just scratching the surface here, as I am sure you know. I just want to know how loud you think the howling would be if these things were done during a single week of the Obama administration.

It’s a trick question because it would never occur to anyone in the Obama administration to allow anything like that to happen.  I’m having trouble imagining that happening in any presidential administration that I can remember, and was born when Truman was president.  (Okay, I was four months old when Ike was sworn in, but you get the point.)

What I find amazing isn’t that the reaction from the country — so far — is basically to shrug and go on.  I expect that from the Republicans; most of them are probably relieved that it’s Trump that’s coming up with this shit and drawing the attention if not the ire.  But we’re talking about the basic tenets of our constitutional democracy being threatened by a guy who gets his talking points from three people sitting on a couch in a storefront window in midtown Manhattan.

If we can get a nation paying attention to the kids who have had enough of gun violence that they can at least start a movement about guns and assault rifles and inspire corporations to reconsider their business model, what will it take to get us to do something about an administration that is actively eating away at the foundation?

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sunday Reading

They’ve Got Him At Jared’s — John Cassidy on Trump’s son-in-law’s problems.

It was only a matter of time before Jared Kushner’s conflicts of interest reëmerged as an issue. In January of last year, he resigned as head of his family’s real-estate firm, Kushner Companies, and partially divested himself of some of its assets, including his stake in 666 Fifth Avenue, an aluminum-clad midtown office building.

As I noted at the time, Kushner’s divestment was of a very limited and Trumpian form. Rather than selling off his assets to the highest bidder, or setting up a blind trust and hiring an outside expert to manage it, he merely transferred the ownership of some of his assets to his brother and to a trust overseen by his mother. It wasn’t immediately clear what Kushner had held onto, but it turned out to be substantial. The Timesreported on Thursday that “he retained the vast majority of his interest in Kushner Companies. His real estate holdings and other investments are worth as much as $761 million, according to government ethics filings.”

Kushner, who, unlike his father-in-law, can be prosecuted for violating federal conflict-of-interest laws, also promised to recuse himself from any government matters related, directly or indirectly, to his financial interests. It turns out that this recusal was also conveniently limited. Thanks to that same report in the Times, we know that it didn’t prevent Kushner from taking meetings at the White House with top executives from two financial firms—Citigroup and Apollo Commercial Real Estate Finance—that lent more than half a billion dollars to two Kushner family ventures in which, according to federal filings, he still owns a direct stake. One is a skyscraper in Chicago and the other is a collection of office buildings in Brooklyn.

Kushner’s personal lawyer, Kushner Companies, and the two firms all insisted to the Times that nothing untoward had taken place. They are asking us to believe that the meetings at the White House were not connected to the loans, which were extended during the normal course of business, with Kushner playing no role in soliciting or negotiating the deals. “Stories like these attempt to make insinuating connections that do not exist to disparage the financial institutions and companies involved,” a spokesperson for Kushner Companies told the Times.

Actually, it is primarily Kushner’s behavior and position that have been called into question. Even if he didn’t discuss any personal business with Joshua Harris, one of the founders of Apollo’s parent company, or with Michael Corbat, Citigroup’s chief executive, it’s hard to believe that he was unaware of the huge amounts of credit being extended to his family’s real-estate empire and its business partners by their firms. In most Administrations, senior officials routinely do due-diligence checks before meeting with individuals representing industrial or financial interests. Kushner appears to have blithely ignored this custom, just as, earlier, he failed to fulfill the requirement that people seeking security clearance complete official forms assiduously.

The issue goes well beyond casual oversights. Not only has Kushner’s presence in the White House made a mockery of federal guidelines designed to prevent nepotism and conflicts of interest, it has also raised national-security concerns. Many foreign governments view him not merely as a privileged son-in-law who lucked into the role of senior Presidential adviser but as a privileged son-in-law who lucked into the role of senior Presidential adviser and is desperate to raise large sums of money. In other words, he’s an easy target.

Kushner Companies co-owns 666 Fifth Avenue with another developer, Vornado Realty. In 2007, at Jared Kushner’s urging, the company paid $1.8 billion for the building—at the time, the highest price ever paid for a New York office tower. The property occupies a prime spot between Fifty-second and Fifty-third streets, but it was built in 1957 and needed extensive upgrades. It still has many vacancies, and the $1.2 billion mortgage, which reportedly has ballooned to almost $1.5 billion, is due in February, 2019. Right now, it is not entirely clear whether Kushner Companies is in a position to repay or refinance the loan. “The company hoped to knock the building down and put up another, twice as tall and far more luxurious, in its place,” Bloombergreported earlier this week. “It sought funds from investors in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, China, South Korea, Israel and France. No investors were announced for the plan, described by many as prohibitively expensive.”

There is irony aplenty here. Kushner doesn’t look or speak or act like his father-in-law: to all public appearances, he is Trump’s antithesis. But much like Trump did in the late nineteen-eighties, Kushner overpaid for a trophy property, borrowing heavily, and subsequently encountered serious financial challenges that became public. On Wednesday, the Washington Postreported that U.S. intelligence agencies have learned that officials in at least four foreign countries—the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel, and Mexico—have been discussing ways of exploiting Kushner’s “complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.” An official familiar with the intelligence told the Post, “Every country will seek to find their point of leverage.”

The report also said that Kushner’s extensive dealings with foreign officials have raised concerns among some people in the White House and “are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance.” Last week, John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, downgraded Kushner’s security clearance from top secret to a lower level that would prevent him from gaining access to many classified documents, such as the President’s daily intelligence briefing.

After observing Kushner being hit with a security-clearance downgrade and the damaging back-to-back stories in the Post and the Times, many political observers are now questioning his future in the White House. On Thursday, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said, “Jared is still a valued member of the Administration,” and added that he “will continue in his current role.”

It wasn’t the most ringing endorsement, and there is some speculation that Kushner and his wife, Ivanka, are, like Hope Hicks, on their way out. Whether or not that will happen, who can say? But it certainly should. Having one cash-needy real-estate developer in the White House was always going to present big problems. Having two of them has turned out to be an outrage.

Voting At 16 — Lawrence Steinberg in the New York Times.

The young people who have come forward to call for gun control in the wake of the mass shooting at their high school in Parkland, Fla., are challenging the tiresome stereotype of American kids as indolent narcissists whose brains have been addled by smartphones. They offer an inspiring example of thoughtful, eloquent protest.

Unfortunately, when it comes to electing lawmakers whose decisions about gun control and other issues affect their lives, these high schoolers lack any real power. This needs to change: The federal voting age in the United States should be lowered from 18 to 16.

Skeptics will no doubt raise questions about the competence of 16-year-olds to make informed choices in the voting booth. Aren’t young people notoriously impulsive and hotheaded, their brains not fully developed enough to make good judgments?

Yes and no. When considering the intellectual capacity of teenagers, it is important to distinguish between what psychologists call “cold” and “hot” cognition.

Cold cognitive abilities are those we use when we are in a calm situation, when we are by ourselves and have time to deliberate and when the most important skill is the ability to reason logically with facts. Voting is a good example of this sort of situation.

Studies of cold cognition have shown that the skills necessary to make informed decisions are firmly in place by 16. By that age, adolescents can gather and process information, weigh pros and cons, reason logically with facts and take time before making a decision. Teenagers may sometimes make bad choices, but statistically speaking, they do not make them any more often than adults do.

Hot cognitive abilities are those we rely on to make good decisions when we are emotionally aroused, in groups or in a hurry. If you are making a decision when angry or exhausted, the most critical skill is self-regulation, which enables you to control your emotions, withstand pressure from others, resist temptation and check your impulses. Unlike cold cognitive abilities, self-regulation does not mature until about age 22, research has shown. (This is a good reason to raise the minimum age for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21 or older, as some have proposed.)

This psychological evidence is backed up by neuroscientific findings. Neuroimaging studies show that brain systems necessary for cold cognition are mature by mid-adolescence, whereas those that govern self-regulation are not fully developed until a person’s early 20s.

If the voting age were lowered, would that necessitate changing other laws to bring them into alignment? Of course not. We use a wide variety of chronological ages to draw lines between minors and adults when it comes to smoking, driving, viewing violent or sexually explicit movies, being eligible for the death penalty and drinking alcohol. Although the specific ages used for these purposes often lack a good rationale, there is no reason lowering the voting age would require lowering, say, the drinking age, any more than allowing people to drive at 16 should permit them to drink or smoke at that age as well.

In addition to the scientific case for lowering the voting age, there is also a civic argument. Consider the dozen or so countries like Argentina, Austria, Brazil and Nicaragua that allow people to vote at 16 in national, state or local elections. In such countries, voter turnout among 16- and 17-year-olds is significantly higher than it is among older young adults.

This is true in parts of the United States as well. In Takoma Park, Md., a city that permits 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local elections, that age group is twice as likely to vote than are 18-year-olds.

Why is higher turnout among 16- and 17-year-olds so important? Because there is evidence that people who don’t vote the first time they are eligible are less likely to vote regularly in the future. Considering that people between 18 and 24 have the lowest voter turnout of any age group in the United States (a country that has one of the lowest rates of voter turnout in the developed world), allowing people to begin voting at an age at which they are more likely to vote might increase future turnout at all ages.

The last time the United States lowered the federal voting age was in 1971, when it went from 21 to 18. In that instance, the main motivating force was outrage over the fact that 18-year-olds could be sent to fight in Vietnam but could not vote.

The proposal to lower the voting age to 16 is motivated by today’s outrage that those most vulnerable to school shootings have no say in how such atrocities are best prevented. Let’s give those young people more than just their voices to make a change.

Redefining Masculinity — Collier Meyerson in The Nation.

I would bet a large sum that my father has seen 90 percent of the films nominated for this year’s Academy Awards. And my guess, too, is that he cried during every single one of them. He’s not embarrassed to cry at movies, or television shows, or commercials. He’s a sap, pretty proudly. Or, he’s at least an unconcerned one.

Physically, my dad is strong; he plays lots of tennis. But he’s very skinny. He refers to his legs as sticks, and says they are not of the human varietal—that they more resemble poultry (he’s right, by the way). My dad is overwhelmingly kindhearted, he’s there for me, is super-keen on listening to my problems, and he’s affectionate. Poppi texts me at least three times a day to tell me he loves me and is proud of me. In fact, just now, as I was in the middle of writing this paragraph, he sent me a text that read, “I love you infinity times infinity and best in all of the galaxies and beyond through eternity.” And every time I publish a piece of writing, he sends out an e-mail announcing my new article to his friends, our family, his colleagues, my friends, and also, somehow, my colleagues.

This side of Poppi doesn’t quite fit our country’s definition of “masculine”—which we often assume includes attributes like strong, withdrawn, and violent.

But in other ways, my “sissy” dad is quite “masculine.” He’s got a bad temper, though it’s cooled with age. I remember visiting his office when I was a kid and seeing holes in the wall—when I asked, he’d say, sheepishly, that they were the result of his being frustrated after a phone call or meeting with a client, judge, or opposing counsel. Also, Poppi doesn’t like it when you disagree with him—fair enough, that’s natural; I don’t either. But he’ll interrupt you over and over and over to get his point across, drowning out any possibility of your actually finishing your thought. On days and nights when he watched football when I was growing up, I’d hear him clear across the apartment screaming into the television, “Oh, come onnnnnnnn, you [expletive expletive expletive]” in a tone that frightened me. Nowadays, I stay away from his room when he’s watching his football—and I’m pretty sure that’s why my mom got her own TV in the kitchen.

Reading this, you may think that my dad’s less-desirable behavior is pretty normal for a cis white guy, and I agree with you, it is. (I would know, I’ve dated lots of them.) But when I try to confront my dad, or most of the cis men who I am close to about their misogyny, their responses have always been a genuine—but unwelcome—shock. When I describe their unsavory qualities as rooted in what bell hooks calls the “disease” that is masculinity—punching walls, talking over women, screaming at a sporting event in a tone that should only be reserved for encounters with killers—they’ve looked at me quizzically, angrily.

Last week, comedian Michael Ian Black wrote a compelling and heartfelt piece for The New York Times titled “The Boys Are Not All Right.” Acknowledging, in the wake of the Parkland mass shooting that claimed the lives of 17 students and teachers, that “Girls aren’t pulling the triggers. It’s boys. It’s almost always boys,” Black made a plea to interrogate the state of boyhood and manhood in the United States. He writes, “There has to be a way to expand what it means to be a man without losing our masculinity. I don’t know how we open ourselves to the rich complexity of our manhood.”

Black is starting from the same place that many of the men in my life are: that certain qualities of masculinity are natural and immovable, and what’s important is that we expand on its innate properties to include more feminine ones, instead of scrutinizing, or, dare I even say, proposing to rid ourselves of the whole category.

It might sound rash, getting rid of masculinity. But it’s really not a crazy thought. We only have to look back a little over 100 years to understand that, in America, the concept of masculinity was constructed to defend white supremacy and white male dominance over black men and women of all races.

In her seminal book on the issue, Manliness and Civilization: A Cultural History of Gender and Race in the United States, 1880-1917, author Gail Bederman writes: “I don’t see manhood as either an intrinsic essence or a collection of traits, attributes, or sex roles. Manhood—or ‘masculinity,’ as it is commonly termed today—is a continual, dynamic process.” The first thing we need to do, according to Bederman, is stop arguing that masculinity has traits that are inherent. “Gender,” she writes, “is dynamic and always changing.”

Between 1820 and 1860, according to Bederman, more and more white men were beginning to identify as middle class: entrepreneurs, professionals, and managers. And with that distinction, there came about a new and important gender identification for men, one that centered around civility. As opposed to brutishness or violent tendencies, manliness during this period was focused on a civilized character, holding off on marriage to accrue wealth. And then a man should focus on providing a good life for his wife, his children, or his employees.

Between 1879 and 1910, the number of middle-class men who were self-employed dropped, from 67 percent to 37 percent, prompting another a shift. “Middle class Victorian men were obsessed with manhood at the turn of the century,” writes Bederman. They became “obsessed” with cowboy novels, and hunting and fishing. At the same time new epithets, like “sissy,” “pussy-foot,” “cold feet” and “stuffed shirt, ” emerged, indicating “behavior which had once appeared self-possessed and manly but now seemed over-civilized and effeminate,” writes Bederman. Around 1890, a noun defined as “the essence of manhood” took hold for the first time—now, manhood was called “masculinity.”

The idea, Bederman says, was that being “manly” had a “moral dimension,” and was defined by a dictionary at the time as “possessing the proper characteristic of a man; independent in spirit or bearing; strong, brave, large-minded, etc.” But then, when the economy tanked between 1879 to 1896, and with it the whole middle-class white-male “civilized” identity, the concept of “manliness” shifted again. After that, Bederman says, when men wished to invoke a male power they used “masculine” and “masculinity” to describe it. “The adjective ‘masculine’ was used to refer to any characteristics, good or bad, that all men had,” she wrote. The element of morality had been left behind.

The shift in white middle-class American male identification at the turn of the 19th century was also a way to justify white supremacy. “Linking whiteness to male power,” Bederman wrote, “was nothing new.… during the first two-thirds of the nineteenth century, American citizenship rights had been construed as ‘manhood’ rights which inhered to white males, only…Negro males, whether free or slave, were forbidden to exercise ‘manhood’ rights—forbidden to vote, hold electoral office, serve on juries, or join the military. The conclusion was implicit but widely understood: Negro males, unlike white males, were less than men.” But once “masculinity” came around at the end of the 19th century, and black men were fighting for “manhood rights,” a new idea had emerged. White middle-class men were starting to see themselves as maintaining a universal male quality: savagery. But the way they separated themselves from their black counterparts, was to articulate that they had evolved more. Bederman uses the example of National Geographic, which was first published in 1889 and gained popularity “by breathlessly depicting the heroic adventures of ‘civilized’ white male explorers among ‘primitive tribes in darkest Africa.” Similarly, she writes, “Anglo-Saxonist imperialists insisted that civilized white men had a racial genius for self-government which necessitated the conquest of more ‘primitive’ darker races.”

America’s new definition of masculinity was cemented during the 20th century. Though black men gained the right to vote, under Jim Crow laws, which last well into the mid-20th century, they continued to be subjugated by white men, who restrained black men’s economic possibilities and frequently portrayed them as uncontrollable rapists. From early westerns to the action films we watch today, white cis men overwhelmingly were cast as leads in the mass entertainment our culture consumes; guns became a rite and plaything of young white men in our country. And masculinity became a made-up excuse to dominate.

In his essay, Michael Ian Black writes: “I believe in boys. I believe in my son. Sometimes, though, I see him, 16 years old, swallowing his frustration, burying his worry, stomping up the stairs without telling us what’s wrong, and I want to show him what it looks like to be vulnerable and open but I can’t. Because I was a boy once, too.”

Black can’t show his son what vulnerability looks like not because he is biologically incapable of doing so. The block is one formed by habit, culture, and an American history predicated on white male domination—which produced a masculinity predicated on white male domination. Who says we have to hold onto that? It is only with the understanding that gender identification is moveable, malleable, and worth undoing that we can begin to make the boys all right.

Doonesbury — Next up.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Monday, February 26, 2018

Closing In

Peter Baker at the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — In a fiery speech to supporters on Friday, President Trump went after his vanquished opponent from 2016. “We had a crooked candidate,” he declared. The crowd responded with a signature chant from the campaign trail: “Lock her up!”

About three hours later and 10 miles to the north, Mr. Trump’s former deputy campaign chairman, who helped put him in the White House, arrived at a federal courthouse in Washington to plead guilty to being crooked and face the prospect that the authorities will now lock him up.

With each passing day, Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, seems to add another brick to the case he is building — one more indictment, one more interview, one more guilty plea. Mr. Trump and his advisers insist they are not worried because so far none of the charges implicate the president. Yet no one outside Mr. Mueller’s office knows for sure where he is heading and the flurry of recent action seems to be inexorably leading to a larger target.

“When you put that all together, the White House should be extremely worried,” said Benjamin Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare, a blog that analyzes legal issues, and a friend of James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director who was leading the Russia investigation until being fired by Mr. Trump last year. “You have to ask the question about whether there is a certain measure of self-delusion going on here.”

It looks like Mr. Mueller is directing a lot of his energy towards Paul Manafort.  By getting Rick Gates, the former deputy campaign chairman to plead guilty and turn on his former boss, that could be the ball game.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

What A Relief

Via the Washington Post:

The White House was under siege.

Domestic abuse allegations against a senior aide were ignored, pointing to a potential high-level coverup. Two Cabinet secretaries were caught charging taxpayers for luxury travel. A Playboy centerfold alleged an extramarital affair with the president. And the special counsel’s Russia investigation was intensifying. The tumult was so intense that there was fervent speculation that President Trump might fire his chief of staff.

But a gun massacre at a Florida high school last Wednesday, which left 17 dead, seemed to shift the media glare away from the Trump scandals and gave embattled aides an opportunity to re­focus on handling a crisis not of their own making. While the White House mourned the loss of life in Parkland, Fla., some aides privately acknowledged that the tragedy offered a breather from the political storm.

A tentative plan for White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly to address the news media from the briefing room Wednesday — where he would have faced intense scrutiny over his role in the mishandling of the domestic abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter — was scuttled.

One White House official said the shooting forced the White House to focus on critical and serious issues — like consoling the victims and trying to heal the nation — rather than getting bogged down in what they view as more trivial West Wing drama.

“For everyone, it was a distraction or a reprieve,” said the White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reflect internal conversations. “A lot of people here felt like it was a reprieve from seven or eight days of just getting pummeled.”

Yes, I’m sure the families of the victims and the community are glad they could provide some comfort and relief for the poor beleaguered White House.  Next time Trump gets in trouble maybe we’ll be attacked by terrorists flying planes into buildings to prop up his ratings.

Sheesh.  These are horrible people.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Blackmail Is Such An Ugly Word

How about “creative inducement”?

Via The Hill:

An update to Ivanka Trump’s financial disclosure report reveals that she and her husband, Jared Kushner, have taken on millions of dollars in additional debt over the past year, Politico reported Tuesday.

Trump’s updated disclosure form shows that Kushner appears to have tapped three different lines of credit since he began working at the White House.

The changes up the couple’s debts from a range of $19 million to $98 million to being valued at between $31 million and $155 million, according to Politico.

Trump had initially reported the debts to be at the same levels Kushner had reported in March, but revised the form in December to show higher levels on the three credit lines.

The three lines of credit added to the form are held by Kushner. He holds the Bank of America and New York Community Bank lines with his father, and one from Signature Bank with his mother.

Another revision on Trump’s form did drop the amount owed for a Visa account from a range of $100,001 to $250,000 to one of $50,001 to $100,000.

It’s unclear if the raised credit lines are linked to recent financial issues at Kushner’s family business, Kushner Companies.

A spokesperson for Kushner and Trump’s attorneys declined to comment to Politico, as did a spokeswoman for Kushner Companies.

This is the part in the episode of “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” where the guy in the dark suit, dark shirt, and white tie and wearing a pinkie ring, accompanied by his well-muscled “administrative aide,” sits down across the table in the back of a little family restaurant in Brooklyn to have a little chat with the nervous white guy from Fifth Avenue who’s up to his eyeballs in debt.  The guy in the dark suit makes a generous offer to help him get rid of all his problems if he’ll do him just one little favor.  [Cha-chung!]

Except this time it’s a little Russian tea shop in Brighton Beach and the guy in debt is the son-in-law of the president and has a provisional security clearance and would do anything to stay out of trouble as well as out of the East River.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

If You Build It

Trump rolled out his oft-promised infrastructure plan yesterday, something he’s been harping on since the campaign, at one point promising to put $1 trillion into it to restore roads, bridges, rail systems and other elements that are in terrible shape.  Oh, and it will create tons of jobs!

But as always with him there’s a catch.

The president’s plan recasts the federal government as a minority stakeholder in the nation’s new infrastructure projects. Half of the $200 billion promised over 10 years will be used for incentives to spur even greater contributions from states, localities and the private sector. Mr. Trump also wants to speed up the approval process.

In other words, he wants the states and local governments to come up with most of the money to pay for the projects and the federal government will stamp the permits as long as they benefit private enterprise.  So if Palm Beach County wants to repave the road to Mar-a-lago, hey presto, here’s your contract.  But if they want to repair the plumbing at an inner city school, well, show us the money.

In the first place, the states and local governments don’t have the money.  Thanks to legislatures in many states being taken over by Republicans who are bent on cutting taxes to buy off their corporate pals, there isn’t any money left for critical infrastructure work even if the federal government kicked in the 80% that it has been common practice to do.  And even if they had it, the incentive to rebuild a crumbling bridge in the urban areas doesn’t have the appeal of building a nice big hotel and golf course with all the fixings.  So asking the state and local governments to come up with the cash is like asking the homeless guy to pay for your limo.

Second, the idea that the federal government should chip in a large portion of the funding comes from the basic idea that this country is the united states, meaning that the taxes people pay in Omaha go to build a school in Miami and that the tolls paid by cars from Indiana and Pennsylvania on the Ohio Turnpike benefit everyone, not just the people from Ohio.

And lastly, we could probably replace every crumbling bridge, school, tunnel, and water system with the extra money he’s throwing at the Pentagon for planes and guns and ships that they themselves have said they don’t want, need, or have places to put them.  So far the hike in defensive spending has been to assure the world that Trump doesn’t have a small dick.

A Little Louder On The Dog Whistle, Please

Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, speaking to the National Sheriffs Association, praised the local sheriff as the “critical part of Anglo-American heritage of law enforcement.”

People familiar with the law were quick to point out that he was probably referring to the “common law” that we Americans inherited from the British system and that the local sheriff is an office passed down from medieval times.  Perfectly innocent.

Sure, okay.  But “Anglo-American” and “heritage” are also terms that are commonly used by white supremacists to justify their long history of oppressing minorities in the name of racial purity, and “heritage” has been heard most recently to defend the Confederate battle flag flying over town squares next to statues of Robert E. Lee.  And Mr. Sessions has a long history himself of racial insensitivity.

And it should be noted that he veered off the prepared text to insert “Anglo-American.”  It’s like the dog whistle wasn’t loud enough already.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Memo? What Memo

If you’re waiting to see when Trump will authorize the release of the Democrats’ memo in response to the Nunes fiasco, don’t bother.

Trump on Friday blocked the release of a classified Democratic memo rebutting Republican claims that top federal law enforcement officials had abused their powers in spying on a former Trump campaign aide, a move that Democrats denounced as politically motivated hypocrisy.

So the Democrats are trying to come up with enough redactions to make it pass Trumpian muster.  But it’s a fool’s errand; he never will allow it to see the light of day and all this talk about “transparency” was utter bullshit.  I honestly don’t know anyone who actually thought it ever would see the light of day.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Wednesday, February 7, 2018