Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Peak Bullshit

Charles P. Pierce on Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday and the fact that he bullshitted his way through it, ably assisted by toady Tom Cotton (bet he gives great head) and John Cornyn, who stands up for his fellow Dixian.

Democracy is helpless against this kind of contempt, especially if its primary institutions surrender to it without a fight, the way they did on Tuesday. To be plain, because of his continual assertion of an “appropriateness” privilege—which does not exist in the Constitution or the laws of this country—in order to avoid answering questions under oath, JeffBo should be residing in a holding cell right now until he changes his mind. (It’s very possible that Dan Coats and Mike Rogers should temporarily be his bunkmates, too. And the consistency of the testimony of all three men suggests a certain amount of, ah, coordination at other levels.)

You just don’t get to refuse to answer questions before a Senate committee because you don’t want to, or because you think you might get the president* in Dutch, or because you don’t like the people asking the questions. The Bartleby defense—”I would prefer not to…”—has no basis in constitutional or criminal law. There is no, as Senator Martin Heinrich put it to JeffBo, “appropriateness bucket” in which the attorney general can hide himself. Yet, there he was at the end of things, being flattered by the committee’s chairman, Richard Burr, Republican of North Carolina, for the immense sacrifice JeffBo had made in coming in and being transparently ridiculous on camera for a couple of hours.

The people who best treed JeffBo on his most preposterous bullshit—Heinrich, Kamala Harris of California, and The Mustache of Righteousness, Angus King of Maine—could only push him so far. Everybody on that committee knew that what JeffBo was selling was batter-fried nonsense. (Call me an elitist snob if you like, but whenever I hear a Southerner talking about “mah honah,” I reach for William Tecumseh Sherman’s phone number.)

Everybody on that committee knew that, when JeffBo declined to answer questions about whether James Comey was fired because of the Russia probe, he was hiding the plain truth behind a privilege that he’d made up on the spot. Everybody on that committee knew that JeffBo’s memory lapses were at best highly convenient. (He couldn’t remember meeting the Russian ambassador, but he could quote an op-ed by William Barr from almost a year ago? That dog don’t even want to hunt.) Everybody on that committee knew that you can’t refuse to answer a question because the president* might want to invoke executive privilege at some vague point in the future. But if the majority is content to look like an entire bag of tools and pretend otherwise, there’s not much the Senate can do about being obstructed in such a shameless fashion.

I would like to think that there are Republicans who have a grain of conscience and respect for sanity — or at least common sense — who listened to what Mr. Sessions said yesterday and said “Enough!”  But that ship sailed long ago, back when they had a chance to banish this band of draggle-tailed poseurs and con artists.  But no, they just had to win the election, so they sold their souls — and our country.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Monday, June 12, 2017

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Time To Go

Charles P. Pierce says go away already:

The Trump presidency is not an accident of history. Conservative politics has been moving toward something like it ever since Ronald Reagan declared that the national government was the problem. It has been enabled by a consistent trend toward civic disengagement, some of which was encouraged by ambitious men in the wake of Reagan’s success. And the genuine danger going forward is that the next ambitious American authoritarian will not be a half-bright bungler dancing on strings held by god-knows-which foreign autocrat or banker. The next one might be better at it. After all, the template has been established, and the Republican Party has demonstrated a taste for authoritarianism that history says is hard to shake. The Trump political template has to be crushed to dust so that it never rises again. Until it is, it remains a cancer on the republic that’s only in the most fragile remission.

It is time for all of them to go: Steve Bannon and his dreams of being the king of chaos, Reince Priebus and the other hapless throne-sniffers, the children with their many scams and their clearly unresolved Daddy issues—all of them. But, most of all, it is time for him to go. The anger of the marks whom he conned last November cannot be used to dodge the obligations that fall on politicians that know what their duty is, but still fail to do it. History demands a bit of courage every now and again.

Getting rid of Trump isn’t enough.  We need to root out the local politicians who laid the groundwork for him with their holier-than-thou puritanism on school boards where they can ban transgender bathrooms with impunity, rally voters with gun raffles, label immigrants as criminals while paying them in cash to mow their lawns and raise their children, and go unchallenged for re-election because the local opposition party is too busy worrying about the national election.

Trump and Trumpism didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Homegrown Jihadist

Via TPM, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA) took to Facebook to offer a suggestion for world peace.

The free world… all of Christendom… is at war with Islamic horror. Not one penny of American treasure should be granted to any nation who harbors these heathen animals. Not a single radicalized Islamic suspect should be granted any measure of quarter. Their intended entry to the American homeland should be summarily denied. Every conceivable measure should be engaged to hunt them down. Hunt them, identity them, and kill them. Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.
-Captain Clay Higgins

Yeah, why bother with due process, and all that red tape of a trial, assuming that we caught the right people in the first place?

Aside from his obvious disregard for the rule of law, Capt. Higgins (he is a former law enforcement officer of some rank) sounds a lot like the ravings of the people he’s out to destroy.  Maybe we should get them a room together and let them work this out on their own.

Monday, June 5, 2017

For Some Reason…

Last week Vice President Mike Pence chimed in on climate change:

In an interview with “Fox and Friends” Friday, a day after President Donald Trump announced he would withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change, Pence expressed bewilderment at the “long been a goal of the liberal left in this country” to advance a “climate change agenda.”

“For some reason or another, this issue of climate change has emerged as a paramount issue for the left in this country and around the world,” Pence said.

For some reason or another, a lot of people are concerned about drowning cities along the coast lines, about huge chunks of the Antarctic ice shelf breaking off into the ocean, about more severe weather in places that are already devastated, and for some reason or other they actually care what kind of world they’re going to leave for the next generations.  How weird is that?

I’m beginning to think that the reason Trump chose Mike Pence as his running mate was not just to appease the right-wing nutsery base.  It was to basically guarantee that if for some reason he was threatened with removal from office by impeachment or Amendment XXV, the promotion of Mike Pence to the presidency would be so unpalatable as to make it unlikely.  (He wouldn’t be the first to do that: vide Eisenhower and Nixon, Nixon and Agnew, Bush I and Quayle, Bush II and Cheney.  I really doubt that any of them thought about what would happen if they died.)  I am very sure that figured into the equation.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Muslim Ban Body Slam

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Short Takes

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

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

Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenas more documents from Flynn.

Fox News retracts nut-job Clinton conspiracy story.

Trump budget breaks 7 campaign promises.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Even The Russians Aren’t Buying His Budget Bullshit

The budget proposal put out by Trump is so fraught with lies, wishful thinking, and cuts to entitlement programs (which many fervent Trump supporters depend on) that even a Russian media outlet isn’t buying it.

So it has come to this: A Russian government-funded propaganda outfit schooling the Trump administration on the cruelty of its proposed federal budget.

Mick Mulvaney, President Trump’s budget director, unveiled Trump’s ghastly 2018 budget proposal Monday afternoon in the White House briefing room, and one point of pride was that it proposed that the child-care tax credit and the earned-income tax credit — benefits for working families — be denied to illegal immigrants. “It’s not right when you look at it from the perspective of people who pay the taxes,” Mulvaney declared.

But Andrew Feinberg, a reporter with Russia’s Sputnik news outfit, pointed out that many of the children who would be cut off under Trump’s proposal are U.S. citizens. “Whether they’re here illegally or not,” Feinberg noted, “those families have American-citizen children.”

Mulvaney, who probably didn’t know he was being interrogated by Sputnik, argued back, saying that Feinberg wasn’t duly considering taxpayers and that “we have all kinds of other programs” for poor kids.

At this, another reporter in the room interjected: “You’re cutting that, too.”

[…]

The budget claims it balances the budget over a decade without touching Social Security and Medicare, while spending more on national security, the border, infrastructure and more.

How? The budget would eviscerate aid to the poor, and it makes preposterous assumptions about future growth. In other words — a cruelty wrapped in a lie. Mulvaney on Monday acknowledged it’s a “fair point” that Congress will ignore the proposal. But this outrage deserves attention.

Trump, who once vowed “no cuts” to Medicaid, would now cut Medicaid by more than $800 billion, denying support to 10 million people. He lops a total of $1.7 trillion off that and similar programs, including food stamps, school lunches and Habitat for Humanity.

Like all White House budget proposals, this one will never become law.  But it does tell us what they’re thinking, and that is that the poor and the sick have no place in our society if they’re not productive.  Even the Russians aren’t buying that cruelty.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Reading

Ford Had a Better Idea — Matthew Rozsa in Salon on the differences between Gerald Ford and Mike Pence.

As Democrats focus more and more on the possibility that President Donald Trump has committed impeachable offenses, many are also asking whether they should place the spotlight on Vice President Mike Pence. After all, Pence has so far joined the rest of the Trump administration in defending the president despite the numerous scandals that swirl around him and continue to get worse. Wouldn’t that undermine his credibility if Trump was forced to resign in disgrace and Pence became the 46th president of the United States?

I am reminded of an anecdote by the only other vice president to find himself in this position, Gerald Ford.

Like Pence, Ford was heavily criticized for his public defenses of President Richard Nixon at a time when the walls of the Watergate scandal were starting to close in. Yet when Ford slipped up and told a reporter that he believed Nixon would have to resign but he didn’t want anyone thinking he (Ford) had contributed to that resignation, he immediately panicked and realized that he had to keep a lid on his moment of unintentional candor.

This is as good a place as any to examine the similarities and differences between Ford and Pence. Both men are Midwesterners (Ford from Michigan, Pence from Indiana) with extensive political experience and a reputation for being cool-headed and affable. Each one is definitely “establishment” in terms of their standing within the institutional Republican Party itself, and both have avoided developing too many deep personal enmities despite their extensive political careers.

On the other hand, Ford was an ideological moderate (arguably the last GOP president deserving of the term), while Pence was the most right-wing vice presidential nominee in 40 years when Trump picked him. Ford had a squeaky clean reputation, while Pence has a major corruption scandal in his own past and owes his very selection as Trump’s vice president to the intervention of former campaign manager Paul Manafort, who has since been disgraced (Ford didn’t even become Nixon’s vice president until Nixon’s initial vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned).

All of this means that, while Ford was well-poised to heal the nation upon inheriting power in 1974 (and his approval ratings were quite high until his controversial decision to pardon Nixon), Pence would likely face more of an uphill battle.

While I have no idea whether Pence, like Ford, believes that his boss is doomed, I suspect that he shares Ford’s trepidation about being perceived as adding fuel to the fire of the president’s scandals. The reason is obvious: He’d be the major beneficiary if Trump left the Oval Office.

Is Pence in the right for doing this? Maybe.

While it’s valuable to not be viewed as a Machiavellian schemer, Pence risks swinging too far in the other direction and being perceived as part of the same set of problems that are being created by Trump and Trumpism. If Trump needs to resign, Americans will have to turn to Pence to restore faith in the American government. That will not be possible if Pence is viewed as an extension of the corruption that took down Trump, rather than an antidote to it.

When it comes to avoiding that outcome, Pence may be running out of time. Although he has not been personally implicated in any of Trump’s scandals, a point is being reached in which continuing to lie on behalf of this president will seem not only willfully obtuse, but downright complicit. One of the reasons Ford was such a great president (an opinion that many historians do not share) is that he was able to set a good example with his personal character. Trump, by contrast, is a president whose personal character is appalling, regardless of whether one believes he engaged in criminal activity — you don’t have to think he committed sexual assault to be disgusted by his willingness to brag about it, or to think he means what he tweets to think his incessant online sniping is beneath the dignity of his office.

The president is supposed to do more than craft policy. He or she is also supposed to be a role model, someone that we can say embodies the basic decency that we expect from every American citizen. Ford had that quality, even when he was trying to publicly avoid believing the worst about Nixon.

If Pence has that same characteristic, he needs to start showing it — and soon.

How Roger Ailes Degraded America — Stephen Metcalf in The New Yorker.

What surprised me most about Gabriel Sherman’s excellent 2014 biography of Roger Ailes—who died on Thursday, at seventy-seven—was how much of Ailes’s upbringing was a gift of America’s postwar social contract. He was born in 1940 and raised in Warren, Ohio, a town with a beautiful post office, adorned with W.P.A. murals, that was built by the New Deal. His father was a union worker in the nearby Packard Electric plant, and retired with a pension. Ailes idealized growing up in Warren; he thought of it as the real America, which had been degraded by the eggheads and the snobs. When he created his own production company, in 1990, it was named after his childhood street.

He was a hemophiliac, and as a boy often stayed home from school. He grew up a loner, absorbing hours of daytime programming and, in the evenings, sometimes, beatings from his father. The portrait Sherman draws of Ailes’s father is of a man who felt thwarted by the very things that made and sustained him: marriage, a labor union, suburbia. Unable to see the glory in any of it, he took to abusing those around him who couldn’t defend themselves. (A court later found him guilty of “extreme cruelty” to his wife.) Once, when Roger was small, his father told him to jump off a top bunk into his arms; his father let him crash to the floor and said, “Don’t ever trust anybody.” (As Jill Lepore notes in her review of the Sherman biography for this magazine, a man who worked with Ailes in the nineteen-seventies called this Ailes’s “Rosebud story.”)

Having been a student of both his father’s mood swings and televisual technique, Ailes, unsurprisingly, became, in Sherman’s words, a “big fan” of Leni Riefenstahl. At virtually every point that television played a role in degrading American life, Ailes was there: the repackaging of Nixon, the destruction of Michael Dukakis, the hyping of the Lewinsky scandal and the Iraq War, and on and on. He was less a right-winger or believer in family values than a hustler and an opportunist, and, from the evidence Sherman assembles, a badly damaged human being. But he was a consummate talent. You’d have to be to turn Nixon into a likable man, or Dukakis, with his easygoing manner and charming immigrant backstory, into a race traitor and backstabbing Fifth Columnist.

The outsized profits that Ailes created for Fox came from doing something he instinctively understood: simultaneously alarming and comforting people who were home alone watching television. To justify himself to himself, he had to believe that “real” journalism, with its supposed canons of “objectivity,” was dishonest, self-serving, slanted. All he was doing was issuing corrective after corrective to a world vilely corrupted by liberalism. But this was less partisan politics than the strategic use of misanthropy to hide from one’s own self-hatred—or at least that is the overwhelming impression given by Sherman’s book.

Prior to cable, television news had been regulated by the standards of William Paley, the founder of CBS, and by the fact-finding probity of his first breakout star, Edward R. Murrow. It was this legacy that Ailes set out to destroy. Television produces simultaneity but at a great distance; intimacy but—at low levels and at all times—feelings of alienation. The genius of Paley, as expressed by Murrow to Walter Cronkite, was putting forth figures that soothed the alienated response, allayed and minimized it, in favor of an elevated idea of both the country and the medium. The genius of Roger Ailes is that he intensified and played upon that alienation, and then, as it shaded into paranoia, channelled it against his enemies, or anyone who dared tell him that his childhood was a lie.

But perhaps it was. Throughout his childhood, Ailes was told that his paternal grandfather had been killed in combat in the First World War. In fact, as he discovered only later in life, his father’s father was living a few towns over during Ailes’s childhood and was a “a respected public health official with a Harvard degree.” Ailes’s father was the son of a proper Wilsonian, an accomplished and credentialed public servant.

There was a time in my life when, every so often, I would watch Fox News for hours at a time. My wife and I used to fly through Atlanta and into the rural airport in Dothan, Alabama, to visit her grandparents. If her grandparents were religious, they kept it quiet. There was no Jesus in that house, no Bible, no devotional materials of any kind, no crucifixes or homiletic asides, nothing. The absence was explained once, cursorily, by the story of how Grandaddy, at the age of ten, had been forced to go to church wearing shorts. He hated wearing shorts, and never went to church again. He had been a cook in the Navy, and was the kind of quiet man who refused his shore leave. When he retired, he promised himself he would never cook again, and never leave his cattle farm.

He would wake up early and work outside before the heat descended, then recline on his sofa and watch soap operas. He gardened, he whittled, he pastured cows, and he almost never spoke. After the soap operas, he would turn on Fox News. Every year, the television got a little louder. It was on these annual visits that I came to understand that Fox News, for all its outrageous excesses, is a low-level inflammation-delivery system, the real effects of which are felt only over time.

The day my wife was born, her grandfather bought a cow in her name, and used the money from selling its calves to put her through college. He once said, with a conviction so total I have never forgotten it, that he didn’t mind the Wall Street bankers and their bonuses because “they don’t have anything I want.” Deep into his eighties, his convictions seemed to shift in both direction and ferocity. He believed that the subprime crisis involved only public housing, the malfeasance of the government, and unqualified minority borrowers. Only in retrospect did I align a growing coldness in his manner toward us with the milestones of Ailes’s later career: the launching of Fox News, in 1996; its deepening paranoia during the Obama years. I saw up close how Roger Ailes implanted beliefs in people that were beneath their good character.

I would distill Ailes’s genius down to the following formula: There is a person at a great distance from you who, simply by existing, insults your existence; therefore, that person does not have a right to exist. Ailes did more to degrade the tone of public life in America than anyone since Joseph McCarthy, and, even the day after his death, it is a struggle to write about him without borrowing from that tone.

The Rituals of Spring — Leonard Pitts, Jr. in the Miami Herald.

I’ve been meaning to write this column for years.

The inspiration will invariably come some warm May evening as I am standing in the lobby of a downtown hotel and, suddenly, a limousine sweeps up and disgorges these boys in crisp tuxes, these girls in sparkly dresses, T-shirts and hoodies abandoned for the night, looking handsome and gorgeous and startlingly adult as they seek the ballroom where the prom is being held.

Or the inspiration will arrive on a June afternoon as I am passing a chapel where some poor photographer is wrangling children, flower girls and ring bearers much more interested in frolicking on the grass than in posing for posterity, as groomsmen and bridesmaids arrange themselves just so while the newly minted Mr. and Mrs. beam, having just vowed to face together whatever comes.

Or, the inspiration will show up as it did a few days ago when I served as commencement speaker for Willamette University. The stately strains of “Pomp and Circumstance” rang in the damp Oregon air, then bagpipers played and cheers rose as a procession of black-robed young people made their way forward to meet a moment many years and tears in the making. And I heard a familiar whisper.

It said, You really ought to write a piece celebrating the rituals of spring.

I’ve toyed with the idea many times. But invariably, the notion of some such languid meditation is burned away in the fire of more urgent news.

It almost happened again this year. Lord knows there is no shortage of urgent news. Did you hear about the president blabbing classified intel to the Russians? Did you see where he apparently asked the FBI director to back off an investigation? Did you know about the appointment of a special prosecutor?

The guy who promised to “drain the swamp” is snorkeling in it. The president — and, thus, the country — lurch from crisis to crisis like a drunk on the deck of a ship in high seas, and there is a queasy sense of America unraveling.

What are a prom, a wedding, a graduation against all that? These are not special things. These things happen all the time.

But that, of course, is precisely what makes them special. These things happen all the time.

Or, more to the point, they have happened, always. In the years when men went to war wearing pie pan helmets, during the gin and jazz of the ’20s, the brother, can you spare a dime of the ’30s, in the blood and sacrifice of the ’40s and the rock, riot and political murder of the ’60s, through gas lines, Max Headroom, and the meaning of is, through upheaval, change, and all the unravelings that have come before, certain things have always happened.

Fumbling fingers have always pinned corsages to girl’s dresses. Nervous couples have always pledged themselves one to the other. “Pomp and Circumstance” has always heralded the graduates.

I think that’s why, when you witness spring’s rituals, you almost always smile. Who can help smiling as some girl goes tottering on skyscraper heels into her prom or some graduate pumps his fist as he crosses the stage?

You smile, remembering. You smile because these are signs of continuity. You smile because they are acts of faith.

Yes, the president lurches. Yes, one feels an unraveling.

But the bride stands beneath the garland clutching her bouquet, as brides always have, the students move the tassel from right to left as students ever will. There is renewal in these rituals of spring. They allow you to remember that even now, some things are still good.

And to believe they always will be.

 Doonesbury — Niche market.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Thursday, May 18, 2017

No Kidding: “Putin Pays Trump”

Via the Washington Post, we get to eavesdrop on what the GOP leadership really thought about the relationship between Trump and Putin almost a year ago.

A month before Donald Trump clinched the Republican nomination, one of his closest allies in Congress — House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy — made a politically explosive assertion in a private conversation on Capitol Hill with his fellow GOP leaders: that Trump could be the beneficiary of payments from Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” McCarthy (R-Calif.) said, according to a recording of the June 15, 2016, exchange, which was listened to and verified by The Washington Post. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is a Californian Republican known in Congress as a fervent defender of Putin and Russia.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) immediately interjected, stopping the conversation from further exploring McCarthy’s assertion, and swore the Republicans present to secrecy.

Before the conversation, McCarthy and Ryan had emerged from separate talks at the Capitol with Ukrainian Prime Minister Vladi­mir Groysman, who had described a Kremlin tactic of financing populist politicians to undercut Eastern European democratic institutions.

News had just broken the day before in The Washington Post that Russian government hackers had penetrated the computer network of the Democratic National Committee, prompting McCarthy to shift the conversation from Russian meddling in Europe to events closer to home.

Some of the lawmakers laughed at McCarthy’s comment. Then McCarthy quickly added: “Swear to God.”

Ryan instructed his Republican lieutenants to keep the conversation private, saying: “No leaks. . . . This is how we know we’re a real family here.”

When the Post asked Speaker Ryan’s office for a comment on the story, at first they denied it.  Then they were shown a transcript, which they said was made up.  Then the audio recording of the conversation was played.

When initially asked to comment on the exchange, Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Ryan, said: “That never happened,” and Matt Sparks, a spokesman for McCarthy, said: “The idea that McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false.”

After being told that The Post would cite a recording of the exchange, Buck, speaking for the GOP House leadership, said: “This entire year-old exchange was clearly an attempt at humor. No one believed the majority leader was seriously asserting that Donald Trump or any of our members were being paid by the Russians. What’s more, the speaker and leadership team have repeatedly spoken out against Russia’s interference in our election, and the House continues to investigate that activity.”

“This was a failed attempt at humor,” Sparks said.

Yeah, so funny I forgot to laugh.

Rep. McCarthy is well-known for shooting off his mouth.  After former Speaker John Boehner (remember him?) resigned in the fall of 2015, there was talk of making Mr. McCarthy the Speaker of the House.  But he went on live TV and told the world that the House panel on Benghazi was specifically tasked with taking out Hillary Clinton; she was “untrustable,” which is exactly what the GOP planned to do as long as nobody actually admitted it.  But Mr. McCarthy couldn’t restrain himself.

So it’s no surprise that he would be caught on tape talking about Trump and Putin and Paul Ryan had to shut him up.

In the larger context, even if Mr. McCarthy was joking, the rest of the GOP had to know that even the illusion of collusion between Trump and Putin was already making itself known.  A year ago the press was already sniffing around Paul Manafort’s connection with the pro-Putin forces in Ukraine, and it was only after it was made glaringly obvious he was on the take from the Russians that he left the campaign.  And now we have the staff meeting of the Trump-Putin alliance in the Oval Office last week.

I’m old enough to remember that time when even a hint of a Russian influence in American politics was the kiss of death.  Now it’s an endorsement.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Those Damned Smoke Alarms

A Republican senator offers his version of blaming the smoke detectors for waking him up when his house catches on fire.

During a discussion of recent revelations surrounding the White House, Sen. Jim Risch (R-ID) made it clear Tuesday that he thought the only clear criminals so far in the Trump administration was the “weasel” who leaked information to the press about Trump’s recent meeting with Russian diplomats, and other leakers.

[…]

“Now, someone committed a crime here,” he said. “There is a weasel. And that person is the person who got a hold of the information that happened in that meeting between the President and the foreign minister of Russia. And that was classified information that this person got a hold of and they leaked it to the New York Times. That’s a felony. It is un-American. They endangered the lives of their families and other Americans. That person is guilty of treason and should be held to answer for it.”

I wonder if this guy is trying to weasel his way in to be considered for a job in the White House.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Voting Rights Are A Commie Plot

Trump appointed a commission to look into allegations of voter fraud.  He named one of the most notorious opponents of voting rights to co-chair the commission:

Via Booman:

On paper, Kris Kobach is the kind of guy you’d like to marry your daughter. An Eagle Scout who graduated summa cum laude and first in his department at Harvard, went on to get M.A. and Ph.D. in Politics from Oxford and a law degree from Yale, Kobuch also did missionary work in Uganda, clerked for a federal judge, and obtained a White House Fellowship to work for the Attorney General of the United States.

On the other hand, the Minority Leader of the Kansas Senate Anthony Hensley once stated that Kobach is “the most racist politician in America today,” and with plenty of justification. Kobuch is the brains behind both Arizona SB 1070 and Alabama HB56, the two most notorious anti-immigrant bills to be produced in this country in recent decades. He’s the country’s most famous proponent of bogus voter fraud theories and has boasted of successful efforts to suppress the minority vote both during his time as chairman of the Kansas Republican Party and as Kansas’s Secretary of State.

He’s also a classic John Bircher-style nutcase who has referred to both the American Civil Liberties Union and the League of Women Voters as “communists.”

Well, to look on the bright side, Trump once considered appointing him as Attorney General (but settled on Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, preferring to go with an old-style racist rather than a Gen X’er).  So I suppose we can count our blessings that this nutjob isn’t running the Department of Justice.

There is no evidence of “massive voter fraud” in America.  The Republicans like to say there is by confusing the public into believing that voter registration, which by its very nature is inherently inaccurate — people die, people move, people change their names when they get married — is the same thing as people actually going into a polling place and pretending to be someone they are not.

This task force is just another thinly-veiled attempt by Trump and the Republicans to suppress voting by minorities who overwhelmingly register as Democrats.  This is part of the GOP philosophy that if you can’t win an election based on the merits of your candidates and platform, you have to cheat.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Annals of Irony Part Infinity

Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on repealing Obamacare and how the public might react to losing subsidies:

The public wants every dime they can be given. Let’s face it, once you get them on the dole, they’ll take every dime they can.

This from a man who has been collecting a taxpayer-funded paycheck and government-subsidized health insurance for forty years.

Along with dancing and being gay, the Mormons have outlawed irony.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Texas Barbecue

Charles P. Pierce on how Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. John Cornyn, both of Texas, were fried, dried, and laid to the side by Sally Yates.

It is not often that you see one woman demolish a state’s entire delegation to the United States Senate, but Sally Yates did the Republic a great service on Monday afternoon by demonstrating that Texas has sent to Washington a remarkable pair of deuces. First, she slapped John Cornyn silly as regards her refusal to enforce the president*’s original travel ban, the issue over which she’d been fired. He pronounced himself disappointed, and she handed him his head. Via The Washington Post:

CORNYN: Well, Ms. Yates, you had a distinguished career for 27 years at the Department of Justice and I voted for your confirmation because I believed that you had a distinguished career. But I have to tell you that I find it enormously disappointing that you somehow vetoed the decision of the Office of Legal Counsel with regard to the lawfulness of the president’s order and decided instead that you would counter man (ph) the executive order of the president of the United States because you happen to disagree with it as a policy matter.

YATES: Well, it was…

CORNYN: I just have to say that.

YATES: I appreciate that, Senator, and let me make one thing clear. It is not purely as a policy matter. In fact, I’ll remember my confirmation hearing. In an exchange that I had with you and others of your colleagues where you specifically asked me in that hearing that if the president asked me to do something that was unlawful or unconstitutional and one of your colleagues said or even just that would reflect poorly on the Department of Justice, would I say no? And I looked at this, I made a determination that I believed that it was unlawful. I also thought that it was inconsistent with principles of the Department of Justice and I said no. And that’s what I promised you I would do and that’s what I did.

That was merely the appetizer. Yates, in her calm and judicious way, proceeded to make the entrée Tailgunner Ted Cruz, who started out in his customary cloud of oily arrogance and ended up being sautéed by the nice lady with the backbone of steel.

CRUZ: Well, are you familiar with 8 USC Section 1182?

YATES: Not off the top of my head, no.

CRUZ: Well, it — it — it is the binding statutory authority for the executive order that you refused to implement, and that led to your termination. So it — it certainly is a relevant and not a terribly obscure statute.By the express text of the statute, it says, quote, “whenever the president finds that entry of any alien or of any class of aliens into the United States would be detrimental to the interest of the United States, he may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or non-immigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem appropriate.” Would you agree that is broad statutory authorization?

YATES: I would, and I am familiar with that. And I’m also familiar with an additional provision of the INA that says no person shall receive preference or be discriminated against an issuance of a visa because of race, nationality or place of birth, that I believe was promulgated after the statute that you just quoted. And that’s been part of the discussion with the courts, with respect to the INA, is whether this more specific statute trumps the first one that you just described. But my concern was not an INA concern here. It, rather, was a constitutional concern, whether or not this — the executive order here violated the Constitution, specifically with the establishment clause and equal protection and due process.

If you don’t think that, in addition to unbounded joy among Democrats, there were at least a few indiscreet high-fives in other Republican senatorial offices, you have no idea how utterly friendless a lizard Ted Cruz really is. There are a number of things I learned from Monday’s hearing and first among them is that I want to live out my life without ever being prosecuted by Sally Yates.

(The only Republican who carried no water for the White House was young Ben Sasse of Nebraska. This is a tip for you folks out there making winter book on 2020.)

Other than that, and sweeping away all the underbrush thrown down by the Republican members of the committee—Cruz even found time to ask about Emailzzzzzz(!)—what we learned is that Michael Flynn is pretty much a hooked fish. Yates made it clear that her visit to the White House was not the “heads-up” that Sean Spicer tried to fob it off. She told them Flynn was compromised and it took them 18 days to fire him.

“To state the obvious, you don’t want your national security advisor compromised with the Russians. You don’t want the Russians to have leverage over the national security advisor.”

But, to me, the most piquant part of Yates’ testimony was her account of the reaction of the White House counsel when she told him that what Flynn had told Vice President Mike Pence about Flynn’s Russian contacts was untrue and that Pence had transmitted these untruths to the public at large. The question fully encompasses the unique ethical wasteland into which our republic has wandered.

Why, they asked her, was the Department of Justice concerned that one member of an administration lied to another?

And somewhere in the dusk, John Dean hears the strange familiar call of a raven from his past.

I can’t top that, but I am still willing to bet all the change in my pocket that Ted Cruz is planning to primary Trump in 2020.