Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Monday, October 9, 2017

Stagecraft vs. Statecraft

The Trump administration went to great taxpayer expense yesterday to alienate an awful lot of people and demonstrate that yes, they truly do disrespect the opinions of several million people while at the same time dividing the country.

Trump reignited his feud with the N.F.L. on Sunday by telling Vice President Mike Pence to walk out of a game in his home state of Indiana after nearly two dozen players from the visiting San Francisco 49ers knelt during the playing of the national anthem.

Mr. Pence lavishly documented his early departure in a series of tweets and an official statement issued by his office. On Twitter, he declared, “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem.”

While the vice president portrayed his decision as a gesture of patriotic principle, it had the distinct appearance of a well-planned, if costly, political stunt. He doubled back from a trip to the West Coast to take a seat in the stands in Indianapolis, where the 49ers — the team most associated with the N.F.L. protest movement against racial injustice — were suiting up to play the Colts.

Shortly after Mr. Pence issued his statement, Mr. Trump said on Twitter, “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country. I am proud of him and @SecondLady Karen.”

For Mr. Trump, the vice president’s walkout keeps alive a dispute that has proved popular with his political base, even if he has drawn criticism from the N.F.L. and some of its owners for being divisive and politicizing professional sports. On Sunday, a spokesman for the N.F.L., Joe Lockhart, declined to comment on Mr. Pence’s statement.

While politicians from both parties concoct situations for political gain, some criticized Mr. Pence’s walkout as transparently premeditated. The vice president did not take a pool reporter traveling with him into the stadium; a member of Mr. Pence’s staff told the reporter, Vaughn Hillyard, that the vice president might be leaving the game early.

“Manipulation of faux patriotism took new turn today with VP Pence. Preplanned early exit from Colts game after 49ers kneeled, then tweets,” Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote on Twitter.

Others pointed out the expense involved: Mr. Pence flew to Indianapolis from Las Vegas, where he had attended a memorial service for victims of last Sunday’s mass shooting, and was immediately flying back to Los Angeles.

“After all the scandals involving unnecessarily expensive travel by cabinet secretaries, how much taxpayer money was wasted on this stunt?” Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, said in a tweet.

There was little doubt, given the presence of the 49ers, that Mr. Pence would be given an opportunity to make his political statement. The former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began the dispute over the national anthem last year by taking a knee to highlight the plight of black Americans, particularly the killing of black men by police officers.

Mr. Kaepernick left the 49ers in March and has not been signed by any other team — a situation seen by many as a blacklisting by other team owners. But other 49ers have continued the protest in a show of solidarity with their former teammate.

In America — at least the country that I believe in — no one dictates to anyone else how to show patriotism, be it a salute to a flag or the recitation of a pledge, and certainly not with a stunt that was deliberately staged to inflame the issue.

A grown-up and inclusive administration would have worked to find out what could be done to bring people together and to understand the grievance.  Someone who understands statecraft would have said that while they may not agree with the act, they have every right to show their true feelings.  Or, best of all, they would have said absolutely nothing in public to make the situation worse.

But that’s not the America Trump and his puppet Pence believe in.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Sunday Reading

Sweet Home Alabama — Ryan Lizza on how Trump lost in Alabama but is still winning the GOP civil war.

To understand the political tsunami set off by the Alabama Senate primary on Tuesday, when Roy Moore, an anti-gay Christian fundamentalist who believes that Biblical law should supersede the Constitution, won the Republican nomination* for a Senate seat in a runoff election, consider the case of Senator Bob Corker.

Corker is a two-term Republican from Tennessee. He is up for reëlection next year, and has already raised six and a half million dollars. He’s only sixty-five years old, which is young in the geriatric U.S. Senate. He has one of the most coveted committee assignments in Congress: chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, which, aside from making him one of the most influential voices on foreign policy, is also a perch that makes raising campaign funds enormously easy. Corker won his 2012 campaign by thirty-five points. Trump won the state last year by twenty-six points. In short, Corker is a senator at his professional peak.

And yet on Tuesday, the day that Moore defeated Luther Strange, the incumbent senator who was appointed to the job when Jeff Sessions left to become Attorney General, Corker announced that he was retiring. “When I ran for the Senate in 2006, I told people that I couldn’t imagine serving for more than two terms,” he said in a statement. “Understandably, as we have gained influence, that decision has become more difficult. But I have always been drawn to the citizen legislator model, and while I realize it is not for everyone, I believe with the kind of service I provide, it is the right one for me.”

Nobody really believed him. Corker, after Strange, seems to have been the second Senate casualty of this latest phase of the G.O.P. civil war. Even though there was no heavyweight Republican lined up to challenge him in a primary, Corker decided that the environment was too toxic. “That guy did not want to go through the house of pain,” a Republican who worked on the Moore race said. “He did not want to go through what Luther Strange went through.”

Expect a lot more Republican casualties, especially in the Senate.

While it’s dicey to read too much into one state’s special-election primary, there are a number of lessons from Alabama. The first is about Trump, who endorsed Strange even though his most solid supporters in the state rallied around Moore, a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court who was twice booted off the court for disobeying the law—once, in 2003, for refusing to remove a monument of the Ten Commandments, and again, in 2016, for directing the state’s judges to maintain a ban on same-sex marriage. The idea of having Roy Moore in the United States Senate was terrifying to Washington Republicans, and Mitch McConnell and others convinced Trump to back his opponents, first in an open primary and then in this week’s runoff.

Naturally, the race was billed as a test of Trump’s ability to persuade his own base. It didn’t work. The Republican consulting firm Firehouse Strategies, in a memo to clients, noted that there was no correlation between knowledge of Trump’s endorsement and support for Strange. In mid-May, sixty-four per cent of Alabama Republicans knew about Trump favoring Strange. By primary day, this week, eighty per cent knew about it. Over the same period, G.O.P. voter support for Strange didn’t budge. The firm’s takeaway for its Republican clients is that, “while Trump may be good at translating his supporters’ sentiments, he is unable to persuade them.”

Another memo, obtained by the Times, puts the lessons for the Republican Party over all in starker terms. Since 2010, the year that the Tea Party insurgency began rocking the G.O.P. establishment, the ability of incumbents in Washington to tame its right wing has ebbed and flowed. In 2010 and 2012, several subpar candidates making outlandish statements won Senate primaries, and probably cost the Republican Party control of the Senate. The Party regrouped and snuffed out similar unelectable challengers in 2014, when it won control of the Senate, and in 2016. But the post-2016 period has ushered in a new wave of insurrection.

“This year’s Alabama Senate special election shows that the 2014-16 playbook for winning Republican primaries needs to be recalibrated and improved” was the conclusion of the memo’s author, Steve Law, the head of the Senate Leadership Fund, which is essentially Mitch McConnell’s funding vehicle to protect his mainstream Republican Senate majority from being overtaken by the Trumpist right. Law argued that Republican voters were “still angry,” and that McConnell’s inability to get much done, especially the repeal of Obamacare, was “political poison” in the race.

Most interesting, the lesson for the G.O.P. establishment is that it has lost control of the Republican Party. Law writes that, in the minds of Republican voters, Obama, previously the face of the opposition, has been replaced by Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. “Opposition to Obama used to be a mainstay of Republican messaging,” he wrote. “In Alabama, Strange’s litigation against Obama’s executive actions would have been political gold a year ago. But with Obama out of the picture, our polling found the issue to be a middling vote-getter. Now the answer to what is wrong in Washington is the Republican Congress.”

Law, contrary to some others, sees Trump’s inability to translate his support to Strange as inconsequential, arguing that the Party’s base is now defined by its reverence for Trump. “No other person, group or issue has the gravitational pull on Republican primary voters that Donald Trump commands,” he notes, adding that “support for President Trump directly correlates with likelihood to vote.” Republicans, he says, are more likely to see themselves as Trump supporters than as Republican Party supporters. The single most fatal line of attack in a Republican primary, he suggests, is evidence that a candidate has been critical of Trump. It’s worth noting that, last month, Corker told local reporters in Tennessee, “The President has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful”—remarks that Trump then attacked on Twitter.

Steve Bannon, Trump’s former political strategist, who backed Moore, is now plotting an expansive campaign to recruit challengers to Republican Senate incumbents, and is targeting some dozen races next year. Despite carrying the banner of nationalism and populism, Bannon is ideologically flexible. His first criterion for candidates is authenticity. (He obviously cared little about Moore’s anti-gay views.) But Bannon’s most important priority is the current G.O.P. leadership. When he was in the White House, Bannon believed that McConnell stymied Trump’s agenda and that, especially in the Senate, there was no constituency for the nationalist cause. So Bannon and his allies have made a decision about next year’s midterms: they will not back any candidate who agrees to support McConnell as Majority Leader.

The Next Challenge for Puerto Rico — Gillian B. White in The Atlantic.

The depth of the crisis in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria is apparent from the island’s obliterated roads, downed power lines, tainted water, and nonexistent cell service. Grief and dismay over the widespread destruction has led to calls for aid and assistance for the ravaged island, but long after the shock fades, the staggering task of rebuilding the island will remain.

That’s a challenge made markedly more difficult by the poverty of the island’s people and its government—it’s not clear where the necessary money will come from. The crisis makes clear the uncomfortable tension inherent in the island’s status as a commonwealth; Puerto Rican officials have no Congressional power when it comes to making decisions about their own survival during such a dangerous time, and the U.S. government has repeatedly declined to do anything that would change that. So, once the U.S. citizens who populate the island are given relief for their most immediate problems—as they very likely will be—the biggest worry is that the territory will be left to flounder, given enough money to restore basic necessities but not enough to set the island on course in the long run.

Managing the immediate humanitarian crisis is the first large recovery expense. In the aftermath of the storm, all of the island’s 3.4 million residents were left without power, communication on the island was severely hampered after the storm destroyed cell towers, and many were left without clean drinking water. Addressing those critical problems is made more difficult and more expensive by geography, says Steven Kyle, a professor at Cornell who studies economic development. One example, Kyle says, is that many of the workers who will help to repair and rebuild the electrical grid can’t just drive down to the disaster site with their equipment, the way they might be able to in Texas. Instead, they will need to be flown in, with some equipment shipped—which will bring up the cost of even the most basic repairs. “All those things could be dealt with if [the government] wanted to,” Kyle adds. “But I don’t think Puerto Rico’s at the top of their list in Washington.”The economic lift of managing Puerto Rico’s recovery is hard to overstate. For context, the cost of making repairs in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which inflicted most of its damage on Texas and Louisiana, is estimated to be somewhere between $70 billion and $180 billion. IHS, a research and analytics firm, estimates the cost of rebuilding from Maria to be between $40 billion and $80 billion in Puerto Rico. But that’s a very early estimate, and damage to the island continues to unfold. And while Harvey’s damage might amount to more in dollars, the devastation of Hurricane Maria was concentrated in Puerto Rico, which had already sustained at least $1 billion worth of damage during Hurricane Irma. That means that Maria likely inflicted far more damage per capita.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello has said that he’s asking the Treasury Department and the federal government for loans to help in the cleanup and rebuilding efforts. He emphasized that he expects “equal treatment” and “reasonable rates” when it comes to those loans. And whether or not those terms are met will be a critical factor in the island’s future.The federal government has taken measures to meet some of Puerto Rico’s most immediate financial necessities. The president has declared the island a “major disaster” area, which makes it eligible for much-needed FEMA funds. On Thursday, after appeals by politicians, the government moved to suspend the Jones Act—a requirement that goods shipped between U.S. ports are carried by U.S.-flagged and -staffed ships—which critics said was making relief slower and more costly (but proponents said helps keep American sailors safe). And then there’s the possibility of a disaster-relief bill, such as the one that followed Hurricane Harvey, though it’s not clear yet about how large that relief package might be.

Still, the Trump administration continues to draw criticism for its response to Hurricane Maria, which many have said has been slow and inadequate. The president has yet to visit Puerto Rico, though he recently planned a trip for next Tuesday. And his tweets about the success of relief efforts stand in contrast to photos and reports of devastation and desperation on the island, where many have been without power, water, and necessities for upwards of a week. More than that, many of the efforts made by the administration have come only after activists, politicians, and concerned families have spent days imploring the federal government to provide more help.

In the longer term, there are numerous difficulties when it comes to rebuilding an island that was already struggling economically before the storm. How the federal government and the creditors Puerto Rico was already indebted to choose to deal with that rebuilding effort will determine whether the island will have a good chance of improving its economy going forward.Even before Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island’s critical infrastructure, Puerto Rico was facing $70 billion of municipal debt that it was unable to repay. And despite Congress’s passage of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) in July of last year, the island’s economic future remained fragile and uncertain. As recently as this summer, the territory’s electric utility, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), filed for bankruptcy to escape billions of dollars of debt it said it couldn’t repay. Now, months later, PREPA, the island’s only marginally functional utility, has essentially been destroyed, and is still deeply in debt.

While PROMESA helped to stave off Puerto Rico’s most immediate fiscal crises, it installed a board of mostly outsiders who get to determine the best course of action for the island. And the act does little in the way of making plans to fundamentally fix the commonwealth’s broken economy or to prevent the current economic crisis from repeating itself in the future.

Indeed, some of the most promising long-term solutions for how to fix critical infrastructure in Puerto Rico require a significant initial investment. Anamitra Pal, an engineering professor at Arizona State University who specializes in power and energy systems says that, though devastating, a destroyed power grid is an opportunity to rebuild a system that’s more dependable. Pal says that in rebuilding, Puerto Rico should look at the microgrid system used by Hawaii, which uses renewable sources and stores excess energy to be deployed when needed. Plus, such a system is cheaper in the long run. “Eventually, the return of investment is fairly quick—we’re talking about a period of the next 10 to 20 years,” Pal says. But that means that an initial investment would be required in order to install solar panels or establish wind farms. And without political or private-sector will, it’s unlikely that the island could pay for it.Investments like that are something Puerto Rico’s government can’t produce on its own, the federal government isn’t offering, and private creditors would want a return on. This leaves an opening for the island’s existing creditors—collectively owed some $70 billion—to try to cut deals of their own. The opportunity they see is to loan them cash now—adding to Puerto Rico’s debt—in the hopes that doing so will improve their chances of seeing their original investments, from well before the storm, get repaid.

On Thursday, for instance, Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Agency and Financial Advisory Authority received an offer from the creditors of PREPA for a $1 billion loan and a discount on a very small portion of the utility’s existing debt—from $8.1 billion to $7.95 billion. While PREPA unquestionably needs cash now, this type of small-scale relief, coupled with the addition of more debt, will not increase the likelihood that the utility unwinds its debts any sooner—something the fiscal authority was well aware of. In a statement about the rejection of the deal, the board said, “Such offers only distract from the government’s stated focus and create the unfortunate appearance that such offers are being made for the purpose of favorably impacting the trading price of existing debt.” The statement goes on to request that creditors “refrain from making unsolicited financing offers at the expense of the people of Puerto Rico.”After the hurricane, it’s vital that people currently suffering get the help they need. Once they do, the biggest worry becomes that Puerto Rico is given support for its short-term needs, and nothing more—that the relief provided by creditors and the federal government will ultimately maintain the economic status quo that left millions of residents impoverished and fleeing to the mainland in the first place. Undoing that will require a much more ambitious plan for investment and infrastructure than currently exists—and the political will to pursue it.

Fear of Flying — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—In an experience that he called “traumatic” and “horrifying,” the departing Health and Human Services Secretary, Tom Price, was seated between two screaming babies Friday night on his first-ever commercial flight.

Price, who was flying from Washington, D.C., to his home in Georgia just hours after resigning from his Cabinet position, reacted with alarm after discovering that the airline had assigned him a middle seat between two passengers holding inconsolably shrieking babies on their laps.

Moments after making his terrible discovery, Price urgently called for a flight attendant and reportedly told her, “There are babies on this aircraft. That can’t possibly be allowed.”

After informing Price that babies were, in fact, permitted on commercial flights, the attendant instructed the former Cabinet secretary to fasten his seatbelt and ignored his request to be served a free glass of Dom Perignon champagne and beluga caviar with toast points.

According to witnesses on board, the two babies flanking Price screamed non-stop for the entire duration of the flight, except for a brief period during which one of the babies vomited on Price’s Armani suit.

 Doonesbury — Resigned to the job.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

No, You Don’t Have To “Respect Their Beliefs”

Since I will be mostly out of pocket for the next few days, I thought I’d leave you with the thoughts of Charles P. Pierce on the state of the nation today.

On Tuesday night, the voters in the great state of Alabama pushed a lawless theocratic lunatic named Roy Moore one tiny step away from a seat in the United States Senate. Moore lost his job as chief justice of that state’s supreme court twice; on both occasions, he lost it by flouting the authority of the federal court system as though he were Orval Faubus in 1957.

Lawless.

Moore believes that homosexual conduct should be illegal, and, as he said, he believes:

“God is sovereign over our government, over our law. When we exclude ‘Him’ from our lives, exclude ‘Him’ from our courts, then they will fail We’ve forgotten that God is intimately connected with this nation. Without God there would be no freedom to believe what you want.”

Theocratic.

And, to conclude, from The Washington Post:

“There is no such thing as evolution,” he said at one point as he waited for his lunch. Species might adapt to their environment, he continued, but that has nothing to do with the origins of life described in the Bible. “That we came from a snake?” he asked rhetorically. “No, I don’t believe that.”

Lunatic.

Period.

Any report about Roy Moore that doesn’t specifically refer to him as a right-wing extremist is not worth your time. No more “firebrand.” No more impotent yap about his “controversial views.” Roy Moore is an extremist or the word no longer has meaning. If, as appears likely, he gets elected to the Senate from Alabama, then a majority of Alabama voters are extremists, too. If he gets elected, then the Republican Party ever more should be referred to as an extremist party. That, of course, is if we’re being honest about what’s really going on in this country in 2017.

And, no, when it comes to the people who voted for Moore, I don’t have to “respect their beliefs.” I don’t have to “understand where they’re coming from.” I don’t have to “see it from their side.” These people are preparing to make a lawless theocratic lunatic one of 100 United States Senators, and that means these people are about to inflict him and his medievalism on me, too. If you think that Roy Moore belongs in the Senate, then you are a half-bright goober whose understanding of American government and basic civics probably stops at the left side of your AM radio dial. You have no concept of the national interest and very little concept of your own, unless, as I suspect, you’ve made your own fears, and hating people and hawking loogies in all directions, the sum total of your involvement in self-government. You are killing democracy and you don’t know it or care. If you had any real Christian charity in your hearts, you’d keep Roy Moore in the locked ward of your local politics and not loose him on a nation that deserves so much better than him.

Why do I not have to “respect their beliefs,” besides the fact that most of those beliefs belong in a cage? I don’t have to “respect their beliefs” because the U.S. Senate to which they are preparing to send him is in the process of screwing them with their pants on and they could care less.

What I do know is that the people who elected Roy Moore elected him to join the Senate majority that will pass this thing, if and when it ever comes to a vote. Then, come some April morn, they will be stunned to discover that they can’t deduct what they pay in state taxes anymore, and that their charitable contributions don’t count any more either. How could ol’ Judge Roy let this happen?

Because he’s a lawless theocratic lunatic, that’s how. Because you voted for him specifically because he was a lawless theocratic lunatic. It was the basis of his campaign, no matter how many times Steve Bannon tells you you’re part of a bold populist crusade. He very likely doesn’t know enough about tax policy to throw to the cat, so he’ll go along on that as long as they let him make his floor speeches about how Cecile Richards is an imp from hell. (Condom: The Devil’s Party Hat.) And you’ll cheer him so loudly that you won’t even notice that your pocket’s being picked again by someone with a solid-gold Rolex on his wrist.

I’m out of empathy for this stuff. I’m out of pity. I’m out of patience. And, not for nothing, but Moore’s opponent is a guy named Douglas Jones. In 2001, Jones convicted two men for the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, one of the iconic white supremacist terrorist acts of that period. One of those bastards already died in prison and the other keeps getting denied parole. If you’d rather be represented in the Senate by a lawless theocratic lunatic, rather than a guy that finally got justice for four murdered little girls, well, you deserve anything that goddamn happens to you.

I can’t top that.  Have a nice day.

Short Takes

Half of Puerto Rico still without fresh water.

Japan parliament dissolved ahead of snap election.

Trump/GOP tax plan is revealed except how to pay for it.

Russia, U.S. discuss lunar base.

R.I.P. Hugh Hefner, 91, creator of Playboy.  (Oddly enough, I never understood the attraction, but hey…)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Friday, September 22, 2017

What’s The Matter With Alabama?

It seems they’re about to elect a theocrat to the Senate to fill out the rest of the term of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III.

The man who has the edge to become Alabama’s next senator didn’t hedge away from his hardline socially conservative positions on Thursday, returning to his central campaign theme of a lack of godliness as a central reason for society’s woes.

Controversial former Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore warned that America was falling apart because of things like transgender troops in the military.

“Our foundation has been shaken. Crime, corruption, immorality, abortion, sodomy, sexual perversion sweep our land. When we become one nation under God again, when liberty and justice for all reigns across our land, we will be truly good again,” he said in his first and only one-on-one debate against appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL).

The comments came shortly after he said he wanted to free the country and military from “political correctness and social experimentation like transgender troops in our bathrooms.”

Moore’s entire career has been focused on a hardline religious right philosophy — one that’s gotten him thrown off the Alabama Supreme Court twice, first for refusing to remove a statue of the ten commandments then a decade later for refusing to accept the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage. His Thursday statements are far from the only controversial remarks he’s had to say on the campaign trail.

One of my first blog posts here back in 2003 was about Judge Moore being tossed off the state supreme court after his stand-off with the Ten Commandments.  At the time I basically thought we were done with him.  But as any summer blockbuster that includes an evil villain will remind you, they have a way of coming back.

I know people who live in Alabama and they say it’s got some good things going for it, including the long-running Alabama Shakespeare Festival. But wow.  What are they trying to do, make Mississippi look good by comparison?

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Chickenshits

We’ve always known Trump is a bully and a coward, and the craven way he dealt with DACA — sending out Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, whose idea of a legal immigrant is one brought over in the hold of a ship in chains — is only too happy to do Trump’s dirty work.

As an up-and-coming politician in Alabama, Jeff Sessions watched as his state’s poultry industry illegally hired Mexican and Central American immigrants to jobs that had once been filled by poor, unskilled American workers. As a senator, Mr. Sessions argued that displaced American workers like these — not the people replacing them — deserved compassion.

So when President Trump chose Mr. Sessions, now the attorney general, to announce on Tuesday the end of an Obama-era immigration program that shielded young immigrants from deportation, there was no doubt what message he would deliver. Mr. Trump has expressed conflicting emotions about those who were brought to the country as children, but Mr. Sessions expressed no such qualms.

“There is nothing compassionate about the failure to enforce immigration laws,” Mr. Sessions said.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Trump was so enraged that Mr. Sessions had recused himself from a Justice Department investigation into Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential election that Mr. Trump publicly expressed his regrets about making him the nation’s chief law enforcement official. The president criticized Mr. Sessions so often that he seemed to be encouraging him to quit. But Mr. Sessions, the first senator to endorse Mr. Trump in the campaign and his first cabinet appointment, endured.

And on Tuesday, Mr. Sessions not only served as the administration’s spokesman, he also spoke directly to Mr. Trump’s base in a blunt, uncompromising way that the president himself was uncomfortable doing.

“The White House needed him to do this because I don’t think Trump would have delivered a convincing performance,” said Mark Krikorian, a Sessions ally and the executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies. “His own body language and ad-libbing would have undercut his message.”

But Sessions is Rudolf Hess in this grossenscheißesturm.  Trump is still the main villain.  He hasn’t got the guts to back up his own campaign rhetoric, and the only way he can address the issue is in an airplane hangar in front of a hoard of sweating knuckle-draggers who are gullible enough to fall for his fear and loathing and still cough up $40 for a cheap hat — made in China — with some neo-Nazi slogan on it.

So he sends out this squeaky little rabble-rouser — one who is apparently into the political version of S&M by enduring Trump’s tantrums — and makes him do it.  And because he’s into marginalizing people who don’t look or sound like him, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is only too happy to oblige.

It’s easy to speak of the “rule of law” and what is and what isn’t legal when you remove the elements of compassion and don’t bother to think of the human cost.  Neither of these alleged human beings ever lost a moment of sleep over whether or not they’re impacting anyone other than themselves.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Rapturous Applause

The Religious Reich is having the best time ever with Trump in office.  Even more than they would have if the Republicans had elected one of their own.  Peter Montgomery in The American Prospect reports:

Not only is Trump a reckless and divisive president who shows contempt for anyone who crosses him and who has energized a white nationalist movement that could wreak havoc on American political and social culture for a long time to come—he’s also the best thing that’s ever happened to the religious right.

To be fair, there was a logical foundation for believing that Trump would be less of a culture warrior than a president who is a conservative evangelical. Pence has a long anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ record. And there is a basis for the argument that Trump is so incompetent that a Mike Pence or a Ted Cruz might have been more successful dealing with Congress.

But it is hard to imagine the religious right doing any better under a President Pence or President Cruz than they are with President Trump. But because the president is the crass, amoral, prideful, and dishonest huckster Trump, rather than a faith-on-their-sleeve true believer like Pence or Cruz, the religious right has been able to have to wield an outsized influence on national policy while avoiding the kind of scrutiny that would come if they were working with one of their own in the White House.

When they think “one of their own,” they’re not thinking about someone who shares their religious convictions; they’re thinking about someone who knows how to run a good con and pluck the pigeons.  Religious hucksters like Jerry Falwell, Jr. and Jim Bakker see in Trump a fellow con artist and one they admire because he was able to pull off his swindle without having to hide behind a veil of piety and false prophecy.  He was even able to get away without paying taxes, the same as they do, but without having to come up with the religious angle.

Sometimes it’s hard to figure out who’s using religion more cynically, Trump or his right-wing religious boosters. Trump’s evangelical advisers have been sticking with him even as corporate CEOs started walking away after Trump gave political cover to white nationalists. As long as President Trump is giving them what they want, the religious right continues to explain away his dishonesty, cruelty, and recklessness, and even portrays his political opponents as enemies of God. “Values voters,” indeed.

The most maddening thing about this collection of god-botherers and pompous, arrogant, and cynical fraudsters is that when the walls come a-tumbling down around Trump and his gang, they’ll all walk away without a scratch, claiming they were doing God’s work to try to rescue the country through any means possible and that human failings are just another challenge for the faithful.  And they’ll raise a ton of money off of it.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

A Drowning A Long Time Coming

Charles P. Pierce on the ecological disaster that was waiting to happen long before Hurricane Harvey.

The effects of climate change are just an exacerbating bonus. It is now apparent that the city of Houston has managed itself in a way that was not dissimilar to the Monty Python sketch about the apartment building constructed through hypnosis. Stop believing in it, and it all falls to pieces.

The spell, of course, in this case, was cast 30 years ago, when it became political death to increase anybody’s taxes who had any political influence at all. It was cast 30 years ago, when conservative movement politics pitched deregulation as a panacea. It was cast 30 years ago when the fiction of a “business-friendly” environment overcame Republican governors, and more than a few Democrats as well. It was cast 30 years ago when conservative movement politics declared that important decisions on things like the environment and public health were better left to the states, despite the fact that many states, like Texas, were unable or unwilling to pay to do these jobs properly. It was cast 30 years ago when conservative movement politics consciously moved away from empirical research and science, beginning the long march that has ended with a Republican party committed root and branch to all of these fanciful propositions, and to climate denial. It has filtered down through all the levels of politics, from the White House and the Congress, to the state houses and the local zoning boards.

Once, long ago, the conservative activist Grover Norquist famously said that he wanted to shrink “government” to a size at which it could be drowned in the bathtub. Well, people actually are drowning in Houston now, and so is the political philosophy that reached its height when Ronald Reagan said in his first inaugural that government wasn’t the solution, but the problem itself. We all moved onto a political flood plain then, and we’re being swept away.

This is what is known as the universal truth best summed up as “karma is a bitch.”

Walling Off Reality

From the AP:

Trump is promising billions to help Texas rebuild from Hurricane Harvey, but his Republican allies in the House are looking at cutting almost $1 billion from disaster accounts to help finance the president’s border wall.

The pending reduction to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief account is part of a spending bill that the House is scheduled to consider next week when Congress returns from its August recess. The $876 million cut, part of the 1,305-page measure’s homeland security section, pays for roughly half the cost of Trump’s down payment on a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

It seems sure that GOP leaders will move to reverse the disaster aid cut next week. The optics are politically bad and there’s only $2.3 billion remaining in disaster coffers.

“The optics are politically bad”?  How about delusional.  Taking money from a real disaster to build some fantasy wall is nutty.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Pretty Much Says It All

Via the San Diego Tribune:

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) on Friday gave President Donald Trump a double-edged, profane compliment.

As quoted by the San Diego Union-Tribune, Hunter said at a Riverside County Young Republicans meeting that Trump is “just like he is on TV.”

“He’s an asshole, but he’s our asshole,” Hunter said.

Another attendee, Whitney Walsh, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that the crowd was more than onboard with Hunter’s assessment.

“Very much,” she said. “They were fine with that answer.”

That’s the difference between Republicans and the rest of us: they would align themselves with the worst and most venial if they thought they could advance their agenda and make money at it.

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.

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.

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.

Short Takes

13 killed in van attack in Barcelona; police stop a second attack.

Trump defends Confederate statues.

Navy to discipline crew of destroyer damaged in collision with freighter.

White nationalists vow to return to Charlottesville.

South Korea says there will be no war with the North.

Tropical Update: TS Harvey is heading west across the Caribbean.