Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Helpful Household Appliances

Via USA Today:

The White House is offering yet another wrinkle in its attempt to support President Trump’s allegation — unfounded, so far — that his campaign headquarters in Manhattan was wiretapped by the Obama administration. The latest comes from Trump’s senior counselor Kellyanne Conway.

She says the “surveillance” may be broader than even Trump suggested.

[…]

“What I can say is there are many ways to surveil each other,” Conway said as the Trump presidency marked its 50th day in office during the weekend. “You can surveil someone through their phones, certainly through their television sets — any number of ways.”

Conway went on to say that the monitoring could be done with “microwaves that turn into cameras,” adding: “We know this is a fact of modern life.”

I just asked the microwave where I left my car keys, and my cell phone told me to check in the bedroom.  The dishwasher said I left them on my desk.  The refrigerator was no help at all; it was too busy reading my e-mail.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Prairie Fascist

He’s at it again.

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has gained notoriety for his often contentious — and, occasionally, almost overtly racist — comments about immigration and the demographics of the United States. On Sunday, in a tweet about the nationalist Dutch politician Geert Wilders, King again appears to have crossed the line.

“Wilders understands that culture and demographics are our destiny,” King wrote. “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.”

The formulation of “our” civilization being at risk from “somebody else’s babies” is a deliberate suggestion that American civilization is threatened by unnamed “others” — almost certainly a reference to non-Westerners. The idea that national identity and racial identity overlap entirely is the crux of white nationalism; King’s formulation above toes close to that line, if it doesn’t cross. American culture, of course, was formed in part over the past two centuries by the assimilation of immigrants from a broad range of nations — first mostly European but later a broader diaspora. Iowa, the state King represents, remains one of the most homogeneously white in the United States.

Calling Steve King “almost overtly racist” is like saying it gets a little chilly at the South Pole.  This is his regular gig.

You have to wonder if he’s doing this just to represent a particular mind-set in his district (although I can say from my own experience that the people and the part of the country he represents are by and large not at all like him or think this way) or that he’s just a fascist and a racist by his own stunted growth and stupidity.  The reason he’s re-elected time and time again is because of inertia and a lack of competition.

Going Viral

Charles P. Pierce on the level of corruption in the Trump world.

The important part about dealing with epidemics is to deal with them early. Just like the fire department would really rather come into a building when there was smoke coming out of one window instead of when there are flames coming out of every window, because it’s a lot easier to control the fire early on, it’s much easier to control an epidemic early on.

—Dr. Don Francis, AIDS researcher, 2006.

It’s almost as though the entire bureaucratic immune system of the government is reacting to an invading virus. The worst thing any of us can do is assume that the ascent of El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago was not the sui generis event that it clearly was, and that he, himself, is not the sui generis occupant of the White House that he clearly is, and that he has not surrounded himself with dubious quacks and hacks that are sui generis in their approach to government as they clearly are.

There is a level of intellectual—and, perhaps, literal—corruption that is unprecedented in the modern history of the presidency and that is a genuine and unique threat to democratic institutions that are the objects of destructive contempt. The man ran on chaos. He won on chaos. And now he’s governing on chaos. The checks and balances and safety valves of the Constitution—the things that, well, constitute—the immune system of this self-governing republic are facing a threat that is as different as it is lethal.

The latest manifestation of this phenomenon is the sudden firing of U.S. Attorneys all over the country—specifically, those appointed by the previous administration. It is true that every president can do what this president did, and that most have. But the people who said all through the campaign that the rules changed with the elevation of Donald Trump cannot say that the rules are back now that he’s president. In addition, what he did on Friday was precipitous in the extreme and so much so that it seems to have been improvised on the spot, and that it might have been prompted by a virulent paranoia at the White House about “deep-state” saboteurs, a feeling encouraged by the hardbar caucus in Congress and pimped heavily by the conservative media auxiliaries.

There has been corruption in the White House before this present administration — the historians will note that one of the unique aspects about the term of Barack Obama is that there wasn’t any — and there will be corruption after this present administration.  (I well remember how after Watergate it was said that now we will be able to spot and excise corruption before it starts.  Ah, good times.)  But what makes this particular administration unique is that corruption, shady deals, tax evasion, lack of transparency, foreign influence peddling and manipulation, and other various crimes and questionable connections is not only acceptable in the eyes of certain elements of the electorate and members of Congress, it is what was needed to “shake things up.”

There are two questions that come to mind.  First, at what point will this house of cards collapse and bring down the central core of the current executive branch and who will be the ones to do it?  Certainly not the enablers in Congress; they are either too afraid of midnight tweets and the riling of the pitchfork-and-torches constituency to do anything but meekly go along, or they are in on it and are finally making something from being in office.  No help there.

The second question is who’s running the joint?  The current administration has left hundreds of federal office positions unfilled.  It may be some aspect of conservative political philosophy to shrink the size of government, but emptying whole offices and leaving statutory and policy positions vacant means that work that keeps the country running is not getting done.  You can’t run a Wal Mart outlet with two shelf-stockers and a cashier, and if this is the way Trump ran his businesses, no wonder he filed for bankruptcy so often.

We have recently been told to accept this situation as the way things will be for the foreseeable future and that we should “settle in” and ride it out.  At some point, though, the level of outright corruption and sand in the gears of the machinery will bring it to a halt, perhaps so slowly that we don’t even notice it as it happens.  Just as the sniffles turn into a cold that becomes pneumonia, this is happening now and by the time you start taking the aspirin and the Cold-Eze, it’s too late.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Trumpiest In The Land

This piece from Raw Story is creepy.

Maricopa County burnished its reputation as the Trumpiest in America last weekend as hundreds of locals, including heavily armed militiamen, white nationalists and even a few elected officials, gathered to support the 45th president. The ensuing “March for Trump” was as horrifying as it sounds.

“I heard ‘lock her up, lock her up,’ and we still need to pursue that,” announced Arizona Congressman Anthony Kern; a nod to a prominent Trump campaign promise to imprison then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

“If you don’t like it here, go to Syria, go to someplace else,” one attendee shouted.

“I don’t want ’em, as a veteran I don’t want ’em, let ’em go back home,” another seconded. “If they’ve got a problem, let Saudi Arabia take care of ’em.”

Some even dared to tell Dan Cohen of the The Real News Network how they’d make America great again now that Trump was in office. And Muslims weren’t the only religious minority unwelcomed.

“If she is Jewish, she should go back to her country,” a 13-year-old Trump supporter said of a protester.

“This is America, we don’t want Sharia Law,” one attendee explained. “Christian country,” he added.

One man insisted that Senator John McCain was a “secret communist.”

“I think there’s a lot there,” he said of Pizzagate, a deranged right-wing conspiracy theory that Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta was running a child prostitution ring out of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. “Definitely enough to warrant an investigation.”

The day’s proceedings would grow uglier still.

“I just want to let them know that I can’t wait for the liberal genocide to begin,” an Oath Keeper shouted at a small group of protesters.

“That’s the way to make America great again,” he later told Cohen. “Liberals are destroying the country.”

Normal people don’t hold rallies like this when their candidate wins.

At some point these folks are going to find out that Trump isn’t good enough for them and then they’ll want more.

Yes, they’re small in numbers, but it only took one guy with a rented truck and a ton of fertilizer.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

“Hey, We Tried”

The response to the GOP healthcare bill has been roughly the same as having a wet dog at a wedding, and yet the House and Senate leadership is bound and determined to rush it through both chambers by the end of the month without hearings or even conferences.  (Ironic since the Republicans in 2010 complained bitterly that President Obama “rammed ACA down our throats.”)

The short answer, according to Jonathan Chait, is that when the Republicans couldn’t get repeal-and-replace past President Obama, they had all the time in the world to carry on about how terrible it was and how it was destroying America and they could vote fifty-plus times to repeal it and not worry about actually doing anything.  But now that they have the White House and both the House and the Senate, they can do something… but what?  They’ve got various factions within their own party who have very different goals and they’re all attacking the piñata of a bill the House cobbled together that does everything and nothing.

Not only that, if they repeal and replace Obamacare with something that is truly worse — and this new bill seems to embody the worst of every GOP trick in the book, including tax credits and vouchers — it will be their albatross, and the mid-term campaign will be all about the Democrats running against the GOP House that killed — literally — healthcare.

So the solution seems to be to try and shove this terrible bill through and have it fail so they can go out to the voters in 2018 and say, “Hey, we tried, but there were too many special interests and Obamacare holdovers, so you’re just going to have to suffer through with it while we go on and give massive tax breaks to the rich, gut education spending, demonize immigrants, bully the transgender community, and play slap-and-tickle with the Russians.”

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

They Have Had Seven Years

The Republicans have been talking about and voting on repealing and replacing Obamacare for almost seven years now.  They’ve held news conferences and election campaigns to demonize it and then promise to replace it.  Now they’ve come out with their plan, hoping to unite their base and the country and show the world that they can really govern.

Well, to be fair, they did bring a lot of people from all over the political spectrum, but not in the way they hoped.

Republican efforts to revise the Affordable Care Act met with widespread resistance Tuesday from conservatives in and out of Congress, moderates in the Senate and key industry stakeholders, casting doubt on the plan’s chances just one day after House GOP leaders released it.

The most imminent and serious threat to the plan crafted by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) was the growing backlash from conservative lawmakers and powerful outside groups who argue that the draft is nothing more than “Obamacare Lite,” a disparaging reference to the former president’s signature 2010 domestic achievement.

In short, they have had seven years to come up with something, and this is the best that they could come up with?  It reads like some kid who tried to write a ten-page history paper on the school bus the morning the assignment is due.

The best part is that the right-wingers are in complete revolt against it.  Which means that it’s not going anywhere.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Boundary Issues

Via CBC:

The father of a fallen U.S. army captain who made headlines during the American election campaign for taking on Republican candidate Donald Trump has cancelled a talk he was set to deliver in Toronto after being notified that his travel privileges are under review, organizers say.

Pakistan-born Khizr Khan, who famously offered up his copy of the U.S. Constitution to the billionaire presidential hopeful who vowed to implement a ban on Muslims entering the U.S., was scheduled to speak at a luncheon hosted by Ramsay Inc. on Tuesday.

But on Monday, organizers of the luncheon issued a statement saying that Khan would not be travelling to Toronto.

“Late Sunday evening Khizr Khan, an American citizen for over 30 years, was notified that his travel privileges are being reviewed,” Julia McDowell of Ramsay Inc. said.

The statement goes on to quote Khan, saying he offered his sincere apologies for the cancellation.

“This turn of events is not just of deep concern to me but to all my fellow Americans who cherish our freedom to travel abroad. I have not been given any reason as to why,” the statement quotes Khan as saying.

CBC News reached out to Khan’s law office directly, which said in an email it had no comment.

As upyernoz — someone who knows a lot about immigration law — points out, U.S. citizens aren’t supposed to have “travel privileges” that can be revoked by the government.  Your U.S. citizenship is not subject to the whims of whoever is in charge of the executive branch or the department heads underneath him.

At least that’s the way it’s supposed to work in a democracy.

A Nice Little Trip For Them

Via the New York Times:

Ben Carson’s first full week as secretary of Housing and Urban Development got off to a rough start on Monday after he described African slaves as “immigrants” during his first speech to hundreds of assembled department employees. The remark, which came as part of a 40-minute address on the theme of America as “a land of dreams and opportunity,” was met with swift outrage online.

Mr. Carson turned his attention to slavery after describing photographs of poor immigrants displayed at the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration. These new arrivals worked long hours, six or seven days a week, with little pay, he said. And before them, there were slaves.

“That’s what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity,’’ he said. “There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

And in 1941 a lot of Jewish people from Germany went to Poland for a little vacation in the countryside.

Speaking of historical models:

U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Monday confirmed a Reuters report that he was considering a proposal to separate women and children who cross the U.S. border with Mexico illegally, a policy shift he said was aimed at deterring people from making a dangerous journey.

Kelly was asked in a CNN interview about the proposal, first reported by Reuters on Friday, in which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would change U.S. policy and keep parents in custody while putting children in the care of the Health and Human Services Department.

“Yes, I am considering – in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network – I am considering exactly that,” Kelly said.

“We have tremendous experience in dealing with unaccompanied minors,” he said. “They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents.”

Why don’t they just put “Arbeit Macht Frei” over the border crossings and be done with it?

Monday, March 6, 2017

In The Bunker

Reading this account in the Washington Post of what’s going on inside the White House, the West Wing, and out on the golf course in Florida, one really has to wonder how this will manifest itself.

Trump spent the weekend at “the winter White House,” Mar-a-Lago, the secluded Florida castle where he is king. The sun sparkles off the glistening lawn and warms the russet clay Spanish tiles, and the steaks are cooked just how he likes them (well done). His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner — celebrated as calming influences on the tempestuous president — joined him. But they were helpless to contain his fury.

Trump was mad — steaming, raging mad.

Trump’s young presidency has existed in a perpetual state of chaos. The issue of Russia has distracted from what was meant to be his most triumphant moment: his address last Tuesday to a joint session of Congress. And now his latest unfounded accusation — that Barack Obama tapped Trump’s phones during last fall’s campaign — had been denied by the former president and doubted by both allies and fellow Republicans.

When Trump ran into Christopher Ruddy on the golf course and later at dinner Saturday, he vented to his friend. “This will be investigated,” Ruddy recalled Trump telling him. “It will all come out. I will be proven right.”

“He was pissed,” said Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax, a conservative media company. “I haven’t seen him this angry.”

Trump enters week seven of his presidency the same as the six before it: enmeshed in controversy while struggling to make good on his campaign promises. At a time when White House staffers had sought to ride the momentum from Trump’s speech to Congress and begin advancing its agenda on Capitol Hill, the administration finds itself beset yet again by disorder and suspicion.

At the center of the turmoil is an impatient president increasingly frustrated by his administration’s inability to erase the impression that his campaign was engaged with Russia, to stem leaks about both national security matters and internal discord and to implement any signature achievements.

This account of the administration’s tumultuous recent days is based on interviews with 17 top White House officials, members of Congress and friends of the president, many of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly.

Gnawing at Trump, according to one of his advisers, is the comparison between his early track record and that of Obama in 2009, when amid the Great Recession he enacted an economic stimulus bill and other big-ticket items.

[…]

Trouble for Trump continued to spiral over the weekend. Early Saturday, he surprised his staff by firing off four tweets accusing Obama of a “Nixon/Watergate” plot to tap his Trump Tower phones in the run-up to last fall’s election. Trump cited no evidence, and Obama’s spokesman denied any such wiretap was ordered.

That night at Mar-a-Lago, Trump had dinner with Sessions, Bannon, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly and White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, among others. They tried to put Trump in a better mood by going over their implementation plans for the travel ban, according to a White House official.

Trump was brighter Sunday morning as he read several newspapers, pleased that his allegations against Obama were the dominant story, the official said.But he found reason to be mad again: Few Republicans were defending him on the Sunday political talk shows. Some Trump advisers and allies were especially disappointed in Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), who two days earlier had hitched a ride down to Florida with Trump on Air Force One.

Pressed by NBC’s Chuck Todd to explain Trump’s wiretapping claim, Rubio demurred.

“Look, I didn’t make the allegation,” he said. “I’m not the person that went out there and said it.”

This episode is indicative of his entire reason for running for president in the first place: getting revenge against Barack Obama.  Not just for mocking him at the White House Correspondents Dinner in May 2011 (and the night that the SEAL team killed Osama bin Laden) but for everything: being a good politician who defied the odds by winning the presidency as the first African-American, by being cool under withering fire, by laughing off and even mocking the birther accusations that Trump obsessed over, by getting more done against an openly hostile Congress and GOP leadership than he can accomplish with his own party in power, and the tumult around him that will not go away, all brought on by himself.  This has Shakespeare written all over it.

The question is not just what’s the next outrage that will paralyze the West Wing and energize Twitter, but what will he do?  So far his staff has managed to contain him, but he’s also surrounded himself with toadies, sycophants, people who believe the paranoid fantasies of Barack Obama pulling off a Black Ops (pun intended) operation on Trump Tower, and a Republican leadership in Congress that is either afraid of him and his base or don’t know how dangerous he is.  Is there anyone who can restrain him from taking some action that might actually endanger the lives of others?

King Lear had his Fool who could tell truth to power.  Richard Nixon, at the end, had the Republican leadership in Congress who came to him and told him that it was time to resign for the good of the country (and to try to save their own collective asses in the upcoming mid-term election in 1974).  But who is going to step up and tell him that this must all end, not just for the sake of his presidency but for the safety of the country and the world?

Friday, March 3, 2017

He Won’t Go

When you have Richard W. Painter, the former ethics lawyer for the George W. Bush administration — the same people who outed Valerie Plame and the Justice Department’s purge of attorneys who didn’t toe the proper political line — telling the current administration that their Attorney General needs to vacate the premises, well…

No one has any delusions that the Trump administration will actually own up to Mr. Sessions’ lies of omission — and straight-up lies — to the Senate committee that confirmed him, and the Republicans are well-versed enough in IOKIYAR to brush off the facts as we now know them.  We also know that if Eric Holder or Loretta Lynch, the attorneys general under President Obama, had “liked” a comment by a Russian official on Facebook they would have faced years of hearings and banshee-level screeches for their impeachment.  That’s to be expected.  No one has such low standards for their own conduct and such high standards for everyone else as the Republican party.

So while Mr. Painter may have been the only lawyer in the Bush administration with a functioning and calibrated moral compass, I would be very surprised if Mr. Sessions didn’t serve out his term in office and even get awarded some gaudy medal of honor by the GOP for standing up to the accusations of lying and contempt of Congress no matter how truthful they are.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Trump Gives Us The Creeps

Via the Washington Post:

The Trump administration on Wednesday revoked federal guidelines specifying that transgender students have the right to use public school restrooms that match their gender identity, taking a stand on a contentious issue that has become the central battle over LGBT rights.

Officials with the federal Education and Justice departments notified the U.S. Supreme Court late Wednesday that the administration is ordering the nation’s schools to disregard memos the Obama administration issued during the past two years regarding transgender student rights. Those memos said that prohibiting transgender students from using facilities that align with their gender identity violates federal anti-discrimination laws.

The two-page “Dear colleague” letter from the Trump administration, which is set to go to the nation’s public schools, does not offer any new guidance, instead saying that the earlier directive needed to be withdrawn because it lacked extensive legal analysis, did not go through a public vetting process, sowed confusion and drew legal challenges.

The administration said that it would not rely on the prior interpretation of the law in the future.

This is what happens when you let creepy people who are obsessed with the personal habits of absolute strangers take over the government.

What we really need are protections against those people.

They Put The “Duh” In Florida

Via Miami New Times, here is the latest evidence that my state is run by idiots.

The federal government is run by a despotic regime that dictates laws and hands down rulings wholly incongruous with the vision laid out by America’s Founding Fathers, say two Florida lawmakers. According to state Sen. Keith Perry  — a Republican who represents Alachua, Putnam, and portions of Marion Counties — and Rep. Julio Gonzalez, a Venice Republican, the regime now running the United States constitutes an oligarchy of wealthy elites that “must be dismantled for the sake of our republic and for the continued empowerment of its people.

Who are those tyrants? Try the entire judicial branch of the U.S. government.

In December, Gonzalez filed a resolution in the Florida House, which, if passed, would urge the U.S. Congress to straight-up invalidate the judicial branch. And this morning, Perry filed a companion bill in the state Senate. The pair is asking Congress to amend the U.S. Constitution so that Congress can overturn any judicial decision. Under the crackpot bills, which are identical, Congress could overturn U.S. Supreme Court decisions with a 60 percent vote.

Really.

“Florida Legislature respectfully petitions the United States Congress to propose to the states an amendment to the United States Constitution providing that any law, resolution, or other legislative act declared void by the United States Supreme Court or a United States court of appeals may be deemed active and operational, notwithstanding the court’s ruling, if agreed to by Congress pursuant to a joint resolution adopted by a 60 percent vote of each chamber of Congress within 5 years after the date the ruling becomes final,” Gonzalez’s resolution reads.

It sounds like these guys were not paying attention in their junior high school civics class that explained the basics of our constitutional system; you know, the part about the three co-equal branches of government that consist of executive, legislative, and judicial.

The legislators write that the judicial branch of the government has “taken on an increasingly activist role aimed at molding legislation according to the political beliefs of its members,” adding that such an activist posture tends to excessively consolidate power in one branch of government, and, as George Washington observed, such encroachments eventually create “a real despotism.”

They also add that federal judges tend to rule by “usurpation,” and then, staggeringly, complain that “the United States Supreme Court currently possesses ultimate and unchecked authority on matters of the constitutionality of the United States’ laws such that its opinion on such matters has the same effect as amending the United States Constitution.”

The two men don’t mention that this is, quite literally, the exact job of the U.S. Supreme Court. Nor do they mention that the federal courts have done nothing out of the ordinary this year, compared to other times in American history.

This morning, Perry didn’t cite Trump’s recent judicial smackdown as a reason for proposing the resolution. But the president’s influence is all over the text: Trump, too, has waged a war against the courts, the biggest check on his power, and would clearly be happier if pesky things such as the U.S Constitution, federal judges, and opposing legislators didn’t exist.

Perry, it seems, would rather we be governed by Trump alone. In the meantime, New Times is soliciting donations to send a few copies of the children’s A-Z civics book D Is for Democracy to the two lawmakers’ offices.

What we need now is immediate increased emergency funding for remedial civics education in Florida.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Rounding Up The Usual Suspects

Via the New York Times:

Trump has directed his administration to enforce the nation’s immigration laws more aggressively, unleashing the full force of the federal government to find, arrest and deport those in the country illegally, regardless of whether they have committed serious crimes.

Documents released on Tuesday by the Department of Homeland Security revealed the broad scope of the president’s ambitions: to publicize crimes by undocumented immigrants; strip such immigrants of privacy protections; enlist local police officers as enforcers; erect new detention facilities; discourage asylum seekers; and, ultimately, speed up deportations.

The new enforcement policies put into practice language that Mr. Trump used on the campaign trail, vastly expanding the definition of “criminal aliens” and warning that such unauthorized immigrants “routinely victimize Americans,” disregard the “rule of law and pose a threat” to people in communities across the United States.

Despite those assertions in the new documents, research shows lower levels of crime among immigrants than among native-born Americans.

[…]

Administration officials said some of the new policies — like one seeking to send unauthorized border crossers from Central America to Mexico while they await deportation hearings — could take months to put in effect and might be limited in scope.

For now, so-called Dreamers, who were brought to the United States as young children, will not be targeted unless they commit crimes, officials said on Tuesday.

Mr. Trump has not yet said where he will get the billions of dollars needed to pay for thousands of new border control agents, a network of detention facilities to detain unauthorized immigrants and a wall along the entire southern border with Mexico.

But politically, Mr. Kelly’s actions on Tuesday serve to reinforce the president’s standing among a core constituency — those who blame unauthorized immigrants for taking jobs away from citizens, committing heinous crimes and being a financial burden on federal, state and local governments.

There will be legal challenges in court, there will be millions of dollars wasted, there will be families separated, and at some point someone’s going to pull a gun and start shooting, all to bolster Trump’s standing with a xenophobic base of voters that he cultivated carefully to follow him whether or not it violated the Constitution or the basic fact that this country was founded by people who came here from other places and the idea of “illegal immigrant” is based on bigotry and fear.

But it works great at campaign rallies in Florida, so there you are.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017