Trump caves on spending bill.
Two U.S. soldiers killed in ISIS raid.
Pentagon investigating Michael Flynn for foreign payments.
Dragged United passenger settles out of court with the airline.
Cuba gets faster internet thanks to Google.
What A Week — Charles P. Pierce.
The final dismal act in the perpetually dismal drama through which the late Antonin Scalia was replaced on the Supreme Court by Neil Gorsuch played out in a U.S. Senate in which everybody couldn’t wait for their super-secret afternoon briefing about the big boom-boom in Syria that, in the words of CNN’s eternal sucker, Fareed Zakaria, “made Donald Trump the President of the United States.”
So, with the old Senate rules on such matters having been shitcanned on Thursday afternoon, Gorsuch slid through with 55 votes. For some reason that is both sadly inevitable and completely unfathomable, after all that happened, Democrats Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin, and Joe Donnelly all voted in favor of the nominee. And thus does poor, frozen, Alphonse Maddin, who committed the fireable offense of saving his own life, or so determined the latest associate justice of the United States Supreme Court, pass from history as someone who really doesn’t count anymore. He was political grist in a political battle that was foreordained.
“There should be no vacancy on the Supreme Court to fill,” said Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, stating the obvious for the last time in this sorry episode. “President Obama nominated Merrick Garland. Republicans engaged in unprecedented obstructionism that made it possible for this confirmation process to be conducted. It’s always important to remember that the only reason there was a vacancy to fill is the Republicans put in place a process that made it possible to steal this seat from Barack Obama, and they have now successfully delivered it to Donald Trump.”
Simply put, what happened to Merrick Garland has not happened to any other nominee to the Supreme Court, ever. Over the past few weeks, the word “unprecedented” has been thrown around in the debate over Gorsuch in ways that have clouded the meaning of the word. But, yes, presidents have nominated people during their final year in office who were confirmed. Justices have been filibustered for “partisan political reasons.”
(The opposition to Abe Fortas was really about his relatively liberal record on civil rights, not his ethics problems. That’s the reason Richard Russell pulled his support, along with his dissatisfaction with President Lyndon Johnson’s delay at filling a federal judgeship in Russell’s native Georgia, which certainly was political.)
None of those things were “unprecedented” which, if it means anything at all, means that something happens that never happened before. Merrick Garland’s inability to even get a cup of coffee with any Republican senator was truly unprecedented.
And, of course, it worked like a charm. It worked like a charm because there was no way for the strategy to fail. If Hillary Rodham Clinton had been elected, the Republican majority in the Senate would have Garlanded any nominee she put up. (I mean, Garland himself came recommended to President Obama by Orrin Hatch, who then spent the past two years saying what a bad idea his nomination was. This debate really sucked a great amount of pondwater.) But the president* squeaked through, so McConnell could finish the act of stealing the seat quickly.
The only way that McConnell could have been foiled would have been the election of a Democratic Senate majority in either 2014 or 2016. Considering those incoming classes included such stellar additions to the Senate as Deb Fischer of Nebraska and my new pal Joni Ernst from Iowa, McConnell got his way. Once you’ve done away with integrity, J.R. Ewing once cautioned us, the rest is a piece of cake.
Once McConnell committed himself to an unprecedented act of obstruction that actually was unprecedented, and once the great, indolent American electorate gifted him with a continuing, sheeplike Republican majority, it was an easy slide to what happened on Friday. He knew that the likes of John McCain could be relied upon to give him the mournful cover he needed to destroy the rules of the Senate in order to get Gorsuch confirmed. Any Republican who expresses sorrow at what happened to the filibuster in this process is either lying or terrified of a primary. There wasn’t a single defector, either on the vote to change the rules or on the confirmation vote. In fact, the pious murmuring over what “we” had done to the Senate was probably the most gorge-rising element of a fairly nauseating exercise.
So now, there is a full nine-person Supreme Court, and there is a reliably right-wing bloc consisting of Justices Alito, Thomas, Gorsuch, and Chief Justice John Roberts. Once again, Anthony Kennedy gets to be a Very Important Person on every important case. This is what everybody said they wanted—a “balanced Court,” a wish that mysteriously seems to materialize only when a Democratic president seeks to nominate someone. I still come back to Alphonse Maddin, the lost plaintiff, and the fellow whose plight prompted the most memorable moment in Gorsuch’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
As Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, says, summing up not only the case of Alphonse Maddin, but of the entire process by which Neil Gorsuch will sit on the Supreme Court until after I’m dead:
When using the Plain Meaning rule would lead to an absurd result. It is absurd to say that this company is within its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death, or by causing other people to die by driving an unsafe vehicle. That’s absurd. I had a career in identifying absurdity and I know it when I see it.
The plain meaning of “unprecedented” covers what happened to Merrick Garland, who disappears from history as surely as poor Alphonse Maddin. The absurdity exception was rendered null and void in this process long ago.
Don’t Fall For It, Liberals — Joan Walsh on the praise of bombing Syria.
It shouldn’t be surprising, but it is to me nonetheless: Plenty of liberals who’ve long criticized Donald Trump as unfit to be president are praising his strike on Syrian airfields.
On CNN’s New Day Thursday, global analyst Fareed Zakaria declared, “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States” last night. To his credit, Zakaria has previously called Trump a “bullshit artist” and said, “He has gotten the presidency by bullshitting.” But Zakaria apparently thinks firing missiles make one presidential. On MSNBC, Nicholas Kristof, an aggressive Trump critic, said he “did the right thing” by bombing Syria. Anchor Brian Williams, whose 11th Hour has regularly been critical of Trump, repeatedly called the missiles “beautiful,” to a noisy backlash on Twitter.
While The New York Times posted several skeptical, even critical stories, it gave us this piece of propaganda: an article initially titled “On Syria attack, Trump’s heart came first,” buying the president’s line that his opposition to anti-Assad military action was reversed by seeing the heartrending photos of children struggling to breathe after a chemical attack.
“Even beautiful babies were cruelly murdered in this very barbaric attack,” Trump declared. “No child of God should ever suffer such horror.” (No word how he felt about ugly babies.) The piece also failed to even mention that Trump is keeping refugees from the Syrian war, even children, out of the United States. Victims of chemical weapons are “beautiful babies”; children trying to flee such violence require “extreme vetting” and an indefinite refugee ban. After a public outcry, the Times changed the headline.
Even some Obama administration veterans praised Trump’s action. “President Donald J. Trump was right to strike at the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using a weapon of mass destruction, the nerve agent sarin, against its own people,” Antony Blinken, a deputy secretary of state under Obama, wrote in The New York Times. Blinken went on to say, correctly in theory, that what must come next is “smart diplomacy.” But he knows that Trump has shown himself incapable of doing anything smart, especially diplomacy.
Remember just last week, phantom Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in Turkey: “I think the…longer-term status of President Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.” The Kremlin-funded Russia Today described that as “a U-turn from Washington’s long-held policy” that Assad must go. Six days later, Tillerson was telling reporters, “There is no doubt in our minds, and the information we have supports, that the Syrian regime under the leadership of Bashar al-Assad are responsible for this attack. It is very important that the Russian government consider carefully their support for Bashar al-Assad,” because “steps are underway” to muster international support for a strike. Russia Today seemed disappointed that the United States believes Assad is behind the gassing of his people, arguing that the source is the international rescue group White Helmets, which RT shockingly calls “al-Qaida affiliated.”
Any liberal who praises these missile strikes has to account for what comes next. Obviously, Trump cares little about diplomacy, leaving Tillerson out of key meetings and slashing the State Department’s budget. On Wednesday night, the White House released a photo of his team receiving a briefing on the Syria attack. At the table were Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross; Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin; Goldman Sachs alum Dina Powell, deputy national-security adviser; along with Jared Kushner; Steve Bannon; and Bannon’s sidekick Steven Miller. Why are the Commerce and Treasury secretaries there? What explains why Tillerson, who was in Palm Beach with the president, was not?
The noisiest outrage against the Syrian attack isn’t coming from the left, but the right—particularly the alt-right. Trump’s noninterventionism and his friendliness to Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin were big selling points to white nationalists. Now that he seems to be challenging both men, his former acolytes are enraged. On Twitter, alt-right white supremacist Richard Spencer called it a “total betrayal”; the white nationalists at VDARE blamed it on the “boomercucks” in the administration. Ann Coulter went apoplectic:
Trump campaigned on not getting involved in Mideast. Said it always helps our enemies & creates more refugees. Then he saw a picture on TV.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) April 7, 2017
It was disappointing to see Hillary Clinton say Wednesday afternoon that she thought air strikes on Syrian airfields were an appropriate response to the chemical-weapon attack. She was always more hawkish than I wished, and that shows it. But it’s wrong to insist she’d have done the “same thing” as Trump. Clinton’s secretary of state wouldn’t likely have told Assad we were no longer concerned about removing him; if she did fire missiles at Syrian airfields, she would have done so with a clearer notion of what comes next. Trump appears to be clueless.
Senator Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, didn’t quite oppose the Syrian strike, calling Assad a “war criminal” and lamenting his murder of civilians with chemical weapons. But noting that “it’s that it’s easier to get into a war than get out of one,” Sanders demanded that Trump “must explain to the American people exactly what this military escalation in Syria is intended to achieve, and how it fits into the broader goal of a political solution, which is the only way Syria’s devastating civil war ends.”Senator Kirsten Gillibrand sounded closer to Sanders than Clinton on the airstrikes, decrying Trump’s “unilateral military action by the US in a Middle East conflict” as well as “the absence of any long-term plan or strategy to address any consequences from such unilateral action.” Like Sanders, she demanded that Trump seek authorization of military force from Congress. By contrast, her New York colleague Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called Trump’s move “the right thing to do.” Schumer may find that many constituents think it was the wrong thing.There remains the possibility that some of this is theater. It should be said: Some observers, besides RT, say it’s unproven that the chemical weapons attack came from Assad; rebels could be behind it. There’s also the possibility of a kabuki performance from Trump, Putin, and Assad. We already know the United States warned Putin of the coming missiles, and that Putin warned Assad, whose military moved airplanes and other military equipment away from the intended target. Trump, plummeting in the polls, his domestic health-care and tax plans on the rocks, the investigation into Russian election meddling closing in on his team, really needed a boost; maybe they gave it to him. Trump’s sudden about-face on Syria makes it hard to judge.
However, according to Syrian state media, nine civilians, including four children, were killed in the air strikes. That is not kabuki. Trump has said nothing about those “beautiful babies,” nor will he. Liberals have to sober up and stop being besotted by beautiful missiles and presidential cruelty. Trump is the same Trump he was Tuesday, and that should scare all of us.
Mike Pence’s Other Rules — Ethan Kuperberg in The New Yorker.
In 2002, Mike Pence told the Hill that he never eats alone with a woman other than his wife. —the Washington Post.
Two women who are not his wife
One woman who is not his wife, and one man who is short
Photographs containing women who are not his wife
Men who have the same name as his wife
Dictionary open to the page containing “wife,” “sex,” or “vagina”
The Temptations’ “Greatest Hits” album
Sofa with more than two pillows
Sofa with one long, buxom pillow
Peanut butter (smooth)
“Will & Grace” DVDs
Legislation that benefits women other than his wife
Paintings of ripe fruit
Garlic, a crucifix, direct sunlight, or a vampire hunter other than his wife
Windows with views of hills that, if you squint, look sort of like sideways breasts
Dogs that are not German shepherds
A blank white wall where an image of a woman other than his wife could be projected
Peanut butter (chunky)
An empty tissue box that he could stick his dick in
Doonesbury — Evil is as evil does.
Now he gets it: Trump says Syrian gas attack changes his thinking on Assad.
Of course: Trump defends Bill O’Reilly.
Steve Bannon booted off National Security Council.
U.S./Mexico border crossings at 17-year low.
Weather cancels the first round of the Masters.
The Tigers were rained out again in Chicago.
Back in 2013, President Obama had to decide whether or not to send military forces to Syria to defeat the Assad regime and prevent them from committing war crimes against their own civilians. He could have done it unilaterally, but that would have created a huge stink and consternation in Congress, so he said, basically, “Okay, I’ll do it but only if you approve of it.”
So now we have had this horrible chemical weapons attack, clearly by someone other than the opposition in Syria because they don’t have the wherewithal, and not by ISIS since it was from an airstrike and they don’t have an air force. The world roundly condemns it, and of course the White House under Trump is turning around and doing what they do best: finding someone else to blame.
Today’s chemical attack in Syria against innocent people including women and children is reprehensible and cannot be ignored by the civilized world,” Spicer told reporters. “These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution.” Spicer also said: “President Obama said in 2012 he would establish a red line against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing. The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable act.” (Later in the day, the White House issued a statement echoing Spicer’s remarks.)
You know who also counseled President Obama to do nothing? Take a wild guess.
Whether or not Obama’s policy in 2013 was successful, this much is clear: at that point, Trump had an unambiguous position regarding Syria— do nothing. Throughout this episode, Trump tweeted up a storm about Syria. Repeatedly, he declared—occasionally in all-caps!—that Obama should not be messing around in Syria. He said there was no reason to attack Syria or take any action there. Let the Arab League deal with the problem. He was asserting that Obama should not respond to the chemical attacks—a policy certainly in sync with Assad (and his Russian patrons). Stay out of this, Trump demanded, and focus on domestic issues.
It’s as if they don’t even care that anyone would check the record and call them out on it.
Fighting erupts in Syrian capital.
GOP representative says “no evidence” of of Trump-Russia links.
Democratic representative says there’s “circumstantial evidence” of Trump-Russia links.
North Korea holds “high thrust” missile engine test.
Wildfire near Boulder, Colorado, forces thousands to evacuate.
R.I.P. Jimmy Breslin, 88, columnist and writer.
The U.S.-led commando raid on al-Qaeda in Yemen that left one American and several civilians dead was ordered by Trump “without sufficient intelligence, ground support or adequate backup preparations” according to Reuters.
The raid was initially planned by the Obama administration but left for Trump to decide whether or not it was to be carried out.
From the New York Times:
President Barack Obama’s national security aides had reviewed the plans for a risky attack on a small, heavily guarded brick home of a senior Qaeda collaborator in a mountainous village in a remote part of central Yemen. But Mr. Obama did not act because the Pentagon wanted to launch the attack on a moonless night and the next one would come after his term had ended.
With two of his closest advisers, Jared Kushner and Stephen K. Bannon, joining the dinner at the White House along with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Mr. Trump approved sending in the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, hoping the raid early last Sunday would scoop up cellphones and laptop computers that could yield valuable clues about one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist groups. Vice President Mike Pence and Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, also attended the dinner.
As it turned out, almost everything that could go wrong did. And on Wednesday, Mr. Trump flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to be present as the body of the American commando killed in the raid was returned home, the first military death on the new commander in chief’s watch.
The death of Chief Petty Officer William Owens came after a chain of mishaps and misjudgments that plunged the elite commandos into a ferocious 50-minute firefight that also left three others wounded and a $75 million aircraft deliberately destroyed. There are allegations — which the Pentagon acknowledged on Wednesday night are most likely correct — that the mission also killed several civilians, including some children. The dead include, by the account of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen, the 8-year-old daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born Qaeda leader who was killed in a targeted drone strike in 2011.
Mr. Trump on Sunday hailed his first counterterrorism operation as a success, claiming the commandos captured “important intelligence that will assist the U.S. in preventing terrorism against its citizens and people around the world.” A statement by the military’s Central Command on Wednesday night that acknowledged the likelihood of civilian casualties also said that the recovered materials had provided some initial information helpful to counterterrorism analysts. The statement did not provide details.
But the mission’s casualties raise doubts about the months of detailed planning that went into the operation during the Obama administration and whether the right questions were raised before its approval. Typically, the president’s advisers lay out the risks, but Pentagon officials declined to characterize any discussions with Mr. Trump.
These kinds of operations are always fraught with peril and can turn sideways very quickly, so even the best-laid plans can blow up. In this case, the only sure thing is that they will blame the failure on Obama. On the other hand, had they pulled it off, it would be because of the brilliance of Trump, Kushner and Bannon.
I will give him credit for going to Dover to meet the family of CPO Owens. I wish that would be the only time he has to go, but I have my doubts.
Six dead, traffic snarled in nasty weather in the West and Southeast.
Four soldiers killed in truck attack in Israel.
300 U.S. Marines return to Afghanistan opium region.
Queen Elizabeth II makes first public appearance after illness.
Your complete list of Golden Globe winners.
Former Iranian leader Rafsanjani dead at 82.
It’s time for my annual re-cap and prognostication for the past year and the year coming up. Let’s see how I did a year ago.
- Hillary Clinton will be the next President of the United States. I have no idea who she will beat; I don’t think the Republicans know, either, but she will win, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that it will be a decisive win. The GOP will blame everybody else and become even more cranky, self-injuring, and irresponsible.
- The Democrats down-ticket will do better than expected by taking back the Senate and narrowing their gap in the House. This will be achieved by the number of voters who will turn out to vote for them in order to hold off the GOP’s attempt to turn the country back over to the control of white Christian males.
Both of those were spot-on until sometime in the late evening of November 8. And I’m not the only one who blew that one.
- The economy will continue to improve; maybe this is the year the Dow will hit 19,000. The limiting factor will be how the rest of the world, mainly China, deals with their economic bubble. I think a lot of the economic news will be based on the outcome of the U.S. election and the reaction to it. If by some horrifying chance Donald Trump wins, all bets are off. Economists and world markets like stability and sanity, and turning the U.S. over to a guy who acts like a used car hustler crossed with a casino pit boss will not instill confidence.
I covered my ass on that one but I think it’s still true. By the way, the Dow did hit 19,000 in 2016.
- ISIS, which barely registered on the radar as an existential threat to the U.S. and the west a year ago, will be contained. There will not be a large American troop presence in Syria and Iraq thanks in part to the response by the countries that themselves are being invaded by ISIS. Finally.
- Refugees will still be pouring out of the Middle East, putting the strain on countries that have taken them in. It will be a test of both infrastructure and moral obligation, and some, such as Canada, will set the example of how to be humane.
I’ll give myself a gentleman’s C on the first one because ISIS is still in play and Syria is looking like the horror that war brings and we’re no closer to an end to it. As for the refugees, I underestimated the venality and xenophobia of some of the countries — including our own — in taking in the refugees.
- Maybe this will be the year that Fidel Castro finally takes a dirt nap.
Got that one right, finally.
- The Supreme Court will narrowly uphold affirmative action but leave room for gutting it later on. They will also narrowly rule against further restrictions on reproductive rights. And I am going out on a limb by predicting that President Obama will get to choose at least one more new justice for the Court, an appointment that will languish in the Senate until after the election.
I got that one right, including my out-on-a-limb one about President Obama having to pick a new justice for the court and the GOP sitting on it. I hate it when I’m right about something like that.
- Violence against our fellow citizens such as mass shootings will continue. The difference now is that we have become numb to them and in an election year expecting any meaningful change to the gun laws or the mindset is right up there with flying pigs over downtown Miami.
- Marriage equality will gain acceptance as it fades from the headlines, but the LGBTQ community’s next front will be anti-discrimination battles for jobs and housing. It’s not over yet, honey.
- We’re going to see more wild weather patterns but none of it will convince the hard-core deniers that it’s either really happening or that there’s anything we can do about it.
I’m sorry that those were right.
- The Tigers will not win the division in 2016. (Caution: reverse psychology at play.)
But the Cubs won the World Series so that makes up for it.
- On a personal level, this could be a break-out year for my writing and play production. I don’t say that every year.
One of my plays won a playwriting contest and I actually got a cash prize for it. It has been submitted for a full production at a theatre in Boca Raton in their 2017-2018 season. So that worked out.
Okay, predictions for 2017.
Okay, your turn.
Report: Putin personally involved in hack of U.S. election.
Video shows shelling in Aleppo and the end of the ceasefire.
Over a billion Yahoo customers had their data hacked in 2013.
North Carolina Republicans try to pull off banana republic attempt to cling to power.
Church-goer describes attack by gunman in South Carolina murder trial.